Blowup – Jah Wobble’s Directorial and Acting Debut
11th March 2010
For many years I have fancied having a stab at directing a short film. I wanted to make a piece that ‘stood alone’ and was not just a vehicle for promoting one of my tracks. (I think pop videos, in this post modern age, are such ‘old hat’). My initial thought was to honour Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Winter Sun,’ which is one of my favourite films. I quite fancied myself playing the part of a priest having a crisis of faith. I envisaged a stark black and white affair set in contemporary inner city setting. Don’t get me wrong, along with those two other iconic existentialists, Jean Luc Godard and Michelangelo Antonioni, Bergman’s movies delight, depress, confound and irritate me in equal measure; having said that, I respect the three of them enormously, both for their dazzling radicalism and sheer directorial skill and vision. (Without a shadow of doubt Andrei Tarkosvy picked up their mantle a decade later. It’s the new wave of Turkish and Iranian directors, along with HBO, who now lead the charge in studies of lonely intellectuals having spiritual crises’).
After pondering the essence of the three directors’ works, I decided to change tack. Rather than go with Bergman I decided to focus on, a particular part, of what I feel is the Italian member of the iconic three’s tour de force, ‘Blowup’. My change of heart came whilst watching a ‘you tube’ clip of the brilliant vintage short, ‘London to Brighton in 4minutes’. I was playing the clip, of the speeding steam train, over and over, whilst composing a frenzied ¾ time signature drum and bass rhythm to it. Suddenly Antonioni’s ‘Blowup’ popped into my mind. This may at first, seem a strange association for me to have made, but please bear with me.
‘Blowup’ is, ostensibly at least, a murder mystery, but to be honest that aspect of the movie is no more than a side show for me. The film features a day in the life of a ghastly narcissistic (and desensitised) fashion photographer, ‘Thomas’ (played superbly by David Hemmings). ‘Blowup’ is set in, and feeds off, sixties swinging London. It was itself inspired by a short story, first published in 1959, called ‘Las Babas Del Diablo’, by the Argentinean author Julio Cortazar. Both films compress and play with time; ‘London to Brighton’ in a very straight forward fashion, the other, ‘Blowup’ in a much more subtle manner, using the vehicle of photography to freeze and replay time. In any case, both films, when all is said and done, make you feel as though you are recklessly speeding through time and space, whilst continuously surveying the same ‘narrow’ (and tedious) scene. (Perhaps we will now begin to view ‘London to Brighton’ as an existentialist classic)! Ironically it’s the train that stops in time, whereas ‘Thomas,’ in a metaphoric sense at least, hits the buffers (of amorality).
I decided to utilise the scene in ‘Blowup’ where ‘Thomas’ photographs the model Veruschka. My eponymous pounding relentless, restless, ¾ rhythm suited the self concerned and conceited Thomas character to a tee. When I first saw this photo shoot scene I was still a teenager, and I absolutely hated it. In fact at that point I despised just about every aspect of the film. I found it ludicrously decadent. I thought that Hemming’s character was a very nasty bit of work, to the point of being an over the top caricature. Well before too long I was cracking on in the music business meeting people like ‘Thomas’ on a pretty regular basis, especially around the Chelsea and Notting Hill sets. From record company executives, through to lead singers and photographers, there were plenty around. I think that Narcissists (and their close cousins the Sociopaths), really started to come to the fore in the hedonistic ‘me first’ sixties. They have been multiplying exponentially since then. They often come in the form of celebrities. Many in our society are fixated upon them. I think that people with Narcissistic personality disorder tend to have a ‘black hole’ like quality. Everything and everyone in their orbit, who lacks a good instinct for survival, gets sucked in and sucked dry.
I decided to revamp the ‘Thomas’ character and jump him ahead into middle age, where he is still bored and contemptuous of everything that comes in his path, only he now has an added quality of bitter disappointment and fear of ageing. I had a very clear idea of how he should now look and behave. (Ok ok I admit it….it gave me opportunity to wear ridiculous blond wig and get sprayed a fetching shade of orange I must admit it was fun playing the aging narcissist, driving around in a flash motor. I found it hard to get out of character once shooting was complete. My face was stuck in ‘contemptuous and disappointed’ sneer mode).
I thought it fitting to put him in a swank dockland’s penthouse apartment, with a young gorgeous wife (who he treats with disdain), and a vintage Aston Martin. But of course none of this brings him any degree of happiness or comfort. He has no empathy for anything or anyone around him. Everything and everyone is a commodity, purely a means to an end. He is still living in an entrenched state of ignorance. I wanted the finished film to look like a million dollars. I wanted it to have the production values of the best ads. I wanted it to have the same seductive quality that car ads and perfume ads display….as they lead us by the nose into a false world of illusion and permanent dissatisfaction.
Realization of the Idea
So anyway, that was my vision….but how to realise it; that was the problem. The answer was very simple. I had a chat with my good friends John Brennan, Saul Gittens and Andrew Black at Pro cam TV. They made my life very easy. They put a complete package together. Unlike when I am planning musical tours I had no unsexy stuff to take care off. The logistical load was taken off my back. I told them the sort of locations I thought we needed and the sort of ‘look’ that I thought was required, in regard to the actors, and to the film generally, and everything was sorted toot suite. And when it came to the technical side of things they were full of good advice. I could not have made a film to this technical standard without them. End of story. Thanks to them I had fun from start to finish.
A big thanks as well to my good pal, the writer and journalist, Paul Gorman who I asked to help style the film. I wanted some strong passing references to the swinging London scene of the sixties. However, I didn’t want it to look in any way cheesy or kitsch. He knew exactly what line of approach to take, and introduced me to a bloke called Lloyd Johnson, who is an avid and expert collector of all thing sixties. He also invited, to the shoot, the incredibly chic Emma Peelpants, who’s a 60s clothes collector and dealer and has an incredible wardrobe of vintage clothes, along with Jenny Drag, the singer with garage band The Priscillas, who is rake thin and very pale, with a 60s black bouffant .
The other people that I wanted involved in my short movie was the Missoni fashion label. I am not terribly knowledgeable in regard to high fashion, however, I know what I like, and I like Missoni clothes. Similar to Antonioni, they are Italians who have stuck to their guns. It is so fitting that they got involved. Over the years I have bought a few of their clothes. An older bloke like me can look stylish without coming across like mutton dressed as lamb. The clothes are well made as well. Well anyway, Missoni UK’s boss Gisela and her assistant Amila, (who has sung on my records in the past), could not have been more helpful. They knew immediately the various looks that I was trying to achieve. Not only did they provide beautiful clothes, they also provided a beautiful model Laura (she of the very large eyes), who reminded me not a little bit of a young Sophia Loren. Laura is certainly no dumb model; she speaks Arabic and is studying astronomy at a high level. I also have a big thank you to say to Marty who played the part of my photographic assistant. Marty actually runs the sound department at Pro cam. He had exactly the right look for the part. The creepy look he gave Laura at the end of the photo shoot scene was priceless.