a fall Friday in Seattle and thirty-year-old Scottish director Lynne Ramsey
is raring to talk about her first feature, Ratcatcher. She's also
from a wee bit of a hangover. But what can you expect? The previous
partied heartily at Seattle's "Women In Cinema" Film Festival
haunting - and highly praised - debut cut the ribbon on the opening
At two the following afternoon she's still feeling a bit green, worsened
looming prospect of an early evening flight to London and despite a Cuban
coffee and a plate of cheese, fruit and bread heaped before her,
the Queen Anne based coffeehouse, Il Diablo.
Ramsey's a petite brunette draped in wrap-around shades and a
leather coat. She's full of determination and passion about the cinema
and she wears a Scottish
accent thicker than chest congestion via bronchial trauma;
you sometimes have to strain your ears to catch her words if not her
images and meanings.
director got her start in photography and transferred over to
film, graduating from the National Film and Television School in 1995.
short film, Small Deaths, won the Cannes Prix du Jury
and her next project, Kill the Day, took home the Clermont Ferrand Prix
du Jury. In 1998, Ramsey
again nabbed the Cannes Prix du Jury prize for Gasman
as well as snagging the Scottish BAFTA for
Best Short Film. Ramsey's first feature, Ratcatcher, studies the
residents of a '70s Glasgow
neighborhood suffering through an oppressive garbage strike. This
daunting world is seen through the eyes of twelve-year-old James
(William Eadie), who, as the film begins, has witnessed an accidental
Consequently his family, friends and a negligible involvement in that
are shunted aside in favor of a different coping mechanism - a rapidly
escalating fantasy life in which reality is not defined by his
childhood, but a golden nether-realm in which he is carried away from
the miasma of importune fate.
It's a fascinating film that evokes visual shades of Terrence Malick's Days
of Heaven as well as the interiorized adolescent agonies of Terence
Davies' Distant Voices, Still
Lives. But Ratcatcher nonetheless manages to atypify its pulse on a
culture crumbling under the weight of despair and neglect.
Was the cinema a way out of your neighborhood for you?
No, not really. I liked painting when I was kid and you know, you never really say when
you're six years old, "I'm going to be a film director when I grow
up." Actually, I got interested in photography and I applied at the National
Film School not really expecting to get in. I lucked out because I never
imagined I'd become a filmmaker.
So how did it actually happen? What was the step that occurred between
photography and the cinema?
I think it was seeing Bette Davis in those camp melodramas -
and old musicals. Those were the things I liked as a kid. I wasn't a
film buff; I hadn't seen many French films or foreign films or anything
with subtitles -
And now you've made a film with subtitles.
Yeah. One of the guys who was
in Ken Loach's film, My Name Is Joe told me he was really mad when
they subtitled the film. He has quite a thick accent as well. He said,
"The Americans, we have to understand them so we should start making them
understand us." But I think we've had so many American films and you
haven't had that many Scottish films in the States so it's required. After all
even the English can't understand us Scottish people (laughs).
Ratcatcher is a very specific film. It's set in the '70s, in Glasgow, and told from a young
boy's point of view. Does its specificity make it more universal?
Probably that and the details. The details are the things that make it
dramatic. For example, when James tries to pull his mother's stocking
over the hole in the hose. He tries to make it perfect for her. It says a lot
their relationship. There's something in the texture of the film that
makes people remember and yeah,
it's because those small details are universal.
There are few films these days that make an audience work. Most are
excruciatingly predictable. I've heard all the advance buzz about
Ratcatcher, all the theoretic examination - the absence of
traditional narrative values, the
subjectivity, the reliance upon the visual to tell the story. I hate to compare
filmmakers but it sounds reminiscent of Terrence Malick's 1977 film, Days
Ummm. That's a great comparison. And yeah, a lot of movies now are like
TV dinners aren 't they?
But there's something about the less is more theory that applies in
"Ratcatcher." Where did your inceptive thoughts about the
design of the film come from? Were you
walking down the street? Did you see a young boy near a canal? How did its
structure take shape?
It's not really about me but it's definitely a personal film. You don't
see a lot of films made [about Glasgow]. And I came from there and I'm
not ashamed of that so I thought I'd liked to make a film about the people I
grew up with. That's how it all really
started. I liked the idea of how this family stayed together through thick
and thin and the complexity of the relationships within the family. Using
a city under siege was a great backdrop and the reason I used a boy as
the protagonist was because I'd already made a few films before about kids
and they featured girls. I thought it would be rich to use a different
perspective. There's a lot more peer pressure for a boy to become like his dad, to
not show emotion in terms of death. There's very much a group mentality in that
Yet the dad isn't a one-dimensional drunk either. He has some very tender moments with his wife and
Well, I hate people who write characters that don't have dimensions. It
really pisses me off because nothing is as simple as that. Drinking is a
part of that culture you know?
It's a means of escape.
Film criticism is a relatively new "art form," if you can call it
that. Maybe a social
phenomenon. Ratcatcher has been praised, your short films
have won awards at Cannes. The critical process is designed to tell
what to think. If you were a critic how would you review your film?
Oh God. That's a hard one (laughs). I'd say it was great of course. I'd think it would stand out
in some way because when it opened it Britain it was unique against a bunch of
gangster films. I don't know, I don't know. Hopefully I'd like it. I
only know it's like a vocation in a way - I do it because I have to.
When you make a movie it's shot out of sequence and it's up to you and
the editor to shape it. When you look back on it now, two years after
- would I see the flaws? Well, there are things about the ending.
You wouldn't change the ambiguous ending would you?
No, it kinda lives on its own by now. I wouldn't change its identity but
I might have changed a couple of shots.
To shift gears, do you ever feel pigeon-holed by the whole gender thing?
Here you are at the "Women In Cinema" Film Festival...
That's interesting because this is the first one I've actually been to.
But I kinda feel like it's sometimes a bit marginalizing yet I also feel
it's the best thing to do
because there aren't many women directors in the world. Only two percent, I
Did you find in University that film was taught only as an extension of
the other arts? It's changed in some schools who actually have film
schools, of course.
Well, I like that better actually. Everything's combined and it becomes
much more subconscious. it's a complex thing to make a film and to make
more than one statement, you
know? It's a very collaborative thing. You can't make a film by committee but
you can get people who really know what you want. It's better for me,
better for them and for our communication. I don't want to make films with people
who don't have a clue what I'm trying to make or why they're on the
production. Why bother?
What comes first for you in the process, the image or the word?
The image and the story should be a combination of each other. That's
what makes it cinema; you're telling a story through image. I hate the
"it looks good because its
slick" mentality. I'm trying to find something else. I'm trying to read
emotions through what I've shot - the space in the frame, the focus, why are we
seeing this, not a wide shot? Why is it in close-up? What does that say?
There's a logic to it. I don't like films that are glossy, you say
"wow," but they're empty. I think that's bullsh*t. You need
image, story, character, detail that's connected and which you cannot
What other directors do you like?
Nic Roeg's brilliant and amazing. I like Alan Clarke (Rita, Sue and Bob
Too; Scum) and a Scottish filmmaker named Bill Douglas, who died
[in 1991 and made Comrades, My Way Home, My Ain Folk].
No one knows him but his
work was incredible. I like Malick and some of Fassbinder's work; some
von Trier, though I was disappointed by Dancer In the Dark. I hate the way he makes those
Do you ever feel frightened at being under such a magnifying glass?
Everything is exposed when you successfully make a movie. There are no
secrets, what with the media hungering for hype. Do you ever worry that
aspect of the business will taint you as a filmmaker?
I guess so. When you make a film you do expose yourself anyhow, like
you're in your underwear or something. When I made my shorts I went to
Cannes with them and really, no
one gave a sh*t about short films. On one hand it was very tough but on the
other it was nice because people actually saw your film and they talk to you
and there's a vibe as to whether they liked it or not. Sometimes you think,
"What am I doing here?" Yet on the other hand I'm
grateful because this film wouldn't be the film it is if I hadn't done
So Ratcatcher has opened doors for you?
It has actually. I've got two other films I want to make. But I try never
to worry too much about what I'm going to do tomorrow or if I'll
actually get to make another movie. I
do have American financing on my next one and so I feel like I have a true
career. I feel pressure and I worry because of it that I might somehow f*ck
it up. Now I just tell those worries, "Go away, go