A few months ago I posted a review of one of my long time favourite movies, Russel Mulcahy’s 1986 fantasy epic Highlander, and shortly after I discovered the existence of Jonathan Melville’s book, A Kind Of Magic: Making The Original Highlander, and couldn’t not read it as soon as possible.
Charting the history of the film from its origins as a student’s project all the way to the sequels and TV series that have made it a surprisingly enduring franchise, this is an amazingly exhaustive piece of work combining a bewildering number of interviews with key players (from director Russell Mulchay and stars Christopher Lambert and Clancy Brown on down) with archive extracts and goes to the kind of depth you rarely find for an individual film like this.
It’s clear that Melville is a fan of the film, but, like me, one who recognises that it’s maybe not the most technically complete piece of cinema ever committed to celluloid and this helps give the whole the thing the right tone, coming together as something like a vastly extended magazine article making it easy to read and very speedily paced, while packing in a lot of detail.
What is particularly fascinating are the sections that go into the nitty gritty if quite how the film came together and went from being a student script project to a filmable screenplay and how the finances were raised to make it, as this is a side of filmmaking that’s not so often explored regardless of how much film budgets are talked about.
This ends up being a thread that weaves through the book, explaining a lot about not just its production but release and reception as well, and touches on several things that are very much of the time it was made.
This period is also a big factor in the story as Highlander falls into an era when film viewing habits were changing with video becoming a bigger force, along with the lower budget film studios this brought to prominence, and old ‘favourites’ Cannon have a look in here – linking this back to two great movies about the history of ‘lower end’ cinema; Electric Boogaloo: The Story Of Cannon Films and, with Mulchay’s involvement, Not Quite Hollywood, an exploration of ‘Ozploitation’.
More highlights come with the section recounting Sean Connery’s involvement and, while the man himself wasn’t up for being interviewed anew, there’s plenty enough from other cast and crew members to probably fill a book in their own right.
There are points, when Melville is speaking to some of the more technical members of the crew, that the pace slows a little and, while these sections are still fascinating in their way, they don’t quite have the sizzle of the rest.
Along with this there are a few points where, if you’ve seen or read a few making of pieces on any film, you will probably find the stories rather familiar.
Along with these thoughs the likes of the tales from extras in the battle sequences filmed on location on Scotland, many of which revolve around where their next whisky is coming from, are brilliant and really bring the process to life in a very real and human way.
In the end Jonathan Melville’s A Kind Of Magic is a must read for fans of Highlander but also I’d say has a lot to offer for anyone with an interest in general pop culture of the 1980s or cult cinema and has certainly been added to my ongoing list of resources on the more fringe side of cinematic history.