Feature – Time Out New York

From the December 29 Time Out NY (with thanks to Steve for spotting it):

Vamping it up: Acclaimed fantasist Neil Gaiman profiles succubus specialist John Bolton on an unusual DVD

“For most people the big subjects are sex and death. But for writers the big subjects are sex, death and where do you get your ideas,” says Neil Gaiman, the bestselling novelist (American Gods) and acclaimed comic-book writer (Sandman) who recently turned filmmaker with the new DVD release A Short Fitm About John Bolton. “I like to think that I got all three of them in 28 minutes, so that’s quite good, actually.”

The title of the English fantasist’s directorial debut is only two-thirds correct: It is short, it is a film, but it’s not really about the painter John Bolton, although an actor plays him and “creates” the artist’s works. The film sprang from Gaiman’s friendship with the elusive Bolton, who specializes in technically stunning paintings of vampires. Lady vampires. Naked lady vampires with enormous breasts. While writing a foreword to a collection of the artist’s work, Gaiman started to make things up about him, and when the writer decided to shoot a short film, he realized that making things up about Bolton is fun.

“It’s all Dave McKean’s fault,” Gaiman says, referring to his longtime collaborator on comics and children’s books. “I had two film projects coming up, and Dave said, ‘You really ought to do a short film just to get the hang of things.’ He visited the set at one point and said, ‘When I said make a short film I just meant you, three friends, a camera and your iMac. I didn’t actually mean do a full-scale production.’ But it was too late by then.

“John has spent his life painting these incredibly gorgeous naked vampire ladies, many of whose breasts are actually of normal size, I should point out,” Gaiman continues. “One of the things that you think about when you’re doing a small film is how to create cool effects very cheaply. There’s that strange thing you get in Hollywood films whenever painters are involved, where people say, ‘She is the greatest painter in the world-look!,’ and you look and you see something that was painted in the art department that morning. But John’s been doing these paintings for years.”

A Short Film About John Bolton falls firmly into the British tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmastime, but it’s a modern-day spook show, geared for a television ecology in which reality programming is the biggest predator. “There’s all these techniqnes which began with This Is Spinal Tap and continue today with The Office,” Gaiman explains, “but none of them have been used to tell small, weird stories before.”

Presented as a standard-issue BBC arts documentary about Bolton, the program is derailed into a supernatural wasteland when the interviewer starts probing the nearly autistic-seeming artist about “where he gets his ideas.” The metajokes continue in the disc’s voluminous extras,
which include crafty bios, a making-of featurette and an audio commentary that includes much discussion of stoats (a kind of ermine).

“We packed the DVD with stuff so nobody would feel ripped off for having bought a half-hour film,” Gaiman explains. The disc also includes extensive footage of Gaiman reading his work at a benefit for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, an anti-censorship group. Although Gaiman is an ardent crusader for the CBLDF, he’s been fortunate to avoid getting pilloried by prudes, despite the often provocative nature of his work. “Even when I do create stuff which I think is going to have people throwing bricks through my windows, nobody ever does,” he says. “My book American Gods has a film producer vaginally ingested by a hooker during sex. Now they’re teaching it in high schools.”

A sequel to American Gods is on Gaiman’s to-do list; presently, he’s finishing another book, after which he’ll shoot his debut feature film, an adaptation of his 1993 graphic novel Death: The High Cost of Living. In addition to the lessons he learned making Bolton (“I discovered that what people actually respond to best in a director is certainty-even if you’re wrong they like certainty”), he’ll be applying the advice of some well-qualified friends. “I sounded out three different directors – Richard Curtis [Love Actually], Roger Avary [Killing Zoe] and Terry Gilliam [Brazil] on what was the most important thing they’d learned about directing,” Gaiman says. “They all gave me the same three answers: wear comfortable shoes; whenever possible, sit down; and do not sleep with the star under any circumstances. “
A Short Film About John Bolton is available now from Docurama/New Video Group lor $26.95.

–Grady Hendrix


And while we’re on the subject of NY based publications, Neil was quoted in a December 30th New York Times article that is actually about Leslie S. Klinger, the annotator of the New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. (Sherlockian is a word?)