Archive for March, 2008|Monthly archive page

Sons and Daughters

ryan’s daughterTook my dear ol’ mum out for her birthday a couple of evenings ago to see David Lean’s film ‘Ryan’s Daughter’, screened in 70mm at BAFTA in Piccadilly. When I got to the ticket desk there was a good looking actress there whose birthday it also was. That was probably the first hint that my biorhythms were in fine fettle that day. The next clue was when we were handed two glasses of champagne as we walked in. It turned out that 25th March was also the birthday of David Lean – and this year is the centenary of his birth. So we walked in to a special reception with booze, nosh and some interesting faces dotted around the room. I should have made a better fist of pretending “I knew that” and having been so organised as to have arranged especially for fine champers, fancy fish cakes and famous faces. Among them were Peter Lean (David’s son) and Sarah Miles, Ryan’s Daughter herself.

Just before Sarah Miles arrived, I’d been unwittingly sitting beside one of her best friends and talking to my mum about how Ryan’s Daughter is my other half’s most loathed film. Why she gave me the middle name Diplomacy I’ll never know. I did a good one last year with Nicholas Hoult of Skins and About A Boy fame. I’d been reading the first scripts for Skins and was blown away by them. I was speaking at a 4Talent do for Raw Cuts at the Electric Cinema in Portobello Road and Nick was also talking, being a real supporter of the NSPCC. “You’re shooting Skins down in Bristol aren’t you? Awesome script. Let me guess who you’re playing… Is it the nerdy one? [Sid]” “No.” “Ah, right, so it must be the devastatingly handsome one. [Tony]” Note to self: Never ask: are you Australian? (ask Are you a Kiwi?). Never ask: are you an American? (ask Are you Canadian?). Ask: are you the devastatingly handsome one?

Any way, she really does loathe the film. So did much of the audience and the critics at the time from what I understand. Lean didn’t make another film for 14 years in the wake of Ryan, so stung was he by its poor reception. If you look at it from an Irish point of view, it is on the dodgy side. The Irish in the movie range from a dribbling retard, to a black leather clad gun runner, to a priest with Republican sympathies and a bottle of Jamesons tucked away in his dirty black soutane, to a treacherous father with verbal diarrhea to a silly adulterous girl. But I think it was always the drooling John Mills that really irked her.

So I went in ready to enjoy in widescreen the scenery of the West Coast I love so much (as captured by Freddie Young) but to scoff at the story and characterisation. Producer [Absolute Beginners, Mona Lisa, The Crying Game] and boss of the National Film School Nik Powell introduced the film, followed by a nice anecdote from the lead actress highlighting the contradictoriness of Lean’s character (he told her off for throwing away a sliver of soap from his hotel room which had “a good three days left in it” and then bought her a Lamborghini a few weeks later). It must have been the weirdest experience for Sarah Miles watching her 29 year old self up in 70mm widescreen – she told me she’d never seen the film before except on video, she doesn’t like watching herself – at the age of 67. It was enough of a momento mori for the rest of us. Ryan was written by her late husband, Robert Bolt, who passed away in 1995. The film started with an overture of the musical soundtrack with the curtains still closed. At three hours thirty it had an intermission. So very much a blast from the cinematic past. The thing was I couldn’t help myself – shagging in the bluebell woods beside the burbling brook, rescuing rebel arms from the crashing waves, padding barefoot across the beaches of Dingle – I was suckered, I came out feeling I’d just watched something romantic and epic and Technicolor from a bygone age.

Lean was the prime-mover behind the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. He gave half of his huge royalty shares on Bridge over the River Kwai and Dr Zhivago to help get the Academy up and running. (He didn’t bother including Lawrence of Arabia as the studio had told him it would never show a profit – dontcha just love creative accounting a la Hollywood.) So Lean was the first Chairman of the Academy and a life-long supporter, very keen on film retaining its “dignity” through proper screening in well equipped public auditoriums.

The cherry on the (birthday) cake – the birthday, BAFTA, biorhythm thing that seemed to be conjoining on the day – was that, unbeknownst to me (I found out the next morning) the nominees for this year’s BAFTA TV Craft Awards had been announced during the day and Big Art Mob was nominated in two of the three interactive categories, on top of its nomination the week before in the BAFTA TV Awards. It’s up against Dr Who, X Factor, Spooks, BBC iPlayer, Kate Modern and Bebo among others so pretty much a shoe-in ;-)

Craft was very much Lean’s background having emerged into directing via editing. He cut for Powell & Pressburger during the war, as well as for Noel Coward on In Which We Serve. His first writing credit was for adapting Coward’s This Happy Breed which starred the marvelous Robert Newton under Lean’s direction (his solo directorial debut). There was nothing remotely televisual about Ryan’s Daughter. It was steeped in the craft and love of cinema. No better way to celebrate a birthday.

Frock-coats and drama kings

Jason Isaacs

Sitting here in Carlingford, County Louth on a quiet evening in charge of sleeping children above, with my other half out with some of her dozens of cousins on the other side of Carlingford Lough in Rostrevor, County Down, with some godawful pseudo-american chatshow on RTE1 (Tubirdy Tonight – the name captures the height of shite it represents – a charmless, dull host behind a reproduction antique desk on the other side of which sits a fake nobody guest (the renowned Deirdre O’Kane?) with a D4 tango tan behind which are wooden window panes giving on to a fake cityscape unlike any part of Dublin I’ve ever seen, a lifeless photo devoid of dynamism or truth) and some two-bit boxing match on RTE2 with a ringside commentator with huge arched eyebrows and a forehead like the Mekon – jaysis, we’re blessed with our public service broadcasting back in Blighty, Ireland has much to offer the world but telly isn’t among its riches – I flick to a movie on Ulster TV, Joe Wright’s recent iteration of Pride and Prejudice with Ikea Knightley, as Mark Kermode (who popped up earlier this evening on the Culture Show) calls her on his weekly movie review show on Radio 5 with Simon Mayo. (How’s that, heavenly muse, for a Miltonian sentence?)

From this movie, which has somehow lost its appeal on a second, small-screen viewing, I drift off to an altogether more engaging gathering than the one before me with the dreadful Mr Collins showing off his lightness of foot. The other night I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Darcy himself, Matthew Macfadyen, and his charming wife Keeley Hawes (Cock and Bull Story, Ashes to Ashes, Spooks, The Bank Job) at the RTS Production Awards where he very deservingly won the best actor award for the excellent Secret Life in which he portrays a recently released paedophile striving for rehabilitation. This Channel 4 commission, written and (first-time) directed by Rowan Joffe (28 Weeks Later, Gas Attack), culminates in an astonishing scene in a fairground where the struggling ex-con brings his handsome Darcy-like features and non-Darcy-like charm to bear on an underage girl. Will he or won’t he? It’s painfully impossible to call.

I watched the drama as one of the twenty hours I went through as a judge in the Scriptwriter – Drama category in the company of the likes of Simon Cellan Jones (Cracker, The Trial of Tony Blair) and Kudos’ Derek Wax (Sex Traffic). For me it was the best film, alongside Mark O’Rowe’s Boy A, but the BBC’s adapted screenplay for Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford eventually won the category. Brilliantly crafted of course and a wonderful cast to deliver the lines with the greatest of expertise – but not brave in the Channel 4 way of Secret Life and Boy A. Too much Pride and Prejudice, too little Shameless for me.

I’d been introduced to the self-effacing (for such a tall man) Matthew Macfadyen by Jason Isaacs, who I hadn’t seen for some twenty years. On occasion we traveled together to school on the bus when he was a big boy and I an insignificant underling. I remember him being warm and open – most bigger boys just ignored you at best. He remembered himself as being unpleasant at that age and “driven by fear”. Mark Kermode – who says hallo to Jason Isaacs and David Morrissey every week on the aforementioned review programme – recalls Jason (who was in the same year as him) as very cool and collected. Jason recalls Mark as the cool one to be looked up to with his quiff and rockabilly persona. Which all goes to show the gulf between our perception of ourselves and how we actually come across to others, as well as the role self-confidence and fear plays in our formative years and beyond. Darcy has just walked out suddenly on a confused Elizabeth for just such reasons.

It was lovely catching up with Jason after so long, last time we met he was still in Capital City with Clive Owen et al. [Correction - see comment below: Make that Douglas Hodge - Clive Owen was in Chancer which aired the same year with Peter Vaughan and Leslie Phillips, written by Tony Grounds.] Since then he’s been to Hollywood (Mel Gibson’s The Patriot, Armageddon, Harry Potter, etc.) and back (to be able to raise his daughters properly) and the night of the RTS was playing Harry H Corbett in The Curse of Steptoe and Son on BBC4 to enthusiastic reviews. We chatted about the urban myth that was the Edgware Walker (as brought to the screen by the maverick Lee Kern), about mutual schoolmates including the legendary Laurence Gould, broader than he was tall, famous for launching two skinheads down the stairs at Stanmore Station, and that was another subject of conversation, the neo-nazi violence of the mid-70s which Jason recalls much more vividly than I can. My first gig was the Tom Robinson Band at the Hammersmith Odeon – TRB introduced me to Anti-Nazi League activism, as well as the notion of gay rights – but it was all a bit theoretical for me. It seems like the couple of years age gap between us made it all much more real for Jason. He also spoke insightfully about his own craft. Producer Vadim Jean (Leon the Pig Farmer, Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather) joined us for that bit of the convo – he held up Gene Hackman as one of the most consistently excellent screen actors. Watching Donald Sutherland as Mr Bennett does make you think about consistency – the man from Mash and Klute is also the winner of the all-time worst accent award for his role in Goldcrest’s disasterous Revolution. But in the end it’s all just make-believe. Jason’s older brother, a doctor, it turns out saved a man’s life by performing an emergency tracheotomy (with a biro!) on a plane heading to North Africa. In the light of that, Lydia running off with the perfidious Wickham seems to pale into insignificance.

A few years ago I was filming in Northern Ireland with Eddie McCaffery of Joose TV (then Emerald Productions) and Roddy Gibson (now a TV specialist course director at Middlesex Uni). We had a break from filming and headed up to Horn Head in Donegal. Whilst walking out on the bog of the headland we came across an older man collapsed with blood coming from his mouth, his distraught sister kneeling at his side. The three of us had recently spent weeks in an edit suite cutting a scene involving first aid and so were quite up on our life-saving. We did all the right stuff, got blood all over Roddy’s new jacket which served to cushion the old fella’s head, ended up carrying the prone body (surprisingly heavy) by stretcher back up off the bog to the ambulance which took him to Letterkenny hospital. We never heard a word from the man or his sister. Jason’s brother was given an airline voucher for £30 for his trouble. Elizabeth Bennett may be struggling a bit with her values here but those are both seriously out of whack. Jason’s brother was, however, invited to his emergency patient’s subsequent wedding where he came to see for himself what the act meant to the young man’s parents. Lady Catherine de Burgh (Judi Dench, who also featured in Cranford) has just been shown the door by the feisty Elizabeth, a frock-coated Matthew Macfadyen is striding through the mist, so wedding bells are just around the corner now as things trundle to their happy ending.

Slice of Cake

Never thought you could get excited about Pot Noodles? Nor me. But I really do believe in the future of brands creating added value content/entertainment – and here’s a (under)class example – Tipping Pot from Cake…

Meme Myself and I

picture post

Never done one of these meme things before but who am I to deny the luverly, busy & lively LJB. So here’s the deal: You list 8 facts/habits/things people may not know about you. At the end of the post, you tag 8 people and let them know via their blog comments (LJB cheated and only did half her tagging duties but then that’s where I peter out too so we’ll let that go). Seems like a cheap trick to drive traffic to your blog or turn you into a sheep (note to self: tag Herd) or am I just being silly&grumpy and it’s all just a big harmless game, talking of which it reminds me of a cafe game I used to play with my good friend and best-man Stuart called Secret & Obvious – (1) go to a cafe (2) find a table with a good view of the pavement, preferably outdoors (3) for each passer-by say something Obvious about them (4) then something Secret (5) alternate turns with your fellow player – that’s it, hours of good clean giggly fantastical fun.

So here we go

(1) My first published photos were in An Phoblacht, the journal of Sinn Fein (they were of Gerry Adams and Ken Livingstone – who coincidently I saw in Strutton Ground at lunchtime today being accosted by a voter, occupational hazard I guess but it must be a pain if you’re trying to get somewhere on time) – so that’s the Ken & Gerry show in Conway Hall, how do I get myself into those weird situations?

(2) My cat is called Tommy Boy after the New York record label – the CD was behind his head when we were trying to come up with a suitable name

(3) I collect pictures of Lost Gloves – God knows why but it’s a bit addictive – if you think I’m weird, other people try to pair up my One Lost Gloves with matching partners!

(4) My grandfather worked for Picture Post (I have a lovely photo of him at work just across the room now taken by Thurston Hopkins) – he was a VSP (Very Special Person – just made that up but you can’t have too many Three Letter Acronyms)

(5) I’m a pantheist

(6) I have a lot of books and in my bookcase I have two Shelves of Honour – these include Tom Jones, The Complete Plays of Joe Orton, Clockers, The Riddle of the Sands, Black Box, Northanger Abbey, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and a special section devoted to old copies of Ulysses

(7) I have put a sign above the front door, one of the old style Irish road signs, saying Donegal / Dun na nGall 1 which means one mile but I read as one day – whenever things get tough, it’s only 1 day to get to Donegal – I love North-West Ireland and my wedding reached Ramelton (The Bridge Bar) on Day 3

(8) I have 8 watches – one for every day of the week plus one for good measure – the best one is a 1920s mechanical digital one, but it stopped working properly on my wedding day, which is odd as it’s not electronic

So who do I tag? maybe that’s what the blogroll is for. I reckon it’s going to have to be Mark Earls of Herd fame (for reasons mentioned above); Alfie (likes playing and what else is he going to do in his sick bed); Jule (usually game for a laugh): Russell (has plenty of idle time in caffs on his hands); Oli B (somebody might as well work out how to make money out of it). That will do, enough already.

[Picture courtesy of Thurston Hopkins/Getty Images]

Under Dog

BAFTA award

Hot off the presses – Big Art Mob has been nominated for a TV BAFTA in the Interactivity category (the only interactive/cross-platform category in the TV Awards). Now that’s lifted what started out as something of a drudgy day a bit!

The competition is:

  • Dr Who Comic Maker
  • Spooks Interactive
  • The X Factor

So no problems there then… ;-)

Congratulations to the small but perfectly formed BAM team at Moblog:tech, Edition Design and Planet Freelance (headed by Nick Pearson).

[Picture courtesy of AFP]

Human Footprint

Calculate your human footprint now

Baa raa black sheep

frank gallagher

A pretty action-packed day by any standards. Just on my way home from the British Animation Awards at the National Film Theatre where we launched Channel 4’s new broadband animation channel – 4mations – in collaboration with Aardman and Lupus Films. What I liked most about the awards was that each award was a unique framed image made by an animation professional (including David Shrigley [Blur - Good Song, Hallam Foe titles], Darren Walsh [Angry Kid, Beck - Four Steps, Sony Bravia Play-Doh/rabbits] and Andy Martin [E4 Music, Kerrang! TV IDs] – you can see them all on the 2008 Prizes link on http://www.britishanimationawards.com) – unique images on the subject of sheep – BAA, baa, sheep, geddit? The whole thing was a celebration of the incredible talent across the UK in this tight-knit, ultimately for-love-not-money industry (not that it doesn’t make money but that’s not what drives its creatives). Happily, Shaun the Sheep picked up a couple of …sheep.

The wolves in sheeps clothing on this particular evening included Richard Morrison for the Sweeney Todd movie titles (produced by that blast from my past, Dominic Buttimore of Th1ng, convener of the annual Elvis birthday tribute at which an 8mm version of Blue Hawaii gets its yearly airing); Osbert Parker for Yours Truly, a thrillingly inventive film noirish animation made under the Animate scheme funded by Channel 4 and the Arts Council), one of three Channel 4 successes on the night; and Simon Tofield for the hilariously well observed feline dynamics captured in Cat Man Do – my favourite of the night.

Behind me in the queue going in was the venerable John Coates, creator of The Snowman and producer of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine film. One of the nominees was an IrnBru ad parodying The Snowman [Phenomenal Xmas by Robin Shaw/Sherbet], in which the high-pitched kid gets dropped out of the sky by the soaring snowman who nicks his tin. Rightly enough, John was flattered by the homage. The author of the source book, Raymond Briggs, was altogether less sanguine last autumn about this derivative. The Snowman was one of the very first commissions by Channel 4, a quarter of a century ago, which leads us neatly into the other action of the day…

The other end of the day saw the launch of Next on 4 – the blueprint for the next phase of Channel 4 as it moves into its second quarter century. There were a couple of moments of magic that lifted the whole event from a corporate function to an inspiring vision for public service broadcasting.

The first was a video clip. Times are tough. Competition is fierce. The media industries are up in the air. The public service broadcasting model is falling behind the times. The regulator’s breathing down your neck. You’ve been known to upset the powers that be. The advertising revenue is disappearing into the maw of US corporates. The halcyon days of Charlotte Street, The Comic Strip and Max Headroom are a dim&distant memory. The enemy’s at the gate. The wolves are at the door. What do you do? Get Nick Broomfield to make a spoof documentary about the purposes of Channel 4 culminating in a slurred elucidation by none other than Frank Gallagher, just in the Nick of time before the Grolsched-out mainstay of Shameless passes out. “The point of Channel 4, Nicholush, is to maintain the salience of its remit in the new digital age.” Are you people taking this seriously? We are – because only Channel 4 would turn it to comedy (with substance). The medium is very much the message.

The second was a Churchillian moment from the Chairman, Luke Johnson. After struggling a bit during the opening address with the awkwardness that is those autocue systems with the smoked grey glass plates on bendy stalks , to round off the Q&A (hosted in the style we love him for by Jon Snow) Luke responded to the final question by reminding us all that Next on 4, this event, the debate around Channel 4 as Ofcom reviews our public service broadcasting, is all about the value of Channel 4 to UK society and the values and public purposes which drive it. Think Henry V. Think an authentic moment when the passion for an idea breaks through a breach in corporate decorum. Think raw not baa.

churchillfrank gallagher

Word Up

The current favourite with the enfants terribles:

At the inaugural Media Guardian Innovation Awards the other evening a fellow shortlistee was sitting at the adjacent table – he was black, hairy and even more simian than me. Sadly he didn’t have any reward for sweating the night away and drinking through a straw. Fallon, creators of the Cadbury Gorilla, lost out to my esteemed colleagues from Skins (E4/Holler). And Big Art Mob brought home a pile of metallic twiglets by virtue of winning the Community Engagement category. I was so excited it was as if my humble white wine had been spiked with a good dose of lithium…

Too Long in Exile

stolen paintings

I’m sitting here in the James Joyce Foundation in Zurich with in front of me a copy of ‘Thom’s Official Directory of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for the year 1904′ published in Dublin by Thom & Co. (Limited) of Middle Abbey-Street. 1904 is the year in which Joyce’s Ulysses is set. This big red volume is the reference book Joyce used to recreate the detail of Dublin from exile here in Zurich. Joyce came to the city on leaving Dublin in 1904 (hence the choice of date for the novel – it is Dublin as fixed at the point of exile) accompanied by his other half, Nora Barnacle. They moved on to Italy/Trieste, back to Zurich, and on to Paris. Much of Ulysses (1922) was written here in Zurich. Joyce left occupied France in 1940 for Zurich where he died in 1941 (aged 59) and is buried.

So I’m flying in this morning with my iPod Shuffle on and up pops Van the Man singing ‘Too Long in Exile‘ with the line “just like James Joyce, baby / Too long in exile” – one of those meant to be moments.

And on the subject of Abbey Street and occupied France, in my hands is a copy of a classy thriller ‘The 6th Lamentation‘ by William Brodrick whose two central characters are a monk and a victim of the occupation of Paris. Another key character is a refugee to Switzerland. So I’m psyched for the Stiftung James Joyce.

I’m welcolmed by a friendly American academic and by the Director and prime mover of the Foundation, Fritz Senn, a Joyce specialist and as near as a Swiss man can be to being Irish.

In the back of Thom’s is an advert for Uska-Slan – Water of Health – in the form of Cantrell & Cochrane’s Table Waters. Just the kind of ad Leopold Bloom would have dealt in. I’m fresh from a lunchtime conversation which included the benefits of Badoit and the insanity of bottled still water. There’s a wonderful passage in Ulysses about water I heard declaimed atop the martello tower in Sandycove, South Dublin on the centenary Bloom’s Day on 16th June 2004.

I can, for example, look up my sister-in-law’s street in Ballybough (PoorTown) and see exactly who lived there in 1904. Mrs Grace at No. 24. A draper at No. 1, a jeweller at No. 14 and Mr John Killen of the GPO at No. 16. It tells you where the pillar boxes were (“Pillar Letter Box adjoining Raglan-road”). I’ve just spotted my father-in-law’s namesake (Murphy, James, esq.) at No. 26 Clyde-road which was valued at 70 pounds – and a certain William McGee at Cobourg-place (next door to Jasper Monahan the spirit grocer, which I assume is a far more colourful name for an off-licence).

My wife has now lived in London – many miles away from the cemetry at Kilbroney, Co. Louth where James Murphy after James Murphy is buried – for more years than she’s lived in Ireland – she went past the mid-point a couple of years ago, very significant really.

When I was in Ireland for the summer holidays last year, staying at said sister-in-law in Ballybough, I picked up a copy (at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham) of ‘That Neutral Island‘ by Clair Wills about the Irish home front in the Second World War. I often wonder what similarities and differences there are between the Irish neutrality and the Swiss. Joyce spent most of the First World War (July 1915 to October 1919) in Zurich, as well as getting the permit for entry from occupied France in late 1940.

A few weeks ago there was a big art robbery just outside Zurich from another Foundation – the Emil Buhrle Foundation. Buhrle was a Zurich-based, German born industrialist who sold arms to the Third Reich. After the war 13 paintings in the collection, which was raided in February by armed masked men, appeared on a list of art looted by Nazis from Jews and eventually he handed them over, getting some compensation from the Swiss government. The provenance of other works in the collection remains shady. Much like the Russian collection currently on show in the Royal Academy, London (in the From Russia exhibition), where the British government had to provide an official ‘safe passage’ document to insulate the dubious pieces from any chance of investigation and return to their rightful owners – Russia’s art galleries are peppered with works ‘nationalised’ after the Revolution or looted in the Second World War, many ultimately from murdered Jews. So one has limited sympathy for the Emil Buhrle Foundation as whose work the masked raiders with the Slavic accents actually stole is a moot point.

I recently came across this quotation by the writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner (and man behind another foundation, this one a Foundation for Humanity, which bears his name) Elie Wiesel (through A.Word.A.Day – a daily email with an interesting new word – might have been Joyce’s cup of tea [my philisophical Zurchner taxi driver earlier today was tickled pink by this British idiom]):

“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

And this popular one attributed to Edmund Burke also comes to mind from the Last Message SMS competition on Lost Generation:

“It is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph.”

Reckon I’ll give the last word to Van the Man (not to be confused with White Van Man – the Buhrle robbery was carried out in a white panel van) and his collaborator on ‘Song of Being a Child‘, Peter Handke (not Swiss but Austrian like Adolf Hitler and Simon Wiesenthal, born in 1942, also a collaborator with Wim Wenders [Wings of Desire], a writer who has lived in self-imposed exile in Berlin, the US and for the last two decades Paris):

When the child was a child
It was the time of the following questions
Why am I me and why not you
Why am I here and why not there
Why did time begin and where does space end
Isn’t what I see and hear and smell
Just the appearance of the world in front of the world
Isn’t life under the sun just a dream
Does evil actually exist in people
Who really are evil
Why can’t it be that I who am
Wasn’t before I was
And that sometime I, the I, I am
No longer will be the I, I am

A little more magic from the Hiberno-Germanic melting pot.

Warum bin ich ich und warum nicht du?
Warum bin ich hier und warum nicht dort?

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