Starring Role: Death Watch

death watch 6I can’t believe that it’s only in the past few weeks I’ve seen Death Watch for the first time. I’ve had various opportunities to catch the film previously, but I’ve somehow always managed to miss them – much to my frustration. But missing screenings isn’t really a decent excuse, as Glasgow’s own Park Circus released the film on DVD back in 2012.

death watch 5I first heard about it in the late 1990s, when Glasgow’s film-making scene was gathering pace: when the Glasgow Film Office was established and when The House of Mirth brought the likes of Gillian Anderson and Dan Aykroyd to town the newspapers naturally spoke of the city’s cinematic past and 1980’s Death Watch was often mentioned. In such articles it stood out in particular due to its main star being a big American name – and in the late 1990s Harvey Keitel’s stock was high with the likes of Pulp Fiction and From Dusk Till Dawn under his belt. Of course, a lot has happened since then and the papers now tend to make a beeline for a certain zombie movie when summarising Glasgow’s relationship with the big screen.

Keitel is television company employee Roddy, who has a camera implanted in his eye and is tasked with befriending and documenting – without her knowledge – the day to day life of terminally ill Katherine, played by Romy Schneider.

death watch 4His output is for the television show Death Watch, an extreme of reality television. Despite the relatively unaltered setting of late 1970s Glasgow, the show is a nod to a slightly dystopian future. Other subtle touches that take the story beyond 1980 include the out of place looking videophone in an otherwise old fashioned doctor’s office, and the mention by Roddy’s ex wife of a “Saturday market card” – implying that citizens are allotted certain days on which they can buy their groceries.

death watch 3Another thing notable about the unusual world of Death Watch is the semi-anonymity of the setting. As with a film previously featured here – Unleashed – there is a near absence of Scottish accents. American, English, French, German and Irish voices pop up with Paul Young’s police officer the only distinctly Scottish character to appear. The company behind the television show, NTV, seems to be a global affair, with American boss Vincent Ferriman (Harry Dean Stanton) referring to audience share in Germany. Yet NTV’s exterior is Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and its interior City Chambers – surprisingly old world locations to represent a global television network creating cutting edge programming.

death watch 2Glasgow and Scotland are by no means drowned out in Death Watch however – in fact at one point we hear children singing “Coulter’s Candy”. Glasgow buses, a branch of Clydesdale Bank and road signs for places like Dumbarton are visible, and in a moment of contrast we see Ferriman’s American car drive past The Wee Mann’s pub – an establishment to have carried a number of names over the years, most recently The Clutha.

death watchOther Glasgow locations to appear include the Necropolis (which, accompanied by a dramatic overture, provides a fitting opening to the film and its subject matter), Glasgow Cathedral, the Royal Infirmary, West George Street, Charing Cross, Bothwell Street, the University of Glasgow and even the Makro cash and carry. A particularly striking setting is Stobcross Quay as a kind of psychedelic riverside version of The Barras. But it’s not so much the weird and wonderful market that’s striking, but the Clyde backdrop of a big ship, multiple cranes and the imposing Meadowside Granary. 

If Death Watch has passed you by too then I would recommend checking it out – I found the last third of the film a little slow in pace, but it is an interesting and original movie worthy of its cult status.

Stunt Double: Salt On Our Skin

salt on our skinsalt on our skin 2salt on our skin 3salt on our skin 4I personally hadn’t heard of this film, never mind its Glasgow connections, until a Google search for something else Glasgow on Film related happened to bring up a link to a Flickr profile with a great set of pictures from production of one of the film’s scenes on Cochrane Street.

Having watched the movie now I’m actually quite surprised that the making of Salt On Our Skin doesn’t feature as strongly in Glasgow’s collective memory as, say, Postmortem or The House Of Mirth. The film is pretty forgettable but the scale of production that appears to have taken place in Glasgow – significant set dressing in one of the city’s main transport hubs, a protest scene in the city centre – must have turned heads at the time.

A 1992 release, Salt On Our Skin stars Greta Scacchi as George and Vincent D’Onofrio as Gavin. George is the daughter to wealthy parents – a French mother and Scottish artist father – who grows up in Paris but pays annual visits to the Aberdeenshire countryside on family holidays. During one such trip in her late teens she falls in love with local farmer Gavin. When George turns down Gavin’s marriage proposal the latter moves on and marries another girl back home in Scotland, where he has moved on from the fields to become a fisherman. But the pair’s lust for each other remains and so follows the longest and most widely travelled extra-marital affair in history – we see the two meet around the world for passionate encounters over the passage of years.

The film is bearable enough to watch – perhaps due to the continued change of scenery – but it does tend to follow a repetitive loop of close ups of faces during sex with the same bit of soundtrack playing, a clash of cultures argument and then a make up kiss. Slightly ridiculous too is that changes in hairstyles alone are meant to represent George’s transition from teenager to middle aged woman (compared to her mother who seems to age dramatically between her first and last appearances).

The film has a variety of settings that would put a James Bond film to shame – Aberdeenshire, Paris, London, the British Virgin Islands, Florida and Montreal. Glasgow appears briefly in numerous guises throughout, namely…

– when Central Station doubles for Paris’ Gare du Nord, complete with French signage and newspaper kiosk.

– when the fictional (from what I can gather) “Cavell College” in the USA is portrayed by the University of Glasgow.

– when Cochrane Street and City Chambers provide the backdrop for a London-set protest against fishing cuts. As with the Gare du Nord scene, considerable effort in set dressing is evident: lots of suitably attired extras, red routemaster buses, London Transport signage etc.

– when the exterior of Kelvingrove Art Gallery is used as the exterior of the St. Lawrence Lecture Hall in Montreal.

Glasgow’s Global Visitors: Gillian Anderson

gillian andersonName: Gillian Anderson

Born: 9th August 1968 in Chicago, Illinois, USA

Credits include: The X Files, The Last King Of Scotland, Johnny English Reborn

Reason for visiting Glasgow:

Gillian Anderson has visited Glasgow twice on filming duties – in 1999 to shoot much of the period drama The House Of Mirth at locations including Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the Theatre Royal and City Chambers, and in 2005 to film a scene at the Royal Infirmary which was unfortunately cut from the final edit of The Last King Of Scotland.

During her time in Glasgow for The House Of Mirth, Anderson “cut the ribbon” at a charity shop on Cathcart Road in the Mount Florida area of the city. The store was opened by the Neurofibromatosis Association, which raises funds for sufferers of the genetic disease known also as NF. Her brother, who passed away in 2011, suffered from NF.

At the time of the 1999 visit Gillian Anderson was quoted in the Sunday Mail as saying “Glasgow is a fantastic place. Unfortunately I’ve seen so little of the city because of the hours I’ve been working”.

As I’ve mentioned previously on here, I managed to meet Anderson briefly and get her autograph as she wrapped a scene at Kelvingrove.

Stunt Double: The Purifiers

the purifiersthe purifiers 2I’ve decided to classify this post as “stunt double” as although there are settings in The Purifiers that are distinctly Glaswegian, Glasgow is never actually named in the movie and is referred to throughout simply as “the city”. Furthermore “the city” does appear to be a mash up of Glasgow and other British filming locations – Milton Keynes being one of those.

This 2004 film stars Kevin McKidd, Gordon Alexander, Dominic Monaghan and Amber Sainsbury and is described as “the story of martial arts clubs who have created their own city infrastructure after tiring of government initiatives”.

I feel pretty lazy lifting straight from the DVD cover to give a description but to be honest find this a tough one to write about – largely due to being pretty uninspired by it. Regular readers of Glasgow on Film will know that I am not  a film critic by trade – I am someone who simply likes films, and at that certain types of films more than others. I post here about links between Glasgow and movies, and not to nominate any critical comments – positive or negative – that I do make as being expert evaluations. For example, I didn’t have much to say about The House Of Mirth as it is not “my kind of film”, however I was a little bit savage about Postmortem and Tezz – that’s because I feel even as a layman that I’ve seen enough cop movies to distinguish between good and rubbish.

So I’m sorry to say, particularly as this is more of a homegrown production than Postmortem and Tezz, that The Purifiers bored me. Alexander as the leader of the good guys, McKidd as the leader of the bad guys and a repetitive loop of running around darkened shopping precincts and fighting, laced with conversation that unfortunately didn’t hold my attention very well. The plot actually put me in mind of some 1990s video games, but the beauty of the games was that they engaged the player – it’s different when all you can do is sit and watch. That’s about as much as I can say about it.

For Glasgow’s part in the film, there are some good opening views around the Clydeside featuring the Glasgow Science Centre and the Clyde Auditorium, while the Glasgow Subway features prominently too.

Stunt Double: The House Of Mirth

house of mirthhouse of mirth 2house of mirth 3house of mirth 4The House Of Mirth is a period drama released in 2000 – filmed largely in Glasgow it brought a formidable cast to the city, including Gillian Anderson, Dan Aykroyd, Eleanor Bron, Terry Kinney, Anthony LaPaglia, Laura Linney, Jodhi May, Elizabeth McGovern and Eric Stoltz.

On this occasion Glasgow takes on the role of New York City during the first decade of the 20th Century. Based on the 1905 novel of the same name by American Edith Wharton, The House Of Mirth follows the doomed love life of Anderson’s character – socialite Lily Bart.

Some well known Glasgow locations feature throughout the movie – various rooms and staircases in the City Chambers double as opulent New York apartments and mansions, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum takes on the guise of a train station and the Theatre Royal takes on the not so dramatically different role of an opera house. There is also a scene involving Anderson and LaPaglia where the stairway at Kelvinbridge subway station is surrounded by some not totally convincing CGI imagery that transforms the existing buildings and has a steam train sitting where Great Western Road is in reality, while other locations include Devonshire Terrace and Kelvingrove Park.

Viewing of this film requires something of an acquired taste – it is certainly not everyone, including Glasgow on Film’s, cup of tea, however it is worth a one-off glance to see Glasgow locations at their finest and witness a number of well known Hollywood names working in the city.

Glasgow’s Global Visitors: Dan Aykroyd

Name: Dan Aykroyd

Born: 1st July 1952 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Credits include: Ghostbusters, The Blues Brothers, Spies Like Us

Reason for visiting Glasgow:

Filming of 2000’s The House Of Mirth, which will have its own “Stunt Double” appearance on Glasgow on Film in the future. As a huge fan of his films, a young Glasgow on Film waited outside Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum to try and meet Dan Aykroyd during a day’s shooting at the gallery. Alas, Aykroyd was not there however the visit was not a complete waste of time as there was instead a very brief meeting with the film’s lead Gillian Anderson and – in the simple days before camera phones – her autograph. A story that appeared in newspapers at the time told how a group of people including Aykroyd had tried to gain entry to the city’s Temple nightclub (which went on to become the Shack nightclub and is now wasteground following a fire), but were “knocked back” by the bouncer who didn’t recognise the actor and felt that they were too drunk!