BBC Radio Scotland ‘The Arts Show’
Martin Smith interviewed by Clare English
CLARE ENGLISH: Now if you are a fan of our elegant capital city you might like to know that a series of short films about Edinburgh is running on Channel 4 from tonight. Titled ‘My City’ the films feature prominent people from the city including artist John Bellany, pop star Shirley Manson from Garbage and boxer Alex Arthur. They all tell us why Edinburgh means so much to them now and why it’s played such an important part in shaping the people who they have become.
Well this is an excerpt from fighter Alex Arthur’s film, where he tells us how Edinburgh inspired the inspiration for his professional boxing career.
ALEX ARTHUR:‘Growing up in Edinburgh, I obviously spent all my childhood here, in the Southside area, and my fondest memories are playing in Dumbiedykes, and in the High Street, and round about the Old Town. My dad was a big fight fan and, you know, night after night when the big fights were on TV he would bring me into the living room to watch the fights late at night, you know, and from then on in I was hooked. Unfortunately my dad wouldn’t let me go to the boxing gym and box, which was a shame. He had to go to prison for a spell back when I think I was round about 10 years old, and when he went to prison, I went to boxing because he couldn’t do nothing to stop me, and my mum was right behind me all the way. I think it was her way of keeping me out of trouble but close to her all at once, you know?”
CLARE ENGLISH: Alex Arthur; well young-gun director and Arts Show critic of choice Martin Smith is the talent behind these films. Martin, good to have you back in. Tell us where the idea came from because it’s rather odd, you are not from Edinburgh, so what on earth are you doing these promos for Edinburgh for?
MARTIN SMITH: Yeah, well I got asked to do them because I have done some music videos around the town before and one of the guys who had been approached by Channel 4 hooked me in and said ‘Martin how would you like to do this, kinda thing?’ So they said to me you have a free brief: how would you like to picture Edinburgh? And initially it was just meant to be three films and I thought, well, Edinburgh Past, Present and Future, and I thought Bellany, Shirley and some young kid as well, and then they said ‘Well there’s no cricket this week on Channel 4 so there are now 4 films’ and so it’s a little bit past and a lot of present and a little future as well. So that’s really how it came about.
CLARE ENGLISH: And they are shorts, that’s the thing, that’s what’s so lovely because as you say you have done the music stuff, did it lend itself well to this kind of editing?
MARTIN SMITH: Yeah it did, and I think one of the things I wanted to do with this piece was just absolutely not include music whatsoever so there’s a definite interview with them, there’s no music and the films have got a different feel from the music videos, hopefully, as well in the sense that what I really wanted to make was four little films which complimented what the artists or the boxer did themselves so hopefully each film is individual to what the people do.
CLARE ENGLISH: Well lets have a closer look at who you’ve got, some of them better known than others, but some went to remarkable lengths to take part, for example the artist John Bellany, tell us what he did to get to you.
MARTIN SMITH: Yeah we chased him for a wee bit and it was just incredible. We said John, how do you fancy taking part in the films and straight away he was like that ‘Absolutely’ and he flew in in the morning to be part of the films and he flew back to Tuscany afterwards at the end and it was just amazing, there was no question of any fee or anything and he was just an inspirational person. That was really why I wanted to get involved with all the characters because in some way all these people had really inspirational stories.
CLARE ENGLISH: And what about Shirley Manson? I mean she freed up a lot of time as well because she was working in the U.S. wasn’t she?
MARTIN SMITH: She did, yeah, and I have to say she was involved from a very early stage and I suppose her process was almost most like doing a music video in the sense that I submitted an idea which was completely wrong for her! And she told me so.
CLAIRE ENGLISH: (Laughs) Oh no!
MARTIN SMITH: Yeah, and I actually think it was great, because what I found out with Shirley was she was creative from start to finish and she became involved in the creative development and it was a backward and forward process until we got an idea that we really liked and that made me so much happier than the initial thing that I put forward.
CLARE ENGLISH: Well what did you initially want to do with her; go on!
MARTIN SMITH: (Laughs) I wanted Shirley to skim stones and feed swans in Inverleith Park.
CLARE ENGLISH: That was a no.
MARTIN SMITH: That was a big no! And I’m so glad. We laughed about it on the day of shooting as well.
CLARE ENGLISH: Well you didn’t have any trouble with the wee girl, she’s amazing, this cool collected little girl: tell us about this 10-year-old.
MARTIN SMITH: Well she comes from the city’s North Edinburgh Arts Youth Drama Project. It was something I had heard about and for a long time, I had thought these schemes are amazing, and I come from a small town outside Glasgow, Helensburgh, and there was no such thing as that: this drama group, where these kids get together and they do these wee improvisations all around drama set-ups, and it just seemed like a great thing. So we went down to North Edinburgh Arts and there were so many kids we could have worked with but we just whittled down the process and we found this one girl and she was just speaking so lyrically and so positively about Edinburgh we thought ‘Okay you’re in it Sophie; you’re terrific’. We just made a film that was quite naïve and hopefully complimented what she was all about and the things she loves about Edinburgh.
CLARE ENGLISH: And the clothes as well, that big bright poncho that she has on running through the fields.
MARTIN SMITH: Ohh! Well we were shooting on Super 8 which is a really bright and vivid format anyway, and she comes along on the day in this vivid little rainbow coloured poncho, and it’s just like ‘Oh! It’s gold-dust!’. Fantastic, and it’s such a powerful image all the way through.
CLARE ENGLISH: So you didn’t tell her to take that out the wardrobe?
MARTIN SMITH: No, no, this is star material! She obviously knows where stars are from!
CLARE ENGLISH: Watch that girl, watch that girl! But the one I personally enjoyed the most, and you just said to me before we started talking on air here, the one the people are connecting the most with , it seems, is the John Bellany one. Now there is something very lyrical and poetic about it, the way it’s been shot, the diffused lighting, the grainy feel it’s a very nostalgic little film.
MARTIN SMITH: There are photographs taken of me on set listening to John and I am absolutely held on every single word he says, and I’ve shown the film to a couple of people around and everyone seems quite touched by it; they almost seem sad towards it, and I don’t know if there’s something about nostalgia or the way he’s very lyrical about Edinburgh and it’s almost as if he’s looking back at his life in Edinburgh. It’s a very charming film and I just love what he says about it.
CLARE ENGLISH: And that graininess really works doesn’t it?
MARTIN SMITH: Well I think that probably adds to it as well, Super 8 has all these image flaws about it, and we really pushed those with Bellany, almost like watching an old home movie, an old cine film, and that’s kinda what we have gone with.
CLARE ENGLISH: Well beautiful stuff there Martin I’ve got to say, I’m just hoping you’ll do the same for Glasgow some time, maybe we’ll get you back in to speak about that nearer the time. But thanks for dropping in to talk to us tonight. Martin Smith there, a name of the future, and ‘My City: Edinburgh’ runs tonight until Thursday night at five to eight on Channel 4.