“As I sit in isolation working on Told by an Idiot’s next show Delirium, based on the French novel that Hitchcock famously filmed as ‘Vertigo’, my thoughts once again turn to the world of cinema, and its impact on the work of Told by an Idiot.

Film has always been a seminal influence on our work, we are fascinated by movies but we’ve never sought to imitate them. Over the past twenty seven years we have created performances that explore the ways in which film uses visual storytelling, rhythm, music, editing, and ambiguity. We will be sharing a film a week that has left its mark on Told by an Idiot, with a short introduction from me, and which we think is worth having a look at during these days of quarantine.”

Paul Hunter, Artistic Director, Told by an Idiot


WEEK 1. TO BE OR NOT TO BE  (1942) 

Director Ernst Lubitsch, performers Jack Benny, Carol Lombard

This for me is the greatest film comedy ever, and remains as audacious, provocative, and funny as it was seventy eight years ago. Here are two quotes from the playwright Peter Barnes on the film:

‘To see Lombard and Benny together is like watching two great professional tennis players at the top of their game, with the ball swerving, dipping, spinning and slicing over the net, without either one of them ever losing their exquisite stroke or timing’

‘Great comedy isn’t there to help to make the serious stuff easy to swallow. Comedy is the serious stuff. A work isn’t great despite the comedy. It’s great because of the comedy’



Director Terence Davies, performers Pete Postlethwaite, Freda Dowie

I think this is one of the finest British films ever made and is a rare example of a movie that deals with the working class experience through a highly poetic lens.Once about fifteen years ago when we were considering doing a site specific version of the film at different locations in Liverpool, I was lucky enough to have dinner with Terence. It was an engaging and provocative evening, and his film knowledge was extraordinary. He was bemoaning the fact that he was struggling to get any of his films made, luckily in recent years this amazing and unique film maker has been able to realise more of his projects, and he remains for my money one of our greatest directors.

‘Where does memory end, and imagination begin?’  Terence Davies 

Watch on BFI Player subscription (free 30 day trial currently available) 


WEEK 3. FUNNY GAMES (1997 German Language Version)

Director Michael Haneke, performers Ulrich Mühe, Arno Frisch, Susanne Lothar

I have to start by saying this is a really hard watch. When I first saw it alone in a cinema in Newcastle in 1998 I found it so tense that I almost had to leave the auditorium. It is the stuff that Haneke doesn’t show, the violence that we don’t see that makes it all the more unsettling. It was a big influence for us when we were making our piece about extreme acts of violence and the lengths people will go to for their beliefs And The Horse You Rode In On (2011 co production with Theatre Royal Plymouth and the Barbican).

As Peter Brunette in his book Michael Haneke says:
‘Haneke is right when he maintains that, by refusing to allow us an easy identification with the perpetrator of the violence, he is not following the visual logic of most Hollywood films that feature good guy protagonists who use violence non stop.'
Haneke himself on Funny Games:
‘The film must be unsettling. It’s the only film I made to provoke. People have often criticised me for making films just to provoke. That was never the case. But in this film, yes. It made me happy to give an awakening kind of slap: Look at what you normally watch!’

Available to rent on Amazon Prime



Director Michael Curtiz, performers James Cagney, Pat O Brien 

This a stone cold classic, and along with other Cagney movies played a big part in the creation of our show A Little Fantasy 2002/2003. The film tells the story of two childhood friends, one of whom becomes a Priest and the other who descends into a life of crime. Rocky Sullivan (Cagney) a charismatic gangster whose underworld rise makes him a hero to a gang of slum punks, comes into conflict with his old childhood pal Father Connolly (O Brien), who vows to end Sullivan’s influence. Cagney is sublime, you can’t take your eyes off him with his catch phrase‘What do you hear, what do you say?', later referenced in The Sopranos. The film also contains one of the greatest ambiguous endings, and the energy of Cagney’s performance in particular really stands the test of time. 

In Told by an Idiot’s show A Little Fantasy, we wanted to find our equivalent of the dance marathons of the 1930s and settled on a Jimmy Cagney lookalike competition. Characters in the show competed to see who could be the best Cagney, in a sense it was our homage to a genuine screen icon. 

Currently unavailable to watch online (DVD available).



Director Céline Sciamma, performers Noémie Merlant, Adèle Haenel 

This is the best film I have seen so far this year. I was drawn to see it because it is a story of desire, and I am at the moment writing a script with the poet laureate Simon Armitage based on the French novel D’entre les morts, which Hitchcock famously filmed as Vertigo. In his review in the Observer Mark Kermode mentioned the influence of Vertigo on Sciamma’s movie and I was even more intrigued to see it. It is a very beautiful, moving and original film and it is worth sharing the beginning of Isabel Stevens piece for Sight and Sound: 

‘Céline Sciamma’s fourth feature ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’, a sensual, slow burning tale of desire set in pre-Revolutionary France, torches a number of storytelling conventions: the painter who falls for his muse, the heritage romance obsessed with who the ladies will marry, the lesbian love story that ends in tragedy...but Sciamma’s most radical stroke is to remove men from the picture. They appear at the start, dropping the painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) off on a windswept Breton beach near the isolated home of unhappily betrothed noblewoman Heloise (Adèle Haenal), and they reappear at the end, as the film and its characters rejoin wider society. In between, there’s a gasp of utopia’ 

I leave the last word to Sciamma herself: 

‘I wanted to film desire and then the burst of love, and have the audience go through the same stages as the characters.’ 

Available to watch free on Amazon Prime 



Director Nicolas Roeg, performers Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland 

Nicolas Roeg is one of the great directors, and for me this is his masterpiece. When I first saw it I could have been no more than eleven or twelve. As a boy growing up in B’ham in the 1970s I was lucky becauseBBC 2 would regularly show amazing British and International films on a Saturday and Sunday evening. I was also lucky in that my parents through a kindly neglect would let me stay up and watch movies that in many ways were entirely unsuitable for me, but I devoured them. I remember from that first viewing, the thing that terrified me most were the two old English sisters who Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland encounter in Venice. Particularly the one who is blind but has second sight, for some reason I found her very disturbing. 

Based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier Don’t Look Now is a deeply affecting and unsettling combination of the supernatural and the psychology of grief, and repays repeated viewings. 

It is a movie I often refer to in our annual Role of the Director in the Devising Process workshop, when we are exploring the idea of adapting work from a different medium. Roeg makes several key changes from the source material, and the film does what all good adaptation does, it captures the spirit of the original whilst being something entirely unique. Roeg summed up his approach to the film thus: 

‘I was making up ideas for the story in my own head, but I didn’t betray her story at all.’ 

Available to rent on Amazon Prime 


Director Maria Luisa Bemberg, performers Marcello Mastroianni, Luisina Brando 

Set in an Argentine village in the 1940s it tells the story of a Grand Dame, Leonor who lives alone with her daughter Carlotta. She tries to balance her search for a husband whilst retaining her status in the tiny town. Ludovico, a handsome bachelor begins to call, and a contemporary version of Rapunzel begins to emerge.  

Inspired by this film we created Shoot Me In The Heart (2000/2001- co production with the Gate Theatre, UK tour, Mexico, and France). It was our first show with a larger cast, eight, and the first Idiot show that didn’t feature Hayley or myself in it, we co directed. We were fascinated by different ways the narrative could work on stage and were influenced by the structure of a completely different movie Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. In this film Scorsese opens with a plot point that is revealed later to change all the main characters lives. So we decided to start our story with a key turning point, but present it with a sense of mystery, then we would flash back and tell the story chronologically until we reach the turning point for a second time, on this occasion  revealing the event for what it was, and then continue the story to its conclusion. As a restriction we didn’t let the actors see the film until after we had made our show and the tour was over.  

The film is funny and surprising, and has a wonderful sense of melancholy as it explores the themes of time and memory. 

Spanish version (no subtitles)  



Director Emir Kusturica, performers Davor Dujmović, Ljubica Adžović 

Time of the Gypsies is a coming of age fantasy crime drama. It tells the story of Perhan, a young Romani man with magical powers who is tricked into a life of petty crime. 

His passage from childhood to adulthood starts in a little village in Yugoslavia and ends in the criminal underworld of Milan. It is a savage, poetic film laced with a rich vein of magic realism. The performances are extraordinary, Goran Bregović’s music is astonishing, and for my money this is Kusturica’s best movie. 

When Hayley, John, and I saw this in 1993 at the Riverside Studios in London we were fresh from making our first show On The Verge of Exploding and we were looking for something very different as our next starting point, Kusturica’s vision blew us away. We realised that it would be utterly reductive and pointless to try and put this movie on stage, so we each went away and gave ourselves the challenge of writing a short story inspired by Time of the Gypsies. We settled on one of these tales and began making what would become our second show I’m So Big (1995- BAC, UK tour, Luleå Festival Sweden). Kusturica’s influence was clear for us in the finished piece, and we returned to him years later when we made Comedy of Errors with the RSC (2010-2011- Stratford, London, New York) this time drawing on the music and design elements of his movie Black Cat White Cat (1988). 

Available to rent on Youtube



Director Alejandro Jodorowsky, performers Axel Jodorowsky, Blanca Guerra

When I first encountered this film on its general release in 1989 at the Everyman Cinema in Notting Hill, it was literally like nothing I had ever seen. It was an extraordinary blend of horror and melodrama, and my friend Steve and I left staggering out into the West London sunshine. Santa Sangre tells the story of young Fenix, the son of circus performers in Mexico. He witnesses many primal scenes which result in him being confined to an asylum. When he finally escapes, Fenix’s nightmares are ready to become awful reality.

Jodowrosky’s superbly bizarre imagination has been a big influence on our work, particularly in our dark surreal comedy Heads Will Roll (2016. Co-production Theatre Royal Plymouth).

Jodorowsky is a true one off, controversial, unpredictable, but never boring.

Available to watch on Amazon Prime



Director Spike Lee, Performers Danny Aiello, Rosie Perez, Spike Lee

The final film in our ten movies that have influenced the Idiots is this powerful, funny portrait of urban racial tension, played out on the hottest day of the year in Brooklyn. I  saw it with a great crowd at Hollow way Road Odeon when it first came out, and again last year at the BFI on its thirty year anniversary. It has really stood the test of time, and remains sadly relevant. It was also in my opinion robbed of the Palme D’Or at the Cannes film festival by Stephen Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Video Tape
Spike Lee has never been afraid to play with tone, as he says about his new feature Da 5 Bloods:
‘I’ve always been a proponent of mixing stuff up. Why should things be only one way?...We have a lot of different elements working on this film, because we wanted it to be entertaining and always gotta have laughs in there.’
Do The Right Thing definitely subscribes to this view, and remains Spike Lees most perfectly formed film. This bold approach to form and tone, and his  use of music has been a big influence on our work, and even the tag line to the movie:
‘It’s the hottest day of the summer
You can do nothing,
You can do something,
Or you can...
Do The Right Thing’
Inspired us to try and encapsulate  our shows in a punchy, pithy epigraph.
A fitting finale to Idiot movies in Isolation.