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Daily | Antonia Bird, 1959 – 2013

Tributes from Robert Carlyle, Mark Cousins, and Irvine Welsh. Updated through 11/1.

Antonia Bird

Drew Barrymore and Antonia Bird on the set of ‘Mad Love’

The award-winning British director Antonia Bird has died far too young at 54. “Best known internationally for Ravenous, Bird worked extensively with Robert Carlyle, with whom she, Mark Cousins and Irvine Welsh set up the production company 4Way Pictures Ltd,” notes Jennie Kermode at Eye For Film.

“Of course a vampire is simply a cannibal with good table manners, and Ravenous is a darkly atmospheric film about an epidemic of flesh-eating and the fearsome power that it brings,” wrote Roger Ebert in 1999, adding that Bird “shows she’s a real filmmaker. She is wisely more interested in atmosphere than plot.” The cast features Carlyle and Guy Pearce.

“A young cleric’s crisis of faith leads to an agonizing reexamination of Catholic orthodoxy in Priest,” wrote Rita Kempley in the Washington Post in 1995. Featuring Carlyle, Linus Roache, and Tom Wilkinson, Priest won a Teddy in Berlin, the People’s Choice Award in Toronto, and Best New British Feature in Edinburgh. “She began her career as a theater director at London’s Royal Court before making episodes of TV programs including EastEnders and Casualty in the mid-1980s,” notes the BBC. “She won best single drama TV Baftas for 1993′s Safe—a story about homeless teenagers written for BBC Two’s Screenplay series—and Care, broadcast in 2000, which dealt with sexual abuse in a children’s home. She also won a Bafta children’s award for 2009 BBC documentary Off By Heart, about a national poetry competition for schoolchildren…. Her 1995 Hollywood film Mad Love starred Drew Barrymore and Chris O’Donnell as a teenage couple on the run.”

 

In 1999, the Guardian ran a bit of an onstage Q&A with Carlyle and Bird conducted by Cousins—read it for Bird’s comments on the difference between British and American actors. More from Mike Barnes (Hollywood Reporter), Todd Brown (Twitch), and Maane Khatchatourian (Variety). And Stephen Thompson interviewed Bird for the Onion in 1999.

 

Updates, 10/28: “Meeting Antonia Bird in 1999 was a pivotal moment for me, a novice filmmaker,” writes Zoe Margolis. “Alongside Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break, Priest achieved something I am still in awe of: a female perspective on screen. Each director focuses on provocative action and drama in their films, but, more specifically, they show men can be positively sexually objectified through a female lens. Both films had offered the viewer the male form as an alluring object to be enjoyed, rather than framing or contextualizing it in a mocking way, and as an aspiring writer-director and feminist, I sat up and took note.”

Also in the Guardian, Kate Hardie notes that Bird’s “main aim was to use whatever medium she was working in, however commercial or mainstream, to tell important stories, highlight issues and champion causes…. Once she had started with EastEnders, Antonia never returned to the theater: she loved the way in which working with actors on film enabled her ‘to really capture the light in their eyes.’ She had no time for the manipulation that can go on in the director-actor relationship. Instead, she put great energy into supporting her actors on and off set.”

Update, 10/30: When Mark Cousins saw Safe in 1993, “I knew that it was, by some distance, the best British film I had seen that year,” he writes for Sight & Sound. “I compared it to Vittorio de Sica’s film The Bicycle Thieves…. Many directors in those days were interested in gloss, heritage, the kind of cinema that tidied life up. The director that I met talked of social class, of leftist politics, of passion and possibilities. When she spoke, her eyes lit up, welled up, fired up.” By the time she’d made Priest, Mad Love, and Face, “Antonia’s cinema was richly layered—society, gender, eros, masculinity, musicality—but as I watched from the sidelines, I couldn’t foresee what would happen next. Ravenous. A film about cannibalism, which unearthed something that was thus far buried in her work: the fact that in the capitalist rat-race, we sort of consume each other. Typical of Antonia and her writing collaborators, however, was the fact that this central metaphor was not revealed in literary terms. Instead, Antonia reached for that most full-blooded of genres, the horror movie, to show what she’d been on about all along. Ravenous was a masterpiece—not Antonia’s first great movie, but her fullest.”

Update, 11/1: Bird “was a big deal in British cinema of the 1990s,” writes Ryan Gilbey in the New Statesman, “and made at least one notable contribution to filmmaking the following decade: her taut and troubling television film The Hamburg Cell, about the preparations for the 9/11 hijackings.” As for Ravenous, it’s “mere inches away from being a truly great movie. But it is an enjoyably berserk one. Parts of it reach giddy heights of operatic intensity, helped by a churning and inventive score from Michael Nyman and Damon Albarn (the latter had acted for Bird in Face).”

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