Films that No-One Else Will See

By Michael Eaton

marc-karlin.jpg
Last Man Left
originally started as an attempt to impose a fictional framing device upon a series of hitherto unused out-takes from twenty-five years of the Lusia archive. It included, inter alia, material that Marc shot in Paris in 1968; images of his beloved Blythburgh church, where Cromwell’s cavalry stabled their horses and peppered with buckshot the medieval angels carved into the roof, and a sequence never used in the Nicaragua films, of print workers in Managua trying to put up a huge revolutionary banner on the side of a skyscraper in high winds. This, in particular, seemed to me like a metaphor for so much of Marc’s life and labour: all that communal and good-humoured effort required to convey a message which nobody will ever have a chance to see because the elements will immediately shred it.

The story we came up with was of an old man returning to England to die after thirty years working as an agronomist in the developing world, and his eventual realisation that he must reconcile himself with the family he had abandoned by always putting his work first. It was largely set in Milton Keynes, a place which fascinated Marc not only because of its proximity to Bletchley Park, where the Enigma code was cracked, but because it was an invented place whose name seemed to derive from his favourite poet and Britain’s most famous economist – definitely a town whose boulevards I would never have had to pound had it not been for Karlin. And, oh yes, it was a musical – though maybe not one Rogers and Hammerstein would have recognised, in spite of my best efforts.

The Milton project was, of course, his life’s work, and I was very happy to help him realise it. He originally said that he wanted to work with me because I understood the structure of a story. But whenever I tried to turn his thoughts into some sort of coherent narrative, he would axiomatically rebel. He subsequently said that he wanted to continue to work with me because I might turn his abstract concepts into concrete English. But naturally he resisted whenever I tried.

This is about another old man, who has been bitten by Milton, infected by the revolutionary poet’s complex desire to justify the cruel and paradoxical ways of God to naive and wayward man. The story is about this man’s subterfuge in initiating a young man, an out of work actor, into his scheme, passing on his life’s work before the actor even realises the infection has been passed on.

The project came so close to realisation. Whatever happens to it now, at least Marc had made a video sketch of the first half of the film with himself playing the old man and my friend Sean Harris playing the Actor. When they met there was an instant, rebarbatively mutual attraction – they had both been trained at the Drama Centre, and could immediately sniff out this perverse commonality. It would, I believe, have been Marc’s most wonderful film.

My work and Marc’s work seem fundamentally different, but we respected each other’s imagination precisely because we were so contrary. Our mutual appreciation was always clearly beyond dispute but, obviously, never beyond argument. I always thought that one day we would do something together that the world would see, that would tangibly exist outside our imaginations, and which would be so weird and so crazy that it would even shock us for having done it.

I still cannot believe that will never happen.


Michael Eaton writes films, and about them.