Warp Films 10th – Celebration Report
“God will forgive them. He'll forgive them and allow them into Heaven. I can't live with that…” – Dead Man's Shoes, 2004
There's a moment in Warp Film's tenth anniversary at Magna – after you're led through the endless corridors to join a huge audience in a barely lit hall – where the mixture of anticipation, emotion and projections threatens to evoke the ghost of Sheffield evangelist clusterf**k The Nine O Clock Service. The anticipation is because despite the thrillingly immersive explorations of this year's PubScrawl this is the biggest live event of the Sheffield-set Independent Production Company's history; the emotion a result of Warp Films being the only Filmco that inspires the kind of passion normally reserved for fire-and-brimstone sermons…
But then Warp Films Head Mark Herbert comes on stage. And there's no music, no light show, no evangelising. Just an overwhelmed, thankful producer first heckled then bear hugged by the director whose work – from Dead Man's Shoes to This is England – has shaped Warp's development and emergence from genre terrorists to grown-up, if mischievous, storytellers.
This isn't the kind of thing you'd imagine its inceptor Warp Records to have countenanced. The only figures glimpsed in their zen take on dance was the occasional distorted reflection as you checked that LFO 12” for scratches. But over the last few years Warp Films has been putting some distance between itself and the controversy-courting Rubber Johnnys and Donkey Punches. The films and the filmmakers that have survived Warp's 'Meadow over' have captured as many hearts as scalps.
More recent hits Four Lions and Kill List – both of which feature in the anniversary's all night cinema – follow the template of killer protagonists laid down by Dead Man's Shoes in 2002. But like these films, Dead Man's Shoes goes beyond gloss. And stretched tight across a huge rack-like screen for the centrepiece live rescore, Shane Meadows' hallucinatory take on kitchen sink drama gives up its secrets. This is a character study as much as a genre thriller.
And what a character. Dead Man's Shoes – despite the absence implicit in the title, defines Warp. It's the only choice for this celebratory soundtrack, despite the occasional moment where the combination of wistful guitar and beautiful rolling Derbyshire scenery threatens the appearance of Compo in a bathtub. But it all comes together when Gavin Clark's UNKLE-heavy band meets the film's centrepiece – the bad trip scene where Richard spikes the plastic gangsters that bullied his brother. Clark's band thrillingly rewires the head spin of its characters' speedball-fuelled nightmare into a seductive, vertiginous throb, led by Jah Wobble's bass. It's an alluring, frightening fusion of sound and image that recalls Godspeed You! Black Emperor's soundtracking of Cillian Murphy's dizzying slow-motion collapse around a deserted London – and you wonder whether this is the point at which Warp Film's became the most important film company in the UK.
When Meadows suggests that he won't be around much longer if he continues to live and work at this pace there's a tiny rock 'n' roll roar from one corner of the thousands strong crowd at Magna, but it's drowned out by the silence. It's like the moment everyone realises gran's had too much sherry at the wedding. But taken alongside the Super 8 films of family dos in Dead Man's Shoes, and Mark Herbert's inviting the Warp family of editors, producers and actors on stage at this event, it confirms Warp Film's love of ritual – be it birth, wedding, funeral or torch-lit murder of a hunchback. The man Meadow's sentiment is understandable, but the affection this celebration drew out from audience and performers alike suggests that he – and Warp Films – won't be leaving us anytime soon. Blood is thicker than water after all.
Read our 10th Anniversary interview with Warp Films Producer and Head Mark Herbert here.
Words by Rob Barker.