Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category

4 things Kubrick predicted in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’

2001 a space odyssey kubrick movie

I have been reading a slim volume on documentary-making this week and in it it had a resonant quotation from John Grierson’s wife, Margaret. The book, by the magnificently surnamed Patricia Aufderheide, got me thinking a lot about the film/video camera as a machine.

Intermission: Coincidence No. 669

3 minutes ago I had a text from director Mike Christie (director of the brilliant Jump London) asking whether I was still in Bath as he is going to be there this evening with Brett Anderson of Suede for a book event. I explained I was not in Bath, it’s just that Instagram seems to think my house is located at “Roman Bath” so I now use it as a codename for Home.

2 minutes ago I was double-checking Margaret Grierson’s name and Wikipedia pointed out that, although she was born near Stirling (where I am going later this month for Focus on Scotland to talk about the future of Documentary)  she died in Bath.

…actually, my bad, it was that other “father of documentary” Robert Flaherty’s wife Frances who said it:

“Our problem is how to live with our machines. … we have made for ourselves an environment that is difficult for the spirit to come to terms with.”

She was reflecting on Nanook of the North, Flaherty’s first film, and how the Inuit people, like the Polynesians, had a better balance with their environment and technology.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) famously opens with a sequence of ‘the Dawn of Man’ taking us up to the point where our furry ancestors discovered tools and then morphed them into weapons. Always a fine line between tool/weapon. Even when technology was a bone it was problematic for our kind. The bone is thrown into the air after the first simian Cain & Abel type murder and cuts to a space station turning in the black void.

2001_space station kubrick movie

A third father of documentary was Dziga Vertov. Coincidentally his name (pseudonym) means “spinning top”, like Kubrick’s space wheel waltzing through the darkness. Vertov’s masterpiece was Man with a Movie Camera (1929) which fetishises the movie camera as a machine eye, telling the objective truth. I first came across the film when I was studying Avant Garde literature, painting and film at university. On the other side of the room where I am writing I am charging up my not-often-used iPad ready for a story structure course I am attending at Ealing Studios (which date from 1902) this weekend – 21st Century Screenwriter with Linda Aronson. On the back of my first&only iPad is a quote from Vertov:

I a machine am showing you a world the likes of which only I can see.

The full quotation (in a different translation) is:

I am an eye. A mechanical eye. I, the machine, show you a world the way only I can see it. I free myself for today and forever from human immobility. I’m in constant movement. I approach and pull away from objects. I creep under them. I move alongside a running horse’s mouth. I fall and rise with the falling and rising bodies. This is I, the machine, manoeuvring in the chaotic movements, recording one movement after another in the most complex combinations.

Freed from the boundaries of time and space, I co-ordinate any and all points of the universe, wherever I want them to be. My way leads towards the creation of a fresh perception of the world. Thus I explain in a new way the world unknown to you.

How unbelievably resonant that is of 2001!  the machine – show you a world – freed from human immobility – in constant movement [that whirling space station] – manoeuvring – freed from the boundaries of time and space – all points of the universe – the creation of a fresh perception of the world – the world unknown to you.

Vertov founded one of the first Documentary groups, Kino-Glas – Cine-Eye. This famous still comes from Man with a Movie Camera:

Man with a Movie Camera eye 1929 movie dziga vertov

And this is computer HAL 9000’s eye in 2001:

hal 9000 eye 2001 space odyssey movie kubrick

HAL becomes increasingly threatening but when he dies our empathy turns on a sixpence and we feel sorry for him in seconds…

I’m afraid.
My mind is going.
I can feel it.
I can feel it.
My mind is going.
There is no question about it.
I can feel it.
I can feel it.
I can feel it.
I’m a …fraid.

So the mechanical eye, the movie camera, is it a tool or a weapon? Does it empathise or is it cold as steel?

This is one of the greatest scenes in Cinema:

 

Now those 4 things I promised. I went to watch 2001 two nights ago at the Prince Charles off Leicester Square in 70mm with Enfant Terrible No. 1 (the cinema shows it every so often so well worth taking the opportunity). The projection suddenly stopped just as the glass falls off the table and smashes, near the end. They got it back up&running for the enigmatic ending.

1. The iPad

So this 1968 movie shows two iPads on the table when Dr Dave and Dr Frank are being interviewed for TV from Earth. iPads came out in 2010, nine years after when the movie is set.

ipad 2001 space odyssey movie tablet pc

ipad 2001 space odyssey movie tablet pc

2. Skype

Dr Heywood Floyd makes a video call to his daughter for her birthday.

videophone 2001 space odyssey movie

videophone 2001 space odyssey movie

3. TV Screen in the back of aircraft seat

When Dr Floyd is travelling up to the space station at the beginning of the space section he falls asleep in front of a movie in the shuttle:

2001 space odyssey video screen aircarft shuttle

And here’s what’s great about the internet.

Question: Which movie is shown during Heywood Floyd’s travel in the Pan Am starship? (posed by a certain Brian Hellekin [it would be a Brian] on movies.stackexchange.com )

Answer: (by Rob Manual who, weirdly I know from my Channel 4 days):

The footage was made specially for 2001. According to Creating Special Effects for “2001: A Space Odyssey” by Douglas Trumbull

The movie being shown on the TV set in front of the sleeping passenger was a little more complicated. Kubrick wanted shots of a futuristic car, and close-ups of a love scene taking place inside. A crew was dispatched to Detroit to shoot a sleek car of the future which was provided by, I believe, the Ford Motor Company. The exteriors were shot in 35mm, but the interiors were shot without seats or passengers, as four-by-five Ektachrome transparencies. Using these as background plates for a normal rear-projection set-up, on actor and actress were seated in dummy seats and Kubrick directed the love scene. Shot on 35mm, this was cut together with the previous exterior shots, and projected onto the TV screen using a first-surface mirror.

There’s a colour photo of the actors and the car at http://www.iamag.co/features/2001-a-space-odyssey-100-behind-the-scenes-photos/

future car 2001 space odyssey

End of answer. Gotta love the Web.

4. AI

AI in the form of HAL 9000 is the big one. Back in ’68 Kubrick and co-writer Arthur C. Clarke captured many of the key issues that are obsessing us today about Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning – “how to live with our machines”, how ‘the spirit comes to terms with such machines’.

dave hal 9000 2001 space odyssey

Dave killing HAL

It was not until Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity in 2013 (which of course owes massively to 2001) that anyone got near Kubrick’s movie creatively and visually. What struck me most about watching 2001 again after so many years (I was about Enfant Terrible No.1’s age when I last saw it) is how resolutely cinematic it is. It wouldn’t play well on a TV screen. In the back of an aircraft seat. On a phone. Pure cinema of the highest order.

4 reasons to go see Joker

(No spoilers)

Joaquin Phoenix Todd Phillips London screening Joker 25 September 2019 Leicester Square

This is my first BAFTA viewing of the 2019-20 season and frankly it’s likely to be all downhill from here. This is a flawless performance in a pretty much flawless film (in contrast to Dark Knight which is a flawless performance in a slightly flawed, overlong film). It’s got an unusual pacing as it is, as the director Todd Phillips said in his intro at an Imax screen on Leicester Square, a “slow-burn”. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a slow-burn that doesn’t really work (much though I enjoyed the movie) – but this one you just have to go with and it winds itself out to a more than satisfying last third where the pace takes off. It’s a detailed character study in how Arthur Fleck became Joker. Once he fully transitions to the warped clown nemesis of Batman it’s a fabulous run for home. I can’t wait to go back and watch it again. I’m not too keen on comic book movies (much though I love the comics themselves) but this is, perhaps the first, maybe second, true classic in that genre.

dc-movies-joker-joaquin-phoenix stairs dance

A stairs scene to rival Battleship Potemkin and Rocky

1. A trip back to Hollywood’s golden age in the 70s

The movie has its roots and inspiration in 70s classics, movies I truly love. There’s Taxi Driver here, and King of Comedy, the anger and madness of Network and the crazy of Cuckoo’s Nest. And making the link is a superb performance from Robert DeNiro as a TV show host.

2. The Stairs scene

I just loved the scene on the stairs above – the music, the movement, the costumes. Joker is a character with music and elegance deep in him. But he has been beat to fuck by society and his horrendous background, crippled.

3. Joaquin Phoenix’s performance

Joaquin Phoenix Todd Phillips London screening Joker 25 September 2019 Leicester Square

Joaquin Phoenix & Todd Phillips at London screening 25th September 2019

He’s in pretty much every scene. He’s somehow simultaneously hideous and handsome. Todd Phillips referred to him as the actor of his generation which is certainly arguable. Once he’s donned his red suit, yellow waistcoat and green hair-matching shirt he is frankly irresistible.

4. The music and soundtrack

At the beginning of the stairs sequence we hear Rock and Roll Part 2 by Gary Glitter. A pretty controversial choice for sure – but appropriate to the context. And for all the shame of Paul Gadd/Gary Glitter it’s a helluva song. A bit later we get White Room by the great Cream. Another spot-on, dark choice.

I’ll wait in this place where the sun never shines
Wait in this place where the shadows run from themselves

The newly composed soundtrack by Hildur Gudnadottir (Sicario, The Revenant, Chernobyl), a classically trained cellist from Iceland, is highly original and effective/affective. She composed to the script rather than the cut film so some of the key scenes were shot performed to her music rather than the (usual) other way round.

joker joaquin phoenix actor movie

The cat that got Cream (why so serious?)

Adventures in the Writing Trade: Day 2

The tide was wrong in Malahide. Something about the boat was wrong. But the energy and the weather was right. We cast off from a pier in Rush, at the end of the beach I’ve spent years walking on, running round, sometimes meditating on. It was a kick to get the perspective from sea from onboard the Shamrock and then gazes turned to the island, some 20 minutes away across a millpond channel in bright autumn sunshine.

lambay island county dublin ireland

Lambay

As we approached the harbour on Lambay the whitewashed buildings came clearly into view, almost all designed by or renovated by Lutyens. I could see the one person I knew on Lambay, my connection to the place, on the pier and she gave me a warm welcome. Welcome was important in Lutyens’ designs. We were given an orientation talk on a circular patch of lawn near the buildings – the castle, the white house and the workers’ cottages. The architect considered circular forms welcoming by nature.

I was shown my room in the white house – charming, spacious, resonant of its (art deco) times. The house was built in 1932. It is symmetrical as it was built for two daughters with two large (around six children each) families, one wing each. I am writing this at the end of one wing in the library. I use posting on Simple Pleasures part 4 as a warm-up to get the writing juices flowing in the morning, a practice I devised on my sabbatical from Channel 4 in 2013/14.

There is A General Map of Ireland to accompany the report of the Railway Commissioners shewing the Principle Physical Features and Geological Structure of the Country (constructed in 1836, engraved in 1837/38) on the light red brick wall behind me. There are four glass cases of dead birds also displayed against the brick. An upright piano with Scott Joplin sheet music. A small case of books old and young, some old Penguins among some more vintage volumes. I’m sitting at a very solid wooden table, oak, which contrasts well with this old MacBook Air with a green sticker of the map of Ireland on the other side of it at the heart of other stickers including a Mod target, a Mexican skull in an American Football helmet (San Francisco 49ers colors) and the latest, from a surfing place, which says Shoot Rainbows into Fascists. I bought it in Milton Keynes when out with my brothers (alongside a quite loud summery shirt) because it reminded me of Woody Guthrie’s “This Machine Kills Fascists” written on his tool of choice, his guitar. On my iPad, which I rarely use, is a quotation from the Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov, famed for his Man with a Movie Camera (1929, within spitting distance of the construction of this house) which I first studied at University on a European Avant-Garde Comparative Literature, Art & Film module, on which I also first encountered Joyce’s Ulysses (1922). The quote is:

“I, a machine, am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see”

as mentioned recently in my list of My Favourite Documentaries.

Woody_Guthrie singer songwriter guitarist this machine kills fascists

I was told last night after dinner in the drawing room which marks the centre of the house, along with the kitchen, about a set of documentaries made on another island, Fogo Island, off Newfoundland, Canada. They were made (as the writing mentor, Jonathan Gosling, on this retreat detailed) by a group of Toronto film students in 1967. They now reside online with the Film Board of Canada set up by Brit documentarist John Grierson. I knew its head for several years, Tom Perlmutter.

Commercial Break: Coincidence No. 476

When I just went to check when Tom left the NFBC I noticed his birthday:

Born: September 6, 1948 (age 71 years), Hungary

Today is September 6. A 1 in 365 chance I guess.

The series of short docs depicted life on the island. They were sent to politicians in Ottawa who were on the point of giving up on the sparsely populated island and winding down its public services. On seeing the documentaries they changed their minds and the island population also got to see that the remote politicians they despised did actually care about them. Care is a very important thing in life, I have decided, whether you are a teacher, a psychiatrist, a film-maker, or whatever. It becomes even more important in the age of AI and automation, as depicted very well in Netflix’s recently released doc American Factory. Care distinguishes us from the machines. (By the way, the new Terminator film (Dark Fate) is due out soon and it looks like it’s worth the watch, check out the new trailer.)

Once installed in the (other) white house – talking of which check out Netflix’s excellent Knocking Down the House, a documentary following grassroots Democrats taking on incumbent Senators in the recent mid-terms to try to reconnect the House with its people (I saw it the other night on the big screen, at Soho House, a few doors down from the building where my fascination with film was born, but that’s another story…)  – once installed, we soon began writing work reflecting on Beginning Writing.

Lambay Island Whitehouse edwin lutyens

I did my first session out in the late afternoon sunshine in the grassed yard formed by the three sides of the house. The open side looks up to the small chapel on a hill. This morning I walked around the headland, where to my pantheistic delight I saw numerous seals both on land and poking their heads out of the waves, up to the chapel. I took advantage of the Catholic space to meditate to the music of three sounds – the wind, the sea and the rain on the wood-lined roof. I doubt it was an accident that Michael Powell’s Black Narcissus (as mentioned yesterday) ramps up the overwrought erotic tension of the film with an accompaniment of ceaseless moaning wind.

After the first writing session, we had drinks in the central lounge early evening before dinner in the mirror room of this library, the dining room at the other end of the house looking onto the sea near where we landed.

Earlyish night, bit of Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend (which I’ve been reading since 2001(!), have been thoroughly enjoying, but am still miles from the end), frapped le sac. Dreamt of the house. Up early, out for that walk and the seal watching.

After breakfast, straight into this second writing session and now my juices are flowing…

The Casting Game: Reservoir Dogs

To celebrate the arrival of Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood (which has grown on me since watching it last week) I’ve recast where it all began for Quentin, Reservoir Dogs

jonah hill actor wolf of wall street

Jonah Hill

as

chris penn reservoir dogs actor

Nice Guy Eddie (Chris Penn)

Arjen_Rudd_joss ackland actor lethal weapon

Joss Ackland

as

Lawrence_Tierney_joe cabot actor reservoir dogs

Joe Cabot (Lawrence Tierney)

dominic west actor

Dominic West

as

kirk-baltz-marvin reservoir dogs police officer

Marvin (Kirk Baltz)

chris isaak singer

Chris Isaak

as

Michael-Madsen-Reservoir-Dogs actor

Mr Blonde (Michael Madsen)

malcolm allison manager football soccer

Malcolm Allison

as

mr white harvey keitel actor reservoir dogs

Mr White (Harvey Keitel)

paul weller singer the jam

Paul Weller

as

tim roth actor reservoir dogs

Mr Orange (Tim Roth)

The Casting Game No. 101

Dean Martin

dean martin rio bravo cowboy movie

Dean Martin in Rio Bravo (1959)

as

Victor Mature

victor mature my darling clementine movie cowboy

Victor Mature in My Darling Clementine (1946)

understudied by Sylvester Stallone

Rambo-5-Last-Blood-Sylvester-Stallone movie

Sylvester Stallone in Rambo V: Last Blood (2019)

 

4 reasons to love Albert Finney

A friend of mine (whose artwork sits below where I am writing) is a close relative of Albert Finney so it was with a bit of a jolt that the news of the actor’s death caught me yesterday. I had last watched him on the obscure Channel 81 on Freeview (which is my favourite, random old movies from the 50s and 60s) in the somewhat bizarre (but very interesting) Gumshoe a few weeks ago.

Last night Erin Brockovich felt like the right celebration for a Friday night of a distinctive and charming actor. I’d forgotten that the movie was one of Steven Soderbergh’s, adding to the alignment as the sad news came in on the same day as posting this new article which brackets Soderbergh’s latest movie with my commission Missed Call and Sean Baker’s Tangerine.

1. Tom Jones (1963) as Tom Jones

TOM JONES (1963) albert finney actor

From the year of my birth, derived from one of my favourite books, characterised by a youthful cheekiness.

2. Under The Volcano (1984) as Geoffrey Firmin

albert finney under the volcano actor 1984 movie

From my university days, watched at the Arts Cinema Cambridge (also sadly missed), I remember it as a deeply disturbing performance and movie.

3. Erin Brockovich (2000) as Ed Masry

erin brockovich albert finney julia roberts

Avuncular, great chemistry with his shining co-star Julia Roberts, still that cheekiness.

4. Skyfall (2012) as Kincade

albert finney skyfall kincade poster

Shot by my first boss (Roger Deakins), with the immortal line:

Welcome to Scotland!

as he shotguns two of Bond’s assailants. Cheeky and irresistible to the end.

 

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is a 1960 British drama film directed by Karel Reisz and ... Albert Finney as Arthur Seaton

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) as Arthur Seaton – bridging 50s Angry Young Men (here) and 60s Swinging England (Tom Jones)

Lost Postcards No.2

old postcard berlin henry ainley

The second recently re-found old postcard from my small, random collection

old postcard berlin henry ainley

This one cost me a massive 20p (pencilled on the back). I think I bought it because it reminded me of Aubrey Beardsley and Oscar Wilde.

Aubrey Beardsley (1872 – 1898) by Frederick H. Evans (c.1894)

Aubrey Beardsley (1872 – 1898) by Frederick H. Evans (c.1894)

The postcard was “Manufactured in Berlin”. Oddly it specifies “For Inland use only” – as it’s written in English I assume it means in Britain not Germany.

The sitter is quite androgynous as you can see.

Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas (1870–1945) is best known as Oscar Wilde’s lover, and is often blamed for his downfall.

Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas (1870–1945) is best known as Oscar Wilde’s lover, and is often blamed for his downfall.

The name ‘Henry Ainley’ is printed at the bottom.

It turns out Henry Hinchliffe Ainley died the same year as Bosie. His dates are 21st August 1879 – 31st October 1945. He was an English actor of stage and screen, specialising in Shakespeare.

He was born in Leeds and brought up in Morley by father Richard, a cloth finisher, and mother Ada. He moved to London to pursue his career in acting. He made his professional stage debut as a messenger in Macbeth with F.R. Benson’s company.  Later he joined Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s company. He first came to prominence in 1902 as Paolo in Paolo and Francesca.

He played Gloucester in Henry V at the Lyceum in London. Ainley returned to Leeds to appear at the Grand Theatre. Later roles included Oliver Cromwell, Mark Antony in Julius Caesar and the lead in Macbeth. In 1912 he portrayed Malvolio and then Leontes under the direction of Harley Granville-Barker. He played Hamlet several times, including a 1930 production which was selected for a Royal Command Performance.

John Gielgud thought highly of Ainley and had a long-standing ambition to perform with him which he eventually fulfilled when he played Iago to Ainley’s Othello in a 1932 BBC Radio broadcast. Gielgud however described Ainley’s Prospero as “disastrous”, recalling it in 1996 (in The Sunday Times).

Ainley played Shakespeare on screen in Henry VIII (1911) and As You Like It (1936), the latter alongside his son Richard and Laurence Olivier.

Among the other roles Ainley played were: Robert Waring in The Shulamite (The Savoy Theatre, London, 1906.); Joseph Quinney in Quinneys (on stage in 1915 and on film in 1919); in A. A. Milne’s The Dover Road opposite Athene Seyler (1922); the Bishop of Chelsea in Bernard Shaw’s Getting Married (The Haymarket Theatre);  James Fraser in St. John Ervine’s The First Mrs. Fraser (1929 on stage, 1932 on film); and he starred in James Elroy Flecker’s Hassan (on stage and on radio). He was an early example of stage-screen crossover.

His films include:
She Stoops to Conquer (1914)
Sweet Lavender (1915)
Sowing the Wind (1916)
The Marriage of William Ashe (1916)
The Manxman (1917) – not to be confused with the second silent adaptation, directed by Hitchcock twelve years alter (1929)
Build Thy House (1920)
The Prince and the Beggarmaid (1921)
The Royal Oak (1923)
The First Mrs. Fraser (1932)

In 1921 Ainley became a member of the council of RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts) and was its president from 1931 to 1933.

Ainley led his own own theatre company. In 1932 he helped save the debt-laden Sadler’s Wells theatre. Ainley thought Sadler’s Wells regular Samuel Phelps the “greatest actor of all” and Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson “the greatest of Hamlets”.

Ainley was married three times – to Susanne Sheldon, Elaine Fearon and novelist Bettina Riddle (aka Baroness von Hutten zum Stolzenberg). He had several children, including actors Henry T. Ainley, Richard Ainley and Anthony Ainley, as well as non-thesps Sam and Timothy Ainley. Another off-spring was Henrietta Riddle, who was briefly engaged to journalist Alistair Cooke in 1932.

15 letters in the possession of Olivier’s widow, Joan Plowright, suggest that Ainley may have had a sexual relationship with Dear, Dear Larry in the late 30s. The letters suggest that Ainley was infatuated with Olivier.

Ainley died in London and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. I’ll go visit next time I’m over that way.

henry ainley as romeo in romeo and juliet

As Romeo in ‘Romeo and Juliet’

The photo in my postcard seems to have been taken by Lizzie Caswall-Smith.

henry ainley Photo by Lizzie Caswall-Smith

Lizzie Caswall-Smith (1870-1958) (possibly without hyphen) is pretty interesting in her own right. She was a British photographer who specialised in society and celebrity studio portraits. These were often used for postcards.

Caswall-Smith was associated with the women’s suffrage movement and photographed many suffragettes including Christabel Pankhurst, Flora Drummond and Millicent Fawcett. The other actors she photographed included Camille Clifford, Sydney Valentine, Billie Burke and Maude Fealy. She photographed Florence Nightingale in 1910 (which fetched £5,500 (Nov 2008)). On the back of that particular photograph she had jotted in pencil: “Florence Nightingale taken just before she died, House nr Park Lane (London). The only photograph I ever took out of studio – I shall never forget the experience.”

Caswall-Smith operated the Gainsborough Studio at 309 Oxford Street from 1907 until 1920 when she moved to 90 Great Russell Street. She stayed at that address until her retirement in 1930 (aged 60). She exhibited at the Royal Photographic Society in 1902 and 1913. Her portraits of Peter Llewelyn Davies and J. M. Barrie are in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London.

 

 

Let people talk about what they want (Michael Apted)

Michael_Apted young director

Michael Apted back in the day

Yesterday evening I went to see documentary & movie/drama director Michael Apted speaking at MIA (Mercato Internazionale Audiovisivo) in Rome – where I have been speaking on short-form video. He was in conversation on stage with an Italian journalist, Marco Spagnoli. A big focus of the interview was the Up series, the longitudinal documentary series from Granada which started with 7 Up in 1964 and gets to 63 Up in May next year on ITV. He has been filming with the same cohort (and largely the same crew) for 54 years – shooting with them once every 7 years. It is unique in the history of documentary film, enabled by starting in the right place (Granada in the era of World In Action) at the right time (a golden age for British factual TV). It couldn’t happen now. It was actually a World In Action colleague who had the idea to revisit what was originally a single doc 7 years later and then the snowball got rolling…

michael apted up series documentary 7 up

The Up series

Michael Apted director

Michael Apted now

The most important thing he has learned over the years is to go into the interviews, not with a list of questions, but ready to talk about what the contributors want to talk about. He does jot down his key questions but he leaves them back at home and just as a rough mental checklist against the free-flowing conversations.

Stardust 1974 Still david essex

Stardust (1974)

I asked a question about Stardust, as I remember it making a big impact on me as a teenager, a really freaky strange world (and I always liked David Essex as both an actor and singer).

And after the session I got to have a chat with him. He had talked about how he once, as a young director, saw Pasolini in a hotel lobby in Rome and froze, didn’t exchange a word. So I wasn’t going to do a Pasolini – we spoke a little about Charles Furneaux who was a 7-year-old contributor in 7 Up and a fellow Commissioning Editor with me at Channel 4 when I started (he must have been 46 at the time). He talked about his generation at Cambridge, which included Stephen Frears and the Pythons, and how motivating it was to feel part of that movement.

thunderheart movie 1992

Thunderheart (1992)

Whether he’ll make it to shoot 70 Up is probably a bit touch & go but for all his extensive filmography from Bond to Thunderheart (which was shot by my ex-boss Roger Deakins) without a shadow of a doubt his legacy will be Up. In 2005 the Up series topped the list of the 50 Greatest Documentaries in a Channel 4 programme.

I walked to the Apted session along the Via Veneto from the Villa Borghese gardens. I was sitting on a marble bench there dealing on the phone with a casting problem on a documentary I am currently working on on prejudice against facial and neck tattoos. It is a follow-up to In Your Face which did very well on Real Stories channel earlier this year (over 50 Million views). While I was on the call, which was addressing the fact that one of our contributors had gone AWOL, a heavily tattooed couple sat down beside me. I took a surreptitious picture of them and sent it to the producer on the other end of the line saying as a joke “Shall I book these two?”

Jessica Rebell tattooist Melbourne

Jessica Rebell of Melbourne

After the call, as the couple got up to go, I decided not to do a Pasolini and asked the woman if she got any gip over her neck tattoo, a high collar of leaves. She said in Rome yes, noticeably, whereas it was all par for the course in Melbourne where she lives. Rudeness, aggression and dismissiveness have all been visited on her in the Eternal City. London and Paris nothing worse than a bit of staring. Both Jess and Stephane are tattoo artists working at the same Melbourne tattoo. We had a long chat during which I flagged up a few of my 50+ tattoo docs for their viewing pleasure.

It was one of those chance encounters which makes la vita dolce.

Via Veneto in La Dolce Vita (1960)

Via Veneto in La Dolce Vita (1960) – Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimee (Dir: Federico Fellini) [Photo courtesy of The Kobal Collection]

***

Some of my tattoo films/series (over 40 films just here):

 

Coincidences No.s 212 & 213

No. 212  (27.03.18)

Members of the Jewish community hold a protest against Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn

26th March 2018

I am working with a fellow producer in Covent Garden in his office. We are talking to a colleague from Glasgow-based Finestripe Productions who attended the Labour Anti-semitism rally outside Parliament last night. This prompts my co-producer to mention who his MP is (as he was prominent at the event).  “Where is the constituency?” Harrow he tells me.

I go round to my mum’s for dinner with my step-dad. We have arranged to go for a Chinese somewhere in Colindale. When I arrive the plan has changed. It is more of a family affair and we are going to a different Chinese. We drive through Harrow, on to Hatch End. (Not sure I’ve ever been here before.) I decide to phone my co-producer from outside the Chinese: “I think I may be in your manor.” I tell him the name of the restaurant. “Look opposite, slightly to the right. Can you see Wellington Road?” I can. “That’s where we live.”

No. 213 (26 & 27.3.18)

1962 lawrence of arabia movie film poster

1962

I am watching a movie from the 80s, ‘Winter Kills’ starring Jeff Bridges. It strikes me that Jeff looks a lot like my old friend Adam D.

I get an email from Adam D for the first time in ages, about 70mm screenings of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ in his home town of Amsterdam – do I fancy flying over?

The Oscars: What do they know?

With the Oscars coming up this weekend, it’s a good moment to keep things in perspective. I am a big fan of 1970s Hollywood, a golden age in movie-making, and whilst the Academy honored ‘The Godfather’ in 1972, ‘…Cuckoo’s Nest’ in 1975, and ‘Annie Hall’ in 1977 with the Best Picture gong, some of the other collective decisions across that decade look very dubious with the distance of hindsight. Actually they probably looked pretty dubious at the time in the same way that, for example, ‘Birdman’ (2014) and ‘Forrest Gump’ (1994) did.

Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould in MASH (1970)

Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould in ‘M*A*S*H’ (1970)

In 1970 ‘Patton’ beat ‘M*A*S*H’ which tells you a lot about what was going on in the world at the time, particularly from an American perspective.

1974 was a singularly tough year with ‘The Godfather II’ up against another Coppola, ‘The Conversation’, and ‘Chinatown’. They made Godfather 2 an offer it couldn’t refuse which is justifiable but you could still have a pretty good debate about that one.

But 1976 is the real aberration. The Academy picked ‘Rocky’ above ‘Taxi Driver’, ‘Network’ and ‘All the President’s Men’. Really?!??!!! ‘Taxi Driver’ is an absolute masterpiece. The other two are both very fine works which have and will stand the test of time. ‘Rocky’ is a reminder that the Academy is largely composed of American men which for some reason brings to mind the famous misquote of H.L. Mencken:

“No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

What the great journalist/satirist actually said was:

“No one in this world, so far as I know — and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me — has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”

Not as neat but the point relates – ‘Rocky’ is a real “great masses of the plain people” decision.

The decade is crowned with another humdinger. 1979 saw ‘Kramer vs Kramer’ triumph over ‘Apocalypse Now’. Who even knows what ‘Kramer vs Kramer’ is now? It was enjoyable at the time and well made but no masterpiece for all time. In my eyes ‘Apocalypse Now’ is the greatest film made in my lifetime. Even its flaws are fascinating and right.

So when the Best Picture is announced this Sunday, and if it’s not Martin McDonagh’s ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ , we can chalk it up to the long heritage of fallibility and short-sightedness of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences…

  • 2015: Spotlight beat The Big Short
  • 1994: Forrest Gump beat Pulp Fiction
  • 1983: Terms of Endearment beat The Big Chill
  • 1948: Hamlet beat The Red Shoes

I’ve seen some of the back end of this as a voting member of BAFTA and of EFA (The European Film Academy). The process, the screenings, the marketing/lobbying, the demographics of the membership, it can all skew the collective judgment. Like when BAFTA failed to notice ‘Selma’ in 2014 (even though it was subsequently nominated for the Best Picture Oscar). Or take this year’s BAFTAs – how did the performance of Bria Vinaite in ‘The Florida Project’ fail to get noticed? (Or of Brooklyn Prince for that matter, the lead kid in Florida Project.) And what about Mary J Blige’s outstanding performance in Dee Rees’ ‘Mudbound’? Instead we got for Best Supporting Actress Allison Janney’s monotone caricature in the joyless ‘I, Tonya’.

Bria Vinaite & Brooklyn Prince in 'The Florida Project' (2017)

Bria Vinaite & Brooklyn Prince in ‘The Florida Project’ (2017)

There’s no accounting for taste. Or maybe there is.

Robert Duvall in Francis Ford Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now' (1979)

Robert Duvall in Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979)

 

 

 

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