Director: xian vassie
Here’s something a bit odd - a review of a film that was never finished.
I have had this tape sitting my shelf for six years. I assume that it was sent through to me when I was working on SFX, possibly when I was also writing my ‘Independents Day’ column in the early days of Total Film. So one day I decided to sit down and see what I’d got.
What I’d got turned out to be about 30 minutes of disjointed scenes which promised a terrific little film. A search through the MJS archives also turned up a publicity brochure - which was handy as there were no credits on the film at all.
Here’s what I could work out. Snooty, wealthy Lizbeth Falahoun (Antona Mirto) has Professor Lipton (Bill Neenan, unseen) prisoner while she tries to track down the remaining pieces of the Talisman of Set, a powerful ancient Egyptian artefact. She sends two less-than-bright blokes, middle-aged Alf and young Fisty (sorry, don’t know the actors) to search the Professor’s house, where they come across French chef Jules (Manu Monade, a genuine chef who was hailed by The Sunday Times as baker of the best bread in London!) also looking for the Prof.
Jules has one of the pieces of the talisman, found in the soup of a restaurant customer who died at his table. Kidnapped by Alf and Fisty, Jules is nowhere to be seen when waitress Brigitte (Ellie Fairman), who has a crush on him, calls at his loft-flat. She assumes he has run away, consumed with guilt about the dead customer, and enlists the help of fat, jovial Porsche (Paul Tripp - not the one who composed Tubby the Tuba!) to search for him.
Meanwhile, Falahoun, served dinner by her manservant Petr (David Love), is visited by tall, supercilious Sir Luke Homers (Sean Brosnan) and his nervous lawyer Sophie (Carol Kentish). Homers has another piece of the talisman and offers Falahoun a contract which would give them joint control of the magical artefact (Homers’ company is named on the contract as Clearview Occult Investments, Trading and Unexplained Sciences - which gives it an interesting acronym!).
Handling the talisman fragment gives Jules hallucinations: he sees his carpet moving slightly and discovers underneath it a trapdoor, below which is a red-lit Egyptian temple. We also see him on a tube train, where he finds himself the only passenger, the train not stopping at any stations, and visited by ghostly twins (Rose and Sarah Kendall) whom we have seen in a painting, together with the talisman, in the Professor’s house. There is also a very effective scene when Jules opens the door to his flat to find all his furniture dancing around the room, a smashing stop-motion shot which would not have shamed Jiri Trnka.
And then the tape stopped. Some of the scenes had no soundtrack, and a shot of Jules rescuing Sophie from Falahoun’s mansion seemed oddly out of place, but I thought it was all just a dream sequence. It wasn’t - well, some of it might have been - it was a collection of disparate footage from various points in the story.
Basically, Jules is a chef who dreams of being a swashbuckling hero. There’s a still in the brochure from a scene not on the tape: Jules in a swordfight with a pirate named Ripper (Don Fearney), presumably a Walter Mitty-type daydream. He gets caught up in the situation after approaching phoney supernatural investigator Homers about the mysterious object found in the dead customer’s soup. Falahoun is apparently High Priestess of the Cult of Nephythys, who will have power over the ghosts of everyone who ever lived if she can piece the talisman back together...
On the evidence of this disjointed half-hour of footage, this would have been an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek romp. The brochure says that “shooting started in April 1997 and is scheduled to end in October ... post-production is due to be completed at the end of the year.” Just how far did this film get? Does it exist in any sort of finished form? I want to see more!
Apart from chef Monade (who was picked to add authenticity to the cooking scenes!), all the cast were professional actors. Ellie Fairman for example was a voice in the 2001 computer game Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive and also starred in an award-winning audiobook adaptation of Anne of Green Gables. Antona Mirta has since appeared in another low-budget British film, the action thriller Red Mercury. Don Fearney now organises Hammer Horror fan events. Sean Brosnan is not, despite what the brochure claims, Pierce’s brother (nor his son, before you ask).
Carol Kentish, it turns out, I might actually have met! She was one of the actors who provided voices for the British dub of Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, a dubbing session which I visited on behalf of SFX. She was also in The Devil’s Harvest, another unreleased British fantasy movie [Eventually released in 2005 - MJS], starring Brian Blessed and Julie T Wallace (of which I saw some footage when I was visiting that same Gamera dubbing session). Her other films - which may or may not have been completed - are Instant Karma (Slice Films), Inciting Murder (Equator Films) and Living Down Here (We Should Be Ltd). She performs in a topical comedy revue in Brighton called The Treason Show which is actually available on CD from Doctor Who audio producers Big Finish!
Scouring the web reveals that cinematographer Roger Eaton shot an acclaimed documentary on the Spanish architect Gaudi; editor Bill Sneddon went on to work on comedy shows like Jam and Smack the Pony; and costume designer Sam Dightam fulfilled the same role on the Richard Alston Dance Company’s production of The Rite of Spring for the BBC TV series Masterworks in 2002.
And then there’s the writer/director/producer (and composer), the defiantly lower-case xian vassie. Being an adept journalist it took me no time at all to identify him as Christian Vassie, a composer of music for more than sixty film and TV productions including a number of wildlife documentaries and the 2001 BBC Raffles pilot starring Nigel Havers. Born in York, where he still lives, he was once Head Chorister in York Minster Choir. And what is Mr Vassie doing now? He’s representing the Lib-Dems on York City Council!
How far into production did Talisman get? Why was it never finished? Does Christian Vassie still have all the footage? Will any film starring the lovely Carol Kentish ever actually get shown anywhere? To answer these questions I contacted the director himself and received this reply.
MJS rating: It wouldn’t be fare to give this one a grade.