Archive for the ‘coincidences’ Category

Coincidence No. 644

I am reading Paris After the Liberation by Antony Beevor & Artemis Cooper. In it I come across the name of Darius Dassault (WW2 French Resistance fighter) and his brother Marcel (aircraft engineer). [The name is resonant for me because my dad built me a model of a Dassault Mirage jet when I was about six.]

Airfix-Series-3-No-D363F-Dog-Fight-Doubles-Mirage-amp-MIG-15-1-72nd-scale-model-construction-kit-1968-71_700_600_5VWX5

Released 1968

The next day I am talking to my wife about a training course she is having to deliver online via Zoom. It turns out her client is Dassault (Cork office).

antony beevor artemis cooper paris after the liberation book cover

Coincidence No. 544 – Outsider

I am doing a day-long Zoom session for Documentary Campus Masterclass (was supposed to be in Copenhagen but had to be shifted online). I take a short break of 15 minutes and decide to use the time to start re-reading Albert Camus’ L’Etranger in French (the first book, other than comic books, that I have read in French for ages). The usual translation of the title is The Outsider (rather than The Stranger – it means both in French). I read the first couple of pages.

I rejoin the Zoom session and start a one-to-one meeting with a German filmmaker currently based in Thailand. From Chang Mai his very first statement is: “I did a lot of films about outsiders.”

Existentialist philosophy as propounded by the likes of Camus and Sartre has the universe as without meaning and pattern, and man as always striving to see pattern and sense in things.

the outsider albert camus novel l'etranger penguin

Coincidence No. 489 – Malcolm X

I am travelling to Helsinki to do some work with broadcaster YLE and University of Helsinki about Public Service Media and young people. It is a 3-hour flight so the night before I download three programmes on Netflix on my phone. It is the first time I have done this for months. One is a British movie, ‘Northern Soul’. Another is an episode from Ken Burns’ Vietnam documentary series. The other is the first episode of the Netflix Original ‘Who Killed Malcolm X?’. I just picked the first 3 things I fancied watching. I watch the movie on the way out and the Malcolm X doc on the return journey – today, 21st February.

Malcolm X

The documentary starts. Within seconds it becomes clear that he was killed on 21st February 1965. I had no idea. Today is the 55th anniversary of his assassination.

who killed Malcolm X Netflix documentary

Coincidence No. 488 – Bletchley Park

bletchley park the mansion codebreakers

The Mansion, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

I go to meet my cousin from Melbourne, Australia at my old home tube in Tufnell Park. We have never met before. She has come to London to work as a mathematician at the Alan Turing Institute in King’s Cross. Mention of Turing’s name prompts me to ask whether she has visited Bletchley Park yet? She has. I explain how it was very little known about until Peter Bate, David Darlow & John Smithson made the TV series Station X for my alma mater Channel 4 in 1998. We talk about how the men and women of Bletchley Park did not talk about it for five decades until the interviewees for the programmes got permission from the MoD. We talk about Sue Black who saved Bletchley and who I got to know originally during my time at C4.

I get on the bus to come home. I open my novel, Old Filth by Jane Gardam, which we are reading for my book group. (I’ve just looked it up because I suspected as much… Jane Gardam is the mother of Tim Gardam, now Principle of St Anne’s College, Oxford, in 2003 Director of Television at Channel 4 when I joined.) This was on the page I was up to and started reading on the top front tourist seat on the 263:

But they had me later in the War at Bletchley Park and there we met again. [NB Bletchley had not been mentioned in the novel before or had any role in the story] Bletchley Park was full of innocent, nice girls (not me) who had a very particular aptitude (crosswords) for solving cyphers and things, as you will be hearing in a year or two when ALL IS TOLD (the fifty year revelation).

The Mansion, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

The Mansion, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

Hut 1, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

Hut 1, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

The Lake, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

The Lake, Bletchley Park (Dec 2019)

Coincidence No. 776 – Snowdrops

This one I’m writing in the porte-cochère of Beech Hill House, Derry.

I am out for a morning jog and I stop to take this picture of early snowdrops.

As I crouch down I hear in my earbuds this from Kermode & Mayo’s film podcast: “Dear Timely Snowdrop and Early Daffodil” – the coincidence of “snowdrop” and clicking the shutter is exact. They go on to talk about “coincidences (or are they?)”

Note 1: I got married at Beech Hill

Note 2: I was at school with Mark Kermode and Jason Isaacs

Note 3: Hallo, Jason Isaacs

Note 4: Beech Hill was Base One Europe, the first US base on the continent for WW2 – tinkety-tonk and down with the Nazis

Coincidence No.s 309 & 310 – Bernstein

No. 309 Electric Chair

I am reading Sidney Bernstein’s biography (founder of the Granada cinema chain and Manchester-based Granada TV) by Caroline Moorehead. It mentions a trip he took to the USA in the 30s during which he visited an Alabama prison where the governor proudly showed off his electric chair – which, Bernstein noted, was yellow.

The same day I am watching the movie Just Mercy with Jamie Foxx and Michael B. Jordan as part of my BAFTA awards viewing (it’s released on 17th January in the UK – well worth seeing). In one of the scenes we see the electric chair in the Jamie Foxx character’s Alabama jail – (half a century on) it is bright yellow.

just mercy poster jamie foxx michael b jordan film movie

The poster is also yellow

 

No. 310 Duff Cooper

I am reading Sidney Bernstein’s biography by Caroline Moorehead. It talks about his efforts to join the Ministry of Information once WW2 was declared. He finally got into the organisation through Duff Cooper, Minister of Information from May 1940 under Churchill.

With the Bernstein biog on the go, I also started reading today Paris After the Liberation: 1944 – 1949 by Antony Beevor and Artemis Cooper. Duff Cooper it turns out was Artemis’s grandfather. She is married to Beevor. The intro mentions that some of Duff Cooper’s personal papers are used as sources for the book.

Paris After the Liberation: 1944 - 1949 by Antony Beevor and Artemis Cooper

 

Coincidence No.501

film set rehearsal lighting shoot deptford laban studio

Rehearsal & pre-lighting

Today one of the first dramas I’ve produced in a good while began shooting in Deptford, SE London. It is a sci-fi story set thirty years hence.

The Coincidences

I am producing a short drama for Red Bull Media House. The director casts a particular young British actor known from both movies and TV.

I met that actor three years ago through this very blog – he saw something I wrote about the performance movement pioneer Jean Newlove and contacted me to find out more.

The first location is found for the drama by the producer – it is a building called Studio Laban beside the creek in Deptford. Rudolph Laban was a pioneer of modern dance. He taught Jean Newlove who became a follower of his.

A producer from ITV is knocking on the doors in our street. I answer. She is looking for a place to launch a camera drone to film Jeremy Corbyn’s allotment which is behind our place. I offer our garden. One of the two drone operators is Phil.

The director of the sci-fi short choses his Director of Photography. He is Phil. I’ve never met Phil apart from the day of the Corbyn drone shoot, our first encounter.

Leaving the set tonight I head back to the West End to see A Taste of Honey at the Trafalgar Studios. The play was written by Shelagh Delaney, who sent it as a 19-year-old to Joan Littlewood who recognised her natural talent and staged it at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1958. Littlewood employed Jean Newlove as the movement coach of her theatre company.

The performance involves an on-stage drummer, George Bird. George trained at Trinity Laban College where the set is.

jean-newlove

Jean Newlove

Coincidences No.s 290 & 291

I’ll come clean – the numbers on these coincidences are completely random, but I noticed yesterday’s one (No. 288)  was the same number as the one before that, which I wrote on 25th September (No. 288). Which is odd as on both occasions I was trying to chose a totally random number. Why would my brain pick the same random number on two consecutive occasions separated by nearly two months? No wonder it’s so hard to win the Lottery.

Episode-288

No. 290 Lance on the boil

I am listening to the boxing match between YouTube creators KSI and Logan Paul on Radio 5. Steve Bunce is co-presenting with Calum McDonald. Bunce gets McDonald’s name wrong, calling him both Josh and Lance. “Where on earth did I get Lance from?” he asks.

I turn over to Radio 4/BBC World Service. A man called Lance is talking about cybersecurity for robots and automated hotels.

ksi-logan-paul boxing

No. 291 Nazis on the loose

I am talking to Enfant Terrible No. 1 about a Holocaust denier he met travelling on a car-share journey to Bristol the night before last. He paid this dirtbag £12 to get a ride down there.

I switch on Spotify as we are talking. I’m listening to some album called Classical Chillout – I wanted something to write to. The track that it resumes on is the theme tune to Schindler’s List.

Schindlers List liam neeson

 

 

 

 

Coincidences No.s 288 & 289

No. 288 – Matt A: Locke

I am in half-sleep early this morning thinking about a presentation I am doing next week at the University of Westminster on Public Service Media and about the fact that my old Channel 4 colleague Matt Locke is also speaking that afternoon.

I have the radio on in that half-sleep and I hear the (place)name Matlock (in Derbyshire) just after I think about Matt Locke. And then in the traffic report the fact that the A6 is blocked by floodwater in Matlock comes up. And then in the news a short while after the death of a woman in Matlock, drowned in the flooding river Derwent, gets mentioned.

Matlock Mercury floods 2019-11-09

Today’s edition

 

No. 289 – Matt B: Lenehan

This one is typical of the type of coincidence where you haven’t thought about something or heard a word for ages and then it comes up twice or more in 24 hours. 

I am at a seminar on James Joyce’s Ulysses at Senate House, University of London. We are talking about the Sirens chapter and the character of Matt Lenehan who in his diminutive creepiness reminds me of Peter Lorre’s character in Casablanca (Ugarte).

The next morning (today) I am finishing Patti Smith’s entertaining Year of the Monkey (her new poetic memoir, which revolves around semi-sleep states as in No. 288). It it she mentions that her late brother Todd’s favourite movie was The Beast with Five Fingers starring Peter Lorre.

I could feel the insidious fingers of memory rustling through the underbrush like the dismembered hand of the pianist scrabbling toward Peter Lorre’s throat in The Beast with Five Fingers.

(Good sentence!)

the beast with five fingers movie poster

 

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.

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