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The One obliges, asking shady reporter Miss Sullivan to write an article that will goad both players into agreeing to the match. When Maxwell demands a contract stating that the loser can never play professional snooker again, The One is troubled, but the Wednesday Man reassures him, saying that the match is fixed.
One ball away from victory, Maxwell slips up, and Billy recovers. Billy calmly draws his pistol and fires the ball into the pocket, securing his future in the world of snooker. Granted, some of these terms apply more than others — it follows certain of them structurally, explores others aesthetically — but none of them are incorrect; this really is the kind of film we are dealing with here. BtKatGBV takes place in a setting that is simultaneously the literal subterranean and figurative criminal London underworld. This is a universe of dark and interlocking rooms, corridors, hallways, and passages, all of which seem to go on forever.
These locations are alternately cramped and vast — sometimes even feel both at once, somehow. Individual homes and venues are often cluttered with detail, but the public spaces between them — the alleys and back rooms, the liminal places — are so sparse and vacant they could be mistaken for theatre. Travelling in this world is like taking a spacewalk. Not since The Cabinet of Dr Caligari has a film presented audiences with a world so shamelessly artificial, so utterly uninterested in appearing real.
If you pause the film on any frame, you know that everything you see is artificial — as created as animation. Like Caligari , the world is not only unreal, but actively hostile to the idea of realism: the whole point is to look as strange and phantasmagorical as possible. The subterranean aesthetic renders this buried history literal — it is a perfect setting for a mythic, allegorical story about an epochal cultural shift.
Or Starship UK. The tenebrous snooker underworld of BtKatGBV is subject to a Manichean battle between two forces, each of them transcendent in their own way. On the other side are the Vipers: the ageing, wealthy upper class, who frequent the opera; the pillar of their community is Maxwell. Different viewers will laugh at different moments, because the film never falters in its commitment to seeing its utterly strange story through — there are no self-aware punchlines, no winks to the camera.
Where Billy is a relatively simple hero, Maxwell is genuinely and literally a very layered character — a supernatural vampire disguised as an upstanding human Englishman who stoops to playing a fictional vampire persona in television advertisements. A tall working-class English conman with dirty-blonde hair and a grimy trenchcoat, The One is a vision of Rodney possessed by Del Boy. Shady and manipulative, he stays one step ahead of his supernatural foes using only his charm, wits, and sexuality.
He excels at plate-spinning, deftly weaving from faction to faction, always playing his allies and enemies against each other; and while his deceptive behaviour might put his relationships under strain, deep down he has a heart of gold. The One, in other words, is the most accurate screen portrayal of John Constantine we will ever see. Payne, however, is excellent in the role, giving a considerably more lively, committed, and engaged performance than Daniels does in his. Emotionally, Billy is insulated from events by his own ego, but The One — despite his self-mythologising nom de plume — is quite vulnerable.
Where both Billy and Maxwell have straightforward and unwavering desires and motivations, The One is torn between his self-destructive gambling addiction, his mortal fear of the Wednesday Man, his lust for fame and fortune, and his deep dedication to Billy. He needs someone to save him. Another highlight of the film is the reporter Miss Sullivan, played with extraordinary dedication by longtime Muppets performer Louise Gold. Another minor character who exists mainly to perform a mechanical plot function, Miss Sullivan is surprisingly compelling character, developing throughout the film in bizarre and entertaining ways that never settle into convention.
Broadly speaking, Miss Sullivan fulfils two roles in the film. In the first half, she is very much a human character: a curious, amoral journalist seeking to play Billy and Maxwell against each other for her own gain. In these early scenes, she is clipped and guarded; her agenda is murky, and yet she seems wryly amused by the macho posturing of her interviewees. She also takes no bullshit: when a leering Maxwell harasses her by invading her personal space, she threatens to cut off his hand, and he backs down, removing his fake fangs to play off his behaviour as an in-character joke.
The former Miss Sullivan communicates entirely though dialogue, the latter Miss Sullivan entirely through song. Mrs Randall, played by cabaret performer Eve Ferret, is another excellent supporting character. The wife of Maxwell, Mrs Randall is a scatterbrained, sickly sweet opera singer who carries a poodle at all times.
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The film leans heavily on the class subtext of the vampire myth, making it so explicit and literal that it becomes a source of comedy. In his very first scene, we see him grope his female make-up artist, and in his next scene makes as if to try the same on Miss Sullivan until she frightens him off. Unlike the silently servile and submissive Brides of Dracula, Mrs Randall is a supportive and caring partner.
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And her poodle is his version of Egypt. Egypt is a man in a perpetual state of quiet exasperation. Most are riffs on self-explanatory archetypes, and the vast majority simply express their innermost thoughts and feelings through ostentatious song. From the moment he appears, accompanied by a sinister ambient wind-chime soundscape, the Wednesday Man is a stranger presence, more difficult to understand.
The Wednesday Man is obsessed with time, and more specifically with timekeeping. He insists that The One must repay him on a Wednesday, quadrupling the debt to punish his slightly lateness. If nothing else, the Wednesday Man goes to show that the writer had one hell of a knack for thinking up brilliant names. Discussing BtKatGBV in terms of authorial intent is quite complex, as it was rather a creatively diffuse production: several figures can arguably be considered its primary author.
The first is the screenwriter, Trevor Preston, best-known for his work on gritty crime series like The Sweeney , but also for fantasy television such as the Doctor Who knock-off Ace of Wands. The second is the director, Alan Clarke, a legend in the British television industry, with a string of TV films displaying a remarkable level of consistency both in technical finesse and in theme. In short, precisely who deserves to be damned or canonised for this thing is open to debate. They examine the intractable problems of the British class system, and portray the constant irruptions of violence between those with power and those without.follow link
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Taking a sociological eye to a series of profoundly flawed, disaffected underdogs, Clarke achieved his greatest notoriety with a string of acclaimed crime dramas including Scum , The Firm , and Made in Britain. Characteristically dishevelled and quite clearly working-class, Clarke was an unusual presence at the BBC, where he spent most of his time as a director. Clarke made almost sixty films in his life, but only three of them were features, and one of those was called Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire ; he never really received the respect he deserved from outside the industry.
They are not settled components of their own worlds. Barry Hanson hired George Fenton to compose music for the television series Out , which was how Fenton met Trevor Preston; they first collaborated on songs for the show. Later, they worked on the series Fox , co-writing further songs. Fenton was hesitant, doubting it would ever get made, but got on-board when they met with a producer and the film started looking like a possibility.
And I think he imagined that the film would be much more opulent in some ways, that the realism of it would have an intrinsic glamour. It was written and prepared with the idea of going on location. His work is a celebration of the more bizarre, eccentric side of the underworld, which he knows pretty well. Apparently, Preston intended the film to be a relatively big-budget production, with plenty of location photography.
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Judging by his other work, one would have expected Clarke to shoot the film entirely on location, aiming for a realistic aesthetic, with any supernatural elements manifesting as brief magical-realist intrusions. BtKatGBV , for better or worse, ended up being one of those fantastical studio oddities. Many of his films take place in cramped, labyrinthine environments — prisons, council estates — which serve as microcosms of larger society; he wheels his Steadicam about decaying urban spaces in degrees until the very walls seem part of the Kafkaesque authoritarian nightmares that the characters find themselves living.
While we can see why Preston objected, this change still services his original themes, consolidating the scripted drama into a pressure-cooker setting. In most other cases, Clarke made films set in the real world, generally with very realistic and domestic stories — the sense of personality bursts through in the contrast between the intense, violent melodrama and the taut, coolly detached camerawork. While his collaborators attest that Clarke was wryly funny in person, most of his films are bleak and brutal — his humour tends not to be noticeable in his subject-matter, but to shine through in the contrast of content and form.
The songs were rehearsed for two or three weeks at Fulham Town Hall, culminating in an excellent run-through.
It was such a positive feeling — everybody was up that day, it was the best day. Apparently, this continued for quite some time; the supervisors, unsure how to deal with this obstinate refusal to engage with them, eventually gave up and went home. Trevor suffered from serious depression, and he was quite seriously ill. After production wrapped, Clarke had real difficulty assembling the film, particularly because the music was not yet in place, so he asked Fenton to join him in the editing room.
None of the people involved could possibly have understood what it was they were ushering into the world. Born in Germany, Brecht was a modernist playwright and committed Marxist. Seeking to illuminate the strange and arbitrary nature of the things we take for granted, Brecht used historical events to comment allegorically on current affairs, and often incorporated music and song into performances.
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Above all, he wrote with a goal: to activate the audience politically, however possible. Fenton had previously worked on an unrelated Brecht adaptation, writing music for a production of Mother Courage and Her Children. This is what happens when you transpose confrontationally artificial Brechtian techniques from the abstract realm of the theatre to the tangibly representative medium of film: rather than fading safely to nothing at the edge of the stage, the artifice refracts outwards across an entire diegetic universe.
BtKatGBV is as estranging as a film can be: in the midst of its absurd neon stagecraft world, nothing feels or works the way we know it, and everything can be seen and questioned anew. Followed by a spotlight, Billy stalks this darkened street, introducing us to three silent figures: a drunken tramp, a homeless woman, and a thief. One by one, he hands them each a wad of money, and moves on.
The music is darkly whimsical, sounding almost like a Jewish folk song. We find Billy flanked by the Vidkids — fifteen filthy, pallid goths, all standing in a pitch-dark low-ceilinged chamber, their faces illuminated only by the ghostly light of their massive blank arcade cabinets. It begins, curiously, with a story — not about Supersonic Sam or Billy Kid, but about another, very minor character. The initials are whispered by the Vidkids, who serve as backing vocalists, hoarse and rough but perfectly synchronised.
He enters the room partway through the song — wearing, in a complete non-sequitur, a red clown nose. It worth pausing to consider the sheer weirdness in play here. Miss Sullivan does not appear to enjoy her first taste of thunderjuice. The song is dense with odd throwaway lines and references that hint at a larger, stranger, more science-fictional world.