Tuesday, 1 December 2020

Rutger & The Wreck: A Chat with Ken Rowles

Rutger Hauer (2018)
Rutget Hauer. Image: DWDD [CC BY 3.0]
The late Dutch actor Rutger Hauer left behind a highly impressive CV, one which includes the likes of 80s classics Blade Runner and The Hitcher, along with four Dutch-language films directed by Paul Verhoeven: Katie TippelTurkish DelightSpetters and Soldier of Orange.  In his later years, Hauer was more often than not seen in supporting roles, and during this century he appeared in several big-budget productions including Luc Besson's Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets and Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins; towards the end of his life, he had a part in Jacques Audiard's outstanding The Sisters Brothers (pictured below, courtesy of UniFrance).  Back in the late 1980s, Hauer was due to star in a film called Torment, yet there's virtually nothing in the way of information regarding this title, despite it occurring during the height of the actor's popularity.  Although there are a few scant production details listed on the British Film Institute's website, Torment has always presented something of a mystery, so I'm pleased to have finally learned a bit more about it, courtesy of the man who was in place to direct the film.

Back in October, I spent a very pleasant couple of hours or so with filmmaker Ken Rowles, who has numerous credits dating back more than fifty years.  I actually met with Ken to ask him about his work on Jean-Luc Godard's Sympathy for the Devil, but our conversation also covered a number of Ken's other projects, both realised and unrealised, with Torment coming under the latter category.  In Ken's many years in the film industry, he's encountered and/or worked with the likes of Stanley Baker, Tony Curtis, Dick Emery, Simon Ward, Ken Russell, Peter Sykes, and Ian McShane, and his film with Rutger Hauer sounds like an intriguing project, one which will sadly never come to fruition.  Torment was to be written and produced by Christian Bel, who took on the same duties for the Anthony Quinn–Lauren Bacall love story A Star for Two, a project that was made after Torment failed to get off the ground.  A Star for Two is a remarkably difficult title to track down, although Bel has uploaded a promo reel for the film to YouTube; Bel, like yours truly, has a solitary feature film to his name on the IMDb, and it seems that he left the film industry following the 1991 release of A Star for Two, which was directed by Canadian Jimmy Kaufman.


Anyway, Ken informed me that Torment was to be a film centring on the Algerian War, or, more accurately, the aftermath of the conflict, as the lead character struggled with his memories of the war as he tried to live out his life in Paris, and this mental anguish is presumably what the film's title referred to.  As the director, Ken spent a lot of time in Paris as the film entered its pre-production phase, and he also flew out to Tunisia to look at potential locations.  But, despite all the groundworkthe film never made it into production; while Torment is by no means unusual in this regard, it does sound like a film that had real potential, and it would have been interesting to see Hauer at work in such a project.  The efforts Ken described served as a reminder of the huge amount of work that goes into each of the many films that never get made, and so often it's merely a simple matter of luck that determines if a film goes ahead or falls by the wayside.

I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with Ken, and much more of our conversation (particularly the material regarding Jean-Luc Godard) should eventually surface as part of a writing project I'm currently working on.  Ken still makes films, and in recent years he has directed a documentary about the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery, an explosives-laden vessel that sits just 30 miles from London.  The Wreck is narrated by Ian McShane, and I've been lucky enough to see a workprint of the film; it provides a fascinating look at a remarkable situation: despite this ship and its deadly cargo remaining on a seabed close to densely populated land, the authorities apparently have little interest in tending to the issue.  You can view the film's promo reel below.

Darren Arnold