Brave to be naked
Watching a film is to a certain extent a ménage à deux between every individual viewer and the film itself, not its author. The most brutal of the arts, cinema is in fact a form of prostitution with a fairly high risk of infection from which the fimmaker, to his illusory solace, is somehow spared. Therefore, and very luckily, he is the least expected, let alone entitled, to comment on his own work.
Moreover, films are made to say what words or still images can’t, making once more explanations just pedantic intrusions. And this not so much to loose the author from responsibilities that are intrinsically inescapable as to trust the film and respect its sole end—the audience. In this sense, I tried to approach Brave Naked with the same attitude I normally have towards others’ work. Much or little, Brave Naked comes in earnest and peace meaning to say nothing more than what any single viewer will hear, and if found completely dumb, well—fair enough, as no words will ever manage to fill that silence, my failure.
So what follows is not the unseemly attempt to guide the unfortunate, if welcome, reader, rather a scarce selection of the series of dreams that brought me here and will drive me further.
Like many I spend a lot of time on the urban transports. Buses and tube have long become the cosy, improbable office that I share with other commuters. And in the occasional pause from reading or writing—that incredibly creative intermission—I can't help observing my counterparts. Lost in my thoughts I see them from afar, moving in herd according to an established routine. I wonder if they they know what they are doing, why they are there, where they are going, who they are. It is with these questions buzzing unnoticed in the remotest parts of my brain that I started to picture a character. Vince (from the Latin vincere, to win), a low carb biped living in an utopical city estranged from its time and inhabitants, is his own routine. Simple objects, nasty things, physically painful ones—for him the unquestioned habit becomes literal, hence something to actually wear.
The old and the young
As the Old Man evangelically stated in an early draft of the script, 'The difference between the old and the young is something that keeps them apart more than time'. We grow and change, and grow and get old, and are still the same person. Perhaps. Vince looks himself as a child in the eyes and talks to the man he will or might be. He gets from the former the blade that might cut him into a different future. That's true, I guess—we exist in time.
There is no albatross in Brave Naked, although there is, at least in the form of a remote echo. I conceived the story having in mind Samuel Taylor Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, a poem close to my heart since when I studied it at school. Brave Naked couldn't be farther from being an homage to it, although its atmosphere, as I perceive it, found somewhat its way into the tone of my characters.
Coleridge's poem begins with a mariner setting sail on a journey. Despite initial good fortune, the ship is driven by a storm to Antarctic waters where the adverse conditions seem to destine the crew to the worst. Eventually an albatross appears and leads them out of the ice jam where they are stuck, but even as the albatross is praised by the ship's crew, the mariner shoots the bird: "With my cross-bow, I shot the albatross."
I was always struck by the inexplicability of the abrupt gesture, which I later came to read as one of the most intimate attitudes of the human nature. So the Old Man is in a certain way Vince's albatross or, if you like, his private antithetical saviour.
The land of the free
Out of the blue, Bob Dylan makes his strange, slight appearance in the film. Inquired about his change of name he actually once said, "You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free." (From an interview for CBS by Ed Bradley, aired the 5th of December, 2004)
It might well be a minor anecdote about an artist who's also one of my oldest, unaware travel companions, but as random, bizarre and self-indulgent quoting him might sound, and certainly is, I felt it candidly symbolised the extreme will to free ourselves from who we are passively given to be. Perhaps it is also the best answer we could ever give to Smith's bitter, provocative poser on the difference between the old and the young. However questionable in the general sense how free this world really is, it is the freedom we are brave enough to acknowledge and take that makes our own land free.
From the beginning I was impressed at the attention to detail that Aldo and his team were giving to Brave Naked and which paid off so well in the finished film. It's a great team effort and I am very proud and happy to have been a member of Aldo's team. My contribution as an actor was to bring as much detail and authenticity to the 'Old Man' street character in this strange, evocative tale as I could. So, I didn't shave or shower for a week, I didn't brush my teeth for four days and I slept in the clothes that I wore in the film. Plus I spent a couple of afternoons in parts of London where I didn't think I would meet anyone who knew me and I practised walking about and behaving like my Old Man character. People seemed to accept me as being authentic even if a bit weird. The character voice and mannerisms I used were based on a real street person from my childhood nick-named Dirty Harry (this was many years before Clint Eastwood's film of the same name). Dirty Harry would hang around near the Tower of London and sometimes do bizarre satirical street performances with rolled up newspapers as binoculars and commentating on an imagined horse race.
Some of the horses in Dirty Harry's imagined race would be named after people who were in the news that week and others would be named after everyday item's like say 'chewing gum' or 'banana'. "... and as they come into final furlong now it's Chewing Gum stuck to the rails with Banana coming away from the bunch just behind John Profumo, Christine Keeler and coming up on the inside Mandy Rice-Davis ... they are neck-a-neck as they approach the finishing line ... it's going to be a photo finish ... it's a photo, it's a photo, it's a photoooh!!! ..." (Dirty Harry examines an imaginary photo) "... what a dirty photo!!!!"
One detail I remember from Dirty Harry was how ingrained with dirt his fingernails and cuticles were after all his years on the streets. I asked the make-up artist Jennifer Trinity if she could make my finger nails and cuticles like Dirty Harry's and she was delighted to do so. It was very pleasing for Jennifer and myself when Director of Photography George Tsikos noticed my Dirty Harry hands and shot a close-up on them, which is almost the first shot you see of my Old Man character. Brave Naked was a very happy shoot and I so enjoyed working with this very competent, cheerful and professional team.
The most surprising, and satisfying, aspect of this collaboration with Aldo has been, to me, the creative process that led us to create the score for Brave Naked.
The first word I recall Aldo uttering about it was: electric guitar. Which left me just as fascinated as intimately floored.
On one hand, having being trained as a pianist, no instrument could have scared me more as a composer than the maze of technical and timbre possibilities that an electric guitar is. On the other, I was immediately fascinated by those very potentialities that had always got me so wary towards an instrument I actually loved, today more than ever, for that dirty sound, a little irreverent if not even subversive, that it gets through distortion.
The second element that sprang from our conversations had the form of a constellation of words and references that somehow expanded the Hollywood concept of 'temp track' (the temporary track a composer normally finds in his copy of the film as a general guide from the director, quite a bogeyman to every composer). This generated a wide-ranging exchange that touched the Jethro Tull, London at the end of the Sixties, the folk music of England, the pizzicato of the Stroh violin, John Scofield's sound and his peculiar way to kind of 'half-bite' the notes, the different types amplifiers hence distortions, Bob Dylan (obviously!), Abbey Road and much more.
From all these clues I took what guided my work, shaped it technically, and led me designing the territory where to find the main theme of the story—ultimately, some sort of a musical version of the innocuous, yet dangerous, bittersweet apathy of Vince and his life.
And since every fear is rather to be faced than escaped, I thought I could use not just one guitar, but five, mixing electric, acoustic and classic.
Fabrizio Gagliardi lead guitars
Michele Tacchi electric bass
Alessandro Ponti organ & programming
Jake Jackson score engineer
BRAVE NAKED PRINCIPAL PHOTOGRAPHY was shot on location in the central London district of Fitzrovia in two days in February, 2015. The team gathered again eight months later for an extra day and shoot what the notoriously unpredictable British weather hadn't allowed to get at the first go.
EALING STUDIOS WHERE ORIGINALLY considered as location for the exterior shots. Its buildings, on top of being of great historical value not only for British cinema, offered fascinating views and interesting backgrounds that would have fit perfectly the mood and colours of the film. However, the option was soon discarded as the site was secured for the same dates by the popular TV series production Downtown Abbey, which obviously had priority. Despite the initial frustration this turned out being a very lucky coincidence as it led Brave Naked to no less interesting sites in Fitzrovia.
All the exterior shots and the final scene on the landing were shot in gorgeous St Margaret House, head office of Framestore, a listed 1930 ca. building whose rear façade clad with white faience bricks substantially contributes to the visuals of the film. Whereas the bedroom, bathroom and breakfast interior scenes were photographed in various rooms inside Passion Pictures main building, an industrial conversion only a few blocks away.
Both locations were also pretty familiar to the director, who had previously worked at Framestore on such feature productions as Spike Jonze's Where The Wild Things Are, Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity, James Cameron's Avatar and the animated film The Tale of Despereaux, and is currently a regular collaborator at Passion Pictures.
DUE TO THE PARTICULARLY DIVERSE weather conditions of the footage and in order to make it seamlessly cut together, the rain was removed in post-production from a few shots, and the colours adjusted to keep the lighting consistent all the way through each exterior sequence. Hard and successful work of compositor Valeria Romano and colourist Daniele Bigi.
ONLY A FEW DAYS PRIOR TO THE RESHOOT actor Alex Freeborn had to pull out because of an unexpected conflicting commitment. In order to not reschedule the entire shoot and taking advantage of his similar body shape, colourist Daniele Bigi kindly accepted to be Alex's double for the day. So in the section immediately after the breakfast sequence, when Vince is seen from afar coming down the stairs, up to the point where he leaves the box on the ground, it is actually Daniele, not Alex.
THE LOVELY BOOK Smith is reading is an old collection of works of Shakespeare and it's own property of actor Jon McKenna. The line he is mumbling are the first two verses of the wonderful Sonnet 138: "When my love swears that she is made of truth / I do believe her, though I know she lies,"
As a minor, hardly significant detail, the Old Man was originally meant to read a passage from Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, which had lamely inspired the general tone of the characters and the story as it was conceived. However, both Jon and Aldo agreed that the attachment the former had to the Shakespeare book made it a much better and more realistic choice. Besides the tender tone of the sonnet contrasted quite effectively with the surly look of the character, anticipating his more gentle side as revealed in the final part of the film.
THE ANGLE, FRAMING and character pose of the opening shot is inspired by the masterful 1480 ca. painting Lamentation over the Dead Christ by the Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna.
THE OPENING QUOTE, 'Let death find you alive' is the literal translation of a Latin aphorism, revived and made popular in the Seventies by the Italian prolific writer, humorist, playwright, screenwriter and director Marcello Marchesi in the slightly different form, 'L'importante è che la morte ci trovi vivi' ('The important thing is that death finds us alive'), eventually published in 1971 in the anthology Il malloppo.