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Sunday, 22 April 2018

Teenage Ecstasy

"Victor Vincent is a square teenager who lives with two drug addled friends Clark and Russ. He shuns their drug taking ways but yearns to be with Tabitha, an exotic beauty, who wants nothing to do with him. During one of their frequent debates about the merits of taking drugs, Tabitha walks in causing Victor to mumble and splutter before leaving. He goes outside only to bump into Mr Mystery, a fat bearded man in a black hat and cloak. 

" Your destiny is in their hands." He says before disappearing. That night Victor has a dream/nightmare where he is chasing Tabitha through the fields. She pushes him to the floor and stands over him, laughing. Victor wakes in a cold sweat. 
The next day he walks through the fields and sees Tabitha in the distance with another man. He turns to see Mr Mystery in the distance watching him. He again mysteriously vanishes. Victor arrives home to be greeted by the two local drug dealers, Mr Belisha and Mr Beacon. They drink tea and slip a pill into
Victor's cup. They try to persuade Victor to buy some drugs, he refuses. They reveal what they have done leaving Victor cursing them. Victor goes to see Clark and Russ and starts laughing uncontrollably. That night they party hard, with Victor taking large amounts of pills. He is hooked. Victor wakes in the morning by falling off the sofa, next to him sleeps Tabitha. He staggers outside to be sick. He meets up with Belisha and Beacon to get some more pills. He meets Tabitha who tells him that their time together was just fun. Clark tries to tell Victor to stop taking pills but he is pushed aside. Victor has another nightmare. He is chasing Mr Belisha. He batters him to the floor and begins viciously beating him with a chair leg. Victor turns the body over and sees it is himself. He screams. 

The next night their is another party that culminates in Victor passing out again. He is woken by Clark and Russ who tell him to take it easy. Victor goes out. Mr Mystery appears again. 'you cannot chance the hand of fate. I am Mystery, Mr Mystery and I can shape your destiny." He disappears again. Victor realises he must do something. He meets with Belisha and Beacon to tell them what to do with their stupid pills. They beat him up and force him to eat loads of pills. They leave him slumped in an alleyway. A while later, bloodied and bruised, he staggers to his feet and goes to the PARTY. 
He enters the room. People stare at him. Clark, Russ, Tabitha, Belisha and Beacon are there. They laugh at him. Victor dances wildly. Then he flips out and smashes a chair to pieces.. Clark and Russ try to stop him but he flings them aside. Tabitha too. Beacon gets floored. Victor viciously beats Belisha to a bloody pulp with a chair leg. 
He stops. In his bloodied state he staggers across the room, seeing the terrible carnage. He collapses next to Tabitha in the body strewn room." 

Directed, Written and Edited by Jan Manthey 
Music by Ben Oates 
Victor Vincent - Vic Pratt, Tabitha - Paula Smith, Clark - Jonathan Cockerell, Russ - Jan Manthey, Mr Belisha - Jed Leicester, Mr Beacon - Mark Duqueno, Mr Mystery - Valentin Barrios-Ambroa  

This is arguably my greatest achievement in my film career. After my death this will be the film I would like to be most remembered for. Welles had CITIZEN KANE, Waters had PINK FLAMINGOS, Dennis Steckler had THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED UP ZOMBIES INSTEAD and Manthey had TEENAGE ECSTASY. 

Made in the glorious summer of '93 I had (due to my unemployed status) time to devote all my creative energies in this film. As usual I have no idea how the idea came about and the script was given my customary one draft treatment. 
I suppose the basic premise for 'Teenage Ecstasy - A Tale of Love, Loneliness, Drugs and Despair' (to give it it's original title) could have come from the dodgy drugs episodes of Grange Hill or Eastenders. But it had crucial Manthey bizarre additions such as Mr Mystery and the dream sequences. Strangely, a couple of years later Eastenders featured two student pot smoking characters, one of which was called Russ, who were eerily similar to my Clark and Russ characters. Also, some of their 'druggie' dialogue was almost exactly the same as I had written. To this day I believe someone at the BBC saw my film and nicked ideas from it. It wouldn't be the first time either, but that's another story. 
The main location was, as usual, my parents house. This meant a major task of entirely clearing out the lounge of all their junk to create a bare student style room. They have a lot of stuff and I still don't know how I managed it. They wouldn't have found out if I hadn't put back some wooden elephants facing the wrong way. 

The title sequence is probably one of the most elaborate I have filmed. Scenes of Victor walking through fields are intercut with a close up of a joint being made and smoked by Clark and Russ, ironically played by two non smokers, Jonathan Cockerell and myself. Being a non smoker my reaction to puffing on the joint is wildly over the top. Jonathan refused to put the cigarette any way near his mouth so we had to work around this. He wasn't actually supposed to be in this film but I roped him in last minute after the original Clark didn't show up. Jonathan did a grand job, as he always does in my films, he's good at stunts as well. All this action was played under a great theme tune sung by Mr Ben Oates. An anti drugs number sung in a Cat Stevens style. 

Victor ends his journey at the house where the three of them live. It is never established if they are students, have jobs or whatever. They live in a world where nothing matters but where the next score is coming from. 
There are some great performances in this film. Vic Pratt in the lead is superb. He is always willing to try anything, as witnessed by the scene where he is sick. He had to keep in his mouth a disgusting concoction of tinned tomatoes and sweetcorn. I can recommend this as a great recipe for pretend sick. 
The love interest was Paula Smith who was Vic's 'main squeeze' in reality so his yearning for her took on an extra resonance. Jed Leicester and Mark Duqueno made particularly menacing villains as Mr Belisha and Mr Beacon. Mark as the silent Beacon was especially effective. Sadly the car they drive is a beaten up old VW Polo, not a typical car that drug dealers in expensive suits drive, but it was Mark's car so it had to do. 

The greatest find in the cast was one Valentin Barrios Ambroa, the large bearded gentleman who plays the mysterious Mr Mystery. I wrote the role especially for him. He only appears a couple of times, but he adds an element of the bizarre that keeps the viewer more interested than they already are. Does Mr Mystery really exist? Is he a figment of Victor Vincents addled mind? I don't know how the character of Mr Mystery evolved but I'm sure it must have made sense when I wrote it. I think. 

There is much in the film that works really well. The two dream/nightmare sequences look very ethereal. This happened purely by accident. I was using a Sony Video 8 camera (this format no longer exists) which must have had some kind of fault with the brightness/white balance controls, but it made these scenes turn out better than I could have hoped. The footage has a very white washed out look with the colours looking very vivid. At the end of the second dream when Victor starts screaming, his face turns green. I have no idea how or why this happened but it looks damned good. It just shows that you don't need the most expensive gear to make your films look good. 

One scene I was worried about was the party scene. I questioned whether I could pull it off, and create an authentic looking party atmosphere. I didn't even think I had enough friends I could get round to make up the numbers. I managed to get about six or seven extras, but it was just enough. With strange red and green lighting and suitable 'rave' music, it worked. Again, I don't know how I did it, but it looked good. The 'rave' music was composed by Ben Oates. It was a brilliant pastiche of chart rave crap done on a Casio keyboard. The strange thing is, a couple of years later I heard a tune exactly the same on the radio. Perhaps the music was ahead of its time. 

I had another party scene to do but time was running out and my parents were due to return home from holiday and I didn't want them to see that I had turned their house into a makeshift film studio. I came up with an intriguing idea that I half remembered seeing in a film I saw once. I basically took loads of photos of the lead characters in various states at a 'party'. Then I filmed someone placing them down on a table. Thus we see the gang at various stages of the party eventually leading to Victor going crazy and dancing on his own. The final photo shows Victor, semi naked crashed out on a sofa with a can of Heineken in his hand. Such a simple idea, yet it works brilliantly and looks superb on screen. 
And so to the final act. The film ends how it could only end. The all out
destruction of the crazed Victor Vincent. Belisha and Beacon bundle Victor into an alleyway to administer a beating. Jed puts in an excellent menacing performance as he forces pills down Victor's throat. Incidentally, the pills were actually green and orange 'Tic Tacs'. Mark is also very sinister as the silent Beacon. The cast then once again gathered in the living room of my parents house. The scene has a nightmarish quality about it. I filmed various shots of all the characters without really knowing how it would all fit together in the final film. I had only a vague idea as to how the scene would end. But there were more pressing matters. A big stunt was called for - the smashing of a chair. I bought a chair for 50p from a charity shop and carefully dismantled it before sticking it loosely together again. Victor had to bring the chair down onto a table to smash it. We thankfully got a perfect take, as we only really had one chance to do it. The chair smashed to pieces leaving Victor with just a chair leg to bash Mr Belisha over the head with. When my parents saw the finished film they
naturally assumed that I had smashed up one of their chairs even though it looked nothing like any chair that they have ever owned. The end scene is still very powerful. Victor wanders into the party in a beaten up daze and sees all the other characters laughing at him. Is it a dream? Hallucination? Or is it real? Even though I wrote it I have no idea. I'll leave it to CAHIERS DU CINEMA to decipher. The final images of Victor beating Mr Belisha senseless and the final image of Victor standing alone amongst the carnage whilst the camera spins faster and faster around him becoming a blur comes together in a glorious finale. 

I still consider it a miracle that I got the film finished considering I was using one of the most basic and inaccurate editing consoles known to man. Still, after many frustrating days, the masterpiece was finished. 
This is the film I am most proud of. Even with a budget of virtually nil, all the elements came together in one harmonious fusion. Sure, some of the acting was a bit ropey and their were technical difficulties but it didn't matter. It came together as a whole. TEENAGE ECSTASY is gritty, funny, melodramatic and has a good moral structure. And a fat man with a beard. What more do you need in a film? 

Teenage Ecstasy - 25 years later

2018 marks the 25th anniversary of this seminal film in my canon. Has it aged well? I believe it has. It is fun to watch this tale of moral decline and drug abuse. Of course it is nonsense the speed with which Victor Vincent gets hooked on the mysterious pills, but at least it keeps the plot going at a fair lick. 
So what happened to the cast? Well some of them as I am sure you are aware have continued to act in Jan Manthey Productions. I am blessed to know people who are willing to embarrass themselves for the sake of my 'art'. There was actually a last minute cast change. A friend of mine Len Stott was due to play the Clark character but on the first day of filing he just didn't show up, so the part went to Jonathan Cockerell, who does a great fight stunt near the end of the film... And so to the enigmatic Valentin Barrios-Ambroa. We knew Val through various musical ventures and he certainly does strike a memorable figure. I also did some filming with him and his band mate, Wil Walker, which I later used as the basis for a Dylan Rabbit video 'Space is Ace'. As far as I know this is the only filming he has ever been involved with. I lost touch with him and he seems to be one of these people who has no internet presence, so is impossible to track down. A true man of mystery...
It just remains for me say - Remember kids, don't so the drugs!

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