Marcus Thompson’s dark showbiz satire tells the story of Frank Freebie and his accountant Lloyd Deacon who decide to put on a musical show in London as part of an ill-conceived money laundering scheme. 'Hollywood Daze' by Warner Dexter, who used to be somebody in Hollywood, with Mimi Samuels, a fast fading star well past her prime, as the leading lady, seems to be the show they are looking for. It is also a chance for the untrained, untried, untested Richard Howell, son of one of the misguided backers, to get into show business. But a fateful encounter between Howell and an irascible Genie jeopardises the show and shatters Howell's life. The bigger part he wished for becomes too much for him to handle...
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The script sets out well defined characters – tongue in cheek, larger than life and purposefully stereotypical in order to be instantly recognizable, and to provide relationships that the audience will recognise immediately. These roles were cast from the wealth of excellent actors and character actors to be found working in British theatre and cinema.
The primary visual aim of the film was to bring the magic of the thirties back-stage musical genre to a contemporary international audience and merge this with the script’s contemporary macabre and darker side. Though many scenes were shot on the back-lot and in stages at Pinewood, It was our mission to shoot the film wherever possible at the appropriate London locations.
We shot at The Hackney Empire (prior to its overdue refurbishment), where front of house and backstage replicate the theatres featured in the ‘putting on a show’ movies of the 1930’s. Charlie Chaplin strutted these hallowed boards before going to America, and it hadn’t changed since - it was a great location, decrepit and super-charged with nostalgia, and we were fortunate to have total access for almost a month. By contrast, the exterior scenes filmed night after freezing night in the most infamous and needle-strewn backstreets of Soho helped convey the darker side of the script, leaving Howell’s journey through hell echoing in the night.
But above all we wanted the film to have an authentic old movie look – as if it had been found in a derelict cinema’s projection room. To look like it had been projected a million times, and suffered damage over the years. These days this ‘old time movie look’ is usually an effect button in the edit suite, but very recognizable as just that. Furthermore, these effects frequently repeat, which is OK for short ads or music clips, but unsuitable for a feature length movie. For this film we prepared extremely long film loops, which we projected and re-shot, then applied to the entire film in post. We were also able to give the film a slight pulsating or flickering quality, again a feature of old hand-cranked movies.
I like to think that the overall effect of my approach to the appearance and content of the film leaves one feeling as though they have traveled to and returned from a strange dream world, part old time musical, part black and white newsreel and part lost home movie. Like Jarman said, ‘I love the flaws, they are the flaws that the Japanese master potter puts into his work. The arbitrary gesture to spoil a perfect shape. I love the moments which are out of focus. I’ve fallen in love with the dust and the scratches’.
DIRECTOR'S INTENTION FOR THE FILM
Redux, the Latin term for ‘brought back’, or ‘revived’, is exactly what has happened with this film. It was once, albeit unseen and unfinished, under the title ‘Shostakovich Saved My Life’ as far back as 2007, as a black and white film with no dialogue, just sound FX, and a soundtrack comprising of most of Shostakovich’s symphonies 10 and 11. Two Shostakovich symphonies in one sitting is too much of an onslaught for most audiences, and so the search began once more to find the right music.
The songs within the film have always been destined to be hits, but the director had struggled with the problem of what music to use for the rest of the score ever since the first cut. The obvious choice was to use a selection of silent movie pastiche pieces, but it was a road that Thompson did not want to go down – he was after something with more substance. At one point he advertised for top concert pianists to come to practice rooms in Central London to perform compositions by the brilliant lesser known composer and virtuoso pianist Charles-Valentin, a contemporary of Franz Liszt. Ten of the finest pianists in London came and performed, but providing so much music to picture was a daunting task, and due to time restrictions proved to be too much for the pianist eventually selected for the job.
As it happened, the solution to the music score was soon to be resolved by an energetic Greek composer living in London – a musical genius by the name of Nikolas Labrinakos, whose sensational score is soon to receive the acclaim it deserves.
Listen The To The Songs
Tell Me Why?
Flights Of Imagination
City By The Bay
Original Score & Orchestration