onsdag 18 februari 2015

FILM: Northern Soul - Interview with director Elaine Constantine

If you were there, you'll know.
If you weren't you'll wish you had been.


Northern Soul is the title of a film with the tag line --- If you were there you know. If you weren’t you wish you had been!


Northern Soul is not about where the music was made --- but where the music was enjoyed. The scene is the north of England (hence “Northern Soul“) the time is 1974 the music is made on small labels in the United States --- NOT Motown which catered for the masses and made “black music” cleaned up for a white middle class American audience. The people who loved Northern Soul was after the honesty and grit served by smaller labels. And the followers were avid.


The character Matt, in Northern Soul, has the record label Ric Tic tattooed on his neck. Sean has a tattooed list of his top three songs and bands (Exus Trek is the best) as well as the Northern Soul symbol --- a clenched fist. Johns first tattoo just reads “soul” in capital letters.


The place is Burnsworth in Northern England --- the time is 1974. This is the year that ABBA won the Eurovision Song contest in Brighton with Waterloo (a year which all Swedish people know) and at the top of the charts you find music by Cliff Richards and  the shadows and we’re all going on a summer holiday. Northern Soul was retro even when the movement was new. Most people are into charts. Matt seeks to convert the masses as a DJ, starting at the youth club, one northern soul record at a time --- and most of the favourites are from the 1960:ies.


Matt’s first convert is John and together they plan to become an unbeatable DJ:ing duo and they are going to go to the states to discover new records. They start saving up, but the saving goes slowly. Matt spends his money on drugs, John on records.


Will their friendship last? Will they ever get to America? 


Acclaimed Northern Soul director Elaine Constantine visited Sweden for a special  screening of Northern Soul at RNio io, where she introduced the film.

And she also granted personal interviews.


-When did you first encounter Northern Soul? You actually look much too young to remember 1974!


-Thanks! I was eleven at the time, when I first heard Northern Soul at the youth club, just like the character John does in the film, and it captured me immediately! I’ll actually be fifty this year. So I can remember the seventies!


- The film has a very strong documentary feel …


- It is interesting that you should say that, because I first planned on making a documentary. I shot loads of material. The music and the passion for the music is still there, and there are still people collecting the records. Its just … the dancing wasn’t there anymore. All those cool lads and girls in their best getups, dancing the night away. Now the Northern Soul fans had reached middle age. So I had to recreate the scene in a fiction, but I still wanted it to feel like a documentary. As if you could  time travel and see the 1970:ies again.


-The opening shot of Burnsworth is like all those social realism kitchen sink realism movies (a lot of them shot in the 1970:ies) and then the music is so upbeat and optimistic and also feminist with lyrics like “I’ve done all right for a girl” and the film is just something completely different from all those other films with similar opening shots …


- I totally get what you mean. I you were born in the working classes in the 40:ies or 50:ies that was that. You could dream but you couldn’t realize the dream. If you were born in the 60:ies or 70:ies (like I was) you can dream and realize the dream, which is why john and matt are so optimistic. Yes they are working class but why shouldn’t they  have a great music career and become famous DJs? But I like social realism and their documentaries and their feel. But as time goes on things changes.


-How did you find the actors for Northern Soul?


- We saw a LOT of different lads for Northern Soul, neither of the lads, Joshua Whitehouse who plays Matt, or Elliot James Langridge who plays John, are actors, or had done any acting before they got their parts in this film.  They got into a rigorous training to play their parts. Elliot very early on decided that he wanted to be very acrobatic in his part. That’s what you see on the poster. Then Elliot got a small part in Hollyoaks and he asked me “should I take it?” and I was like “yes, sure you should take it, it will be great for experience and of use for us when you’re working with the film, because you’ll learn to hit a mark and other useful things. Joshua Whitehouse, who plays Matt, it was his first film but he’s got plenty of offers now and he’ll have a really bright future.

John and Matt - in a film about friendship.

- The film is great its about friendship and music and fashion … and I think it is great that it’s about a “friendship” triangle and not a romantic triangle ---- with Matt and John and Sean as the three cornerstones--- because friendship also goes though strains, and you don’t know if Matt’s and Johns friendship is going to survive. That’s the mystery of the film! But you also had some really well known older actors in the film …


-Yes, James Lance, who plays the DJ Ray Henderson, read the script and said yes right away, and as for Steve Coogan, who plays John’s teacher, I know Steve’s brother, so I gave him the script to pass on and he said to me “he won’t do it if he doesn’t like the script” and then I got a text in the middle of the night saying he loved the script and wanted the part!


-The make-over scene, when John goes through his transformation, is also interesting … I have seen sooo many films where there is a make- over scene with a  girl. It seems to be a compulsory scene in any “chick-flick” and most romantic comedies - boys: they hardly ever do a make-over scenes …


-Really? (Elaine laughs)


-Yep, your movie is unique!


- I basically thought of the ways boys want to copy their friends or their best friends and they can go from being totally geek to totally cool over night. I wanted to show that in a montage of pictures, John’s transformation. You know, my brother was like that. He made a really cool new friend and wanted to look cool like him and totally transformed over night. When I woke up in the morning,  usually the first thing I saw was my brothers foot in my face. He was practicing those high kicks for dancing!


- In the make-over scene in the film the boys start with the shoes (very appropriate), they get black leather Italian Solatios, then John borrows a cool pair of black slacks from Matt, Matt fixes a new hair do for John and then … it’s like 50% Bruce Lee!


(Elaine laughs) - Well, ALL boys wanted to be a 100% Bruce Lee at the time!

John, working in the factory.

-When they work their in protective clothing and hair nets and then they go out at night and transform …


- Yes , I think that is typically working class. Whatever you look like during the day doesn’t matter. You shine your shows and iron your shirt (all preparations are meticulously filmed in Northern Soul) and then you go out looking your best.


- What exactly were they making in the factory where they work?


-Sweets. And (in the film) they mess things up because they are just talking about music and production has to shut down and it takes an hour to get things going again if you mess up! So that’s very expensive. We shot all the factory scenes in an actual factory.


- Usually in films there is this “male gaze” and in the dancing scenes there is an obvious “female gaze” - when the girls are on the balcony and checking out the boys dancing below…


-Well… (laughs) that part is totally autobiographical, me and my friends, there were three of us, used to check out boys like that. I think it is just human nature, girls do check out boys, boys check out girls, and boys check out boys and girls check out girls … in main stream films it gets rather ridiculous with the “male gaze” and just men checking out young girls.
Inbäddad bildlänk
Training to dance.


- The boys got really fit.

-Yes, they trained a lot and they were really proud of themselves showing off their new bodies! And everyone in hair and makeup and wardrobe (all female staff!) were checking them out! We had a joke, when it was going to a be a shirt-off day, what we call “bums up“. Well, when Johns granddad dies we said “what is he going to wear?” and we all went “bums up!” (Laughs)


- I loved the depiction of the complex friendship in the film, between the boys, but also the depiction of friendship between generations - John seems to be most of all close to his granddad, and they have a great affinity for each other.


- Yes, you’re right, was it the same thing with you and your granddad?


-I think it is something universal, that you connect with the older generation and feel an affinity with them and they’ve got all the time in the world … but with John and his granddad … did he stop seeing his granddad after he had met Matt or did he still see him, but it wasn’t filmed?

Inbäddad bildlänk
Matt becomes friends with John and together they DJ & dance

-John saw less of his granddad after meeting Matt, that is why he is so devastated when his granddad dies, you see, he is feeling really guilty and that is why he lashes out at his parents saying they weren’t good enough to granddad, it is really his own guilt speaking.


- John's love interest in the movie, Angela, is half British, half American, a mix of white and black, just like the Northern Soul movement. Is Angela a symbol of that or is she just a real person you know, because it must have happened a lot of Brits and Americans meeting and falling in love during  (or after) the second world war …


- Angela is actually based on a real person, Fran Franklin, mine and (producer) Debbie Gray’s best friend, and she worked so hard on the movie with us and helped so much with the dance scenes and she didn’t live to see the film completed so we dedicated the film to her…. Our Soul sister. And based the character of Angela on her. Fran’s mum was Irish catholic and her dad was American, in the air force, and she discovered Northern Soul and though they lived in Edinburgh she travelled herself to Wigan and other places in northern England by bus to get into the scene, when she was only thirteen.


-Was Fran also a nurse, like Angela?


-No, but there were a lot of nurses on the scene in those days, and they  could get the drugs that were popular, so that’s why we made the character of Angela a nurse in the film.


- There are a lot of drugs on the scene in the film.

-Well, there were a lot of drugs about, people wanted to have the energy to dance all through the night.  And there wasn’t any alcohol served, and no energy drinks and been invented. All there was to drink was orange squash!

Product Details
The Music.

- I noticed that some of DJs in the film also danced themselves. Like Ray Henderson (one of the greatest DJ:s) is on the floor dancing during the warm-up before it is his turn to DJ for the night. And the characters Matt and John dance at the same time as they DJ.


- There was one popular DJ in particular who liked to get up on the dance floor and dance while he was DJ:ing, but otherwise it was mostly either or.  Guys were either into DJ:ing, dancing or drugs. I say “guys” because there were only guys as DJ:s and I don’t know of a single girl dealing drugs. To be a DJ you also have to have a certain degree of nerdiness for music, and nerdiness often don’t go hand in hand with dancing.


- I’ve thought of a possible sequel, maybe Matt and John get to go to America, but then I thought it is just better that you imagine them in your head, that they are going to be successful …


- I also thought of a Northern Soul sequel, but it took fifteen years to make this film so by the time I’m finished I’ll be too old! (laughs)


- Another possible sequel could be to tell a friendship tale of three girls, three soul sisters … like it says in the dedication in the end!


-That is a good idea actually!
Sean has tattoos of his favourite songs.

-Was it easy to select the music, or was it difficult to find it?


-It was easy to select, because we just took ALL our favourites and put them in the film! The only song we couldn’t get the rights to was a crap song that we wanted to play in the youth club to show a  contrast to how good Northern Soul is …


- Was there anything that was especially difficult to film?


-Well you know, since the film  took some time to make, the most difficult thing was to keep the lads looking young! That took a bit of time in post production. Otherwise, when you have very little money you have to be very creative. Like the car crash. We didn’t have green screen, no special effects and we didn’t crash an actual car (we couldn’t afford that) so it is all just done the old fashioned way -- with lights and noise! You have to be creative and play with that you’ve got!



- What projects have you got going now-a-days?


- I get about six new scrips every week now, so I’m reading!


- Well, I wish you good luck with your next venture!


-Thanks! It was great talking to you!


-You too, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in Sweden!

Product Details
Film Soundtrack.



Don’t miss out on the film Northern Soul - unbeatable soundtrack, great story, lots of heart. You can’t keep a working class hero down! This is Northern Soul.


Available from Universal Sony Pictures on DVD and Blu-ray.

Dancing the night away!


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