Dodson and Fogg's Chris Wade Discusses the Final Chapter of His Surreal Trilogy - Interviews - Soundblab

Dodson and Fogg's Chris Wade Discusses the Final Chapter of His Surreal Trilogy

by Jeff Penczak Rating: Release Date:

Your new film is billed as the conclusion of your "Surreal Trilogy". While characters and general themes continue throughout the trilogy, would you suggest that people watch the films in order, or does each film stand on its own to be viewed individually?

I think you could watch them in any order actually. They are linked in style and mood, also with characters, but I think they'd work in any order. Personally I'd like people to watch Cuentos first because it's my favourite. Weirdly, a lot more people, judging by my stats on my Vimeo site, have dived in and watched Cuentos than the other films. Maybe it's because it's shorter and tidier.

When you started with The Apple Picker, was it your full intention to explore those early themes across the three parts that eventually resulted in this trilogy, or did you add the additional parts afterwards, resulting in the “happy accident” of a completed trilogy?

First of all they are done for fun and we all really enjoy ourselves making them. If you could see rough raw footage you'd hear the laughter. Only in the edit do things start to make any sense. My main theme was for the films to be interior films, films existing in the mind. As I've become more interested in true Surrealism lately, reading Breton and reading about Surrealist cinema and art, I see that my idea what Surrealism was wasn't too far from the original aims. It's combining the conscious and the unconscious, which is what I wanted to do in The Apple Picker, though avoiding mysticism. For some reason, this approach and style just works for me. It satisfies something in me. Not sure what it is, and maybe I need a long sit down on a coach with someone with lots of certificates, but after I've put one together I always feel more satisfied. I never set out to make three of them though, but as months went by after the latest finished one I started filming bits and new films came to fruition. As I began each one though, I wanted them all to be linked in subtle ways.

Did you ever go back to the earlier segments/films to identify pieces that you wanted to expand upon in the finale? Or, perhaps, there were scenes you felt were incomplete that you wanted to add an element of closure? “The Return to Barcelona” segment, for example, suggests you left something behind?

The Barcelona bit is just about the woman going back there, maybe she used to live there or something and sees the contrasts of the city, the shanty town and the beauty of it together. It was mainly about capturing that amazing city. Another thing I thought of for that sequence was that seemingly ordinary things can look spectacular if you look at them from a certain angle or take in sound and atmosphere at the same time - like experiencing everything in a Surrealistic way. As for the themes from earlier films, a lot of the time it's just intuitive and done on the spot, though there are bits and pieces that more keen eyed viewers will notice. Like the big factory in The Apple Picker where the doctor is doing experiments on the writer, that same building pops up again in Cuentos, when the man played by my friend Shawn finds the fingers. I like to put in things that link all three, as if it's all from the same mind, whether it's a dream or reality.

Music plays an important role in the trilogy and you frequently used older songs on the soundtrack. Your latest album, Tempus Fugit (Wisdom Twins, 2018) opens with the title track from the film. Did you write the album specifically for the film as you were watching and editing the playback, or did you have the music to hand and then fit the recordings to the scenes?

The Cuentos theme was done for the film but then I decided to put it on my latest release as well, because I thought it was a nice bit of music. Most of the music was already recorded, but I went through and picked out what I thought might fit the certain scenes.

Have you considered assembling a compilation of tracks that were composed for your films and releasing it someday? I’m quite enamoured of that lilting, playful theme for “The Girl In The Snow” segment (or, have we heard that before?)

I was going to do that at one point, but then I realised that 95 percent of it is on the Dodson and Fogg albums anyway. "The Girl in the Snow" music, I've just checked, is called 'New Autumn' and it's on my 2015 album, And When the Light Ran Out.

Will studious fans recognize some of the music from past albums (I believe I heard excerpts from the title track to your latest album Tempus Fugit in the “Two Fingers” sequence), or was much of it composed specifically for the film, possibly from extra material from earlier projects? The flute-and-piano bit at the beginning is particularly lovely. Is that ‘Journey Through The Night' (from your Awake album from earlier this year) which cleverly anticipates “The Journey” sequence later in the film?

Yes, the flute and piano bit is from 'Journey Through the Night', as is "The Journey" part where he finds the doll's house. In fact the music has mostly always already been recorded. I do that because the music often fits the mood, but also because I literally can't get the time to record that much music, and maybe if I were doing it to fit the film the results wouldn't be as varied or interesting to me. I've recorded that much music I often lose track. But seeing as the work has been done I may as well use them for the film as well. That's the joy of owning the rights to all your work, you can do whatever you bloody well want!

Your films are available to view online, and the first part (The Apple Picker) was actually a selection to the 2017 Sydney World Film Festival. Have you submitted the remaining parts of the trilogy to them or any other festivals? Or perhaps attempted to get them shown together in a local film theatre with an accompanying Q&A with the audience? I’m sure they’d have many interesting questions and interpretations about the trilogy!

I didn't send the other two to any festivals, no. I think it was because with the first I was maybe trying to get some kind of validation and approval that this weird film idea was worthwhile. Then when I got such good feedback I decided to press on and finish off the things I'd started with The Apple Picker. I thought they were interesting enough in their own merit. But I am glad the first one was accepted for the festival, it was a nice surprise. But I kind of like people stumbling upon them, and people who already like Dodson and Fogg seem to do that, though obviously some people will think they're just tosh. It's nice to see all the different countries where it's being watched and the same goes for my music too.

How important is the music in the film? Did you ever consider simply making a silent film and let the images and the story line convey your ideas? Is the music essential to mood or plot, or simply something to occupy the listener’s mind while putting the story together in their head?

The music is as important as the visuals for me. I think it would be interesting to try one without music, but for me it just adds to the atmosphere and I really enjoy fitting the sounds to the images, sound effects and all. Actually, the sound effects part is also one of the most fun things about doing these films. But as I am a musician first and foremost I cannot imagine music not being a part of it. Whereas my films and art work are like hobbies, I really, really enjoy the music so much that I couldn't not record music, it wouldn't be the same.

What was the inspiration for the Spanish element, both in the title and theme song? Does “The Return To Barcelona” segment play into that?

Well I've been to Spain three times in the past couple of years with my family, and I just feel really relaxed and at home there. My partner Linzi suggested Cuentos as a title, because the film had a few stories in it and bits were done in Spain. I love the look of Spain, especially Malaga and Barcelona. In fact, the train sequence in the film was filmed on the way to Figueres to see the Salvador Dali museum, which we got on in Barcelona. I remember we went to a cafe before setting off and I went to the toilet and the handle came off. I was locked in a Spanish toilet for ten minutes while my partner and daughter were watching the clock because our train was coming soon. It kind of fit in with it all really. The Spanish flavour evident in the film is just because I really love Spain, Spanish people, the buildings, the art... everything. I must have Spanish blood I think. I like the reserved people in Barcelona. Something about Spain appeals to me.

The films are all in glorious black & white. Was that an aesthetic or economic decision? And would they be as effective if you filmed in colour?

I don't think they'd be as effective in colour, no. They'd just look like dodgy home videos I think. The black and white lends them a certain class, if that's the right word for these ridiculous films, and also it makes them more dream like. I always dream in black and white for some reason. In colour the atmosphere wasn't there at all.

I like the little easter eggs you drop into the film, like the painting at the beginning which looks tantalizingly like the cover art work from one of your albums! Or the church scenes that recall similar scenes in Seven Days In Never! And even that shot of the mini village with the person stretched out on the bench that reminds us of what we saw earlier in the park in Barcelona! And I’m sure cinephiles will have a field day struggling over the contrasting scenes of York Minster and Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia!

I love that you've noticed the things I've put in there. That's brilliant. Yeah, the painting at the beginning was a nod to the album covers, and even the castle beside it, which is a lamp, reminded me of Gaudi's buildings, so that was a little pre-echo and a reminder. The guy on the bench on the toy town and the guy in Barcelona - it's all linked because everything in the film is in that little book my dad picks up at the start, but that book is probably just his head, or the head of whoever all these films are really inside. I just had to put the Sagrada Familia in there, and I go to York all the time, so getting my father in law, when he's lost on his journey, to piss around there playing croquet was a given. They're amazing buildings. And yes, the church scenes were all done in Spain. In Seven Days in Never I think they were shot in Malaga, while in Cuentos there's one inside the Familia, during a Sunday service. I just love to capture different atmospheres and play around with images, sounds and vibes. You run the risk of being pretentious, which I probably am... but I'm not bothered really if I am. So be it, dear boy.

And I see you also drop in “special appearances” from some of your favourite actors, like Robin Askwith, Bernard Cribbins, and Geoffrey Palmer! What influence did they have on you?

That was kind of a joke. I've always found it funny, for some reason, to mention '70s actors. When I was younger I used to print off pictures of Robin Askwith, Arthur Lowe and others and plant them around the house for people to find. It's kind of a running joke. I suppose it might look a bit odd from the outside. I sometimes leave cut up words around the house for my partner to find. I'm sure she thinks I'm a tiresome toss pot. Actually, Palmer and Cribbins are two legends in my view, so they have to be mentioned.

Did you film locally near your home in Yorkshire or did you scout locations that better fit the mood of the film? There’s an industrial vibe to the film, yet some scenes are imbued with a sense of immense emptiness and loneliness.

The factory I mentioned represents that emptiness and loneliness. The building is no longer in use either, so that makes it even creepier to be honest. They used to make tanks there during the war. Most of the locations are things I've seen and we go back to, or they are spur-of-the-moment things and I happen to have my camera with me. I like to keep it loose, otherwise it would be too serious and not as much fun. When me and Shawn did the finger scene, I was literally in hysterics, but you wouldn't know because of the music and the editing. I like that there is a hollowness, but the camera is "in" there with the people, not just set up on a tripod from a distance. It's clearly hand-held, and lingers around the subjects as thoughts might do. Jesus, it's too early in the day for this!

The film is billed as an “art film”. Do you feel that “the art of cinema” as Cocteau and former Koren leader Kim Jong-il so eloquently praised it is being overrun and destroyed by comic book and superhero movies and cartoons and it’s time we got back to the roots of storytelling and asking our audiences to use their imagination and intelligence to interact with films and not just sit back and suffer through inane onslaughts of flash and special effects?

You've hit the nail on the head. Film is in a bad way creatively. I'm sick to death of superheroes and spandex and people wearing their undies over their tights. It's ludicrous. Film started as an art form and has become nothing more than an industry, a business where they see what sells the best and pander to that popularity. What happened to all the risk takers? I agree with Terry Gilliam, it's time this superhero crap stopped, or at least was controlled more. I don't begrudge people enjoying it, but why make so many? Isn't one a year enough? Do they really need all that money? It annoys me. They don't make films for everyone, just the popcorn crowd.  I like filmmakers with a vision who did it for their artistic needs rather than their bank balances; Orson Welles, Ken Russell, Stanley Kubrick, John Cassavettes, Henry Jaglom even... where are the new filmmakers of this ilk? They are in the indie circuit because if you don't put on the tights or wear the Wookie outfit you're dead. It's not art anymore, it's just money. We have Mission Impossible 23 coming out, Batman versus Bertie Bassett (actually that would be a good film) and a sea of noisy, brash crap. Why can't we get back to stuff that's a bit challenging? Requires some thought... It's weird, you're made to feel pretentious and stuffy for not being on board with this Star Wars and superhero thing, but it's how I feel. I'd rather be shuffling about making no budget black and white films than sitting with my popcorn watching a man in a leotard grappling with baddies. I'm not saying my films are good or better or anything, because let's face it, most people would think they were kind of Ed Wood cheapo flicks, but I think there should be room for everything. Art is the only medium that has remained art. Music has become more and more about commerce and making as much money as possible, just like film has. That's why I stay indie. I can do what I want to do and not have to worry about money, business or trends. I can just get on with making my stuff in the corner.

What will happen to us if all the Twiglets disappeared? [Note: You have to watch the film to understand the question!]

Well it goes without saying, it'll be hell, a life not worth living. Mini cheddars are OK, but they're no substitute for a good old fashioned Twiglet. I well up thinking of a Twiglet-less world....

Have you ever seen a U.F.O. and should we be afraid…very afraid!? [Again, watch the film.]

I once saw something I could not identify when I lived in this grotty flat a few years ago. I was in the garden and I saw it over me in the sky, floating slowly. I even filmed it on my old camera. I have the tape somewhere. I suppose it could have been anything, and to not risk sounding like a mad bastard I'm going to say it wasn't a UFO. And yes, we should be veeeeeeery afraid... not of aliens, but of moths. I hate moths!

Are you ready to tackle your next film? What are you thoughts on where you’ll take us next?

I'm in the middle of my next film now. It's a documentary about the jazz singer and Surrealist George Melly. I've started work on it and am off to London next week to do filming and gather more material. To say I'm excited about it is the biggest understatement I've made... well, at least in the last hour. I make understatements quite a lot you know...

Thanks, Chris. Good luck and "remember what the door mouth said"! [I know, I know, watch the film!]


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Dodson and Fogg's Chris Wade Discusses the Final Chapter of His Surreal Trilogy - Interviews - Soundblab
Chris Wade
  • 05/07/2017
  • By Jeff Penczak