The Image

The Image
Michael Armstrong
Michael Armstrong
David Bowie, Michael Byrne
Black & White Short
Running Time:
14 minutes
Currently unavailable on video and DVD
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The Image

The Image - History

The Image

The Image was made in the winter of 1967.

In 1964 while Armstrong was at RADA, he was asked to write a screenplay by a fellow student, Tony Maylam, who was looking for a short film to direct. Maylam never made the film. Years later, however, he did direct features like Riddle Of The Sands and The Burning.

The screenplay of The Image lay forgotten until Armstrong was offered the opportunity to make a short for Border Films. These shorts were usually included as programme fillers when distributors had double bills of foreign movies (usually sex films) and they wanted to cash in on Eady money, the then governmental financial incentive to encourage British filmmaking.

David Bowie

For the part of the Boy, Armstrong cast a then unknown singer and songwriter, David Bowie. Being one of a tiny handful of devotees of Bowie's music at that time, Armstrong had approached him earlier to write the songs and score for his never realised film comedy based on Greek mythology, A Floral Tale. Bowie would also have played the role of the Thracian singer, Orpheus. Instead, less spectacularly, The Image became Bowie's film acting debut.

For the part of the Artist, Armstrong originally cast Jon Finch whose career, only a few years later, would take off dramatically with Polanski's Macbeth. Unfortunately, Finch was already contracted to another project and the dates were found to clash which resulted in Michael Byrne taking on the role. Like Finch, Byrne's career would also take off several years later (A Bridge Too Far, Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Gangs Of New York).

Of the tiny crew: lighting cameraman, Ousama Rawi (Pulp, Zulu Dawn, Parting Shots) and Armstrong's close friend, Martin Campbell (Edge Of Darkness, Goldeneye, Mask Of Zorro) would also end up with highly successful careers in the international movie scene.

The Image

The film was shot in black & white over three days in an empty house just off the Harrow Road. It was bitterly cold and proved particularly arduous for Bowie who had, on one occasion, to endure hours of standing outside, precariously clinging onto a window frame above an eight foot drop into the basement, dressed in nothing more than a shirt and jeans, with a heavy spray of cold water from a hosepipe trained on him to simulate pouring rain. As Armstrong recalls, "He was actually bright blue all over when he finally came back inside."

A film cell from The Image

A combination of delaying factors on the tight schedule resulted in barely half of the screenplay actually being shot. Despite Armstrong pleading for extra time to complete the film, Border refused to pay for further shooting time and, following an argument with Armstrong, took the film away from him and handed the footage to their in-house editor. The result proved disastrous and, far worse, for the producers - the edited film only ran for seven and a half minutes; half the minimum length required to qualify for Eady money. Armstrong, who had, by then, signed to direct his first feature with Tigon Films was invited back to rectify the problem.

Trade Screening Invitation

Taking the existing footage, Armstrong expanded the thematic line of the film even further than had existed in the original screenplay which enabled him to create a final running time of just under fifteen minutes - thereby qualifying for Eady. As he later commented, "It was the first film to grow twice as long in the cutting room." and would often, jokingly, refer to it as his "art film".

The Image was one of the few short films ever to receive an 'X' certificate. It was trade shown with one of Border's foreign acquisitions, All Quiet On The Eastern Front and finally opened at the Jacey Cinema in Piccadilly Circus in 1969, sandwiched between two foreign sex films Border was distributing.

The few reviews it garnered were favourable. It is now most famously remembered for being David Bowie's first screen appearance.

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Michael Armstrong, Unknown and Lawrence Douglas on the roof of Border Studios