Starring Role: Under the Skin

under the skin 1Released in early 2014, Under the Skin is perhaps the most remarkable feature film to have used Glasgow both as a filming location and a setting. Remarkable not least in that – despite being a science fiction movie and starring one of the biggest names in Hollywood – it presents the city at its most pedestrian.

under the skin 2Contemporary Glasgow is captured without grim gangland violence or sunny comedic romance – we hear snippets of everyday conversations and see real Glaswegians heading to work, shopping, enjoying nightlife and going to the football. Change is handed over the counter in Greggs; ladies try on makeup in John Lewis; a Big Issue is bought outside Oran Mor, where “A Play, a Pie and a Pint” is advertised.

under the skin 3This snapshot of Glasgow life is so genuine due to director Jonathan Glazer’s hidden camera approach to the production – filmed discreetly from a distance and with Scarlett Johansson disguised in a dark wig, the star was able to walk among crowds in busy locations like Buchanan Galleries and the Trongate without passersby batting an eyelid.

The reason for the sorties by Johansson’s unnamed alien character is to seek out single men to seduce and ultimately kill for some presumed mission that is never explained. The film is incredibly atmospheric – I was naturally drawn to this feature due to the filming in Glasgow, but wintry scenes shot on Scotland’s east coast, in the Highlands and in nearby locations like Wishaw and Port Glasgow are equally striking. An eerie soundtrack and limited conversation throughout the movie complete the atmosphere.

There’s a particular scene in Under the Skin which is one of the most intense – and I would go as far as saying distressing – moments I have seen in film, and despite some pretty disturbing imagery of the alien nature elsewhere this particular scene revolves around something that could ultimately be an everyday occurrence. I won’t give anything further away but I am sure anyone who has seen the movie will know the bit I mean. If you haven’t seen Under the Skin… see it.

Glasgow’s Global Visitors: Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett JohanssonName: Scarlett Johansson

Born: 22nd November 1984 in New York City, New York, USA

Credits include: Lost In TranslationAvengers AssembleThe Prestige

Reason for visiting Glasgow:

Scarlett Johansson spent time in Glasgow during both 2011 and 2012, as she filmed scenes for Under the Skin – which was released this year.

The filming of the movie itself took her to a myriad of locations across the city, sometimes filming on foot and other times behind the wheel of a transit van. The dark haired wig which Johansson donned for the role stopped the very well known Hollywood actress from being instantly recognised, and therefore remarkably she was able to walk among crowds in locations such as the Trongate and Buchanan Galleries shopping centre without passers by batting an eyelid – something that suited the hidden camera approach to filming that director Jonathan Glazer had opted for.

And in her free time she was spotted around the city too – the media reported eyewitness accounts of her at venues including the Nice N Sleazy bar on Sauchiehall Street and Cafe Gandolfi restaurant on Albion Street.

The promotional duties for Under the Skin saw Scarlett Johansson asked regularly about her experiences in Glasgow, by journalists from both Scotland and beyond. In an interview at the 2014 Venice Film Festival she said that the most Glaswegian thing she tried was “that orange soda that they drink” (Irn Bru), and previously in 2011 on The Late Show with David Letterman she told the host that “Glasgow is a great city.” In March of this year the Daily Mirror reported that Johansson was planning to move to Glasgow to live… a story that to date has gained no further momentum.

Stunt Double: Tezz

tezztezz 2tezz 3tezz 4tezz 5Back in early summer 2011, a few months before Brad, Halle and Scarlett came to town, Glasgow was hosting action packed filming for yet another production – Tezz. The city’s main role in the film is to act as double for London in some pretty impressive police chase scenes, although Glasgow is frequently mentioned as the plot concerns a bomb aboard a London to Glasgow train.

Tezz is an Indian produced movie and this recent viewing has in fact been Glasgow on Film’s first Bollywood experience. It was watched with a completely open mind – knowing that, despite comparisons to Hollywood’s Speed, this would be a very different experience to the western (as in hemisphere) movies I am used to. So the couple of impromptu musical sequences that pop up in the film were unusual for an action thriller, but not unsurprising or unappreciated, although some explanation as to why characters’ speech would switch from Hindi to English – sometimes mid-sentence – would be appreciated.

As mentioned above, the film is about the race against time to thwart the bombing of a Virgin train travelling from London to Glasgow (surprisingly Sir Richard Branson doesn’t make one of his movie cameos). One of the group responsible for the plot is fleeing from the police through London on motorbike, although this scene is made up mainly of footage shot in Birmingham and Glasgow – as a result there are some fantastic stunts in The Barras and a dramatic conclusion to the chase on West Campbell Street. For Glasgow to witness such movie action on its streets is a privilege, as is to welcome some of the biggest names in Bollywood, such as Ajay Devgn (as the bomber, Aakaash) and Anil Kapoor (who plays the police force’s top counter-terrorism officer, Arjun) – an actor who has found success in both Bollywood and Hollywood through the likes of Slumdog Millionaire and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.

But the positives for Glasgow, the stunts and the respect for another culture cannot conceal a glaring fault with Tezz – its plot. There is a flashback scene in which GoF actually thought Aakaash’s beloved wife had died after being pushed by a British police officer, and that this was therefore a motive for vengeance – but in fact she wasn’t dead and for the record he wasn’t under that impression. His motive for risking the lives of 500 people is quite simply revenge for… him being deported. Even more farcical is that his plight is romanticised – unlike with Dennis Hopper’s character in Speed, it feels here like the viewer is for some reason supposed to feel sorry for the guy that got chucked out of the country for being there illegally and then decided to hold the government to ransom, causing death and destruction along the way. So the deportation meant that Aakaash was separated from the love of his life – perhaps the reason she didn’t follow him (and thus negate the need for him to go to such extreme measures for a reunion) indicates that she was bored of his melodramatics.


Welcome To 2013!

First of all, a very Happy New Year to all – hope 2013 brings you everything you wish for.

Today Glasgow on Film is taking the opportunity to look forward to what promises to be a vintage year for cinema exposure, and to share hopes and wishes for what else can come the city’s way…

Coming Soon

2011 and 2012 were big years for movie production in Glasgow – 2013 sees the fruits of the film-makers’ labours hit the big screens, and it is hard to remember any other time when so many Glasgow linked features were due to come out. And what a variety of movies too – see below for the releases that are coming our way in 2013.

Cloud Atlas:Already released in the USA (and in fact due for DVD/Blu-Ray release there on 5th February), this ambitious production hits British cinema screens on 22nd February. Based on a 2004 novel by British author David Mitchell, this is a German production written and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. The film’s official synopsis reads: “…Cloud Atlas explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future. Action, mystery and romance weave dramatically through the story as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution in the distant future”. The movie is set in multiple places and times and as such, filming took place at locations across Europe including Dusseldorf, Edinburgh, Majorca and of course Glasgow. Glasgow was used for the filming of two scenes – one set in 1970s San Francisco and involving Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving and Keith David (filmed around the Bothwell Street/St Vincent Street area, this involved a car crash and gunfire); the other scene was filmed further along St Vincent Street and involved Jim Broadbent leaving a mocked up tailor’s shop in what appears to be contemporary (or 20th Century) London. As became something of a habit in 2011, GoF went along for a “nosey” at the San Francisco scene filming and managed to spot Hugo Weaving and – from a distance – Halle Berry. Look out at 1.11 on the trailer below for a very fleeting glimpse of this scene.

The Fast And The Furious 6: The latest instalment in this long running series of road-based action movies, starring Dwayne Johnson, Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez, is released in cinemas on 24th May. It has been indicated that the setting for this movie (previous The Fast And The Furious films were set in the USA and in one instance Tokyo) will be London and while much of the filming took place in the capital, Glasgow and Liverpool lent their streets and tunnels as stunt doubles for a couple of scenes. The scene shot on Glasgow’s Cadogan Street did not involve any of the film’s actors, however there was a car chase involving some impressive stunts – including a Metropolitan Police car being flipped into the air. Better captures of the action can be found on YouTube, but here anyway is GoF’s rather primitive footage of some of the vehicles setting off.

wwz 13World War Z:Mentioned here before, the 2013 movie that is perhaps most highly anticipated by Glaswegians. Released on 21st June, the feature that saw George Square transformed into Philadelphia has Brad Pitt travelling the globe as a United Nations employee while the nations of the world struggle against a zombie pandemic. Here once again is the trailer, with Glasgow featuring heavily at the start, and one of GoF’s set photos.

Others to look out for, with release dates still to be confirmed, are: Under The Skin – Scarlett Johansson became a familiar sight in Glasgow, shooting this movie about a seductive alien; Filth– another Irvine Welsh novel turned into a movie, this one starring James McAvoy and Jamie Bell; Not Another Happy Ending – a romantic film starring Karen Gillan.

Hopes For 2013

Glasgow on Film hopes that all of the above films will be successful, further inspiring confidence in the city as one of the world’s leading movie making locations. It would be great to see even more productions come to Clydeside – the reputation is definitely out there now so who knows who will roll into Glasgow next. Perhaps 2013 will be the year that a new studio complex in Govan is given the green light – if so that will lead the way for a very bright future for the movie industry in Glasgow.

In the meantime Glasgow on Film looks forward to continuing to catalogue everything that links the city to the big screen. Later this week subjects will be as diverse as Glasgow’s appearance in The Fourth Protocol, visits by Mila Kunis, Ardal O’Hanlon and Bruce Willis and the movie appearances of Tony Roper. And coming soon a look at many more films including Young Adam, Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy, NEDS, Red Road and The Angels’ Share.

Thank you for visiting and once again, a very Happy New Year!