Alex Taylor is a person after my own heart. No, he isn’t a female director, and therefore not my usual stock of interviewee. But he made me feel comfortable and energised with his excellent film SPACESHIP, which is out this Friday 19th. There was no male gaze to speak of at play – just a bunch of dream-like spontaneity, and images so reminiscent of dreams themselves.
I talked to A. Taylor about all this magic and the mystery of growing up, and he shone some beautiful light on the subject of ‘youth today.’ (That sounds like a subject heading in a government meeting in the 1960s).
Me: I have a very important question for you. What do you relate more to: a unicorn, an alien, a zombie or a human?
AT: I think an alien. I have always felt like an outsider; I wasn’t into football, or particularly clever. I was crap at everything. Only good at daydreaming. So I always felt like an alien on earth.
Me: Interesting! I feel more like a unicorn….
SPACESHIP is playful, magical and youthful. But it also has a melancholic, realist tinge interspersed with the surrealism. Would you say that’s an accurate way to describe/represent the teenage experience?
AT: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I hadn’t thought about it like that before but it’s exactly that. As a child you don’t really worry about anything. You’re just worried about when your next playtime is going to be. You do hit that age – the kevin-the-teenager age – where you go ‘oh shit!’ Life isn’t as simple as I thought it was. There’s girls; there’s relationships; there’s boys; there’s your sexuality; your identity; are you popular at school… No eight year old worries about if they’re cool or not, do they? Not if they’re normal…there are some weirdos out there.
So that’s why there are these melancholic moments with the playfulness. It’s a confusing mix.
Can you describe the journey you undertook into the making of SPACESHIP?
Well, I was working as a musician. The directors I was doing music for weren’t really getting anywhere in terms of making their first feature so I just thought I’d do it myself. I called up Hackney council and asked if they had a fund for first features and they said ‘yep.’ The told me to submit my idea, so I wrote a five page script, sent it in and got funding. I didn’t know anything about the film industry – I didn’t know what a film festival was. I’d heard of Cannes and that was it. I didn’t know anything about the film industry and was just getting into it, really.
“I get very inspired by young people because they are open-minded.”
And how did you become interested in the subject of young people?
I guess I’m still trying to cling on to my youth! I play the electric guitar, you know, I have synths. I have toys. I’ve actually got three guitars at home – I’ve got a baby but I’ve still got the guitars. I was probably trying to explore issues that I hadn’t resolved. Film is a chance to explore what you’re curious about. And also I get very inspired by young people because they are open-minded, whereas adults tend to be closed-minded. You think it’s your responsibility to behave rigidly – but who’s there to tell you what being an adult is?
Does Spaceship address politics and young people? I as a young person don’t feel I have much of a place in politics because of the rigidity of the system. And the freeness that the characters in SPACESHIP display is something that shouldn’t be ignored in important decision making. But it isn’t valued.
I would agree. It’s liberal in its thinking and its inclusive and diverging from the norm, accepting differences between us. So in that way, yes, it can be seen as political, but I think politics is in such a weird place at the moment. It just doesn’t make sense to anyone.
No one is speaking our language.
There’s no unicorn party!
It would be great if young people could form their own political party, because political parties just seem to be bodies that assume different identities as and when they feel like it nowadays. None of the outcomes have ever gone my way when I’ve voted – the last two elections, the referendum…
“What you realise as a teenager, is there’s a vacuum out there, and you go into it, you fill it, and you be who you want to be.”
And that’s kind of why I feel so positive about the film. It has so much energy that it makes you feel hopeful about the future. And then the darker tones of the film to me seem to say ‘how do you reconcile that energy with the structures of the adult world? Where does it fit in?’
I think what you’re picking up on, and what you realise as a teenager, is there’s a vacuum out there, and you go into it, you fill it, and you be who you want to be. That’s what life is. You can fall by the wayside, or run out of energy, and life could be difficult. You can find support in your friends around you and gather strength from them. I think especially when you’re a teenager, you really know this. You know that life can be good or bad but you’ve got to put energy into it, and you’ve got to engage with it. Whereas adults kind of just fall into this routine of getting a job, and spend all day on Facebook anyway, then they have a family and get married, then they have all these other things to worry about like pensions and mortgages and of course you may need some of these things but it becomes their only reality…
The women in the film are amazing. I felt like the film had a female-heavy energy and there wasn’t a male gaze present.
I’m glad you said that because I hate the male gaze. I think it’s really annoying. You see it a lot in films that pretend to be feminist: ‘here’s a woman in the lead role!’ However, that lead role is Naked Psycho Killer. You can’t just put a woman in your film and call it feminist because you’re still a man looking at her in a certain way. I tried to not think about men and women and just think about people, and I think that’s what young people are better at doing, just being asexual, or sexual but undefined, somewhere along that scale but moving.
A sliding scale. I would describe it as a queer film because of that.
Yeah, you can think of it like that. But it’s a little bit like putting ethnic minorities into a film and calling it an ethnic minority film. Again, people are just people. That’s the way we should look at it, and gender and sexuality shouldn’t ever be tagged on your shoulder. But definitely people from the LGBTQ+ film scene have really got into the film and lots of people on the film where somewhere on that scale, too.
We got US Distribution from Breaking Glass pictures, who are predominantly LGBT+.
So what’s next for you now?
I’ve got an idea, and the BFI are getting behind it, so next stage is script. It’s going to be more in the adult world, but still about identity and personality and how it can be a struggle to keep yourself you. But #can’tsaytoomuch.
SPACESHIP will be released in selected UK cinemas on Friday the 19th of May.