Save the Last Trance

Lynne Ramsay's Callar I.D.

For Morvern's voluble best friend, Lanna, Ramsay did cast a novice—Kathleen McDermott, a trainee hairdresser plucked off a Glasgow street. "She's really spontaneous, a natural comedienne," the director says, adding, "There were a few scenes that were hard for her, just in terms of trusting us. When we were shooting the bathtub scene"—Morvern and Lanna wash up after an all-night rager—"I took my jumper off, because I was like, 'Will it make you feel better if I'm sitting here in my bra?' "

Ramsay's no-frills, often improvisatory directing style is an m.o. she fought hard to maintain on the set of her first feature: A child's-eye lens on filthy, beleaguered Glasgow during the mid-'70s garbage strikes, Ratcatcher (1999) mingled scathing social realism with daydreamy flights of make-believe. (Two of her earlier short films, Gasman and Small Deaths, won prizes at Cannes, where Morvern Callar premiered in the 2002 Director's Fortnight.) "When I was doing Ratcatcher, I heard a lot of, 'Yeah, we really love your short films, but could you just change the whole way you work and cast some name actors?' I like working with small crews, documentary-style, and I remember thinking, What are all these fucking people doing here? They said, 'Oh, you're a first-time director with a first-time crew, you need all the support you can get.' Every single thing was a battle. I was absolutely exhausted by the end of making that film. I didn't know if I ever wanted to work on another one."

Morvern Callar's production thankfully left Ramsay with no such resignations. She has nearly completed a second draft of her next script, also an adaptation: Alice Sebold's Pennsylvania-set bestseller The Lovely Bones chronicles the afterlife of Susie Salmon, a murdered 14-year-old girl. As part of the research process, Ramsay recently took a road trip down the east coast of the U.S., where she interviewed high schoolers about their notions of heaven. She may incorporate their answers into the final film, and is composing a "minimal voice-over" for Susie, inspired in part by Linda Manz's narration in Days of Heaven.

Ramsay on Callar: "Some people think she's cynical, but I think she's like a cowboy."
photo: Sylvia Plachy
Ramsay on Callar: "Some people think she's cynical, but I think she's like a cowboy."

Intriguingly, The Lovely Bones marks the third time Ramsay has told a story that begins with a terrible end—Ratcatcher pivots on a young boy's furtive guilt following a friend's drowning. She's denies any propensity for life-after-death tales, calling the symmetries "just a coincidence." Still, in describing Susie Salmon, she could well be invoking Morvern Callar: "She's in a place where there's suddenly no consequences, and so she becomes a voyeur of life on earth," Ramsay says. "Which is, of course, the classic starting point for a filmmaker."

Related Article:
J. Hoberman's review of Morvern Callar

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