I'm drawn to abandoned places - castle ruins, disused tunnels, derelict buildings. Spaces where my imagination can roam free. Around fifteen years ago I got the chance to access the iconic ‘Get Carter car park’ in Gateshead, famous for featuring prominently in the classic Michael Caine gangster film and infamous for its white elephant reputation locally. It's a unique example of the ‘brutalist’ style of architecture briefly in vogue in the late 60s/early 70s, and this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of its opening, not that you can expect much in the way of celebrations.
The story goes that the top level, a glass enclosure, was intended to be a rooftop restaurant which never opened as they couldn’t install the necessary plumbing to supply it. So it remained dormant for decades and left to rot, the subject of periodic articles in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle running the same old story about a proposed demolition favoured by local residents, with a counter argument for preservation made by representatives of the Get Carter appreciation society.
However, my own interest in it was only tangentially due to Get Carter, a film I do admire (my second favourite British gangster movie) and appreciate as a relic of a bygone Newcastle (my hometown), as in fact it was a location I'd earmarked for the opening scene of a feature film that I'd written (my first). Fallen Angel, a Hitchcockian psychological thriller loosely inspired by the myths of Orpheus and Oedipus, was essentially a fusion of The Conversation (1974) and Body Double (1984). It was also very much a project of its time, the late 90s, concerned with probing the dark recesses of urban white male identity. The car park wasn't hugely pivotal to the plot, it's significance was as a symbol of the protagonist's state of mind, an Apollonian prison.
On a glorious sunny day around the turn of the millennium, armed with a cheap disposable camera and accompanied by a Gateshead council worker who clearly did not want to be there (philistine), I entered the space I had for so long fantasised about. I took a ton of photos - shot on film before it was fashionable - a handful of which I've included here. It turns out my timing was fortuitous, not just because of the unusually fine weather but because the council soon began charging entry, no doubt due to the volume of requests from Get Carter fans and wannabe filmmakers.
Sadly, for cinephiles if not for locals, the car park was eventually demolished in 2010. Perhaps art is the only true means of preservation. Life goes on but film will outlive us all. Although I never did shoot Fallen Angel as by the time I was technically qualified to I no longer really wanted to. I've moved on and so has the world. It would be supremely tedious to write/shoot a film about surveillance in the age of Google and smartphones, while there’s no longer an appetite for films about the sadism of the male gaze. The internet has changed how we interact, psychologically and technologically, breaking down the old barriers, while erecting new ones yet to be fully explored.