GORE IN THE STORE
IN CONVERSATION WITH MIKE HODGES
In conversation with FrightFest, director Mike Hodges (FLASH GORDON, GET CARTER and CROUPIER) discussed the unfortunate history of his supernatural thriller, finding the roots to his stories in everyday incidents, and the difficulty of letting go of the film.
In BLACK RAINBOW, travelling clairvoyant Martha Travis (Rosanna Arquette) is accompanied on the road by her father Walter (Jason Robards). One night during a séance she goes off-script and communicates a message from a dead man to his wife in the audience. The wife however insists that she left her husband at home and Martha couldn’t possibly be speaking to him. Later that evening the husband is killed by an assassin, that sends journalist Gary Wallace (Tom Hulce) in pursuit of Martha, who knows the identity of the killer, and her sceptic father who are both in peril.
FRIGHTFEST: How do you look back on the experience of making BLACK RAINBOW and in the time since its release, has the way audiences engage with film changed?
MIKE HODGES: Well, first of all the making of the film was one of the happiest of all my films. We shot it on schedule, everybody was delightful, and there were no grumpy moments. In the 80s I had some fairly hairy experiences of films being re-edited, and BLACK RAINBOW was a delight from beginning to end.
Whether I would get the film made today, I don’t know. I haven’t made a film for ten years and I’m now 88. My perception of audiences now is that I don’t really know what they’re like, and so I can’t really answer that question. But the reaction to BLACK RAINBOW being re-released like this has been terrific so far, but how young audiences will react to it I can’t answer.
FRIGHTFEST: Re-releases of films is important because it allows for us to see a fuller tapestry of film history, whether or not the films were successful on their initial release. As much as these re-releases offer an opportunity for rediscovery, the package of extras offers an informative means for a new generation to discover a particular film, and understand its place in film history.
MIKE HODGES: I’m eternally grateful to Arrow first of all that they re-released PULP, which again was a film that got slightly lost in the shuffle. It wasn’t a commercial success, but it was a critical success, and the same with BLACK RAINBOW, which is slightly different because it was distributed properly in Europe, the Far East and in Japan, where it was very big, and it won a lot of awards at Sitges and film festivals in Spain and Portugal. But here [in the UK] I’d prevailed upon Goldcrest Films to do distribution deals with Palace Pictures for the UK, and Miramax for the US. What we unfortunately didn’t realise was that both of those organisations were actually in financial trouble, so they wanted to just dump their material to get their cash flow back as quickly as possible.
So for Palace Pictures, despite terrific reviews, it only ran for four or five weeks before it was on VHS, and then with Miramax a similar thing happened, only they just flogged it off to a cable channel. So in the English speaking world BLACK RAINBOW didn’t exist. In fact all the people I’ve been talking to didn’t even know it existed and they’re shocked having now seen it because it has gone down really well with them. They can’t believe that a film like this could get lost so easily, and I’m deeply grateful to Arrow because they’ve given it a new lease of life.
FRIGHTFEST: : Looking back, what was the seed of the idea for BLACK RAINBOW? Have you found storytelling to be a journey of discovery?
MIKE HODGES: …I usually want to talk about a particular subject and I then try to find the vehicle to carry it. We are talking 30 years ago and this film has ironically come out in the middle of a pandemic, which has lifted the lid on society. It has shown what a can of worms it all is with inequality, poverty, ignorance, and God knows what. These are things that concerned me 30 years ago and so I was looking for a vehicle to carry this idea.
I saw Doris Stokes who was a British medium and I thought why not have a medium, and also around the same time I’d been working in Charlotte, North Carolina, which is where I shot the film. All of these things began to come together and I wanted the medium to time shift. From the beginning when she looks at her watch and finds out it’s an hour ahead, and then the next time it’s two hours ahead, time is accelerating for her and that’s why she’s seeing death and disasters before they actually happen.
I’m an old documentary man (WORLD IN ACTION), so I tend to latch onto real stories. There was a murder in the La Dolce Vita nightclub [Newcastle] that I remembered, and it let me root GET CARTER in Newcastle. The La Dolce Vita is very similar to the story in GET CARTER and similarly with Charlotte, I travelled around America and I read in the local newspapers such as The Bugle, that factory workers were often beaten up or even murdered. They were usually foremen or union officials, and on investigation they turned out to be whistleblowers on health and safety issues. So once I got the theme, every element in the piece began to take their place in the script. At the same time I was also reading a lot about quantum mechanics, which fascinates me, and especially in terms of two particles being in two places at the same time, that has completely upended classical physics. So all of these elements started coming into the script.
FRIGHTFEST: Early on we question whether Martha is genuine or is she perpetuating a hoax? This is common in this type of story, but its effectiveness is that you don’t over emphasise this narrative strand, instead you allow the father-daughter relationship, the crime and political corruption strands to compliment it.
MIKE HODGES: One hopes with every film you make that people will pay attention. The way that you make a film is you try to let the story come out naturally, and you like all of the various strands to be played so that the audience has time to absorb what’s happening. Again, I’m out of touch with the cinema, but I suspect that the pacing of the film has to be faster than a lot of films I have much admired myself. I prefer to put the building blocks down at the beginning of the film, and then you can spread your wings in terms of how the film unfolds.
FRIGHTFEST: Speaking with Carol Morley for THE FALLING, she explained: "You take it 90 percent of the way, and it is the audience that finishes it. So the audience by bringing themselves: their experiences, opinions and everything else to a film is what completes it." Would you agree?
MIKE HODGES: Once you’ve finished the film you have to let go and let it have its own life. It can be a dangerous process because a lot of distributors will make decisions about a film, and they may sell it wrongly. BLACK RAINBOW was quite a difficult film to market in many ways – the same with PULP. If you have a film that’s not in one particular genre, then the people who are used to marketing genre films will just market it in one particular way. And if a film doesn’t fit into that, then it suffers. I felt that even with the brief marketing in the English speaking world it was awful - the poster was dreadful and I seem to recollect that the trailer was pretty awful.
So you have to let go, but you can understand how someone like Stanley Kubrick became so obsessive about every aspect of the film, and not just the making of it, but how it was sold to the public, who he would prepare. If you’ve got something unusual you have to get the audience into the right mood to accept it, and there’s a lot of social stroking to be done to get people to understand the film.
FRIGHTFEST: : Filmmaker Christoph Behl remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process for you personally?
MIKE HODGES: I don’t think I was ever conscious of it - I just make the film and I step away. I come down here to Dorset and I do my bit like talking to you now, but in the main I don’t go to premieres as I’m not interested in that side of the business at all. We are changing all of the time and so I don’t think making a film necessarily changes you any more than anything else necessarily does.
BLACK RAINBOW is available now on Blu-Ray from Arrow Video and is streaming on the Arrow Video channel.