Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Happy Birthday Vivian Pickles

The great Vivian Pickles, whom you all remember as Bud Cort’s mother in Harold and Maude has a birthday today. As part of my work writing the authorised biography of Ken Russell, I’ve been spending a lot of time with Vivian talking with her about her life and work, including her astonishing performance as Isadora Duncan in Ken’s remarkable film. Those of you who have seen the film will know there probably isn’t a better female performance in world cinema. If you haven’t yet seen it, do treat yourself by buying the DVD box set, ‘Ken Russell at the BBC’, which contains the Isadora Duncan film, and five of Ken’s other BBC films (including two feature-length ones starring Oliver Reed).
Vivian was thrilled to recieve a copy of the BBC DVDs from a friend (her offer to consider doing a commentary was ignored), but she is understandably disappointed that the DVDs won’t play either on her DVD player or on her computer - because the discs been ‘region-coded’ to play only on American machines!

How can the DVD companies get away with such nonsense? and penalise in this way the very people who made the films?

Vivian is proud of her work on the Isadora Duncan film, not least because it led to a meeting with Hal Ashby, of whom she always speaks with great fondness. Her performance in Harold and Maude is her personal favourite, but her Isadora won the most awards. Here’s a photograph I took of Vivian a few weeks ago. She’s holding the award for Isadora she won at Monte Carlo.

Joan Littlewood at the BFI

Earlier this month, the good folk at the BFI Southbank hosted a glorious evening celebrating the work of Joan Littlewood. It was one of the best evenings out I’ve ever had in London. The audience was packed with Joan Littlewood luminaries, including everyone’s favourite Eastender, Barbara Windsor. Barbara’s special appeal is that she has genuine star quality and yet is somehow resolutely down to earth. In a sense she’s the English Anna Magnini. She doesn’t have Magnani’s range as an actress (who does?) but she eclipses Magnani for glamour.
Barbara introduced a screening of Joan’s authentic, richly creative film, Sparrows Can’t Sing.
The other hosts of the evening included Murray Melvin, whom you all remember as the priest in Ken Russell’s The Devils, and as the ‘art student’ in A Taste of Honey - the film which won Murray the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Murray shone in a round table discussion about Joan’s work (signed copies of his book on Joan's theatre work were available in the BFI bookshop - it is thoughtful details like that which make the BFI Southbank the best place in Britain to see films).
The discussion was accompanied by screenings of clips from films which have never been seen before - unedited footage from Stratford East rehearsals and happenings, including a bizarre wrestlers and fashion-models mix-up attended by Sean Connery!
All in all, an evening so good I thought I'd died and gone to Heaven.
(If only all cinemas had programmes like this).