Friday, 7 September 2007

O Lucky Man!

To celebrate the arrival on DVD of what I think is the best British film ever made, here is a previously unpublished photograph of its star, Malcolm McDowell. The disc contains a couple of documentary features (one vintage and one new) and commentaries by Malcolm McDowell, Alan Price and the utterly great writer David Sherwin. Keen observers of the film will recognise Vivian Pickles, in a priceless cameo as 'The Good Woman' doling out food for London's down and outs.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Michael Powell's Grave, Avening, Gloucestershire

Here rests one of British cinema's true masters. The inscription says 'Film Director and Optimist'.

To Cheltenham

I was asked to photograph this year’s Greenbelt festival at Cheltenham, which you may know is a sort of Christian Woodstock but with plenty for the mind and lots of things to do for the kids. Of course I agreed.

Then I did something really stupid.

A problem with being a writer is that you often spend much too much of the day and night sitting at a desk. I’d spent months at my writing desk and was feeling very unfit so I decided to kill many birds with one stone by cycling to Cheltenham from the New Forest on the English South Coast. This would not only help to get me fit again but, on the way, I could take in Charlton Heston’s favourite building in England — Salisbury Cathedral — and I could visit Stonehenge (which I had never seen before). On the way I could also make my annual pilgrimage to Michael Powell’s grave. He is buried in the churchyard in the Gloucestershire village of Avening. I visit each year to say a polite ‘thank you’ and to clean up his grave. From there I could cycle the remaining 20 miles or so to Cheltenham and make an evening stop at ‘’ — Cheltenham College, the main location of Lindsay Anderson’s glorious film.

Avoiding all main roads as best as I could, the whole journey would be about 125 miles which, ordinarily, would have been easily within my day-trip cycling range but I had neglected to factor in several points:

1. I had never cycled 125 miles.

2. I have lived the last five years in flat fen lands of Cambridge, which meant I had forgotten what a hill looked and felt like.

3. I was starting at sea-level. I would be cycling through the Cotswold Hills of Gloucestershire which, frankly, are in the clouds.

4. My bicycle was weighted down with enough clothes and clutter to last a week of festivaling and visits (and my precious Leica camera equipment), so that, in effect, I had another person sitting on the back of my bike.

5. The weather gods, noting that I was cycling in a North Easterly direction, thought it would be a good laugh to whip up a head wind that blew into me all day long.

6. I’m from the North, which means that I am too stubborn ever to accept defeat.

I made it, of course, and in one day too, but it took almost fifteen hours! and I arrived much more dead than alive. Which is the excuse I’m giving for slightly mis-framing the photograph I took on arrival at Cheltenham College chapel.

The host for my stay was the marvelous Maureen Thulin, who many years ago inspired my play, The Guests, which I will film when financing and scheduling permits. Here are photographs I took of Maureen. The chapel. A festival scene. Tomorrow I’ll post a couple of photographs of Michael Powell’s grave.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Review of the if.... DVD (Criterion & Paramount)

Hopefully you have all gone out and bought the DVD of Lindsay Anderson’s if...., which came a little too late to catch the DVD boom, but it’s great to finally have it in a digital format and to be able to put to bed our worn out colour-washed VHS tapes — or can we?
I helped to get the film released on DVD. As the author of the book on Lindsay Anderson’s Diaries, and at the request of Malcolm McDowell and David Sherwin, I emailed and phoned Criterion to tell them that Malcolm had recorded a commentary, that David was keen to do one, and that I would gladly turn over my if.... archive to them (which includes the 35mm trailer and probably the best collection of production and press photos in private hands). I then spoke to the top people at Paramount, told them of Criterion’s interest and planted the seed for them to licence the film to Criterion (something they had not done with any of their titles before).
Time passed, a year or two, and the DVD is at last here. I got no thanks, of course, except from Roy Baird who rightly has a financial stake in the film and who will get royalties from the DVD.
So what’s the DVD like? The same master was used for the British and American release. The American 2-disc release on the Criterion label has a sharper picture because the extras have been mostly placed on a second disc therefore freeing up disc space for the main video and audio track. The difference can be seen in these screen grabs of Sean Bury taken from the invaluable DVDbeaver site. Click on the pictures to see a larger image:

There is more detail in Sean’s face in the first picture, which comes from the Criterion set.

The film was remastered under the supervision of Miroslav Ondricek, who photographed the film, and it has been enhanced for 16.9 TV and monitors, but it isn’t quite right. It’s an anamorphic transfer. If.... wasn’t made in an anamorphic format. After making if...., Ondricek excelled in anamorphic formats for Milos Forman (Amadeus) and George Roy Hill (Slaughterhouse-Five). Lindsay Anderson insisted on a non-anamorphic format when he and Ondricek worked together on O Lucky Man! It contributed to a strain in their working relationship. With Lindsay Anderson no longer with us, Miroslav Ondricek has had his way and produced a version of if.... that does not look like the format in which it was intended. To create a ‘longer’ image, the picture seems to have been been zoomed. This creates many poorly-framed chin-chops and top-of-the-head crops, so that it looks like something made for modern television.

It is disappointing to report that the print used is the censored print — the one with reduced nudity. It needn’t have been. I’ve seen two uncut 35mm prints in Britain and could have pointed Criterion in the right direction.

The Criterion release comes with a booklet, low on photographs, and containing an article written by a gay Martin Scorsese fan. It also reprints an interview Lindsay Anderson conducted with himself for a press release, taken from my book, ‘Lindsay Anderson, The Diaries’, and used without permission and without crediting me. A couple of weeks before the release of the DVD I got a phone-call from Karl, the excellent Stirling archivist, asking me did I have more of the interview? and asking after it’s source. I told him it came with the original press pack and that I’d placed a copy in the archive.

The main extra is the commentary by Malcolm McDowell, whose championing of the works of Lindsay Anderson has been lifelong and sincere. He really is a national treasure. David Robinson, who visited the set of if...., and who, in 1968, wrote a superb article for the Financial Times, doesn’t rate the film as highly as Lindsay’s This Sporting Life, and couldn’t be bothered watching the film again, but Criterion were happy to make do with his dullish essay read in a Jackanory fashion.

For a screen specific commentary of the film, read the book I wrote for Turner Classic Movies. There are plenty of copies at the better book shops, such as the NFT, and on-line. Here is a sample:

“The inclusion of chapter headings is possibly a borrowing from Zero de Conduite but more probably it’s a steal from the Judy Garland musical Meet Me in St. Louis, which Anderson adored, which begins with a monochrome still of the house where most of the action takes place, and which uses different views of the house as chapter headings throughout the film (the monochrome turning into full colour as the ‘still’ comes to life). The three-part ‘overture’ of sound is taken in form from Lindsay Anderson’s favourite John Ford film, They Were Expendable.
The most striking thing about the opening sequence that follows is that we are plunged headlong into the innate lunacy and surrealism of life in a British boarding school. The opening shot is of a corridor full of uniformed schoolboys — juniors in short jackets, seniors in tail-coats. There is a lot of pushing and shoving and shrieking and shouting. The keen observer will notice that in the background of the corridor, centre right and centre left of the frame, two young boys, filmed in profile, are facing each other and talking to each other across the corridor. They appear to be about seven feet tall, or suspended in the air. The frame is so busy that it easy to miss them. One’s attention is quickly taken by a small boy jumping on a wheeled trunk pulled by a senior — the camera low to the ground so that we are not looking down at the boy. We see a double line of boys going up and down a staircase. The boys coming down are carrying the paraphernalia of school life — musical instruments, sports equipment — one boy is reading a book. Back in the corridor, two boys collide. A tin of baked beans spills from the trunk tray carried by one of the boys. In anger he speaks the film’s first words, a shout of: ‘Machin, you bloody shag!’ Machin uses the tin as a makeshift puck.
The boy who spoke first is Markland, played by Charles Sturridge, who would go on to become a film-maker and direct Brideshead Revisted (1981).
Rowntree (Robert Swann), the head of the house, enters from on high — imperiously — walking downstairs, his back to the camera. It is no coincidence that the first we see of him is his cane. At the bottom of the the stairs he turns round — the camera tracking a few feet to the left, almost unnoticeably because it tracks at the pace at which Rowntree moves. We see Rowntree’s face. He shouts: “Run! Run in the corridor!’
Which is exactly not what we expected to hear.’

Taken from pages 48 & 49 of the Turner Classic Movies British Film Guide, ‘if’, by Paul Sutton

Thursday's Children, Lindsay's Oscar-winning film about a school for deaf-and-dumb infants, is a fine and welcome extra, though surely it would have been better to include The White Bus which, in many ways, served as a blue-print for if.... (including a reverse of the famous changes from colour into monochrome) and which was made with many of the same crew.

Everyone agrees that Graham Crowden's interview is a highlight on the disc. Graham was almost a forgot man in Lindsay Anderson circles until I tracked him down and invited him to a meeting of Lindsay Anderson Memorial Foundation. I took Graham's portrait that day, and later did an extensive interview with him (for Camera 3). Both are included elsewhere in this blog (click on the photograph to see it better).

Ken Russell at home in the New Forest, photographed by Paul Sutton

Tuesday, 21 August 2007

If you want to make films like Stanley Kubrick and Lindsay Anderson all you need to do is do what they did — study the rare early films by Ken Russell

In July, 2007, to honour the eightieth birthday of Ken Russell, the National Film Theatre in London unearthed thirty-seven films Ken Russell had made for television. Twenty-nine of them were made between 1958 and 1966. Many of the films were quite unknown, screened once on late-night television forty and more years ago. Almost all were shot on 35mm.

The discoveries from watching these films were many and profound, especially to those of us who thought we had a good working knowledge of the Great British Film Canon.

To test your knowledge of the best of made-in-Britain cinema, I’m going to describe scenes from five films made in England in the 1960s. Can you name the film and the filmmaker?

1. A young man who has decorated his rooms with collages, pictures torn from magazines, that serve as a visual metaphor for his thoughts and feelings, takes pot shots with an imitation hand-gun, and mimes a violent game with a cool, almost mute, un-named girl.

2. A portrait of a uniquely British community, full of strange rituals, climaxes with a pompous leader giving a condescending speech from the stage. An emergency happens and the audience starts to flee, but the speaker, lost in a sense of their own self-importance, continues with their oratory.

3. In daylight, a man strikes something with a bone. The scene changes to darkness and we see a machine of the future which speaks with the voice of a man. The machine breaks down and sings a song which was popular in the 1920s.

4. The villain of this film is a wheelchair riding German, dressed all in black, including black gloves and black glasses.

5. A dashing young Swinging Sixties photographer zooms around London in a flashy car as he moves between on-location photo-journalism and fashion-shoots in his own apartment. Clue — the photographer is played by a David H.

If you answered Lindsay Anderson’s if.... for the first two; Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 and Dr Strangelove for the third and fourth; and the late great Antonioni’s Blow Up for the fifth, you’d be surprised to learn they were all scenes in films made by Ken Russell. The first and fourth are from Ken Russell’s Pop Goes The Easel (1961); the second scene is in Russell’s The Miner’s Picnic (1960); the bone-to-the-future leap was first done in Ken Russell’s The Preservation Man (1962), although when watching the film you have to read the scene literally and think like Kubrick to spot the connection, but the connection, or the spark, is undoubtedly there. In Russell’s Preservation Man, the song sung by the machine is not about Daisy Daisy and her bicycle made for two but the fantasy piece ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles (which, for a time, served as Russell’s signature tune. He used it throughout Women in Love). The bone being wielded in Russell’s film is being used bang out a tune on a bicycle. The tune is ‘Show Me The Way To Go Home’, which all of you know is the theme and the subtext of Stanley Kubrick’s great film. The hip photographer in the fifth description was not David Hemmings in Blow Up but David Hurn in Russell’s stunning 1964 film, Watch The Birdie.

Unearth buried treasure and the Canon of Truth changes.

What the BFI’s Ken Russell season effectively did was unearth the syllabus for The Secret Lindsay Anderson and Stanley Kubrick Film School. Ken Russell’s were the films on which they found their themes and built their style.

When I edited Lindsay Anderson’s Diaries for publication, I remember being surprised to read in his own hand that he had been impressed by a something he’d seen on television. It was his habit to denigrate the work of his contemporaries. In his diary he wrote: “Saw Pop Goes The Easel again last night. Awfully impressive.”

The scenes I’ve outlined from Russell’s impressive film — a portrait of four pop artists which not only sets the artists and their art in their environment but which, in several astonishing dream sequences takes us into the artist’s minds — the collage metaphors, the imitation gun, the mime with The Girl, the speech from the stage — were not in David Sherwin’s original if.... script. They’re Anderson additions, added in after he watched, and re-watched, Ken Russell’s films.

Lindsay was never quite confident about his own abilities as a filmmaker, or rather as a visual filmmaker. The theme of this failing he turns to again and again in his diaries particularly when he is documenting the day-to-day creation in 1972 of ‘O Lucky Man!’. If.... had been a joy to make because his working relationship with his director of photography, Miroslav Ondricek, had been strong. Anderson had brought Ondricek over to England from Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia, because Ondricek’s work for Milos Forman (Konkurs, Black Peter, The Fireman’s Ball) had the right mix of the realistic and the poetic (a feature of all of Russell’s early televsion work) that Anderson was seeking. Ondricek’s artistry covered for what Anderson thought were his own failings. O Lucky Man! was a less harmonious shoot because, in the interim, in the words of Roy Baird, if....’s associate producer, Ondricek had become ‘grand’. If.... had taken Ondricek to Hollywood, and what on if.... had been a keenness for cheap Arriflex cameras and an eagerness for creative improvisation, had become an insistance on expensive Panavision equipment and an attitude that said to the director ‘I know what is best.’ Lindsay was hurt partly because he knew in his heart of hearts that Miroslav Ondricek did in fact know what was best. But a director can’t play second-fiddle to his D.P. so he didn’t hire Ondricek for his next film, In Celebration (1974). Instead Lindsay Anderson went back to his secret film school and ‘poached’ his mentor’s cameraman. Ken Russell’s films had all the visual flair he felt his own were lacking. The trouble was, after persuading Russell’s regular D.P., Dick Bush, to leave the set of Tommy to work for him instead, he was crestfallen when, on day one of In Celebration, it became clear to him that the man responsible for the great visuals on Ken Russell’s films was not Russell’s D.P. but Ken Russell himself.

Which takes me nicely on to Stanley Kubrick, whose own DPs have stated that Stanley was almost entirely responsible for the visuals on his own films.

Do you remember the trailer for Kubrick’s The Shining, the music by Bartok and the camera in close-up on the bald head and wide open eyes of a late middle-aged man who has the power of visions? Ken Russell’s 1964 film of Bartok is built around that very same image, a poetic film constructed around the fantastical visions of a bald headed man with strange staring eyes. Kubrick even uses the same piece of music by Bartok. The glorious leap in style between the films Kubrick made in America and the films he made in Britain is so great it goes beyond the bounds of ordinary artistic development. How did he make such a leap from the primitive style of The Killing to the glory that is 2001? Was he abducted by a higher intelligence? In a sense, he was.

These are the hallmarks of the mature Stanley Kubrick film style:

1. Long sequences playing silently except for classical music on the soundtrack.

This technique came to full fruition with the waltzing spaceships in 2001. The technique was pioneered by Ken Russell for The Debussy Film (1965), which only really comes to life when Russell turns down the talky soundtrack and lets whole sequences of five minutes or more play as an accompaniment to the music on the soundtrack. The final scene of The Debussy Film is set to music from Debussy’s opera, The Fall of the House of Usher. In it, Debussy, played by Oliver Reed, is brooding in a lonely mansion which is being closed up. Each subtle change in his body language is echoed in the music on the soundtrack. There are achingly beautiful compositions as the stark light changes in a huge room where a woman is closing the shutters over ranks of floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s everything The Shining and Barry Lyndon should have been. Do you remember the spectacularly wonderful scene in 2001 of an actor running round a circular corridor that seems never ending? Running round an unending circular corridor was first seen in Russell’s Pop Goes The Easel, in the very same sequence that inspired Dr. Strangelove, though the actor in Russell’s run is running for her life, trapped inside her own nightmare. In the Russell film, the run round a curling corridor is a pulse-racing chase shaped by jolting jumpcuts. There’s an orchestral shot in one Russell’s BBC films of the inside of an inflight war-plane as the huge bomb doors open.

2. Sequences cut to ‘quick’ music with the quick cuts coming on each pulse beat of the score.

Kubrick did this brilliantly in A Clockwork Orange, speeding up the image and the soundtrack for comedic effect for a sex scene cut to The William Tell Overture, and in sequences cut to Pop Art images to create, for example, the famous scene of The Dancing Christs. Creating musical collages out of Pop Art images was, of course, done by Ken Russell in 1961’s Pop Goes The Easel. And the year before that landmark film, Ken Russell made what I’m sure is the best ten-minute film ever made in Great Britain, a musical collage called London Moods — a celebration of life, and a critique of brutalist modernism, which includes repeating Pop Art images dancing along to a jazzy musical score that moves from the great bells of St. Paul’s to astonishing bridges-and-buses compositions filmed from the waterway of The Thames.

3. Scenes starting with a close-up on a detail and the camera pulling back to set the detail in context within the wider picture.

This has long been a staple of good film making but Stanley Kubrick uses it so often in Barry Lyndon, starting and ending scene after scene with it, that it the sets the film’s mood, pace and rhythm. Many of Russell’s BBC films employ the technique, often when using still photographs, such as in his 22-minute 1960 film Journey into a Lost World. But it is the shot which concludes Russell’s 1959 miniature, Variations on a Mechanical Theme that seems to have the most effect on Kubrick. Russell’s shot is so graceful and grand — the camera pulling back from a detail on a seaside pier — that it almost certainly inspired the fourth hallmark of the Stanley Kubrick film style:

4.The long tracking shot away from the subject and along a parallel line.

This is the shot with which Kubrick opens A Clockwork Orange and uses to set scene after scene in The Shining.

Russell’s influence on Stanley Kubrick continued, of course, when Ken Russell moved into making feature films. After seeing what many believe is Russell’s masterpiece, The Devils (1971), a film which has still never been screened in anything like its original form in America, Stanley Kubrick tried to do-an-Anderson and hire away members of Russell’s main crew. David Watkin, The Devils’s Director of Photography, and Derek Jarman, Russell’s production designer, were both approached by Kubrick but both stayed loyal to Russell, to photograph The Boyfriend (1971) and to design Savage Messiah (1972) respectively. When Stanley Kubrick was preparing to make Barry Lyndon, he phoned Ken to ask about the locations he had used for The Music Lovers. Russell told him and was pleased to note that Stanley used every one of them.

It is to Ken Russell’s great credit that his pioneering 35mm BBC films were made on budgets that would blush the cheeks of Poverty Row producers. £300 for the first of them, a ten-minute film with John Betjeman — an on-location film essay on architectural space and the human condition — rising to £13,500 for the almost feature-length film about Isadora Duncan (1966), the film which made Vivian Pickles into a star. Her astonishingly rich performance as a pioneering artist who refuses to be crushed drew prolonged and spontaneous applause at the film’s 2007 London screenings. With their greater budgets, longer shooting schedules and more intellectual approach to filmmaking, Anderson, Antonioni and Kubrick took cinema in Britain to new heights. But because of the good work done by archivists mining the seams at the British Film Institute, we now know the name of the giant on whose shoulders they stood.

(c) Paul Sutton, 2007

Sunday, 19 August 2007

An Apology to John Waters

The great American filmmaker was in London this week to promote the film of his stand-up act. He took to the stage at the National Film Theatre and was given the old NFT treatment, by which I mean the NFT interviewer was staggeringly condescending and rude. The auditorium was packed of course, with a good crowd right across the adult age range — the queue for returns was one of the longest I’ve seen there — but that of course meant nothing to the state-sponsored clown whose ‘welcome’ to John you simply won’t believe. He started by talking about a trashy UK TV show (How Clean is Your House) which John Waters couldn’t have heard about (and I’m sure couldn’t care less about) but Waters responded with a long and cleverly perverse definition of what ‘filth’ means to him. Then, drum roll for this one, the NFT interviewer said, in all seriousness, something along the lines of ‘Are you aware how famous this place is? We have had Jean-Luc Godard, John Huston, Satyajit Ray, Elia Kazan, Martin Scorsese (of course), David Lean and Akria Kurosawa here?”
What a way to welcome a VIP!
Everyone has a right to make mistakes, but ... come on! You've got John Waters sitting there. John Waters! The man who has fought for artistic and personal freedoms for decades with such spectacular boldness and with such wit and grace that he was welcomed onto The Simpsons and has become his hometown’s favourite son — and you think it is the right place and the right time to boast of your government’s past achievements?

John Waters seemed a little taken aback, said: “Sure, I wasn’t an idiot savant in Baltimore living in a trailer.”

The audience laughed.

England of course is the only major country which still censors John Waters’s films. The jolly censors cut scenes from Pink Flamingos every time the film’s distributors pay them thousands of pounds to ‘sit in judgement’ of it.

There has been an awful lot of good going on at the NFT in the last few months, and there are very good people who work there, (plus the bog-standard rude ushers who stand talking at the back and shush you when you tell them that the film has been playing for fifteen minutes and it is time to be quiet) and I will be writing good things about the NFT soon but I’m still reeling from the shock of last night’s visit and feeling ashamed of my fellow countryman. I felt duty bound to report.

Actually, to end on a more positive note, I should mention that the NFT book shop was well-stocked with signed copies of John Water's book, Crackpot; and they had at least one of his glossier, heavier (lesser) books, and they have an excellent range of Andy Warhol titles to back-up the simply breathtaking Warhol retrospective they've programmed. It was also good to see the three Warhol prints on display that they've borrowed in from the Coca Cola people.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, and BBC buffoons

My thoughts this week, of course, have been with Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, and I’ve been remembering their wonderful films. I’ve only seen about forty features by Bergman, several of which I’ve seen several times, and there are still two early features and all the documentary films by Antonioni for me to see, but I feel very close to the two men. One of my favourite cinema memories was travelling to a strange part of London one Christmas bank holiday at the end of the 1980s to see Fanny and Alexander. It was playing at a large old cinema in, I think, Stoke Newington. The cinema was overrun by cats. Well, that’s exaggerating a bit, two of the owner’s large cats walked around the auditorium and sat in empty seats during the film. There were about sixty paying customers dotted about the place, plus a very old woman in a wheelchair and her very Cockney assistant who arrived late. They caused quite a fuss with their chatter and apologies. Then the film began to take hold and the audience became very quiet. During the climactic scene, when Alexander is embraced by the incarcerated man/woman, the auditorium filled with the honest sounds of ordinary men and women crying.
Because of my extreme youth, I came late to the cinema of Antonioni. The first of his films I saw projected was L’Avventura in Oxford in, I think, 1994. This was when Empire Magazine’s best writer, David Parkinson, ran the Oxford University Film Society (with programming so good and so advanced, I was often his only customer). The cinema was packed for the screening, probably a couple of hundred patrons, and the film had a profound effect, I expect, on many of them. Afterwards there was the excited, breathless, happy chatter of a good group of people who know they have been privy to something special. It is, I’m sure you all know, an absolutely glorious film, a film about loss and loneliness and forgiveness that is encapsulated in the final scene of a hand resting on a shoulder. Antonioni’s films have sometimes been criticised for their coldness, but I’ve always been impressed by their very human warmth. The same is true of his later films, such as Beyond The Clouds, which came unexpectedly for one day only to a tiny cinema in Shrewsbury near to where I was working at an activity centre for children. Naturally I arranged for my day off to coincide with the screening, for I knew that the film would provide me with enough intellectual stimulus to see me through the summer.
The last Antonioni film I saw projected was The Passenger, which I saw at the great cinema museum in Bradford last November, when I was working with Ken Russell on his Bronte Ballet film. I’d been waiting for more than twenty years to see The Passenger, had almost shelled out £100 to see it on an imported Japanese DVD. Within minutes of the screening starting, I knew it would be a film I’d return to again and again.

Sometimes it’s embarrassing to be an Englishman, because England is the only country in the world where intelligence, beauty, thoughtfulness and thought are frowned upon and where stupidity and ignorance are celebrated. There are probably ten million or more English people who are so dumb they can’t really be said to have risen above the level of beasts. It’s a country where people in the public eye, such as footballer, Michael Owen, can boast that they’ve never read a book in their life because they and their public see stupidity as something good. It’s why our streets swill with drunks and swine almost as soon as the sun goes down. It is not surprising therefore that we have a press characterised by ignorance and by a cultivated dumbness. The reporting of the death and legacy of Bergman and Antonioni has been a case in point. Every right-thinking person knows that the BBC’s Jeremy Paxman is a boorish philistine so it was no surprise to see his clown-like eye-rolling and groaning on successive nights when he was called upon to talk about the works of two great men he couldn’t care less about. It is to no one’s credit that the BBC invited onto his show a shaven-headed imbecile to try to belittle the works and legacy of Bergman and Antonioni. The imbecile had no intention of ever seeing any of either men’s films, but that didn’t stop him from giving his uninformed opinion and trying to belittle the second guest on the show, Nigel Andrews, a man who had. Andrews is that rarity among English film journalists in that he is passionate about film and he knows the subject. He deserves a prize for the great dignity he showed as Paxman’s imbecile continued to stick his foot in his mouth by claiming that a good film is only one which can provide silly season fodder for dirty tabloid newspapers. Had I been there, I would have slapped one of the men and sworn at the other.

The idiocy continued, of course, in the national press. The Times newspaper printed a column in which Bergman was effectively called a deservedly forgotten mediocrity by a journalist who boasted of his own ignorance. ‘Can anyone even name a Bergman film?’ he wrote.

The Times refused to print my reply, or even to allow it on their website. So here it is:

“Only a British journalist could adopt a self-superior tone whilst boasting at how stupid they are. Being ‘thick’ impresses no one except insecure fourth-form school girls who think you’ll bully them if they don’t agree with what you say. Your editor should have told you that you were writing for a readership of intelligent adults. Ingmar Bergman needs no defence from me. You should get an education, you silly shallow boy.”