Jim Davies Creative Review
As well as directing their own films, Nichola Bruce and MichaelCoulson made a reputation for themselves as creative consultants for other filmmakers. Directors include: such renowned directors as John Boorman, Neil Jordan, for whom they created the storyboards for Company of Wolves, Peter Greenaway for whom they created an exhibition at the Edinburgh Festival and Richard Lester. They also created the storyboards for Absolute Beginners produced by Palace Pictures, and film posters for directors Chris Petit, Jen Jacques Beneieux, Yukio Mikshima, Channel Four television, and Peter Greenaway. Bruce and Coulson worked with Godley and Crème making music videos and created programmes for British television. Credits include: "The Human Face," an arts documentary for the BBC, with Laurie Anderson, nominated for a BAFTA award, and "Club X" a youth music and arts series for Channel 4.
In the guise of Muscle Films and Kruddart, Michael Coulson and Nichola Bruce produce a wide-ranging body of illustrative and film work. The term multi-disciplinary could have been invented especially for this pair of collaborators: their prolific output includes music, design, illustration, scriptwriting, poetry, painting and film making. But we’re certainly not a pair of odd job merchants ,” insists Bruce.
Their main raison d’etre is filmmaking, and most of their other work refers to films, explicitly or obliquely. They both studied film at Middlesex Poly in the late 70s, and see it as suitable melting pot for their talents. Their film projects can take two years to three years to come to fruition, and their paintings, often related to their film project, “keep them going in the meantime”.
Working with others is some thing that excites the team.” Once you’ve worked with someone it’s difficult to work by yourself,” says Coulson. “It’s good to have some else around even if it’s just to tell you what you’re doing is crap. When I work by myself I feel like dragging someone in off the street and saying, “What do you think of this?”
Coulson and Bruce often have several paintings on the go at the same time. “We’ll put four or five paintings on the walls, and if you can’t do a bit like a hand or something, you swap over to one of the others,” explains Bruce. They believe in painting quickly and aggressively; part of their inspiration, they say, was born out of punk. “There’s nothing worse than being afraid of the paper,” says Bruce. Their boredom threshold is very low, which explains why the range of their projects is so diverse and their style so eclectic.
Despite the variety, the way they work does have a sort of sequential logic. It usually starts with the concept for a film. Notes will be taken, sketches drawn, ideas will start to flow, sketches might develop into storyboards, storyboards into paintings, paintings into scripts, scripts into film. At any of these stages though things might start to get interesting, and a film project could end being a Kruddart (Nichola and Michael’s design company) project or an art project could metamorphose into a film.
The film work and the illustrative work are independent. Sarah Culshaw at Sharp Practice, which has recently taken on the task of promoting Kruddart, admires their unusual mix of collage and montage; and confirms that “film informs their illustrative work”.
Equally, illustrative work informs their films. Wings of Death is their most successful film project to date. Shown at Cannes in 1985, released as the short accompanying Nightmare on Elm Street and recently aired on Channel Four, the film contains shots that are almost exact replicas of the paintings they did prior to shooting.
They are currently working on three film project. The first is called Year of the Gun, a thriller set in Rome being written by Barrie Keefe (Long Good Friday) and produced by Eric Felner of Initial Films, whose credits include Sid and Nancy. The second is Inheritance of Fear, a horror pic “with depth” in which the mythical past meets the science of the future”. The third project, Albion, based on the book Albion, Albion, by Dick Morland, is an everyday tale of football violence in the 21st century, set in a Britain that has become the 52nd state of America. Ex-NME gunslinger Tony Parsons is lined up to write this one.
They are also working on a long-form video entitled God is Dog (Future Leisure), a satire that analyses the possible leisure activities of the future.
Coulson is the more loquacious of the partners, talking quickly and enthusiastically about their work, pointing out the drawings and paintings around the room to back up his remarks, and running out to retrieve relevant scrapbooks. “We keep virtually everything,” he says . “We might cut it up and use it for something else later.”
Bruce is quieter, occasionally interrupting or correcting Coulson’s running commentary. Coulson usually bows to her better judgement: she admits that they do have rows “but never in public”. They seem to have their respective roles fairly well worked out. Says Coulson, “We’re both quite dominant characters, but if one of us is feeling shitty or worn out , the other one will take over.”
“We have to put our egos away in a box when we’re working together,” adds Bruce, otherwise there’s great friction. But basically, Michael does the high-up bits, and I do the low bits,” a joking reference to the noticeable disparity in height between the two.
The piece of artwork they are probably best known for is the poster for The Draughtsman’s Contract, a collage incorporating torn photographs, photocopies, line drawings and ornate calligraphy, full of cryptic clues and riddles that reflect perfectly the atmosphere of sinister nuance that pervades the film. They also produced a powerful poster for Four American Composers, a film Greenaway made for Channel Four.
The Greenaway connection continues in their recent book cover illustration for the script of his latest film, The Belly of an Architect. They have also done a poster for the film, but don’t know if the distributor will go for it. “They might want something safer,” says Coulson. Belly is the latest of half a dozen book covers they have produced Faber and Faber, through Pentagram. Pentagram designer Quentin Newark says he was particularly impressed with their cover for a collection of American short stories called Drunk with Love. Their strength he believes, is in the way they use collage: “It’s not straight collage, but inventive collage used in an illustrative way.” Krudd has also produced New Scientist covers, always a showcase for innovative illustration. “We enjoy turning abstract ideas into art,” says Coulson.