Carol Morley talks to Esther McCarthy about her new supernatural thriller, and her teenage years at the legendary Hacienda nightclub.
Patricia Clarkson is on the hunt for a killer in Carol Morley’s new film Out of Blue, a police procedural with a daring supernatural twist. Clarkson plays Mike Hoolihan, an unconventional New Orleans cop on the trail of the killer of a renowned astrophysicist found shot in her observatory.
As Mike investigates, she finds herself drawn down the rabbit hole of parallel universes and cosmic secrets. Morley describes the film as a “radical adaptation” of the Martin Amis novel, Night Train — isn’t she concerned about drawing the ire of fans of the novel?
“I think actually a lot of the Hitchcock films were adaptations of books but took them quite far away. The themes are true to the book and the intent. But it’s just as you start working on it you start to own it. I didn’t want to make a literal translation or a description of the book. I wanted to take the themes and some of the characters and run with that and create characters.”
Still, Morley does pay homage to the author — a new character, Ian Strammi, is an anagram of Martin Amis. She became so involved in the characters and her story that she actually became confused when she read Amis’ take on them.
“I read Martin Amis’s memoir Experience which is really good. He mentions Night Train and some of the characters and I couldn’t understand how he knew about them because they’d become mine. I mean it was this really weird slippage where I thought: ‘How does he?’ And then I went: ‘Oh yeah’. You start to sort of own it in a really weird way.”
Clarkson is excellent in the leading role and Morley felt she was perfect to play the complicated character.
“She has this quiet intensity, the character herself is hiding a lot. I did do research and go meet homicide cops and they’re not over demonstrative, let’s say, so I really wanted someone that could bring so much to a character without having to labour that. Bring so much to it without the emotion being available all the way. Over the years I’ve really fallen in love with her and the characters that she plays, but also the depth she brings to them without labouring.”
Morley has always been a filmmaker who marched to her own beat. Her psychological drama The Falling, about a mysterious fainting outbreak at a girl’s school, was effective and unnerving. But it was Dreams Of A Life, the docudrama about a woman, Joyce Vincent, whose body wasn’t discovered for three years after she died, which really struck a chord.
“Actually the Irish Film Board were instrumental in that because they put money into that and the bedsit that you see in the film was filmed in Ireland,” she tells me. “We used post-production and we filmed here.
“I think loneliness or being alone is a fear and also a reality for many. But also I think that this rise of so-called connection with social media, certainly hearsay and anecdotally, everybody looks happy or everybody looks like they’re having a great time so I think it does lead to isolation. Dreams of a Life hit because it’s something core to us all about who we are and where we’ll end up.
"They were very concerned about dying alone. I hadn’t really ever thought about that so much but that certainly came out.”
Many, many people have told her at the time and since that the film prompted them to get in contact with friends, relatives and loved ones.
“It was beautiful, it was a great legacy for Joyce you know. That was why I wanted to do it, because it just felt wrong, in a way, that somebody should be passed by.”
Carol, the younger sister of top music journalist Paul Morley, grew up in Manchester and experienced a huge trauma in her childhood when her father took his own life. Later in her teens, she turned to partying and later made a documentary about the people she met at that time, called The Alcohol Years.
Though she didn’t feel it at the time, in hindsight, she realised it was connected to her enormous loss. “At the time I think you don’t think that. But now you go, yeah of course it was. I was 11 when my dad died and I think that then, also, you’re becoming a person and sort of learning about the world so I think at 11, that happening is quite a brutal lesson on the world. Tragedy can make you stronger and make you see things differently. So it’s definitely informed my films.”
She was a teenager in Manchester when legendary nightclub the Hacienda opened its doors, and spent a lot of time there in the early days when it was a cultural melting pot.
“It opened in 1982. It was billed as a 2,000 capacity nightclub based on a kind of New York model but at the beginning about 100 people came. So it would be quite cold and you’d all wear overcoats. It was before rave.
“When it opened and they would have a lot of gigs there and also people doing things. I remember I saw William Burroughs there. So it was like my university at the time, getting exposed to things and finding things out. And then of course when anyone came to play at the Manchester Apollo they would come down to The Hacienda so you’d get to see people like Siouxie and the Banshees. It was edgy in the way of being alternative but then later, after my time, it became edgy in terms of drugs and guns and that’s why it eventually shut down.”
She didn’t go to the cinema growing up, watching films on TV at home, and was in her 20s before she decided to study filmmaking.
“I don’t remember going to films as a kid. I saw films on TV like a lot of people. Paul was nine years older, and the culture in the house really was his little bedroom that had 100
albums. His thing was music. I’d seen somebody have this passion and so that must have been instrumental.
“Then he started to write for the NME when he was about 18, 19 and he interviewed Mark Boland and that was his first big interview. So I left school at 16 and I thought: ‘Well I’ll just be in a band and I’ll make it.’ And then when I was about 23, I did
A-level film studies at nightclass in London which you normally do at 16. I had this teacher. And I just got into film. It was like the power of the teacher.”
Out Of Blue opens on Friday