Darkness on the Edge of Town

Posted by in October's Magazine

Richard Jobson is a Scottish singer-songwriter and filmmaker. He was the effervescent front man of Scottish punk band The Skids – who were favoured by the late John Peel. Richard, however, first appeared on my radar as the writer/director of 16 Years of Alcohol, which notably draws on the cinematic cadence of both Clockwork Orange and Trainspotting. It’s certainly a film that had me pontificating Auld Reekie in a new light. It also formed part of my insights to my university counterparts about Caledonia’s capital. A warning: post watching, it becomes very difficult to resist reenacting scenes throughout the city – most virulent is the propensity to yell at the skies from the top of Calton Hill.

Richard explains the genesis of his new feature The Somnambulists:
The story line had burned inside me since the fateful moment Tony Blair took us into his world of positive intervention in 2003. I wanted to capture the grief, the sense of loss and pain as well as the anger and tragic consequences of a war that should never have happened. The words were to be spoken straight to camera in a near theatrical style. I put actors into the domain of documentary, imitating reality. They talked about who they were, and what they might have become. The information was real but was re-imagined coming from the lips of the dead. Luminous figures emerging from the darkness like floating death masks was the style, the impact, the reach between death and life. Heavily influenced by the work of Scottish photographer Joanna Kane who’s death masks at the Scottish National Portrait gallery were an amazing experience in creating light from dark, life from death, magic from nothing – pure art. They were elegant and terribly sad: they became the catalyst for my own angry dystopia, a meditation full of love and hate, that hopefully captures the misery and the violence of a war that is all but forgotten.


The pornography of cinema violence is best seen in a visceral war context, it pretends to give a story a realism that is in fact impossible to touch. I kept clear of it. My film opens with a running burning man emblematic of the nihilism, futility and utter despair that is war. The rest is soundscape and faces, people looking into the lens of the camera with a J’Accuse penetrating the light. The film was made for a small amount of money but if nothing else it has a big heart and chose not to forget the 179 service men and women who lost their lives in Iraq as well as over 110,000 Iraqi civilians who lost their lives through violence since allied intervention in 2003. The movie takes itself very seriously and I will never apologise for that.

The Interview Bit
Michael Pedersen: 16 Years of Alcohol, your first feature length film concentrates the more nefarious sides of Edinburgh, the ‘Jekyll and Hyde element’ of the city and its denizens. That line… ‘Hope is a strange thing, a currency for people who know they’re losing it’.

Richard Jobson: I lived in the Old Town and felt there was a natural balance between the seemingly normal and the subterranean, full of conflict and mystery. It was what I walked through every day. The city has an edge that will never be lost to commerce and the banality of tourism. The central character’s story was a metaphor for the city’s ghostly otherness, a place where hope is lost as quickly as it’s found.
MP: Who for you have been the most influential figures in Scottish filmmaking and literature?
RJ: In film terms it would be Alexander Mackendrick and Lynne Ramsay. In literature: Trocchi, John Burnside, RL Stevenson, Welsh. I’ve also just started adapting Tony Black’s crime novel Long Time Dead.
MP: You’ve produced a package of short films and trailers, tell us about the impetus?
RJ: I love making stuff, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t but I love the process and a great way to improve as a filmmaker is to make short films in between features. It also gives you complete freedom to be a bit more experimental and try things that might work later in features. I’m very keen to not use dialogue in my shorts films.
MP: Do you reflect back nostalgically on your time with The Skids and other bands?
RJ: I hate nostalgia and am not that interested in my own past – what’s done is done!! The Skids were part of my teenage young adult life and a blast. The Armoury Show was an attempt to do something with a bit more of a commercial bent and that was our downfall. You should never try and sell your work, just make it, knowing that there might be an audience but that can never be the only reason. Audiences are fickle.
MP: Can you tell us a what’s in store for Edinburgh at your Neu! Reekie! show?
RJ: I want to bring some convergent ideas from photography, cinema, graphics and spoken word together and hopefully embrace that great line from Artuad – ‘the only great performance is the one that achieves madness’.

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