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Tuesday 26 March 2013

Kubrick Hair

Over on the Scouting New York blog, this post about the impossible geography of Kubrick's settings in The Shining and Eyes Wide Shut triggered a memory from 1997.

I was in production at Pinewood Studios when Eyes Wide Shut was filming. My office was in the long main building but on the other side of the lot, visible from afar, was Kubrick's New York exterior set.

The set was highly secure while the work was under way, and you couldn't get anywhere near it. But once shooting was over, the guards disappeared along with the crew and no one prevented me from walking over and poking around.

It was the usual situation that you find with any outdoor studio set. From the outside all you could see was an array of flats and scaffolding. Step inside and suddenly you're The Omega Man or Will Smith in I Am Legend, or else you're The Last Woman on Earth (a movie that I thought I'd just now made up for the purposes of gender equivalence, until I looked up the title and found that Roger Corman has actually made it).

The Eyes Wide Shut set consisted of a couple of New York city blocks but here's the thing that struck me - on at least 50% of the set, every single piece of signage was reversed. Store signs, street names, even graffiti.

Without being party to any of the detail that would no doubt be mentioned in the movie's famously lengthy schedule, I assume that Kubrick took scenes on the streets dressed as normal and then the art department did a mirror-image redress, after which he shot more scenes and reversed the photographed image to get double value out of the same limited piece of backlot real estate.

I'm a fan of Kubrick though not, alas, of Eyes Wide Shut, which  I think of as Dennis Wheatley Makes a Porno.

(The title of the post was my suggested name for those digital embellishments added to cover the movie's sexy bits, to create a version that could secure distribution in the more over-excitable territories.)

Saturday 23 March 2013

Silent Witness DVD

Released March 25th. Buy my episode and get all the others thrown in absolutely free! Amazing bargain.

Sunday 17 March 2013

And in the aftermath...

If you picked up The Boat House during the 48-hour giveaway - and it cheers me that so many of you did - I hope you'll enjoy the read. Did you know that, a year or two after the book came out, it was almost a movie with Jude Law and Milla Jovovich? My agent still sends out my screenplay as a writing sample, sometimes. It's about the only use I can get out of it now, given the turnaround costs that have been run up against it.

You can read that story here.

If you feel the urge to go back to Amazon and add your review, I wouldn't discourage you. 

I'll probably liberate another free book from the backlist in a few weeks, but this time I'll be more businesslike about it and tie it in with the UK paperback launch of The Bedlam Detective.

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Free Boat House, 2 Day Offer

If you prefer, you can skip the story and go straight down to the link for the free book. Otherwise...

In 1984 I travelled to Finland and took the train to Leningrad, as St Petersburg was then known. I was alone, with a backpack and not much money. I'd been living by writing for four years and it wasn't going all that well. My second novel had tanked and my third was unsold. Yet here I was, digging into what little reserves we had to gather the material for a fourth.

This was Soviet-era Russia and so travel was restricted, and had to be organised through the state-owned Intourist agency. I couldn't get into Russian Karelia so I began the research in that part of the divided region that lay within Finland; the area had been split up in 1940 after the Winter War, and the border ran right through it.

All for the backstory of a book set mostly in the Lake District.

That's how I worked, back then. I was neither worldly nor experienced, so I'd go out into the world on a calculated mission to record some experiences. My method's still the same although the backpack hasn't been out of the attic for some years, and I've lost my taste for dossing on railway station platforms.

You know what brought it back? A Disney song on the radio, heard while driving home from town a couple of hours ago. Because it made me realise that The Boat House is essentially a modern-day reimagining of The Little Mermaid.

Which led to an impulse to go online and schedule a couple of free days for the book on Kindle. So for March 13th and 14th you can download it from Amazon for absolutely nothing.

And the novel? Like the one before, I couldn't sell it. Until I sold Valley of Lights, and then The Boat House went for a shedload of money along with the previous book. Film rights too, but that's another story.

Thursday 7 March 2013

What I'm Watching

Well, I gave Red Widow a try... despite a cool title and Radha Mitchell and production values to die for, I couldn't swallow it. It's like Miss America married into Gogol Bordello and they all set up shop in Marin Country as drug-dealing Beverly Hillbillies. Then there's a gang war and Mrs America starts packing heat and running the trade... entirely against her will but, you know, it's the only way to keep the family together. The story choices were skilful enough, but the place they led you to... nah.

Credibility in drama is a strange thing. I can buy into Grimm's world, no problem. Or Carnivale's, or Firefly's. And I reckon I could buy into Crime Boss Soccer Mom if the pieces were put together right, the way they were in Breaking Bad.

The Americans is about the only one of the new shows that I've taken to. It's a kind of Homeland/Mad Men/Mr & Mrs Smith mashup about a husband-and-wife team of Russian spies living with their two unwitting American-born kids in the Reagan-era DC suburbs. He puts on a false moustache to go out on spying missions, she puts on lingerie. Then an FBI man and his family move in across the street. Mucho tension between the oaths they took and the pull of the American way of life, a complexity that allows you to root for them in perilous situations even though, technically, they're the bad guys.


A&E's Bates Motel doesn't air until March 18 but the teasers I've seen make it look like Young Dexter. I see The Glades is getting a fourth season and Longmire's been renewed. I watch both - they're network-style story-of-the-week procedurals, classic 'TV to unwind with'. The kind where the killer is always revealed to be the person who had two unnecessary lines in the second act.

It's not strictly new any more but I also like CBS's Vegas, which is a more populist Boardwalk Empire set in 60s Nevada. Dennis Quaid is basically Longmire in Las Vegas (same scowl, cowboy hat, pickup truck, mourning for dead wife) but the real interest is with Michael Chiklis as a mobster-with-principles-and-a-vision and Sarah Jones (last seen running around with a gun with Sam Neill in Alcatraz) as a sharp-minded casino manager with a classy education and an old-school mob father.


Her from The Matrix is in it too. Strong cast.

Sunday 3 March 2013

Have Cake, Eat

Extremely rare promotional poster from 1966.See this? You wouldn't get away with it today, would you?

And yet, be honest... there's something about that 'sixties adventure-fantasy Dolce Vita that calls to us still. So what, if none of us actually looked or lived like that, or knew anyone who did? So what, if those who attempted to live the life for real mostly crashed and burned?

For the rest of us there was an alternate universe where Bond and Barbarella fought evil masterminds, where secret agents woke to find themselves in mysterious Villages, where a Modesty Blaise or Mrs Peel was a teenaged boy's idea of a feminist icon.

Real life in the 'sixties could still be a bit crap, to be honest, but it was a decade in which our fantasies soared. The exotic and the ironic didn't cancel each other out, but coexisted to make popular art in a way we often struggle to emulate now.

So let me draw your attention to Goldtiger, a Kickstarter project from writer Guy Adams and artist Jimmy Broxton. At first glance it's a classic European-style three-panel newspaper strip, collected and presented in the manner of those gorgeous bande desinee albums that you fantasise about collecting, if only your French was a bit better.

In actuality it's a pitch-perfect recreation of the style and tone of the era, done with love and a contemporary perspective. It's a 360 degree act of the imagination; they've even created the creators and their backstories. Check out the Kickstarter page and see if the project appeals to you as much as it does to me. There's no gambling on whether they can pull it off; what they're funding is the physical production, with the imaginative element already fully-formed.

Remastered strip, with the newly created "Barreti" lettering font and enhanced artwork.

I'm reminded of nothing less than Matthew Holness's brilliant creation Bob Shuter, aka The Reprisalizer, 70s anti-hero and suburban vigilante, about whom I wrote here.