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.

Starring Role: The Angels’ Share

The Angels' ShareThe Angels' Share 2The Angels' Share 3When thinking about it, it’s surprising that Glasgow on Film hasn’t featured a movie directed by Ken Loach so far – surprising as there are so many of them set in Glasgow. Carla’s Song, My Name Is Joe, Ae Fond Kiss and most recently The Angels’ Share… all are set in Glasgow, while Sweet Sixteen is set not far away in Greenock and some filming for that title also took place in the city. What is quite remarkable is that the man who directed 2012’s The Angels’ Share – a realistic and contemporary drama surrounding a group of young Glaswegians – is the same man who directed the classic Kes 43 years earlier. Among his other non-Glasgow movie credits are Looking For Eric, which features footballer Eric Cantona, and The Wind That Shakes The Barley, starring Cillian Murphy.

The Scottish influence on this catalogue of films comes from writer Paul Laverty (born in India to a Scottish father and Irish mother, studied in Glasgow), who Loach collaborates with frequently – he is responsible for the majority of screenplays on Loach-directed films since their first collaboration on Carla’s Song in 1996.

Also notable about the production of The Angels’ Share – before we get to the plot – is its cast. In 2002 then teenaged footballer Martin Compston was cast in the lead role of Sweet Sixteen, his first ever acting role. A decade on and Compston (who, for the avoidance of confusion, does not appear in The Angels’ Share)  is one of the UK’s most respected young actors on both film and television. History appears to be repeating itself with the lead actor in The Angels’ Share – Paul Brannigan. As with Compston, Brannigan was cast in the lead role with no prior acting experience, and has spoken openly in the media about being a young offender in his youth and being in serious debt prior to the beginning of his acting career – a career which is quickly blossoming as he is linked with the forthcoming films Under The Skin and Sunshine On Leith. Also making their acting debuts in Sweet Sixteen were Gary Maitland and William Ruane – now a familiar face on Scottish television – and both appear in prominent roles in The Angels’ Share. Completing the cast are well known English actors John Henshaw and Roger Allam, young actors Jasmin Riggins and Siobhan Reilly and real-life Scotch whisky expert Charles MacLean, who appears in the role of Rory McAllister.

So what is The Angels’ Share about? Central characters Robbie (Brannigan), Albert (Maitland), Mo (Riggins) and Rhino (Ruane) are thrown together on community service under the supervision of Henshaw’s Harry. The affable Harry takes pity on Robbie when his girlfriend’s male relatives violently attempt to exclude him from the life of the couple’s newly born baby boy. At his flat Harry gives whisky virgin Robbie a glass of a vintage Scotch to toast the birth of his son, and from there an interest and an apparent talent for identifying the components of a good whisky develop. Via visits to a distillery and a whisky tasting session in Edinburgh, the young group find themselves travelling north to the Balblair distillery where a “holy grail” cask of Malt Mill whisky, valued at over £1 million, is up for auction. The group siphon a few Irn Bru bottles full of the valuable liquid from the cask, replacing what is taken with whisky from another cask, and everyone – including the rich American who places the successful bid – is none the wiser. Robbie sells one of the bottles to Allam’s whisky collector for £100,000 and sets off in a camper van to start a new life with his girlfriend and son – not before leaving the other remaining bottle with a thank you note for Harry.

This is an excellent film on many levels and makes good use of locations in Glasgow and beyond. The film is described in its official blurb as “bittersweet” and that is spot on – there are violent scenes, sad scenes and it appears at times that there can be no return from the low point that Robbie’s life has reached, but on an upbeat note there is the comedy of Albert, the hope represented by Robbie’s young family, the good nature of Harry and of course the happy ending. The acting is first class too – as is the style with many of Loach’s films, the actors do not always appear if they are acting… if that makes sense. The flow of conversation between characters is very natural – one could believe they were eavesdropping on a real life conversation, not listening to actors who are working from a script. Paul Brannigan impresses in his debut, as mentioned above Gary Maitland is hilarious at times and a special mention must be made of Charles MacLean, who is a natural in his cameo appearance – GoF had actually assumed he was an experienced actor until spotting an article about the man in his day job in an inflight magazine.

Deservedly, Loach won the Jury Prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival for The Angels’ Share.

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!