Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category

The Future of Cinema as envisioned by Martin Scorsese

This open letter to his daughter was published in the Italian press at the turn of the year by Martin Scorsese. Coming from someone so steeped in the cinematic tradition it is particularly striking, not least in the way it perceives hope in digital technology. To drive home this Janus-like ability to appreciate past and future with equanimity, yesterday Scorsese unveiled a blue plaque for Powell & Pressburger on Dorset House in London with Michael Powell’s widow and his own editor, Thelma Schoonmaker. I had a memorable encounter with Michael Powell in 1985 when I set up the Cambridge University Film Society – he had been brought back into prominence then by Scorsese and other champions like Ian Christie.

English Heritage blue plaque for Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger

Dearest Francesca,

I’m writing this letter to you about the future. I’m looking at it through the lens of my world. Through the lens of cinema, which has been at the center of that world.

For the last few years, I’ve realized that the idea of cinema that I grew up with, that’s there in the movies I’ve been showing you since you were a child, and that was thriving when I started making pictures, is coming to a close. I’m not referring to the films that have already been made. I’m referring to the ones that are to come.

I don’t mean to be despairing. I’m not writing these words in a spirit of defeat. On the contrary, I think the future is bright.

We always knew that the movies were a business, and that the art of cinema was made possible because it aligned with business conditions. None of us who started in the 60s and 70s had any illusions on that front. We knew that we would have to work hard to protect what we loved. We also knew that we might have to go through some rough periods. And I suppose we realized, on some level, that we might face a time when every inconvenient or unpredictable element in the moviemaking process would be minimized, maybe even eliminated. The most unpredictable element of all? Cinema. And the people who make it.

I don’t want to repeat what has been said and written by so many others before me, about all the changes in the business, and I’m heartened by the exceptions to the overall trend in moviemaking – Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, David Fincher, Alexander Payne, the Coen Brothers, James Gray and Paul Thomas Anderson are all managing to get pictures made, and Paul not only got The Master made in 70mm, he even got it shown that way in a few cities. Anyone who cares about cinema should be thankful.

And I’m also moved by the artists who are continuing to get their pictures made all over the world, in France, in South Korea, in England, in Japan, in Africa. It’s getting harder all the time, but they’re getting the films done.

But I don’t think I’m being pessimistic when I say that the art of cinema and the movie business are now at a crossroads. Audio-visual entertainment and what we know as cinema – moving pictures conceived by individuals – appear to be headed in different directions. In the future, you’ll probably see less and less of what we recognize as cinema on multiplex screens and more and more of it in smaller theaters, online, and, I suppose, in spaces and circumstances that I can’t predict.

So why is the future so bright? Because for the very first time in the history of the art form, movies really can be made for very little money. This was unheard of when I was growing up, and extremely low budget movies have always been the exception rather than the rule. Now, it’s the reverse. You can get beautiful images with affordable cameras. You can record sound. You can edit and mix and color-correct at home. This has all come to pass.

But with all the attention paid to the machinery of making movies and to the advances in technology that have led to this revolution in moviemaking, there is one important thing to remember: the tools don’t make the movie, you make the movie. It’s freeing to pick up a camera and start shooting and then put it together with Final Cut Pro. Making a movie – the one you need to make – is something else. There are no shortcuts.

If John Cassavetes, my friend and mentor, were alive today, he would certainly be using all the equipment that’s available. But he would be saying the same things he always said – you have to be absolutely dedicated to the work, you have to give everything of yourself, and you have to protect the spark of connection that drove you to make the picture in the first place. You have to protect it with your life. In the past, because making movies was so expensive, we had to protect against exhaustion and compromise. In the future, you’ll have to steel yourself against something else: the temptation to go with the flow, and allow the movie to drift and float away.

This isn’t just a matter of cinema. There are no shortcuts to anything. I’m not saying that everything has to be difficult. I’m saying that the voice that sparks you is your voice – that’s the inner light, as the Quakers put it.

That’s you. That’s the truth.

All my love,

Dad

For Adam - Michael Powell Nov.17.1985

For Adam – Michael Powell Nov.17.1985

{Scorsese’s letter reproduced courtesy of L’Espresso}

Who hustles the hustlers?

christian-bale-batman

This time last night I was putting the plan into action. On leaving work I faced up to the hassles and bustle of the tube strike and managed to get myself into the West End. I walked up from Embankment to Forbidden Planet in St Giles’s and picked up a copy of a Dark Knight comic (along with my current fave, Sledgehammer 44). Phase 1 complete.

From there I headed across Soho to the Soho Hotel off Dean Street. I dropped down into the screening room (where I was last for the classic in-the-making, The Wolf of Wall St, with Enfant Terrible No.1) to watch, for the second time, American Hustle. I wasn’t too taken with it on my first viewing on DVD – it felt a bit superficial and cold in the shadow of Silver Linings Playbook which was my top film of last year.

christian-bale-american hustle

But it played much better for me on a huge screen – and all the better as Christian Bale, director/co-writer David O Russell and producer Charles Roven showed up in the modest-sized screening room and gave articulate insights into how the film works.

Christian Bale, Edith Bowman, David O Russell, Charles Roven

Christian Bale, Edith Bowman, David O Russell, Charles Roven

DOR placed the emphasis firmly on exploring “What’s worth living for” / “what people live for”. He also talked in terms of wanting to “find a way of loving [Irving Rosenfeld]” (the protagonist, based on a real person called Len Something). He picked up on his authenticity/sincerity and joie de vivre. And from there looking at how various pairs, from Irving and Sydney (Amy Adams) to Irving and the mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner), loved one another. So it was closer to Playbook than I had realised.

I asked one of the first questions – to Christian Bale. His Londonish accent (belying his Welsh roots) knocked my socks off. It must have already done the job on him as he was without socks and laces, reflecting a modest openness. He had mentioned that DOR’s way of directing gave him space and comfort to “try crazy stuff” as he played the scenes. Also David’s way of wielding a fluent and unpredictable camera meant the acting was whole body and exposed. So I asked, given this, ‘What crazy stuff did you try?’, probing for concrete examples. CB gave a long explanation, attentively directed at me in the second row, which made it clear that each take was deliberately different, a certain amount of improvisation or harking back to older versions of the script took place, and we ended up focused on the scene outside the Plaza Hotel in New York where Irving tries to lure Carmine back in. It was a very full and thoughtful answer (see beard-stroking below).

12christian-bale-american hustle

After the Q&A the distributor invited us into an adjacent rather red bar for drinks. I chatted with the MC, Edith Bowman, as I lay in wait. Then as Christian Bale entered I was obliged to ambush to see through the plan. I whipped out the Dark Knight comic, another Batman comic Enfant Terrible No.2 had given me (one of his most treasured) and a good black pen. Christian was very Christian about it as I explained it was my delivering on the request of a 14 year old, apple of my eye. Phase 2 complete.

We had a good chat about how the film played better for me second time/how you sometimes need to be in a receptive state (his observation); his accent and its origins; and finally about the nature of the autograph requester: Enfant Terrible No.2 said to me as we were planning and I was walking along Old Compton St on the phone to him that if I could only get one signed, Aurel’s (the first one, a birthday present for his best friend) was the important one. Now that’s what’s worth living for. Mission accomplished.

dark knight batman signed christian bale

I told you not to put metal in the science oven, what did you do that for?

The Commonplace Book – Inspiration and Perspiration

6/8/13

Inspiration

Inspiration

Simple Pleasures part 4 was inspired partly by an Ian Dury song (via my first blog Simple Pleasures) and partly by an article from the pen of the poet Andrew Motion. In that line of heritage, I was reading Steven Johnson’s book Where Good Ideas Come From and was much taken with his thoughts on the ‘commonplace book’, the practice of keeping a scrapbook of quotes and thoughts which he traces from John Locke in the late 17th century through to Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles), ultimately linking it to Tim Berners-Lee’s inspiration for the World Wide Web. I’ve kept these kinds of notebooks and notes for any years but being reminded of their value in creative thinking, the repository for the ‘slow hunch’ and the petri dish in which disparate but related thoughts grow together, makes me feel encouraged to write here more often and in smaller bursts. Here’s one I wrote a couple of days ago after reading about the Commonplace Book and then chatting to an old friend of mine from the Universite de Savoie, year of 83…

Mangen lake

Narration

4/8/13 Mangskog, Sweden: Sitting on the deck outside Bjorksuset (whispering of the birches), my friend Hanna’s house, this afternoon overlooking Mangen lake I was thinking a bit about Swedish neutrality in the War before Hanna told me a story from a documentary she made recently for NRK, the Norwegian state broadcaster. It was about so-called ‘war children’ in Norway (the off-spring of Norwegian women and German soldiers) and the on-going impact of the Second World War on Norwegians. Hanna filmed a woman who recently discovered her father was in fact a German bureaucrat of the Occupation, not the Norwegian man whom she had called daddy all her life, father of what had been her two brothers up to the point of this discovery in her advancing years. When she told her mother she had acted on some bothersome doubts from her childhood and uncovered her true parentage through a specialist agency her mother went nuts with her, majorly upset by having her secret unburied. And the brothers went crazy too, especially the older one who runs a big well-known Oslo-based shopping mall (he threatened to sue). In revealing her discovery the family imploded and she lost mother, (half-)siblings and extended family at a stroke. Although she acquired some half-brothers in Germany in the process. So seventy years after the occupation of Norway the dark forces still swirl, much as in France, like molten lava beneath the crust busting out when cracks appear.

Mangskog, Sweden

Transpiration

6/3/13 I’m sitting on that same deck behind Bjorksuset, listening to the wind in the canopies of the silver birches. My grandparents had silver birches which fascinated me as a child in their inappropriately named street Cyprus Avenue. Their shiny trunks punctuated the way to the red postbox twenty yards down from their house, which at the age I am recalling seemed a major journey to be let loose on alone. The sound of the rustling leaves is a constant in this beautiful place in the West of Sweden. I think ‘suset’ in Swedish must be related to ‘susurration’ in English. The whispering sea-like sound made me think of the soundtrack of Antonioni’s Blow-Up – the mysterious breeze in the trees of the South London park where the ‘corpse’ lies worked its magic on me big time. And my train of thought then headed off down the line of the sound of wind in films and pulled in to these three stops:

Blow-Up (1966): the wind in the trees makes the park where the photographer (David Hemmings) accidentally photographs a dead body weird&wonderful – I always meant to visit that location, I’ll have to rewatch the movie then make the trip this autumn

Ryan’s Daughter (1970): The eponymous Irish colleen and the English captain make illicit love among the bluebells in the West of Ireland and what David Lean shows us is the strong breeze shaking the treetops above them

Black Narcissus (1947): Michael Powell set nerves on edge in this English Romantic Technicolor tale by having the Himalayan wind blow constantly through the mountain-top convent in which a nun gradually succumbs to an irreligious magic

In all three (the last one in too sparse a landscape for leaves to accompany moving air) the whispering of the wind brings the magical and mystical to the scene.

Susurration

Susurration

At the nadir of my teenage years, when I retired to a room with David Bowie and Jane Austen to see me through, just like Renton prepares the room for going cold turkey in Trainspotting, Wild is the Wind struck me as a uniquely Romantic song a bit apart from his others, with a touch of epic, majestic magic.

Wild is the Wind David Bowie

Aspiration

The song was actually written for a film of the same name made in 1957 and recorded by Johnny Mathis. Bowie was inspired to cover it by Nina Simone’s version. It is to be found on his 1976 LP Station to Station which neatly brings this thought-train to its terminus.

Like the leaf clings to the tree
Oh, my darling, cling to me
For we’re like creatures of the wind
Wild is the wind, wild is the wind

Happy Birthday Charlie

124 today and never bettered

charlie chaplin filming

Argofuckyourself – Oscars 2013 Update

Oscars

This is an update to my Oscars 2013 post which set out how things would pan out if the world were a just or tasteful place…

So how just were things?

I was on the money for Best Actress (not an obvious one with Emanuelle Riva in contention) and Best Screenplay, both Original and Adapted. I also nailed Best Cinematography and Best Documentary.

I still back Silver Linings Playbook for Best Picture. Dave Sexton sums it up pretty well in tonight’s London Evening Standard: “Yet [Argo] is only moderately good, telling a story that has no long-lasting or deeply personal resonance for the viewer. It’s well made, quite exciting at the start and at the finish, and it has some funny lines. But it’s not a film you would want to see twice, I’d say.” I’ve now watched it twice and he’s right – it’s not a fulfilling experience second time round, largely due to its thriller nature. Ben Affleck’s performance looks better on second viewing and his direction very well pitched and restrained. But SLP has more substance in the long run, more legs and more emotional resonance.

Ang Lee as Best Director I can swallow as Life of Pi is a real handful to master and it is quite some spectacle, one of the first artistically successful 3D movies (I suspect even Kermode would agree on that front). I also embrace Daniel Day-Lewis as Best Actor as he clearly is one of the all-time greats, and he brings Abraham Lincoln fully to life. Christophe Waltz merits his second Best Supporting Actor gong – the way Django Unchained spins out of control after his demise indicates the importance of his performance, even if it gets a little mannered at points.

2012-13 was a really rich year for cinema in contrast to most of the last few years. I’m glad therefore that no movies dominated the Oscars, especially Lincoln and Les Miserables, the one too talky (my Twitter review: Overlong, overtext and over here) and the other too singy. It was a bit harsh on Zero Dark Thirty but all in all justice largely prevailed.

4 reasons to see Silver Linings Playbook

silver linings playbook

I’m just back from a screening in the plush, cosy screening room under the Covent Garden Hotel in Monmouth Street (which has the best Christmas lights in London). I’ve been chatting with the very charming, unpretentious, part-Irish Bradley Cooper who I mainly knew beforehand from great silly films like The Hangover and Wedding Crashers. Silver Linings Playbook is a very different kind of comedy, subtler, more authentic and more romantic. I laid my newly hatched theory on him that Jennifer Lawrence in this movie is very like Meg Tilly in The Big Chill, that vibrant young sexuality allied with a strong individuality, they even share that slightly oriental look – and she does a load of stretching and dancing stuff in that movie, Bradley kindly added to the theory. I think he was convinced – or just very polite. Especially for someone who’s just arrived this evening from LA (where he half lives, the rest of the time residing in his native Philadelphia). We talked a bit about acting with De Niro (he said how generous De Niro was on set to support his performance) and how strong De Niro’s performance is in this film, standing out from almost all of his recent roles. And then a bit about NFL, the older Enfant Terrible being the proud owner of an Eagles shirt from before his defection to the Patriots – which got us into teens and how this film has much of use to say about resilience and taking control in adversity. It’s a pretty much flawless script from David O. Russell, complemented by perfect, judicious improvisation. I asked him about the latter and he highlighted scenes where they went most to town, though within well defined parameters, De Niro’s method, like the parlay betting scene and the comparing meds scene. So the 4 reasons are…

1 The powerful chemistry between Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, not least in the dancing scenes

2 The exquisite direction by David O. Russell, which has the confidence of a man with a real vision (and a script he’s spent five years honing)

3 A fantastically diverse soundtrack which makes great use of Led Zep (What Is and What Should Never Be), the recently departed Dave Brubeck (Unsquare Dance and Maria) and the classic duet of Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash from Nashville Skyline (Girl from the North Country)

4 The uplifting treatment of a difficult mental health issue, highlighting the ubiquity of craziness and how positive and energising it can be.

Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence

Meg Tilly

Meg Tilly

Jennifer in 2010s dancing gear

Jennifer in 2010s dancing gear

Meg in 1980s dancing gear

Meg in 1980s dancing gear

My Bond’s My Words & Music

Tunes Galore

Last night I went to listen to the Philharmonia performing music and songs from all 23 plus 2 Bond films as recently listed in My Bond’s My Word. Carl Davis, who came to prominence through Channel 4 Silents in the early 80s, conducted this 50th Anniversary Bond concert at the Festival Hall and the ever elegant Honor Blackman (aka Pussy Galore) gave context to the music between each of the 25 pieces. It seems like a good opportunity to extend the list from My Bond’s My Word to summarise who sung what when in the world of Bond. The highlights yesterday evening for me were You Only Live Twice, Moonraker, Octopussy and Licence to Kill. What was striking was the amount of very effective quotation and echoing of earlier themes in the later scores, not least in the recent Skyfall.

Dr. No (1962)
Music: Monty Norman
Words: -
Performed by: John Barry & Orchestra

From Russia With Love (1963)
Music: Lionel Bart
Words: “
Performed by: Matt Munro

Goldfinger (1964)
Music: John Barry
Words: Anthony Newley & Leslie Bricusse
Performed by: Shirley Bassey

Thunderball (1965)
Music: John Barry
Words: Don Black
Performed by: Tom Jones

Thunderball (1965) Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Music: John Barry
Words: Don Black
Performed by: John Barry (Dionne Warwick – wasn’t used in final cut)

You Only Live Twice (1967)
Music: John Barry
Words: Leslie Bricusse
Performed by: Nancy Sinatra

[Casino Royale (1967)]
Music: Burt Bacharach
Words: -
Performed by: Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Music: John Barry
Words: -
Performed by: The John Barry Orchestra

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) We Have All the Time in the World
Music: John Barry
Words: Hal David
Performed by: Louis Armstrong

Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Music: John Barry
Words: Don Black
Performed by: Shirley Bassey

Live and Let Die (1973)
Music: Paul & Linda McCartney
Words: Paul & Linda McCartney
Performed by: Paul McCartney & Wings

The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
Music:John Barry
Words: Don Black
Performed by: Lulu

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Music: Marvin Hamlisch
Words: Carole Bayer Sager
Performed by: Carly Simon

Moonraker (1979)
Music: John Barry
Words: Hal David
Performed by: Shirley Bassey

For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Music: Bill Conti
Words: Michael Leeson
Performed by: Sheena Easton

Octopussy (1983)
Music: John Barry
Words: Tim Rice
Performed by: Rita Coolidge

[Never Say Never Again (1983)]
Music: Michel Legrand
Words: Alan & Marilyn Bergman
Performed by: Lani Hall

A View to a Kill (1985)
Music: Duran Duran, John Barry
Words: Duran Duran
Performed by: Duran Duran

The Living Daylights (1987)
Music: Pal Waaktaar & John Barry
Words: Pal Waaktaar
Performed by: Aha

Licence to Kill (1989)
Music: Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen, Walter Afanasieff
Words: “
Performed by: Gladys Knight

GoldenEye (1995)
Music: Bono & The Edge
Words: “
Performed by: Tina Turner

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
Music: Sheryl Crow & Mitchell Froom
Words: “
Performed by: Sheryl Crow

The World is Not Enough (1999)
Music: David Arnold
Words: Don Black
Performed by: Garbage

Die Another Day (2002)
Music: Madonna & Mirwais Ahmadzai
Words: “
Performed by: Madonna

Casino Royale (2006)
Music: David Arnold
Words: Chris Cornell
Performed by: Chris Cornell

Quantum of Solace (2008)
Music: Jack White
Words: “
Performed by: Jack White & Alicia Keys

Skyfall (2012)
Music: Adele & Paul Epworth
Words: “
Performed by: Adele

A Hitch in time plays fine

As a fat man in ‘Hitchcock’

Good evening. I was first turned onto Hitch by the playwright David Rudkin. He was doing a residence at my alma mater (that’s a throw-away Hitchcock joke) and gave a talk called something like A Common or Garden Guide to Hitchcock’s Birds. He brought along his chum Alastair Reid who was starting work directing a new series called Morse. (Years later I’d work with Lewis). He also had a producer friend in the audience, Nigel Evans, who produced the movie Walter for the first night of Channel 4 (directed by Stephen Frears), 30 years ago this month. (A year later Nigel and his business partner Stephen Mellor gave me my first break with a runner job at AKA in Clerkenwell). Rudkin was an interesting character in his seaman’s knitted sweater reeking with tobaccy. I’d seen odds and ends of Hitchcock before then but fell in love in the wake of that literate, illuminating introduction.

Last night I went to a screening at Fox in Soho Square of the new movie Hitchcock about the making of Psycho. After the show Angie Errigo (a gentle reminder of my Empire-reading days) interviewed its stars Helen Mirren (Alma Reville/Mrs Hitchcock), Anthony Hopkins (Hitch) and James D’Arcy (Anthony Perkins). In the rather cosy viewing theatre I was four feet from Mirren, six from Hopkins, very much in the glow of British acting royalty.

Hopkins told how he saw Psycho when it first opened in Britain – he had the proverbial scared out of him in Piccadilly Manchester on arriving in the city one rainy night for a spell in rep. His anecdote ended with him climbing the stairs on this first night in his lodging house, run by some lone old lady, and the light clicks off as he’s half-way up.

In among the audience with me was a fella who had been in the publicity department at Paramount when Psycho was released. He described how Hitch conceived the whole promotional strategy (or exploitation as the department was charmingly named then), how this fella’s team made a How To Exploit Psycho film for exhibitors which Hitch had to approve personally, instructing cinema managers how to enforce the No Entry Once the Film has Started rule and generally dramatise the whole experience.

After the Q+A chat, I found myself in Fox reception staring into the strikingly pale blue eyes of one of the great British screen actors –  Hopkins has played everyone from Richard Nixon to Yitzhak Rabin, Hitler to Quasimodo, starring in all manner of wonders from A Bridge Too Far to Magic, The Bounty to Shadowlands, Hannibal to Dracula. As we chatted together he was gracious and warm, telling me more about Hitch’s relations with actors – from the ones he seemed to ignore (Doris Day who was anxious about lack of feedback) to the ones he gave too much unwanted attention to (Tippi Hedren).

I was asking him about whether he’d got the impression Hitch and Alma’s relationship was always so weird or dysfunctional and we discussed whether in effect the movies were their kids. The film argues that they were very much a double act from their early days on the movies together when Alma Reville was young Alfred’s boss. Mirren had used their daughter Patricia’s book about her mother as insight into her character.

I took the opportunity to thank Hopkins for QB VII, a 1974 TV mini-series which made a big impact on me when I was young. It was the thing, alongside a World at War episode, which first made me aware of the Holocaust (an episode produced by Jeremy Isaacs, first boss of Channel 4 – there was a facsimile of the Well Done Everybody memo he sent to “All at 4″ the day after the launch night with Walter  [3 Nov 1982] left on our desk on the morning of 3rd November a couple of weeks ago. “The real work begins today” wrote the first Chief Exec. Paper memos – another world, more Paramount 1950s than Horseferry Road 2012).

Hopkins met Hitch once in a Hollywood restaurant with his agent. The Master of Suspense was very ill by then and trapped in his huge body, downing brandy in quantity. Nonetheless he pulled out the charm and greeted him with the familiar Good Evening.

To conclude, 4 reasons to go see Hitchcock directed by Sacha Gervasi (who also made the heavy metal feature documentary Anvil):

1) Hopkin’s Hitchcockian accent – he gets the Leytonstone in there under the elocution, always reminding us of Hitch’s London roots.

2) Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh – an uplifting portrayal to avoid the whole thing getting grimy.

3) A touch of humour – the film captures Hitch’s wry, filmic humour without becoming pastiche.

4) A well refined script tying together the story of the making of a movie (Psycho) with an eccentric love story (Hitch and Alma) and the portrait of a driven genius who was never more thrilled than when inventing the movies, techniques and ways of story-telling that no-one had thought to commit to celluloid before.

As a bad man in ‘QB VII’

My Bond’s My Word

I spent a large chunk of Friday afternoon, while waiting for the viewing of the final cut of Hotel GB Programme 5, perfecting the art of shooting Bond title sequence photos (with an old iPhone and a toilet roll) – here’s one I did of Dr Christian aka Dr Know

The Name’s Christian, Dr Christian

Friday was dubbed James Bond Day by some film marketeer as it marked the half-centenary of the release of the first Bond film, Dr No in 1962. Enfant Terrible #2 just asked me how many Bond films there were so I thought it may be public-spirited to put a definitive list here. The answer is 23 plus 2.

Stuntman Bob Simmons – effectively the first big screen Bond – in the opening sequence of Dr No

Dr. No (1962 – Sean Connery)
From Russia With Love (1963 – Sean Connery)
Goldfinger (1964 – Sean Connery)
Thunderball (1965 – Sean Connery)
You Only Live Twice (1967 – Sean Connery)
[Casino Royale (1967 - Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, David Niven, Dalia Lavy & Terence Cooper, with Woody Allen as Jimmy Bond)]
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969 – George Lazenby)
Diamonds Are Forever (1971 – Sean Connery)
Live and Let Die (1973 – Roger Moore)
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974 – Roger Moore)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977 – Roger Moore)
Moonraker (1979 – Roger Moore)
For Your Eyes Only (1981 – Roger Moore)
Octopussy (1983 – Roger Moore)
[Never Say Never Again (1983 - Sean Connery)]
A View to a Kill (1985 – Roger Moore)
The Living Daylights (1987 – Timothy Dalton)
Licence to Kill (1989 – Timothy Dalton)
GoldenEye (1995 – Pierce Brosnan)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997 – Pierce Brosnan)
The World is Not Enough (1999 – Pierce Brosnan)
Die Another Day (2002 – Pierce Brosnan)
Casino Royale (2006 – Daniel Craig)
Quantum of Solace (2008 – Daniel Craig)
Skyfall (2012 – Daniel Craig)

The name’s Bond, Sean Bond

The name’s Bond, Daniel Bond

The big question is which is the best of the 23/25?

Sound of the Suburbs

gene kelly in singing-in-the-rain

100% pure enjoyment

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.

gene kelly and cyd charisse in singing-in-the-rain broadway melody ballet sequence

High life

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