This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
There's a scene in Guy Myhill's new film The Goob where the camera pans across the tapped-out old cars hurtling around a battered stock car racing track. It seems like a pretty apt metaphor for the lives of those in the film, who are stuck in the bleak, rural poverty trap of a long, hot summer on the pumpkin fields of Fenland, Norfolk. The cars look like they could drive around that track forever, with nowhere to go. It's almost breathtakingly claustrophobic.
However, somewhere out of this frustrating bleakness springs a beauty that makes Guy Myhill's directorial debut particularly special. Although it's been predictably boxed-in as a "coming-of-age" and "socio-realist" film—which, in many ways, it is—it also feels like a love letter to the Norfolk landscape: a region of massive low skies and flat land that rolls on forever.
Liam Walpole, who plays the 16-year-old protagonist, is a character that embodies the beauty and boredom of the area in the sense that he's both silently graceful and full of teenage goof, spending his days driving mopeds and getting drunk on cheap vodka around the lanes, spying on girls getting undressed, and trying to maintain an increasingly strained relationship with his mother's boyfriend.
We rang up Myhill, the director of TheGoob, to have a chat about authenticity in film, how he found Liam Walpole, and why Norfolk is buried in secrets.
VICE: Firstly, not to discredit Norfolk, but you made it look exceptionally beautiful in your film—almost otherworldly.
Guy Myhill: The Fens are a part of Norfolk you rarely see on film. I can understand why people think it's a desolate place but I think it's an extraordinary landscape. Even though it's very open, it's always felt like a land full of buried secrets. The Goob is a part of a Norfolk trilogy exploring these ideas.
I've heard that there are loads of smuggler's tunnels running underneath. You didn't grow up there yourself though, did you? How did your personal experience differ from that of your protagonist?
As a kid, we all had the mopeds and I wanted to put that in. I didn't grow up around a stock car track but I made a documentary about it for Channel 4 a few years ago on that specific track in the film, and I knew then that I just love that kind of world. I love the sound of it, the color; there's a dilapidated feel to the stadium that I like.
I'd never heard of stock car racing before watching this film. What's it all about?
It's pretty brutal. You drive around with these old cars and you take out your competitors by hitting each other. It's a cult thing in Norfolk and similarly rural areas because people need cars to get about, so they're always tinkering with these old bangers. It's quite lawless and isolated around there. When these cars get to the end of their lives they smash them to bits. I would never do it—I've seen too many accidents. Even little things like crushed feet.
The Goob has drawn comparisons to other films of the British socio-realism genre, as well as Harmony Korine's Gummo. Do you see this yourself, and was this intentional?
I love film but I don't think there are specific films that have influenced me directly. I've always enjoyed watching American films from the 1970s like The Last Picture Show and Two-Lane Blacktop, so they would have sat in my psyche somewhere. There is some great stuff being made in this country too, but I can't pinpoint my influences. It just sits in there and comes out.
How did you cast Liam Walpole, who plays Goob?
He was on the dole in Dearham and he'd woken up late and literally stumbled into one of the casting team that was going out and photographing young people. They were photographing maybe 100 people per day and he wasn't down as one of the favorites, but when I saw his picture, I just knew.
I noticed he had this part Bowie, part Spock from Star Trek look and he had this yellow T-shirt with a blue trim and I just thought, "Oh fucking brilliant. Let's just hope he can act." Turns out he could. He's got these wonderful gangly movements that reinforce that sense of not belonging. He certainly doesn't fit into that macho world that Gene Womack inhabits.
I feel like Sean Harris' character, Gene, is particularly nasty…
Yeah, he is. There are men like that about—both Sean and I have encountered them. And I think he is bad, but he could be a lot worse. For example, there's a scene where he strips a kid down of all his clothes in a field for the humiliation of it, but actually he could tear him to bits if he wanted to. He's got the hand brake on throughout the film. We use that as a tension device but also I think that, although he is a royal bastard, that's all he is. His cards have been dealt and he's stuck in that world and probably won't get away. That fact can really bring out the worst in a person.
Would you say that Gene Womack was jealous of the main character, Goob? Because he has no chance of getting out and Goob does?
Absolutely. There's a scene where Goob is sitting down in a café having a cup of tea and Gene's in the front and there are cars hurtling by and at that point he knows that Goob is going to have a different kind of life—somewhere in him, he intuitively knows that. He is fundamentally jealous because Goob isn't the sort of man he is.
There's a strong element of realism throughout the film. Was there much improvisation involved during filming?
Not really, but I did want that authenticity of the Norfolk dialect so everybody in the film is from that world—they are people who have a connection with Norfolk and understand that landscape. If you get actors that don't come from Norfolk, they can't pull that accent off. It's an odd accent, which is really tough. I didn't want it to be a pastiche, or a parody.
Were there any issues that you specifically wanted to raise with your film?
I don't really think like that, but I think it's important that the film's about something. I think Goob knows that his mum's love for Womack is greater than her love for him. That's a universal story with stepfathers and families—the kids often suffer. If a single parent has been on their own for a bit and is yearning for a new partner, they'll often neglect their kids. As we've been doing the film festival circuit, people have really responded to that. It's amazing how experiences chime with people across the world.
The Goob is in UK cinemas now.
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