With an encyclopaedic knowledge of film, and 45 years of experience in the industry, William Friedkin is as expansive a raconteur about the world of cinema as you could hope to meet. In town to promote his new film Killer Joe, he talked at length about the filming of French Connection, the current studio system, and why violence is a compelling subject matter.
An incidental happenstance of watching so many films in a short period of time, as I am at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, is that films with quite disparate aesthetics and subject matter start to echo. The viewing of one film informs another. So it is in the case of Berberian Sound Studio, for which my love is well-documented, and V.H.S. The former is a sleek fugue of a film about Gilderoy, a sound designer losing his grip as he creates the sound-mix for an Italian exploitation horror in the 1970s. The latter is a crass American enterprise, a horror anthology, set in the modern day. But both are about men who film women, and how they hurt them. Continue reading
If, as the saying goes, we are all each other’s angels and demons, then Lachlan MacAldonich (Robert Carlyle) has played the demon to more than his fair share of people during his life. Whippet thin, every feature a grimace, he’s a barely contained streak of bitterness and regret, the former guitarist of a Madchester rock band, now living in self-imposed isolation in California. Selfish, ungrateful, and often ragingly drunk, his attempts to overturn a deportation ruling – sending him back to his native Scotland – are disastrous, resulting in him finding ever new ways to hurt those around him. It’s a testament to the conviction and ferocity of Carlyle’s performance he’s never less than compulsively watchable in so toxic a role, and that ultimately you end up on Lachlan’s side. It’s a career-best turn.
The washed up musician is well-trodden cinematic territory, most recently with Jeff Bridge’s Oscar-nabbing turn in the country music schmaltz fest Crazy Heart, which California Solo shares common ground with: both Bridges’ and Carlyle’s characters are irascible, high-functioning drunks. Both films are anchored by bravura lead performances. What distinguishes California Solo, however, is an intelligently realised, lean script, which deftly handles the bleak subject matter without ever seeming too maudlin. Whatever his faults, Lachlan is shot through with a healthy dose of Scots wit, so you can always spy the charisma that first draws people towards him before he pushes them away.
The cinematography is garishly beautiful, painting California in grainy, abrasive light – seeing the world through Lachlan’s hangover. The soundtrack, featuring tracks from Lachlan’s old band the Cranks, aptly apes the gangly guitars and ironic lyrics of Mancunian rock. It’s soaringly good, as is the moment where Carlyle performs the titular lament on acoustic guitar. As with the film itself, you’ve heard this story before, but it’s no less beautiful for it.