The Essential Englishman

Some time ago I wrote a poem, published on my poetry page at Writeoutloud, called Sounds like Richard Burton.

I wrote it a while ago and I was perhaps feeling somewhat dissatisfied with my accent, one that reflects my own Manchester council estate background. Someone once told me that I sounded like Terry Christian, the Manchester DJ and radio personality. I don’t dislike Terry or his voice but I sometimes feel that I’d like to sound a little more cultured. A little more refined.

So who would I like to sound like? Richard Burton? Well, I have always loved the richness of Burton’s voice, his perfect pronunciation and his rounded baritone vowels.

He was the son of a Welsh miner and his voice represented not only a natural talent for public speaking but many years of hard work and vocal training. Despite the title of my poem and my admiration of Burton’s voice, Richard Burton is not quite what I am looking for. So who has that particular Englishness that I want?

David Niven as Phileas Fogg.

I’ve always admired the character of Phileas Fogg as portrayed by David Niven in that wonderful movie Around the World in 80 days. I like the way he speaks, his easy and relaxed effortless eloquence, his perfect pronunciation and his knowledge of words. His very Britishness, his upper class Englishness is perhaps what I envy.

Fogg is something of an eccentric which surely must be part of the essential Englishman’s make up. His morning toast must be exactly 83 degrees Fahrenheit and his afternoon tea has to be served punctually. At the beginning of the film Fogg arrives at the Reform Club to find someone has read his copy of the Daily Telegraph!

“Kindly remove it and send for a fresh one.” says Fogg.
“At once, sir.” replies the waiter.
“I’m a patient man, Hinshaw, but don’t trespass on my good feelings.”

Robert Donat as Sir Robert Morton.

Another upper class Englishman is Robert Donat’s character in The Winslow Boy, the barrister and Member of Parliament Sir Robert Morton. There is a lovely sequence in the play and the movie where Morton first arrives at the Winslow home. He is received by master Winslow’s elder sister who questions Moreton about his recent cases and lets us know she does not entirely approve of him. Moreton is in a hurry. He is dining and the Winslow family wish to know if he will accept the case.

Morton answers her questions coolly and quietly and them some minutes later, displays all his powers as a barrister by apparently assassinating young Winslow’s claims to innocence.

He exits quickly asking for the relevant papers.

“Will you need those now?” asks someone.

“Of course. The boy is plainly innocent. I accept the brief !” And with that he is gone.

Rex Harrison as Charles Condomine.

Another favourite Englishman is Rex Harrison and I’ve always loved him most in Blithe Spirit, the witty and amusing comedy by Noel Coward. David Lean directed a colour version in 1945 and Rex was just as I’ve described David Niven above, effortlessly urbane and eloquent, as of course was Noel Coward himself.

Leslie Howard as Professor Higgins.

Rex Harrison also portrayed an archetypal Englishman in My Fair Lady, playing the part of professor Higgins in the musical version of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. There was an earlier version, a non musical version made in 1938 starring Leslie Howard. Howard is probably most famous for his portrayal of Ashley Wilkes in Gone With the Wind but his version of Higgins was to me, much superior to Harrison’s although I love both.

In Pygmalion, Wendy Hiller plays Eliza Doolittle. Hiller is much more believable as Eliza, no disrespect to Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, and Howard is a bright, eccentric Higgins. What is interesting from researching the film on the internet is that a controversial (at the time) line was included in the film: Eliza saying ‘Not Bloody Likely!’ This made Wendy Hiller the first person ever to swear in a British film. Dear me, how times change!

George Sanders as Jack Favell.

Sanders was born in Russia to an English father and Russian mother and he and his family left for England in 1917 at the outbreak of the Russian Revolution when George was 11.

He made his British film debut in 1929 and first appeared in a Hollywood film in 1936. After that he was in constant demand with his suave persona and upper class English accent. He is seen at his best as Jack Favell, the ‘favourite cousin’ of the unseen title character Rebecca, in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie.

Albert Finney as Arthur Seaton.

Finally, I must come back to what is really me, the essential northern working class man.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is set in working class Nottingham. Albert Finney stars as Arthur Seaton, a rebellious factory worker who works hard in the factory by day, but at the weekend he spends his money in the pubs and clubs of the town.

He is involved with a married woman but starts to lose interest when he meets a single girl called Doreen and begins a relationship with her.

My favourite line from the book and the movie is this: “I’m not barmy, I’m a fighting pit prop that wants a pint of beer, that’s me. But if any knowing bastard says that’s me I’ll tell them I’m a dynamite dealer waiting to blow the factory to kingdom come. I’m me and nobody else. Whatever people say I am, that’s what I’m not because they don’t know a bloody thing about me!”

I sometimes wonder if the essential Englishman portrayed by Niven, Donat, Harrison and Howard still exists in the 21st century. I’m sure it does somewhere, in the posh parts of London and the home counties. People who travel first class everywhere and dress for dinner. Members of Prince Charles’ set perhaps?

As for me, I’m not sure I can really aspire to be like David Niven and Phileas Fogg. Still, next time I go down to the Ego restaurant in Lytham I might dress up in my best suit and tie, pop a pocket watch and chain in my waistcoat and just . . pretend.


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More about James Bond 007, and Me.

I spoke briefly about James Bond in a previous blog and thought I might write a little more about the UK’s most famous secret agent.

I started reading the Bond books when I was a schoolboy and unfortunately the very first one I read was the only one they had in our local library: ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’, one of writer Ian Fleming’s worst Bond books. Fleming used to write his initial drafts of the novels and then write a second one, adding in all the details which make the Bond books so interesting. Things like details of Bond’s clothes, (the Sea Island cotton shirts) his food, (Bond always had scrambled eggs for breakfast) his cars, his cigarettes (the special handmade ones with the triple gold band) and all that sort of stuff. ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’ was published after Fleming had died and sadly he had not revised his original draft. I persevered though, did some research, found the proper order of the books and began to read ‘Casino Royale’, the first in the series. I have loved the books, and the films ever since.

004I didn’t see the Bond films until 1969 when I saw probably my favourite Bond film ever, ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, at the cinema. It was everything I had imagined it would be and what I liked about George Lazenby, who played 007 in the film, was that he looked pretty much as I had imagined Bond. He had the authentic ‘comma of black hair’ as Fleming had always described Bond having and not only that, Diana Rigg was probably my favourite Bond girl too.

The Bond films were not then a staple of UK TV but there was always a Bond documentary, usually on TV at Christmas time which built up, as it was supposed to do, the public interest in Bond. It certainly built up mine. There was one documentary I remember which showed the viewer how Ian Fleming suffered with back pain and was sent to recuperate at a rest home where they put him on a back stretching machine which he later incorporated into ‘Thunderball’. Aha, I thought, this is how writers think!

Sean Connery was the first movie Bond and he did a great job in setting out the 007 ‘stall.’ The Bond movies are as much about Bond’s colleagues as they are about Bond and in the original films we had some great supporting actors, Miss Moneypenny, played by Lois Maxwell, ‘M’ played by Bernard Lee, and the long serving ‘Q’, played by Desmond Llewellyn. CIA man Felix Leiter was always played by a different actor in each of the movies, which never ceases to surprise me. A good Leiter would have been a pretty good idea for US cinema goers, surely.

George Lazenby was selected to play Bond when Connery tired of the role. However, he was new to the industry and advisers told him that the Bond movies were on the way out. Friction occurred with his movie bosses when he grew his hair long and sported a beard and eventually Lazenby was sacked. Connery returned to the Bond role in ‘Diamonds are Forever’. With Lazenby that would have been such a good movie but Connery played a tired and lacklustre Bond and after the serious and fast moving ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, ‘Diamonds’ perhaps appears a little tame. Worse was to follow however when Roger Moore was selected to play Bond. Moore plays Bond as a sort of smooth talking fashion icon and some dreadful Bond films were produced in the 1980s.

Timothy Dalton took over for two movies, ‘The Living Daylights’ and ‘License To Kill,’ and after that the film franchise was in limbo until it re started with ‘Goldeneye,’ which after OHMSS is my favourite Bond movie. Brosnan doesn’t overdo the comedy unlike Connery and Moore. He seems like a pretty tough customer yet looks good in a finely tailored suit and, like Sean Connery, he has a wonderful troupe of supporting actors to help him. Judi Dench plays a female ‘M,’ Samantha Bond plays the faithful Miss Moneypenny, and Desmond Lewellyn once again plays ‘Q.’

I was sorry to see Peirce Brosnan go because I can’t really say I’m keen on the latest Bond films although I have seen them all at the cinema except for the latest offering. The aim of the producers was to re-introduce Bond to 21st century moviegoers and to show Bond as the hard man he must really be. My feeling is that they have succeeded too well and the films have a hard edge that I don’t really care for. Let’s have another villain like Goldfinger or Doctor No. Not trying to take over the world perhaps but with a really clever criminal scheme for Bond to sort out. And give me some good espionage gadgets, please! Yes, I’m sorry to say that Daniel Craig isn’t my idea of James Bond. Fleming himself reckoned that Hoagy Carmichael was how he imagined Bond and he wanted David Niven to play the part, which he did although it was in the spoof version of Casino Royale back in 1967. And it’s my considered opinon that Bond was based on one man, yes, none other than Commander Ian Fleming of Naval Intelligence in World war II.

Anyway, it was nice to see that in ‘Skyfall’, a good set of supporting actors was established and instead of one actor departing and being replaced, the introduction of the new ‘M’ was handled well and an interesting element was the story giving some background to the Moneypenny character.

Spectre is the latest Bond movie. It was released in 2016 and although I always try to see the new Bond at the cinema, I somehow managed to miss this one. I have not seen it until now as I recently managed to pick up a cheap second hand DVD version for a few pounds. It’s a very well made glossy movie although it is a little lacking in the story department. Yes, the fights scenes are great, as are the car chases although in recent years the Bond films have stepped away from reality slightly. In one scene Bond and a young lady are having dinner on a train. A Spectre assassin comes to assault Bond and a frantic fight scene ensues in which a great deal of the dining car is destroyed. Bond eventually gets the upper hand but the next morning, Bond and his companion are dropped off at the station as if nothing has happened.

One good thing was the return of Ernst Stavro Bolfeld who comes complete with a backstory linking him to Bond’s earlier life. I suspect somehow that Blofeld will return in another Bond but will Daniel Craig?

One annoying thing about Spectre was I felt that the scriptwriters had somehow confused Bond with the character Jack Bauer from the TV show 24. As you will know, if you’ve ever watched the TV show, Bauer is a sort of maverick agent who disregards any instruction or advice from his superiors, even the President, his commander in chief. He always goes off at a tangent and is a complete loose cannon. That is exactly how Bond starts out at the beginning of this film, he is at odds with ‘M’ the head of the secret service but, just like Jack Bauer, he disappears going completely his own way and later he gets colleagues within the service, like Miss Moneypenny and Q, to follow him just as Chloe O’Brian was an insider for Jack.

Hello, Bond scriptwriter! Just remember who you are writing about, it’s Bond, former English naval officer turned secret agent and not Jack Bauer!

Final result: Enjoyable, good in parts but the next Bond would benefit from a more tangible back story.

 


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TV News, Mystery Diners and Steve McQueen’s Car!

The Election.

The other day I watched the debate with Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn on channel 4 and one of the most shocking things was the outrageously rude interview technique of Jeremy Paxman. In fact, this wasn’t an interview but more of an interrogation. He harped on at Jeremy because of various things not in the labour manifesto yet are known to be things that he favours, like getting rid of the monarchy for instance. Mr Corbyn’s perfectly reasonable answer was that the manifesto was a document arrived at by democratic means and not he himself trying to dictate his ideas to the Labour Party but nevertheless, Mr Paxman continued to harp rudely on about it.

Mrs May also suffered because she was in the Leave camp prior to the EU Referendum and has ended up leading the country into Brexit. The Prime Minister went on to explain that Brexit was the result of the referendum so clearly she must follow the will of the people. Having said that, Brexiteer Boris Johnson would probably be the Prime Minister now had he not been stabbed in the back by the traitorous Michael Gove.

Mr Paxman’s attitude was nothing short of downright rude and reminded me of a conversation I had in a pub years ago when some drunken hooligan accosted me and demanded to know which team I supported? Jeremy Paxman, you have just gone right down in my estimation!

The Ford Cougar.

I mentioned last week that my lovely convertible had been damaged by a council van reversing into it. The council accepted blame and my car was promptly whisked away for repairs. In the meantime they offered me a hire car which I initially declined but then had to later accept because of the slow pace of my car repairs. I received a call from the hire company telling me the insurance company had asked them to provide me with a car and when did I want it dropping off?

Well, nice service I thought. We sorted out the details and then I asked what sort of a car would it be?

‘A Cougar,’ they replied.

‘A Cougar?’

‘Yes a Ford Cougar.’

Nice.

Now, I don’t know about you but I was under the mistaken impression that the car Steve McQueen drove in the movie Bullitt was a ford Cougar so for a few moments I had visions of myself bumping up and down the hilly streets of San Francisco, perhaps even cavorting with Jaqueline Bisset but no, things didn’t turn out that way. McQueen drove a Ford Mustang in Bullitt, a hunky looking car with a superb throaty roar. I do love those 60s/70s American motors!

Anyway, my car duly arrived and it was not a Cougar but a Kuga, one of the latest Ford models fitted with so many gadgets it made my rather lovely 2006 Renault look a little dated.

It was rather comfy and nice to drive and as I began the long journey to work I felt the faint idea for a blog post coming on. I worked it over in my mind a few times then thought it was time to jot it down somewhere. Not so easy when you’re driving but luckily I had my hand-held tape recorder. I reached over into the door shelf but couldn’t feel anything then I remembered. This was my hire car. The tape recorder was in my own car!

The News.

When you want to know what is going on in the world you probably do what I do: change to the news channel of your choice. I usually go to BBC news. I’ve always thought BBC news was pretty impartial and generally I think it is but when you did a little deeper I’m not so sure. Fracking for instance gets very little coverage. In Lancashire the County Council voted against having fracking in the county but then the Government overruled them, deciding it was OK. Numerous protests are going on in Lancashire against fracking which the evidence shows is not good for the environment but the BBC seems to have largely ignored that issue. Still, it’s the news media themselves that decide what is important and if you want to find out more about things outside of mainstream news, then we are lucky to have the internet as a secondary resource.

On a less serious note, I have a theory about news channels. Unless some really serious news breaks during the day the whole news programme for the day is decided pretty early on. For instance, if the news bosses decide that an upcoming speech by the Prime Minister is going to be pretty important, then early newscasts will make a point of mentioning the planned speech due at, for instance, eleven o’clock. At eleven o’clock the planned speech will be usually shown live and all subsequent news casts will highlight the speech.

One thing that I think happens is that at say eight AM, the news people will re-show the seven AM newscast, recorded earlier, while everyone heads off to the BBC canteen for breakfast. I can sort of imagine that in the canteen the top news readers and bosses will perhaps get waiter service at special tables while the others, the cameramen and sound guys will have to get a tray and queue up. After breakfast they will all have to be back at nine ready to take over from the video that we all think is live but really isn’t.

Mystery diners.

Maybe you’ve seen Mystery Diners on the Food Network channel on late night TV. I sometimes pop it on when I come in from a night shift and I get the impression that on American TV there are numerous advertising breaks. There must be unless Americans have a really low attention span because every few minutes the presenter will review the whole show. In case you haven’t seen it Charles Stiles, the owner of a company called Mystery Diners will, at your request, visit your restaurant to sort out your problems. He doesn’t do it like the foul-mouthed Gordon Ramsey, by shouting and swearing and insulting everyone (is he a relation of Jeremy Paxman at all?) but by installing hidden cameras in the restaurant and sending in undercover diners and fake new staff members to find out the root of the problem. After five minutes he will give us the first review: Joe Smith has invited us into his Chicago diner to find out why takings have suddenly slumped . . OK, then we will be shown a few furtive shots of the suspect staff member, some secret camera shots from the kitchen and then Charles will click on to his radio and ask his undercover diner to go in and order the New York Deli Burger with the secret ingredient tomato sauce. Cue Charles to give us another review: Joe Smith has invited us into his Chicago diner to find out why takings have suddenly slumped  . . The mystery diner asks the waiter for the specials then mentions something that was seen on a hidden camera, a kebab that was not on the menu but was enhanced with the secret ingredient tomato sauce!

‘Could I have one of those?’ asks the diner. ‘Yes,’ says the waiter but the kebab is off menu and cash only.  The waiter furtively speaks with the chef and hey presto, the new kebab is served. Time for an update from Charles: Joe Smith has invited us into his Chicago diner to find out why takings have suddenly slumped !

Eventually the cash only kebab dealers are invited into the Mystery Diners’ control room and confronted with the video evidence. They are sacked and the restaurant is saved! The programme lasts less than 30 minutes on UK TV but I can imagine that in America it goes on for at least an hour. Chop out all the rehashing and you are probably left with about fifteen minutes!

Still, back in the UK I noticed a similar thing on shows like A Place in the Sun: Joe and Jennifer Smith are looking for a holiday home in sunny Spain. After a couple of possible homes the presenter reminds us that Joe and Jennifer Smith are looking for a holiday home in sunny Spain! Did she think we weren’t paying attention? Or was it that we were likely to forget this gripping scenario in the last 10 minutes? Who knows? Come to think of it, I did wonder what the Smiths were doing in Spain! Maybe they were looking for a holiday home!


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Burton, Taylor, and the Nature of Love.

I’m always recording films and TV shows to watch and the other day I scanned through my hard drive to find that some time ago I had recorded a movie called Burton and Taylor. It’s a made for TV movie, first shown on BBC Four. I found it on the drama channel and it’s about, as if you hadn’t already guessed, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.

Back in 1983 when this film is set, Burton and Taylor were probably the most famous celebrity couple in the world. The only other couple of a similar status that I can think of are Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, a couple from a completely different era. Let me see who else comes to mind; Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Posh and Becks. Hardly in the same class are they?

Back in the 1920’s, nearly a hundred years ago, silent movies travelled the world, unhampered by the constraints of language. Stars like Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks were as famous in Moscow and Tokyo as they were in London and New York .

Fairbanks and Pickford in a postcard from the 1920’s

Mary Pickford was known as America’s Sweetheart in part due to her work during the first World War selling Liberty Bonds. She had a Canadian background but she became a US citizen when she married Fairbanks. Douglas Fairbanks made a series of swashbuckling films like Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers and The Thief of Baghdad. The couple bought an estate on Summit Drive in Hollywood which the press dubbed ‘Pickfair’. The house became the focal point of social life in the movie capital and the Fairbanks’ invited many famous people there. As well as the film stars of the day, HG Wells visited as did F Scott Fitzgerald, Amelia Earhart, Lord Mountbatten, Noel Coward and many others.

Along with Charlie Chaplin and the silent movie director D W Griffith, the couple founded the film company United Artists, but as actors they did not fare well when talking pictures came along and they retired from the screen. In retirement, Fairbanks wanted to enjoy his love of foreign travel but Pickford hated travelling, so on many occasions Douglas travelled alone. On one trip he met an English socialite, Lady Ashley and began an affair that ultimately led to the end of his marriage . Douglas and Mary were eventually divorced in 1936.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. Image courtesy Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor met on the set of the film Cleopatra in 1961, a movie that went down in history as one of the most expensive ever made. Taylor didn’t want to make the picture so decided to ask for a ridiculous amount of money, confident that 20th Century Fox would never pay it. However, pay it they did and the troubled movie went into production. The Burton/Taylor TV film however focusses on the later years of the pair when they decided to star in a stage revival of Noel Coward’s witty play, Private Lives.

In the film, Taylor is played by Helena Bonham-Carter and Burton by Dominic West. West doesn’t really look much like Burton but captures his voice and persona well. Bonham-Carter as Liz Taylor does look surprisingly like the original and together they make a good reproduction of the famous couple.

The writer seems to believe, and whether it is true or not I don’t claim to know, that Liz Taylor engineered the theatre production of Private Lives as a way of bringing her and Burton back together again. They had already been married and divorced twice and the movie reveals that Liz clearly still had feelings towards Burton. On the first day of rehearsals she is surprised that Burton will not be lunching with her but spending time with his new girlfriend, Sally. Burton in turn is shocked that on the first read through it is clear that Taylor has not previously read the play. Burton of course knows it off by heart. He is the consummate professional actor and Taylor the consummate professional movie star. During the run when Taylor calls in sick, the production is halted rather than carry on with an understudy, as it becomes clear from the public reaction that the audience are not interested in the play without superstar Liz.

Helena Bonham-Carter and Dominic West (image courtesy BBC)

Burton and Taylor were clearly in love but love must have been difficult in the face of their superstar status, just as it was for Fairbanks and Pickford. I can imagine Burton’s upbringing in a mining community and Taylor, having been a star since childhood, were not personalities that could bend much for the other.

The film is interesting, enjoyable and gives the viewer a fascinating peek into the private lives of these two superstars of the past.

In one sequence where the pair sit down and reminisce together, Burton considers the nature of love and ponders about love’s important ingredients: Is it passion? Is it sex? I’m not even sure of the answers myself. Both sex and passion are important but so are respect, humour and understanding.

William Shakespeare was a man who knew a thing or two about love and one of his most famous sonnets, Sonnet 116 provides a quintessential definition of love. Love, according to this sonnet, does not change or fade; it has no flaws and even outlasts death.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

My favourite though, has to be this one;

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st,
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

I particularly like the two last lines. They tell us how the subject lives again in every reading of the sonnet which is a very wonderful thing that applies not only to this but to all other literary evocations of the past. Was the subject of this sonnet a real person or was it just an ode to wonderful women in general? It was a real woman, I suspect, although I am no Shakespeare expert but whoever she was, she lives again in this work, just as the author wished.

When I began writing this post about love, I was inspired by a distant memory, a quote, a distant few lines that seemed just out of reach in the back of my mind. When I finally brought those words into focus and tracked them down, I realised I must have read them in the Bond novel Goldfinger.

Some love is fire, some love is rust. But the finest, cleanest love is lust.” Wikipedia claims that when Ian Fleming used that line he was quoting from ‘The Wild Party’, a book length poem by Joseph Moncare March. Fleming changed the quote slightly in Goldfinger but I liked it so much myself, it inspired my own poem, Some Love.

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Adventures with a Hard Drive TV Recorder

You may have read in a previous post about the numerous advantages, especially to a couch potato like me, of a hard drive TV recorder. Sometimes, I record things and completely forget about them until the day comes when I am free to sit down with a large cup of tea (mandatory for serious TV watching) a cheese sandwich, a chocolate digestive biscuit and see what television delights await me. Here are some recent highlights!

Rising Damp Forever

I do love a good documentary, especially ones about the making of a movie or TV programme. This last week I’ve watched a two-part programme about the TV sitcom Rising Damp. The documentary followed the story of how a play by Eric Chappell was seen by TV producers who then urged Chappell to make it into a TV series. The result was a sitcom that ran for four seasons and was one of the funniest things on TV in the late seventies. Leonard Rossiter’s performance as landlord Rigsby is nothing short of brilliant; a wonderful comic creation. Frances De La Tour played the spinsterish Miss Jones and the late Richard Beckinsale was a virginal long-haired student who shared a room with an African chieftain’s son played by Don Warrington.

A preview of the show billed the programme as a reunion of the cast members, however, if you know anything about Rising Damp, you will know that of its quartet of stars, Leonard Rossiter and Richard Beckinsale are no longer with us. Frances De La Tour is still alive as far as I know but did not appear in the documentary leaving Don Warrington to mostly chat with himself. The reunion appeared to involve Don, former directors, the former floor manager, a production assistant and the writer, Eric Chappell.

To be fair, the documentary was pretty interesting because I love anything like this, the back room story to a successful film or TV show, especially when we get to see the writer talking about his creation. Also appearing were some former guest stars, as well as Christopher Strauli who played the Richard Beckinsale part in the film version. When he first met Leonard Rossiter, the undoubted star of the show, Rossiter told him ‘We know this works as a TV show so if the film is a failure it’ll be your fault!’ No pressure then!

Among other things the programme revealed that De La Tour and Rossiter were poles apart in real life and did not get on well. Richard Beckinsale had just finished filming Porridge and had short hair so was forced to wear a long wig and the writer, Eric Chappell, based the show on a newspaper article about a bedsit tenant who pretended to be the son of an African chief in real life!

Beckinsale left the cast because he felt he was not being taken seriously as an actor and wanted to pursue more dramatic roles. Sadly, he died of an undiagnosed heart condition not long afterwards when he was only 31. Leonard Rossiter went on to star in the equally wonderful the Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin but died during a stage performance of Joe Orton’s black comedy Loot.

Yes, remind me to dig out my box set of Rising Damp for my next rainy afternoon off.

The Secret life of Bob Monkhouse.

I have seen this documentary before and last week’s showing on BBC Four was a repeat but a very welcome one. Bob Monkhouse was a comedian who seemed to collect everything and the full extent of his collecting compulsion was only revealed after his death in 2003. He kept all his old scripts, all his old notes, even for things like The Golden Shot. He would make up small cards about the contestants with notes about their backgrounds. Then he would go through his joke notebooks which were indexed for subject and if the contestant was for instance a plumber, he would go down the list, look up plumber jokes and use it during the broadcast.

The other thing about Monkhouse was that he was a serial TV recorder. He bought one of the very first home video recorders when the cost was similar to that of a family car, and he set about recording anything and everything. During the 1980’s he apparently had six video recorders in his home and many of his recordings are the only remaining recordings of various TV shows. He had recorded episodes of the Golden Shot thought to be missing and also the only known recording of Lenny Henry’s TV debut. All in all, Monkhouse amassed 50,000 video tapes and numerous other film and audio recordings, all of which were kept in a temperature controlled unit he had built in his garden which he called the ‘Boardroom’.

Despite a career as a TV star, Monkhouse had a hard life. He was married three times, had a disabled son and another who died from a drugs overdose. He worked hard on the TV show The Golden Shot and was then fired for supposedly plugging a brand name on the show. When Norman Vaughn and later Charlie Williams seemed to struggle with the pressure of the live broadcast, Monkhouse was asked to return and he hosted the Golden Shot until the end of its TV run before moving on to Celebrity Squares.

After his death Bob’s daughter donated his huge video and film collection to Kaleidoscope, a television archive company, dedicated to finding and rescuing ‘lost’ TV shows which were routinely wiped or not recorded at all prior to the 1980’s. Pity Bob wasn’t a Doctor Who fan!

The Magic Box

This is one of those movies rarely, if ever, seen on terrestrial TV. Made in 1951 for the Festival of Britain it starred the Manchester born actor Robert Donat with a whole host of stars playing minor and supporting roles. The technicolor photography by cinematographer Jack Cardiff is excellent and the story of British cinema pioneer William Friese-Green is told in flashback by director John Boulting.

Friese-Green thought his troubles were over when he finally produced a working movie camera but his obsession with the project led to a serious neglect of his photography business which collapsed into debt and bankruptcy. When he died he had only the price of a cinema ticket in his pocket. The Magic Box is something of a sad film but well made and a feast for classic movie fans. Even the portraits on the walls of Friese-Green’s studio were of famous British film stars.

The Persuaders.

Roger Moore and Tony Curtis star in this seventies action and adventure series.  Tony Curtis plays  New York entrepreneur Danny Wilde who teams up with Roger Moore as Lord Brett Sinclair to fight crime. Moore is perfect in the part. Pity he was so poor as James Bond! 

In my favourite episode, Danny and Lord Brett go camping and we see Danny getting up the next morning, emerging from his small one man tent. Lord Sinclair’s tent however, just across the way, is a massive tent worthy of an Arab prince. Danny wanders in to find Lord Brett in a huge fully fitted kitchen. He turns to Danny and remarks, ‘I’ve really enjoyed roughing it for once, Daniel!’

The Invaders.

I still have plenty of episodes saved on my hard drive, ready for viewing, of the 1960’s sci-fi series, the Invaders! Roy Thinnes plays architect David Vincent who becomes aware of an imminent alien invasion. As the narrator said in the opening titles:

The Invaders, alien beings from a dying planet. Their destination: the Earth. Their purpose: to make it their world. David Vincent has seen them. For him, it began one lost night on a lonely country road, looking for a shortcut that he never found. It began with a closed deserted diner, and a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a craft from another galaxy. Now David Vincent knows that the Invaders are here, that they have taken human form. Somehow he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun!

The Man From Uncle

Time to open channel D because over on the True Entertainment channel, free view 61, they are showing my school boy 1960’s favourite The Man from Uncle. Yes, Robert Vaughn and David McCallum are back in action fighting the agents of the criminal organisation, Thrush. The last episode I caught was called Discotheque and involved a disco, quite unlike any I have ever visited – everyone wore a shirt and tie and there were mini skirted dancing girls in cages. Secret Agent Napoleon Solo’s oxy-acetylene torch-cum cigarette lighter put James Bond’s gadgets to shame and the lady strapped to a moving channel heading towards a cylindrical saw, provided a great finale. Eventually, super smooth agent Solo, helped ably by colleague Illya Kuryakin, foiled a plot to spy on head of Uncle, Mr Waverley, or was it to obtain secret Thrush files? I forget now but I loved it all anyway.

Love those opening titles with that fabulous theme by Jerry Goldsmith!

Press that pause button, time for another cuppa!


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Pinterest, the Lion, and a Visit to the Cinema

Pinterest
Pinterest is one of those social media sites that are a little different from other ones. You don’t shout out about what you are doing, you don’t tell people which bar or restaurant you are in or post pictures of your friends being silly. No, you post pictures of things you are interested in onto your various ‘boards’.

My Pinterest page has various boards mostly about subjects similar to those of my posts on this blog. I’ve got movie boards, TV boards, music boards and so on. My favourite board is probably my Cult TV board which has pictures, sorry pins, from TV shows like The Time Tunnel, Doctor Who, Department S and The Avengers. (Not the superhero Avengers but the John Steed and Mrs Peel version!) Bowler hatted John Steed and his partner Mrs Emma Peel were sixties icons who battled quirky criminals in the offbeat 60’s espionage series. Mrs Peel sported a nice line in leather figure hugging cat suits and dealt karate kicks and chops to the numerous villains that came her way.

What I’ve noticed lately though on Pinterest is things getting a little political. I saw a picture the other day and it was a picture of a woman in America holding a placard which said ‘Donald Trump is not my President.’ The best thing though was the comment underneath which said ‘I have a poster too which says Hilary Clinton is not my President and I know who would be right!’’ That’s democracy for you. Sometimes those you vote for get elected, sometimes they don’t. That doesn’t make the winner any the less legitimate.

Another pin I saw the other day was one of a series of pins about the Rothschild family and how they are mega rich and actually rule the world via their multi-billion dollar banking empire. I’m not sure how true that is but what is strange is that in the past, American millionaires like Randolph Hearst, Howard Hughes and Joe Kennedy all paid money into the campaign of their preferred candidate and in return the candidate, if he got elected felt bound to return the favour. The new President might pass a bill easing the tax burden for his oil millionaire supporters for instance or in the case of Joe Kennedy, a grateful Franklin D Roosevelt made Kennedy Ambassador to the UK. This time round in 2017, rather than favour a particular candidate, one of the millionaires has run for office himself –and got elected!

Lion
This week I went to the cinema for the first time in ages. The last film I saw at the pictures was probably the last Bond film. Actually no, it was the Bond film before that -Skyfall! This time Liz and I went to see the movie Lion. Have you heard of it? Well if you haven’t that doesn’t surprise me as I had never heard of it either as it’s not exactly the most hyped film. In fact even if you do a search on the web the word ‘Lion’ brings up all sorts of things and not necessarily this movie.

Anyway, back to our local picture house in St Annes. It is a pretty small one. The screens are more like a sort of big TV lounge than a cinema. When we visit there we always like to sit right at the front. You can stretch your legs out, relax and enjoy an unhindered view of the big screen.

I was looking forward to the usual Pearl and Dean advertisements and that little jingle that always accompanies their advertising sequence. It’s one of those jingles you remember from your childhood and lets you connect long ago cinema visits to your present one. Sadly it never came. There was a preview though; it was a trailer to the upcoming Lego Batman film. Yes, that’s right, the Lego Batman film. An animated movie made using . . Lego. I’ve heard of product placement but this is taking things to a new level!

Anyway, back to the main event, Lion. Liz had heard about the film from friends and had been warned to bring plenty of tissues. Straight away that had set off a warning bell for me. I knew this wasn’t going to be the film for me. Wrong! Lion was one of the best movies I have ever seen! Well shot and acted, the film tells a moving and original story about a young Indian lad and his brother who go out collecting coal to sell and bring some extra food back to their poor family. One night they go into the local railway station where the older of the two brothers looks for work. Seru, the younger boy is tired and falls asleep on the platform. Later he wanders onto an empty train and when he awakes later the train is carrying him to some distant place far away from his family.

I won’t say any more about what happens but if you have an ounce of feeling in your body believe me you will shed a tear or two at the end of this movie.

Make sure you look out for this wonderful film.

 

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Tipping Point, The Chase, and Donald Trump!

Donald Trump. Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Donald Trump. Picture courtesy Wikipedia

Just over a week ago, I settled down on a Friday afternoon in front of the TV, ready for my usual afternoon dose of Tipping Point and the Chase, only to find normal programmes had been suspended in favour of the Presidential Inauguration. When I say Presidential, I’m of course referring to President Trump of the USA so it was surprising to find the event televised live in the UK on BBC1, ITV and all the usual news stations. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the French or German elections given this much coverage, or any other foreign election or inauguration for that matter. If you have followed the election on TV you might be forgiven for thinking this had been a two-way fight between Republican Trump and Democrat Hilary Clinton. Absolutely not, in fact there were a huge number of presidential hopefuls as you can see by clicking here. Not one of them was involved in the televised presidential debates because the media, well certainly the British media, only seemed to focus on the Democrat and Republican contenders. Unless a third candidate could somehow muscle himself in onto the TV debates or somehow get some national coverage then he or she would have no chance of competing with the top two.

Anyway, Donald Trump was declared the victor in the election and duly became the Chief Executive and Commander in Chief of the United States on January 20th and all seemed to go fairly smoothly. The chap who introduced the proceedings -I’m afraid I can’t remember his name- commented on the inaugural speech of President Ronald Reagan which I quote here:
“To a few of us here today this is a solemn and most momentous occasion, and yet in the history of our nation it is a commonplace occurrence. The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place, as it has for almost two centuries, and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every 4-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.”

Reagan touched on the whole essence of democracy in that speech which is essentially this, that of the leader of a nation voluntarily handing over power to the new leader, the victor of the election process. In the news the same day was a story about The Gambia’s long-term leader Yahya Jammeh who has, until now, refused to accept that Adama Barrow had defeated him in the election last December. It seems he has finally decided to hand over power as threats from other West African nations have forced him to concede defeat. It would have been interesting if Barack Obama had said, ‘sorry, no, I’m not stepping down, I’m not ready yet!’ The last President who had to be forced from office was Richard Nixon who finally accepted that the Watergate scandal had destroyed his presidency in 1973 and resigned, handing over to Vice-president Gerald Ford.

In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe has hung onto power since 1980 despite an abysmal record of leadership in the country. In the 2013 elections he was again victorious although Pedzisai Ruhanya, from the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, a Harare-based think tank, had this to say; “When Mugabe used violence in 2008, he lost legitimacy, so he had to find other ways to win. What we have seen is a masterclass in electoral fraud. It is chicanery, organised theft and electoral authoritarianism.” Mugabe is now well into his nineties but can a dictator ever relinquish his power? I doubt it. Stalin continued as leader of the Soviet Union until his death in 1953 at the age of 73. When he did not arise from his bedroom one morning at his dacha in Kuntsevo, just outside Moscow, his guards were too nervous to enquire if he was alright. When they finally entered the room they found he had collapsed and assumed he was suffering from a bout of heavy drinking the previous night. The guards made him comfortable on a couch and then withdrew. When he was found unable to speak the following day, only then were the doctors summoned. Seen in that light, the events in the USA are, as Ronald Reagan said, nothing less than a miracle.

A US president can only serve two terms as the US senate, perhaps resentful of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s three terms in office, voted to limit a president to only two four-year terms. Eight years, not much time to change the world, is it?

The USA however seems a much more democratic place than the UK. Our current leader, Theresa May has taken over as Prime Minister without a single vote made by us, the citizens of the UK. Granted, Conservative MP’s have had their say but members of the Conservative party have not been consulted, nor has the country in general. The next general election in the United Kingdom is scheduled to be held on Thursday 7 May 2020, in line with the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011; it may be held at an earlier date in the event of a vote of no confidence or other exceptional circumstances. How Theresa May will fare with the people then, is anybody’s guess but then who would have thought Donald Trump would have been elected president?

Oh and one more thing. I had to wait until Monday for another edition of Tipping Point and The Chase. I was not happy!


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A Man, his TV, and A DVD Box Set

picmonkey-imageI’ve spent a couple of afternoons this week slumped in front of the TV after an early morning shift. Starting at 6 in the morning does tend to knacker you out and although many times I start to think I can sort this or that out in the afternoon, the lure of the TV set is sometimes too much. Over Christmas I bid on a box of Doctor Who DVDs on the shopping site E-Bay. I didn’t bid that much, in fact I only remembered about the bid when an e-mail popped up asking me to pay. A large cardboard box duly arrived. I scanned through the box and found various box sets like Frontier in Space, Planet of the Daleks, The Silver Nemesis and various others. I stashed the box away, not far from the DVD player waiting for a quiet moment to commence my viewing pleasure.

Over Christmas I watched the Doctor Who Christmas Special and I have to say I was disappointed. Current Doctor Who Peter Capaldi plays a good part and the effects and production values in the series are excellent but the stories seem a little bit lacking if you ask me. The Christmas special was about a young lad, accidentally given super powers by a chance meeting with the Doctor. When he grows up he uses his powers to become a super hero and we are left with a sort of spoof on the Superman/ Clark Kent/ Lois Lane story. I know it was the Christmas special and it was supposed to be a bit quirky but it just all seemed a bit daft to me.

Now I think of it, last year’s Christmas Doctor Who didn’t do it for me either; it was too full of sci-fi gobbledygook language. You know the sort of thing. Doctor, the Tardis is heading into the sun, what can we do? Well, if we reroute the dark matter converters into the phase drive and reverse the polarity. . You get the sort of thing I’m sure.

Anyway. Let’s fast forward to the other day and there’s me, arriving home all tired and grumpy after an early morning shift. I get a quick wash, sort out a brew, crank up the DVD player and insert Planet of the Daleks, a six part serial from 1973 into the DVD player. Then I settle down on the settee with a ham sandwich in one hand and the remote control firmly in the other and press play. I emerge a few hours later, rumpled, unshaven but happy. Planet of the Daleks was an enjoyable jaunt back to the TV of the 1970’s. Ok, the sets were a little on the cardboard side, the Spirodons, the resident aliens, when they weren’t invisible, were just blokes covered with big fur coats but throw in the Daleks, Doctor Who and his lovely assistant Jo Grant and I was as happy as Larry in TV heaven. The Doctor’s assistant was played by Katy Manning and it was nice to see Jo in her 1970’s gear and hairstyle once again. It was a shame when the very 70’s chic jacket she was wearing was thrown away because some very nasty jungle plants had sprayed it with some fungus.

pixabaytardis-1816598_1920Back in the 1970’s Jon Pertwee took over the role of Doctor Who from Patrick Troughton. William Hartnell had played the original Doctor as a grumpy and unpredictable old man, Troughton was the celestial comic and hobo and Jon Pertwee made the Doctor into a suave, smooth talking, velvet jacketed action hero with a penchant for Venusian karate. I wasn’t completely convinced at the time by Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who but looking back I feel that his Doctor was one of the very best. All the others, even the modern ones, have kept on board elements of the first two doctors characters but Pertwee’s characterisation is just ever so slightly different. I can’t say I remember the first episode of Doctor Who being shown, I was only seven at the time but I Do remember William Hartnell and the strange thing is that I have grown up from a child to a middle aged man with this TV show always in the background. Jon pertwee was with me in the seventies, Tom Baker in the eighties and so on and when the Doctor returned after a long absence in 2005 with the part played by Christopher Eccleston, it was like the return of a long lost friend.

An interesting bonus on the DVD was that episode three, for which only a black and white version was available, was restored to full colour using a variety of new techniques. Back in the 1970’s of course, the future home video industry was not even a twinkle in the eye of the BBC bosses and they routinely taped over Doctor Who episodes for reasons of storage space, scarcity of new tapes and a belief that the tapes were of no commercial value. Not only Doctor Who but many other programmes were lost in this way until the BBC revised its policy in 1978 and began to keep a proper archive of recordings.

Pixabay.com

Pixabay.com

Ninety-seven episodes from Doctor Who’s first six years are missing. Some tele cine copies have been found in various TV stations around the world as the BBC copied tapes onto film for showing by other broadcasters.
I mention all this because included in the special features of the DVD was an item about Doctor Who videos. When video recording emerged in the 1980’s many people, like myself, started to record programmes like Doctor Who for home viewing. Fans interviewed for the feature spoke about attending fan conventions and hearing that various recordings of old shows were available. Many came from Australia where local broadcasters began showing old episodes of Doctor Who on Australian TV. Word got back to fans in the UK and considerable sums were exchanged for VHS copies of the episodes. One of the problems was that many of the copies were second, third, or even tenth generation copies but clearly there was a great demand from viewers for old episodes and eventually, the BBC began releasing episodes on video and later, DVD. I do love watching these extra segments on DVDs and the Doctor Who ones especially because as I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m not the TV sc-fi nerd I thought I was, or least I am but there are plenty of other fellow sci-fi nerds about too.

Anyway, the Jon Pertwee Doctor Who experience was a very pleasant and enjoyable one and perfect for a cold wintry afternoon. Turn up the fire, get the kettle on and settle down with an old favourite TV show from 1973, the year I left school and started work at the tender age of sixteen. What could be nicer?

Anyway, it just goes to show that successful TV series sc-fi is more, much more than special effects and top class production. Perhaps the producers of Doctor Who in 2017 should take heed.


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Three Restored Movie Classics

edclapperboard-311792_1280So what actually is a ‘restored’ movie? Well, it is simply this; an old movie restored to its original condition, with deleted scenes added, lost scenes and dialogue inserted and basically restored to its former glory. In some cases, movies are restored to more than their former glory as on many occasions, producers, sensitive to preview audiences and running times, have unscrupulously cut movies and left many a director fuming. A lot of older films, unless preserved in the studio vault have been lost and restorers have hunted down copies of those lost films and those excised scenes that have been lost over the years. Here are three classic restored films.

Lost Horizon
Directed by Frank Capra and starring Ronald Colman, Lost Horizon was shot in 1936 and seriously went over budget. Issues that contributed were scenes shot in a cold storage area, used to replicate the cold of Tibet: The cold affected the film equipment and caused delays. There was also a great deal of location shooting and scenes where Capra used multiple cameras shooting lots of film. Wikipedia reports that the first cut of the film ran for six hours! Studio Boss Harry Cohn was apparently unhappy with the film and edited it himself, producing a version that ran for 132 minutes. Further cuts were later made and as a result, Capra filed suit against Columbia pictures. The issue was later resolved in Capra’s favour. The film did not turn a profit until it was re-released in 1942. A frame by frame digital restoration of the film was made in 2013 and various missing elements of the film were returned, including an alternative ending.
Lost Horizon is one of my favourite books ever and this movie adaptation is nothing short of wonderful, in fact it is one of my favourite films of all time. The casting of the urbane Ronald Colman as diploment Robert Conway is perfect. If you see this movie on DVD make sure you take it home and settle down for a wonderful film experience.

Spartacus.
You probably thought film restoration was only about really old films from the early years of cinema but it’s about any classic film that needs work. Spartacus was made in 1960 meaning it is 56 years old this year and was restored in 1991. The movie was produced by and starred Kirk Douglas and was directed by Stanley Kubrick, whom Douglas brought in to direct after becoming disenchanted with the original director, Anthony Mann. The film is the story of a revolution, or at least a near revolution in ancient Rome. Spartacus, played by Kirk Douglas is a slave who starts off a rebellion in a gladiator camp; the rebellion gets bigger and bigger until it threatens the entire fabric of ancient Rome. Laurence Olivier played the part of the Roman general and politician Marcus Licinius Crassus who uses the rebellion to further his own dreams of dictatorship. Peter Ustinov plays the gladiator school owner and Charles Laughton plays Roman senator Gracchus. Ustinov, Olivier, and Laughton are a wonderful trio, their performances superb, so much so that other actors who share the screen with them seem to pale in comparison.
Tony Curtis plays another slave who calls out famously; ‘I am Spartacus’ towards the end of the film, heralding a chorus of similar calls.
In the restoration, 37 mins of cuts were restored to the film including a scene where Anthony Hopkins had to dub the sound for a sequence involving Laurence Olivier who had died two years previously.

Lawrence of Arabia.

Directed by David Lean from a screenplay by Robert Bolt, Lawrence of Arabia is a visually stunning film, shot in 70mm. The movie is based on the book ‘Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ by the enigmatic T.E. Lawrence himself, and won seven academy awards including Best Director and best Picture.
Peter O’Toole stars as Lawrence although he was not the first choice for the part. Lean actually wanted Albert Finney but Finney had reservations about the film and wasn’t keen on being locked into a long term contract so he declined, despite shooting an expensive test at MGM studios in Borhamwood. It was then that Lean cast O’Toole after being impressed by his performance in ‘The Day they robbed the Bank of England’.
Director Lean wasn’t too pleased with the original script so Robert Bolt was brought in to essentially rewrite the film. A further complication was added when Bolt was arrested for his part in an anti-nuclear protest in London and so the production started without Bolt’s completed re write.
The film is famous for a number of classic shots. One is the cut from Lawrence blowing out a match to a shot of the rising sun in the desert and another is the famous long shot of Sherif Ali, played by Omar Sharif, who trots from the horizon astride his camel towards the well where Lawrence has stopped for water.

Steven Speilberg has been quoted as saying that this was the film that made him want to be a director and perhaps that is why so many of his productions have a sort of ‘David Lean’ feel about them.

The film was restored in 1989 with various cuts returned to the film. One sequence involved the late actor Jack Hawkins and Charles Gray had to dub dialogue for Hawkins’ character.


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Favourite Movie Directors Part 2 Oliver Stone

oliver stoneFavourite movie director part 1, which you can read by clicking here, is about Woody Allen. Allen has a directoral style that lets the viewer’s eye roam roam the scene. Oliver Stone on the other hand has a much more forceful style, a highly visual style which takes a firmer hand with the viewer.

To start with, here’s some biographical stuff about Stone:

Oliver Stone was born on September 15th, 1945. The only son of Louis Stone, a successful stockbroker and Jacqueline Goddet. His mother was a French student who his father, then in the Army, eloped with as a war bride in Paris in 1945. He grew up in New York and attended Trinity School on the west side of Manhattan and later attended The Hill, a boarding school in Pottstown, Pennsylvania.

Stone attended Yale University in 1964-65 but dropped out after one year. In 1967 he enlisted in the US Army and served in Vietnam with the 25th Infantry and later the 1st Cavalry.
Back in the USA he enrolled at university in New York and studied filmmaking. Martin Scorsese was one of his teachers. Vietnam was among the first subjects of his student films.

Oliver Stone

Image courtesy Wikipedia

Stone graduated in 1971 and took on various jobs while he wrote screenplays. His breakthrough success was in 1978 with the screenplay for the film Midnight Express for which he won the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay.

The first Oliver Stone movie I ever saw was the 1986 movie ‘Platoon.’ Stone wrote and directed the movie set during the Vietnam War and based on some of his own experiences. It focuses on a new recruit, played by Charlie Sheen and follows through pretty much what happened to Stone himself when he arrived in Vietnam. It shows Sheen getting used to the situation in Vietnam, the weather, the jungle patrols and so on. It also shows the disregard that the other soldiers have for Sheen and any other soldier new to the front line. A newcomer’s life was less valuable than the others who had served their time and put years into the war. It’s a reversal of what you might expect in warfare but the Vietnam conflict was a different war. The combatants were wondering what were they doing there, thousands of miles away from home and for what, and who, were they fighting ? That sort of thinking bred a selfish soldier. Platoon tells the story of those soldiers, all of whom are brutalised in some way by the conflict.

Oliver Stone followed up the movie with another Vietnam film, ‘Born on the 4th of July’ about Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic. Kovic was a Vietnam vet shot and paralysed from the waist down in the jungle and it is a truly shocking film, perhaps even more so than Platoon. After he has been wounded, Kovic returns to a veteran’s hospital in the USA that is grim and disgusting and as I watched it, it contrasted sharply with another war film from a different era, Reach for the Sky. Kenneth More stars as Douglas Bader who, after a terrible crash, is taken to a hospital full of crisp white sheets and antiseptic cleanliness. The contrast between the two hospitals is shocking. A third film completed Oliver Stone’s Vietnam trilogy, Heaven and Earth released in 1993.

Wall Street was a hit movie for Oliver Stone in the eighties and the character of Gordon Gekko played by Michael Douglas became an eighties screen icon. Gekko is a ruthless Wall Street player, a stockbroker and financier who looks at a hundred deals a day. Martin Sheen plays Bud Fox, a young salesman determined that one of those deals will be with him. Fox is ultimately corrupted by Gekko as he becomes involved in many shady schemes but in the end he betrays Gekko to the authorities. In Wall Street Stone first develops a mesmerising visual style almost akin to a music video and it is a style that many film-makers seem to have picked up.

In JFK, Stone takes this visual style to another level and combines various film formats to produce a stylish visual montage. The subject is a controversial one, the shooting of President John Kennedy in Dallas in 1963. Stone decides to use the investigation by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison as a vehicle to explore the various theories about the shooting although ultimately an amorphous military industrial complex is blamed for the conspiracy. Criticism rained down on Oliver Stone from anti conspiracy theorists but I personally felt that the movie was a fair one and everything that was conjecture was shown as conjecture. The great treat for me was the combining of the different visuals and the inter weaving of documentary film with new footage. The movie also led to calls to release more information and led to the Assassinations Records Review Board recommending that all assassination materials be released by 2017. The John F Kennedy Assassinations Records Collection Act 1992 has since become known as the JFK act. Stone went on to make two more films about American presidents, Nixon and W, the latter film about George W Bush.

In recent years Stone made a TV series called ‘Oliver Stone’s Untold History of the USA.‘ I thought, or was led to believe by the hype, that this TV series would be a complete retelling of history. Secrets hidden from the public would perhaps emerge to show how history and events have been manipulated. To be fair, there is some of that. The dropping of Henry Wallace from Franklin D Roosevelt’s Presidential ticket was shown as a blatant manipulation of the democratic process. I might have felt more sympathy for Henry Wallace had the show not preceded this by a disparaging of Churchill in a prior segment. Stone seemed to think that Roosevelt was a man who had the measure of Stalin, especially at their last meeting but it is clear to me that in fact it was Churchill who understood Stalin and Roosevelt who only thought he did.

I have a number of Oliver Stone DVD’s in my collection. Platoon, Born on the 4th of July, JFK, Wall Street, The Doors, not to mention the TV series mentioned above which I have only just started to watch. I still think of Oliver Stone as one of the great movie directors. He is passionate about cinema and has highly political views and yet is still able to laugh at himself. In 1993 he played a small part in the movie ‘Dave’ playing himself as a conspiracy theorist who believes the President has been replaced by a double. Actually, if you have seen the movie, he has!

Oliver Stone’s latest movie is Snowden, the incredible untold personal story of Edward Snowden, the polarizing figure who exposed shocking illegal surveillance activities by the NSA and became one of the most wanted men in the world. He is considered a hero by some, and a traitor by others.


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