Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category
Today is Record Shop Day. I’ve been frequenting mine (Alan’s in East Finchley) plenty recently so I’m just making an internal nod to indy record shops and I’ve just played a classic record Spiral Scratch by (the) Buzzcocks (albeit not on vinyl, I’m in the wrong room) – the track I played is Boredom because I’ve been thinking about it a lot yesterday and today.
I’m living in this movie
But it doesn’t move me
I’m the man that’s waiting for the phone to ring
Hear it ring-a-ding-a-fucking-ding
You know me, I’m acting dumb
You know the scene, very humdrum
Boredom, boredom, boredom
I was just out jogging, listening to a podcast with Irish writer John Banville talking about Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe. Banville, under his low-brow pen-name Benjamin Black (which I don’t much like – as fake as they come, a bit like Julian Barnes’ Dan Kavanagh), recently wrote a Marlowe book at the request of Chandler’s estate, The Black-Eyed Blonde. Marlowe stories usually start with the gumshoe sitting bored in his down-at-heel office waiting for something to happen, usually a dame walking through the door to give him a knight-errant mission.
Then late last night I was listening to a radio programme from BBC Radio 4 called The Buchan Tradition about John Buchan, marking the centenary year of The 39 Steps. Richard Hannay is bored in London at the start of that ripping yarn when lo and behold a spy dies on his living room carpet and the adventure begins.
That’s also often the case with Sherlock Holmes – he’s bored out of his brain, coked off his face, ennui has well and truly set in when a character shows up at 221b with a juicy mystery to solve.
One of my favourites, a resident of The Shelf of Honour, The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, opens with the protagonist bored in the “dead and fermenting city”, London in the dog-days of late summer. When the opportunity crops up to sail around the Baltic and North Sea coasts, in spitting distance of imperial Germany, with an English eccentric in an Aran jumper, it’s the perfect cure not just to boredom, but also to the complacency and materialism of modern life. One of my favourite scenes is when Carruthers, the narrator, can’t fit his trunk through the opening into the Dulcibella, the boat he is due to go off for a trip in and he has to dump most of his stuff (which he never really needed).
Recently I watched again one of my all-time favourite movies, Apocalypse Now, with Enfant Terrible No. 1 (a convert to The Godfather movies). Damn it’s good. Great. Nearly perfect. It opens with Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) bored to near-death in a hotel room in Saigon. Waiting for a mission.
Saigon…shit. I’m only in Saigon.
Every time, I think I’m gonna wake up back in the jungle.
I’m here a week now. Waiting for a mission. Getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker. And every minute Charlie squats in the bush…he gets stronger. Each time I looked around…the walls moved in a little tighter.
There’s boredom as debilitating ennui as in Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. But there’s also boredom as a motivator, a prompt into adventure. The question is whether in real life the blonde walks through the door or the spy expires on your carpet? Does the ring-a-ding-a-fucking-ding really come?
Sad to hear about the death of actress Anita Ekberg today, all the more so as she died in poverty after having lived the dolce vita during her movie-making days. This is what she did for me…
I’m flying home with my family on a cheap flight which means picking up a connecting flight in Rome. I balls up the time because of a combination of variable time difference between place of departure, place of transit and place of arrival together with shift to British Summer Time while we were abroad. So we miss our flight back to London and it’s the last flight. We end up going into the city for the night as I’ve never been there. My Mrs is frazzled, Enfant Terrible No. 1 is feeling under the weather, so they hit the sack. Meanwhile Enfant Terrible No. 2 and I decide to see what the Eternal City’s got to offer. It’s already past midnight when we head off along the Via Veneto (Fellini’s hang-out). I think of the first famous site of Rome that comes to mind: the Trevi fountain. I don’t even know really what it looks like. I know the name mainly from Holly Johnson’s Love Train. We make our way through the warm night city navigating as best as I can manage with a crappy hotel map, passing various minor fountains along the route. Eventually we come round a corner to see the fountain that matters. There are loads of people hanging out there, all very chilled, bit of a hippy vibe. The air is pleasantly warm. We drink in the atmosphere and absorb the magic of the place at that time. A man offers to take a photo of us both on my camera (above). It’s all an extended moment of magic. I’ve never seen La Dolce Vita at this point.
We get back to London and I rent a DVD of Fellini’s masterpiece. I find the movie captivating but that scene truly magical. The design of the audio really strikes me, the not using the sync sound of the fountain. Seemingly this is because Fellini was shouting directions while they were actually shooting. Whatever the reason, it helped create one of cinema’s greatest moments and Anita Ekberg was central to it. That enchantment she created somehow elevated what was already a beautiful experience in my life.
That’s what Anita Ekberg did for me and I’m grateful. It’s a shared experience I’ll never forget – and nor will my beloved son.
You’re a work of art, you’re the Trevi fountain
You’re a golden heart, you’re the highest mountain
You bring me flowers every day of my life
You save me from the worry and the strife
Take me in your arms
Baby, baby, I’m on a winning streak
When I met you I reached my peak
Your perfect view makes me feel brand new, yeah
Well, you’re just right to keep me up all night, up all night
Working all the time to make you mine, all mine, yeah
Riding the love train, stroke it up, riding the love train
Lovin’ all the time to keep you feeling fine, yeah
Riding the love train, stroke it up, riding the love train
20,000 Days on Earth
The Theory of Everything
Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything
David Oyelowo – Selma
Nicholas Cage – Joe
Tom Hardy – Locke
Benedict Cumberbtach – The Imitation Game
Ralph Fiennes – Grand Hotel Budapest
Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything
Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
Tim Roth – Selma
Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Tom Wilkinson – Selma
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Sienna Miller – American Sniper
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard – 20,000 Days on Earth
Christopher Nolan – Interstellar
Pawel Pawlikoski – Ida
Paul King – Paddington
Yann Demange- ’71
Paul Webb – Selma
Paul King – Paddington
Wes Anderson – Grand Hotel Budapest
Anthony McCarten – The Theory of Everything
Grand Hotel Budapest
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
(John Newman – Love Me Again)
Morning Phase – Beck
Tribute – John Newman
With The Artists – Rhythm & Sound
Liquid Spirit – Gregory Porter
(WomanChild -Cecile McLorin Salvant)
Van Morrison on launch night of Nell’s Jazz & Blues Club
Michael Franti & Spearhead – Islington Assembly Hall (with D)
John Newman – Empire Shepherd’s Bush
ABC – Lexicon of Love – Theatre Royal Drury Lane
Peter Gabriel – So – Wembley Arena
A Taste of Honey – Shelagh Delaney – National Theatre, Lyttleton
Fiesta – adapted & directed by Alex Helfrecht – Trafalgar Studios
Oh What a Lovely War – Joan Littlewood & the Theatre Workshop – Theatre Royal Stratford East (Joan Littlewood centenary – with D)
Fings Ain’t Wot They Used to Be – Frank Norman – Theatre Royal Stratford East
Egon Schiele drawings: The Radical Nude – Courtauld
John Craxton – Fitzwilliam, Cambridge
Richard Hamilton – Tate Modern
Abram Games: designing the 20th Century – Jewish Museum, Camden Town
MALBA – Buenos Aires
Museum der bildenden Kunste – Leipzig (with N)
Book: (that I read this year)
Rabbit at Rest – John Updike
Germany crushing Brazil at the World Cup (7-1 semi-final)
Jonny May’s try for England against the All Blacks at Twickenham
Philae probe from European spacecraft Rosetta landing on a comet
Screenwriter Colin Welland famously proclaimed “The British are coming!” when he picked up the original screenplay Oscar for Chariots of Fire in 1981. Then the drought followed. Then Film4 (the movie-making bit of Channel 4) helped correct that with prestigious Oscars for The Last King of Scotland [Best Actor], Slumdog Millionaire [Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and 5 others] and last year 12 Years a Slave [Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress, and 6 nominations] and for the first time a black hand clutching that Best Picture statuette. Which brings us neatly to Selma, the powerful new movie about Martin Luther King and the break-through protests he led at Selma, Alabama which ultimately secured the vote for African-Americans. So an American icon (the only modern American with a public holiday named after them – this coming month you can join in on the 19th [January]) and a very American subject yet the 4 lead roles are filled by Brits.
I went to a BAFTA viewing last week attended by the film’s main lead, David Oyelowo. I didn’t know anything about him, not having been a Spooks fan – that’s a UK drama on BBC about spies (= spooks) for any American cousins reading this, I’m pointing that out because spooks means something else that side of the water (= derogatory term for African-Americans). They changed the title to MI-5 in the US for just that reason. So I almost fell off my perch when he started talking in a South London accent. Much like when I first heard Eton-educated Dominic West speaking after watching The Wire – BTW McNulty’s partner The Bunk (Detective Moreland) shows up as a token American actor in Selma, Wendell Pierce plays the Reverend Hosea Williams who leads the first Selma to Montgomery march in MLK’s place.
1. David Oyelowo plays the big man himself, Dr Martin Luther King Jnr
David was born in Oxford and trained at LAMDA in London. His portrayal of MLK certainly makes him a Best Actor contender in the forthcoming awards season – I thought Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking was way out ahead of the pack before I saw Selma. He’s done the whole African-American story at this point with roles in Lincoln, The Butler and The Help. He also appeared in the aforementioned The Last King of Scotland as well as a small part in fellow Brit Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.
He puts the success of British actors down to their training which he characterises as focusing on building the character from the inside out, diametrically opposite The Method. His accent in the movie is flawless, King having a very particular mix of accents with an equally distinctive preacher’s inflection.
He felt fated to play this role (it took eight years to get the movie made and he was cast early on). Shooting on location in Selma and Montgomery, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge which was the frontline of the protest (the bridge being named after an Alabama senator and general who also led the Alabama Ku Klux Klan – surprisingly (to a Brit at least) it retains its name to this day), shooting on location in the places where the civil rights history played out made for some very powerful experiences for the actor. One Twilight Zoney story he told was how when they came to shoot the final speech in front of the Capitol building in Montgomery the Production Designer was unhappy with the rostrum and podium. He went over to the nearby church, where MLK had preached, and asked to borrow a lectern. The pastor went down into the basement to look for anything suitable and found one covered in dust. When the Production Designer got it cleaned up and onto the set he checked back against contemporary photos and found it was the actual one used in 1965.
2. Carmen Ejogo plays Coretta Scott King, MLK’s wife
Carmen was born in Kensington (London, England) of a Nigerian father and Scottish mother. She’d already played Coretta in the HBO TV movie Boycott thirteen years earlier. She met her current husband, actor Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter in the Daniel Craig era Bond films), on the set of that movie but was previously married briefly to British trip-hop artist Tricky. She met Coretta King when making Boycott. She captures the dignity of CSK well and has a good scene with Malcolm X as well as a key one confronting her husband about his infidelity.
3. Tom Wilkinson plays LBJ (President Lyndon Johnson)
Tom lives up the road from me in Muswell Hill. He’s great as Mr President, a touch crude and ultimately concerned with his legacy. He was born in Leeds and trained at RADA. He is in a strong tradition of Brits playing US Presidents including Anthony Hopkins as Nixon and Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln.
4. Tim Roth plays Governor George Wallace
Tim is from Dulwich, South London and studied at Camberwell Art School. He is in a strong tradition of Brits playing evil baddies. Wallace qualifies as indicated by the assassination attempt which left him in a wheelchair from 1972. Roth set out to play him as a despicable monster and pulled it off pretty well, you really want to hiss every time he appears. Roth came from a left-wing/Communist household and the Selma-Montgomery Marches were well known to him from it.
It’s a really striking movie and very well acted by the Brit Pack. What makes it particularly resonant though is that recent times have made it abundantly clear that the race issues that dog America (not least because it’s a nation founded on a genocide) are still here #ICantBreathe
So it’s that time of the year again – my first BAFTA viewing of the season. To get things off to a strong start I went to see Jason Reitman’s Men Women & Children. He was at the screening (we crossed paths at the door of the Gents in the Ham Yard Hotel in Soho – I’ve seen him once before a couple of years ago at a screening of Up in the Air – he’s the son of Animal House producer, Ivan Reitman). Also present in the immaculate new screening room were stars Ansel Elgort (The Fault in our Stars) and Kaitlyn Dever (Bad Teacher), plus producer Helen Estabrook, all interviewed after the movie by Jason Solomons (more comfortable than incisive like that old jumper with the paint spots on it).
I was going to ask director Jason Reitman why he had decided on a female English voice-over (Emma Thompson, who sounded like she didn’t really understand the American words she was being asked to say about sports and stuff) but the fella before me asked that one so I had to improvise. First I asked him why he used a voice-over narration at all (and quite a lot of it), and then I asked whether he had gone to Framestore for the space shots as a no-brainer in the wake of Gravity (it’s wonderful to see a London institution in such a dominant global position).
On the way out I had a chat with Ansel Elgort about selfies and who took the photos in the movie story of his screen mum and her lover. I thought it was a Judas scenario – who is narrating when he’s alone in his torment? – but Ansel reckoned the obnoxious couple took a photographer along to the wedding proposal, a “cheesy” act. I’m not entirely convinced but maybe that happens in the good ol’ US of A. He has 4 million Instagram followers so what do I know?
So the reasons to go see the film are:
1. Rosemarie DeWitt – I fancy her something rotten, very distinctive nose. She looks oddly like Davina McCall (who I bought a coke a few years ago at a BAFTA nominees party in Marylebone). Probably first noticed her in Rachel Getting Married and loved her in the delightful Your Sister’s Sister.
2. Carl Sagan’s words – My friend Doug Miller is always going on about Carl Sagan and he’s a man of taste. His taste is well proven in this movie as the voice-over of a Carl Sagan DVD provides the philosophical perspective in this story. It’s the “Pale Blue Dot” speech from Cosmos which says that us humans are basically a race of jumped-up monkeys floating in the blackness on an insignificant lump of rock – and that’s why we need to be kind to one another.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.
3. Mobile phones – it really draws your attention to how much we all use them, especially while walking around.
I took this picture a couple of weeks ago in The Wolesey – these people never came off their phones in over an hour and hardly exchanged a word. One of the few things that sticks with me from Dr Susan Greenfield’s slightly odd book Tomorrow’s People is the new state of mind which sees us regularly living in two places at once thanks to this technology.
4. The Internet – this is probably the first movie I’ve seen that has a serious stab at examining what the internet is doing to us – through blogs, porn, social media, games et al – and how we connect in all regards these days.
The Great Escape (1963)
This one (from the year I made my debut on earth) is for me his most memorable role as an actor – as Bartlett, who can forget that tragic end, machine-gunned in a field by the heartless Nazis alongside his stalwart Scottish buddy, MacDonald (played by the ever dependable Gordon Jackson)?
In Which We Serve (1942)
His fresh faced debut, already a screen presence to be reckoned with. Directed by David Lean and Noel Coward, a suitably English place to start.
My hero well captured by the talented young Robert Downey Jnr. under the assured direction of Dickie.
Cry Freedom (1987)
I remember this one opening my eyes to the outrages of apartheid South Africa back in my university days. Denzel Washington was powerful as Steve Biko and first came to international prominence under Dickie’s direction.
Richard Attenborough was instrumental in the establishment of Channel 4 – Deputy Chairman from 1980 to 1986 as it got on its feet and Chairman from 1986 to 1992 through its golden age.
He was also a key leader in BAFTA, associated with the Academy for 30 years and President for over a decade.
I interviewed Lord David Puttnam about him recently for my book, When Sparks Fly. I was thinking of including him in the Film chapter (Choose Life) which focuses on Danny Boyle. With its central theme of the creative rewards of openness and generosity, Attenborough struck me as the cinema embodiment of British public service values. Channel 4 and BAFTA are just two of many appointments which demonstrate his prodigious energy and unfailing commitment to public service media/arts, from the brilliant Chickenshed Theatre to the Mandela Statue Fund.
Took a moment to look back over the chapter titles I’ve fixed so far and enjoyed seeing them arranged together:
- With a Little Help from My Friend
- Take A Chance And Say You Tried
- The Rock of Change
- Give Away Everything You Know
- (Everyone you meet is) Fighting a Hard Battle
All but the first are quotes from the chapter protagonist. I was taking stock in a comfy hotel room in Toronto where I headed for a few days peace&quiet. The crappy English-type weather helped focus the mind, and together with the jetlag that had my brain pin-sharp at 2am, meant it was a productive trip. I alternated between processing Joan Littlewood-related interviews (interesting to listen back with a few months separation) and starting my next chapter, the one on Film which focuses on Danny Boyle. He represents a different kind of openness and generosity from what I’ve covered so far – his centres on bringing out talent in others and sharing the praise, very much leadership qualities which is the essence of being a film director.
While I was away I had the pleasure of meeting various directors at Hot Docs, the annual international documentary film festival (billed as the biggest in North America). I particularly enjoyed chatting with Charlie Lyne whose film Beyond Clueless was playing and James Motluk who is working on a really interesting Dylan-related doc.
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.
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.
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).
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.
I told you not to put metal in the science oven, what did you do that for?
I’m going to watch Saving Mr Banks later today as I have to submit my first round of votes for the BAFTA Film Awards tonight. I’m all the more up for it as on Christmas Eve I went to see Mary Poppins (1964) on the big screen for the first time since I was a child, at The Phoenix in East Finchley, complete with free sherry and mince pies, the Christmas Eve screening becoming an annual tradition for us.
Watching it five decades after its release (this coming year is its half-century anniversary), it strikes me as modern in a number of ways, such as:
- Bert (played by Dick Van Dyke) has a portfolio career – chimney sweeper, pavement artist, one-man band, etc.
- Bert and his chimney sweep pals do free-running (parcours) on the rooftops of Edwardian London (really, check out some of the moves up and between the sloping roofs)
- Bert does free-style rapping at the gate of the park, making up his songs on the spot in response to the specifics of his audience
- The bank where Mr Banks works is engaged in risky speculation with Other People’s Money and making nothing concrete or useful, and nearly collapses just because a young child speaks out and refuses to invest his two pennies in such supercrappifragileunrealisticexpatrociousness.
Two meetings with Philips with one L. Firstly with Philip Dodd, formerly of Sight & Sound and the ICA, now a regular arts & ideas broadcaster on BBC Radio as well as a pioneer of British business & culture in China. He reads an awful lot of books so his guidance with this one was invaluable, some higher level perspectives to help avoid specific bear traps. We met where Fitzrovia meets Bloomsbury, the literary territory both Philips call home.
A midday interval in the grounds of UCL writing en plein air. Have Air will travel.
Then a long interview session with the second Philip – Philip Hedley, formerly artistic director of the Theatre Royal Stratford East in the wake of Joan Littlewood’s regime, joining as Assistant Director at the tail-end of that era around 1973. Philip talked with insight as the afternoon sun faded outside his art deco apartment building, the room darkened and his face became silhouetted. At the end of day 41 I was watching Alan Pakula’s The Parallax View which makes an art form of silhouettes in architectural frames.
Philip and I had begun chatting outdoors at the cafe opposite, his regular, in the cul de sac where GLO Productions was when I was setting out on my career. A fella called Gordon ran it til it went bankrupt; Tim Pope directed promos for them, produced by Lisa Bryer who went on to produce the likes of Film4’s The Last Kind of Scotland. I haven’t been in that streetette since the day of the winding-up meeting in the late 80s. A short stretch of the long and winding road…
The room we were subsequently talking in, home to Philip H for some 40 years, once housed a hastily convened meeting called by Joan to address the future of the Theatre Royal as Joan & Gerry’s time there was closing. Unusually she was taking the minutes herself. At the meeting she had strongly advocated the collective direction of TRSE, adamant that no leader was needed to succeed her. In the minutes she wrote that everyone turned their eyes to Philip when the issue of leadership surfaced but Philip made no response. The gap between her perception or recollection and Philip’s was Joan’s dramatic imagination, her romanticisation and theatricalisation of life which fuelled her creativity and characterises her autobiography, Joan’s Book, in which she recounts events in ways many struggle to recognise. As someone who ‘founded her life on the rock of change’ (a phrase she used to Philip in his five hour job interview for the Stratford gig) I suspect a book would be anathema, too fixed and rigid and not forward looking or moving…