Archive for the ‘literature’ Category
John Martyn. Herbert Lom. DH Lawrence. Mick Talbot. Pierre de Ronsard. And me. We all share one thing – a birthday on 9/11, that date now with a resonance all of its own. Each year I wait for some low-life to blacken it again. This year I’m a little more worried than usual on account of the round number.
10 years ago today I was out for my birthday lunch with colleagues/friends from Redbus CPD, the internet start-up whose production department I was running for the couple of years before I came to Channel 4. They gave me two lovely presents which have a certain emblematic quality for me looking back. One was a book about London, Peter Ackroyd’s biography of the city. The other was the brand new record by Bob Dylan, Love and Theft, released on that very day. So Literature and Music, two of my greatest loves and essentially the opposite of 9/11. Creative. Fueled by Love. What makes life worth living. One of my sons is called Dylan so I take the latter as a reflection also of Family. And I’m a real Londonphile, born&bred here (I’d bear a London passport if they’d let me), so the former also captures the notion of Home. Music and Literature, Home and Family, Work and Friendship – I was basking in it all as we headed back down the appropriately named Arcadia Avenue back to the office. It was around 2pm.
As we settled back to work one of my business partners called us all into the boardroom to watch something incredible playing out on the big TV. A plane had crashed into the World Trade Centre. I knew the building from when I spent a semester at high school in Montclair, New Jersey and visited the iconic twin towers for the first time. As we were trying to absorb the images a second plane appeared and the rest is history.
I went out for my planned birthday dinner that evening in Camden Town with my wife, brother, sister-in-law and my oldest friend (we’ve known each other since we were six). The pall of the day’s events hung over our meal and I imagine everyone around the table was as numb as I felt. My stomach was in bits.
Over the years since I’ve felt a degree of outrage at having my birth date appropriated by such a dark and soulless act. And I’m not giving it over. This side of the water it’s 11/9 and this year’s a special palindromic one 11-9-11. 11/9 is about Music, Literature, Home, Family, Creativity and Friendship. It’s about New York and London. It’s about Soul (John Martyn), Laughter (Herbert Lom), Passion (DH Lawrence), Groove (Mick Talbot), and Poetry (Pierre de Ronsard). It’s about Birth and Life and what makes life worth living.
Although I’ve kicked off various articles in Wikipedia including the ones on User-Generated Content (in 2005 when UGC was still quite new and shiny) and on Bryn’s sister Daphne, I’m having a bit of trouble with the Wikinazis with this one so I’ll just stick it here for now and the self-appointed UGC You Next Tuesdays can spend their time on some other self-important pedantry. In the meantime the upside of this article is that I’ve met two charming, very interesting women through it – a novelist and a movie producer, the latter a direct descendant of Bryn.
”’Brynhild Olivier”’ (1887 – 13th January 1935, known as Bryn) was the second daughter of [[Sydney Haldane Olivier]], 1st Baron Olivier, and Margaret Cox; she was sister of Margery (1886-1974), Daphne (1889-1950) and [[Noel Olivier|Noel]] (1893-1969). She was a member of [[Rupert Brooke]]’s circle before the First World War and associated with the [[Bloomsbury Group]]. She was a prominent member of the group of young, socialist youth dubbed ‘the Neo-Pagans’ by [[Virginia Woolf]] and as such significantly influenced the development of Brooke.
She was usually the manager of the Neo-Pagan camps where the circle gathered for outdoor pursuits like climbing, bathing and hiking. Campers included the likes of [[Lytton Strachey]], [[John Maynard Keynes]], [[Geoffrey Keynes]] and [[Gerald Shove]]. The camp at Clifford Bridge in Dartmoor in August 1911 was referred to as ‘Bloomsbury under canvas’.
Although Brooke was in love with herPaul Delany. ”The Neo-Pagans – Friendship and Love in the Rupert Brooke Circle”. (1987 Macmillan London) p.173., she ended up marrying art historian [[A. E. Popham]] (Arthur Ewart Hugh Popham, known as Hugh) in 1912 (becoming Brynhild Popham). Hugh Popham was a friend of Rupert Brooke and worked in the Prints Department of the British Museum.[http://janus.lib.cam.ac.uk/db/node.xsp?id=EAD%2FGBR%2F0272%2FPP%2FPOP The Papers of Hugh and Brynhild (Olivier) Popham]They were divorced in 1924. She married F. R. N. Sherrard in 1924 (becoming Brynhild Sherrard).[http://thepeerage.com/p24033.htm The Peerage]
She was the mother of Anne Olivier Popham, who became the wife of art historian and writer [[Quentin Bell]]. She was also the mother of the poet, translator and theologian [[Philip Sherrard|Philip Owen Arnould Sherrard]] (born 23 September 1922, Oxford). She had six children in all – three with each husband. Her first child Hugh Anthony was born in March 1914, followed by daughter Anne Olivier and son Tristram.
Brynhild was the first of the four Olivier sisters the poet Rupert Brooke met[http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=mXu7AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA25&lpg=PA25&dq=Brynhild+Olivier&source=bl&ots=na0q3BPgWR&sig=Ix1Rk9UezcB7Nv1bofbRiWqc-zk&hl=en&ei=cBjsTYXeBs6DhQej4sm6Bg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CFwQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q=Brynhild%20Olivier&f=false Caesar, Adrian. ''Taking it like a man: suffering, sexuality, and the war poets.''(1993 Manchester University Press) p.25.]. Although she was reputedly the most beautiful, it was her sister Noel Olivier for whom Brooke fell. [[Jacques Raverat]] described her as having ‘the startled beauty of a nymph taken by surprise’.
Brynhild trained as a jeweller. She was first cousin of the actor [[Laurence Olivier]].
*Delany, Paul. ”The Neo-Pagans – Friendship and Love in the Rupert Brooke Circle.” Macmillan. London. 1987. ISBN 0-333-44572-4 (hc)
*Caesar, Adrian. ”Taking it like a man: suffering, sexuality, and the war poets.” Manchester University Press. Manchester. 1993. ISBN 0-7190-3834-0
*[http://auden.stanford.edu/cgi-bin/auden/individual.php?pid=I11262&ged=auden-bicknell.ged W.H. Auden - 'Family Ghosts']
*[http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/A2A/records.aspx?cat=272-misc30&cid=28-3#28-3 Papers in the National Archives]
Ever tried looking for a quotation online (of the literary as opposed to the insurance variety)? Wasn’t much fun was it? Not that easy to find what you want. And just how accurate was it? And why does it look like the site was made by a geek with no design skills in his stinky bedroom?
But you love great quotes don’t you? On your Facebook profile. In that presentation. You know, those ones you keep in that file – the one on your old computer. They’re everywhere – on the tube, in that advert, on that building, in that caff.
So why don’t we get the quotation sites we deserve and desire? Although there are several in the Alexa top 5000 most are labours of love, evolutions, accretions of amateur solutions stuck one on top of another like the proverbial sticking plaster. Or take Wikiquote – I search for “cars” and I get a Disney property, not a hint of shiny metallic vehicle in sight…
And how pug ugly is that homepage?
And don’t get me started on the functionality which makes no real distinction between an encyclopedia article and a quotation. Don’t get me wrong, I love Wikipedia as much as the next man, woman or child but Wikiquote ain’t no fun.
Suffer no more, fellow lovers of wit and wordcraft – may I introduce you to Quotables (www.quotabl.es) my latest baby, a Beta finding its feet at this stage, but already I hope lovelier and with your help, advice, input, love potentially a solution to the online quotes joylessness.
Quotables is designed to work in four dimensions:
- as a Utility – an accessible place to save the quotes you love, the Delicious of quotations
- as a Reference Resource – growing into a comprehensive and contemporary repository of accurate, properly sourced quotes
- as a Reflector of Buzz – capturing what’s most on people’s minds at a given time, indicating the trends and zeitgeist
- as a Community of quote and language lovers – drawing together people who want to take on what was controlled by an editorial elite in the dead-tree era.
Quotables encourages contributors to draw on non-traditional sources such as bons mots heard live at public events, snappy one-liners from TV shows, tweets, a rich mix from high literature to popular culture. It also encourages short, concise selections (up to 75 words max) – that’s a “Quotable”. And it’s keen to promote the behaviour of saving our favourite quotes as we do our links on the likes of Delicious – to abandon those lost and abandoned files and notebooks and get Quotables to help that transition from old computer to new, to help circumvent that fruitless search for a scribbled upon bit of dead-tree not seen for a dog’s age.
The Beta is offered in the spirit of this quote which not so long ago defined its era:
There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.
We know some stuff we have yet to implement or roll-out – much of the mobile dimension of Quotables, some more of the integration into social networks, one click mark-and-publish from the browser, a long list programmed for release over the next year. But for the Unknown Unknowns we rely on you, dear reader, to tell us about via Laura Grace, our producer at firstname.lastname@example.org – observations, suggestions, gripes, words of wisdom, all much appreciated to help us shape this baby for the greater good.
Quotables has been lovingly made by Mint Digital and co-funded by Channel 4 and Arts Council England.
That master of wit and badinage Donald Rumsfeld who blessed us with the unknowable above also produced this little gem…
Oh, Lord, I didn’t mean to say anything quotable.
Well tough titty, Donald – we’re coming after everyone from you via Donald Duck to Donald Trump, from Jonathan Franzen to Franz Beckenbauer, from Martin Amis to Amy Winehouse, from Father Ted to Ted Hughes, not forgetting my favourite contribution of my own to date – a non-traditional source (police video), the verbal pyrotechnics of Mad Mel:
What are you looking at, sugar tits?
We’d love to revel in your own favourite(s) so without further ado please do head over to Quotables, have a poke around, and share some sugar, love and inspiration…
The most striking thing for me about Un bar aux Folies-Bergère, the last masterpiece by Édouard Manet, painted in 1882 for exhibition at that year’s Paris Salon, are the green booties. What on earth are they doing up there? What kind of night club were they running? Some wild place that they’ve got trapeze artists flying about overhead and no-one gives a monkey’s – no-one is even bothering to look up at them. Circus Circus 90 years ahead of its time. That pair of bright green booties top left and the pink leggings – some kind of surreal joke on the part of M. Manet? Always gets a wry smile out of me. You can see this painting in the Courtauld Collection in London’s Somerset House, London.
I’m currently reading Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge (appears on a lot of people’s Books That Changed My Life list so thought I’d give it a bash) which includes a scene of a visit to the Folies in post-Global Economic Meltdown Europe i.e. the early 30s . It’s in the context of a bit of a night crawl where a bunch of posh folk trawl the nighttown for thrills from the rough. The sense of classes colliding is strong in this picture, questions of power balance looming large.
Looking and not looking seems to be a preoccupation of Manet. The barmaid stares straight out at you the viewer – the last of a long line of such enigmatic stares. Olympia gives a challenging enigmatic stare in the eponymous painting [below]. As does that cheeky naked picnicker in Manet’s Dejeuner sur l’Herbe [below] (a quick tribute here to recently, dearly departed Malcolm [McLaren] who had fun with Manet’s woman in his Bow Wow Wow period). Manet gets his female protagonists to give as good as they get from staring males, no matter how much at a disadvantage they are (e.g. a bit light on the clothes front).
Now in this picture, Manet puts us, by a bit of mirror jiggery-pokery, in the position of said staring male. You, evidently, are that moustachioed, top-hatted, red-nosed chap reflected in the right-hand corner. Whether you’re more interested in the young barmaid or a bottle of Bass Pale Ale (spot that familiar logo, Britain’s first trademark) is debatable. But she is evidently giving him a run for his money on the gazing front, much like naughty, bold Olympia and the naked picnicker (though interestingly not the woman on The Balcony [below] who is altogether elsewhere – this barmaid’s stare is not quite as bold as picnic woman, not as insouciant as the odalisque, a tad more vulnerable and a little bit less there. That is where my fascination for Manet resides – it’s all in the eyes, eye and eye, and I and aye, what a rich mix of stories contained in the women’s eyes, looks and stares.)
Also in common (and common is the operative word – to reiterate, there’s a lot of class stuff going on around here) in common with Olympia is the fact that the barmaid is wearing a black ribbon. Why is Olympia wearing just the ribbon and the odd adornment – a bracelet, a hair ribbon, slippers? The answer can be found in the writing of poet Charles Baudelaire, a contemporary of Manet, just some ten years older – he had a conviction that Nature is much enhanced by Artifice – whether that artifice (Paradis Artificiels) is a ribbon or a reefer doesn’t much matter, it is the contrast which enlivens.
Interest in Manet should be livelying up in certain quarters with the announcement this week that one of the only two self-portraits of Manet (Self-Portrait With A Palette) was put up for sale this coming June, also staring in the mirror but without quite the enigma of E. Manet’s women…
Last Picture of the Month: Merry-Go-Round
On Thursday evening I joined Channel 4 colleagues at The Courthouse Hotel [formerly the Marylebone Magistrates Court, was glad to see cells have been imaginatively retained] opposite Carnaby Street (a resonant area for me as just round the corner from my very first workplace, Solus in Marshall Street, Soho, whose attic contained hidden gems like footage of Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight and James Baldwin in Paris) to view as it was broadcast a programme I had (deliberately) only seen as raw footage – Alone in the Wild. Since the beginning of July we have been publishing online the rushes of the show as they came out of the wilderness of the Yukon, where cameraman/film-maker Ed Wardle was living and recording his experiences himself, completely alone in the wild. My part of the cross-platform commission also involved publishing daily out-going only short messages from the wild via Twitter, which were subsequently used to punctuate the three films in the series. [Next one is this Thursday at 9pm on C4]
One scene in Episode 1 saw Ed delighting in a skinny-dip in the lake where he had made camp, frolicking like a child, immersing himself with joy in the place he shared with a stately moose and grayling destined for his frying pan.
I’ve been equally struck recently by accounts of poet Rupert Brooke’s skinny-dipping activities in Granchester, a place made magical for me after a lone moonlit cycle-ride to there in the middle of one Romantic night. In particular, accounts of ‘The Midnight Swim’ when this proto-hippy young poet shared the waters of Byron’s Pool with the unstable, radical woman of letters Virginia Stephens, later Woolf, who finished her life alone in the underwater wild of a Sussex river.
It was 1911. They were both single. Rupert was 24, Virginia was 29. It was the year Poems 1911 was published (clue in the title), Brooke’s one and only volume of poems to appear during his actual lifetime. (Woolf’s first novel appeared four years later.)
Christopher Hassall describes the incident in his biography of Brooke (Rupert Brooke: a Biography 1964):
“It was the end of August. Virginia Stephen arrived at the Old Vicarage and occupied Ka’s bed on the other side of the house. The garden room was strewn with scraps of Strindberg, pages of Bland Vassen and fragments of verse. Probably the guest had brought with her an early chapter of The Voyage Out to revise while Brooke was reading or writing stretched out on the grass. One warm night there was a clear sky and a moon and they walked out to the shadowy waters of Byron’s Pool. “Let’s go swimming, quite naked,” Brooke said, and they did.”
Brooke mentions in his well known poem The Old Vicarage, Granchester this pool where his poetic forebear Byron swam when no-one was about:
Still in the dawn waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool
The painter Augustus John, who lived nearby with a caravan load of hot women and brown children, was also a naked frequenter of the pool, as was the philosopher Wittgenstein.
The Midnight Swim is also fictionalised and extrapolated upon in Jill Dawson’s recent novel The Great Lover which I read on holiday this August (exactly 98 years after the skinny-dip in question), kindly given to me by Aysha Rafaele (a fellow C4 Commissioning Editor from Documentaries) who spotted it in the Richard & Judy Book Club pile.
So any action between the two of them, both swingers-both-ways? Rupert, I get the impression, was more inclined to the hetero. Virginia must be well documented but I’m not sure exactly how her bi was balanced. Lytton Strachey had proposed to her two years earlier but they both realised, in the cool light of day the next morning, it wouldn’t work out. I don’t think any one knows or ever said quite what occurred, which leaves it as a lovely little mystery…
The Midnight Swim wasn’t their first watery encounter. In April 1899 (Rupert was 11, Virginia was 17) the Brookes went to St. Ives on holiday, where Leslie Stephen was also vacationing with his family. The two of them played together by the sea.
Yeats called Brooke “the handsomest young man in England”. By the year of The Midnight Swim, Brooke was secretly engaged or attached in some fashion to Noel Olivier, a fascinating character in her own right (Rupert was 24, Noel was 19) here’s her Wikipedia entry.
I had a go recently at drafting a Wikipedia entry for her sister Brynhild who seemed a promising character, the most beautiful of the Olivier sisters, but there’s very little to go on. This is what I have so far:
”’Brynhild Olivier”’ (1886 – 13th January 1935) was a member of [[Rupert Brooke]]’s circle before the First World War and associated with the [[Bloomsbury Group]]. She was the fourth daughter of [[Sydney Haldane Olivier]], 1st Baron Olivier, and Margaret Cox; she was sister of Margery, Daphne and [[Noel Olivier|Noel]].
She married art historian [[A. E. Popham]] (Arthur Ewart Hugh Popham, known as Hugh) in 1912 (becoming Brynhild Popham). Hugh Popham was a friend of Rupert Brooke. They were divorced in 1924. She married [[F. R. N. Sherrard]] in 1924 (becoming Brynhild Sherrard).
She was the mother of [[Anne Olivier Popham]], who became the wife of art historian and writer [[Quentin Bell]]. She was also the mother of the poet, translator and theologian [[Philip Sherrard|Philip Owen Arnould Sherrard]] (born 23 September 1922, Oxford).
Brynhild was the first of the four Olivier sisters the poet Rupert Brooke met. Although she was reputedly the most beautiful, it was her sister Noel Olivier for whom Brooke fell.
She was first cousin of the actor [[Laurence Olivier]].
If there’s anyone out there in internetland who knows anything more about Brynhild (Bryn) Olivier, please do let me know via comments or however so I can get enough substance in the article to make it acceptable for Wikipedia – i.e. more information on what she achieved in her adult life.
Rupert and Noel met in 1908 when he was 20 and she a 15-year-old schoolgirl at the then fashionable, progressive Bedales in Petersfield. Noel’s father was Lord Sydney Olivier (uncle of dear, dear Larry), a prominent Fabian and high-ranking civil servant, serving in his time as Governor of Jamaica and Secretary of State for India.
Bedales was something of a centre for getting your kit off. Various members of Brooke’s circle had been there, the first co-ed public school, which encouraged a passion for the open air and healthy outdoor games. Nude swimming and sunbathing (segregated) made it on to the curriculum (hoorah!). The Sun Bathing Society’s Annual Summer Conference was held there in 1931 and naturists used the Bedales grounds out of term in the wake of their starting to organise in Britain during the previous decade.
Noel went on to have a long and interesting career as a doctor, politically active in a way reflecting her Fabian roots. Rupert had a short one as an early crash-and-burn teen hero, paving the way for everyone from James Dean to (fellow Cantabrian) Nick Drake to River (appropriately enough) Phoenix. He didn’t quite make 28. He cast himself as a Neo-Pagan (becoming a central figure of an eponymous group of writers and artists) and Virginia confirmed this: “He was consciously and definitely pagan.” They were the original Teddy Boys, the reckless youth of the Edwardian era, rebelling against the constraints of stiff-collared Victorian ways.
Embodying the Neo-Pagan ideals of youth, comradeship and the Simple Life, Brooke revelled in going barefoot and skinny-dipping: “Two miles from Cambridge up the river I wander about barefoot and almost naked. I live on honey, eggs and milk.” (letter to Noel Olivier, summer 1909). A bit of Romantic exaggeration of course, but Rupert certainly enjoyed casting off a few layers.
This summer I had the Simple Pleasure of bathing in Lough Hyne, just outside of Baltimore (the one in West Cork as opposed to The Wire one). It is pretty much unique as a salt-water lake, quite the place to go if you want to hang with a goby, shanny, blenny, three-spined stickleback or clingfish. Its salty water reminded me of another top bathing experience – the Blue Hole, East of Port Antonio, Jamaica (aka the Blue Lagoon since Brooke Shields skinny-dipped there in 1980, directed by Randal Kleiser, who I had a ridiculous phonecall with when I was working at Solus – for some unaccountable reason I turned momentarily into The Player, luckily old Randy couldn’t see the tenderfoot at the other end of the transatlantic line). The Blue Hole is a mixed salt and fresh water lagoon, fed by cold underground springs. When you swim you have the unique experience of one stroke warm, next stroke cool, warm, cool, warm, cool, warm, cool. Divers and scientists say it has a depth of about 180 feet. Local islanders say it is bottomless and a monsterous creature lives down below. The mixture of intense physical pleasure and underlying anxiety of the sheer extent and unknowableness of Nature is an experience common to skinny-dippers the world wide.
Here’s a nice little piece from the new issue of the cracking 4Talent magazine. It’s come along way over the 9 issues to date, evolving out of Ten4 magazine based in the West Midlands to become the nationwide contender it is now. This issue’s gorgeous cover in Burne-Jones colours is designed by London-based Slovakian designer Petra Stefankova, one of the winners of last year’s 4Talent Awards (for which I had the honour of presenting the New Media award).
“I have an upcoming project, codename Sam I Am. I’m busting to tell you about it but I can’t yet [Update SP4 readers: it soft launched today, hence the link]; it’s necessarily under wraps. It’s a very entertaining concept and interactive experience which still manages to convey a substantial meaning – in this case about the diversity of Islamic culture, and the narrowness of most of our experience and understanding of it.
The commission I’m most proud of: The Big Art Mob. It applies new technology and media behaviours to a worthwhile public task: mapping the best of Public Art (from bronze geezers on horses to Banksys) across the UK. Interested people from all around the country and beyond (we’re big in Brazil) are photographing artworks on their mobiles and uploading them to the map, having a good online natter about arty stuff along the way. You can interact wherever you are – I’m particularly proud of the WAP (mobile) site at bigartmob.com/mobile. It’s been nominated for 3 Baftas alongside the likes of the iPlayer and Dr Who, so it’s punching above its weight in true C4 stylee.
In the way that Big Art Mob finds a worthwhile purpose for moblogging (mobile blogging) I want to find missions and purposes for other emerging interactive tools and technologies like, say, Twitter – in itself geek masturbation and possibly the end of civilisation as we know it, with a creatively conceived context perhaps something exceedingly good.
I’ve spent the last 5 years at Channel 4 exploring what public service means in a digital world – from Big Dig to Big Art Project, and one or two projects that don’t even have ‘Big’ in the title like Picture This and Empire’s Children. But Big is important: ambition, scale and impact are all vital.
Cross-platform and interactive media is what’s pumping the nads* of the telly industry right now, and it’s vital to its future. All the creative and entrepreneurial energy is welling up in these areas and Channel 4 is ready for action.”
* [John Bender is absently tearing up books]
Andrew Clark: That’s real intelligent.
John Bender: You’re right. It’s wrong to destroy literature. It’s such fun to read. And…
[examines title] …Moe-Lay really pumps my nads.
Claire Standish: Moliere!
So I’m on the underground yesterday, reading the new hardback I’d bought the day before. Then this burn-out walks on and I have that feeling – I know he’s going to sit next to me. He’s very tall, lanky, drug thin. His fingernails are dirty. The driver has to warn passengers to stay clear of the closing doors. The burn-out calls them “fucking idiots” in the expected loud cockney voice. I shift rightwards in my seat, hope he isn’t going to smell too bad (which he doesn’t as far as my hopeless sense of smell can tell), carry on reading.
“Is that the new Bond novel?” he asks me gently, having glanced down at the page I was on. The book only came out the day before. The open page had few clues as to what it was.
“Yes, it is.”
“Do you think the film they’re making of it will be good?”
“I think it’s based on a different story.”
“So is that written by Fleming?”
What do I take from the unexpected exchange? You can’t judge the book by the cover I guess is the obvious one we (certainly I) can’t be reminded of often enough. You can tell the price (but not the value). What I most took away was the Simple Pleasure that I had enjoyed the conversation and contact and there was real warmth in those human bonds.
The new Bond book is entitled ‘Devil May Care’ and has been written by Sebastian Faulks (of ‘Birdsong’ fame) in the style of Fleming. I’ve only ever read a couple of Bond books, but remember really enjoying ‘Casino Royale’ (the first Bond novel) for the surprising brutality of the man I had only encountered through the movies. The publication of a new Bond book felt like a bit of an event (I was one when Fleming died) so I bought a copy of this in advance on-line through Hatchards website and picked it up on the day of publication on the way to a meeting at BAFTA with Rob Bevan of XPT- we were working on the forthcoming website for 4IP, the new Channel 4-led fund for public service interactive media, announced at Next on 4 back in March and coming on-stream over the summer. Hatchards in Piccadilly – a book shop dating back to 1797 as it says on its rich green bags the colour of Bond’s customised Bentley with its Arnott supercharger – is one of London’s great treasures. It makes me feel guilty every time I buy from Amazon and I try to make amends by pulling by whenever I’m at the Academy at 195 Piccadilly and picking up a signed volume.
After having a satisfying creative session with Rob, my old collaborator from MindGym, I hooked up with Ivo Gormley of ThinkPublic to talk about his forthcoming documentary about the internet and democracy. We walked back Channel4wards through St James’s and St James’s’ Park where I had the pleasure of demoing Big Art Mob in its mobile incarnation [WAP site] to him in a small alley where we found a superb bas relief of Anthony and Cleopatra, which looks like it may once have adorned a theatre in the area but is now built into a wall opposite an old public house, and on a remixed sculpture which seems to have once lost its head in the park. Ivo’s dad, Antony, who he closely resembles, is one of the most popular artists on Big Art Mob, third only to Henry Moore and Banksy. I wonder what the ‘burn-out’ thinks about public art? what his favourites around the city are? Something to talk about next time…
Took 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.