Archive for the ‘chaplin’ Category
It’s that end of the year time when lists beckon. I’ll be doing my annual list of the best of the year in the next 36 hours or so but before I embark on that I was out with my youngest nephew the night before last and he showed me his Top 10 Films list on his Christmas-new iPod Touch (he’s got very refined taste for an 11 year old and I liked most of his choice which included great American indies like The Way Way Back) so I took the opportunity to jot down my Top 10 on my phone. Not an easy task once you get thinking (so I’m including my bubbling under list with a view to expanding it to my Top 20).
1 Modern Times
2 Apocalypse Now
3 Blazing Saddles
4 City Lights
5 The Godfather
6 The Big Chill
7 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
8 My Life as a Dog
9 The Big Short
10 The Wolf of Wall Street
- The 39 Steps
- The Unbelievable Truth
- Blow Up
- La Haine
- The Breakfast Club
I Know Where I’m Going
- Black Narcissus
- The Godfather 2
- Pulp Fiction
- Inglourious Basterds
- 20,000 Days on Earth
- Romeo & Juliet
- Mississippi Burning
- West Side Story
- Silver Linings Playbook
The Great Escape (1963)
This one (from the year I made my debut on earth) is for me his most memorable role as an actor – as Bartlett, who can forget that tragic end, machine-gunned in a field by the heartless Nazis alongside his stalwart Scottish buddy, MacDonald (played by the ever dependable Gordon Jackson)?
In Which We Serve (1942)
His fresh faced debut, already a screen presence to be reckoned with. Directed by David Lean and Noel Coward, a suitably English place to start.
My hero well captured by the talented young Robert Downey Jnr. under the assured direction of Dickie.
Cry Freedom (1987)
I remember this one opening my eyes to the outrages of apartheid South Africa back in my university days. Denzel Washington was powerful as Steve Biko and first came to international prominence under Dickie’s direction.
Richard Attenborough was instrumental in the establishment of Channel 4 – Deputy Chairman from 1980 to 1986 as it got on its feet and Chairman from 1986 to 1992 through its golden age.
He was also a key leader in BAFTA, associated with the Academy for 30 years and President for over a decade.
I interviewed Lord David Puttnam about him recently for my book, When Sparks Fly. I was thinking of including him in the Film chapter (Choose Life) which focuses on Danny Boyle. With its central theme of the creative rewards of openness and generosity, Attenborough struck me as the cinema embodiment of British public service values. Channel 4 and BAFTA are just two of many appointments which demonstrate his prodigious energy and unfailing commitment to public service media/arts, from the brilliant Chickenshed Theatre to the Mandela Statue Fund.
100 years ago the Phoenix rose from the ashes. It wasn’t called the Phoenix then – it was The Picturedrome. Then later The Coliseum and then, in my mum’s time, when she was growing up down the road in Church End, the Rex. On 9th May 1912, The Picturedrome opened for business, two years after it was actually built, in the North London suburb of East Finchley. The first company, taking a big risk with this new technology of the cinematograph, went bankrupt, although had, through jumping early, secured the Phoenix’s place as the oldest purpose-built cinema in the country. The opening film was about the sinking of the Titanic.
On Sunday afternoon 13th May 2012 I walked down our high street with wife, son, neighbour and a couple of kids from our street to a special centenary screening of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, this being ironically the first sunny day after weeks of ceaseless precipitation. The theme of the short three-film programme was the transition to sound as the Phoenix was the first cinema in the area to show a sound film. On 22nd July 1929 the Phoenix screened ‘The Jazz Singer’ (made in 1927, premiered in London’s West End in September 1928) the first movie to feature synchronised song performances and a sequence with synch dialogue including the famous, self-referential line: You ain’t heard nothing yet!
The centenary programme therefore opened with a trailer for ‘The Jazz Singer’. It was a very different kind of trailer from what we’re now used to – a presenter in full evening dress addresses us to camera, a barely supressed smile on his face, amazed himself that this new fangled invention of sound cinema actually works.
Look what I’m doing, can you bloody believe it?! He introduces scenes from the movie’s New York premiere, not dissimilar from the opening scene of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ when on-screen partners Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) and Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen) attend the opening of their new movie at Graumann’s Chinese Theatre.
That was one of my most memorable sound cinema experiences – being taken to Graumann’s by my best-friend’s family to see a new movie called ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ with the best of Dolby Surroundsound blowing my teenage ears and mind. That was the same trip I bought myself a new fangled machine called a WM1 – the first model of Sony Walkman, basically a brick, I still have it as a reminder of how technology evolves. In a while I’ll be off for a jog with my electric blue iPod Shuffle, about the size of a badge. Watching the scene of Al Jolson blacking up minstrel style, my 12 year old leaned over and whispered “That’s racist …isn’t it?” “Yes, it is really. Things change.”
The second film on the programme was the first ever sound animated film, ‘Steamboat Willie’ starring Mickey Mouse. The audio was mainly spot effects, animal sounds and the like. Mainly animals in pain, tortured and terrorised by a soon to be famous rodent on a Southern steamboat. “They can’t do that, can they?” whispered the 21st Century boy. “Not really, you’re right, animal cruelty. Things change.”
Disney’s cartoons had not really stood out from the competition until Walt took a chance on sound. Like Premier Electric Theatres (who had the Phoenix built in 1910) he had been facing bankruptcy – in the wake of seeing ‘The Jazz Singer’ he staked all on the new invention and an empire was born. It opened in New York’s Colony Theater on 18th November 1928, now Mickey’s official birthday.
The main feature for the Phoenix centenary celebration was the 1952 classic MGM musical co-directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, about the tricky transition to sound.
I was particularly looking forward to the film after having thoroughly enjoyed, a couple of weeks earlier, the excellent (highly recommended) West End stage version that opened earlier this year at the Palace Theatre, starring Adam Cooper, who played adult Billy in the final scene of ‘Billy Eliott’, as he launches himself into the world of ballet dance.
The parenthetical Broadway Melody ballet sequence in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, showcasing Kelly in partnership with Cyd Charisse (who passed away relatively recently in 2008) is still emblematic of the boldness and innovation of this golden era of musicals. Kelly and Donen, alongside Vincente Minnelli and producer Arthur Freed, constituted the Freed Unit at MGM who also collaborated on ‘Meet Me in St Louis’ (1944), ‘The Pirate’ (1948), ‘On the Town’ (1949), the magical ‘An American in Paris’ (1951), ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’ (1954) and ‘Gigi’ (1958). Unlike the later lazier approach of adapting Broadway musicals, this was an original story suggested by the song Singin’ in the Rain, written by Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, a song-writing team established in the 20s and 30s, around when this film is set. From that span off the script by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who also wrote ‘On the Town’. Surprisingly, given the coherence of the story, most of the other songs (bar two) were originally composed by Freed & Brown for different Hollywood movies before Freed set himself up as a producer. Astonishingly the film made only moderate returns at the time of release, won big fat zero Oscars and received little critical attention. Well, what did they know, what’s not to like? Exquisite dancing by Gene Kelly, not just in the eponymous central scene (to the 1950s what Walking on the Moon was to the late 70s), but in all his performances from the romantic empty studio duet with Debbie Reynolds to the jokey stuff with Danny Kaye lookalike/actalike Donald O’Connor; gorgeous Technicolor costumes and sets; beautiful singing, not least by Reynolds; ensemble acting with real chemistry in its core trio; and a witty, tight script with some really original, organic comedy like the out-of-sync film gag and the scene where the actions of the silent stars are totally at odds with what they are saying unrecorded. The Enfant Terrible and his little chums found further (unintended) comedy in the back-projected driving scenes (“Things change.”)
I hurried off at the end of the afternoon’s good clean family fun to get changed and off to the TV BAFTAs part 1: the TV Craft Awards. I had that post-Musical feeling of expecting vaguely for people to break out in song at any moment around me. By the end of the evening the Live from the Clinic team and I were on the point of song with a win in the Digital Creativity category. The British Film Academy was set up way later than its American cousin. The first Oscars were awarded in 1929, two years after ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ is set. David Lean and Powell & Pressberger (whose ‘The Red Shoes’ I suspect is part of the Technicolor race-memory of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’) helped establish our Academy in 1947.
It’s been interesting to see the early history of cinema high in the collective consciousness this last year with ‘The Artist’ (not entirely deservedly, in spite of its bold timing and originality) sweeping the awards and ‘Hugo’, so lovingly made (in the UK) by one of the world’s great cinephiles (and a huge fan and champion of ‘The Red Shoes’ team). Then on stage at the National Theatre in London (in the auditorium named after that great bridge of theatre-cinema, Laurence Olivier) I took the older Enfant Terrible earlier in the year to his first proper play, which against the odds given his teenage phillistinism, he really enjoyed, ‘Travelling Light’ by Nicholas Wright. It looks at the emergence of cinema in Poland and the journey from the stetl to Hollywoodland of the founding fathers of the movie business. It featured Anthony Sher, who has never happily crossed from stage to screen – I saw him recently hamming it up in ‘Three and Out’, which was shot in large part opposite The Phoenix in East Finchley’s sister Art Deco tube station (The Phoenix featuring fine gilded Art Deco reliefs along the walls of its barrel-vaulted auditorium). The Art Deco archer adorning East Finchley station was sculpted by the man who created the stairway to heaven in Powell & Pressburger’s ‘A Matter of Life of Death’ (Eric Aumonier). Back from the sublime to the ridiculous, ‘Three and Out’ stars East Finchley local, Mackenzie Crook opposite Colm Meaney and Gemma Arterton – when I occasionally see Crook getting on or off the tube with me what springs to mind is never ‘Pirates of the Carribean’, but always that astonishing play ‘Jerusalem’, carried by Mark Rylance’s barn-storming performance, an actor who in another way seems indifferent to the silver screen. There’s a great scene in Singin’ in the Rain where Kathy Selden (Debbie Reynolds) mocks the mugging and crude acting of the silent stars by comparison with the luminaries of the East Coast stage. “What do you have to be so conceited about? You’re nothing but a shadow on film… just a shadow. You’re not flesh and blood.”
The interior of the Phoenix, including its Jazz Singer era decor like the bas-reliefs, was restored to mark the centenary of the building in 2010. As part of the fundraising I put on a screening of Sam Taylor-Wood’s ‘Nowhere Boy’ with the kind help of colleagues in Film 4. I also bought the Enfants Terribles an illuminated plaque on the timeline in the upper foyer representing the 100 years of Cinema in its lifetime to date. For a donation you could buy a year and movie. I went for 9 years later – ‘Modern Times’ and 1936, by the greatest exponent of cinema of all time, Charlie Chaplin (whose name the younger ET bears) – one who never really needed to make the leap from silent to sound, who struggled with the transition, sounded suitably strange in his first spoken words on film (the wonderful humanist speech at the end of ‘The Great Dictator’) and who embodies the truth that even if things change you don’t always have to change with them to be able to capture the things that don’t change in 100 years, 1,000 years, ever.
Kicked off the weekend at the newly restored Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley – the oldest purpose-built cinema in the land – and the best. It opened exactly 100 years ago as the Premier Electric Theatre.
As I walked back at 2pm, returning from The Media Festival Arts at the Roundhouse where I spent much of Thursday and Friday picking up all kinds of good tips on arts media (I was on the Advisory Board chaired by the charming Peter Bazalgette, comprising a lovely bunch of art-lovers including Marc Boothe, Alan Yentob, Fred Bolza from Sony Music, Pete Buckingham of UK Film Council, Dick Penny from The Watershed in Bristol, Andrew Missingham, among others), I bumped into Paul Homer, manager of The Phoenix outside the recently unscaffolded building. “How’s it going?”, I asked. “A builder has just gone through a water pipe.” Four hours to go til re-opening after months of closure. ” …And another has gone through the electricity cable on the 3rd floor [that’s where the projection room is]”. “Oh”. “I’m getting a sandwich.” “Good move…”
As things panned out, in the best show biz tradition, by 6.15pm work-arounds had been found. The crowd showed up – a full house. I met my C4 Arts colleague Kim Peat by chance in the queue – we both do some pro bono work for The Phoenix. I met a photographer who photographed our Big Lunch/Landshare street party last year. I had my first coffee from the new cafe out on the new balcony. And then I went in to the newly redecorated auditorium, which I had had a sneak preview of the week before, with its two ‘lost’ art deco panels brought out of storage, the hole with a light bulb popping through disappeared from the ceiling and its new womb-like rich red colour.
Opening the reborn picture house was Stephen Frears’ “Tamara Drewe’. Rarely has the disparity between trailer and film been so great. A beautifully made film, and funny. Some wonderful acting, very well written and crafted without flaws.
I asked the first audience question in the new Phoenix – about Frears’ take on the closure of the UK Film Council – he’d just praised the bravery of the financiers in letting him go with a non-starry cast. John Woodward, Pete Buckingham and Tanya Seghatchian (who was on the panel I produced) all handled the difficult situation around UKFC admirably and with humour at The Media Festival Arts. I’m really hoping the coherence of the UKFC doesn’t get lost in this precipitous decision, especially with regards to training and emerging talent. Frears agreed at least in this respect – his jury is out otherwise til he sees where the pieces land.
Tomorrow the new 100 year time-line is unveiled (got a sneaky peak at that too last week, but not yet wired up). I acquired 1936 for the Enfants Terribles – Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times was the film I chose from that year. The younger one’s middle name is Charlie. Tonight I’m subjecting/treating them to a viewing ready for tomorrow. Spanners are already on my mind.
As Paul was announcing the re-opening from the stage yesterday (tough guy though he is) he found it hard to keep back the tears after a project that has taken years to realise and a week that has offered him little sleep. He just couldn’t believe it. Much as a certain young girl can’t believe her luck towards the end of Tamara Drewe. She nabs a quick mobile pic to capture the moment. And so have I…
My response to today’s Observer Film Magazine list of ‘The Best British Films 1984-2009’
My 15 favourite home-grown films of the last quarter century (in no particular order) are:
- In Bruges [not in The Observer list, made by FilmFour, a cracking script by Martin McDonagh]
- 24 Hour Party People [I’m not a huge fan of Steve Coogan but he’s brilliant in this #24 of 25]
- Venus [Peter O’Toole and Leslie Phillips make a great double act, not in The Observer list]
- The Remains of the Day [deeply moving performances by Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, not in The Observer list]
- A Room with a View [perfectly executed film of its type, not in The Observer list]
- Naked [the fruit of David Thewlis’ creativity #14]
- The Hours [Nicole Kidman shines among a host of brilliant actresses, not in The Observer list]
- The Constant Gardener [another powerful Ralph Fiennes performance, not in The Observer list]
- Last Resort [Pawel Pawlikowski bursts onto the British scene, not in The Observer list]
- Hunger [a bold, fresh artist’s film from (the other) Steve McQueen but not an arty one #16]
- Chaplin [captures something of the greatest film-maker of all time, not in The Observer list]
- Secrets & Lies [a culmination of Mike Leigh’s approach #3]
- In the Name of the Father [powerful acting spearheaded by Daniel Day-Lewis, not in The Observer list]
- A Month in the Country [a gentle, bucolic one – not in The Observer list]
- Defence of the Realm [a top-class thriller shot by Roger Deakins, not in The Observer list]
- The Commitments [energised by the powerful lungs of Andrew Strong, not in The Observer list]
Bubbling under: Borat, Howard’s End, High Hopes, Shadowlands, Johnny English, East is East, The Bounty, Son of Rambow, Billy Elliot
I enjoyed flicking through the pages of today’s Observer Film Magazine, The Nation’s Choice, focused on contemporary British cinema as I supped my Cullen Skink outside a pub on the Shore of Leith, winding down from the manic activity of the Edinburgh Television Festival, said soup surely worthy of sitting alongside Tarmac and Lino as a GSI (Great Scottish Invention). [It would have been fun to check out the online discussion the mag urges us to visit but after ten minutes searching for it on The Guardian/Observer site I gave up.]
Leafing through I realised this has been a fairly significant part of my life over the years, despite being more focused on telly – from the photo of my old flat-mate Emer McCourt alongside #21, Ken Loach’s Riff-Raff, to Loach’s producer Rebecca O’Brien who sat at the table I hosted at the TV BAFTAs a couple of years ago; from Mike Leigh who I met at Dick Pope‘s around the time my first son was born (the same son who three years later slammed a heavy glass door onto the renowned director in a Crouch End shop) to Dick himself, one of my first bosses at Solus, who shot #3 Secrets and Lies (and much of Leigh’s oeuvre besides); from Ben Gibson, Director of the London Film School, with whom I was involved trying to set up a South African film/tv scholarship to Ewen Bremner, featured in both #1 Trainspotting and #14 the marvellous Naked, who I met when he was making a training film early in his career (written by John Mole and, unbeknownst to the casual viewer, based on Beowolf).
Beyond this punctuation of connections though is the steady presence of Channel 4, FilmFour, More 4, Britdoc (the Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation) – in particular, my esteemed colleague Tessa Ross whose fingerprints are on so many of the films (from Billy Elliot to #9 Slumdog Millionaire), dubbed recently the Mother of British Film-making. Choose Life is engraved on the glass doors of Channel 4’s Glasgow office in recognition of the Channel’s role in bringing the landmark movie that is Trainspotting to life. #11 Touching the Void was commissioned out of Peter Dale’s More4. #16 Hunger was patiently nurtured by my much missed colleague Jan Younghusband in Channel 4 Arts (her ex-husband Peter Chelsom made Hear My Song, which starred my friend Adrian Dunbar and whose script crossed my desk at Solus (and still sits in my bookcase) on its way to Roger Deakins, another of my bosses at Solus – the kind of thing which links the Channel 4 nexus and my pre-C4 web of experiences). The next generation is represented by Mat Whitecross, whose film Moving to Mars is being broadcast on More4 in November and was part-financed by Britdoc, run with flair by former C4 fellow Commissioning Editor Jess Search. I haven’t worked it out exactly but I’d say well over 30% of the Top 25 has FilmFour/Channel 4 input. Stephen Frears’ big break with #5 My Beautiful Launderette. From #17 Shane Meadow’s This is England to #10 Four Weddings and a Funeral, the full gamut. What an incredible record and a significant contribution to the last quarter century of British cinema.
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…
He was inspired to act after seeing Charlie Chaplin.
He was born in Strasbourg. His father was killed in Auschwitz.
22.iii.1923 – 22.ix.2007
Photo © Estate of Yousuf Karsh