Archive for the ‘film4’ Tag
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
Two days where relatively little done on the book and yet filled with surrounding stuff which feels of the same spirit, worthwhile and somehow connected.
Day 85 was just slow to start, had a run when the sun showed up mid-morning for a while and got caught up with other stuff – sorting out a trip to Ireland next week, writing to an old friend and exchanging emails with the excellent David McCandless of Information is Beautiful and the insightful Mark Stevenson of An Optimist’s Tour of the Future. Did a bit of polishing of Ginsberg chapter then had to do Enfants Terribles related stuff so by the time I dropped off ET No. 2 at a lesson in the afternoon I’d not that much done. But I repaired to the Adam & Eve on The Ridgeway in Mill Hill village with trusty Air at hand and, sitting by the fire, got up more of a head of steam. As I reached the section on Apple Corps, The Beatles’ corporation, Help came up on the pub’s sound system. Worked on and then just as I reached the section on Ginsberg’s involvement in early LSD testing, after The Who, Van and a bunch of other stuff had been playing, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds kicked in at exactly the moment the Find function landed me on that bit. When I left the pub and got into the car, switched on the engine, Radio London was still on from earlier and on it was, yes you guessed it, The Beatles, again playing Help. So I take it I’m supposed to be writing that part at the moment.
I did some pro bono work in the evening for Anti-Slavery International regarding Film4’s 12 Years a Slave. Sorry to read Steve McQueen is going over to the BBC next as Film4 has really backed him to the hilt – my friend Jan Younghusband (formerly Commissioning Editor of Arts at C4) nurtured Hunger and navigated its way into Film4 (and Steve’s into feature film making), not an easy project to see home intact.
Day 86 began, after a quick burst of Ginsberg, with more pro bono – a fabulous & fun Culture24 project in need of a little guidance. Got the ol’ creative juices flowing alongside the cappuccinos at the marvellous Amici. Dashed from there to Middlesex University, where I’ve been doing a little consultancy work recently, to discuss doing a PhD next year. In many ways university was a bit wasted on me in my early 20s – I’m just about ready to do a proper job of the academic side of it now (as opposed to running film societies and doing the whole Art History tripos on the side when I was supposed to be doing Languages).
Final stop – the October Gallery in Bloomsbury, a place Allen Ginsberg often hung out in when in London, to meet up again with Kathelin Gray, a friend of Ginsberg and William Burroughs, a wide-ranging artist, performer, curator, teacher, activist and ball of energy who I interviewed before Christmas. She showed me around the beautiful gallery sited in an old schoolhouse and its library which was right up my street, custom-made book cases and a lovingly gathered collection.
So I’ll do some writing over the weekend to make up for it, the first weekend I will have worked since I started on 1st Sept. Working 9-5 Mon-Fri has been an important discipline and getting this far without breaking the pattern is quite good going, what’s a quick Friday for Sunday swop between friends?
If I wanted to boost the SEO for Simple Pleasures part 4 I’d be writing this evening about Jim Morrison, The Snowman, lonelygirl15, Dylan Thomas, Lara Croft and Albert Camus, but I’ve got other stuff in mind, first and foremost The Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley, London N2. I’m just back from there where we went for a family matinee outing to watch Glorious 39.
Glorious 39 is considerably less glorious than Inglourious Basterds – basically it belongs on TV like many BBC Films ‘movies’ – but the Phoenix itself was its usual blaze of Art Deco glory, gilded but faded but ready to rise again in even greater splendor…
…which is why two nights ago I arranged a preview screening of Nowhere Boy at the Phoenix. It was just the second public screening of Sam Taylor-Wood’s new film about the young John Lennon and it was raising money towards the Phoenix Restoration Fund. The Phoenix is the UK’s oldest purpose-built cinema and to celebrate the centenary of its 1910 opening the charity trust which runs it is striving to complete a major restoration by its 100th birthday next year. (If you feel like donating a couple of quid, you can do that here – we’ve got 90 grand left to raise to release the lottery grant needed to do the job.)
Anne-Marie Duff – of Channel 4’s Shameless, Film4’s Garage and The Virgin Queen fame (especially Shameless! pretty much the best TV drama of the last decade) – kindly pitched up to do a Q&A after the screening and gave a great insight into her intelligent and feeling approach to acting. She plays Julia, John Lennon’s mother, who found herself giving him up as a child but later helping spark his musical genius. The scene of Julia teaching John to play the banjo and then his swift but hard-earned mastery of the instrument is thrilling.
Film4’s Nowhere Boy was rousing. I didn’t like Matt Greenhalgh’s script for Control but this was a story well told and moving. Anne-Marie as Julia and Kristin Scott-Thomas as John’s aunt Mimi (who raised him) were both powerful and affecting, making sense of a tragic love tussle. But the big revelation was the charismatic Aaron Johnson as the young Lennon, old school charisma and strikingness on screen.
Sam Taylor-Wood came in to visit us a couple of years ago at Channel 4 to talk about her work and inspirations, and showed us a short art video depicting the decomposition of a partridge and a peach – very impactful in a short, sharp way. A feature is a very different prospect and she pulled this one off with energy and aplomb. I suspect her interactions with the actors were lacking in experience but the thesps were all good enough to make up for any wooliness in that aspect of the direction.
One of my first insights into Channel 4 was in 1988 when a programme called Lennon /Goldman: the making of a best-seller was being cut in Solus Productions where I was working, my first job. It was about the rather grubby biographer of Elvis and Lenny Bruce and his biog of Lennon which was due to come out shortly after. The director, Binia Tymieniecka, kindly gave me a copy of it, The Lives of John Lennon, which I dug out after the Phoenix show. I could see from a cinema ticket bookmark that the last time I had dug it out was in April 1994 when Stephen Woolley (who I believe used to work at the Phoenix) & Nik Powell’s Backbeat came out. The inscription reads: You’ve heard the gossip. You’ve seen the rough cut. Now read the book. The gossip and the aforementioned insight involved Goldman pulling all his contributions from the documenatry at the 11th hour (not sure what kind of C4 contract allowed for that kind of veto, but Channel 4 was still in its naively golden first decade then).
This week (Tuesday) was the 29th anniversary of John’s death. I remember it clearly – I was in Tijuana in Mexico and saw the headlines in Spanish, struggling to translate them exactly. I associate that time with realising for the first time my eyesight was dodgy, taking off my specs and realising the degree of my myopia (your youropia, his hisopia), getting a bit upset about it as a person who’s always been visually driven, through still and moving pictures. There’s a lot of play in Nowhere Boy about John’s short-sightedness – Mimi’s always reminding him to put on his specs and he’s always taking them off again as soon as he gets out of range. He has to put them on when Paul (superbly played by the fresh-faced Thomas Sangster) is teaching him guitar. The chemistry between John and Paul is palpable. On Tuesday I was listening, trusty ol’ iPod on shuffle, on my walk home past the Phoenix to Yer Blues from the White Album and was greatly struck by the haunting words he wrote in India and recorded just a few miles from the Phoenix at Abbey Road:
Yes I’m lonely wanna die
Yes I’m lonely wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why
In the morning wanna die
In the evening wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why
My mother was of the sky
My father was of the earth
But I am of the universe
And you know what it’s worth
I’m lonely wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why
The eagle picks my eye
The worm he licks my bones
I feel so suicidal
Just like Dylan’s Mr. Jones
Lonely wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why
Black cloud crossed my mind
Blue mist round my soul
Feel so suicidal
Even hate my rock and roll
Wanna die yeah wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why.
My response to today’s Observer Film Magazine list of ‘The Best British Films 1984-2009’
My 15 favourite home-grown films of the last quarter century (in no particular order) are:
- In Bruges [not in The Observer list, made by FilmFour, a cracking script by Martin McDonagh]
- 24 Hour Party People [I’m not a huge fan of Steve Coogan but he’s brilliant in this #24 of 25]
- Venus [Peter O’Toole and Leslie Phillips make a great double act, not in The Observer list]
- The Remains of the Day [deeply moving performances by Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson, not in The Observer list]
- A Room with a View [perfectly executed film of its type, not in The Observer list]
- Naked [the fruit of David Thewlis’ creativity #14]
- The Hours [Nicole Kidman shines among a host of brilliant actresses, not in The Observer list]
- The Constant Gardener [another powerful Ralph Fiennes performance, not in The Observer list]
- Last Resort [Pawel Pawlikowski bursts onto the British scene, not in The Observer list]
- Hunger [a bold, fresh artist’s film from (the other) Steve McQueen but not an arty one #16]
- Chaplin [captures something of the greatest film-maker of all time, not in The Observer list]
- Secrets & Lies [a culmination of Mike Leigh’s approach #3]
- In the Name of the Father [powerful acting spearheaded by Daniel Day-Lewis, not in The Observer list]
- A Month in the Country [a gentle, bucolic one – not in The Observer list]
- Defence of the Realm [a top-class thriller shot by Roger Deakins, not in The Observer list]
- The Commitments [energised by the powerful lungs of Andrew Strong, not in The Observer list]
Bubbling under: Borat, Howard’s End, High Hopes, Shadowlands, Johnny English, East is East, The Bounty, Son of Rambow, Billy Elliot
I enjoyed flicking through the pages of today’s Observer Film Magazine, The Nation’s Choice, focused on contemporary British cinema as I supped my Cullen Skink outside a pub on the Shore of Leith, winding down from the manic activity of the Edinburgh Television Festival, said soup surely worthy of sitting alongside Tarmac and Lino as a GSI (Great Scottish Invention). [It would have been fun to check out the online discussion the mag urges us to visit but after ten minutes searching for it on The Guardian/Observer site I gave up.]
Leafing through I realised this has been a fairly significant part of my life over the years, despite being more focused on telly – from the photo of my old flat-mate Emer McCourt alongside #21, Ken Loach’s Riff-Raff, to Loach’s producer Rebecca O’Brien who sat at the table I hosted at the TV BAFTAs a couple of years ago; from Mike Leigh who I met at Dick Pope‘s around the time my first son was born (the same son who three years later slammed a heavy glass door onto the renowned director in a Crouch End shop) to Dick himself, one of my first bosses at Solus, who shot #3 Secrets and Lies (and much of Leigh’s oeuvre besides); from Ben Gibson, Director of the London Film School, with whom I was involved trying to set up a South African film/tv scholarship to Ewen Bremner, featured in both #1 Trainspotting and #14 the marvellous Naked, who I met when he was making a training film early in his career (written by John Mole and, unbeknownst to the casual viewer, based on Beowolf).
Beyond this punctuation of connections though is the steady presence of Channel 4, FilmFour, More 4, Britdoc (the Channel 4 British Documentary Film Foundation) – in particular, my esteemed colleague Tessa Ross whose fingerprints are on so many of the films (from Billy Elliot to #9 Slumdog Millionaire), dubbed recently the Mother of British Film-making. Choose Life is engraved on the glass doors of Channel 4’s Glasgow office in recognition of the Channel’s role in bringing the landmark movie that is Trainspotting to life. #11 Touching the Void was commissioned out of Peter Dale’s More4. #16 Hunger was patiently nurtured by my much missed colleague Jan Younghusband in Channel 4 Arts (her ex-husband Peter Chelsom made Hear My Song, which starred my friend Adrian Dunbar and whose script crossed my desk at Solus (and still sits in my bookcase) on its way to Roger Deakins, another of my bosses at Solus – the kind of thing which links the Channel 4 nexus and my pre-C4 web of experiences). The next generation is represented by Mat Whitecross, whose film Moving to Mars is being broadcast on More4 in November and was part-financed by Britdoc, run with flair by former C4 fellow Commissioning Editor Jess Search. I haven’t worked it out exactly but I’d say well over 30% of the Top 25 has FilmFour/Channel 4 input. Stephen Frears’ big break with #5 My Beautiful Launderette. From #17 Shane Meadow’s This is England to #10 Four Weddings and a Funeral, the full gamut. What an incredible record and a significant contribution to the last quarter century of British cinema.
Having just written about the Oirishness of Ryan’s Daughter in Sons & Daughters below, an irony occurred to me today. The great cinematic inspiration which drew David Lean into the world of cinema was in fact an Irish film-maker, Rex Ingram. Lean was much taken with silent cinema and Ingram’s Mare Nostrum (1925) was the movie he saw as a boy which opened his eyes to the potential of the medium.
The only Ingram film I’ve experienced to date was Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) starring Rudolph Valentino [above with Alice Terry, his leading lady and Ingram’s devoted wife] which I saw as a Channel 4 Silent at the Parkway Cinema in November 1992. Those performances were dedicated to Lean. The film had been lovingly restored by David Gill and Kevin Brownlow, to whom a few years later I had the pleasure of explaining the potential of interactive media (at that time, CD-ROM) and how it might be applied to silent cinema. I met them at their Photoplay Productions office in Primrose Hill and soon came to realise that these were people who did it For Love Not Money. That was a real inspiration.
The music that night was conducted by Carl Davis. I remember seeing him just before in George & Niki’s, the little caff on the corner beside The Parkway. Those were days when there was cinematic magic to be had in Camden Town.
The Parkway, and Peter the cinema manager who dressed in a tux for every evening performance, are now history. The building still stands but the soul has departed. I worked as one of the Friends of Parkway to save it from the developers (organising, among other things, a premiere of one of the Lethal Weapons (the one with Patsy Kensit as a Sowd Dafrikan) – look, we just needed the dough, beggars can’t be choosers) but in the end I guess we only saved the bricks and the chopped up screens.
Weirdly enough, Ingrams’ full name was Reginald Ingram Montgomery Hitchcock. He was born in Dublin, the son of a Church of Ireland clergyman. Ingram’s own prompt into cinema was seeing the Irish actor Maurice Costello in an early movie of A Tale of Two Cities when he was on holiday in New York around 1910 (the year my local cinema, The Phoenix, was born).
His first job in the biz was at Edison Co., then he moved in 1914 to Vitagraph where he both acted and wrote. In those days stardom and technical craft were not so separate and he got a rounded education in movie-making. It was when he joined Universal in 1916 (the year Ryan’s Daughter is set and the year Ireland’s greatest modern drama was unfolding on the streets on Ingram’s native city) that his directing career began in earnest. His first undertaking there was directing his own script, The Great Problem. His subsequent films were distinguished by interesting, atmospheric locations; off-beat characters; and imaginative settings and lightening (Ingram was also a sculptor and artist). It was ‘Four Horsemen’ that made his name after he moved to Metro – whose bacon its success ultimately saved (which makes him to some degree responsible in another way for Ryan’s Daughter, which was an MGM film). In the mid-20s, weary of Hollywood, he set up the Rex Ingram Studios in Nice (where he made ‘Mare Nostrum’, which he considered his best movie). He left movie-making shortly after his first sound picture (in which he also starred), moved to North Africa, then back to Hollywood where he devoted himself to sculpture and novel writing. He looks very dapper in the pictures I’ve seen of him, a cross between Martin Scorsese and Gary Cooper.
I haven’t yet seen the Film4 funded ‘Garage‘ nor another current Film4 movie ‘In Bruges‘ starring celebroDub Colin Farrell (though I love the poster: ” Shoot first. Sightsee later”) but I have the impression the Irish energy in cinema is on the up so I’ll return to the theme Once I’ve seen those two.