Bruce Robinson, 1989
Of all the directors who have chosen to keep their output to a minimum there is nobody who’s criminally low number of films is more of a shame than Bruce Robinson. Aside from a few screenwriting credits he has so far managed to direct a mere three films since his debut, cult classic Withnail & I, in 1987. How to Get Ahead in Advertising sees Richard E Grant take the starring role again as Denis Dimbleby Bagley, an advertising executive faced with creating a campaign promoting a brand of pimple cream. As he battles with writers block he becomes so stressed he eventually suffers a total nervous breakdown, rejecting advertising and everything it stands for. He also grows a pimple of his own however, a pimple that grows in size until it starts to resemble a second head, complete with it’s own moustache and conflicting views on the advertising world.
Richard E Grants performance is every bit as good as his iconic turn as Withnail, playing Bagley with the same manic hysteria as his predecessor. Bagley himself doesn’t resemble Withnail in his character though, although both are in creative fields they are worlds apart with Bagley sharing far more in common with a character such as American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman- his obsession with social status and brand names, only expressing greed and disgust, and his questionable mental state. As with American Psycho it is never clear whether the events occurring on screen are truly real, whilst people hear Bagley’s boil speaking (reciting slogans from popular adverts) it is only when he glances in a mirror that the human face he believes is there seems to become present.
Withnail & I was Robinson’s lamentation on the end of ’the greatest decade in the history of mankind’, the 1960’s, a film that raised the question of where things could possibly progress from there. How to Get Ahead in Advertising appears to be Robinson answering his own question, conceived and filmed as the yuppie culture of the 1980’s was coming to a head it satirises an era that someone of Robinson’s bohemian background must consider to be the total antithesis of everything he grew to believe in.
This year Robinson will be making his first foray into film since 1992’s Jennifer 8 with his adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s only fiction novel The Rum Diary. It’s been said before that Withnail & I is more like a Hunter Thompson novel in it’s spirit than any official adaptation has managed so far, hopefully it’s production will run more smoothly than it did on Jennifer 8 (it’s troubled making-of responsible for Robinson‘s unofficial retirement), and we can look forward to Bruce Robinson returning to cinema and the prolific output his early works implied he would deliver.
words by pete bond.