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Low Culture Essay: Audrey Golden On 'Lost' FAC Film The Mad Fuckers
Audrey Golden , May 18th, 2023 11:13

In this month's Low Culture Essay, author Audrey Golden explores Factory Records film The Mad Fuckers, which could have been the UK's answer to Pretty In Pink but ended up as one of the label's great ideas that never was – though it did inadvertently give the world Madchester

Ever wondered where the term “MADCHESTER” came from? Would you believe me if I told you it arose out of a lost Factory Records film that nearly featured a Durutti Column-heavy soundtrack with Gabriel Byrne in the starring role? Well, it’s true. The piece of Factory celluloid arcana in question is The Mad Fuckers. Most sources say Tony Wilson coined the (in)famous city branding, but it actually started as a glorious cinematic mistake. Described as a “youth exploitation” film, The Mad Fuckers is one of the mythical Factory Records ideas that never really happened, like Linder Sterling’s Menstrual Egg-Timer (FAC 8) or Liz Naylor’s screenplay Too Young to Know, Too Wild to Care (FAC 20). It should be one of the legendary stories of the label, yet The Mad Fuckers remains a mystery to many, including the most ardent Factory aficionados.

While conducting interviews for my new book, I Thought I Heard You Speak: Women At Factory Records, I discovered that many people in the Factory universe remembered The Mad Fuckers even though the screenplay rarely gets mentioned in the label’s lore. I just had to do a deep dive, and I began to wonder: Could revisiting The Mad Fuckers offer a new lens into Factory Records on film, transatlantic histories of car-chase movies, and cinema censorship? Might excavated details about The Mad Fuckers reveal a fresh story of the movie soundtrack, especially when it comes to teen 80s movies that introduced audiences to New Order, Happy Mondays, Talking Heads, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, the Psychedelic Furs, the Smiths, Echo & the Bunnymen, and more?

“We got told by one of the legal representatives that we couldn’t call the city we were basing it in ‘Manchester,’” Keith Jobling of the Bailey Brothers remembers of The Mad Fuckers screenplay writing process. The advice from Factory’s lawyers was that they’d open themselves up to potential legal liability with a Manchester setting, with various characters based on real-life figures around the city. “We spent quite a lot of time smashed off our face writing around the clock because we were also working proper jobs while doing it,” Jobling says, and “we came up with the concept of ‘Madchester’… but it started as a typo! The more we started saying it, the more it felt right for what we were in the middle of. We went to Wilson and said, ‘we’ve got this idea, Madchester, but we don’t want anyone to know about it. We want to keep it a secret.’ Two weeks later, it’s on the front of Newsweek,” he laughs. “That’s about how bad Wilson was at keeping a secret!”

The story of Factory and filmmaking has always been part of the label’s legacy, but certainly a lesser-known chronicle. Early on, IKON was established for visually recording and producing live performances from the Haçienda and making music videos for Factory bands. IKON started with Malcolm Whitehead, as well as Linda Dutton, who was second camera and a key film-maker. Tracey Donnelly and Penny Henry vividly recall how IKON had one of the “offices” at Factory’s Palatine Road address, which were actually bedrooms since the label’s headquarters was located in Alan Erasmus’s flat there until 1990. Filmmaking team the Bailey Brothers (Keith Jobling and Phil Shotton) might not have occupied one of the office bedrooms on Palatine Road, but they were certainly part of the Factory “family.” Ann Quigley of the band Kalima remembers, “The Bailey Brothers were going to be Factory’s film producers… Phil and Keith were then on board the Factory family, and that’s how it tended to work.”

The Bailey Brothers directed the Happy Mondays music video ‘Wrote For Luck’, ‘Trickery’ for Kalima, and perhaps most famously, ‘World In Motion’ for New Order in 1990. They were headquartered at 42 to 44 Sackville Street, the same building that housed other key Factory players including Central Station Design, Trevor Johnson/Panas, and Baylis & Knight fashion designers (who also happened to do the labels for the ‘World In Motion’ clothing merchandise). According to Alison Knight of Baylis & Knight, “[i]t was a very exciting and creative building to be working from.” Jobling also recalls Elton John’s tour photographer having a space in the building, along with all the others. “A building of lunatics!” he laughs.

Around 1987, the Bailey Brothers got to work on a screenplay for The Mad Fuckers, christened with FAC number 181. The script opens with three characters: Mandy, Roppa, and Max. They’re joyriding in a stolen car – a “flame red Mercedes 250 SL hard top” – that belongs to the local gangster Charlie Kane. Immediately, Roppa seems like the antihero of the screenplay, described as “an archetypal teenage rebel” who has “the looks and style to carry it off – with a vengeance.” To top that off, he’s got an eye patch. But he’s not the only antihero in the movie. There’s also Max, who we soon meet wearing a “Pellegrini baseball jacket, petrol blue overalls.” There’s more to Max, too: “Dreadlocks frame his finely chiselled milk-brown features. So what can he do, he’s a born heartbreaker.” Mandy’s pregnant. She’s with Roppa at the start of the movie, but we learn later that she’d been with Max, too – a classic love triangle, a Jules et Jim of sorts set in the fictional Madchester. Meanwhile, there are some basic plot points at work in the background: gangsters are afoot in Madchester clashing over money and territory, a lot of dope has been stolen, the police are putzing around looking for evidence, and a nightclub owner gets shot dead. There’s also a cop character named Shaun Ryman about, bearing a striking resemblance in name to a certain Happy Monday. As time jumps forward, Max picks up Roppa from prison, Mandy’s now with Charlie (who’s wrapped up in some police trouble), and it’s time for Roppa and Max to steal another of Charlie’s cars. Car-chase scenes abound with Roppa and Max at the helm. First, they’ve got to steal Charlie's Jaguar, and a chase ensues. They pick up a couple of teenage kids along the way, a “ragamuffin gang” presided over by a tomboy named Mikey J. Turns out, the members of that gang are the namesake of the film. Mikey J. hands out business cards marked “T.M.F.” and tags cars with “T.M.F.” graffiti. Before too long, Roppa and Max become “honorary members of The Mad Fuckers. Just for tonight,” Mikey J. tells them, just before another chase scene. They speed to Blackpool and ultimately crash through the glass windows of the local Madchester nightclub following an intense, gun-filled police chase. They manage a final escape – Mandy leaves Charlie for Roppa and Max – and the three flee toward the horizon together in a minicab.

TMF screenplay sample page, thanks to the Bailey Brothers

The Bailey Brothers were “steeped in car-chase movies” at the time, imagining their own version of something like Vanishing Point or The Driver, Jobling says, “all these amazing car-chase movies out of the States.” If only there’d been more money. Sanford “Sandy” Lieberson, famed Hollywood producer known for Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s Performance, was onboard. Jobling described car-chase plans for The Mad Fuckers to Lieberson, who would “sort of rub his chin and go, ‘that’s fucking mad, man! Yeah, yeah!’” Planning a car-chase movie for British cinema was “so against the grain,” Jobling explains. “If we’d wanted to do a horse-carriage race, people would’ve thought, ‘yeah, that’s brilliant, we’re good at that, and that we can do. But a British car-chase film? That was too mad,” he says.

Factory spread their net wide when it came to casting. The central “mad fucker,” as it were, could have been any number of actors. “Wilson wanted Albert Finney,” Jobling remembers, and the esteemed actor wrote a kind note declining the invitation. Meanwhile, others attached to the project wanted Gary Oldman. The Bailey Brothers suggested Pierce Brosnan, then known for his leading role in the television show Remington Steele. They thought Brosnan exhibited a certain “James Bond” quality, but the studios weren’t convinced (go ahead, laugh out loud at that fumble!). Everyone seemed to settle on Gabriel Byrne, who’d of course go onto great acclaim in The Usual Suspects. Jobling and Shotton were informed that Byrne as the leading man could only get them up to maybe £1.5 million in support, whereas Oldman might incentivize up to £2 million. “Gary Oldman is fantastic,” Jobling emphasises, but “we knew he’s not going to be the next James Bond!” The Bailey Brothers even met with the stunt director on the Bond franchise, hoping to get him attached to their script.

While in development, the film made quite an impression – in no small part due to its title. Chris Mathan, who was a partner at Peter Saville Associates (PSA) in the mid-1980s and worked on Factory designs, remembers Wilson asking her to work on the ad for the movie. “It was already called The Mad Fuckers and I thought, well, then let’s just make ‘Fuckers’ really big. That’s all, and Tony loved it. The word really has no shock value any more, but in print – in a sophisticated-type treatment – the context changed entirely.” That 1987 print advertisement read in full:

“We thought that we could tell you about New Order – Substance, the double LP 12” singles compilation for world release in August. We could tell you about the Haçienda’s fifth birthday party. We could tell you about the property plans of Factory Australasia, Vini Reilly’s new project, Happy Mondays’ gigs, Young Popular and Sexy, Diggle’s latest painting, The Railway Children deal, the TV show of the Tenth Summer concert, or the beautiful Cath Carroll. But we decided we’d tell you about The Mad Fuckers... the new film by the Bailey Brothers for Factory Communications Limited, Manchester, England for release in Spring 1989.”

Is it really okay to say ‘fuckers’ so much? Did that word possess shock value then, and does it now, still? “We were calling the project TMF because people were offended by the title,” Jobling recalls. Tina Simmons (who proudly told me she still has her copy of the screenplay), remembers how the title The Mad Fuckers “had to be changed because the censors didn’t like the name of it.” Yet there’s no clear guidance from the BBFC or MPAA when there’s a “fuck” or “fucker” so visually salient in a movie title. Could the Bailey Brothers’ project have screened with that title in 1989? Could it now? It might need to go further in the production process for us to get a clear answer in the UK or US. At a minimum, Jobling remembers that Granada Studios – Tony Wilson’s home away from home ¬– was “too straitlaced” to host a title like The Mad Fuckers. In all likelihood, The Mad Fuckers wouldn’t have been entirely censored on either side of the Atlantic but might have been accessible only to cinema and Factory lovers of a certain age.

For a while, the project even had enough momentum to inspire spin-offs. The Bailey Brothers even envisioned a manga comic to accompany it. They couldn’t find anyone around who was “manga-oriented,” Jobling says, but the late, great Andy Roper was in. He created some early, never-before-seen pages for The Mad Fuckersin his classic Judge Dredd style. The comic panels weren’t quite what the Bailey Brothers were expecting. It turns out Roper was sent a script without having a sit-down with the film-makers, and the comic pages emerged from Roper’s imagination alone. “When we got these bits back from him, we were just like, ‘is he mad? What was he thinking?” Jobling laughs. “We did like it in spirit, but Judge Dredd was just not how we envisaged it!”

Comic sample page by Andy Roper courtesy Keith Jobling

It’s hard to discuss a “youth exploitation” film from the ‘80s – and one from Factory, no less – without mentioning the music. The Mad Fuckers soundtrack could be one of the great musical what-ifs of its time, propelling the sounds of Factory even farther and wider to eager ears. As a quick refresher, in 1986 the Pretty In Pink soundtrack had made its way to listeners on both sides of the Atlantic, introducing many to New Order’s ‘Shell-shock’, Echo & The Bunnymen’s ‘Bring On The Dancing Horses’, The Smiths’ ‘Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want’, OMD’s ‘If You Leave’, and the Psychedelic Furs’ ‘Pretty In Pink’. Grabbing similar record-buyers, soundtracks helmed by directors like John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Weird Science), Martha Coolidge (Valley Girl), Joe Schumacher (The Lost Boys), and Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High) popularised songs by The Go-Go’s, INXS, Sparks, The Plimsouls, Modern English, Toni Basil, Wang Chung, and Simple Minds.

Any soundtrack to The Mad Fuckers would have been dominated by The Durutti Column, according to Jobling. He adds that New Order and the Happy Mondays would have featured, describing Shaun Ryder’s eagerness to chat about French new wave film. But Wilson also “had a small universe of amazing people” who likely would have contributed, Jobling intimates, citing Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Talking Heads. Just imagine that soundtrack, picking up that 12” vinyl with an abstractly rendered still from the film adorning the cover, perhaps painted by Jackie Williams (who did some gorgeous and experiential Durutti Column watercolour sleeves) or designed by Mathan for PSA.

That soundtrack will have to remain in the realms of fantasy, or guesswork (see my hypothetical compilation below). You can probably guess how the story ends: Factory didn’t actually have the money to get it done (stop me if you’ve heard this one before). Wilson did take a trip to Hollywood in 1989 to see if he could spark interest with producers with deeper pockets, and he brought the Bailey Brothers along for the ride. “Wilson had us doing meetings in LA,” says Jobling, “and they’d say, ‘yeah, sounds great, let us know when it’s out and we’ll come see it!’ It was all very off the hook.” Factory made a badge to commemorate that trip (FAC 221), and it was sold at the Of Factory office in New York City that year.

The film might be one of the great “Factory fuckups,” as I write in my book I Thought I Heard You Speak, one of the many projects that could have been something fantastic but never came to be. Like Liz Naylor says of her Factory screenplay from several years prior, “I don’t even have a copy of it – in a way, it might as well not exist, which is probably the most perfect Factory story... it was just an idea that didn’t happen.” Yet for the Bailey Brothers, for a while there had been genuine hope that The Mad Fuckers was about to go into pre-production. However, Jobling reckons that had it been green-lit, this would have been one of the most expensive films ever made in the UK. In 2023, The Mad Fuckers exists only in the form of an elusive screenplay (complete with directorial instructions throughout), that FAC 221 badge, and muddled and memorable recollections of all the work that went into it.

Much like the Haçienda in the present, The Mad Fuckers is now largely a figment of memory, but of less outlandish proportion. And, as it turns out, maybe the script made a bigger splash than anyone knew at the time. Long before Brian Cox’s character Logan Roy on Succession became famous for uttering the phrase, “Fuck Off!,” the Bailey Brothers’ script read, from the voice of the character Roppa, “FFFfffffffffuuuuuccccckkKK OFF.”

So here’s an idea, in the true spirit of Factory big-thinking: let’s get this movie made. I’m looking at you, Edgar Wright. It could be the perfect follow up to Baby Driver that we’ve all been waiting for. I’ll handle the censors.

While we wait for the film to get commissioned, Audrey has made an alternative Mad Fuckers playlist, you can listen on Spotify here, Tidal here and Apple Music here.

1) Durutti Column – ‘English Landscape Tradition’ (it seems more than obvious to me that this song, from The Guitar and Other Machines (FACT 204), should set the scene for the imaginary world – soon to be real! – of Madchester)

2) The Wake – ‘Here Comes Everybody’ (this Factory track, off the album of the same name (FACT 130), should reverberate as we’re introduced to the central characters in The Mad Fuckers)

3) New Order – ‘Round & Round’ (there would have been time to include something off 1989’s Technique (FAC 289), and the synth sounds could set the pace for one of the early car-chase scenes)

4) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – ‘The Mercy Seat’ (just imagine if this had become the theme song for The Mad Fuckers protagonist/anti-hero Roppa)

5) Happy Mondays – ‘Mad Cyril’ (another “mad fucker,” of course, from the band’s 1988 album Bummed)

6) Talking Heads – ‘Road To Nowhere’ (perfect for more speeding around in The Mad Fuckers, from the 1985 album Little Creatures)

7) Kalima – ‘Sugar And Spice’ (from the Factory band’s 1986 EP Whispered Words (FAC 147), because how else to describe some serious mad fuckers comically wreaking havoc around Madchester?)

8) Quando Quango – ‘Go Exciting’ (visualize this: some fabulous electronic music from the band’s Pigs + Battleships revving up another car-chase scene)

9) Miaow – ‘When It All Comes Down’ (how great would it have been to see Cath Carroll’s band and this single in particular feature on a major motion picture soundtrack?)

10) Ludus – ‘My Cherry Is In Sherry’ (sure, this is a song from the album The Seduction on New Hormones, but it obviously recalls Linder’s glorious “meat dress” performance at The Haçienda in 1982, perhaps reminding moviegoers that Linder was the original “mad fucker” rebel god)

11) Durutti Column – ‘Black Horses’ (for one of the final car-chase scenes, naturally, playing on the idea of the British cinema “horse-carriage race,” off DC’s 1986 record Circuses and Bread)

12) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – ‘Slowly Goes the Night’ (how else to end The Mad Fuckers as the credits roll?

All quotes sourced from I Thought I Heard You Speak (White Rabbit, 2023), the author’s interview with Keith Jobling (May 14, 2023), and the written screenplay for The Mad Fuckers unless otherwise noted.