Anita Ekberg created a moment of magic

a moment of magic

a moment of magic

another magic moment in the same place

another magic moment in the same place

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

Shiny New Things (Phase 3: Month 1)

I haven’t written about my book When Sparks Fly since Train of Thought back in June. That’s around the time I begun commissioning what amounted by the close of the year to 17 series of short form video for Channel 4 Shorts, including Tattoo Twists and Futurgasm. So I was a busy boy and writing had to take a bit of a back seat for the tail-end of the year. My attitude was that I needed to be patient with myself and accept that space would re-emerge.

I managed to get odd snatches of time to work on the book. Another train of thought to the Edinburgh TV Festival afforded one such opportunity, six or so hours of chuff chuff. I spent a fair amount of time around Jamie Oliver’s various companies doing interviews for the Business chapter of which he is the protagonist, culminating in an interview with the man himself. I’d expected relatively short shrift but he was strikingly generous with his time. Most recently, when I was over in Northern Ireland for work, I did an interview with Aidan Murtagh of Belfast punk band Protex for the Terri Hooley section of the Music chapter. But it’s only this week, with the advent of 2015, that I managed to get back to writing in earnest – and it feels good.

How do you like them apples?  (photo courtesy of JC Dhien)

How do you like them apples?
(photo courtesy of JC Dhien)

I went back to the Business chapter and picked up from where I left off, enjoying the process of tuning back in, just slightly back-tracking to get back into the flow and dive in. It’s a different kind of chapter, the first I’ve written with a living central character so the research is more focused on the original interview material. I’ve set myself October as a deadline to finish the whole she-bang so let’s see how it pans out…

Best of 2014

20,000 Days on Earth

20,000 Days on Earth

Film:

20,000 Days on Earth

Selma
Boyhood
The Theory of Everything

Male Lead:
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

Female Lead:
Felicity Jones – The Theory of Everything

Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl

Male Support:
Tim Roth – Selma
Steve Carell – Foxcatcher
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Tom Wilkinson – Selma

Female Support:
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Sienna Miller – American Sniper

Director:
Richard Linklater – Boyhood

Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard – 20,000 Days on Earth

Christopher Nolan – Interstellar
Pawel Pawlikoski – Ida
Paul King – Paddington
Yann Demange- ’71

Writer:
Paul Webb – Selma
Paul King – Paddington
Wes Anderson – Grand Hotel Budapest
Anthony McCarten – The Theory of Everything

Production Design:
Grand Hotel Budapest

Visual FX:
Interstellar
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Michael Franti & dancer

Michael Franti & dancer

Single:
(John Newman – Love Me Again)

Album:
Morning Phase – Beck
Tribute – John Newman

With The Artists – Rhythm & Sound
Liquid Spirit – Gregory Porter
(WomanChild -Cecile McLorin Salvant)

Gig:
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

Play:
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

Art Exhibition:
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

Sport:
Germany crushing Brazil at the World Cup (7-1 semi-final)

Jonny May’s try for England against the All Blacks at Twickenham

Event:
Philae probe from European spacecraft Rosetta landing on a comet

Dearly departed:

Joe Cocker
Jack Bruce
Tommy Ramone

Egon Schiele - The Radical Nude

Egon Schiele – The Radical Nude

Best of 2013

Best of 2012

Best of 2011

Best of 2010

Best of 2009

4 reasons to go see Selma – and they’re all English

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.

Actor David Oyelowo speaking about his role as Martin Luther King in the movie Selma

David Oyelowo on playing MLK at Vue West End, Leicester Square – 17th December 2014

1. David Oyelowo plays the big man himself, Dr Martin Luther King Jnr

Actor David Oyelowo as Dr Martin Luther King Jnr in Selma

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

Actress Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott king in the movie selma

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 wilkinson as lyndon johnson in selma

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

actor tim roth as governor george wallace in the movie selma

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

Now That’s What I Call Christmas Music 54

Was talking Christmas music with Catalan Brian and The Luck Habit earlier this week in the wake of my moment on The Robert Elms show last weekend – see Radio Radio. In the good ol’ US of A of course it’s a genre in its own right, as reflected in the iTunes genres/CD metadata which includes Holidays Music or something like that. So we agreed to put together a selection of the best ‘Holidays’ tunes by way of party game cum useful list.

Frank Sinatra Christmas

1. Last Month of the Year – Blind Boys of Alabama

This is the one we kick off proceedings with every year in our house.

Father: Tell me when was Jesus born?
It was the last month of the year

Was it January?
Children: no [etc.]
February? no
March, April, May? no
June, July, August, September, October, November?
It was the 25th day of December
It was the last month of the year

What’s not to love?

2. Children Go Where I Send Thee – Nick Lowe

This was our 2013 acquisition – it was the year I got to really appreciate Nick Lowe. I saw him live at a recording of Songwriter’s Circle a couple of years ago for BBC4 and really started to rethink his music. I’ve always had a soft spot for Rockabilly, right back to when the local greengrocer’s delivery boy was in The Polecats.

3. Fairytale of New York – The Pogues and Kirsty McColl

I’ll get it out the way – at the risk of losing TLH from the discussion. I just love the slagging bit in the middle. And Matt Dillon (Rumblefish era) featuring in the vid. I spoke to Kirsty’s mum earlier this year while writing my book – Jean Newlove – an incredible 91 year old who looked after Dance and Movement for some of Joan Littlewood’s theatrical enterprises. Sinead O’Connor has also played this live with The Pogues in Kirsty’s absence.

4. Jingle Bells – Frank Sinatra

From Frank’s cracking Crimbo LP imaginatively entitled ‘The Christmas Album’. The voice – unbeatable.

5. Merry Christmas Everyone – Shakin’ Stevens

Christmas has nothing to do with good taste.

6. Let It Snow – Ella Fitzgerald

A voice as pure as driven white stuff.

7. Cool Yule – Louis Armstrong

The dude was cool as the white stuff.

8. Santa Baby – Eartha Kitt

Naughty but nice.

9. Silent Night – Sinead O’Connor

What Sinatra is to the male voice, Sinead is to the female voice i.e. as good as it gets. Seems like a good one for this centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War and that Christmas moment in No Man’s Land.

Sinead-O'Connor singer Irish

I’ll be adding more to these over the next few days. In the meantime Brian has got together a formidable list which I’ll post in the first comment. Feel free to add your faves…

Radio Radio

I listen to about 30 plus hours of radio a week. It’s a great medium. “Skull Cinema” is what a colleague at work called it the other day.

One of my favourites shows on the radio is the Robert Elms Show on BBC London 94.9 – the current unwieldy name for GLR. GLR, founded in 1988, burned brightly for just a few years like a flare in the night, lighting up the faces of Chris Evans, Chris Morris and Danny Baker; Mark Lamarr, Gideon Coe, Phill Jupitus and Gary Crowley; lightening the hearts of 20somethings across the capital, feeding telly for years to come. By 2000 it was no more – except in those hearts.

Robert Elms is into much of the same stuff as me – London, music, architecture, trivia, history and music. You said music twice…

Hedley Lamarr: Qualifications?
Applicant Outlaw: Rape, murder, arson, and rape.
Hedley Lamarr: You said rape twice.
Applicant Outlaw: I like rape.

He shares a birthday with my Other Half. That must mean something.

Anyway, this weekend I got a real kick getting a mention on the show. Robert asked for ideas for Christmas tunes to play over the next couple of weeks. I sent in these two.

This is the latest Christmas record in our household, acquired this time last year. Robert said he’d played it a couple of days ago. Good, we’re on the same wavelength. It’s got that Rockabilly heartbeat.

This one is our core Christmas record. It goes on first thing on the big day and means it’s finally here – the pressie-opening, the turkey, the film, the family, the fun&games. Robert said he hadn’t come across this one and would follow it up (he says he takes these suggestions from listeners very seriously – I believe him).

So I whack off a quick email upstairs and by the time I get down to the kitchen I hear my two proposals coming out of the old Roberts, a veritable honour.

The best show of the year is one he does on New Year’s Eve day where he collects the best of his live music sessions of the year from the small Radio London studio with the dodgy Joanna. Always a total treat. Last year I remember finding Cecile McLorin Salvant and Laura Mvula through it.

Don’t Stop the Music on Newsround

I loved Newsround as a kid. And now after all these years a bit of me gets on it – in the form of Don’t Stop the Music, the multiplatform project I’ve been working on all summer with pianist James Rhodes and Jamie Oliver’s production company, Fresh One.

Over 7,000 instruments were collected in the Don’t Stop the Music Instrument Amnesty thanks to the huge generosity of the British public and their care about music education. That makes it the biggest UK instrument amnesty ever.

Here’s the Newsround item which shows the last step in the journey as the instruments reach the kids…

Screen Shot BBC Newsround

The Imitation Game – art imitating real life?

ArkAngel:

A special evening at the Phoenix

Originally posted on Dr Sue Black:

Having spearheaded the most recent campaign to save Bletchley Park and being part of the campaign to get Alan Turing on a banknote I was very apprehensive about seeing the new film “The Imitation Game” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. The Imitation Game is based on Andrew Hodges biography of Alan Turing and his codebreaking work at Bletchley Park during WW2.

Screen Shot 2014-11-20 at 00.05.56

I spent several years of my life trying to raise public awareness of Bletchley Park and the contribution of the more than ten thousand people who worked there and have learnt a lot along the way. I’ve had conversations with several people who knew Turing, including his nephew and nieces and have spoken to many Bletchley Park veterans over the years.

I was apprehensive about seeing the film because I really didn’t want to see a film like “Enigma” again, a film which I’ve never actually managed to…

View original 1,320 more words

Songlines #11: Sheena Is a Punk Rocker (Aidan Murtagh of Protex)

The Question:

What piece of music means the most to you?

The guitarist/vocalist from pioneering Belfast punk band Protex picks a short sharp blast of punk-pop not a million miles away from Don’t Ring Me Up and other Protex 2-minuters.

The Song: Sheena Is a Punk Rocker by The Ramones

Here’s how that inspiration played out:

And here’s the inspiration itself: (2 mins 39 V 2 mins 51 – what’s 12 seconds between friends?)

Songlines #10:

Bach to the Future (James Rhodes)

4 reasons to go see Men, Women & Children

Jason Reitman, good pedigree

Jason Reitman, good pedigree

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).

Ansel Elgort & Kaitlyn Dever connecting (without phones)

Ansel Elgort & Kaitlyn Dever connecting (without phones)

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:

Rosemarie DeWitt

Rosemarie DeWitt DeLish

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.

In 1990 Voyager 1 captured this image of Earth from 4 billion miles away

In 1990 Voyager 1 captured this image of Earth from 4 billion miles away

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.

men-women-children-movie

3. Mobile phones – it really draws your attention to how much we all use them, especially while walking around.

For fuck's sake say something!

For fuck’s sake say something!

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.

men-women-children-movie

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.

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