The Grim & Grey Folds Of British Murder [2020-12-17]Cold Light Of Day is one of the more terminal bleak serial killer films ever made. The low budget 1989 British production roughly told the story of 1980’s London serial killer Dennis Nilsen. It featured largely gore-less, but very gruelling strangulation murders- all wrapped-up in grim ‘n’ grimy bed-sit setting. For many years it’s been one of the lesser-seen/ known films of the serial killer genre, which is a great pity- as yes it’s a real downer, but it’s both powerfully disturbing and harrowingly memorable. Recently Arrow Video has given the film a classy Blu Ray reissue- so we decidedly to track down the films writer/director Fhiona-Louise for a rare interview.
M[m]: When did your interest in the darker and macabre side of things begin? And do you have any early childhood memories hinting at this interest?
FL I think most people have a flirtation or at least a gut reaction to the macabre side of life and creative people lean closer to the darker side than most so I don't think that I was any different there. I was always drawn to the imagery of artists like Kathe Kollwitz, Otto Dix and Marlene Dummas, pretty standard teenage stuff I think but all of these artists subject matter do relate to the question of mortality and sexuality. I would also spend time at the Huntarian sketching the various pickled body parts but until now I didn't relate this to anything other than learning to draw. I did do normal teenage stuff like bunking off school to go and see bands too!
M[m]: I believe you come from a fine art background- please could discuss this, and is any of your work online?
FL I don't think much of my work is online, these days I work as a commercial photographer. I spent some time recording the Fetish scene when I lived in Miami but never got around to publishing. I was a street artist so public art was under the name A Vandal but now I'm an old lady I don't go out with a backpack full of spray paint cans.
M[m]: You mention charting the Fetish scene in Miami-was it just photo form, or did you also film the scene?. Any thoughts of trying to get this now published somewhere?
FL It was purely a photographic project inspired by Bob Carlos Clarks work in the '80s. I haven't thought about publishing them but who knows?
M[m]: Where did you do your street art, what were the subjects? And do you still have any pictures of your work?
FL I probably do have some photos of my early work. I painted all over but mostly in the West End and North London.
M[m]: Please talk through about how you came direct & write Cold Light Of Day?
FL I had started to play about with super 8 film and was living in North London, violence toward gay people was prevalent at the time it became quite obvious that young gay men were disappearing from our community so I started to record their loved ones talking about them this formed a rough documentary which I later screened against a friend's cafe wall. I got arrested for that but released without charge. I think but I don't know for sure that some of those young men have not been found. So Cold light of day happened around the same time I met John Jacobs at an audition for Richard Driscolls film The Comic sometime in the '80s. I worked on Beneath the Haze with Jon. I had written a rough draft of Cold Light Of Day because a friend of mine had known one of the victims. Richard wanted to produce it and he was the driving force in terms of getting the project started. It was normal to film a promo to raise money for indie films in the '90s. (This is what Jons short Sleepwalker is) I was studying at the Lee Strasberg studio at the time and met Andrew Edmunds and Martin Bryne - Quinn. Richard knew Bob Flag from his part in The Comic, so we filmed our promo and went from there.
M[m]: You talk about your super 8 doc interview families of lost gay men- how long did the doc run for, do you still have a copy of it, and if so have you ever considered putting it out again? Beyond the mentioned super 8 doc, did you make any other films, docs or otherwise?
FL The doc ran for just under 60 mins. And I lost the only copy I had. I worked on friend's films and started a few promo's for funds but didn't go any further.
M[m]: When you were making the film what did you see as the key influences on the films look?
FL There are so many influences cinematically I always loved Chantel Akerman's work, those long languid shoots in Hotel Monterey. Hitchcock's Rope I tried to reference in CLOD by my framing you see some headless shots, I wanted Marsh to be disembodied from the audience. I wanted the camera to have its own persona to move predatory through the space, not entirely sure if I accomplished it.
M[m]: The film features a most effectively stabbing & churning industrial ambient soundtrack- who created this?
FL The soundtrack was all down to the incredibly talented Paul Davis who was our soundman. I didn't want music.
M[m]: Was there ever any plan to release a soundtrack for CLOD, and did Paul Davis create any more music your aware of?
FL I'm not sure what Paul Davis did after CLOD and I don't think the soundtrack of CLOD could be released as there was no music unless you mean the soundtrack to Jon Jaccobs film Beneath the Haze that arrow included in the package. That was created by the amazing Paul Inder Kilminster
M[m]: As Cold Light Of Day is telling the story of serial killer Dennis Nilsen- why did you decide to change the name of the lead character to Gordon Marsh, and what was the origin of this name?
FL CLOD only references Nilsen it also references other serial killers hence the lovely Miss Kings part. It was never intended to be a direct reference to him. I had no control over the way it was released at the time. I think also choosing to film it in a semi documentary-style added to that miss conception. I think the name came from a Grave stone I did have a horrible PE teacher called Mr Marsh though. Equally the reason that Marsh wears a white shirt every day was because this was Richard Driscolls habit at the time
M[m]: I believe there was a bit of controversy regarding the film when it came out- could you please discuss some of this, and was this one of the reasons you never made any other films?
FL Yes, there was some issues one of them being the police scenes, which were never in fact about the police they were portraying the press coverage of the Neilsen case. Some people had an issue with me as a young inexperienced woman directing a film about this subject matter. It didn't affect me. CLOD was a stressful experience but I'm glad I got to do it. I had a very bad motorbike accident which took a long time to recover from and this is why I didn't continue making films.
M[m]: Looking back on Cold Light Of Day now what are your thoughts on it, and do you feel there’s anything you would have done differently? And are you still in contact with the film?
FL I hadn't watched CLOD since Venice until Arrow restored it. So, I had looked at it really in a negative light all that time but now I don't think I did too badly given my youth and inexperience
M[m]: What was it like showing CLOD at the Venice film festival? And what was the audience response to the film there?
FL Venice was amazing. Half the audience would walk out but those that remained reacted positively.
M[m]: I first saw CLOD as a VHS back in the 90’s- please talk about how the film landed on VHS?
FL The VHS release was via Richard Driscoll who kept the rights to the film as the producer.
M[m]: As well as writing/ directing Cold Light Of Day, you went onto do a few acting parts in short art/ underground films- how many roles in all did you have, and what do you see as some of prouder roles?
FL The parts you are talking about In Jon Jacob's shorts as I said before happened around the same time as CLOD. It's a shame that Sleepwalker didn't get its money it was an interesting concept. I was in a relationship with Jon at the time and when that ended so did any notion of making Sleepwalker.
M[m]: Turning up as a priest in CLOD is respected Avant jazz saxophonist was Lol Coxhill- how did this come about, and were you a fan of his work?
FL Lol Coxhill had been in Richard Driscoll's film Silent Heros and so Richard suggested him for the role of the priest. I love his work.
M[m]: on the subject of music what genres do you enjoy?
FL Metal is my first love, the louder the better but I also love the Blues.
M[m]: Do you enjoy watching true crime dramatisation, and if so what stands as some of your favourites?
FL I do enjoy watching a real crime drama, kinda a guilty pleasure of mine which has got worse over lockdown. What's that about?) I watched The Jinx by Andrew Jarecki again.
Thank you to Fhiona-Louise for her time & effort with the interview. Cold Light Of Day is now out on Arrow Video- both in the UK & USRoger Batty