Archive for the ‘Actors’ Category
I have to admit I was a bit worried when I heard Channel 4 were making a film about Bobby Sands and the Maze hunger strike. Having sat through shite like Ken Loach and Rebecca O’Brien’s ‘The Wind that Shakes the Barley’ I feared the worst. But ‘Hunger‘, by Turner Prize winner Steve McQueen, is an artist’s film of intense emotional impact and real insight. And it belongs on the big screen, its compositions and rhythms fill the space. That it is a London born film-maker, a black film-maker, that provides such insight into so fraught and sensitive an Irish story is all the more remarkable.
It was commissioned by my colleague Jan Younghusband, Commissioning Editor for Arts and Performance at Channel 4. She is a woman with a purist and committed approach to art, as I learned from working with her on projects like Big Art Project and 4mations. ‘Hunger’ was five years in the making and conception. Through her work on the Turner Prize Jan came into contact with McQueen, hooked up from time to time in a cafe on Old Compton Street and gradually homed in on this most demanding of subject-matter. Film 4, in the person of Peter Carlton (who I worked with last year on My Movie Mash-up/Faintheart, which amply demonstrated his ballsy approach) came in to back the film as a theatric offering. I have to say, having just emerged from a viewing of the finished film, I couldn’t be prouder to be part of an organisation that creates a work like this.
I walk past Bobby Sands regularly in the form of a Christ-like statue of him in Newry, the town in County Down where my wife was born. She grew up in Northern Ireland in the 70s and early 80s – I can hardly imagine how she and her sisters will watch this film. Whatever you feel about the politics behind Bobby Sands (of which most of our (British) population is incredibly ignorant, and was so back in 1980 – as a suburban London teenager it was right off my radar beyond what I gleaned from Stiff Little Fingers) the portrayal of political conviction and of inhuman bigotry is as powerful as it comes. Thatcher’s voice, heard in voice-over punctuating the film from time to time, comes across as truly monstrous. Everything about its coldness and stridency speaks of the huge cultural gulf between the Lincoln grocery and a family gathering in West Belfast or Gweedore, Donegal (where the key flashback scene of the film takes place) or pretty much anywhere in Ireland or an Irish home.
My wife recalls how her life and the lives of all around her were overshadowed by the hunger strike. A time punctuated by the staggered deaths (they deliberately spaced the starts of their hunger-strikes two weeks apart to maximise the impact of their sacrifice). Looking back from the last few years it is only now she truly recognises what a troubled, hard childhood she and her contemporaries lived through. A couple of years ago we were in the (old) Tate with the children. They were copying some of the pictures in the Pop Art rooms. As we emerged from the gallery I noticed my wife was really upset. I asked her what was up and it turned out walking through a room of Richard Hamilton images of soldiers on the streets of Belfast [The State 1993] had really disturbed her and awakened ghosts. (Richard Hamilton of course also portrayed Bobby Sands draped in blanket in his picture ‘The Citizen’ [1981-83].)
When I first visited Newry in 1986 I was greeted by the most surreal of experiences – walking down the high street I watched British troops, armed with machine guns and equipped with radios, ducking in and out of shop doorways between little old ladies struggling along with their shopping bags. Nothing in my North London childhood had given me the slightest clue that such dark comedy was to be had on the streets of ‘my country’.
On my way out of the screening I met a woman who looked pretty shaken by the experience (naturally enough). It turned out her daughter works at the Channel and she comes from Crossmaglen, Co. Armagh. Needless to say she knew the one family I know in Crossmaglen, as that is the way of Ireland. I knew the hospital she was born in in Newry, Daisyhill aka Crazyhill, as my wife was born there too. I knew her school in Kilkeel as my wife went there too. It’s a small, connected place. In her family home this woman I got talking to has some of the tiny notes smuggled out of the Maze – that’s how connected it is.
I thought the starvation in Sean Penn’s ‘Into the Wild‘ was painful to watch and moving but it goes nowhere near the forensic observation of this film. The skeletal bodies are resonant of Auschwitz – and the crucifixion. And yet the film captures something incredible, something transcendent about the human spirit and will.
Towards the end of the film we see a flashback of the Belfast boy on a coach traveling over the border into Donegal to attend a cross-country race put on by the Christian Brothers (purveyors, as Pete McCarthy amusingly put it, of “the carrot and stick method of Education – only without the carrot”). Behind the face of the young Bobby is a blurred swoosh of gold, low sunlight on the ferns and bogland. It represents a paradise to the starving man.
Recalling when I first went to that place – Gweedore – brings a smile to my lips. I’d followed the roadmap and came to what I thought was not far from Gweedore. I stopped at a junction, reminiscent of where Cary Grant gets off the bus in ‘North-by-Northwest’ and gets attacked by a crop-spraying plane. There was a small shop at the junction, outside of which stood an old fella in a flat cap. I wound down the window and asked him where Gweedore was. You’re in it. Where? All around. He was trying to explain the concept of a ‘townland’ which was foreign to me. ‘Town’ I get. ‘Land’ and ‘country’ I get. But this was something in-between, half way to the imagination, between the word on the map and the ground beneath me was a cultural gap and an imaginative leap. ‘Dhun na nGall’ (Donegal) means ‘fort of the foreigners’ – foreigners have given the people there a tough time since way back – from the marauding Vikings (who probably explain my wife’s love of the battle and fighting scenes in ‘Gladiator’) to the screws beating the living shit out of Bobby Sands and fellow prisoners with their truncheons and tattooed knuckles. The same shit these men smeared on the walls of their cells in an astonishing act of defiance for over 4 years, the shit McQueen turns into a kind of circular abstract painting in one scene. The ability of people to survive that kind of degradation and brutality for the sake of an idea is ultimately uplifting. The ability to inflict that kind of degradation and brutality is to be the subject of one of my next posts (bet you can’t wait ;-) inspired by Philippe Sands‘ recent book Torture Team about torture in Iraq, where Steve McQueen served as a war artist in 2003.) So shifting Sands from Bobby to Philippe – not easy subjects but then 7/7 isn’t an easy day…
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!
High in his mountain lair, overlooking the snow-topped peaks of the Canadian Rockies, protected by the sheer stone walls of the looming castle, the cross-platform commissioner and his white cat reflect on the events of the past few days. The Banff Spring hotel, one of the barmy baronial piles built by the Canadian Pacific railway (I’ve seen two others, at Lake Louise and in downtown Toronto, all astounding in their scale), is home to the annual Banff TV Festival which follows hard on the heels of NextMedia, its toddler brother of about four which focuses on interactive media. It’s interesting to see this year that the two are beginning to overlap substantially, reflecting (a little late) the changes in TV over the last two years in particular.
The highlights for me of ‘the place great TV is born’…
My main speaking session this afternoon with Kate Harwood from BBC Drama (Cranford, Oliver Twist, etc.), chaired by Ed Waller, Editorial Director of C21 Media – really enjoyed rabbiting on about Picture This, Embarrassing Bodies and Big Art Mob to illustrate my approach to factual cross-platform (BTW “rabbiting” is one of various English words I found out this trip Canadians don’t understand). Sesh seemed to go down well. Mentioned the forthcoming 4mations and 4IP. It’s always fun demoing Embarrassing Bodies because you never know what gruesome video will be featured on the homescreen – my very own Russian roulette of public speaking (not sure what exactly we were looking at yesterday but the thumbnail featured what seemed to be a fifteen-day old mini cheese pizza growing on someone’s head) .
Kate showed a couple of interesting clips from forthcoming shows – House of Saddam looked fascinating as did Criminal Justice (in which Pete Postlethwaite and some other thesp heavyweights cropped up).
Looking up at the reception before the Rockies Awards to see Bill Murray of Where the Buffalo Roams and Ghostbusters fame. Stripes featured big in my teen viewing – especially the parade ground manoeuvres to the tune of Manfred Mann’s Doo Wah Diddy. He looked rather white and old. Buffalo I first saw at the Arts Cinema when I was at college so I guess he is getting on. (I’ve just finished reading Fear & Loathing for the first time – goddarn that book has great pictures!)
I’m carrying on writing this on Canada’s third greatest invention – after maple syrup and Neil Young – the Blackberry. We’ve just driven past the Banff Centre where Kim Cattrall trained. I had the pleasure of picking up 4 Rockies Awards on behalf of the Channel in front of said Sex in the City star to her 1 shiny little metal mountain range. Whilst she looked like a million dollars, I was more like a bad penny, coming back to the podium four times, which did however have the benefit of driving home how much above its weight Channel 4 punches.
Going to the hot springs after work yesterday with Jane Mote of UKTV, in their rather charming 1932 split-level building. 39 degrees in the outdoor water with views in all directions of snow-capped peaks. Steam coming off the surface, fat bellied men in old-style trunks, a row of French maidens posing in 1930s bathing costumes, it felt for a moment like we were in some Russian resort, missing only the wodka.
Running this morning, after doing a breakfast meeting with four Canadian writers and producers (including Jill Golick of scriptwriting blog Story2OH), along the Bow river past the falls. The epitome of Canadian Rockies scenery.
Having a proper chat at breakfast with Nick Fraser of Storyville (who has just execed a film about the aforereferredto Hunter Thompson) (and Mette Hoffman Meyer of DTV, Denmark representing the award-winning documentary Iron Ladies of Liberia) – last saw Nick when we were both speaking at Discovery Campus in Brussels but didn’t really get to talk – so a proper chat about photography (prompted by his commission What Remains: Life & Work of Sally Mann which also picked up a Rocky), new digital forms for documentary, sealing wax, cabbages and things.
Last year it was Mark Thompson I met at breakfast in that same dining room. We were discussing the fall-out of Celeb Big Bro and his verdict was “shit happens”. And the Richard & Judy phone vote balls-up – “Sometimes shit happens in a row”. Which in retrospect was ironic given the kind of year he had following that convo with one bit of shit (Blue Peter fix) after another (queen trail scandal) after another (BBC cuts).
Hooking up with Tom Perlmutter, President of the National Film Board of Canada, to explore possibilities about combining forces on 4mations. Canada has a great reputation in animation which seems in kindred spirit to what comes out of Channel 4 on the animation front.
Meeting an honest to goodness Mountie.
Being on the judging panel for iPitch from the Bell New Media fund, like last year. Not quite as exciting entries as last time but a worthy winner (a cross-platform teen court).
As I come down from the mountains, I come away with the impression that convergence is now more than the C word in TV – it’s the done deed.
I conceived it as an experiment in what I called (back in 2006) ‘User Commissioned Content’, which was sloppy short-hand for ‘User-Generated Content where you give the User a few quid to help realise their vision’ (for some studio time, a special actor, whatever). As it turned out I was applying a TV/video paradigm to the Radio medium where the gap between writer and producer/director is much wider so I adapted the project on the fly, eventually bringing in professional directors from other disciplines (TV, experimental theatre, etc.) to produce the radio dramas professionally but with the freshness of never having worked in the Radio medium.
4Radio sounds off with dramas ahead of launch
- Published: 07 May 2008 11:45
- Author: Robin Parker
The first fiction commissions for Channel 4’s fledgling 4Radio venture are to debut online later this month when the broadcaster unveils four audio dramas.
The scripts were chosen from more than 1,000 submitted to an online competition launched last year off the back of C4 theatre talent search The Play’s the Thing.
They were originally intended to be shared with OneWord before C4 pulled its funding from the station in December.
C4 now plans to use the web to launch the plays ahead of 4Radio‘s planned start at the end of this year and will also make them available as podcasts.
The 15-minute plays tackle heavyweight themes. Hospital doctor Andy Prendergast’s To the Broad Shore explores euthanasia; DA McIllroy’s The Interpreter features a confrontation between a Belfast police officer and a Chinese illegal immigrant; Stephen Todd’s Proud Songster looks at the impact of genocide in Rwanda; and Caroline Gilfillan’s The Colonel reflects on Chilean torture that took place in the 1970s.
All four are produced by Maud Hand of Maud Hand Productions and John Dryden of Goldhawk Productions. Hand has developed the project since January 2006. Dryden was invited latterly to come on board and is an experienced radio producer who has specialised in recording plays on location, most notably Radio 4’s The Cairo Trilogy, starring Omar Sharif.
The 4Radio plays are also made out of the studio in locations around London.
Directors lined up include Noreen Kershaw, the Life on Mars actress who has turned to directing Coronation Street and Shameless, and Andrew Foster, the New Zealand theatre director who developed cult comedy Flight of the Conchords for HBO and directed the feature film Eagle vs Shark.
C4 new media commissioner Adam Gee has championed the plays at C4, developing the project in his earlier role as head of 4Talent.
“Having created some content for 4Radio, much of it linked to established C4 shows, this is our first experiment in making radio drama sound different,” said Gee.
Article reproduced courtesy of Robin Parker and Broadcast
I think it was Sartre who said: “You’ve got to be philosophical about it.” Well, I was trying my best last night at the TV BAFTAs after Big Art Mob lost out to Spooks in the Interactivity category. I tried to put on my least bitter look, so more mandarin than lemon but not really peachy.
That said, I had an enjoyable enough evening. Besides my co-nominees (Alfie Dennen of Moblog and Clifford Singer of Edition, who showed an admirably rigid upper lip) at my table was the dapper Peter Kosminsky, writer and director of Britz (for Channel 4), which caused the biggest upset of the night by stealing the Drama Serial category from hot favourite Cranford. He gave a lovely acceptance speech acknowledging his late father, an aspiring writer who never achieved recognition. Accompanying Peter was his wife Helen who works for Artichoke, the outfit behind The Sultan’s Elephant – which I had the great pleasure of stumbling on by accident as I left a meeting at the ICA, one of those unexpected pleasures which make life worth living.
The two leads from Britz were also at our table, Riz Ahmed and Manjinder Virk, the former filling us in on his non-acting activities as Riz MC – I’ve just downloaded a track (The Post 9/11 Blues) and it’s a jolly little choon with a nice twist of politics. Talking of twist, he told an illuminating story about coming back from the Berlin film festival (where Britz won the Silver Bear) and being detained and roughed up by British immigration when he reacted with incredulity to their bizarre full-on questioning as he arrived home-sour-home.
Among our number was also a trio of filmfolk – David Aukin, formerly head of FilmFour (in the Trainspotting era) who told us a bit about his new movie that kicked off production yesterday starring the marvelous William Hurt (The Big Chill, Altered States, Smoke); Rebecca O’Brien, Ken Loach’s long-time producer; and Kierston Wareing, up for best actress for It’s a Free World (not bitter either), who was sitting on the other side of a large clump of decorative foliage from me so never had the pleasure of engaging with her beyond admiring her LBD+ (second only to Joanna Lumley’s flowing tangerine Grecian number).
Otherwise caught up with Ben Miller (of Miller and Armstrong) who co-wrote MindGym with Tim Wright and me. The best thing about working with him was that he insisted on performing the stuff he wrote before he would hand it over. He was also being philosophical about things having lost out in the Comedy category to C4’s Phonejacker.
Another philosopher was Matthew MacFadyen who, having missed out on Best Actor (in his role in Secret Life) to Andrew Garfield (Boy A), confirmed it’s all a pile of crap (the classic default position until you triumph), backed up by his Mrs Keeley Hawes who confirmed it’s all down to who’s in the room the day they do the judging (the back-up default position).
Other highlights of the evening included having a piss beside the Top Gear boyz Richard Hammond and James May which impressed the Enfants Terribles no-end (they’re Dave addicts); getting picked up from my gaff by a chauffeur-driven posh Audi (driven by an off-duty road cop from Northampton) – I took as long as I could decently do getting from the front door to the car for maximum neighbour-exposure; meeting various Skinsfolk including Tony and the late Chris; and spotting a psycho-stalker-autographhunter (complete with two cameras round his neck, the cover of an Emmerdale video among his equipment, and seriously deranged teeth) as we went into the Grosvenor bash, who, together with the red carpet experience before the Palladium show, made you happy not to live the celeb life-style and truly content with the Simple Pleasures.
Having just written about the Oirishness of Ryan’s Daughter in Sons & Daughters below, an irony occurred to me today. The great cinematic inspiration which drew David Lean into the world of cinema was in fact an Irish film-maker, Rex Ingram. Lean was much taken with silent cinema and Ingram’s Mare Nostrum (1925) was the movie he saw as a boy which opened his eyes to the potential of the medium.
The only Ingram film I’ve experienced to date was Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) starring Rudolph Valentino [above with Alice Terry, his leading lady and Ingram’s devoted wife] which I saw as a Channel 4 Silent at the Parkway Cinema in November 1992. Those performances were dedicated to Lean. The film had been lovingly restored by David Gill and Kevin Brownlow, to whom a few years later I had the pleasure of explaining the potential of interactive media (at that time, CD-ROM) and how it might be applied to silent cinema. I met them at their Photoplay Productions office in Primrose Hill and soon came to realise that these were people who did it For Love Not Money. That was a real inspiration.
The music that night was conducted by Carl Davis. I remember seeing him just before in George & Niki’s, the little caff on the corner beside The Parkway. Those were days when there was cinematic magic to be had in Camden Town.
The Parkway, and Peter the cinema manager who dressed in a tux for every evening performance, are now history. The building still stands but the soul has departed. I worked as one of the Friends of Parkway to save it from the developers (organising, among other things, a premiere of one of the Lethal Weapons (the one with Patsy Kensit as a Sowd Dafrikan) – look, we just needed the dough, beggars can’t be choosers) but in the end I guess we only saved the bricks and the chopped up screens.
Weirdly enough, Ingrams’ full name was Reginald Ingram Montgomery Hitchcock. He was born in Dublin, the son of a Church of Ireland clergyman. Ingram’s own prompt into cinema was seeing the Irish actor Maurice Costello in an early movie of A Tale of Two Cities when he was on holiday in New York around 1910 (the year my local cinema, The Phoenix, was born).
His first job in the biz was at Edison Co., then he moved in 1914 to Vitagraph where he both acted and wrote. In those days stardom and technical craft were not so separate and he got a rounded education in movie-making. It was when he joined Universal in 1916 (the year Ryan’s Daughter is set and the year Ireland’s greatest modern drama was unfolding on the streets on Ingram’s native city) that his directing career began in earnest. His first undertaking there was directing his own script, The Great Problem. His subsequent films were distinguished by interesting, atmospheric locations; off-beat characters; and imaginative settings and lightening (Ingram was also a sculptor and artist). It was ‘Four Horsemen’ that made his name after he moved to Metro – whose bacon its success ultimately saved (which makes him to some degree responsible in another way for Ryan’s Daughter, which was an MGM film). In the mid-20s, weary of Hollywood, he set up the Rex Ingram Studios in Nice (where he made ‘Mare Nostrum’, which he considered his best movie). He left movie-making shortly after his first sound picture (in which he also starred), moved to North Africa, then back to Hollywood where he devoted himself to sculpture and novel writing. He looks very dapper in the pictures I’ve seen of him, a cross between Martin Scorsese and Gary Cooper.
I haven’t yet seen the Film4 funded ‘Garage‘ nor another current Film4 movie ‘In Bruges‘ starring celebroDub Colin Farrell (though I love the poster: ” Shoot first. Sightsee later”) but I have the impression the Irish energy in cinema is on the up so I’ll return to the theme Once I’ve seen those two.
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.
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.
Just finished watching ‘The Candidate‘ – the 1972 movie starring Robert Redford as a Democratic candidate for senatorial office in California. I thought it may be fun to watch given what’s going on over the water. Jeremy Larner picked up an Oscar for his original screenplay. One of the taglines for the movie was: “Too Handsome. Too Young. Too Liberal. Doesn’t have a chance. He’s perfect!” The other was: “Nothing matters more than winning. Not even what you believe in.” The former clearly has resonance with regard to Obama. You can feel the presence of JFK throughout the film – I kept waiting for Bill McKay to cop some lead – as it happens the worst thing that happens is a fist to that blonde waspy jaw. Whether the second tagline says anything about Hilary or Barack – who am I to say…
It was the end of the film that struck me most. It reminded me of that thing about your twenties. You spend all that effort finding a mate, you get hitched and think you’ve finished something, you’ve arrived, you’ve made it …and of course marriage, it’s just a beginning. I remember a similar realisation when we arrived home with our first son. Just back from the hospital, we put him down in the middle of the living room in his Moses basket. Sat looking at him for a bit. I went in to the bedroom. Realised some kind of radar had been switched on in my head and I was constantly thinking about how he was – wherever I was. It wasn’t the end of nine months – it was the beginning of nineteen years, or twenty-nine, or forever.
At the end of ‘The Candidate’ Robert Redford momentarily escapes from his victory celebrations, ducks into a room in the hotel with his campaign manager (played superbly by Peter Boyle – veteran of Steelyard Blues, Taxi Driver, Where the Buffalo Roam and the unjustly overlooked The Dream Team) and asks him the terrifying question: “What do we do now?”
Which, of course, is the exact same sentiment as Roger McGough’s ‘The Leader’, indeed pretty much exactly the same words (just two letters difference):
I wanna be the leader
I wanna be the leader
Can I be the leader?
Can I? I can?
Yippee I’m the leader
I’m the leader
OK what shall we do?
I’m not sure whether McGough wrote the poem before or after the movie was made – I can’t see it in 1967’s The Mersey Sound nor 1983’s New Volume which exhausts my collection of his pomes and makes me wonder where and when I know it from then.
So with the words “What do we do now?” echoing in the room, McKay walks out and closes the door leaving an empty, blank, off-white room behind him as he goes to realise his ‘better way’ – “Bill McKay: For a better way”. An empty room – and the credits roll.
Barack Obama: Where’s the harm, huh?
Hilary Clinton: Let the bint* in!
[* UK slang: Noun. A woman. From the Arabic ‘bint’ meaning girl or daughter.] (Yeh, well you try rhyming with ‘Clinton’)
So let’s hope, once Bush has withered away, that the room’s not empty, the cupboard’s not bare, there’s hope and there’s care.
The fellas from LG15 (Greg and Miles, two of the three co-founders) pulled by yesterday on a trip to London. As I’ve made clear earlier on Simple Pleasures, I’m a big fan of LonelyGirl15 as an indicator of what can be done in the realm of interactive drama. I’ve also indicated previously that I’m not quite as convinced by Kate Modern – whilst I like the logo, I’m not crazy about the acting and I’m still confused about the point-of-view (don’t they feel a little socially awkward interacting with others with a camera constantly pointing out from in front of their face? or who is that cameraman following them around? – as the drama moves out of the bedroom, it needs to be recognised that the mobile equivalent of the webcam is CCTV). Now that was a great title – ‘Stars of CCTV’ – by Slough’s finest Hard-Fi. I never got to see that Scottish film Red Road but there’s got to be a great CCTV movie to be made (by all accounts Red Road was a pretty good stab at it). Likewise – thinking about the product placement-driven nature of Kate Modern, there’s got to be a great comedy interactive drama to be made around the sometimes less than subtle weaving of mundane products into the storyline. Of course not all the products punctuating Kate Modern are mundane. FilmFour’s Hallam Foe featuring Jamie Bell got the Modern treatment in an imaginative enough way, including both a cardboard cut-out of the aforementioned star and a live encounter with him in a bar. So it was good yesterday to close the circle and introduce LG15 to the Channel 4 Film & Drama department.
Greg always talks with fabulous energy about LonelyGirl’s narrative, his retelling is always infectious and makes you want to do a box set binge. Equally charming and infectious was Mike Bolland who chaired a panel I was on at the RTS in Birmingham the night before about the first 25 years of Channel 4 with Dorothy Hobson, author of Channel 4 : The Early Years and the Jeremy Isaacs Legacy. Mike was one of the original, first generation Channel 4 Commissioning Editors, responsible for some C4 classics including The Tube and Comic Strip Presents. He recounted with glee the youthful energy around the nascent channel and the latitude Jeremy Isaacs gave him. As we rounded off the evening, I tried to bring out the commonality between then and now – the experimentation that comes with the dawn of a new era – back then the era of independent television production, now the dawning of the digital age, a far more significant revolution with the transition of media to on-demand and two-way/interactive.
And what a lovely example of the experimental and interactive character of our modern media age I had a couple of nights ago, albeit with primarily analogue technology. My older son (10) had to record a piece of his persuasive writing for his homework, to which end be borrowed a crappy old dictaphone from his grandma. The younger one (7) found it around the house and began by recording a spoof interview about his brother. By the end of the evening the pair of them were recording amusing two-hander comedy interviews. By the time I resurfaced the next morning they had recorded a full-on drama with sound effects, initially provided by long abandoned toys and then by GarageBand.
Meanwhile back at LonelyGirl, Greg quit being a lawyer to start the basically homemade webcam show. Miles was a plastic surgeon when he veered off on the new media route. For all the chopping&changing of these fast-moving modern times, one thing is for sure – there’s a wealth of creative opportunities in them thar hills…