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Monday

David Lloyd, The Illustrator Behind V For Vendetta & The Mask Making An Impact On The Streets Today


David Lloyd in 2006 discussing V for Vendetta, the cult graphic novel he devised with Alan Moore, and the image that has become the face of the 99%
 
Can you say how the idea for the graphic novel developed? 

“Yeah, I was involved with a magazine called Warrior which wanted certain different types of characters and I was asked to write and draw, originally, a masked vigilante character. That was the whole brief. At the time I didn’t want to write it, and I knew Allan Moore, and I’d worked with him very well, he’s a great writer and I liked him a lot, so we got together and came up with this character, which originally went through a whole bunch of embryonic stages. One stage he was going to be a kind of policeman, then a different kind of thing. Allan wanted something that was theatrical but this character was an urban guerrilla that was fighting a government. That was the basic core that we had for it. One of the great anarchists of British history is Guy Fawkes, who was one of a bunch of conspirators who plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament and disrupt the government in 1605. He is a classic character in British history, and it was a great idea for this character, this guy who is fighting this dictatorship, to adopt this character as his persona. Also it was a character that’s slightly crazy, so it was the ideal thing to use. So that’s how the concept came about. And then, as I say, we developed this for a monthly magazine, it continued for about 26 chapters and then the magazine folded, and then eventually DC Comics in America bought it, printed it, and we completed it in 1990. So that’s how it all came about and the graphic novel is a collection of those stories.” 

Was it your idea to have it be a mix of the Phantom of the Opera and the Count of Monte Cristo or was it just in the film? 

“The Count of Monte Cristo thing is something that Larry and Andy came up with.” 

Did you ever think about your graphic novel becoming a film? 

“Yeah, in fact in the early days when we were still doing it in its early form, we were trying to sell it as a TV show. We actually sent letters to a producer called Verity Lambert in England to try and interest her. We were sending it everywhere. And at one stage we were trying to interest an animation company in it. So it’s no surprise to us that, thankfully, at the end of the day, there’s been great movie interest in it. But yeah, we always thought about that. The thing that initiated the story to begin with was all TV and movie influences. The Prisoner was one of the great influences on it. There was another thing called The Guardians. Myself and Allan were both influenced by British TV and Hollywood movies. We had the same influences so we blended together very well and came up with this idea. Also there was a movie called The Abominable Dr Phibes, with Vincent Price, which also stimulated the ideas. Also, the Shakespearean quotes, that concept initially came from another Vincent Price movie called Theatre of Blood, in which he would quote Shakespeare. There were a lot of influences. Phantom of the Opera, all that sort of stuff. We blended it all together and made this construct that worked very well, I think.” 

Frank Miller co-directed Sin City. Did you think of co-directing this? 

“I should be so lucky. No, I’m just a drawing board jockey. I just sit and draw it. It’s a hard enough job doing that, you know. I don’t think I’d like to get onboard with the kind of work these guys do.” 

You originally wrote V for Vendetta as a reaction to Margaret Thatcher. Would you be able to write something similar today? It seems like we’re going backwards in some respects. 

“Well, in British terms, we really don’t have a Thatcher anymore, thank God. We had 17 years of Conservative government. When we originally wrote it, it was in 1980-81, and Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979. She had only just started and the full weight of her influence only came about later with the miner’s strike in ’84, stuff like that, and it was around that time that we started to emphasise the political message and it became much more important to add those things as time went by. For me, the most important message is about individualism: the individual’s right to be individual and not be forced by fear into conformism. That’s the central message of it now, really.” 

Fear is being used in Britain to some extent just as it is being used to a greater extent to control the populace in America. It’s like we’re going forwards to go backwards. 

“Well that’s the nature of society, isn’t it? It’s like one step forward and one step back. It’s a cycle isn’t it?” 

What were your thoughts after the bombings in London?  

“Terrorism isn’t new to London. The IRA were putting bombs in London, and all over the country, in fact, at the time we were drawing and creating V originally. None of it’s new. And sadly I don’t think any of it will change. It’s just one of those facts of life.” 

There seemed to be Sex Pistols references in the film and I wondered whether they represented a form of anarchy, or an idea of anarchy, that went away under Thatcher? 

“Yeah, well, anarchy is a very attractive thing. Everybody wants to have no responsibilities and to bust up any regime that’s telling you what to do.  It’s important. The message of the film is that freedom is the most important thing you can have, and I think that’s the same for any situation.” 

Were the Pistols an influence, though? There are several apparent references, and the repeated use of the word “bollocks”. 

“No, not for me. Alan was very influenced by music. But the general attitude of being able to bust up an establishment that is being oppressive, that’s a simple message. It’s a message of simple rebellion, really, which myself and Alan did subscribe to. Anyone that loves freedom is going to subscribe to that really, I guess.”

© Stephen Applebaum, 2011

RIP Ken Russell

With the sad news of Ken Russell's death at 84, Stephen Applebaum takes a look back at what the great man had to say in Cannes, in 2001, about the British film industry, his career, his (then) latest film project The Fall of the Louse of Usher, and censorship. As you might expect from the director of The Devils, Women in Love, Mahler and Crimes of Passion, Russell didn't hold back.

Would a film like The Devils be hard to make now?
 
"It would be impossible. No one would finance such a film, I would imagine."

But hasn't the British film industry improved?

"Well I'm not so mad on the British film industry. It seems to just produce one or two gems and then tons of mediocrity. I mean I saw [a film] the other day of people painting electric pylons."

That would be Among Giants.

"Is that what it was called? I thought it was called Men Painting Pylons. And obviously it was so bad that they were desperate. Do you know what they did? They did long shots of them painting these pylons and over it they put a male voice chorus singing Negro spiritual as though these guys from Newcastle would be singing: "Nobody has known the trouble I've seen". You know? All this crap. And it was like watching paint dry. That was financed very much by the British film industry, but there was no excuse for it no matter what it was. Maybe the establishment just wants new faces, new attitudes and films about social groups. I'm interested in wider subjects, wider horizons and not obvious things. New ways at looking at things. Just pointing out new excitements if you like. So this film [The Fall of the Louse of Usher] will be a new way at looking at Edgar Allan Poe. And I hope that in an amusing and enlightening way it will have brought a lot of his poetry to people who've never heard it before. That's my old belief coming back of teaching the masses art while giving them a good time [laughs]."

Has it become harder for you to make films?

 
"Well I'd have loved to have been a conductor because most of the conductors I know have never played a work correctly, but I can't read music and that's the only snag stopping me from doing that. I got tired of waiting for the phone to ring and I thought, 'Well, do it yourself and at least do something that satisfies you. If it satisfies me, it's going to satisfy people who I might well know.'"
 
And with video it's easier to do yourself?
 
"It is, yeah. And, you know, I've always had a say in the lighting as I've always lit my own home movies and I find lighting is very exciting. All you do is put a light up, switch it on, and if it looks great, shoot it. If it doesn't, move the lamp. That is lighting."

Did you write a script for Peter Pan?

"It wasn't Peter Pan, it was about J. M. Barry. It was called Neverlands and I hope it could still happen. Regent Entertainment, in Los Angeles, I did it for them. They were trying to raise the money. Of course there's no killing in it, no bloodshed, and it's a wonderful storyline. Hopefully they'll raise the money."

Do you identify with Barry?

"Well in a sense he never grew up and I think what I think I've done is I've retained - I've tried to retain - that first careless or fearless rapture that you have in the young. You know, of remembering when I'd seen Robin Hood and I came back to my garden, my tree which I could climb up and do all sorts, imagine all sorts of things - a fantastic castle or a galleon - and continue and make the second version of what I'd seen and continue it on. So I hope I've never lost that sort of enthusiasm and imagination."

Has that attitude stopped you from brooding when your career perhaps isn't going as well as you planned? 

"Well you obviously get a bit depressed at times, but then something comes along and, well, you have to drag yourself up by your boot straps and get on and do something, or do something else, or retire, or walk the dog. I bought myself a video camera."

And turned your garage into a film studio.

"It's a garage and stables combined, they are my studios. I've used it for many sets and also I've got this very big conservatory which I also use. It is a daylight studio. Depending how I dress it, or undress it, or use it or shoot out of the windows or don't shoot out of the windows, you know?

It must be liberating when you don't have to answer to anyone else?

"Well it does give you total creative freedom. You know that it's just your responsibility and it satisfies you. And you're not going to be criticised for changing your script a bit. It's great."

Where are you on the funding for The Fall of the Louse of Usher?

"I have funding. I've enough funding to finish the film."

I read something about you spending £20,000 of your own money on a project. Is that the previous project or this one? 

"I don't know where that quote came from, it's very difficult to actually tot up the finance. You see on this, everyone's doing it at this moment for a share of the profits. The very first one I was doing, the 26-minute one on the Rector of Stiffkey, I think that must have cost me £5000. It looks great. It's not compromised on in any way. In fact it looks a lot more glamorous than, you know, the English so-called feature films."
 
What's wrong with them?

"I'm just not interested in any of the British ones.  I don't think enough credit's given to American films these days, I think they're very imaginative. I thought The Thirteenth Floor was a wonderful film. I saw it on Sky and I loved it. I've seen it several times and it's really quite a deep film. We all loved Matrix and we all want to see Matrix 2; and there is this film Very Bad Things, which I love."

How do you feel about censorship?
 
"I've been pretty well treated by English, thanks, as I have no complaints except one thing: they did keep altering a sequence in The Devils until there was no sense in it. That was a true event anyway, where the priest has his leg in one of these boots - called the Boots of Metal - where they drive wedges down the middle and they squeeze until they break your bones. I showed a few shots of that but it was no skin off his [the censor's] face. He said, 'No you can't - cut it, cut it, cut it!' And I kept cutting it so it was less and less, and in the end he said, 'Cut it' and I said 'It's half a second long!' He said, 'Oh, leave it!' It's so quick now that no one understands what's happening. And then of course, Warners [sighs] - they hated the film and they cut all the pubic hair out and there was little left [laughs]. Quick fade in, fade out! These days you could have just anything [laughs]."

Would you like to work more in America because you did "Crimes of passion" there?
 
"Yeah, I don't mind where I work. I mean the work's the thing. I find it very easy to work in America - they really love films. Even their electricians - their dad was an electrician back in the 20s. And the police help. You need a scene in a main street, they stop the traffic. Here if they even see you with a camera you're pretty well run in and put in prison for obstructing the traffic, and that's before you put the tripod up. I always remember [in America] we had this motorcycle cop and there were a couple of people who got a bit…you know. He just took this gun out and they were quiet as mice. No one spoke while we were shooting [laughs]."

Which film was that on?

"Crimes of Passion. I've done both scales. Altered States was a big studio picture - very technically expertly fantastic. Crimes of Passion was very low budget and that wasn't the B group but the Z group, I'd say. And they're either guys and girls at the beginning of their careers. I mean the man on the sound just turned it on and just let it ride and have it on auto. Goes up and down. Distort! And I don't know just sitting there but the film turned out OK even with the Z group. Somehow the films get made there and they're OK. And they like making films there, like talking about it, whereas in England it's odd. . ."

Do you ever think about moving there?

"Oh no. I live in what I think is the best place in the world for me, so why would I move? In my little studios I am proving that it can be done, at least I hope to prove it, but the proof in the pudding is in the eating. The film isn't complete yet and shown, but people will make their own evaluation. For better or for worse, that'll be it."

You've made films about Mahler and Tchaikovsky. Are there any other composers that you'd like to film?

"Yes! I would like to do a short film on Brahms. It would be his entire life encapsulated in one minute."

That's a lot to fit in.

"I think that it can be done because Virginia Woolf did it in her books on the one page. She could not only describe five children and an English garden in the summer but also how they're going to grow up, their personalities, their relationships, how they're going to change - all in one page.  If she can do it with words, then we can do it with pictures. So I think that we are obviously in the total infancy of communication of a story."

And do you like setting yourself these kind of challenges?

"I can chat. I mean my short film of Brahms may never be made, I may never realise how to make it, but I'm sure it is possible."

What were the elements behind The Fall of the Louse of Usher?
 
"You see, it's not just one story. The Fall of the House of Usher is the prime story that is the nucleus, but interwoven with that are half a dozen other of the master's Tales of Mystery and Imagination. The Pit [and the Pendulum] - um, The Penis and the Pendulum, as I would call it - The Tell-Tale Heart, Buried Alive, The Murders in the Rouge Morgue, The Black Cat . . . That enough for you?

So this continues your interest in the gothic?
 
"Yes. I paint, when I was twelve I painted, I don't know why - they were terrible paintings and I discovered one the other day, I did about 3 or 4 and one was of The Tell-Tale Heart - unless I get it mixed up but it's about someone who is buried under the floorboards and so I painted that. I think the reason she is buried under the floorboards - it's a man in the story - is that she has this eye that drives the hero mad and he has to pluck it out and he does and he buries it. So I must have been into Poe. I wasn't reading much literature at the age of 12, so obviously it's been a life long interest."

What's the tone of your film?

"It is horror, but it's horror with a shuddering grin. It is a bit comic strip, but it's also slightly surrealistic and there's quite a bit of music in it. The hero of the house was a musician - he played the guitar - so I got a rock star from the underground. Most of the people are from the underground. And James Johnston has got this very good band - at least I like it - so he's the hero. There's a sort of seriousness, too, in the sense that we do actually pose poetry with, you know, respect. And there's quite a lot of it. There's The Wedding Bells, for instance, from The Bells, and that's been composed by the Mediaeval Baebes. And they are in it. They are in the sequence but it's very beautiful as they become bells and they toll and they have tones and it nearly brought tears to my eyes when I had them down to the cottage for a champagne and strawberry picnic, because they were in our film, a movie I did to see if it was possible to do what I'm hoping to do. So I did a dummy run with a film called "Lion's Mouth" which was about the Rector of Stiffkey."

Tell me more about that.

"The Rector of Stiffkey is a real life man. I like biographic films - he was a preacher - in the 20s and 30s. He'd preach at Stiffkey on Sunday mornings, catch the first train up to London, stay there for a week, staying with fallen women, and come back just to preach the next Sunday. But he saved a few for himself, apparently. So he was tried before a court in Westminster and found guilty, stripped of his living, stripped of everything, and spent the next three or four years on Blackpool prom preaching from a barrel for money for an appeal. He ended up though, in about 1937, by which time he was 53, in a freak show. He advertised, because he thought he would get some real money for this, that he would preach Daniel and the lions den in the lions cage."

Go on.

"Well after two performances, his co-star ate him. So I thought that was a good little yarn."

There have been reports that Tim Burton is also interested in making a film of The Fall of the House of Usher.

"Oh is he?"

Well he's commissioned a script
 
"Well I've had this script for 10 years and I tried to set it up and got very close at various times but it was all - you know, the thought of Poe and me, I think, just kind of scared people away. Can't think why [laughs]."

If it was something you had suggested back in the late 60s/early 70s, do you think people would have been less scared?
 
"Maybe, because I tried to sort of set it up in the last 10 years when things have changed. But maybe got it going several times. But it [the film] has changed tremendously over the last 10 years, for the better. I’m sure it's become more spare but more imaginative, and less heavy with dialogue, and less conventional."

What do you think of Roger Corman's version of The Fall of the House of Usher?

"In it's own way it's fine but it doesn't do justice to Poe, I think. It's not very imaginative and most of the artwork, the design, is dismal. But, you know, that's part of its charm. I wouldn't knock it. It's given a lot of people pleasure, you know what I mean? And I hope this will. But I also think it will make people think a bit. I have images where people will wonder what they're supposed to feel when they see them. For instance, I have dinosaurs screwing sex dolls."

OK . . .

"You see? You see your reaction? Why are you laughing at such a horrible image?"

Because it's funny.

"It's appalling."

That's just my sick mind, you know?
 
"Oh so you're my audience. You are the audience I'm after."

© Stephen Applebaum, 2011

Tuesday

Snowtown Director Justin Kurzel On A Real-Life Australian Horror Story

Dysfunction and death in suburban Australia

 On 20 May, 1999, policemen investigating the theft of computers and DVD players in the quiet rural town of Snowtown, 145km north of Adelaide, made a grisly discovery in the vault of a disused bank that would send shockwaves across Australia.

Cutting their way through a door sealed with plastic sheeting, they found several plastic barrels, inside which were the decomposing remains of eight bodies, suspended in acid.

“These policemen, who were very young, were suddenly faced with Australia’s worst serial killing,” says the Sydney-based filmmaker Justin Kurzel, whose disturbing debut feature, Snowtown, revisits the headline-grabbing case.

Snowtown acquired instant infamy, but only one of the final tally of 12 murder victims was actually killed there. The rest, like their killers – ringleader John Bunting, Mark Haydon, Robert Wagner and James Vlassakis, who turned Crown Witness – came from the grim, poor northern suburbs of Adelaide, two hours away.

The “Bodies in Barrels” murders, as they luridly became known, shocked and gripped Australians. At the time, though, no-one seemed particularly interested in exploring the complexity of their context.
“It was much easier to label it as a freak show,” says Kurzel. “The community went into lockdown, and it became a bit of a taboo subject to talk about.”

When a documentary was made, he says: “The only way these events could be investigated or brought to the screen was kind of as body counts. Everything was sensationalised.”

Bunting and his crew were portrayed simply as monsters. “They were not great people. But in terms of the in-depth look as to why and how this happened, and what sort of effect it had on the community and what place the community was in when the murders happened, I think no-one really wanted to discuss it or investigate it.”

Even Kurzel admits that he didn’t know much about the case when he received Shaun Grant’s screenplay. Daringly, it took the point of view of  Vlassakis (played in the film by newcomer Luke Pittaway), who had been just 14 when Bunting came into his life and assumed the role of father figure.
A victim of sexual abuse, Vlassakis was easy prey for Bunting who, during the first half of the film, uses emotional and psychological manipulation to groom the youngster to be a killer. At around the half-way point, he participates in the brutal murder (the only one portrayed on screen, although clever storytelling makes you imagine you have seen more) of his sexually abusive half-brother, sinking him deeper into Bunting’s sadistic world.

“When I read the script, this relationship – and I guess how [Jamie] was seduced and coerced by John, and how John led him into this kind of evil – was really fascinating,” says Kurzel.

Growing up in Gawler, north of Adelaide, he had played football in the area where the murders took place, and had friends there as a child. As a result, he says, “I had a really strong curiosity as to why something this dark happened in a place that really formed me as a young adult.”

More to the point, he’d known a lot of boys from single parent families, like Vlassakis, who were “desperately searching for those kind of male mentors, and really searching for their own identity through older male figures in this area. So I could completely understand that dynamic.”

Kurzel was also intrigued by Bunting (charismatically played by TV actor Daniel Henshall), whose sociable nature defied the clich├ęd image of the serial killer as loner.

Originally from Queensland, he fitted in so well that people trusted him to look after their kids and attend parent-teacher interviews. Usually, as Kurzel observes, “serial killers are kind of hermits and work alone. Well, this guy was able, for six years, to work with three other perpetrators, and be very visible in the community. [When the murders were discovered] it wasn’t like, ‘Who is this person?’ It was someone who was a neighbour. It was all happening in suburbia. It was happening just down the road from a school. It was happening during the day.”

Part of the reason why Bunting was able to go on for so long, Kurzel believes, is that he seemed to offer people a way of breaking the cycle of sexual abuse that had afflicted the area for years. He compares Bunting’s arrival at the beginning of the film to that of a vigilante hero in a Western.

“John rides in on a bike and lights a bomb, and it was just like this perfect storm where he empowered everyone. He said, ‘You don’t deserve this. You are a victim in this and it’s now time to do something about it,’ and he created kind of an energy and life force within them all to really start to change.

“I definitely saw that in the character of Jamie: the kid who is pretty apathetic to the experiences and the situation around him, and who, I think, suddenly found a voice.”

When Kurzel and his team moved in to the community where the crimes took place, and started conducting interviews with locals, they discovered that many people were still under the illusion that Bunting’s victims were all paedophiles and sex offenders, whereas he’d also targeted the disabled and the vulnerable.

“My feeling is that he had an ideology at the beginning, and it’s definitely something we explored,” says Kurzel. “But he had this psychopathic nature and that ideology suddenly shifted into a very sadistic need to kill.”

If some people apparently found comfort in the idea that Bunting was just killing paedophiles, does that mean that the attitudes that allowed the murders to happen still exist there? 

“Look, the subject of paedophilia and sexual abuse in the area is still a very volatile one,” he says. “It seemed to be, especially around the time of the murders, something that was being repeated and there seemed to be huge patterns of abuse … So there was a real sense of resentment and hatred and anger about why this had kept on happening, and, I guess, an understanding of how someone could have empowered somebody who had endured it.”

Vlassakis’s downward spiral into the darkness is harrowing and unrelenting. People have criticised Kurzel for not offering a moral resolution nor redemption but, the director says, that would have betrayed the truth. “I would have loved at the end to be able to go, ‘And Jamie rang the cops and they all went home.’ It would have been fantastic. But I didn’t have that luxury: he didn’t. It was more about a kid’s descent towards becoming the thing that John wanted him to become, which is a killer, and to view the world in the eyes of a killer.”

Understandably there were fears that Snowtown would be a slasher or a body count movie. By living and filming in the area where the killers operated, however, as well as casting key roles from there, the film-makers were able to convince people of their integrity. The result is a thoughtful if gruelling exploration of the relationships at the heart of the horror, and of a lost community so drained of hope and apathetic that it failed to see the terrible acts unfolding in its midst.

“To me it was always a cautionary tale about turning a blind eye to these kinds of disaffected places where you go, ‘Oh, it’s their problem,’” says Kurzel. “No, this is deeply, deeply connected to what relationship we have with each other and also with these types of communities that are everywhere, not just in Australia.

“The point of the film is that no-one [noticed] because no-one gave a shit about the people that were murdered. So it was about forgotten people. I think that was the tragedy of the events.”

Snowtown is out now

This article was first published in The Scotsman

Filmmaker Jes Benstock On His Andrew Logan Documentary, The British Guide To Showing Off

Filmmaker Jes Benstock talks about the artist Andrew Logan, the Alternative Miss World show, and his rambunctious documentary, The British Guide to Showing Off

What was your impression of Andrew Logan when you met him for the first time in 2004?

“It's funny because I expected him to be totally over the top, and yet he was so domestic and domesticated, and vicar-like, really. He was like an English vicar more than anything else . . . You'd never think of him as being shy, but he has a kind of shyness about him. Not all the time, but he likes quietness as well. Anyway, it seemed totally at odds with the extravagance of the [Alternative Miss World] event, so I was delighted.”

Do you think the show creates a space that gives people permission to be the outrageous people they want to be?

“Absolutely. Christine Binnie, who was one of the Neo Naturists, said that being around Andrew, he gives you licence. He gives you licence to be a diva, or whatever is you want to be for the night. You never feel a sense of being censured for what you're doing. He is an endless encourager.”

Did you see any examples of that during your time with him?

“You know, he comes across as a bit of a straight edge. He doesn't drink, he doesn't smoke, although he did, as we know from the film, take acid. I sort of realised how cheeky he was when one time we were filming, he was showing me this hand mirror that he had made, and on the back of the hand mirror was this face, and he said, 'Oh yes, look at the nose.' You could take the nose off and it was a coke holder. Even though he didn't do [coke] himself, he knew so many people who did, so he thought, 'Well, that's what they want. It's a nice mirror, with a nose that comes off.'”

He knows his clientele.

“But he also enjoys the cheekiness of it. He is not at all afraid of stepping over any boundaries. I don't think he acknowledges them, actually.”

Is the cheekiness and mischievousness part of what makes the AMW quintessentially British?


“Yeah, I think it's definitely a very important part of it. Cheekiness doesn't respect money at all. And you get the feeling that if this show was in America, or pretty much anywhere else in the world, they'd be so concerned about the money side that they might get a bit upset if people suggested things that were a bit naughty, or did something that was a bit naughty. People might then tell them off afterwards or something. Which doesn't happen at all with the Alternative Miss World. So yes, I think that's one element of the Britishness.”

Has the show become more radical, or more alternative, the more homogeneous a lot of pop culture has become?

“I think it just appears so. I think it was always very radical. If you think about when it was first started, it was only a few years after the repealing of the laws against gay men being together, full stop. Also, the first show was only a few months after the first gay rights march in London. Although the show itself is not politicised, it fits comfortably within a world which is politicised, or is satirical.”

Something I liked about the AMW show watching your film is the way that it's about people being themselves, and not being moulded like on, say, the X Factor.


“Yeah, I agree. The whole point about what Andrew does, and they talk about it a lot in the run up to the show, is about encouraging people to break out of their own confines. So yeah, I think the X Factor is very of our time in the sense that people don't really care how they become famous or why they become famous. It is just that they must somehow become famous.”

And Andrew doesn't seem to care how professional or amateur people are, so long as they're being true to themselves.

“He doesn't care, everyone can have a go. That's very much a part of his philosophy: everyone should have a go and shouldn't be judged on having a go. And I guess that's where he departs from the X Factor stuff in the sense that in the X Factor if you have a go and you're not very good, then it's quite right that you should be chucked out. Whereas for him, if you have a go and you're not very good, you're still included.”
 
It almost seems like he was Punk before Punk.

“Yeah, Peter York is very interesting on this. He wrote an article called for Harpers & Queen in the mid '70s which was about Logan and his scene, and in that he does this amazing description of them and the way that they dress. But what was interesting was that at the end of that article, he says something like, 'The Punk scene has more to owe to them than they would like to admit.' Because the whole Punk scene was populated by people from Andrew Logan's world. In '75, a lot of people went from Glam and then came out as Punk, started dressing punky. People like Zandra Rhodes, of course, who was pioneering with her Punk clothing. Vivienne [Westwood] and Malcolm [Maclaren] were also part of that scene, before they publicly turned against it. Although privately they were still involved.”

So when the Sex Pistols played at Andrew's Valentine's Ball, at his Butler's Wharf studio, in 1976, it wasn't a collision of cultures but one emerging from the other?


“Totally. Up to that point, Vivienne and Malcolm had been coming to Andrew's dos and shows. And they had been to the Alternative Miss World the year before. That's why they chose the venue, because they saw the debauchery and licentiousness that went on at the 1975 show and thought, 'Well, we'll have some of that.'”

Andrew's siblings feature prominently in the film. When did their importance in the story become clear to you?

“After a couple of years of spending time with him. In 2004, his sister Janet and his brother Quentin were brilliant and hilarious, so I knew they were really important. His mum had just died, so I never got to meet his mum. I knew he dedicated the 2004 show to her but I don't think I really took it in. But they did, Andrew and Michael [Davis, his life partner], because I had just finished a film about family and the importance of family ties to coping with suicide and mental illness, Orders of Love, and they'd seen that and they loved that, and they said, 'You're the only person who's talked about the threads throughout the years.' They didn't mention family, they didn't talk about it at all, because it's so taken for granted. So it was just spending time and realising, 'Oh, Janet keeps turning up. Quentin keeps turning up. I keep hearing about Peter and I keep being given discs of music that Peter got together for Andrew,' and slowly I got to meet them all.”

What was the picture that emerged?

“I realised that, of course, Andrew isn't at the centre of the family, the parents were. And they're all their own people. They're all very strong and they're all very interesting. But Andrew could not do what he has done over the years without their support. He couldn't have done the first eight Alternative Miss Worlds without Peter and Richard. They wouldn't have been the same at all.”

Their parents encouraged them to play and to express themselves. Is Andrew giving to other people what his parents gave to him and his siblings?

“Maybe, yes. I think he is definitely passing on. He doesn't have kids, he is a very uncle-y figure, and, you know, in order to feel part of the world, you have to pass stuff on. And I think he does it tremendously through his life, really, not just through his work. Everything he does is about trying to make people feel better about themselves and about the world, in quite a striking way.”

So did you find this an inspirational world to go into?


“Massively, yeah. It was a huge inspiration. Andrew himself, of course, is very inspirational, but so are many of the people around him, or the people I met as a result. I'm thinking in particular of Duggie Fields, Molly Parkin and Bruce Lacey. Molly's going to be 80 next year, Bruce had just turned 80 when I met him, and Duggie's a contemporary of Andrew's, so he's in his 60s: they're all such great artists and they keep the faith with their work, and they keep at it. And it doesn't matter to them the level of recognition that they get, it's much more about doing the work.”

Have you taken something away from that yourself?

“Yes, in the film world it's quite hard to just keep doing but it really inspired me to encourage myself to get together not just scripts, not just development ideas, but actually shoot things. Actually make things. Go out and shoot a documentary. Go out and shoot something. And then see if there's a market for it. But don't be afraid of doing it in the first place because the more that you delay, the less you make. And the less you make, the less happy you are.”

The British Guide to Showing Off is out now

© Stephen Applebaum, 2011

Monday

Michael Shannon Catches The Zeitgeist In Take Shelter, and Talks Boardwalk Empire and Hitmen

You played characters with psychological problems in Revolutionary Road and Bug, to name two films. Why are you playing another one in Take Shelter?

"When I do something like this, I’m not thinking: 'Wow, what a great opportunity to explore mental illness.' I’m thinking, 'This is a fantastic love story.'"

There are a number of films around with an end of times feel to them. Is Take Shelter in tune with the zeitgeist?
 
"People have been thinking the world was going to end ever since it started. But it is getting a bit oppressive right now. It’s very hard to read a newspaper or a magazine without seeing a story about how screwed everything is. It’s kind of like Chinese water torture. Eventually it’s going to make a mark."

A while ago you said you'd like to work with Lars von Trier. Is that still the case or is he toxic after his "Nazi" meltdown in Cannes?
 
"[Cannes was] blown out of proportion. I read an article in American GQ recently where he’s trying to explain himself … [and] the guy’s obviously incredibly tortured. I don’t think a day passes where he doesn’t feel like he’s going to lose his mind. People that say things like that, they’re usually suffering quite a bit."

You've done two seasons of Boardwalk Empire. Have you ever been surprised by some of the turns your character has taken?

"Every once in a while I will get a script and I’ll say, 'Really? Do you really think he would do this?'"

Has it been difficult trying to get inside the head of real-life contract killer Richard Kuklinski, for 2013’s The Iceman?
 
"We’re all people, and any one of us is capable of anything … I would never endorse anybody harming anybody in any way, shape or form, but I look at somebody like Kuklinski and this double life he led, and that is fascinating to me."

I was surprised to read that you're in a band, Corporal.
  
"Yeah, I write songs, I play guitar and sing. I shake my ass a little bit [on stage]. It’s nothing you’d want to pay money to see, but I feel it."

Take Shelter opens on Friday 

Originally Published in The List

Sunday

Andrew Logan: Artist And Alternative Miss World Founder

Flamboyant London artist Andrew Logan, 66, discusses Jes Benstock's affectionate documentary The British Guide to Showing Off

There have been films made about the Alternative Miss World before. How was this presented to you and how was it different, conceptually, to the other films?

“Ever since I began, every single event has been filmed and documented.The first one was [Jack Hazan's film about David Hockney] A Bigger Splash, wasn't it? It really started with that one. I just felt that, living in a world where things are easy to be archived, it was an important thing to do. They're such wonderful events, I quite wanted people to be able to have a little glimpse of them."

So how did Jes Benstock's film about the staging of the 2009 event come about?

“We had three people up for the 2004 Alternative Miss World event,  which was held at the Hippodrome in Leicester Square, and we met three of the filmmakers. Two of them were very businesslike, and the third was Jes Benstock. I think he had an award-winning film and we just got on, really. So he documented the 2004 and went away edited it. And then he came back and said he would very much like to, in fact, cover all the events and my life. He felt it was an important part he wanted to give to humanity."

How long did he follow you for?

“For about two years. And then he spent two years editing. So it was truly quite a remarkably long time [laughs].”

Were you comfortable being followed around like that? You do seem – in fact everybody seems – comfortable on camera in the film.

“[Raucous laughter] I think, Stephen, you just have to get used to it. And he's such a nice man and all the people that work for him were very nice. So I think if you've got nice people around you, it doesn't really matter. He's part of the family now." 

Were you brought up around film?

"My parents never had movie cameras and things like that. Derek [Jarman, his friend] had quite an archive that his father shot, but I never had that. But I've always enjoyed being in front of the lens, I think. Showing off, really.”

Your art is very flamboyant so do you see it all as performance, in a way?

“Oh yes. When people say, 'What do you want to be called?' I say 'sculptor', because to me that embraces everything I do, from the small pieces like the little scuptured jewellary to the big one: the Alternative Miss World. It is still, to me, a sculpture. It's just working with a lot of people and they all have this amazing input.”

The Alternative Miss World is an ephemeral, one-night only event. So is that why it's also been important to document it?

“Well yes and no. I mean I do quite like ephemeral as well, because like all of us, we're only here for a split second really. We think we're here forever, but we're not. So it's really, I suppose, a reflection of our lives. But then I just think it's such an inspiration for future generations, hopefully.”

Were you surprised by the way the event took off and the way that it captured people's imaginations? Did you think, when you first did it in 1972, that it was going to be a one off?


“Every time I come out on stage or appear, there is an atmosphere that I've never felt anywhere else. And so far I have the same feeling every time I come out. It's just warmth, really. Just a warmth and expectation. It's just this feeling. I would like to carry on until I drop, really. And also because I think it's fascinating going over different generations. There are people who are now entering that are children of people who entered originally. So it goes from generation to generation. And it's such a simple idea. I suppose I do give it my little angle.”

Does each event, then, feel like the first time in a way?

“Almost, yes. Although organisation-wise it tends to get more difficult. I think when we first started we simply woke up in the morning and said, 'We'll do it,' and just did it. Now, of course, there's so many restrictions put on events and things.”

I got from the film that while you love the party, the organisational bit is not your favourite part.


“[Laughs] And that's part of it, I suppose. I've lived through it and come out the other end. Which is what's so wonderful. You do come out at the end and the event was exactly the same as before.”

Do you ever do these events to coincide with or as a reaction to events on the social and political landscape? In the film, Michael Cashman says he saw the event he co-hosted as a response to Clause 28, for instance.

“No, no, it comes entirely from me, I think [laughs]. I do it when I feel the time is right. Or I could be prompted. I remember Piers Atkinson, who is an up and coming Milliner now, and he was at the time working for me, some years ago, and he was sitting in the back of the car and said, 'Oh, why don't you another Alternative Miss World?' and I said 'Good idea.' And I did it. So sometimes it can be literally a response to somebody. It happens in mysterious ways, I never know what will happen. As an artist, I kind of open myself up to the world, which is important. So you open yourself up and all this stuff comes pouring through you, and sometimes you click in and sometimes not. I think that is exactly what the Alternative Miss World is saying: I will open myself up and see what happens.”

You talk in the film about transformation and people transforming themselves. Does this bring it into line with your work in general, because much of what you do is about transforming found materials into works of art?

“Absolutely. So that's very much the same, yes. The transformation. Through the different generations different transformations occur. Of course, I must say, I will see a costume come on and I'll think, 'Oh, that was 1978' or something. But they are different, of course. Nothing is original, as we all know. It's all interpretations of . . . . It's the same with this event.”

Do you think that through this process people sometimes discover things about themselves?

“Yes. I don't think we've ever had a baby born at the event but we've certainly had marriages formed and things like that. Life and death occurs. I think people do discover parts of their lives that they might have ignored or didn't know existed.”

Do you think there's a possibility that people then come away from it more complete?

“Yes, my message is about joy and happiness. Celebrating life. I think people forget it, don't they? They have so many pressures. So I'm hopefully there to be able to encourage them to realise this fact.”

Are you, in a way, giving people the space to play in that your parents seem to have given you and your siblings as children?

“I hand't thought of it like that, Stephen, but I think perhaps you're right. Yes, you're given a framework and you [play] within it. I give the contestants the day and the place and the time and everything, and then they do anything they want.”

I wonder if people sometimes feel that they need permission to express the more outragous aspects of their personality, and that's what you give them?

“I think this is true. As I said, there are so many limitations being put on us all the time.”

In the film it mentions that you had an experience with acid. How defining was that in terms of the way that you subsequently pursued your art?

“It gave me the confidence to actually create the art. Until then I had been an architecture student and thought about making things and doing things, but never had. I didn't have the confidence, which I think a lot of young people don't. Mine happened to be through that little trip. I only had one and I never touched it ever again. But it can come through other ways as well. This event, possibly will give people that confidence or make them think suddenly they want a change.”

How important was becoming part of the London scene in the early 70s?

“I suppose the London at that time was very open and the artistic community was very small. And fashion, really, things were very open. You could just move one to another. Everyone had gone to New York in the Seventies, so London was ignored, which was fabulous, because it was like a playground. You could just do anything.”

You went to New York but it didn't work out for you. Why was it a bad fit for you?

“Well there was a famous gallery downtown, I think Any Warhol was exhibited there, and I showed the guy my book of sculptures I had done, the Biba roof garden and things, and he just looked up at me and said, 'Smiling is out this year. Good bye.' So, as I say in the film, I became almost an alcoholic. Everywhere I went I was rejected. Everywhere. I was just interested.”

You've never lost your kind of joyful outlook. Has it been difficult at times to retain that?

“Of course there's pressures and things. I think you have to work on these things. That's why I took up yoga, which I've been doing quite seriously. And it's funny because it was age 50, I think, when my body suddenly said, 'I want to do yoga.' It wasn't my decision, it just happened. It was announced.”

You say in the film that if something is not flowing then it's probably not supposed to happen. So is this how you have led your life in general?

“It may indicate another direction, yes. So if something happens it means you just have to step sideways and you'll see another door, and you go through that door.”

How did you feel what you watched the film for the first time?

“[Laughs] I felt very humble. And yet, one thing that I thought that was fantastic was that Jes has created an entity. Okay, it's about the Alternative Miss World and me, and Michael [Davis, his life partner] and my art, and life and everything, but he has created something that stood up by itself. I just thought that was magical. He had created this living being. The message of joy really. He had created the message.”

The British Guide to Showing Off is out now

©Stephen Applebaum, 2011