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||Working mostly in Glasgow's rougher neighborhoods, Ramsay illuminates workingclass lives more starkly and poetically than any filmmaker since the heyday of Britain's early '60s realist Kitchen Sink movement.
[Steve Lafreniere chatted with the director, who was holed up in her house in Scotland writing her next screenplay.]
STEVE: Your films are subtitled for American audiences so they can understand the heavy Glaswegian accents. I've never seen that for any other English-language film.
LYNNE: I cast a lot of kids straight from the street to change the way they speak would make things far too stilted. But I also want my films to be understandable for a general audience. They aren't subtitled in the UK but perhaps they should be. A lot of people there find the accents difficult.
STEVE: What kind of neighborhood in Glasgow did you grow up in?
LYNNE: It was kind of similar to the
environment in Ratcatcher.
STEVE: That looks to be a rough working-class area. ratcatcher is about a twelve-year-old boy's coming-of-age during the 1973 garbage strike in Glasgow. Was it based on your own memories?
LYNNE: The images that stuck with me from childhood were the starting point for my making films. I was only six or so during the strike, but the images were very potent and mysterious. At one point, an old lady in my neighborhood died. All her clothes were dumped out on the street,
and these little kids were sitting around in her 1920s hats and outfits. At another point, the army came in to remove some of the trash.
STEVE: Was there much interest in film in your family?
LYNNE: My mom was a big Douglas Sirk fan. She's from that '50s generation that went to the cinema a lot, so she has an encyclopedic knowledge of film from that era. When I was young I spent a lot of time in front of the television watching films like Imitation of Life.
STEVE: When did you realize that you wanted to become a filmmaker?
LYNNE: I started studying photography at the Glasgow Arts Center when I was nineteen, and began to see a lot of films as well. One night I saw Fear Eats the Soul by Fassbinder at a little art house in Glasgow. I didn't know who Fassbinder was, but it blew me away. Blue Velvet was a revelation, too. I remember people walking out of the cinema not knowing what the fuck to make of it.
STEVE: There were some great Scottish directors in the '70s and '80s, like Bill Douglas and Bill Forsyth. Is there a Scottish film scene to speak of today?
LYNNE: Hmmm. The Danish production company Zentropa has opened an office in Scotland and is scouting for new talent. There are some up-and-coming directors. There's David Mackenzie, who directed Young Adam with
Ewan McGregor and Tilda Swinton. And a guy named Peter Mullan, who's an actor, has made some feature films. But I'm probably not the one to ask. I don't see myself as part of a scene, really.
STEVE: I recently read that Ratcatcher is one
of the few new films included in the Criterion Collection's prestigious DVD releases. That's a
pretty select list. You're in there with Renoir, Bergman, and Kurosawa.
LYNNE: You know, I was very našve when they first approached me. I wasn't at all aware of Criterion's prestige. They were fantastic to work with. I was able to include my short films on the DVD as well.
STEVE: Just a few years ago you were primarily known for making only short films.
LYNNE: Well, I think short stories are sometimes better than novels. You can cram quite a bit into a short film. I had a
lot of freedom to just explore. It was exciting for me then. I never thought of my short films as calling cards to get me somewhere later.
STEVE: The pace of your films the way you allow images to sink in reminds me of a good short story. Are you a big reader?
LYNNE: Yeah, I get frustrated if I don't have a book to read. I think it's really beautiful how an author takes you inside your mind to this other world. I like Dostoyevsky a lot because of his good stories. I'm reading Joe Orton's diaries
at the moment. They're totally debauched and great. I'm reading an Ian McEwan novel, too. His work is interesting, very dark
and sexual. But I'll read anything that comes my way, really a piece of trash,
if it's good.
STEVE: How did you encounter Morvern Callar?
LYNNE: A friend of mine recommended it to me and I loved it. Weirdly enough, two weeks later I got a phone call from the BBC asking if I would be interested in adapting it for film. After that, the rights to Morvern were bought by Company Pictures,
and they invited me to direct it.
STEVE: The film follows a girl, Morvern, who
passes off her dead boyfriend's manuscript as her own work. Your film has gained a cult following, especially among young women.
LYNNE: Younger audiences seem to get it more. Some people find the film a little too cold. It's kind of like Camus. Morvern's a survivor she'll take what
she can get, even if what she's doing is immoral. But everything she does is very much in the moment. I saw her as quite child-like.
STEVE: The book never offers any explanation for her actions, whether she's disposing of her boy-friend's body after his suicide, or running off to Spain for an extended vacation.
LYNNE: That was something that I stayed true to in the film. When Morvern faces conundrums, she certainly doesn't react in the way she's meant to. Although that can make her seem frustrating, it is also the thing that holds you.
STEVE: It's a perfect role for Samantha Morton. She can show you pretty much anything with her eyes. How did you come to cast her?
LYNNE: I saw a photograph of Sam staring out of what might be a train window. She looked quite plain, but she was also really beautiful and alien, as if she were somehow lost inside her own head. So I got in touch and it turned out she loved Ratcatcher. She'd also read Morvern Callar and loved the character.
STEVE: I'm sure that kind of role doesn't come along every day.
LYNNE: Casting Sam was so easy. It usually takes me ages. I see a million people, because I work with a lot of non-professional actors. But with her it wasn't a question of auditioning we just connected. Sam works intuitively she got so into the role that I just let her run with it. It felt like we took a journey together during the filming because it was so collaborative. We're still good friends.
STEVE: Your brother James is the star of many
of your early shorts. You've worked with other members of your family as well. Have you ever
considered establishing a repertory cast like Fassbinder or Mike Leigh?
LYNNE: That's definitely a possibility.
I'd work with my family again if the right thing came up. And luckily most of the other people I've worked with would like
to work with me again, and I'd like to
work with them. It would make things much
simpler. Casting is ninety percent of a film. If you mess that up you're screwed.
STEVE: You cast a non-professional actress, Kathleen McDermott, as Morvern's pal.
LYNNE: Before we cast Kathleen, she'd never done anything in film. She was a
STEVE: She was so antic, which is fantastically
difficult to act. Was it hard to direct an amateur and a professional simultaneously?
LYNNE: It was kind of a strange combination, but I found I could really make
it work. The non-professional can always learn something from the professional,
and vice versa. I paired Sam and Kathleen pretty early on and I found they were similar. They were wild, just running about on the set. We could never find them! I felt like I had two teenage daughters.
STEVE: I like the way the movie seems to
wind down as it moves forward. By the time they get to that rave in Spain, a real crankiness has set in.
LYNNE: We were all going crazy by the time we got to Spain, towards the end
of the shoot. First we filmed some scenes in London, and then we moved up to Scotland, where it was freezing. By the time we moved on to Spain, I felt like I was part of a nomadic hippie commune. In Spain, the weather was so great that there was a totally different kind of vibe. I think that got into the movie as well.
STEVE: It was announced last year that you were going to direct The Lovely Bones, based on Alice Sebold's novel. But I understand you're no longer working on that.
LYNNE: Before Alice had even finished writing the book, I was approached by a producer who had access to the material. But when it came out, it became a bestseller. When something gets that big, there are a lot of people who want to get hold of it. There was less leeway.
STEVE: Do you find it hard to survive as an independent filmmaker?
LYNNE: It's tough, but I do think if you stay true to yourself it somehow comes through in your work. If you're
a phony it comes through as well. Right now I'm working with some really cool people at Warp Records. They've just started producing films. They are picking up some of the younger, interesting directors from the UK, like Chris Cunningham.
STEVE: Can you talk about what you're
LYNNE: I'm writing an original screenplay. It's not like anything I've done before it might well become a genre movie. I have a lot of freedom with Warp. Their first film, Dead Man's' Shoes, by Shane Meadows, has just come out.
I guess they initially thought it was going to be a comedy, but it turned into something much darker along the way.
STEVE: Yeah, I'm sure Hollywood wouldn't like that.
LYNNE: Right. Warp works in a much more fluid way. It's almost like they protect the director from the normal film industry approach. There's certainly no one else doing that.