Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Short Film About John Bolton – review


Director: Neil Gaiman

Release Date: 2003

Contains spoilers

This was Neil Gaiman’s directorial début and there are one or two things to say about it before we look at the content. Firstly, it is short. Coming in at only 30 minutes it seems a little too short for a DVD release and yet the length is probably right for what it is, any more would have been spurious. It is only on US DVD, despite the fact that it is clearly British, and one wonders why it is not available here. The direction is nothing special, functional would be the word. Finally it is hardly original. The story is essentially Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model” and, having said that, I have spoilt the whole thing for you.

All that said, it is a lovely little piece and fairly essential for the Neil Gaiman fan, if only for the extras, all 2 hours of them, especially the film of Gaiman’s charity reading.

Jonathan Ross at the galleryThe film itself is documentary style, a documentary about artist John Bolton (John O’Mahony). It begins with British broadcaster Jonathan Ross (as himself) privately viewing a gallery of Bolton’s work before the public opening. Ross confesses to being a Bolton fan.

a Bolton paintingThe camera pans around his work, they are all vampire women (actually most of the pictures are recognisable from the net, google image vampires and I think virtually every one will show up). Ross owns one piece and is definitely looking to buy another. The use of a real broadcaster immediately gives the mock-umentary a realistic feel.

Bolton arrives at the gallery and the owner Carolyn Dalgleish (Carolyn Blackhouse) is gushing – though in interview she skirts whether she actually likes the work herself and admits that she doesn’t own any personally. She also admits that some of her staff take vacation when a Bolton exhibition is on. Bolton himself seems reticent, withdrawn.

John O’Mahony as John BoltonWhen he officially opens the exhibition Bolton simply states he paints what he sees. Following the exhibition the crew follow Bolton into his world. We see him in a bakery, where a shop girl (Denise Worme) asks to see and touch *it*. It is his ceremonial silver dagger – a mark of being a freeman of Crouch-End.

Marcus BrigstockeIn interview he admits that, despite a Guardian review stating that he has a ‘damaged imagination’, he has no real imagination. He is lucky as an artist, that is all. The interviewer (Marcus Brigstocke as himself) wonders why he has agreed to open up to them and Bolton admits it to be a mistake. Only Marcus is to go to his studio.

going to the studioDusk that evening and Marcus goes with Bolton to the graveyard (Abney Park Cemetery for those who wish to know) that houses Bolton’s studio. Marcus has a hand held camera and the crew are required to leave. A monk (Martin Cordier) passes a lantern to Bolton and they descend into the crypt that is Bolton’s studio.

inside the studioThe crypt is candlelit and there are other pieces, more macabre than the gallery pieces, strewn around as well as unfinished work. Bolton seems to do nothing, he says that they come to him – Marcus believes he is speaking about ideas. When asked if he is nervous, Bolton responds with why should they hurt him, besides he has his silver knife. Marcus checks about his teacher – Bolton once said it was someone named Richard Dad but they can only find records of a Victorian lunatic of that name. Bolton dismisses the question.

a blair witch momentGrowing more nervous Marcus decides to leave – though Bolton has suggested it is now fully dark. We get a piece to camera by Marcus, outside, that owes a great deal to the Blair Witch Project in look and sees Marcus trying to compose an end statement. He hears flapping.

vampireScared he flips the camera around onto a stone angel, nervously amused by his own fears. As he moves the camera it captures a woman (Betti Marenko), with striped midrift, another woman (Katie Lawrie) approaches. Marcus mumbles about the film and the camera falls as he is attacked, capturing the face of the second woman. We see Bolton’s painting of the attack. The end.

Now I went through the whole thing because the vampires only appear in the last 30 seconds and also because this is – with the replacement of ghouls by vampires – a modern retelling of ‘Pickman’s Model’, as I mentioned, and I expect that most will know that and its twist.

As I also said, the direction is functional but fits the mock-umentary style, indeed it adds (along with the natural dialogue and performance) a sense of the real to the film. This is a quirky little piece, one for the collection of vampire fans, Gaiman fans and, to be fair, Lovecraft fans. For some reason it just works – probably down to O’Mahony’s understated performance. 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Mbuckingham said...

this looks really interesting! I didn't want to read your whole post because I haven't watched it yet, but really thanks for posting!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

mbuckingham, thanks for commenting.

I did spoil this heavily as I tend to believe that most genre fans know their Lovecraft, however when you get chance to see it please have a full read and let me know your thoughts.

The Dirge Of Gabriel said...

Thanks for pointing this one out Andy, I'll try to hunt it down even if I have to order it from US Amazon thought I may wait until there are other movies/books I want to order from there as well.

To be honest though Gaiman is hit and miss for me, as a writer AND filmmaker.

I enjoyed Smoke and Mirrors and Stardust (but not the ending of that book what a letdown!) and I am a big fan of The Graveyard Book and look forward to the film adaptation. NEVERWHERE the book was blah as was the tv version and I found Mirror Mask to be an interesting first effort though I think the effects etc lessened its appeal for me.

I tried reading AMERICAN GODS but didn't find it that compelling, and I haven't read Anansi Boys.

I haven't read the Coraline book thought the animated feature does look quite interesting and I am looking forward to it being released here.

to be quite honest besides THE GRAVEYARD BOOK the best story Gaiman has done is SNOW GLASS APPLES from Smoke and Mirrors, an interesting and fantastic twist on the Snow White story with SW as a vampire/ghoul and the evil stepmother as an actual hapless victim and protagonist of the story. If you haven't read it (which I recommend!), here is an online version.

SNOW GLASS APPLESI think that would make a great film or an episode of a Masters of Horror series for example.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Gabriel, I find Gaiman hit and miss as well - though he hits more than misses imho. Whilst American Gods was not up to Someplace to be Flying (DeLint) I did enjoy it. I enjoyed Coraline (and the movie was great, vampire bat scottish terriers!) and stardust.

I haven't read anansi boys but the radio adaptation was great... snow white apples again I have heard as a radio adaptation and it was fantastic.

Neverwhere was poor (TV and the book) but the Graveyard Book is stunning and I am so looking forward to its film adaptation.

One of my favourite grapic novel series was a Gaiman spin-off (though he wasn't involved) - Lucifer.

As for this, well his input is functional (as a director) and minimal as a writer as this is Pickman's Model by any other name... however it is unusual enough to be necessary for Gaiman fans, Lovecraft fans and vampire fans alike...

Taliesin_ttlg said...

sorry, snow glass apples not snow white apples!!!!

The Dirge Of Gabriel said...

I heard SNOW WHITE APPLES is going to be the sequel :p

Anyways if you like re-read the story to refresh your memory it is thoroughly entertaining, a perfect meld of Hammer Horror Disney!

Slightly off topic I am a fan of Charles De Lint but haven't read his books for a long time, though I've only read Greenmantle, Moonheart and Into the Green, I enjoy his version of 'mythic fiction'. Perhaps you took your moniker from Moonheart?

I was a BIG FAN of Vertigo's Lucifer comic, and I was surprised it never (to my knowledge) got attacked by Christian groups with its warping of the Bible, Yahweh leaving the God Seat, Michael's daughter Elaine Belloc becoming the new God, though Lucifer was a total awesome bad ass and his succubus GF Mazikeen was so goddamn hawt!

I love how the series also had gods from other mythos such as Japanese ones but I was so totally pissed off that they didn't used this particular Lucifer in CONSTANTINE.

It was cool that Lucifer ended up in Australia though hehe.

Anyways Pickman's Model is a good story (though The Haunter of the Dark is my favourite LC story followed by Shadow over Innsmouth)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Gabriel - I haven't read moonheart but highly recommend Someplace to be Flying... one of my favourite books and virtually everyone I lent it to has ended up buying the book themselves.

Pickman's was a particular favourite HPL of mine, along with Dreams in the Witchhouse... but to me the strength of HPL was in the complete works, which are greater than the sum of their parts imho.