IN BERNARD Rose’s latest film, he transplants Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, to contemporary Los Angeles, but it was a different type of Frank that propelled the cult director on his career.
He got his break in 1983, shooting the notorious ‘Relax’ video for the controversial group, Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
Still a student at the UK’s National Film and Television School, Rose had come to the attention of ZTT Records’ co-founder, Paul Morley, for his work on UB40’s ‘Red Red Wine’ promo. Frankie Goes To Hollywood were about to release their debut single, and Morley was taken by Rose’s approach with UB40.
“I remember Paul Morley saying to me that what he liked about the UB40 video was that I realistically portrayed their environment, the culture that they came from, that kind of ‘blues clubs in Birmingham’ thing that was where they hailed from. And he was basically saying, ‘well, this is a band that comes from a subculture that has not been exposed’,” recalls Rose.
Rose accompanied Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s lead singer, Holly Johnson, to London’s premier gay nightclub, Heaven, and that inspired the S&M-themed pop promo.
“I remember thinking, at the time, that this was something extraordinary and radical and different. So, really, all the video was was an attempt to kind of recreate not exactly what was going on in Heaven, but in terms of the clothes and the people and the attitude, that they were the people who were from there,” says Rose.
“I think what was unique about the ‘Relax’ video and Frankie Goes To Hollywood was that they weren’t ashamed of being gay in the slightest. They were celebratory.”
He adds: “It was viewed as something really kind of aggressive, at the time, but when you look at the video now, you go, ‘Well, it’s kind of jolly.’”
The parent record company, Island Records, were horrified by it and commissioned an inoffensive reshoot. It was BBC Radio One DJ, Mike Read, who generated the hysteria, when he voiced his distaste on air. Little did he realise the monster he had created.
The notoriety propelled ‘Relax’ up the charts and advanced Rose’s career, also. A producer at the BBC invited Rose to make two films with the corporation. The irony is not lost on the director.
“That came directly out of the people in the BBC drama department going, ‘we need the guy who made that Frankie Goes To Hollywood video.’ So it just goes to show, doesn’t it?” he chuckles.
Rose’s big breakthrough was the urban horror, Candyman. But he is also known for his many adaptations and modern retellings of the stories of Leo Tolstoy, most famously his sour transplanting of The Death of Ivan Illyich into the Hollywood milieu in Ivan’s Xtc.
Just as Tolstoy’s themes continue to resonate, Rose was deeply impressed by the enduring nature of Shelley’s creation. Shot from the creature’s point of view, Rose’s Frankenstein is searching for meaning in a meaningless world.
Says Rose: “To me, the whole point of the movie, and the whole point of doing a film entirely from the point of the monster, is that whatever Victor Frankenstein has done, this guy is conscious and he is a living being and he just wakes up in a laboratory, and he doesn’t know who he is or what he is or where he is, or how he got there.
“He doesn’t know how to eat, how to drink, how to do basic bodily functions. And he’s sprung into a world that’s cruel and he has no instructions for how to deal with it, which is pretty much our lives, anyway.
“That’s the whole tragedy of the story and it’s why it still holds its fascination for us, because we really don’t know who we are, what we are or why we’re here, and that’s what the monster wants to know.” will screen exclusively at Triskel Christchurch Cinema, Cork, tonight
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved