The internet is littered with damning and unenthusiastic reviews of The Last Minute (2001) by Stephen Norrington, which proves one of the basics of the culture industry: if you’ve had a success with one style or genre, then don’t think as an artist you can try something else. They will really boot you down for that, especially if you achived your success in genre.
And it’s not just the public that can’t handle this, but distributors, marketers, publishers and studios all have grave difficulty when an artist that’s had success with one thing, changes direction or fulfils a personal project.
So, when Stephen Norrington had international success with Blade, and felt that the time had come for him to make this film, all he was lining up for was rejection. The thing is that if a rookie director had made this film, it would have been lauded as the great work it is. The truth is that distributors and audiences alike feel massively let down if an artist doesn’t on the whole repeat the actions of their success – and that sucks.
I don’t think that I have seen such a good film about life in our times however; the poverty of celebrity culture; the effects of hedonism; the oppressions of city life; the confusion of fashion and the attempts of everyone under 35 to be valued or treated as something special.
There are telling modern signs and presentations in The Last Minute, and weird ironies, some that are frightening, such as the Prosthetics Club where semi naked youth have dental work and other operations performed on them; and my favourite, when the lead character is robbed by a shop assistant as he attempts to buy porn and a Pot Noodle (maybe even a check to the character of Finchie in The Office – ‘Pot Noodle and a wank’?). And the beggars on the train with Simon Gregor’s class line: ‘Has this carriage already been begged?’
Indeed, what could be more telling to our day than a rather worthless young artist, attempting to make a conceptual statement; and of course also, a pile of cash? The self-obsession of the artists in the film, the lead especially, and most of the other characters is bang on the nail, and pretty much captures everyone between 18 and 30 that I know. There are some strange themes and images; an underground city of the homeless, a worm in a mug, and a bag that appears and wriggles and snarls, containing a frightening hairless dog-beast, almost inviting a kind of punk/horror Dickensianism — yes.
Billy Byrne, an artist in our day and age, is played by Max Beesley, is in the words spoken by Tom Bell (1933–2006)’s character in this – ‘a shallow boy in urgent need of experience’ – typical of his generation. Udo Kier’s appearance is customarily hi-energy and weird, and he plays a fashion photographer in a short segment which demonstrates the lead character’s rise to the top. Udo is super-handsome, fast and funny and his photo session is so frantic that he ends up being mauled and stripped to his girdle by the models.
The cast of The Last Minute is brilliant, and as I’ve said features Tom Bell, a vastly underused British character actor. Also look out for small appearances from Brian Sewell and Steven Dorff as themselves, Frank Harper as a psychotic cabbie, and Stephen Graham as the lippy DJ Banana.
What is great about The Last Minute, and which audiences most likely rejected, is the playful hyper-real touches which are quite typical of British cinema of the time, but which here indicate that the whole of experience and culture are up for grabs. These style changes, asides and directorial conceits contribute to a general feeling in the picture that is contemporary and wild; and the film is well realised. By this I mean, it is clearly the translation of a vision in Stephen Norrington’s mind, brought to life and presented at high speed, hilarious and fantastic.
By the way, what is it with directors and their use of Udo Kier in cameo? That makes three of them, Fassbinder, Von Trier and Norrington, all who feel that they need a bit of lucky Udo to get their productions going. I don’t have a problem with this, but I would like to see Udo Kier in more starring roles, and not playing the many crazy cameos he does.