Brothers of the Head - interview
I wrote Don Quixote
Screenwriter Tony Grisoni has been a busy man of late. Here he shares some half-truths with Miles Fielder.
‘The danger is you mythologise,’ says British screenwriter Tony Grisoni, with reference to promoting his film Brothers of the Head. Prior to its premiere at last August’s Edinburgh International Film Festival Grisoni tells me, ‘During the making of a film you’re talking about what you’re doing. By the time the film wraps there are lies you’ve all agreed to tell. I mean,’ he coughs, ‘well established facts.’
It’s a bit unnerving, but wholly appropriate, that Grisoni admits to lying. His mock-rock-documentary includes a pack of them. It presents the ‘true’ story of the pioneers of punk, when in fact it’s an utterly ridiculous though thoroughly convincing Gothic tale of conjoined twins who become pop stars. If anything Grisoni says about the film can be believed, it started life as a novel published in 1977 by the science fiction writer Brian Aldiss. Grisoni read it around 1986 and subsequently had a meeting with Aldiss who liked the screenwriter’s treatment and said to his manager, ‘We should give Tony the option for a year, for free.’ Grisoni then spent the next 20 trying and failing to raise funding for this wildly non-commercial project, until finally he met documentarians Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe in Spain, where Terry Gilliam was trying and failing to film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (the latter’s no lie, see Fulton and Pepe’s not-mock-doc, Lost in La Mancha). ‘They wanted to make their own film . . .’ starts Grisoni. The rest, as they say, is history (or mythology).
Grisoni’s personal mythology is he was born in post-war London and grew up in Norfolk (where the Brothers of the Head supposedly come from). He worked in various jobs in the film industry - BBC runner, Channel 4 documentary producer, production manager on music videos and films - before he started writing scripts in the 1980s. The first to be filmed was 1989’s Queen of Hearts, a comedy about Italian immigrants in London, but his screenwriting career didn’t take of for another ten years, when Terry Gilliam directed Grisoni’s adaptation of Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. That marked the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Since then, Grisoni’s developed a collaborative way of working with directors, which resulted in a field trip to Pakistan with Michael Winterbottom for the acclaimed human trafficking drama In This World.
‘The script is my job,’ Grisoni says, ‘but I’m interested in the finished film. The script will be written and re-written throughout the process, particularly in editing. Therefore, I don’t see my job as being finished until the final cut. Some films lend themselves to more involvement than others. On Brothers of the Head I was there for every day of shooting.’
Given Grisoni’s worked on all of Gilliam’s films since Fear and Loathing (Minotaur, written but never filmed, Good Omens, never filmed, Don Quixote, ditto, The Brothers Grimm, Tideland). Surely G&G are on the same collaborative wavelength? ‘You have to be on some kind of similar wavelength to work together,’ says Grisoni, ‘but also we’re not. With Tideland the screenplay was bleaker than the finished film, and the book. Terry brought a lushness and colour and romance and gentleness to the film that wasn’t there in the screenplay.’
Grisoni’s currently working with Jane Campion on the Harry Houdini romance, Death Defying Acts. Is there any likelihood of going back to Don Quixote, I ask as our interview ends. ‘The Don will be done,’ the sphinx-like Grisoni replies, ‘and I will be involved with it.’
Premonition, or more mythologising?
GFT, Glasgow; Cineworld Renfrew Street, Glasgow & Cineworld, Edinburgh from Fri 6 Oct.