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Rachel Maclean – The Weepers

An Tober, Tobermory, Isle of Mull
Until September 27th
Four stars
The Scotch mist that wafts around Duart Castle at the opening of Rachel
Maclean's new film speaks volumes about where she's coming from in what
looks like a major leap towards something even more ambitious than her
previous work in this major commission for the Mull-based Comar
organisation. Films such as LolCats and Over The Rainbow became pop
cultural cut-ups featuring green-screen footage resembling Lady Gaga
and Katy Perry video stylings in which Maclean played a multitude of
day-glo Cos-playing creatures lip-synching dialogue sampled and
rearranged from a similarly eclectic array of film and TV sources to
create her own fantastical narratives.

Following her three-screen epic dissection of broken Britain in the
Oliver-sampling Happy and Glorious, however, The Weepers sees Maclean
put flesh and blood on her dressing-up box multi-tracking as she
directs real live actors in a bricks-and-mortar setting. Not that there
is anything remotely resembling kitchen-sink naturalism about this
twenty-five minute short that looks to tartan kitsch, Beast in the
Cellar era Hammer horror and the sort of dungeon-dwelling history-based
Scots gothic that used to clog up Halloween tea-time TV schedules.

Scripted by Andrew Cattanach and with an original soundtrack by Sorren
Maclean and Hannah Fisher, Maclean's film sets out its store from the
off, as the grim-faced Dr Boswell turns up at the labyrinthine
ancestral home of Lady Maclean to take stock of the bright-eyed tat
that forms the detritus of the Maclean clan's crumbling pile. Given the
film-maker's name and the fact that her reimagining of the legend of
the Bean Nighe or Washer Woman – a grotesque spirit who wrings out the
blood from the grave-clothes of those close to death – was filmed in
the actual seat of the Maclean clan, such an in-joke is a way in for
Maclean that provides dramatic riches for what follows.

As played by well-known comic actor, Steven McNicoll, who is currently
appearing at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, in DC Jackson's play,
Kill Johnny Glendenning, Boswell's hang-dog dourness is off-set by the
fruity faux politesse of his hostess, who sounds like a well-primed
Jean Brodie if Muriel Spark had rewritten her for the Sunday Post
funnies page, fed her short-bread and given her a Vivienne
Westwood/See-You-Jimmie make-over. It is after-hours, however, when
things really come to life, as a wailing oversize woolly mutation duly
fleeces Boswell, allowing the Maclean dynasty to lurch on in the
shadows unmolested.

In McNicoll's hands, Boswell becomes a pen-pusher of Knoxian demeanour,
while  Lady Maclean is played with relish by Kirsty Strain, who
previously worked with Maclean in 2013 on Germs, providing all the
voices for the artist's three-minute dissection of advertising culture
seen as part of Channel 4's Random Acts series of short films. While
divvying out the roles this time, like Hitchcock and all the great
movie auteurs, Maclean can't resist saving a part for herself as the
hairy beastie looking for a way out of its prison.

Beyond the pantomimic wit and close-up melodrama of The Weepers, there
is an inherent seriousness in a film that seems to stem from a time
when artists films could still flirt with a mainstream which accepted
them in part even as it kept its distance. This is a trope that has
been picked up by the likes of The League of Gentlemen and their
assorted off-shoots, whose high-camp pastiches of clunky grand guignol
are nevertheless meticulously observed. In Maclean's hands, the sort of
Scottish heritage industry totems that VisitScotland would make
compulsory go beyond Celtic twilight cliches to become something
altogether more dangerous in this darkly comic miniature masterpiece.

The List, September 2014


ends  

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