Your Perverted Rain Gutters

By dean

       A year's gone by since I started ranting here.

       That's all.

       No biggie.

       Move along.

       But before you go, poke your head into this room where director Danny Boyle was recently interviewed. Get this: "I would very much to do a film about the British music industry, particularly about Manchester which has spawned great British acts like THE STONE ROSES, HAPPY MONDAYS, and OASIS. I have an interest in Manchester because it's my home town."

       Applaud now or leave.

       This is definitely A Good Thing. Sure we all have our mixed feelings at all of Boyle's films since TRAINSPOTTING (maybe he got the OASIS curse and couldn't make more than two good attempts in a row), but this is exactly what has to happen. After some well-intentioned mis-fires, Boyle is planning to tackle something he's already showed what he holds dear: music.

       Music is what Boyle's been good at anyway. JOY DIVISION or "Madchester" both fit like a glove for anglophilic Boyle fans, but...that's not what's really important. What's important is that Boyle is taking his already clear musical influences and confronting them. What we're going to get -- flawed or not -- will be a film exposing what lies in the heart of all his films. Yes. Again: music.

       This is a big deal because Boyle is easily one of the most "musical" directors out there already. I don't just mean that somebody like Boyle knows how to stuff scenes with isolated album product we already know and love (it's cross-marketing, but it's damn intelligent and effective cross-marketing). I mean that his directing style -- even in scenes that are dead silent -- is incredibly fluid, energetic, throbbing, and alive. He shoots films like one would expect PRIMAL SCREAM to explode on-stage, or expect a Shoom-like, ecstasy-fueled acid house club to feel. Boyle's films have always felt, well, like music.

       SHALLOW GRAVE, TRAINSPOTTING, A LIFE LESS ORDINARY, even Boyle's recent film, THE BEACH, has moments of fluid, musical notes. To use the worst film as the primary example, take a gander: THE BEACH's opening monologue, its arching second act, its shark story, and its scatter-shot-they-tried-too-much-like-13-and-failed third act. Even when Boyle fails, his films resonate with powerful "musical" textures. Each of the above examples prove that something is driving THE BEACH other than conventional directing ideals; something of an attempt to use the feelings certain songs give us and inject that energy into directing films. Need more evidence? It's also been reported that this (once) untouchable triumvirate of writer John Hodge, producer Andrew Macdonald, and Boyle all openly claimed that they'd much rather be rock stars than filmmakers and that Boyle himself reportedly said he had a four-hour first cut of THE BEACH that was "more kaleidoscopic." It's all starting to mean something.

      If I haven't lost you already in chuckles (you meanies), there's more. To help you show you that I'm not insane, there's an old screenwriting lesson that states: "Take one of the most meaningful, crushing, personal moments in your life...and don't write about it." It's a nice idea. Although the elaboration is even better: "Don't write about it...disguise it." So that's why (when you're lucky) you get potent scripts coming out of people that don't necessarily try to replicate exact events, but instead try to capture the writers' feelings over personal incidents.

       Why can't more directors do this with music? If one can write deadly effective scripts about what "didn't" happen to them, why can't directors make films that -- while not "music videos" -- still retain the music that inspired them? Say, I dunno, PLACEBO's "Nancy Boy" changed your life for whatever reason (I'd like to hear one). Don't make a music video of it, don't shoot a film cramming that song in it somewhere, but direct the film with what the moods the song fills you with. Take the energy and inspiration of a song or album and use that for whatever subject one desires.

       For those that still find this fuzzy, I also do not mean plot. Plot can take care of itself and shouldn't be over-valued (just look at the well-written plot but soulless direction of a film like L.A. CONFIDENTAL). I mean feeling. And texture. And mood. Those things resonate much more importantly than the narrow-minded, rigid schooling of plot-character-conflict ideals.

       Feeling-texture-mood will win everyday anyway. Films like A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Like RUSHMORE. Like THE CONVERSATION. Like FIGHT CLUB. Like LOST HIGHWAY. Like PERFORMANCE (which even inspired SUEDE's Brett Anderson to move into the same part of London where it was shot). Films that -- whether one likes them or not -- have some kind of "tone" about them. Some kind of "song." Films that work on subconscious levels and that play with your moods.

       That's why (respectively), we get films that more or less "feel" like DEATH IN VEGAS, THE KINKS, SCANNER, PRODIGY, PRIMAL SCREAM, and APHEX TWIN. These directors know what they're doing. They know that there's more to film than the stock traits of narrative. And if some albums can be touted as "soundtracks for imaginary films," there can also be films for imaginary soundtracks.

       It's one of the reasons why the vast majority (not to be confused with the sparse majority) musicals do very little most of the time. Because great films are -- by default -- "musical" already. They already achieve so much rhythm and melody of their own that contriving specific "Song 1 -->Song 2" machinations defeat the purpose with a droopy, comic-hammer nick-named, "redundant."

      Film should be about creating different contexts of meaning. It should resonate in different ways from every writer, producer, and director out there. If someone wants to create a film based on what it feels like to hear a new song by one of his favourite bands or how his perverted gutters fill with rain, go for it. Just don't make the film with a story about a guy listening to the new song or a tale of him hearing his perverted rain gutters...but make it about what it all feels like.

       So Boyle's Manchester film project (whatever it turns out to be) should do a couple of things: 1.) resonate with an amazingly energized passion for the music he loves, and therefore 2.) fit him like a floppy, Reni hat. Even ignoring the specific songs to be included in the film, the directing itself will chime like music. It will be an experience. To see a director with such a rush of passion and focus of subject matter. To tackle his inspirations. To create another film so tied to music that it's a song in its own right. The scenes will be the melodies. The dialogue, the rhythms. The subject matter, the lyrics. Even if the film is entirely muted, when the projector fills the screen with his images, it'll be a film that should have even the smallest of music obsessives or sporadic film fans with smiles on their faces, tears streaming down their cheeks, and a simple thought jogging in their heads: this is one of the best songs I've ever seen.