MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.
PUBLISHED IN 2020 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…’
I absolutely adored this sort of science fiction mystery thriller, penned by legendary screen-writer Michael Armstrong a few years after he himself holidayed in Venice, in the same area which he writes about in the screenplay.
His youthful exploits there nearly cost him his life on more than one occasion (just boyish high jinks, folks, nothing to see here, move along, lol), so I’m guessing the holiday had a profound effect on him, enabling him to write MUTANTS so easily and quickly, and with such feeling and a genuine sense of being there in the moment the action is taking place.
The story of why it didn’t get turned into a film, despite its massive potential and the fact that Michael had originally intended the main male role to go to iconic rock star David Bowie, star of his debut film, THE IMAGE, is told with honesty and poignancy in the chapter of the book entitled A HISTORY OF THE SCREEN PLAY.
In which, I must add, he also gives a stunningly familiar-seeming description of A Writer’s Insecurity and our general feeling that every word we’ve ever written is not fit to use as toilet paper with which to wipe Saddam Hussein’s arse, to gloriously misquote Bridget Jones in that terrific first film. You don’t mind, do ya, Bridge love…?
These books would make a fabulous Christmas present for the film fan in your life, by the way. If you’re strapped for cash, you can just buy one or two (or three!), but if you’re feeling flush, why not go for the full monty? The books come with gorgeous glossy covers and more film industry know-how and gossip inside than you can shake a stick at. I positively treasure my own copies.
EXT. VENICE NIGHT.
The sea-water splashing against the quayside-
Against the sides of moored gondola …
The pools of water on the streets …
Puddles reflecting the city’s antiquity …
Desolate now …
Barely a sound now …
So very, very old …
Now we move to a Venice beach in the late ‘sixties, which I’m guessing was a rather cool place to be. Not cool in the temperature sense, of course, as it’s pretty damn hot in the book and the sun presents as a fiery, unusually red ball in the sky.
Cathy Hinton and her older brother David are on holiday in the area, as are their two chums, Ann and Nick, who are boyfriend and girlfriend. They’re all camping at the exact site at which Michael himself once stayed as a penniless drama student on his holliers from the RADA, a place called Punta Sabioni. It’s across the lake from Venice proper, and it’s obviously cheaper than staying in one of the beautiful city’s posh hotels.
While on the beach one day, the quartet of youngsters attract the attention of a fellow English tourist, a Sarah Thornton whom Michael describes as ‘an attractive, over-dressed woman in her late forties, trying to look older.’
She immediately, and rather pushily, insists on taking the four under her obviously mature, cougar-ish wing, treating them to expensive meals, suites in the hotel where she’s staying and nights filled with champagne and laughter.
She has no family of her own and the day on which she introduces herself to them is allegedly her birthday, plus she’s got oodles of dosh and she’s paying for everything, shelling out money hand-over-fist, so the teens kind of feel like, well, if she wants to do all that for them, let her do it. They’re being shown a glimpse of the high life without having to pay a penny for it.
Sarah: Oh … well, maybe for tonight, you should stay over here? There’s plenty of space in my hotel room. I have a suite. You’d be more than welcome to stay the night- and that way we don’t have to break up the party … right?
The two boys exchange another glance, and grin back, ruefully.
Sarah beams back at them.
She has what she wanted.
What’s in it for this strange older woman who’s gone out of her way to become a feature in the youngsters’ lives? Well, the first thing she wants is David, who’s still in school and only about seventeen years old. She gets him blind drunk- on Sarah’s champagne, they all get blind drunk- and seduces him, the dirty cougar!
Sarah: You’re a beautiful child … so very young, so very, very beautiful. Are you glad you met me?
David’s younger sister Cathy can see the dangers of David getting involved with a woman who’s old enough to be his granny, but naturally David, thinking with his willy and not his head, is oblivious. Who cares, he says nonchalantly? Loads of young blokes hang out with older birds. Where’s the harm?
Sarah says some pretty far-out things. Like: You see that stretch of water over there? Well, it’s very, very deep- just that section; like an enormous black hole dug out of the sea. They once sent divers down to find out just how deep it was but they never came back and no one’s tried to find out since.
Shudder. Like the Marianas Trench in the west of the Pacific Ocean. The deepest oceanic trench there is. God knows what’s down there. Have you ever heard it said that we know more about what’s in outer space than we do about what’s in our oceans? I’d well believe it. In the meantime, our four young holiday-makers continue to swelter under a sun of an unnaturally red colour…
The last third or thereabouts of the book deals with What Happened To Poor David. I’m giving nothing away, but I will challenge you to find the Frankenstein moment in the script. A loving nod, I’m guessing, to the films Michael would have adored as a child and then a young man starting out in his career.
Okay, you’ve twisted my arm. Here’s a teensy-weensy hint of what’s to come, but don’t tell anyone I told you or I’ll send the boys round. Ah, I’m only kidding. There are no boys.
People everywhere are screaming;
Running away in alarm-
And that’s positively all I’m giving you. It’ll be well worth the suspense, I promise you.
MUTANTS is available to buy now at the following web addresses, along with other books in the Michael Armstrong collection. Get out your wallets, lads. Don’t be stingy now…!
Man: It’s extraordinary the way they can move separately when they grow or expand outwards...
I just want it all to stop … so we can go home. I want to go … home … I’m so scared. I just want to go home.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. 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, women’s 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: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO