Combustible Celluloid
 
JUSTIN KERRIGAN:
A Few Words About Human Traffic

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

Justin Kerrigan completed his first feature film, "Human Traffic", at age 25, the same age as Orson Welles when he made "Citizen Kane" (1941). The two films couldn't me more dissimilar. But one thing that they both have in common is a maturity beyond their years. Perhaps Kerrigan doesn't quite have the maturity that Welles did, as Welles was able to see life from the point of view of an old man, but Kerrigan knows enough to know that his parents know what he knows.

Kerrigan's film is about a "lost weekend" in Cardiff, Wales, featuring five twentysomethings. They go out dancing, drinking, and doing drugs all night long on Friday, sleep all day Saturday, and then it's the Comedown for Saturday night and Sunday morning. The thing I admired about "Human Traffic" was that the parents all knew that was going on, even though the kids liked to think that they didn't.

"It's obvious," Kerrigan says during his visit to San Francisco. "Everyone knows. All my friends were really worried because everyone knew it was based on us--worried about their families seeing it and thinking, 'do you take drugs?' It's like, f**king parents know that. They're not stupid. I think every generation goes through the same thing. This [rave] culture is just massive. Older generations who were never part of the culture come up to me and say, 'that's me and my mates!' I think fundamentally everyone can relate to a lost weekend, no matter what drug you use."

Besides knowing that fact and using it in his film (try and think of another youth film where the adults are not complete dolts) Kerrigan knew enough to tell his own story, and not copy films he'd seen. His main inspirations were Woody Allen and John Cassavetes. "It's a very personal film. It's a film about me and my mates, and basically I made a film that we wanted to see about a culture that we were deeply a part of." He goes on to talk about his main character Jip (John Simm) who suffers from a case of "Mr. Floppy", or, a slight case of "can't-perform-in-bed". "That was me. I was there. It was a f**kin' nightmare. I never thought I was gonna get over it. The LuLu character is based on my present girlfriend. I basically fell in love with my mate. I wasn't expecting it. It came out of nowhere. When I was going through it, I was thinking, 'I'm the only person who's going through this.' But I started speaking to people. Men don't like to talk about it, like it's contagious to talk about it. But then I started realizing how common it is."

Much of the movie's dialogue between characters is full of code-words and slang that friends cook up among themselves. I admired the way the film was able to capture some of this silly talk and sound natural. "Most of it was written, but I would throw in something different inbetween each take. A lot of people became our friends during the making of the film, 'cause at the end of the shoot every day we'd go back to the same crummy hotel, and we'd all get pissed and stoned in the bar. It was an opportunity to hang with the actors and find out how they operate and how they worked. If there was anything funny or interesting, I'd throw it into the film."

In fact, the London release of the film contained a few extra scenes with Moff (Danny Dyer), who plays an up-and-coming drug dealer, but they were cut for American release. "It wasn't because he was a drug dealer. It was because the language was so colloquial. It was made-up dialogue. It was like slang anyway, but made-up slang between me and my friends. [It worked in] Britain, but we played it in America, and the audience is just waiting for the scene to end. We didn't really lose anything of the essence of the film by losing a few scenes. It kind of made sense. It sounds like a different language."

Fortunately, the movie's second language is more universal; music. "I think the great thing about this culture is bringing together people through music. All different classes, different backgrounds, races, sexuality. You don't get that in any other culture. It's a feeling of togetherness. Even though it's an artificial drug, everyone knows that's what they want. They want to feel that comfortable with everyone all the time. That's what it's all about."

"The best music to dance to, generally, to me, is techno, drum & bass, and that stuff. But my favorite music to listen to is hip-hop. I love scratching. I heard the Invisibl Skratch Piklz live here. I could watch Q-Bert and the Skratch Piklz to death. At the end of the shoot, the new Skratch Piklz record came out, and my mate sent it out to me. And inbetween takes while they're setting up, I'd go into Koop's room and put it on the deck and listen to the Skratch Piklz. Ahhhhhh."

Kerrigan's first instinct in filmmaking seems to be visual though. He says he begins a film by drawing. "I just draw little pictures to get ideas. If I draw something, I know where I'm coming from. I know what it's about. I don't have to worry about lines. If I forget the picture, I can just go back to it. I thought I was so prepared walking in there, but I just wasn't prepared for a film shoot, man. I thought I was. I couldn't be more prepared walking in, but when you're there, something's going wrong. Something's going wrong. His leg's fallen off! His head's fallen off! Something disastrous. How are we going to do this without a camera?"

Strangely, this drug-related movie without an anti-drug message opened in England with no controversy at all. "We were expecting a real adverse reaction--a lot of controversy. But no. Nothing. Not even the right-wing tabloids. Everyone's like, 'yeah, yeah, this is it.'"

April 13, 2000

Help keep Combustible Celluloid going!

20%
Discount
for
Combustible
Celluloid
Readers!!

Enter
Discount
Code

cc2020

At Step 2 of checkout!!