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LONDON FIELDS: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT   
(pg. 2)   


Martin Amis interview: THE CHARLIE ROSE SHOW (orig. airdate 6/5/2000)








"LONDON" CALLING AND FALLING



     LONDON FIELDS had a famously (even infamously) troubled release. Around 2001 - the time author Amis was penning his first draft of the script - VIDEODROME / THE DEAD ZONE / THE FLY’s David Cronenberg was attached to direct, but he eventually left to helm A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and EASTERN PROMISES back to back. Over the years others were attached, including YOUNG ADAM and HELL OR HIGH WATER’s David Mackenize, and WELCOME TO SARAJEVO’s Micheal Winterbottom, until in 2013 Matthew Cullen stepped in to helm what would be his feature film debut - at this time utilizing a script which had now been co-credited to writer Roberta Hanley (WOUNDINGS, VERONICA DECIDES TO DIE).

 "LONDON" calling David Cronenberg and Michael Winterbottom

     One of the founding members of the multiplatform production facility Mirada Studios (in partnership with dir. Guillermo del Toro, cinematographer Guillermo Navarro and producer Javier Jimenez), Los Angeles born Cullen had been named one of Rolling Stone’s “Hot List” music video directors, and at the time of taking on LONDON FIELDS he was known for having helmed videos for Adele, Jay-Z, Pink, The Black Eyed Peas, R.E.M., Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and more. At one time he was even up to direct Disney’s big budget fantasy drama MALEFICENT starring Angelina Jolie.  

     Two years after the start of principal photography LONDON FIELDS was wrapped, edited and began industry and press screenings in September 2015 at the 40th Annual Toronto International Film Festival where it was picked up for distribution by Lionsgate. Before screenings for audiences could roll, however, the film was pulled from the festival lineup because of a legal dispute between Cullen and his producers wherein Cullen alleged fraud, not being paid, and having had final cut taken away from him; and where the producers countersued - alleging that the director missed two deadlines to submit his cut of the film, and that he was off shooting a video for Katy Perry during the editing phase of LONDON FIELDS which, according to the producers, Cullen’s production agreement as well as rules by the DGA (Directors Guild of America) expressly forbade.



"LONDON" calling producer Chris Hanley & screenwriter Roberta Hanley



     In November 2016 the producers also sued actress Amber Heard, claiming that she and Cullen had not only failed to finish voice-over work on the film, but that they’d made unauthorized changes to the script. Heard then responded with a countersuit of her own, alleging that a nudity clause in her contract had been violated. Documents indicate that by September 2018 Heard and the producers reached a settlement. And also by this time director Cullen had personally footed the bill for much of LONDON’s post-production phase including color timing, visual FX and its sound mix.



"LONDON" calling director Matthew Cullen  

     By early September 2018 not only had the legal woes of LONDON FIELDS been hashed out to the point that “… all legal disputes between the parties had ceased and that no party had made any payment in connection with the dismissal“ , but that also “… investor Blazepoint Limited underwrote a recut based on a cut previously delivered by director Matthew Cullen”. In actuality Blazepoint released a “producer’s cut” of the film (with no creative input by Cullen concerning it’s final edit) in Russia in September 2018, then one month later to 600 screens in the U.S. through distributor GVN. That cut of the film was met with critical disdain in both Russia and the United States. Then Cullen was given the opportunity to release his “Director’s Cut” version to 10 theaters including a series of “exclusive screenings” at Santa Monica’s Laemmle Monica Film Center. It is this version of the film to which this review / breakdown is addressed.
       
     Most (even those who despise LONDON FIELDS - at least in its “Producer‘s Cut“ version) concur that, notwithstanding a little narrative and character condensing here and there, Cullen’s adaptation adheres rather closely to Amis’ source material. And no surprise here as the author was responsible for the first script draft. But following the same plot pathway, and even lifting large chunks of dialog verbatim from a novel doesn’t automatically mean a film has (or even intends) the same subtextual agenda as it’s literary progenitor. Not if it’s got that 0.001% of genetic difference which makes it an entity, a unique being, all its own.





     Rob Reiner’s 1990 film version of Stephen King’s MISERY (1987) follows the plot narrative of King’s novel near-religiously, and it even incorporates a great deal of King’s dialog. But Reiner and screenwriter William Goldman’s thematic intent (and intent is different from plot) was to in the movie depict an artist fighting to escape what he perceived to be the life-sucking stranglehold which his own fame had heaped upon him. King, however (who loved the film version, by the way!), has clearly stated that his intent with the book was to depict how sometimes what is originally perceived as a creative soul-killer (contractual deadlines, the expectations of one’s audience, the need to create a follow-up / sequel to an earlier success) can ironically - depending upon the artist - actually force out of them some of the best work they’ve ever done. It’s that 0.001% of difference which makes all the difference between two artistic "lifeforms" born of the same DNA.




TWILIGHT ZONE: Five Characters In Search Of An Exit (dir. - Lamont Johnson, 12/22/61)


     While following Amis’ narrative faithfully, Cullen’s personal “postmodern” spin at first seems to be a subtextual rift on Rod Serling’s classic 1961 TWILIGHT ZONE rumination on the ironies of fate, “Five Characters In Search Of An Exit” - where a soldier with no memory awakens to find himself trapped in a large cylindrical room with a similarly amnesic street person, ballerina, clown and old-fashioned Scottish bagpiper? Based on a short story by Marvin Petal, Serling’s rendition (along with it’s title actually) is itself a narrative reworking and “agenda-shift” on both Luigi Pirandello’s 1921 play “Six Characters In Search Of An Author” and - when you peel back yet another layer - Jean-Paul Sarte’s 1944 existentialist gem NO EXIT.




NO EXIT by Jean-Paul Sarte (1944)



     Now, this of course isn't saying that Cullen is necessarily directly and / or consciously referencing these earlier works. But his rift on LONDON FIELDS is certainly born of the same mindset as is FIVE CHARACTERS and NO EXIT. And one could argue that this slight original angle on Amis’ novel in and of itself would have (and maybe should have) been sufficient, ... at least for most filmmakers and their audiences. But Cullen does choose to take things fascinatingly a step or two further.



     The most pronounced of these is in how the film revels in the earlier mentioned postmodern territory of “infinite recursion” - sort of a combination of Norman Rockwell’s famous “Self Portrait” (wherein the artist stares into a mirror in order to paint himself) crossed with the “infinite reflections” image where that mirror in front of you and one behind you shows a reflection of a reflection of a reflection, etc. ad infinitum towards a distant and eternal vanishing point. Keeping this in mind helps to clarify one of the criticisms lobbed at LONDON FIELDS by some reviewers bothered that Heard’s Nicola was “… nothing more than the male fetish object Billy Bob Thornton’s character describes her as” .





     Martin Amis himself acknowledges that in essence that observation is entirely correct. But it's entirely the point rather than a filmmaker‘s "laziness" in building a character and / or fetishism in a shallow "Skinemax" soft-porn kind of way. If that, however, is as far as one can see Young’s conception of Nicola … . Well,  then that seems more to be that individual’s limited conception of the Nicola character, and their own subconscious fetishes being projected onto her, rather than her true purpose within the universe that is Amis' and Cullen's story.

     “Nicola had he power of inspiring love almost anywhere”, Young tells us in his narration, “She was the mirror reflection of every man’s desire. And every square inch of her had been ransacked by men’s thoughts”.

     It may on the surface at first seem to be a misogynist’s fantasy that Nicola changes her personality colors with the deftness of a chameleon depending upon which man’s company she happens to be keeping at any given moment - be it the demure virgin concerned about the fate of a childhood friend above all else (this version of Nicola for Clinch’s benefit), the kinky dominatrix which Talent lusts after, or the wounded muse needed by Young. But as we take another step back we see it’s the “infinite recursion” / “infinite reflections” concept with Nicola (as stated by Young) "the reflection of every man’s desire”.




 
"Self Portrait" and "Infinite Reflection / Recursion"

     In the same way in which Nicola “puppet-masters” and plays God with the lives of Talent and Clinch according to her own whim and purposes … . Well, actually in the same way in which she puppet-masters Talent, Clinch and Young, because in a very real way she alters the life course trajectory of him as well, so does Young similarly use Nicola’s life according to his own literary whim and purposes.

     As he gets to know Nicola over time Young's evolving understanding of her also leads him to believe that - for whatever fateful reason - she is intent on getting Talent and Clinch to fight over her.


     “Her project was to get through men; to get to the end of men. Shattered careers, suicide bids, blighted marriages. The thing with her is that she had to receive this love then send it back in opposite form”.

     She is the universal fate / destiny of these men. And as she justifies her very existence by her ability to determine the outcome of men’s lives, so does Young justify his existence (his writer’s block has ended, and he has a reason to live a little longer - to finish his book) by molding, shaping and altering Nicola’s life; he to a degree controlling her destiny ... at least in the pages of his novel.







     This God-like desire which most writers experience is first evidenced by a scene in a restaurant near the film’s midway point where we seem at first to be in the midst of a simple conversation between Nicola and Talent. But then the fourth wall is quickly torn down as we behold Young at his keyboard typing words which simultaneously emanate Cyrano-like from Nicola’s mouth. Then, as if having rewound a VHS tape, Nicola speaks alternate words, … then we “rewind” again and there are more alternates, ... then again until she comes off in just the right way a writer would want one of their characters to come off, or in the way a god would want one of their underlings to behave.

     As we take a step back in that infinite set of reflections we see that in the same way in which Nicola believes herself to be manipulating the men, and in the same way the men believe themselves to be manipulating Nicola, there is a larger (all powerful?) presence in the corporeal form of British writer on hiatus in New York, Aspery (Jason Issacs), who / which quite possibly is manipulating them all for his / its own whim and purposes. For his own "novel" (if you will).





     Take another step back, and broaden one's horizons, and Aspery‘s “character” could quite possibly be seen / interpreted as fate. Then broaden one’s horizons a bit more, take yet another step back in that infinite hall of reflective mirrors making comment on themselves, and factor into the mix the backdrop of an ever-increasing nuclear nightmare doomsday clock which ticks above everything which happens in this story, and the very essence at the heart of all film noir becomes the central theme of the entire film - the question of “Why is the world the way it is?”.

     The planet earth of LONDON FIELDS is dying, just as is Young. And in the same way in which Young finds a reason to "go on a little longer" by manipulating the life of Nicola, is it possible that the "writer" who is Aspery seeks a similar motivation - namely the manipulation of Young, Nicola and the rest - to keep his / its dying world (including maybe the one in which we the audience all live and exists as the "characters in search of an exit") going on for just a little while longer too?






THE 0.001% SOLUTION


     Is this all a bit much thematically - that whole “nature of fate, the nature of being, and nature of the universe” thing - for one film to attempt to bite off? Perhaps. But if you think about it, it's not really anything more than Terry Gilliam “bites off” with BRAZIL or 12 MONKEYS,  or which Paul Thomas Anderson “bit off” with MAGNOLIA or THERE WILL BE BLOOD, or what Bertolucci chows down on with THE CONFORMIST, or Anderson with O LUCKY MAN, or which numerous other (for our money) genuinely “postmodern” films and filmmakers sink their philosophical / existential teeth into.

     And hell, since we're already going down that road, we’ll take things one final step further …

     The way in which Matthew Cullen stages and films the final scene - where Aspery returns and “acquires” Young’s manuscript. The angle at which the scene is shot strongly implies the possibility (at least to me anyway) that - in TOTAL RECALL / NAKED LUNCH like fashion - the entire film we just experienced just may have taken place entirely within the mind of Thornton’s Samson Young character - aided and abetted by the combination of whiskey and medication which Cullen’s camera seemed so intent on reminding us throughout the course of the entire film.

     So, was / is Aspery a "god being" manipulating the fate of his cast for the sake of his novel - his "creation"? Or was / is Aspery simply a sleazy Machiavellian writer and sonofabitch who just knows / knew if he left / leaves Young alone with his medicine, pills and paranoid and depressed imagination long enough that he'd be certain to bang out some kind of worthwhile book? There's manipulation and puppet-mastering on a universal scale, and there's doing it on a more personal and intimate scale. But when you get right down it, what's the difference, right?





LONDON FIELDS surreal concept art



     Matthew Cullen’s “Director’s Cut” of LONDON FIELDS runs 12 minutes longer than the more widely seen and reviewed “Producer’s Cut”. The “Producer’s Cut” contains two pop songs while Cullen’s cut features Nick Cave, Brian Eno, Johnny Nash, Lykke Li, Sia, Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark, Dire Straits (a particularly charming sequence, by the way) and others serving as a Greek Chorus of sorts commenting on the proceedings. The color timing of the “Producer’s Cut” is more deliberately “washed”, “faded” and naturalistic while the colors in Cullen’s cut are more rich, deeply hued and surreal. The biggest difference,  however, is that Cullen’s preferred cut features a great deal of archival “stock” footage which serves as links between scenes while the “Producer’s” version features none. Most pronounced of these is how near the beginning of Cullen’s version Johnny Nash’s “I Can Clearly Now” plays over a montage of thermonuclear war, public unrest, street riots and more - making it clear before the film begins that society is “circling the drain” and is in the early stages of what will soon be a fully fledged dystopian world.


LONDON FIELDS surreal filmic universe


     Do these differences necessarily make LONDON FIELDS a better - or even different - film? In a September 2018 interview with The Guardian author Martin Amis (who dug the film adaptation, by the way) said he personally didn’t recall many significant differences between either. But he also acknowledged it was a good two to three years between seeing each. So, that’s debatable. Cullen’s version does, however, deliberately give the audience filmic elbow room to thematically free associate by way of the interspersed archival footage, songs and more which lifts the narrative out of a more “realistic” and more "present day" framework and / or arena, and places it into a more “surrealistic” and slightly more futuristic one.






     Admittedly this brand of filmic postmodernism is a rarity today. And Amis acknowledges this. In that same September 2018 interview he states:

     "Postmodernism has started to look a bit antique, in my view. The movement had great predictive power, as we’ve seen life becoming increasingly postmodern in many aspects, but it hasn’t always transferred as literature. Though Harold Pinter wrote the film adaptation of THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN and found a way of doing it where you could see the cast both as actors and in their roles, which seemed to be a clever equivalent to postmodernism. Whether that made the film more watchable – well, I don’t think it is.

     Social realism has come barging back in, certainly with the novel. Most of the innovations of the 20th century, stream-of-consciousness in particular, have petered out in fiction. Fiction’s a social form, a coherent form, a rational form. These experiments of the past haven’t had much stamina".






     At any rate, contrary to it's hugely inaccurate promotional campaign, Cullen's film is certainly not a "crime thriller", "mystery" or even stylish "neo noir" exercise.  For better or worse - and depending upon one’s patience for “those kinds of films” - LONDON FIELDS is truly “postmodern” in the classic sense. It boldly raises questions of an intellectual, existential and psycho-sexual nature, then bravely refuses to posit simple bow-tie answers for the audience. Rather than moralizing and telling us how we should be feeling about what and whom we’re watching (and not only why the characters are doing what they’re doing, but why we’re so intent on watching them do it), Cullen’s LONDON FIELDS leaves it to the individual to filter things through the intellectual, existential and, yes, psycho-sexual prism of their own hearts, minds and subconscious.


     This kind of film making is hardly ever easy, popular, commercial, or even understandable in today’s insta-culture where as soon as one returns from the multiplex these days you can whistle up any number of “The Ending of ‘Such And Such A Film’ Explained” channels on YouTube. So, no, Cullen's brand of film making here isn't necessarily an easy or simplistic ride. But it is often a damned rewarding one for those daring enough to wade into its highly atypical waters.








     In a world where “postmodernism” has all but become a filmic language as extinct as ancient Babylonian, it’s no surprise LONDON FIELDS was partially perceived then received as cinematic gibberish by many. A few of us though want to put a few bricks on the opposite end of that scale, and while doing so  would like to remind everyone about the BLADE RUNNERs, the JOHN CARPENTER'S THE THINGs, and now-considered-essentials such as Howard Hawks’ BRINGING UP BABY, and how they and others were also originally filmic “three legged dogs” gleefully kicked up and down the street by critics of their day, but which later found audiences and grew to cult status among not only hardcore film buffs but (another dirty word coming up here) mainstream audiences as well. Hmmm? ... 

     Earlier I said I didn't necessarily know if this film would eventually go down in the cinema history books as "ahead of it's time" like say BRAZIL, BLADE RUNNER and the rest. But now I'm thinking "Ehhh, y'know, give it a few years and I think Cullen’s deliberately 'all up in ‘yo face and truly postmodern' LONDON FIELDS Director’s Cut will be destined for the same ultimate fate.








     Some may disagree. And that's okay. But like Nicola and Young I'm kind of glancing into the future on this one, just like when BRAZIL and BLADE RUNNER and FLASH GORDON and THE THING and BUCKAROO BANZAI and BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA opened and all the critics dumped on them, but some of us thought otherwise.

     To paraphrase Young, "I can’t believe my luck. I know the film, I know the audience. I know the time, (and) I know the place”.

     We'll see how time plays this one out.




                                                                                                                                              CEJ




Based in Philadelphia, PA, screenwriter / director Craig Ellis Jamison is webmaster of the GULLCOTTAGE / SANDLOT
online film magazine / library as well as creator / producer of its "CreaTiV.TV" network, YouTube
"TUNEPLAY FILM MUSIC" channel, and THE MOVIE SNEAK PODCAST. He's dir. / writer / co-producer
And (to unwind) he recently began penning the 
VAULTED TREASURES FILM BLOG. 

A professed film music and jazz junkie, he's accused of being a workaholic, but more accurately feels he'll take a
vacation when he's "earned" one. These days he's usually found chained to the desk in the wee hours - with a lovable
pain-in-the-ass Lab / Shepered / Pitt mutt named Ripley at his side. - banging out web articles, scripts and a
soon-to-be-published tome on the socio-political history of the science fiction, horror and fantasy film entitled 
"THE INHERENT POWER OF GENRE". 

Drop a line and shoot the sh*t with him on Facebook, or connect via info@gullcottageonline.com





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