MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS: THE CLICHÉ-CUTTER. (1961) PUBLISHED IN 2018 BY PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘Michael Armstrong is creating history by being the first film-maker to publish his entire screenwriting output. With the original uncut screenplays in print for the first time ever and peppered with a mixture of wildly entertaining anecdotes, astounding behind-the-scenes revelations, creative and educational insights and brutal ‘no holds barred’ honesty, these books are guaranteed to provide a completely new kind of reading experience while offering a unique insight into the movie industry. Starting from his first professional screenplay written in 1960 when he was only fifteen and which he subsequently directed in 1968, the books will ultimately encompass a career that has spanned over fifty years. The books will include not only those screenplays which made it onto a cinema screen but, for the first time ever, all those that didn’t- and the reasons why…’
Some of my regular readers might have heard me mention a certain Michael Armstrong, a screenwriter and film director whose luxurious script-books I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing over the past eighteen months or so, according as they roll off the presses at Michael’s publishers, PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS. If you want to know where or how you might have heard of Michael before, I can tell you that he wrote the screenplays for the following films:
THE DARK- 1960.
THE IMAGE- 1964. Starring David Bowie in his first screen appearance.
THE HUNT- 1965.
MARK OF THE DEVIL- 1970.
THE SEX THIEF- 1973.
ESKIMO NELL- 1974. A riotous sex comedy starring beloved English actor Roy Kinnear and a young and handsome Michael Armstrong himself.
IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU- 1975.
THREE FOR ALL- 1975.
ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER #2- 1975.
ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE- 1976.
THE BLACK PANTHER- 1976. The story of Donald Neilson, the British armed robber, kidnapper and murderer who abducted wealthy British teenager Lesley Whittle in 1975.
HOME BEFORE MIDNIGHT- 1979.
HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS- 1982. The only film in the history of cinema to star horror legends Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine all together.
PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS are not only publishing the screenplays of Michael’s that got made into films, but also the ones that didn’t, for one reason or another. Of the scripts that didn’t make it onto the screen, I can’t wait to read THE KINKY DEATH-WISH OF VERNON SLIM (1967) and THE CURSE OF TITTIKHAMON (1977). I also strongly urge Michael to keep looking for the missing script entitled THE PUSSY CAPER (1975). I want, no, need to read that script…!
Anyway, THE CLICHÉ-CUTTER was penned in 1961 when Michael was still a teenager. A teenager with a burning urge to write, however, and who’d already watched enough films on TV and at the cinema to have amassed an extraordinary degree of knowledge around how they work, and also a healthy amount of cynicism regarding the way that Hollywood tries so hard to sell us various images and concepts.
Even the dedication is cynical, lol. The book is dedicated to ‘ALL THOSE OF US WHO STILL BELIEVE IN GREEN-COATED SANTA CLAUS BEFORE HE WAS MARKETED AS RED-COATED SANTA CLAUS AND SO NO LONGER EXISTED IN OUR IMAGINATIONS.’
Now, I’m not quite old enough to be able to recall the green-coated Santa to mind but I do remember someone telling me once that the image of the red-coated Santa Claus was first sold to us as an idea by the gigantic COCA-COLA corporation.
This means that our image of Santa didn’t come from Charles Dickens or evolve organically from a traditional Victorian fairytale but came directly from a massive, world-guzzling franchise.
From what I know of the world today, that sounds about right. Depressing, but right. Who came up with the idea of putting a Christmas tree in your home during the festive season? Probably it was SNICKERS or CHANEL NO.5 FOR MEN. I wouldn’t be surprised.
The screenplay tells the story of Peter Brent, ‘a sensitive young man in his early twenties’ who teaches Art. His students are ‘terribly influenced by Chagall’ and also, in a word, terrible. He’s depressed in his job and wants nothing so much as to direct a film using a script he’s written himself. He’s writing the script at the moment and he has high hopes for it.
He doesn’t get much support from his family. Here’s what his Dad Reg Brent thinks about his son’s proposed career in movies:
‘Anyway, what do you know about film directing? You’ve got to be old and have worked your way up before they’ll let you do that sort of thing. They don’t have young film directors. They’re all of ’em at least my age and upwards. I mean, look at Alfred Hitchcock. He’s no spring chicken. You’re wasting your time having all these wild ideas.’
Here’s what Peter’s Nan and his Mum Millie think about Peter’s big dreams of stardom:
Nan: ‘I say, Millie, I got two loaves from the bread man this morning. I got two large brown because Reg, here, won’t eat white. He won’t eat white, you know, so I had to get two large brown.’
Millie: ‘Oh Mother, you know I told you to get a large white.’
Nan: ‘Well, Millie- see here, Millie-‘
They both shout over each other. Peter rises and leaves.
Heh-heh-heh. So funny. Anyway, Peter moves out of his parents’ house and gets himself a swanky new girlfriend, a wanna-be actress called June Marlowe, and an ant-eater for a pet whom he calls Jack The Ripper because he- Jack, that is- loves tearing things like floorboards to shreds.
Unfortunately, Peter finds himself in the unenviable position of having to re-write his script from scratch when his Mum chucks it out while tidying his room, along with some comic books she deems him too old for at his age. It’s every nerd’s nightmare, is that. And I actually shuddered when she says in an offhand fashion about his script:
‘Well, if it’s something you need, I daresay you can always type it out again. It was only writing.’
IT WAS ONLY WRITING…? Jesus Christ, Ma, get a grip.
Speaking of Dickens, which we were earlier, I love Peter’s new landlady, Mrs. Gloom, Elderly Lady Of This Parish. Straight out of Dickens she is, like Mr. Bumble the Beadle, the holder of ‘porochial’ office responsible for naming Oliver Twist and blighting that lad’s youth with fear and hunger. I do love a bit of Dickens. His insight into the social problems of his day was, quite frankly, staggering in its accuracy.
Anyway, Peter tries to tout his screenplay idea round various film production studios like COLUMPIA and the RUNK ORGANISATION. Initially, he’s not terribly successful. I think he needs to work on his pitch:
‘I’ve written a screenplay- or rather- I HAD written one until my mother thought it was rubbish and threw it away- but I should be able to write it again because, luckily, I can remember most of it. So, if I could just see someone who-‘
Oh dear. I’ve been trying to tempt agents and publishers myself lately with my recently-penned, Zeitgeist-tapping-into and social-awareness-raising chick-lit novel and, believe me, you have got to have your pitch- and your shit-together if you’re to even have a hope of attracting someone’s attention.
Peter and June while away some time at the cinema. Michael says himself in the chapter entitled A HISTORY OF THE SCREENPLAY that ‘the screenplay abounds with parodies of cinematic clichés of the day and the world of screen advertising.’
He’s not wrong there, by Jove. There’s a wickedly merciless parody of the Walt Disney nature documentaries of the day between pages 80 and 90 that you absolutely have to read. It’s too long to include here but trust me, it’s bloody hilarious.
After a ton of Union-related problems and other mishaps, Peter eventually wangles a meeting with film producer Milton Kronowsky (lol, can you tell who he’s meant to be ’cause I totally can!) under false pretences.
Unfortunately, the meeting is scheduled for the exact same time that Peter is meant to be in court with his ant-eater Jack The Ripper answering a charge of causing a public disturbance. Can Peter pull a ‘Robin Williams in MRS. DOUBTFIRE’ and be in two places at once or will he need a little assistance?
Will Milton Kronowsky agree to make Peter’s movie? Will Mrs. Gloom, Elderly Lady Of This Parish, ever get the rent which is that good lady’s due and there’s no point saying it ain’t…? Will Jack The Ripper get to live out his days comfortably in an ant-filled paradise?
Will the hugely hilarious and highly hyperboled hullaballoo at Claridges’ be the ruination of Peter and June and Peter’s dreams of movie stardom? Or will it be the gateway to a whole new lease of life? You’ll have to read this wonderful book to find out, folks, and now stay tuned for these messages:
‘So, for a supremely satisfying pair of underpants: wear Snugjoy…’
A LARGE PAIR OF SUPER-IMPOSED UNDERPANTS FILLS THE SCREEN…
‘Snugjoy satisfies suddenly, satisfies supremely.’
Um, yes. Quaite…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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