Category: Scotland


UNDER THE SKIN directed by Jonathan Glazer (UK,USA, 2013)

ScarlettThe greatest movies are those that discretely change your perception of the world. Inspiring auteurs like Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch play upon the voyeuristic nature of cinema and their strength of their vision lies in drawing the viewer into the kind of dark and sinister worlds ‘normal’ citizens would go out of our way to avoid. Jonathan Glazer can safely be added to this exclusive director’s club.

Under The Skin is loosely based on Michel Faber’s brilliant and disturbing debut novel. The operative word here is ‘loosely’ because so much of the plot has been changed it almost amounts to a different story entirely. The Scottish setting is the same but otherwise the divergences far outweigh the similarities. Even so, the movie captures the essence of the novel by being faithful to the atmosphere if not the details.

In the novel the alienated alien, Isserley, is described as “half Baywatch babe, half little old lady” which is hardly a description that applies to Scarlett Johansson who still manages to look sexy despite wearing a scraggy black wig and manky fur jacket. In fact Glazer makes sex the chief way in which the solitary males are lured to their fate; they don’t have to be drugged.

The movie is seriously creepy although not as explicitly horrific as the book. The victims disappear into a strange liquid, a symbolic and seemingly painless death which is a happy death compared to the nightmarish process of being turned into braised meat that Faber describes. Continue reading

UNDER THE SKIN by Michel Faber (Canongate Books, 2000)

The first time I read this novel, I found it mildly disturbing and extremely distasteful. After having just seen Jonathan Glazer’s loose but still remarkable movie adaptation, I decided to give it another try. This time around I got it!

I can now appreciate what a powerful and brilliantly sustained piece of writing it is. At the same time I can understand what I initially found so off-putting.

Faber’s precise, clinical  prose is emotionally detached to the point that he challenges readers to use their own moral compass to decipher the grotesque story of a freakish female extraterrestrial named Isserley who assumes human form to prey upon unsuspecting hitchhikers in the Scottish Highlands.

Initially you think that her motives are sexual as she seeks out muscular men and flashes her surgically enhanced boobs at them. It transpires that her intentions are far more sinister as these beefy men are quite literally wanted for their meat value.

It takes a while to realise what Faber calls human beings are actually fox-like alien creatures from Isserley’s homeland while we Homo sapiens are downgraded to ‘vodsels’ whose grim fate is to be processed into “thin fillets of braised voddissin”. Continue reading

Exif_JPEG_PICTUREThe 7″ single Carnival/Canter on the DIY imprint ITLAN based in Edinburgh, Scotland marks the welcome, and long overdue, return of Tissø Lake, the recording project of Ian Humberstone.

I blogged about his album Song Of The Black Dog in 2008 but since early 2010 he has gone off the radar.

Now he’s back and the good news is that the single will be closely followed (on April 14th) by a re-release of ‘The Hollow Wood And Wondrous Cold’ which was recorded in 2005. Unless you live in America and snapped up a copy of this on the now defunct Banazan Records label, the ten tracks on this mini album will also be new to you.

Both records are highly recommended for lovers of quiet, introspective folk music. I love ghostly yet intimate quality of his songs which, to borrow a line from the song I Am A Lake, leaves you with the feeling of being “breathless and alive”.

Ian very kindly agreed to answer a few questions about his song writing and the background to these releases:

How come The Hollow Wood And Wondrous Cold was only released in the U.S and why has it taken 8 years to reach Europe?

Ian Humberstone

The Hollow Wood and Wondrous Cold was recorded when I was still in my teens, making music with whichever instruments fell to my hands, borrowed microphones and a reel-to-reel recorder salvaged from a local sixth-form college (it was headed for the skip, though with some care it’s served me well since). There were few people interested in releasing the album at the time and the best offer came from a U.S. label who wanted exclusive rights to the album. Those rights only recently expired, freeing up the record for re-release. Continue reading

KAFKA, CAPRA AND CAPALDI

This might come in handy on the Tardis - Peter Capaldi with his Oscar statuette

This might come in handy on the Tardis – Peter Capaldi with his Oscar statuette

Before he was sharp-tongued media adviser Malcolm Tucker in BBC’s The Thick Of It and, more recently, being transformed into a gigantic (in global marketing terms) time lord as the new Dr Who, Peter Capaldi won the Oscar in 1995 for a quirky short film he wrote and directed called Franz Kafka’s It’s Wonderful Life.

This is one of a virtual treasure trove of 550 free movie listed on the Open Culture website.

Gregor Samsa post metamorphosis

In the film, we find K (Richard E. Grant) struggling to overcome writer’s block while writing the famous opening to his short story Metamorphosis.

He is distracted by a knife salesman searching for his pet cockroach and by the noise from a party downstairs attended by a group of young women who look like extras from Picnic At Hanging Rock.

Like Frank Capra’s feel good Christmas caper, it all ends happily as Kafka gets his inspiration and wins some new friends in the process (“call me F”).

Just like Kafka’s life it is dark, strange, surreal, satirical and short.

Sexy beast! Scarlet Johansson as the alien in Under The Skin.

Sexy beast! Scarlet Johansson as the alien in Under The Skin.

When I read the novel Under The Skin by Michel Faber, I found it disturbing and a little distasteful. It’s the story of a woman who fell to earth who lures hitchhikers in a remote part of Scotland to a sticky end. Forget any tales of cute extraterrestrials – this is one alien who does not come in peace.  It was all a little too vivid for my taste although I’m tempted to read it again to see if I feel the same way about it now. The main motivation would be that it has now been made into a film which is currently doing the festival circuit  – Telluride , Venice and Toronto. The movie gets a bad review in Variety but the critic’s closing complaint about “the thick Scottish brogues rendering large swathes of dialogue incomprehensible” make me suspect that this is not to be taken too seriously.  This seems to me equivalent to bitching about the street patois of the black characters from Baltimore in HBO’s ‘The Wire’.  One man’s incomprehensibility is another man’s authenticity. I give more credence to Mark Cousins whose magnificent Story of Film (book + TV series)  makes him a movie expert whose opinion I respect. He has just written two Tweets which read as  follows: “I think it’s years since I’ve seen a film as good as Under the Skin directed by Jonathan glazer. A masterpiece”. “S Johansson + Scotland + hidden cameras + new imagery + death music + tenderness + brutality + sex + Orphee + Glasgow = Under the Skin” Continue reading

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