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Hodges, Mike (1932-)

Director, Writer, Producer

Main image of Hodges, Mike (1932-)

Mike Hodges' spasmodic career as a director illustrates many of the besetting problems of the British film industry. Born in Bristol on 29 July 1932, Hodges had a comfortable middle-class upbringing, qualifying as a chartered accountant. But two years National Service prompted a desire for a more creative occupation and he worked in television in the 1960s, producing and directing hard-hitting documentaries for World in Action (ITV, 1963-89), then making profiles of European directors for the arts series Tempo (ITV, 1961-67). This combination of gritty, combative realism and European modernism informs his most important work, the crime thrillers, a genre, which Hodges felt, could delve "deep into the underbelly of society. Done well they can be like an autopsy of society."

Hodges wrote and directed two television thrillers, Suspect (ITV, tx. 17/11/1969) and Rumour (ITV, 2/3/1970), before gaining the opportunity to direct his first feature, Get Carter (1971), for which he also wrote the screenplay. The story of London gangster Jack Carter's return to his native Newcastle to investigate his brother's sudden death, is told in a detached, analytical style, matched by Michael Caine's frightening yet compelling performance. The film evokes a society in the throes of profound change, capturing a mood of disillusionment that signalled the replacement of 1960s' idealism by the 'rampant materialism' of the '70s. Carter is an ambivalent figure, a seemingly emotionless killer who weeps at the exploitation of his brother's daughter, and whose death symbolises the end of an era. Get Carter has now acquired cult status, regarded as one of the finest, and most influential British crime thrillers, but at the time of its release it was considered soulless and too violent, and was poorly distributed.

Hodges' next film, Pulp (1972), was based on his original story of a sleazy pulp fiction writer (Michael Caine), caught up in a real life murder mystery. An intermittently successful comedy-thriller, Pulp was also poorly handled by its distributors who found it hard to market.

Although the film had little impact, Hodges' reputation was sufficiently well-established for Warner Brothers to invite him to direct The Terminal Man (US, 1974). Hodges' adaptation of Michael Crichton's sci-fi thriller, about a computer scientist (George Segal) who becomes psychotic after a brain implant, was too tough and uncompromising to be a commercial success.

Now judged a box-office risk, Hodges' career floundered with scripts unmade and a disagreement with 20th Century-Fox that caused him to withdraw from the direction of Damien: Omen II (US, d. Don Taylor, 1978) after three weeks. The decade ended on a higher note with Flash Gordon (US, 1980), a modern version of the 1920s cartoon character. Hodges found the production chaotic but managed to "let go", producing a lavish and enjoyable comic sci-fi romp.

The 1980s showed Hodges' versatility, but he suffered further problems with financing and distribution. Morons from Outer Space (1985) was another sci-fi spoof, written and starring Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones. Hodges embraced the idea of aliens being stupid and uncooperative as refreshingly 'anti-Spielbergian', but he was unable to prevent the film sinking beneath its lame script. A Prayer for the Dying (1987) was another grim thriller about the impossibility of an IRA hit-man (Mickey Rourke) renouncing violence. The film is difficult to judge as it suffered drastic re-editing and the substitution of what Hodges deemed to be crassly inappropriate music. Hodges disowned the film and had a public row with the producers.

He was given full control of Black Rainbow (US, 1989), which he wrote and directed, a hybrid psycho-supernatural thriller shot on location in North Carolina about a stage medium (Rosanna Arquette) who may indeed have terrifying powers of prophecy. Once again, despite excellent reviews, the impact of this perceptive film was undermined by severe distribution problems in both America and Britain.

This apparent failure meant that Hodges did not direct another feature film for nearly a decade, returning with Croupier (1998), a European co-production led by Channel 4, based on an original screenplay by Paul Mayersberg. An ironic, existentialist fable about greed and the corrupting power of money, Croupier draws on both film noir and European modernism. The archetypal anti-hero Jack Manfred, superbly realised by Clive Owen, is a struggling author-cum-croupier who gradually turns into his dark self, Jake, whose one desire is to "fuck the world over". It was Hodges' best film since Get Carter, the fluid camerawork and tautly economical direction creating a stylised world where the tawdry casino with its mirror walls becomes a modern limbo in which the gamblers play for their souls. Although Croupier also suffered from a very limited release in Britain, its substantial success in America led to its re-release in Britain in summer 2001 where it was received warmly by both critics and audiences.

Hodges has recently argued that films should have a soul, try to express often-difficult truths about the human condition and contribute to the formation of a meaningful national identity in the face of the onslaught of American money and culture. The vicissitudes of his career have exemplified that struggle, and he has remained true to that purpose. The success of Croupier and the status of Get Carter as a modern classic have led to a renewed interest in his work and to further projects: a recently completed documentary about the representation of serial killers, Murder by Numbers (2001) and another existentialist thriller starring Clive Owen, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, due for release in 2003. Both should enhance his reputation as one of the most significant voices in post-'60s British cinema.

Adams, Mark, Mike Hodges (Harpenden: Pocket Essentials, 2001)
Chibnall, Steve and Robert Murphy (eds), British Crime Cinema (London: Routledge, 1999)
Davies, Steven, 'Get Carter' and Beyond: The Cinema of Mike Hodges (London: B.T. Batsford, 2002)
Hodges, Mike, 'Introduction: Can a film have a soul?' Contemporary British and Irish Film Directors (London: Wallflower Press, 2001)
Spicer, Andrew, Film Noir (Harlow: Longman, 2002)

Andrew Spicer, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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