It's a busy Friday night in London's West End, I escape the hustle and bustle in the new Picturehouse cinema bar; it's vast and empty... the calm before the storm. The venue anticipates a celeb-studded screening of the new Steve Oram film "Aaaaaaaah!" and I am anticipating meeting Steve to talk about his new (crazy-amazing) film.
I attended the press screening of Aaaaaaaah! a couple of weeks ago & the film completely haunted me. Images and thoughts from the movie were triggered by day-to-day life. In that sense it is extremely powerful and well crafted, well acted. I'm not exactly sure what it was trying to say, but I think like a lot of good art, it says what you want it to say. I don't want to spoil the surprise - because this film is full of twists and surprises - but one standout thing about Aaaaaaaah! is the fact there is no dialogue, nope, not a single yes, no or hi how are you... it's a series of primitive grunts and squawks delivered by some very good actors. So good in fact that halfway through the film I stopped noticing there weren't any words. I understood the plot perfectly; even when the story went a bit abstract... it was always cohesive.
I text Steve, "I'm the loan lady in black sat at the big orange booth." I then realise, I've misspelled loan, I'm not here to give him money that he has to pay back with interest, what kind of writer misspells loan/lone? He appears unaware of my internal mini-crisis, ginger beard and smiling-white-teeth holding a dainty glass of Swedish cider on ice.
The first thing I ask him about Aaaaaaaah! is the no-dialogue thing. He explained that the film had actually been scripted with actual English words. The actors learned the full scripts and then the words were replaced with their own sort-of monkey language. "Like the opposite of Planet of the Apes" he said with a smirk. And smirk he should, there is some dark comedy in this script. Including a scene where the family dines on a human leg, arms are torn from sockets and other, err... body parts feature. All in all it's not really very gory, but it's not a tame feel-good film either, though there is a surreal rom-com element. It's not a film to take your mother or your 9-year-old niece to, but then you wouldn't take them to see Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" or Da Palma's "Phantom of the Paradise" either. I would put Aaaaaaaah! on a par with these iconic & darkly humorous films, it's a future cult classic to be enjoyed forever.
Aaaaaaaah! is not on general release, so it's likely to grow more organically, you know, the way films have a 2nd life on the internet these days and ultimately this is probably where Aaaaaaaah! will find its followers, but if you are lucky enough to be near one of the screenings check it out. This film will encourage a love/hate relationship akin to Marmite, but I can certainly say you will never see anything else like it. This kind of unbridled creativity should be encouraged, it's challenging, daring cinema at its best; and is a welcome break from the Hollywood bombardment of dime-a-dozen superhero movies, fluffy rom coms, and churn-em-out action films.
One of the reasons for the total one-of-a-kind quality of Aaaaaaaah! is that Steve had full and complete creative control of this film, a rarity in this day and age. Most indie filmmakers are scrounging up sponsorships and donations, but Steve explained that all funding comes at a price and that price is sacrificing autonomy. "When you accept funding, everyone has their 2 cents worth," he explained, but Steve did not want interference; he wanted complete creative control of his film. The result is entirely his vision as close to the image in his head as possible. He pulled every blag and favour to achieve it, a process he would be hard-pressed to repeat. He is working on a new script but next time he might opt to go a more traditional route with financial backers and a bigger team. This time he did everything himself: from writing, directing and starring in the film, to buying the props and dressing the set, basically living and breathing this movie for 2 solid years... "...but I'm not a control freak," said Steve with a big Cheshire cat smile.
Then who should appear in the cinema bar, but Toyah Willcox (one of the leading ladies in the film) she's dressed in a beautiful orange dress, her hair coiffed but not overdone. She's sprightly and bubbly and bounds up to our table chatting about how she still gigs 3 times a week. But who knew Toyah could act? Toya's acting is incredible in Aaaaaaaah! & she would like to do more acting, her range is pretty broad, she had just filmed an episode of Doctors (that daytime show on BBC), which couldn't be further from her character in Aaaaaaaah! I asked Steve about how he came to cast Toyah in his movie, "I've always been a long time fan of Toyah's acting, she's brilliant in Quadrophenia. People forget Toyah can act, but they shouldn't forget."
Robert Fripp is Toyah's other half, and the music in the film is by King Crimson Projekts, and it's a perfect otherworldly, primal backdrop.
A few minutes later Lucy Honigman slinks into the bar, she's dressed like a futuristic rock chick all in black and leather, like if Joan Jett was born in 2525 she'd look a bit like Lucy. I didn't realise she was Australian (the grunts in the film didn't really showcase an accent) and she had been in London doing promo for a few days now and was gearing up for End of the Road festival, where Aaaaaaaah! would be screened the following night. We talked about music festivals and quickly moved on to the size of UK brownies. "The UK have doorstop brownies, I've never seen anything like it, what's the deal with that?" she says, almost rhetorically... we then swap stories about favourite desserts, mostly inhabiting the hot-molten-chocolate-fudge variety. It's like chatting to a friend you've known for years, she's instantly lovely.
Steve, Toyah and Lucy say their goodbyes and head off for some quick dinner before the screening and as I type up my notes the cinema bar starts to fill up. Fans from Fright Fest appear, young men in long black duster jackets and girls with colourful anime hair, then the hipster 20-somethings show up, the 30-something beard-stroking media types & then the other stars of the film begin to arrive, Noel Fielding, Holli Dempsey, Julian Rhind-Tutt... there is a cat breastfeeding her kittens in the green room. It's all a bit surreal, animal and perfectly apt for Aaaaaaaah!