Me & Alfonso & The Dying Girl

I’m writing this one in a colourful armchair in the Soho Hotel off Dean Street. It’s around the corner from an innocuous newsagent, the locus of my first movie industry memory. I was about 6 and I got out of the car, looking up at this particular sign with scrolling. It’s still there – I took a photo on the way over here:

We walked down Dean Street – me, my mum’s friend Brenda and Sarah-Jane (her daughter, my age) – down to De Lane Lea sound facility where Louis Elman, Brenda’s husband, was localising Eastern European puppet shows and we’d been brought along to enjoy the spectacle (I remember it being more technical than entertaining).

So directly in that heritage here I am just off Dean St having just attended a BAFTA screening. It was my second viewing of Me & Earl & The Dying Girl – one of the best 2015 contenders in my humble opinion – and a massive hit at Sundance. I’ve just had a chat with the director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, formerly an assistant of Martin Scorsese. His producer, Jeremy Dawson, was also in attendance. They shot this beautiful, dynamic film in 24 days.

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Me & Earl & The Dying Girl

There was a Q&A by Kevin Macdonald (Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void – both Film4) and his brother Andrew (Trainspotting, ExMachina – both Film4) was also present. In honour of my nephew Jake I asked a question about casting. Me & Earl is Jake’s favourite book so I asked about the disparity between the main characters – Greg (chubby), Rachel (plain) and Earl (short) – in the book and in the final film. Could it have been cast like the book, rather than Greg (Thomas Mann – charming), Rachel (Olivia Cooke – cute) and Earl (RJ Cyler – 6’2″ & cool) as in the movie? Alfonso explained they tried the chubby Greg route but it skewed the script in a particular direction and he got better chemistry from Olivia with Greg – they had to have a particular type of relationship which was largely non-sexual. RJ was a late addition – never acted before and showed up just as things were getting desperate in closing the casting.

Kevin and Andrew of course are the grandsons of Pressburger, as in Powell & Pressburger. Greg and Earl make little movies in the film using the target & arrows logo of P&P’s The Archers film company. And Alfonso was Scorsese’s assistant earlier in his career, a great champion of Powell & Pressburger.

Scorsese made Raging Bull and that chain links me to something else special about today. Frank Sinatra considered (another Jake) Jake La Motta, the bull in question, “lower than whale shit”, “the worst living American”. “He dumped the fight to Billy Fox and never told his father, who bet his life’s savings on Jake.” As low as you can go in Sinatra’s eyes. I believe in the fundamental goodness of Frank and above all in his music. Today is his hundredth birthday. Now I’ve written this I’m going to relax in this here maroon, yellow and orange deco armchair and read more of Pete Hamill’s Why Sinatra Matters. Hamill writes about the quality of great art which makes the listener/viewer “more human” through connection. Frank does that – and so does Me & Earl & The Dying Girl. Both represent “the ultimate triumph over the banality of death”. Happy Birthday, Frank.

 

Alfonso Gomez-Rejon questioned by Kevin Macdonald

Postscript: On the way home I listened to more Frank on my new little red iPod and dropped in to Alan’s Records on our drizzly, dark, cosy, getting-Christmassy high street. I leafed through a fairly healthy Sinatra/Rat Pack section and picked out these two beauties. Essence of Frank. That perfect middle period – not too skinny, not too fat, of face and voice. I won’t go into the whole story but suffice it to say Alan gave me these two LPs out of kindness. That’s the kind of place it is. Frank Sinatra secretly paid for Sugar Ray Robinson to be looked after in the fighter’s old age. That’s the kind of guy he was.

 

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To celebrate Frank’s birthday – from Alan’s Records, London N2

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3 comments so far

  1. theluckhabit on

    Must have just missed you in Soho. I was there too. I just hope the last remnants of record stores survive. Sister Ray is now a pale shadow of what it was. Soul Jazz lives by having a successful record label. But so few left. My daughter however has just asked for a turntable for her sixteenth birthday!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Marilyn Podro on

    Am just browsing through your amazing simple pleasures…and jolting my memories of my working for Louis Elman and his wife BERYL.She turned up in recent years in Brighton. Perhaps I should try and contact her? I have a feeling she has ‘disappeared’???

    >

    Like


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