isIt’s the death of a full moon night in Lancashire, and all hell has been set free. On an 18th-century farmhouse turned into a recording studio, a rock musician berates an unfortunate sound engineer because his band’s master tapes were recorded with old folk songs. Outside, the fields are littered with the corpses of poisoned cattle, slaughtered by Jacobite agents of chaos, who have traveled back in time since the English Civil War. In a nearby poultry yard, four Hells Angels stand around the silhouette of a burning woman holding a broom hovering above the ground; outside, a couple curl up in advance of a monstrous thug, who overwhelms them without being hampered by the shovel buried in his skull. In the trunk of their neighboring Honda Accord is the body of a dead cyclist. There has already been one murder and there will be more before dawn.
This spooky scene is from the pen of Mark E Smith, the frontman and creative force behind British rock band The Fall, who died just over three years ago. At a time when the band’s reputation is being honed by a handful of new books tracing different aspects of Smith’s creative practice, and four record companies are releasing their back catalog and live albums, it would appear that ‘There is not much more to say about this Nordic, working class phenomenon.
A book released this week, however – The Otherwise: The Script for a Horror Movie That Never Was, co-written with television writer Graham Duff – sheds light on the idea that Smith was a writer. uncharted strange fiction. Duff sums up the film’s tale: “Essentially, the Fall are trying to record an EP in a studio in Pendle Hill, while the surrounding countryside is at the mercy of a satanic biker gang and a squad of Jacobites who have slipped through a wormhole in time.
Duff grew up in the shadow of Pendle Hill and has been a fan of fall since 1978; he was a 14-year-old schoolboy when he snuck into a Manchester pub to watch the band perform live. “It seemed important to me,” he says. “I loved punk, but the Fall felt like they came from a different realm somehow. They have connected you to different worlds. He transcribed and studied their words in school notebooks; exposure to their work, he says, ultimately helped shape his adult career as a writer.
Ideal, Duff’s sitcom starring Johnny Vegas as Moz, a petty drug dealer from Salford, aired between 2005 and 2011. The show’s cult status and Duff’s dynamic nature meant he was persuasive. big names such as Paul Weller and Alan Yentob take on cameo roles. “Only Kate Moss refused. Her publicist said she wouldn’t do anything involving drugs.
Having Smith appear on the show in 2007 was a highlight of his career, even though the singer had a cavalier attitude towards learning his lines and refused to do covers. They persevered and ended up with a memorable surreal scene: Smith playing Jesus appearing to a pious Christian builder having a nervous breakdown.
The singer has also been the source of surreal off-camera scenes. The show’s wardrobe chief told Duff she was shocked at how “brutal” Smith looked, before adding, “I can’t believe Britt Ekland has him. ever found him attractive, ”after mistaking him for Rod Stewart.
Like many people who aren’t former Fall members, Duff found Smith to be courteous and friendly, and, sensing a unique opportunity, broached the idea of a collaborative writing project. During their years of collaboration – which turned into a solid friendship – they formed a strange couple; while Smith was notoriously difficult to live with, Duff was not much of a drinker and is now teetotal. He laughed, “Mark was very tolerant of my sobriety.” After their first screenwriting session at a Manchester bar, Duff was nearly run over by a cyclist on his way back to his hotel and from that point on he got stuck drinking a few pints during his meeting with Smith at the pub.
Initially, they designed a TV series called The Inexplicable. Influenced by both the format and themes of The Twilight Zone and the spirit of the class allegory O Lucky Man! From Lindsay Anderson in 1973, it was set to take place against the backdrop of the mill towns of the north, taking Todmorden – the UFO-watching capital of England – and witch-haunted Pendle Hill, among others.
After several backlashes, the duo changed focus in 2014 and began working on a film script. “People have the misconception that Mark would be throwing crazy stuff and that I would do it in a cohesive script, but that’s not how it worked,” says Duff. “He would write, for example, a six-page scene of pure dialogue, and not at all supernatural; some are very naturalistic about relationships and everyday things.
This information is somewhat of a fix to a pernicious idea held by many who resist the charms of the Fall: that Smith wrote cryptically because he was unable to write in plain English. In addition to writing fantastic storylines and realistic modern dialogue, Smith also had a knack for delivering lyrical and visionary prose, like these opening observations of a Jacobite soldier on a tear in the fabric of reality:
His truth was unbelievable.
O joy! Like Solaris!
White and translucent foams
He squirmed unhindered
Energized in a wonderful coil
Always master of the combination of the top and the bottom, certain events of The Autre are drawn from the lived experience of Smith. One scene is a rendition of when Smith, 15, and his companion went to buy drugs from a local councilor in Salford, only to have the councilor come to the door smoking a large joint, clearly on the verge of to organize an orgy. . Duff laughs, “The middle aged swingers were ecstatic that these teens arrived, but the boys couldn’t fuck each other fast enough. “
Even beyond his own anecdotes, Smith was the perfect candidate to write this film. Prior to founding The Fall, as a teenager in Prestwich, he was obsessed with strange fiction and, along with Ian Curtis and Stephen Morris before Joy Division, a patron of Manchester’s counter-cultural bookstore The House on the Borderland. Smith devoured writers such as Arthur Machen, MR James, Philip K Dick, and HP Lovecraft, while imagining one of the key themes of the Fall: a working-class northern England beset by occult forces. The group’s work is steeped in daily magic and often involves the old forces behind bingo halls, crawling through newsstands, and descending into snickets and ginnels. Their extensive back catalog, comprising songs like Specter Vs Rector and Jawbone and the Air-Rifle, is haunted by hauntings; their most famous LP, Hex Enduction Hour, was itself a magical ritual designed to end a string of bad luck.
But as strange as it may sound, the first thing that strikes you when reading it is how solid the writing is. The characters are well rounded, the dialogue believable and crisp, there are plenty of dramatic peaks and gripping revelations, with elements that can be compared to the 1972 BBC Two ghost story The Stone Tape, the biker thriller. British Psychomania, Ben Wheatley’s psychedelic civil war horror A Field in England and Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs.
Despite the quality of their work, Duff and Smith faced more refusals. Duff says: “Someone from a film production company in London said to me, ‘Something like this could never be done. Nobody cares about fall now. They were around the ’80s. I was basically like, “Fuck you … you missed the point.”
Duff told Smith that it wasn’t unusual for scripts to run for years – sometimes decades – before being revived, and that The Otherwise could be one of those movies. Their friendship continued with the couple reuniting for drinks in Manchester or at fall shows in London, until one day in 2017 Smith called Duff and let him know he had contracted a lung cancer, adding with a typical understatement: “Quite disappointing, actually.”
Duff says it’s one of his enduring regrets that neither the show nor the movie was commissioned. “Mark’s reputation preceded him – that was all the production companies knew about him. They didn’t know what the fall looked like, that they had produced a huge body of work and were respected internationally; all they really knew was that he had been rude about John Peel on Newsnight.
Much like the Fall itself, however, The Another has something of a vibrant afterlife. In addition to the script being released, acclaimed independent filmmakers and fall fans Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, who directed Nick Cave’s documentary 20,000 Days on Earth, and videos starring Scott Walker and Gil Scott-Heron, looking to get the movie done.
“When you read The Another, you can almost taste the fun of watching scary TV and movies,” Pollard says. “But first and foremost, it’s a singular piece of writing by a really important, disruptive Nordic voice and on those terms alone it should be done. We just need to find someone with money who shares our vision.
Of course, now that Smith can no longer play himself on the big screen, that begs the question of who could. Smith appeared fleetingly in Michael Winterbottom’s impressionistic Factory Records biopic, 24 Hour Party People, as a punter queuing outside the Russell Club while, confusingly, Sam Riley, who played Smith as a young man, s ‘is found on the cutting room floor. Smith was dismissive of the film, rather than Brad Pitt for the role.
Pitt doesn’t come back during my interview with Forsyth and Pollard, and the duo keep quiet about my suggestions from Jared Harris or David Thewlis (who allegedly channeled Smith by dominating Mike Leigh’s 1994 masterpiece Naked), well that they offer the somewhat bizarre – and potential dead cat tactic – suggestion of eternal leader James McAvoy.
Pollard and Forsyth also won’t rule out appointing a singer to play Smith. That was his acerbic commentary on other musicians who claimed the Chute as an influence – not to mention those who took inspiration from his unusual vocal style – you’d suppose many, even now, would whitewash at the idea of playing him on the floor. ‘screen. Forsyth laughs, “I certainly wouldn’t like to play Mark E Smith with Mark E Smith. Can you imagine But given the choice, I would do it sooner, he would still be with us and could play himself. It would be my wish.
The Other: Script of a Horror Movie That Was Never by Graham Duff and Mark E Smith is published by Strange Attractor Press