- Michael Armstrong
- Michael Armstrong
- Noel Janus
- Black & White / Colour Short
- Running Time:
- 25 minutes
- Currently unavailable on video and DVD
The Hunt was filmed in 1969.
After the terrible front office interference on his first feature, The Haunted House Of Horror, Armstrong sought solace making another short film for Border Films. Having successfully completed The Image for them, he and the company were on good terms and so he approached them with another inexpensive project with which they could qualify for Eady money, the government's incentive scheme to encourage film production.
The idea for The Hunt had long been in Armstrong's mind following a mime class at RADA when a fellow student, Kenneth Cranham had performed a particularly moving mime, in slow motion, of a deserting soldier being pursued and shot down by the military. This had later been expanded into a short slow motion ballet for their in-house 4th term revue in which Armstrong had been cast as one of three soldiers pursuing the deserter, this time played by fellow student, Barry Bryson - who had already acted in Armstrong's revue, Unicorn and would, later, play Yannis in The Rise And Fall Of Armageddon.
Realising the filmic possibilities of the mime, Armstrong developed it into a short screenplay for Bryson but their plans to try and realise it on film never got off the ground.
Like The Image, the script remained forgotten until Armstrong needed something suitable to make as a short. He, additionally, wanted something that would serve as a vehicle for Noel Janus, an aspiring actor who had supplied the drum track for The Image and was also nursing wounds from The Haunted House Of Horror. A front office decision had cast Julian Barnes in the lead when Janus had been Armstrong's second choice after the American producers had axed David Bowie.
In re-writing the screenplay of The Hunt, Armstrong developed the basic idea beyond its simple anti-war theme into an allegory about the continual persecution and suppression of the rebel within society. A black & white prologue and epilogue were introduced to place the hunt itself within a definable situation. The characterless figure of the deserter was turned into a fully rounded human being, with identifiable personal feelings and an imagination. In the final shooting script he also vent his anger on authoritarian attitudes to individualism in the symbolic bayonet sequence imagined by Janus just before his execution.
In the film, Janus plays a disillusioned soldier in some unnamed war. Seated in the rubble of what had once been a living town, he is about to witness the impromptu execution of two hostages after a third, in a futile escape attempt, had shot one of Janus's fellow soldiers. In an act of defiant revulsion, Janus pre-empts the execution by shooting the two hostages, himself, and then turning his gun on his own men. The film changes from black & white to colour as Janus is seen in a lush woodland setting. In a lyrical sequence he tastes the joy of freedom, of being at one with nature, re-discovering the world around him. He imagines a beautiful girl as his companion, playfully chasing him and sharing this newly found idyll, this Eden. This imagining ceases abruptly when he spots three armed soldiers afar off in his pursuit. A chase develops ending in a huge chalk pit in which he sees himself as a champion runner approaching a winning post. Before he can "win", he is shot down by the soldiers from a high ridge. They then string him up and use his dead body for bayonet practice. The film cuts back to black & white footage of Janus standing before a firing squad. They fire but fail to kill him. The Officer in charge delivers the coup de grace.
Filmed over five days in Surrey, shooting went smoothly and Armstrong personally edited the footage without interference. Border Films and the few people who saw the fine cut were suitably impressed - including Peter Beale who was producing Armstrong's next intended feature, The Kinky Death-wish Of Vernon Slim for Paramount.
Unfortunately, like The Image, the running time of The Hunt proved a problem. The fine cut was 25 minutes long. To qualify for Eady money, it had to run a minimum length of 14 minutes or the next permitted governmental length of 40 minutes. As everyone agreed that the removal of ten minutes would ruin the film, Border agreed to finance a further one day's shoot for Armstrong to film another fifteen minutes footage - but only using Janus, to minimise cost.
The problem seemed insurmountable as the majority of the existing footage was solely Janus and therefore to increase that by a further fifteen minutes would have overbalanced the film to a point of absurdity.
The fine cut was temporarily shelved until Armstrong could come up with a solution.
In the meantime, The Haunted House Of Horror had opened to good box office worldwide and Armstrong was signed by a German producer to direct his next feature, the film that would become Mark Of The Devil.
After the ordeal of having shot Mark Of The Devil in 1970, Armstrong staggered back to England and, once again, sought solace in the idea of completing The Hunt, only to find that, while he had been away, parliament had closed down the production incentive of Eady money. As a consequence, Border Films, like every other production company, no longer had a commercial marketplace for short films.
No further work was done on The Hunt. It remained in its fine cut length of 25 minutes and was never sent for negative cutting.
With the demise of Border Films some time later, Armstrong's edited fine cut of 25 minutes together with the original negative have almost certainly been lost.<< Introduction Gallery >>