Artemis 81

 1981

Hywel Bennett, Dinah Stabb, Dan O'Herlihy, Ian Redford, Sting, Roland Curram.

Film Cameraman: David Jackson.
Design: Gavin Davies.
Painter (glass-shots): Brian Bishop.
Organ Passacaglia: Gordon Crosse.
Produced by David Rose.
Directed by Alastair Reid.
 

 

Experiments with smoke and laser-beams: Gavin Davies (designer), with Margaret Whiting as Laura, a suicide's wife and now herself a captive in Death's underworld. Production photograph © Willoughby Gullachsen.

Some of the futuristic design is too close to '70s Doctor Who for comfort - but to be honest so was my own technical imagination somewhat limited there. Another feature that dates this piece is that the author doesn't have a mobile phone or word-processor: he comes from those few years where the technological cutting edge for a successful author was the IBM golf-ball typewriter. Some of the film's visual devices derive from features of this machine: the Gothic inscription that vanishes letter by letter backwards, the conversion of text into a symbols code... It's a lesson for an author to ponder, that where my own imagery is at its most original, that's where it is most thrillingly realized: the dream-sequence with its stained-glass window (and vanishing inscription) looking out over the sea; the nightmare city where the deconstructed Gideon is taken to be reborn (Birmingham and Liverpool skylines disturbingly fused); the terrifying cathedral, and the murderous set piece with the couple hiding in its great bell; the alien planet with twin suns... The glass-shots are beautiful and unafraid: the insolent red telephone kiosk on the wild green headland; the monstrous ocean-liner dwarfing the dockside street (an affectionate filch from Hitchcock's Marnie)... There was a lot of good will behind this production. On the creative side, everyone involved gave it everything they had.

Then came post-production. The producer David Rose left BBC to take up a senior post at the then new Channel Four, and although he kept a watch on things, in effect we lacked his controlling presence. I nurse a particular grievance about the editing. The up-and-coming young editor I thought right for Artemis, and who wanted to do it, was not even considered: this was a 'big' project, and so was allocated to the Senior Editor - with whom I was never granted so much as a discussion. On Penda, I had been given reasonable access to the edit and the dub, and my responses had been sought and sometimes acted on. On Artemis I was allowed to see no rushes, no rough assembly, no rough-cut; my first invitation to a sighting was together with members of the publicity department. I protested, and was granted a viewing before that; but it was a formality. As I feared, much had been done to Artemis in the cutting-room and dubbing-suite that I could never have endorsed.

But it had been an extraordinary enterprise, and in its making some beautiful things had happened for me. Among the giants I was privileged to work with here, was one of Hollywood's great actors, Dan O'Herlihy, who had been in Carol Reed's classic 1940s IRA film Odd Man Out and later played Robinson Crusoe for the legendary Buñuel. And there was Sting. As an author not celebrated and not glamorous, I was shy of my first meeting with so iconic a being. Sting reversed the situation with a gesture of true grace: the megastar asked me for my autograph - on the script of an old play of mine he had seen years ago in Newcastle, before he was famous.

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