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August 11, 2015

Episode 231: Under the Skin (2014)

Special Guest: Alexander Stuart
Guest Co-Host: Alexandra West

A beautiful woman (Scarlett Johansson) stalks the streets of Glasgow, Scotland looking for men in Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin. Named one of the best movies of 2014, we're joined by Alexandra West of the Faculty of Horror podcast to dig into this enigmatic film.

We talked with the film's original screenwriter, Alexander Stuart about his approach to the adaptation of Michel Faber's novel.

Buy Under the Skin on Blu-Ray
Buy the Under the Skin soundtrack by Mica Levi
Buy Under the Skin by Michel Faber
Visit the official Alexander Stuart website
Read the Horribly Hootched review
Read Becoming-Animal in Michel Faber's Under the Skin by Sarah Dillon
Read Rex Reed's write-up of Under the Skin
Be sure to visit the Faculty of Horror

"ET" - Nick Proch
"Lipstick to Void" - Mica Levi

Listen/Download Now:
Bonus Interview: More Alexander Stuart



  1. I love Projection Booth dearly, but why on earth did you spend so much time discussing Horribly Hootched's viewpoints on the film? Under The Skin is such a rich and intriguing movie, one that's artfulness and mysteries could be examined for hours and hours, so why waste precious podcast time repeatedly quoting and discussing a bunch of infantile internet idiots? I come to Projection Booth to hear smart people discuss movies.
    Anyways, keep up the good work....


    1. Thanks so much for the feedback. I wasn't sure how that would go over. I figured it gave us something to bounce off of that was completely opposite of how we'd approach the film and gave us a launching point. But I can see where it might have rubbed you wrong. It was a risky decision and ultimately might not have been successful.

    2. You guys are great always.. Even though I personally didn't like that "bro-review" as a framing device, I learned a lot of new things about "Under The Skin". As always you've done a remarkable job digging up people involved in the production. Overall The Projection Booth is one of the best places for movie enthusiasts to hang out and I sincerely thank you guys for creating so many hours of top-notch entertainment. :)

      I can't wait to hear you talk about The Rocketeer. I adore that film and I'm sad we never got to see a sequel with Cliff blazing across the WW2 sky, knocking out German fighter planes.


  2. Part of me agrees with Anonymous/Billy above, but another part of me is glad that you did it because it underscored the depressing amount of attention the film got as a vehicle for seeing a disrobed Johansson. Even people I presumed would have a more sophisticated approach have (to me, incomprehensibly) viewed Under the Skin as smut masquerading as an art film.

    More to the point, I'm in the early stages of putting together a master's thesis on UTS; thus I was thrilled to see one of your gloriously long-form podcasts dedicated to it. Thank you for covering the film. Related to the thesis, I have a question: It seemed as though you weren't just referencing write-ups *about* the various drafts of the screenplay, but had actually read them firsthand -- would you please let me know how you got a hold of them? It would be hugely important to my research.

    A couple of random thoughts:

    1. I was hoping for a mention of Hellraiser during the analysis -- my jaw dropped when it was brought up in the context of Faculty of Horror's most recent episode, as the connection is right there! In Hellraiser, Julia seduces men to a supernatural space to reconstitute Frank with their blood; in UTS, "Laura" seduces men to the black void/liquid space at least in part to (seemingly; it's not clear) constitute additional motorcycle men (there are three by the end of the film, and a black-skinned alien can be seen nearly fully formed in the void scene with the deformed man).

    2. I love and appreciate the comparison between the van and a traditional science-fiction spaceship, which hadn't occurred to me at all.

    3. Another connection with The Man Who Fell to Earth is Bruegel, whose Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is highlighted in that film (a bit on the nose), and whose paintings Glazer told the UTS crew to keep in mind during filming, which is unsurprising in light of the number of painterly extreme long shots in which the landscape dwarfs the characters.

    4. The warped reflections of streetlights and headlights on the motorcycle man's helmet when it is shown in close-up as he drives to pick up the paralyzed woman/alien bring to mind the lights on Bowman's helmet as he passes "beyond the infinite" in 2001.

    5. The horrifically backfiring attempt at finding solace away from society in the woods only to be violated has an antecedent in Bresson's Mouchette, and the concluding immolation brings to mind the martyrdom of St. Joan in Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc. Johansson is also shot on one or two occasions craning her head up in a high-angle close-up, calling to mind Passion's iconic shots of Falconetti doing the same. All of which is to say that the naif in the woods and martyr themes and allusions place Laura in a cinematic tradition of highly sympathetic, tragic female protagonists, which is instrumental in generating audience sympathy following the braining of the heroic Czech man, the horrifically ignored infant, et al.

    Thanks for humoring my ramblings. And again, any advice on the pursuit of screenplays would be HUGELY appreciated!

    Keep up the amazing work -- your thoroughness and efforts to conduct interviews truly elevate your podcast above the rest.

    Cleveland, OH

  3. Wow. Didn't know you guys cared so much about these Blogspot comments!

    I recall a review the polar opposite of Hooch's. The Flick Filosopher summarizes this film as "a misogynist fanboy wet dream." (http://www.flickfilosopher.com/2014/04/skin-review-sex-weapon.html) I'd be curious what you guys make of this particular interpretation. She made similar accusations against SPRING.

    As for my own POV: I have have nothing unique or interesting to say about this film. My reaction was mixed. *shrug*

  4. I was stoked when I heard you guys were giving Under the Skin the PB treatment and as always you didn't disappoint - thanks for the great work!

    We can all agree that the film presents the story in a radically different way to the novel. After seeing the film I wondered about the degree to which the way the script developed was a result of technical or budgetary considerations. For example, do we get a geezer on a bike because it's cheaper than a four legged alien?

    Anyhoo. the outcome was a fantastic film.

    I notice that the Hooch guys claim that they write their reviews while roaring drunk which kind of explains some of their nonsense I guess.

  5. This podcast was probably a satire on the expense of the guest commentators? I have listened to most of your podcasts, and based on them, I refuse to believe you wouldn't have known the type of a review Horribly Hooched was, and picked it just to get those ridiculous reactions. When you said you didn't "get" what the logger's "trouser log" was... That was when I was certain of it. Anyway, I hope this "humourless bores vs. rude frat boys" approach doesn't make a comeback.

    A local very respected reviewer summarized this film: "If you make a film that's uneventful and ugly enough, there will always be those who will analyse it to death". Indeed. I saw the film as another "alien learns the beauty and horror of human nature" story, this time given a treatment resembling an European art house film (often characterized by a bordering-on-ridiculously-slow pacing, poorer-than-the-budget-would-allow production values, and male nudity...). Whether that's a good or a bad thing depends on the viewer. Suffice to say that when a local university had a showing, over 3/4 walked out - and these were art students, not jocks.

    As for Scarlett Johansson's nudity... To get some of their money back, the distributors actually marketed this as a more-or-less mainstream sci-fi thriller, and totally focused on Scarlett Johansson's nudity, so maybe the false marketing is to blame? I wonder if the film had even received funding if not for the nudity? After all, if you replace the female lead in this film with someone who is not famous and/or attractive, do you really think a site like Horribly Hooched would review it?

    Enjoyed the other parts of the analysis, as always. I would include an "I didn't like this 'cause it showed that even deformed guys are luckier than me!" quip, but don't want to appear as a rude jock...

  6. As an honor graduate of a prestigious art school, having 3/4th walk out is hardly an indictment of the films quality.

    Film didn't work for you, alright, moving along.


  7. Thanks for a great episode, a really insightful discussion of one of the century's most challenging and original movies.As a British listener, I just want to pick up on the TV clip you found so terrible - this was one of our most beloved comedians Tommy Cooper, whose act was portraying an inept, perpetually flustered stage magician. Hearing your comments, I can understand why this choice of clip might seem obscure to an overseas audience, and because of this I think you may have missed a lovely subtlety in a film bursting with subtleties. This is Cooper's cherished "Spoon Jar Jar Spoon" routine - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-s8zb8h3Zo4 - and notice Johansson's slight bewildered expression when the spoon starts dancing, followed by the glance back at her new boyfriend for some cue about how to react. This is her first experience of such wonderful human things as laughter and magic, possibly the only moment of light relief in the whole film.

    Kind Regards, Lee Robert Adams

    1. Thanks for the heads up on the comedian. As someone with Scottish roots, mom and grandparents are from Aberdeen, I know some aspects of British culture, but I have to say I was unaware of Tommy Cooper. So, I guess I was a bit harsh. I thought it was used to show how "weird" we are in terms of our choice of entertainment.

      "That's funny," thought the alien.

      Thanks for listening.

      Rob St. Mary
      co-host of "The Projection Booth"

  8. Thanks for the episode, loved it.

    Any chance you could direct me where I could find the shooting script of the film? Searching for it since it came out and the only thing I could find as of yet are transcripts.