Happy 10 years of Arrow Video!
To commemorate our first decade on this planet, we've taken out our little black book and sat down with some of the best and brightest in the world of cult to talk about their personal histories with Arrow Video, and, of course their top picks from the catalogue.
In this interview we feature Richard Ayoade. Originally of GARTH MARENGHI and MIGHTY BOOSH fame, the BAFTA-winning actor, director, writer and comedian is no stranger to the world of cult. A well-documented cinephile and previous contributor to Arrow releases to boot, Richard is a prolific voice in contemporary British culture, and here lists off his favourite cinematic voices behind the titles in his own Arrow collection.
So sit back, relax and let Richard take you on his journey of Arrow…
A: Do you remember the first Arrow Video release you took notice of?
RA: It must’ve been the Argento releases, DEEP RED or TENEBRAE. I’d never watched horror much as a child, it just seemed too terrifying to me and I was really intent on not frightening myself as a general policy decision. I didn’t watch TWIN PEAKS until I was in my 20s, and even then it was with the curtains open. But I had to find out what horror looked like when we started making the show GARTH MARENGHI’S DARKPLACE, and I felt drawn towards the Italian directors more, mainly because of how stylised and grand they were even when on a low budget, and I felt they were more visually-oriented than some other horror directors. There was an interesting Hitchcockian dynamic to their points of view as well: the films were often about people looking at one another, and that unidentified third point of view functioning as an ‘other’ angle. Carpenter has that as well, that shifting, ghostly presence which maybe you could retrospectively pinpoint as a specific point of view.
So I only started watching horror to find out about how horror was made – and this was from around 2000 to 2006. When Arrow Video got started, I liked that it was releasing better prints and special features. I don’t have a particular Damascus-like moment of recollection – there just seemed to be a resurgence in these better-packaged, curated releases, and Arrow was very much a part of that. The act of streaming a film doesn’t offer quite the same ‘event’ experience as a Blu-ray. I still like VHS for the same reason – though maybe that makes me sound like a dinosaur.
A: Did you come to horror then from more of a director’s point of view?
RA: When we were doing GARTH MARENGHI, I really felt like I didn’t know how to direct at all – and I still really don’t know how to – so when you’re starting to learn, you quickly become aware of directors and the things that distinguish them. You start saying to yourself, ‘Ok now I’m going to watch all the Bava films, Ok now I’m going to watch all the Fulci films…’, or all the films of a particular producer like Charles Band, and it does become a kind of obsession. I have that completist impulse, I never understand it when someone says they love a particular book but would never have any interest in reading another book from that author. And that became a similar experience for me with Arrow Video, there’s something about building your own world of films within a small, independent studio that induces the same feeling of collectability. When Arrow Video releases a new film, it makes you take note in a way that other labels don’t; it always means something when a film is under their banner.
A: What do you think makes Arrow Video particularly stand out as a distribution label?
RA: For me it’s that they rediscover these cult movies, and I was thinking about this the other day – what makes them worth rediscovering. Ostensibly, to take a film like TOKYO STORY – something that is incredibly well-constructed, measured, lucid, evocative, perfect – that’s not the experience of watching an Argento film. But in the same way that a weird, obscure, psychedelic band from the ‘60s might be more interesting from the period than a band like The Beatles, even though The Beatles are demonstrably superior, so a cult movie develops a more interesting aesthetic or energy over time.
A: Did you just compare Ozu to The Beatles?
RA: I think in a way, in terms of Ozu being about as good as you can get in cinema and The Beatles being about as good as you can get for a pop band. What Argento presents is something very different, and yet there are still sequences in Argento that seem to be better than anything, and it’s those – the aesthetic of them, the energy of them – that make me want to re-watch them.
I enjoy watching films where the reasons why things are happening aren’t so obvious – you can’t understand in the moment why they’re going to a close-up, or using a specific colour palette, and you engage with it in a more visceral way. You see that recurring in lower-budget cult films - perhaps because there wasn’t a need to connect to that wider audience, you get more and more of those individual points of view and those stranger preoccupations coming through.
Susan Sontag’s essay Notes on Camp for example is that a component of ‘camp’ as she defines it is found within the differential between form and substance. There’s something about the intent of the filmmaker and the form of the film that doesn’t quite marry up, and cinema has the highest potential for that differential. The form of a film is so dependent on time, money, etc. that even with literate, sensitive directors like Cronenberg, within limited means you get a tension in something like SHIVERS or RABID between the ideas and the form. So I think part of a cult following is about being able to enjoy that tension between form and substance, as well as just enjoying the film in and of itself. There’s a second level or layer to that enjoyment – and I think that’s why audiences love them, and love rebuying them in different formats, and watching them again and again. Again as Susan Sontag says, to deny yourself these pleasures is really to deny yourself some of the greatest pleasures there are.
There’s always something about cult filmmakers and the fact that they’re not creating the film to appease an ‘idea’ of an audience, but for themselves and their love for the film, that ultimately makes them feel closest to the audience – they’re almost one and the same. That goes for Arrow Video as well: there seems to be an enjoyment and a care for what Arrow release, and that’s what you want from anything, to feel that you’re being offered something because there is a genuine love for it rather than because of a deal or a promotion of some kind – it feels more fan made.
A: What do you think makes high quality home entertainment important in this day and age?
RA: The only way I’ve used streaming is more as a kind of a YouTube reference point. I’m writing a book right now that’s entirely about VIEW FROM THE TOP, the Gwyneth Paltrow air stewardess film, and I’ve watched that film in bits nearly every day for two years. So for me that’s where streaming works, and I have no problems with it. But there’ll always be something about Blu-rays being a tangible object that just creates a slightly different ritual to the experience. I think possibly it may start going more towards that curational element that small independent studios like Arrow offer, the idea that you’re drawn to a few of the films within the ‘world’ of that label and so you start exploring more of it.
I’ve always enjoyed the ‘madeness’ of things, of feeling aware of the maker behind the film; I’ve never understood the criticism of being ‘taken out of a film’. That’s why I love the idea that the film comes in a full package, with new artwork and special features, and in a way why I love what Arrow does virtually what Blockbuster video stores used to do with recommended sections on shelves; that curation now lives online within labels.
A: Out of the last 10 years since the birth of Arrow Video, would be your top 10 desert island picks?
- DEEP RED
- BLOW OUT
- RED SCORPION
- THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION
- TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.
- THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES
- THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY
- THE FIFTH CORD
- SIXTEEN CANDLES
A: What makes these 10 stand out in your view?
- DEEP RED (1975): Alongside the other Argento’s like TENEBRAE, PHENOMENA and INFERNO. Argento is someone who was always great at creating sequences and mood, and for that I’ll always be drawn to his films – though he never quite seemed to have the attention span for exposition. He really is just one of the best directors of the close-up, and there’ll always be an amazing moment to love in his films. I remember someone saying that they’d rather listen to the sloppiest twenty-minute Jimi Hendrix solo than all of the tight Eric Clapton solos, and I think Argento’s like that.
- BLOW OUT (1981): I love this whole era of De Palma, and I would also include SISTERS, OBSESSION and RAISING CAIN within that. The way he uses colour and sound to explore themes, his interest in dissecting dreams and the mechanics of addressing point of view just make him one of the most exciting directors there’s been.
- RED SCORPION (1988): By no means the greatest film ever created, but there’s something I find very funny about the rehabilitation of a Soviet man to American values: that political-conversion-themed-action-film genre…I’m sure there’ll be more.
- COFFY (1973): I would include this alongside Foxy Brown. There’s still never been anyone like Pam Grier, I think she’s just a brilliant actress. Both those films are really exciting, as is that whole era of early ‘70s grindhouse.
- THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION (1984): This is one that I never would’ve come across without Arrow Video having released it. There’s a Wes Anderson feel to the credits that I’ve always wondered if he was referencing in LIFE AQUATIC.
- TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. (1985): This is another one I hadn’t been able to see before Arrow Video released it due to it only ever being available on dodgy prints, despite having always wanted to see it. Again, it’s one of those films that you can’t understand why it isn’t more well-known – and then you see it and you realise how bold the plot directions are and why its audience is so limited. A lot of films Arrow Video release all seem to be taking risks in a way that other films don’t.
- THE RED QUEEN KILLS SEVEN TIMES (1972): One of the most haunting scores in any gialli. We actually stole parts of this film’s soundtrack for the start of At the Apollo, an Arctic Monkeys concert movie.
- THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981): Just to represent all the Fulci. I never have strong memories of the plots in his films, again the main things to enjoy about Fulci are those low camera placements and strange points of view. The opening shot in this for example has always stayed with me.
- THE FIFTH CORD (1971): Mainly because of Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography, it’s one of the most beautifully shot of the giallo films.
- SIXTEEN CANDLES (1984): I’ve always liked coming of age films, and for me John Hughes has as strong a particular voice and aesthetic as any of the directors included on this list.
I guess if you’re looking for a connecting thread within these choices it’s that there is always a strong voice and point of view behind them. The joy of watching films by a similar director or a similar writer is to identify those points of view that you like and watching them develop in other worlds. You’re naturally going to be interested in seeing how one person keeps telling you things: was it being told like this because the story demanded it, or because that’s just their voice?
That’s why I love interviews, there’s always a drama to watching someone talk about something they’ve made. They’re interesting for their own sake as well, in that they sometimes reveal absolutely nothing at all about why that director is so good or why they see the world in that way, and yet the interview is always enjoyable to watch. They’re important to me because they offer an extension to the world that the director's created - or I’m grateful for them, let’s put it that way.
© 2019 by Richard Ayoade. All rights reserved.