Way Out West

Slow West writer-director (and Beta Band member) John Maclean on the ’80s titles, music documentaries and soundtracks that formed him.

I actually collect movie soundtracks. I’ve got about two thousand on vinyl, all film soundtracks” —⁠John Maclean

Before Slow West, first time feature film director John Maclean had another life as the DJ/programmer in Scottish electro-indie outfit The Beta Band. That name sound familiar? You might recall the essential scene from High Fidelity in which John Cusack’s character, all indie swagger, puts on the song Dry The Rain by the Scottish newcomers, declaring: “I will now sell five copies of The Three EPs by The Beta Band.”

John—a graduate of Edinburgh Art School and The Royal College of Art in London—made many of his band’s music videos. He also directed two short films (Man on a Motorcycle, Pitch Black Heist) both starring Michael Fassbender, who joined him for Slow West as Silas, an elusive drifter.

When we asked John to reveal the films that formed him, he opened up about bullies, breasts and his massive vinyl collection of movie soundtracks.

What’s the first film you remember watching?
John Maclean: My first film going to the cinema? Well, my dad used to take me. I remember seeing a few ’70s and ’80s Westerns. Some really dodgy stagecoach caper with Kirk Douglas. Before that I suppose I was watching films on TV, like Tarzan and The Rocket Man. I remember loving the original The Amazing Spider-Man film. But the first big film was The Empire Strikes Back and there was no going back after that!

Didn’t you see Star Wars first?
I was too young for when it came out but then I saw it with Empire Strikes Back. I suppose they were showing it in repeats with Empire Strikes Back.

What’s the first film you paid to see yourself?
I think it might have been The Karate Kid or The Goonies.

You’re a musician as well as a director. What’s your favourite music documentary?
I’m not really that into music films. I’ve got a real problem with biog films, you know, actors playing musicians. I kind of generally find them a bit of a dud genre. So instead I will say Performance, the film with Mick Jagger in it.

Well then, do you have a favourite film soundtrack?
There’s so many. Too many! I actually collect movie soundtracks. I’ve got about two thousand on vinyl, all film soundtracks. I could maybe do a Top 50. My favourite Ennio Morricone soundtrack is the one for Theorem, the Pasolini film.

First film that gave you teenage feelings?
The Karate Kid. Ha! I wanted to beat up the bullies. Do you mean those teenage feelings or… the other sort?

We were thinking more the other sort. Come on, you’re a Scot. Surely it would be Gregory’s Girl?
Yeah, actually, Gregory’s Girl. It was such a huge film that, you know, everyone in my school used to walk around going “Bella Bella” and pulling your jumper into breast shapes. That’s just what we all did. And obviously Scotland’s a very football-loving country so it wins in both ways.

What about a film that stirred political feelings?
In a strange way I grew up loving films that were anti-military but entertaining, so I would say RoboCop and Die Hard are films that shone a light on the military in a negative way. Both those films did that, but somehow managed to be gung-ho at the same time. They stirred up a feeling of the ridiculousness of violence and machines and police forces and guns.

Femme fatale?
I would have to mebbe say Sharon Stone in Casino. She’s always quite the femme fatale. There’s so many again that it’s hard to specify just one. But, Sharon Stone, yeah.


Our thanks to John for his time and insights. We’d love to hear your suggestions about which directors, writers, actors and other significant crew members we should approach next about their lives in film. Email or tweet us your ideas.

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