But from out of the uncertainty emerged one glaring certainty. In a year in which only Matthew McConaughey, in an all too brief supporting role in The Wolf of Wall Street, and Michael Fassbender could stand shoulder to shoulder with James McAvoy; even Scotland’s leading man suffered the fate of being overlooked. So Filth will not have been celebrating at this year’s post-BAFTA festivities. It is a startling omission, and one that failed to acknowledge the finest British film of the year. But then as Jon S. Baird reflected, “This was the most unpopular kid in school. This was the new kid who turned up and pissed everyone off until someone eventually took them under their wing and it sort of turned round, and we eventually started getting attention.”
Filth remains a bold and startling film that will attain immortality in spite of the tally in the nomination and win columns. It is a film that will not go quietly into the sunset but will be relevant until the cinematic art form takes its final breath.
Slated for an online release in America in April, followed by a theatrical release in May, just how will this distinctly British film play to an American audience? “I think it will do the thing most of the stuff does. It will do the east coast and west coast art house thing in some of the bigger cities and college towns, but I can’t see it being a big multiplex movie in Middle America. I think it will do very well on demand, downloads and DVD, but it will play more successfully to the art house audiences.” Since the inception of television Film has seen itself as being under siege, and with actors and filmmakers moving across to work in television, alongside the popularity of home entertainment, cinema is itself under siege from the very films that should and do play on the big screen. “It would be nice if it crossed over into the mainstream the same way that Trainspotting did, but a lot of things have happened since then, and one of the things is that people don’t go out to the cinema. Nowadays they have their own entertainment centres and so you are looking to do business on DVD and download more now.”
Speaking with Irvine Welsh about Filth’s fast approaching U.S. release, the discussion quickly spiralled into a discussion of one of the award season’s big hitters, which saw Welsh highlight the issue of the length of the modern day film. For Welsh the difficulty Filth is likely to encounter is a consequence of its brevity. “American cinema has become about movies that are two hours; easily three hour long movies and I just think Americans are used to seeing these long movies.”
Stacked against Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street and David O’ Russell’s American Hustle Filth is a decidedly short film that goes against the grain of some of its American cousins. It is even shorter than the briskly paced Dallas Buyers Club that clocks in at two hours. “I’ve recently watched American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street, and I would have cut them both by an hour. They are both very good movies but they are just way too long. Americans are now very much used to that and so Filth might be a short film for an American audience, because it’s a very fast one as well.”
Peacock, which recently received a UK home entertainment release courtesy of Lionsgate, is a further example of the shorter than average film exemplified by some of Hollywood’s big hitters. Clocking in at less than ninety minutes, Peacock tells a dramatic and intricate psychological tale and is unimpeded by a less than average running time. Speaking with Welsh there was a sense that he believes that stories are being expanded unnecessarily. “Watching The Wolf of Wall Street, it seemed to be a kind of Trainspotting film. It’s an urban excess/fall from grace movie, and to me at least these movies are made to be an hour and a half. There is not a lot more you can say past an hour and a half.” Welsh is quick to state his affection for Martin Scorsese, American cinema’s most enduring filmmaker, but for Welsh there remains a glaring habitual action displayed by American filmmakers. “I love Scorsese, but I think it’s something American filmmakers have where they need this extra hour; this extra hour and a half to say something profound and to have that profundity.”
It was Clive Barker who said, “Simplicity is genius.” Whether we should replace the word “simplicity” with “brevity” might be for the best in order to turn this statement into a more adequate reflection of modern American cinema. But for Welsh it is exactly this lack of brevity and the unnecessary expansion of stories that troubles him, and which sets a hurdle for Filth to jump. “It’s basically an archetypal story, and it doesn’t need to be Goodfellas or The Godfather. It’s just a guy on Wall Street who made a bit of money, got fucked up on drugs. As I say it’s an archetypal story. It’s not a massive type of parable on the human condition any more than any film of that kind is. So there’s a kind of pomposity that goes along with it: let’s make this epic kind of movie. It is brilliantly acted but if it had been an hour shorter, it would have probably been one of the best movies I’ve seen. It just really started to grind me down towards the end.” Further still, there is the consideration of the savvy audience are steeped in storytelling, the beats familiar, and who render the expansive length of certain narratives unnecessary. “Everybody knows what’s going to happen in these movies. There’s only one thing that can happen. It’s the cautionary type movie – excess, everybody has a great time and it all goes tits up. You know how it’s going to end, so I don’t really see the point in going round the houses. That’s how it felt anyhow.”
April and May will reveal how the Americans get on when it comes to stomaching this slice of British cinematic Filth. Whether it will serve as an example of the opportunities for films to discover an audience outside of the multiplex and art house theatres is as of yet unknown. Whether this is a film that will upset the norms of modern American cinema by embracing a little brevity to tell a bold and startling psychological and emotional story of a mental breakdown will all be revealed in good time.
Filth is out now in the UK on Blu-ray, DVD, Steelbook & Downloa. Click here to order your copy.