This year’s Channel 4 series of 30-minute 'Coming Up' films started its broadcast run as of last Thursday, and Eclipse, from a script of mine originally entitled Jennifer, shows next week in a double-bill with Dip, written by the fine novelist and travel writer Simon Lewis.
Back in April I saw all seven films in the current series projected together in a London cinema. The same crew worked all seven four-day shoots back to back, a truly staunch achievement. Myself, I feel lucky to have been involved in what is one of the precious few windows for new starts in television, and to have rubbed shoulders with such a talented group of young people, not least since I’m long in the tooth myself to be part of any kind of New Voices scheme...
At that London screening Michael Lennox, who directed Eclipse, mentioned that it wasn’t the sort of script he would ordinarily do. Nor was it the sort of script I’d normally write. I think both of us in our own ways have tended thus far to ‘do’ realism, whereas Jennifer/Eclipse was intended unabashedly as a fable based on an outright impossibility.
The project was a highly novel challenge-opportunity, really, in that Michael and I were paired for work before a script was in place. The scenario I initially submitted, entitled The Home Secretary (probably self-explanatory...), ended up looking too dramatically and logistically cumbersome for the half-hour slot. So I quickly wrote up three alternative scenarios, and Jennifer, as it was then, was the one Michael plumped for. The other two were more down-at-heel/'real' in milieu and subject, but then it seemed a solid choice to try out something about sexuality, attraction, physical allurement, albeit rather dark in tone and outcome.
I saw only a little of the shoot, but when I did briefly meet members of cast and crew they all seemed to think the script was ‘autobiographical.’ Perhaps that’s what they’d been told – or else they reckon that’s mostly what writers do. In truth, I’ve never written anything autobiographical: my life’s been too uneventful, I’d get embarrassed. What I tend to do is write around things I’ve observed or researched, sometimes under the influence of an existing dramatic structure or genre or leitmotiv that I’ve admired. And in that built scenario, from inside other people’s skins, I’m free to imagine how that might feel.
Jennifer was drawn from a few things I’ve noticed - one being a trait in certain people who do very taxing and specialist jobs to sometimes remove themselves from the sphere of romantic relationships, and to set the bar for admission to same rather distantly high. Another was a memory I had of sitting in a social situation with a mixed group of friends, and watching one young woman decide to liven up proceedings by doing do a sort of mock lap-dance in the face of one of the guys. It was a lark, the girl was lampooning the crassness, the tackiness of that sexploitation, she was ‘being ironic’ – except she wasn’t, since she was also making a display of her own physical self-assurance. And it seemed to me the real irony was that her whole performance felt about as attractive as a runny nose. Of course, different strokes for different folks... That’s why the film model I decided to refer to in Jennifer, with maximum lack of originality, is Hitchcock’s legendary and endlessly-referenced Vertigo.
The critic Danny Peary once wrote of that movie: ‘Hitchcock states that, given a choice of women, men are so weak they’ll always pick the helpless over the independent, the attractive over the plain, the frigid over the accessible, and the illusionary over the real...’ There’s an odd one out in that sequence, of course – only Hitchcock would actively pick 'frigidity'. And whatever their preferences, people are shown by psychology to generally pair off at 'appropriate' mutual levels of sexual attractiveness/plainness. But if we accept that much, with Jennifer I wanted to take the Vertigo doppelganger schema but reverse the usual polarity – the acme of feminine appeal then being dark, reticent, ‘independent’, intelligent - rather than blonde, extrovert, grasping, shallow.
The finished film is, I sensed, a little more ambiguous. There was a lot of discussion and work on the script, under the aegis of the experienced producer Elinor Day (who actually came up with the revised title Eclipse.) Michael Lennox definitely brought his own interpretation to the piece by way of certain directorial nuances. That’s film for you: a collaboration, a fusing of sensibilities. On the subjects of love, sex, attraction, we surely do all of us have a set of opinions that are internal and personal. You do, too, right? Anyhow, if you tune into Eclipse next week then I hope you find something worth a look, or a gaze, as the 'theorists' used to say...