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Michael Waite

McVicar, 1980

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I caught the last 45 minutes or so of this film on TV the other night. I'd never seen it before & just stumbled across it while flicking around the channels.

It's an English crime film, based on a true story about a hardened crim who escaped from prison & went back to doing armed robberies. More complex than that of course, but that's the bones of it. The star was Roger Daltrey of the Who & the film was produced by the Who. I actually had no idea it was a rock star when I started watching it, otherwise I might have expected the worst. In fact he does an excellent job of playing the main character.

 

It was an interesting story, well acted & scripted but the thing that most struck me & still has me thinking about it was the overall look. Some googling has shown me that the DOP was Vernon Layton who started as a camera operator in London in the '60s and is still shooting today. The overall look of the film was naturalistic with realistic & motivated lighting. There were some scenes that I felt were over diffused, esp an idyllic sequence when he went to a park with his wife & child. Still, even that looks of its time.

 

The look of the film stock really blew me away. It looked like classic Kodachrome. Colours were rich but not overly saturated. When they shot scenes on the streets I was continually noticing things like the colour rendition of yellow and red cars. Not artificial but incredibly real. I've tried searching to learn what film stock was used but with no success. I'd be interested if anyone can supply details of this. Also keen to hear other opinions of this film.

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Guest Tim Partridge

I haven't seen this one in a LOOOONG time, but I remember the look sticking out, too. That was on a poorly transfered full screen VHS from the early 1990s. Reminded me of a lot of dark, grainy but gritty and naturalistic British real world stuff from the time. That kind of look you would associate with THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY or SCUM. Perversely, I actually remember MCVICAR reminding me of Tony Imi's photography of the family film INTERNATIONAL VELVET. Imi and Phil Meheux of course were part of that late 60s BBC film unit movement, I am guessing that is the case for Layton too, given the dinstinctly familiar look (please correct me if I am wrong).

 

Layton's work on Danny Cannon's YOUNG AMERICANS was also very slick in my opinion, especially for the budget. Unfortunately, I didn't care so much for the blandly commercial and TV-ish lensing of I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (well, the five minutes I saw of it at least). I wonder if Layton was ever considered to shoot JUDGE DREDD, given his relationship with Danny Cannon before and after.

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Interesting that you mention Scum, which I saw at the cinema when it first came out. I can certainly see the similarity with McVicar. Both were shot in 1979. I suppose you could even make the case that they are part of the long tradition of naturalism in British cinema with films like A Taste of Honey, Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner etc.

Vernon Layton has a simple one page site at http://vernonlayton.com/. He started as an assistant in stills photography & then became a camera operator on TV shows such as Ready Steady Go. He also worked on documentaries for the BBC. He mentions that he moved into feature films after some mentoring from Walter Lassally, the DOP of A Taste of Honey. Funnily enough I went to a screening of Taste of Honey with a Q&A with Walter Lassally at the Hammer centre in LA in January this year.

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