Twisty-Headed Man Company
Twisty-Headed Man Company is an award winning creative arts charity working in a variety of media. We work with people with a range of mental health problems. Charity Number SC021585
A scratchy, sepia, silent film with an electrofunk soundtrack. Set in 1919. The film tells the story of a newly married couple just moved into their new home. Alcoholism, wifebeating, a child is miscarried. The husband drinks himself into oblivion while the broken and abused wife suffers in hope of things changing for the better, culminating in a sinister encounter she did not expect. "She loved him but he loved the bottle".
At 02:33 on 17 Jan 2011
You might understandably think that someone is playing you for a fool when you wake up on April the first and hear that there's a new silent film around - The Tenement Ghost, a flickery, sepia-toned tale of mysterious haunting. But you'd be a fool to dismiss it. Director Thomas Cochrane and his hard-working team have breathed new life into an old art form and the result is surprisingly appealing to a modern audience. I caught up with him and his production designer, Alan Tanner, to find out how they did it. What's really striking about this film is its composition, the luminous quality of its images, so I'm not surprised when Tom tells me that this is one of the things he always loved the most about silent film. He's a great fan, citing Fritz Lang as a particular inspiration. The trick to capturing that look, he says, was using a stills camera taking one shot after another and then stitching them all together, pre-processed in black and white - there's still nothing available in digital video that can come close to what the still equivalent can do. This also helped him to focus on the rhythm and feel of silent film. Neither he nor Alan were interested in making a pastiche of silent films - they wanted to use the traditional form to tell a new story. The story in The Tenement Ghost is sadly one that resonates in any age. Early scenes show a young couple getting married, full of hope, but as they settle into their new life things start to go wrong with the relationship and it becomes clear that domestic abuse is involved. I suggest that the original silents might have been wary of taking on such a controversial subject but Tom corrects me, saying he has seen it done - or, at any rate, heavily implied. An audience in those days would have been attuned to pick out certain subtle cues. Nothing in his film is really explicit, so it depends heavily on the performances of his leads. Having directed a short silent film myself, I'm aware that it can be difficult to explain to modern performers just how big and dramatic their gestures need to be to make the format work. "I used actors with theatre backgrounds," Tom explains, making this less of a problem. "They were all comparatively experienced and they were really committed to the film, which was important. There were no rehearsals. Because we didn't have much money so often there wasn't time for many takes, and they knew from the start that it wouldn't be well paid. Some of them provided their own costumes. When it came to shooting the scenes in the church, the minister let us use all the robes there. You have to be a bit cheeky to get thee things done, but he was really helpful, he couldn't have been nicer." The production was put together with minimal cast and crew, totalling about twenty in all. Most astonishingly, it was all done in a single week. "We had only two hours in the pub location because it was all we could afford," says Tom. "We had three in the Clydeport building we were using for offices. We also used the Tenement House Museum [a Glasgow building preserved in the style of the late 19th century]; they usually charge a lot more but we managed to haggle them down to Â£100 a day plus liability insurance. Ideally I would have liked to use the City Chambers but that was beyond our means." Tom's budget filmmaking experience shows - he's the veteran of several shorts and works with a small team of talented but sometimes marginalised people in and around Glasgow. Alan, he explains, is fantastically talented (this certainly shows in the film) but was out of work when they met, unlikely to find another job in the industry because he's past the usual age that people are looking for. Alan explains that he started out as a comic book artist and his passion is for the visual side of film-making. He contributed poster art, very much in the style of the period, and worked on the storyboarding, essential to such a rapid shoot. The two are now working on a new comic featuring silent era star Louise Brooks as a femme fatale alongside 'conflicted Nazis', but they also have further film projects in the pipeline. "We're working on a series of shorts called Tales From Ossian," Tom tells me. "They're little stories from the Celtic legends and they'll be animated - we want to give them a sort of Oliver Postgate vibe. They're set in a little toyshop theatre, on a cardboard stage, and they'll be about three minutes each, which is ideal for TV." This seems a bit of a departure, I venture, from stories about ghosts and domestic violence. "Does The Tenement Ghost sound grim?" Tom raises his eyebrows. "You could look at my films that way, but I think of myself as lightening grim areas. I'm interested in looking at how people become dysfunctional. What is it in their lives that makes them that way?" Essential to the atmosphere of The Tenement Ghost is the striking radiophonic soundtrack performed by "Aberdeen creative types" Skirlin Burster. "They're these two guys called Fred and Fish-Feathers," Tom explains. "I love their stuff and I wanted to let them do their own thing with this. The soundtrack isn't really in a silent movie style but I think it works really well with it. They're still tinkering about trying to find a version they're really satisfied with and I expect they'll be changing bits right up until the film is released. We're planning to show it at the Loch Ness Film Festival with a live musical performance because that's how these things were meant to be seen."