Saturday, 26 November 2016

Dave King - editor

Dave King has died. He edited major BBC films by Ken Russell, Tony Palmer and Jack Gold, and the Rex Harrison Don Quixote, but more important than that he was a lovely lovely man. I got to know him when I was writing my book Talking About Ken Russell. We met several times in London and in Brussels, where attended a conference about Ken Russell. He was the most fascinating and friendly and generous of men. He gave me copies of his entire clippings collection of Ken Russell, hundreds of items from the time when Ken’s Dance of the Seven Veils became the most controversial film in the world, and he sent me DVDs and postcards and he also sponsored the book. I was and am humbled by his generosity and good spirit. I miss him dearly. My love to his family and his friends.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

The return of real film and real cinema in 2016

The best arts news of the year for me is the opening of a new 65mm processing facility in London. This means the return of real films made with real film. And by real film I mean the pinnacle process of film art - 70mm, the format of 2001, A Space Odyssey and Lawrence of Arabia. Films shot in 65mm (the additional 5mm are to add 6-channels of sound) exhibit a huge difference in the depth of the image compared with 35mm and the cheap digital formats. Digital is essentially a flat image. There is very little true depth to a digital image even when shot with the best lenses. When you see a film shot on 70mm film and projected on a curved screen in a real 70mm cinema, such as Karlsrhue in Southern Germany, the effect is astonishing. The image becomes so deep that you feel as though you could walk into it. It's real 3D without the need with glasses. When it comes to the art of cinema, 70mm is the real thing. Since 1958, everything made on anything less than 70mm is just a gimmick, snake oil peddled by hucksters.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Making Sense of Donald Trump and America

I've been watching the on-going car crash that is America. The best articles I've found to explain the inevitable rise of Donald Trump are this one in The Washington Post:

and this one:

And I don't disagree with a word of what Trump himself said in Minneapolis: "Our failed establishment has brought us nothing but poverty at home, and disaster overseas. We are tired of economic and foreign policies that have BLED THIS COUNTRY DRY. It is time for REAL CHANGE that puts the people back in charge. This election will decide who runs this country: the Corrupt Political Class – or YOU, the American People. That’s the choice. She’s with THEM – I’m with YOU. This is our last chance."

The smoke was blown away and the mirrors were smashed when austerity bit only the victims of the bankers' crimes. Though I disagree with many of Trump's throwaway thoughts and words (let's wait until we judge his actions) I'm glad that a free-speaking man triumphed over a ventrilquist's doll (strings pulled by too many corporate paymasters in the States and the Middle East), though Clinton herself has admirable qualities.
I hope that Trump restores and extends the right to free speech for all American citizens, not that America has ever had anything remotely like free speech. I remember having that discussion with a group of Americans on my first visit to the States in the 1980s, and I shut them up and won the day for England when I said (jokingly) "I'm a communist." I'm not a communist, never was and never will be, but in the States you couldn't even say those words without getting into trouble, and the Americans I was with were too scared to say it even in jest.
In Britain a Nobel-prize winning scientist was sacked for saying that a woman looked attractive on a photograph - a victim of aggressive feminism that had overreached itself to the point of insanity. I think the best symbol of the way the democrats lost the election is the celebrities wearing silly silly 'nasty women' T-shirts and caps. These played their part in rousing long-forgotten Christian men and women to say 'enough in enough'. I admire women who are wise, fun, strong, honest, glorious, true, supportive, leading, thinking, bold and visionary. I'll never admire a woman who is nasty. I mean, I'm sure those shirts and that message were fun for their peers and girlfriends, but imagine how it went day, say in the Amish communities. Good guys think of others before themselves.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

The great Glenda Jackson in truly dreadful production of King Lear

I didn't think I'd ever get the chance to see Glenda Jackson in a theatre production. I was thrilled to learn she was returning to the stage to play King Lear, and duly bought a good ticket the moment they went on sale. Her Elizabeth 1st (on television) is so multi-faceted and strong it makes all the actresses who've performed it in her imperious wake look like am-dram school girls. I knew she had it in her to make a fine King Lear. She can convey a falling majesty and madness and a dirty humour and a sad old age. So I was disappointed that she chose to play it very much within herself (understandably at the age of 80). She needed to produce more power and poetry than she did, and she failed to connect with the supporting players. But for that I can't blame her. They were miscast. And she was let down by a production that was truly dreadful.
The set was a white bed sheet pinned to a frame. That's it. That's the whole set for the whole three-and-a-half-hour play. A truly dreadful all-been-done-before-many-many-many-times idea. Pathetic actually. An Emperor's New Clothes for the designer who hasn't got a clue. The costumes were mostly jeans and trainers.
The entire play was miscast. I couldn't believe in a single one of them. I did try fair and hard to suspend disbelief and make the necessary London Allowances for the P.C. and Celebrity, but there's only so much suspension of disbelief that one can do.
Every actor had a different accent, even those who were meant to be brothers and sisters (one of the actors changed his accent in every scene he was in). I didn''t believe that the brothers were brothers, that the sisters were sisters. I didn't believe they were married to or courted by the men they were married to. I didn't believe that any of the men held positions of rank or power. I didn't believe that the actor doing the eye-gouging had the nastiness within him to do the eye-gouging. I knew that the one Irish-accented actor in the play (and he suffered from cloth-in-mouth enunciation) would be the one to pull out a gun (IRA you see!). I didn't believe in a single action in the play.
The problem with using easy sub-Brechtian distancing devises to rob a play of its context is that it robs each line of its poetry, and each speech of its meaning, and each scene of rhythm, and the whole play of its strength - unless the new concept is truly eye-wateringly bold, brilliant AND apt (and it never is, though some of Ken Russell's opera productions got close).
Needless to say, that when you have a young actor in gym shorts playing jump a rope whilst holding forth on a long soliloquy, then the music of the words is lost, and the subtlety of the words and the scene within the context of the play and the events is lost. It was crap.
This truly was a bad bad production, every scene of which told me that the director, Deborah Warner, has no understanding of history, none of drama, and no understanding of music. No scene worked.
Of the non-Glenda cast, Rhys Ifans was impressive as The Fool, but he was beaten by having to wear a silly Superman costume that he couldn't escape from. He ended his turn slumped in a supermarket trolley. I remember Johnny Vegas doing that in a circus tent at the Edinburgh Festival in 1986, a boring old idea then, but Vegas's comedy show had more insight and more profundity than Warner's King Lear.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

John Carpenter - An Old Man Chewing Gum

Yesterday I spent eighty minutes watching an old man chew gum. But before you feel too sorry for me, I'll say that the old man was John Carpenter, and I was on the front row in the middle, nine feet from him, at his final concert in London. John Carpenter and his films and music have given me so much pleasure across so many decades that I could forgive him anything. He could have walked on stage, waved once and walked off, and that would still have been a good night. It isn't every day you get to see a real artist in the flesh. It was a very good night indeed, but maybe next time, if there is a next time, he'll forget the bubblegum and just kick ass.