Tag Archives: BFI

Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD, at the BFI tonight

28 Oct
2000AD characters

A rogue’s gallery of 2000AD heroes, anti-heroes and villains. If you can name most of them, you’re a true “Squaxx Dek Thargo”.

2000AD is the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. It says so on the masthead. Tonight, as part of the BFI’s Days of Fear and Wonder sci-fi season, a new documentary goes a long way to proving that’s no idle boast.

Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD gathers an impressive array of interviewees from the comic’s history: founder Pat Mills, editor David Bishop, a wide array of artists and writers (Alan Moore, predictably, is the only no-show), plus fans such as Anthrax’s Scott Ian, who wrote a song about Judge Dredd; Portishead’s Geoff Barrow; and screenwriter Alex Garland, who penned the Karl Urban Judge Dredd movie. The documentary is a master-class in editing: though it’s pretty much all talking heads, apart from some semi-animated stills from the comic (“Gaze into the fist of Dredd!”), the interviewees speak with such passion and eloquence that it’s never dull.

Some of the ins and outs, and the admirable frankness with which the loss of direction in the ‘90s is addressed, may appeal more to the 2000AD devotee (or “Squaxx Dek Thargo”, as we are known). But the key points will be of interest to anyone who loves comics:

1. 2000AD was born in 1977 out of punk and a feeling of revolution. It was Pat Mills’s follow-up to Action, the comic that was too violent to live. It used science-fiction not as escapism, but as a device for satirising the present without getting sued or banned (though they came close sometimes, which is why “Burger Wars” is never reprinted). It had four or five different strips in each issue, allowing room for experimentation and the nurturing of new writers and artists, but its one constant was Judge Dredd – a futuristic reboot of Dirty Harry whose brand of legally sanctioned vigilante justice made him popular with lefties who could see the satire, as well as, uncomfortably, others who couldn’t.

2. 2000AD changed the face of American comics. With the honourable exceptions of Warrior (home of V for Vendetta), Deadline (home of Tank Girl) and the odd Marvel UK or Doctor Who comic, 2000AD was pretty much the only game in town. If you were a Brit, and you wanted to work in comics, this is where you did it. The talent pool, therefore, was incredible. America’s DC Comics, under the editorship of Karen Berger, set up the Vertigo imprint specifically to tap into that pool. Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, Kevin O’Neill, Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Neil Gaiman, Brendan McCarthy, Pete Milligan – Brits such as these brought a humour, an anarchy, a rule-breaking, risk-taking mentality that shook up American comics and created a new golden age.

3. 2000AD had, and is continuing to have, a big impact on Hollywood. The only two official 2000AD movies so far are both of Judge Dredd, and neither set the box office alight. But the comic’s influence is far-reaching. The sci-fi film Hardware was based on a 2000AD Future Shock (it wasn’t credited at first, until I put two and two together in Time Out magazine and the producers had to settle out of court, full story here). RoboCop was a rip-off of Judge Dredd – the early version of his helmet, shown in the documentary, was an exact copy. The Book of Eli is, to all intents and purposes, set in the Cursed Earth. And it’s wormed its way into the DNA: a whole generation of Hollywood film-makers grew up reading 2000AD, and have absorbed its world-view.

I could go on – but why not see for yourself? There are still a few tickets available now for tonight’s screening, which includes a Q&A with 2000AD founder Pat Mills, artist Kevin O’Neill, and the documentary’s director Paul Goodwin and producers Helen Mullane and Sean Hogan.

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The future is now. Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder

17 Sep
2001 A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey, to be re-released as part of the Days of Fear and Wonder festival

It’s sci-fi, Jim, but not as we know it. The BFI today released full details of their festival Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder, and I have to say I’m impressed. Normally we in London get all the cool pop-ups, all the hot-tub/rooftop/secret cinemas, but this festival does a fine job spreading weirdness right across the land.

Want to watch sci-fi down a North Welsh mine filled with trampolines? Follow clues through the streets of Glasgow to find a screening of Escape From New York? See Mad Max 2 in a post-apocalyptic wasteland in Belfast? Watch eco-dome sci-fi film Silent Running at the Eden Project? Catch a starlit drive-in show at the Herstmonceux Observatory and Science Museum in East Sussex?

There are over a thousand screenings and events in over 200 locations around the country, including three months of programming at the BFI Southbank. The search function has just been added today to the BFI website.

My mind is blown. I was a sci-fi nut as a kid, though films were pretty sparse. The queue for Planet of the Apes stretched several times round the block. Star Wars made me vow to be involved in movies when I grew up. After I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show, I made a point of tracking down all the B-movies name-checked in the Science Fiction Double Feature song (which, in some kind of dream/reality confusion worthy of Father Ted, Patricia Quinn sang to me and a handful of other party guests in Kim Newman’s kitchen last summer).

By now, a lot of the science-fiction I loved has become ancient history. Take 2001: A Space Odyssey (re-released in a digital transfer on Nov 28), or the comic 2000AD. We’re living more than a decade in the future from those once far-flung predictions. We may not quite yet be commuting to work on jet-packs, but we will soon be in driverless cars.

Sci-fi has emerged from the fringes to become not only the dominant blockbuster form, but its visionary cinema of ideas is being celebrated by the BFI in their biggest and most ambitious festival ever. Truly, the Geeks have inherited the Earth.

Before Hollywood there was “Dog Kennel Hillywood”, birthplace of British film

2 Sep
Gaumont film still

In How Percy Won The Beauty Competition (1909), director/star Alf Collins runs straight past the Gaumont stage, left. The sign is Photoshopped by the Friends of Dog Kennel Hill Wood.

At the turn of the 20th century, Hollywood had only just become a place: it was incorporated as a municipality in 1903. It was just starting to become an idea, as film-makers headed west for the perpetual sunlight, and also to avoid being sued by Thomas Edison who held movie-making patents on the East Coast. But down here in South London, we were already the real deal, a regular Dream Factory. The UK branch of the Gaumont Film Company was founded in Camberwell’s Dog Kennel Hill in 1898. Its head, Alfred Bromhead, was soon boasting in Magic Lantern magazine of getting through 80,000 feet of film a week. This was, as local historians are now calling it, Dog Kennel Hillywood.

Gaumont still exists – it is the oldest surviving film company – but nothing remains of its early Dog Kennel Hill studio. I lived here for more than a decade, in this birthplace of the British film industry, and didn’t even realise it. The early Gaumont never even had a building: until better electric lighting was invented, they had to use natural light, so they shot interiors on a couple of roofless walls set up on a stage in a field. For exteriors, they shot guerrilla-style in the surrounding streets.

More than 500 shorts were filmed here between 1904 and 1912. Of the 30 that survive in the BFI archives, 14 were exhumed by the Friends of Dog Kennel Hill Wood and given a one-off outdoor screening on Saturday night, in the very place where they were first shot. Most have not been seen on the big screen in over a century.

Poster for Gaumont screeningThe comperes, dressed in Edwardian clothes, kicked off this special night with the unpromisingly titled Adventures of a Roll of Lino (1907), which turned out to be slapstick of the kind we’re all familiar with from the much later films of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton or Laurel and Hardy: a chap carrying a long roll of lino on his shoulder keeps turning round carelessly, whacking passers-by, with escalatingly hilarious consequences. Clichéd stuff, until you remember Gaumont did it first.

The director of these films, and star of several, was music-hall veteran Alf Collins – “an auteur before his time, and our equivalent of DW Griffiths,” says film historian Tony Fletcher of the Cinema Museum, with a dash of overstatement. Collins pioneered the use of close-up, chase scenes (he would corral drinkers from local pubs as extras with the promise of a free pint), and that peculiarly British obsession with dressing up in drag. His handbaggings could easily have inspired that Monty Python sketch in which the Batley Townswomen’s Guild re-enact the Battle of Pearl Harbour.

How Percy Won The Beauty Competition (1909) shows Alf dressed, as so often, in drag, but this time playing a man playing a woman, rather just simply playing a woman. Deep. The BFI has made this one available on YouTube. Pause it at 3.56 minutes, as the thwarted female contestants chase Alf through a field of sheep, and you can see the Gaumont ‘studio’ and crew on the left.

Perhaps the most extraordinary film shown was It Was A Nice Quiet Morning (1906). After watching a number of silent shorts, brilliantly accompanied in a live improvisation by pianist Neil Brand who was also seeing these for the first time, it was astonishing to hear dialogue issue forth from the screen – just as it must have astonished contemporary audiences. Yes, this was a talkie, fully 23 years before The Jazz Singer revolutionised the film industry.  

Gaumont went on to construct the UK’s first purpose-built studio building, in Lime Grove, West London in 1915. By the ‘30s it had bought out its parent French company and become the UK’s largest studio. But in that first decade of the 20th century, in “Dog Kennel Hillywood”, it made history on a simple Field of Dreams. And on Saturday night, as benign nitrate ghosts flickered back to silvery life above us after a century’s undisturbed rest, we were sitting right there in it.

Soundcheque: putting movies and music together

28 Nov
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XFM’s Sunta Templeton and Liam Young with Soundcheque founder Laura Westcott (centre)

Film-makers: ever wished you could just magically find the perfect segment of music at a price you can afford? Musicians: ever wished your old compositions could bring in extra cash without you having to do any whoring around?

You might as well ask, “Bears: have you ever thought to avail yourselves of the bowel evacuation facilities provided by a sylvan environment?”

Soundcheque.com really is a no-brainer. Composers upload their music. Film-makers search by genre or mood and download the pieces they like. Or, even easier, they ask Soundcheque to suggest an artist and negotiate on their behalf according to their budget – this bespoke service comes at no extra cost, and overall Soundcheque take just 20% of the fee and 0% of any royalties, surely the best deal out there for composers.

The effervescent founder, Laura Westcott, is a classically trained musician and singer who founded the site for love rather than money, and is most definitely on the artists’ side. “My accountant thinks I’m mad not to take a bigger cut,” she confesses, “but for me it’s just the right thing to do.”

I first wrote about Soundcheque the day it soft-launched, back in January (click here to read). It had just 50 composers and 19 Facebook fans. Nearly a year later, it has 1,000 composers (twice as many as its nearest UK rival) and 35,000 Facebook fans, and on Tuesday night celebrated its relaunched website with a banging party at Concrete in Shoreditch. There were terrific sets from Soundcheque protégés Sykes and from beatboxing legend Beardyman; also in attendance were XFM DJs Sunta Templeton and Liam Young (pictured above), as well as the still utterly fabulous Patricia Quinn.*

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Laura with film producer Marcus Campbell Sinclair and the fabulous Patricia “Magenta” Quinn

The great thing about Soundcheque now is its range. It welcomes micro-budget film-makers who can only afford £50 for a track, but Laura Westcott has also been courting the big advertising agencies. The latest convert to the Soundcheque cause is Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP (only the world’s largest advertising company), whom she met at an awards ceremony in the House of Lords, as you do. Sky and the BBC have started using Soundcheque too.

As to the future, Laura will be doing a talk and workshop on music licensing at the BFI’s Future Film Festival in February. Caffè Nero plan to use Soundcheque music in their coffee shops, as well as getting Soundcheque bands to play live. There will be a songwriting competition in association with Gibson Guitars. And next summer, I can exclusively reveal, Soundcheque will be running a stage at the Latitude Festival in conjunction with Live Nation. The production team will be drawn from a pool of youngsters with the Prince’s Trust, with whom Laura does a lot of pro bono work.

It all sounds almost too good to be true – especially when Laura, at her party, is resplendent in a dress loaned by Vivienne Westwood. And then she reveals that there were times before the bigger business started coming in when, to make ends meet, she had to rent out her flat and sleep in her car. Now that’s passion. Long may she remain in the driving seat.

*Patricia Quinn, of course, played Magenta in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and I first met her at a party of Kim Newman’s, where she sang the whole of Science Fiction Double Feature in the kitchen. This follows on from Richard O’Brien serenading me after dinner in the Ivy Club, so an open call to Susan Sarandon, wherever you are: I’m waiting for a burst of Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me!

From hot tubs to the British Museum: outdoor and out-there screenings in London

29 Aug
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Immerse yourself in movies: Hot Tub Cinema in Shoreditch

Growing up in Canada, I loved the drive-in. That’s where, at a tender age, I was shocked to the core when little Bonnie broke her neck in Gone With The Wind. That’s where I watched Laurence of Arabia hold his hand in the flame: “The ‘trick’, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts.” The giant screens made these scenes even more indelible. Later, I realised what a mythology there was around the drive-in itself, how it inspired movie scenes such as Grease, or American Graffiti.

How sad that there are none in London.

But wait – there kind of are. They are just drive-ins without the car. Outdoor screenings have really taken off this summer, and in some of the most unusual places. And though the Bank Holiday Weekend has come and gone, the movie summer lasts until late September.

Nomad Cinema is one of the most interesting. They have just today announced a series of monthly boutique screenings at the Hox hotel, with 50 plush seats and a free cocktail and popcorn for your tenner. The first one, the brilliant Brit crime thriller Sexy Beast, is in a month’s time, September 29; at time of writing there were still tickets available, but they won’t be for long.

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Edward Scissorhands at Brompton Cemetery, in the Nomad Cinema season

But that’s indoors: Nomad’s signature is outdoor screenings – the drive-in without the drive – and their programming is superb. Fulham Palace hosts Woody Allen’s greatest film, Annie Hall, tonight (tickets still available), with When Harry Met Sally following next Thursday Sep 5. Ghostbusters plays at Roundwood Park on Fri Sep 6; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon at Queen’s Park on Sat Sep 7; Edward Scissorhands in the suitably Gothic surrounds of Brompton Cemetery on Wed Sep 11 (Donnie Darko the previous evening is sold out); and at Hyde Park Lido, Wong Kar-Wai’s spellbinding In The Mood For Love on Fri Sep 20, and Godard’s game-changing masterpiece Breathless on Sun Sep 22.  

There’s way more! It gets wet ‘n’ wild at the Hot Tub Cinema on the roof of Rockwell House in Shoreditch, after a few too many cocktails. The programmers go for cheesy fun hits: September is mostly sold out, but there are still tickets for Team America (Sep 10), Top Gun (Sep 13), and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Sep 15) – expect everyone in their tubs to be acting out the sexy “Don’t dream it, be it” pool scene at the end.

The Rooftop Film Club have too many films to mention, programmed throughout September at the Queen of Hoxton in Shoreditch; the Bussey Building in Peckham; Springbridge Car Park in Ealing Broadway and the Kensington Roof Gardens.

Pop Up Screens does what it says on the tin. Of the September films that haven’t yet sold out, V for Vendetta at Coram Fields (Aug 30) and Fight Club at Ravenscourt Park Hammersmith (Sep 13) are maybe too serious for the outdoor treatment. I’d go for The Blues Brothers (Sep 14) or The Wizard of Oz (Sep 15), both at Ravenscourt Park. Sing along.

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Luna Cinema at Brockwell Lido

Luna Cinema has some amazing venues. Leeds Castle shows Blues Brothers and Casablanca (Sep 6 and 7); Dulwich Park shows Django Unchained (Sep 5), Argo (Sep 8) and This Is Spinal Tap (Sep 19); Kew Gardens hosts Cinema Paradiso, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dirty Dancing and Ghostbusters (Sep 12-15); and I rather fancy The Breakfast Club at my local Brockwell Lido in Brixton (Sep 18).

Future Cinema, which is by the same team as Secret Cinema but just not so secret, presents Dirty Dancing in its usual lavish style this weekend, when Hackney Downs will be transformed into Kellerman’s Vacation Resort. Friday and Saturday are sold out, even at £35 a ticket, but you can still have the time of your lives on Sunday Sep 1.

The Peckham and Nunhead Free Film Festival is Sep 5-15, and includes a bike-powered Edward Scissorhands on Peckham Rye (Sep 7), Skyfall at the Employment Academy (Sep 8, free but bring a food donation for Southwark Foodbank), and the terrific music doc Searching for Sugar Man (Sep 10) outside Rye Books, with free wine and popcorn.

There’s also a more sedate rival, the More London Free Film Festival (Sep 11-27), held at the Scoop amphitheatre by City Hall with Tower Bridge looming to one side. The line-up is impressive, starting with Skyfall and ending with Grease, The Sound of Music or Rocky Horror – voted on by the public and announced on Sep 2.

Not outdoors, but still unusual and spectacular: this coming weekend the BFI programmes three vintage horror classics in the vast forecourt of the British Museum. Monster Weekend features Night of the Demon (sold out), Dracula and The Mummy (Aug 29-Sep 1).

Phew, that enough for you? 🙂 God, I love London. Now get booking!

#11: Absolutely positively the very last Cannes diary extract from 1997. In which Mike Leigh is a “patronising twat”

26 Jul
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I found myself lunching with Alan Parker, fresh from directing Madonna in Evita

Cannes, Monday May 12, 1997. Having called a halt to post-party drinking at the Petit Carlton last night at 4.30am, I woke up just in time to get to the Polygram lunch at the posh Carlton at 12.30. I introduced myself to legend-in-his-own-lunchtime Baz Bamigboye from The Daily Mail, about whom everyone here has a story to tell.

I told Baz the one I’d heard about him crawling for hours through bushes to get into a closed set, and finally getting caught by a security guard at which Baz says, “It’s okay, I’m a security guard too.” The guy replies – this is in America, mind – “No you’re not, you’re Baz Bamigboye. Now f**k off.”

Jonathan Pryce was there, but having seen his ground-breaking Hamlet when I was 13, where he was both Hamlet and, in a voice ripped from somewhere deep inside of him, the ghost of his father, I was too awed to say hi. Geoff Andrew is an old hand at these things, and told me he’d work out the best table to sit at for lunch. Accordingly he latched onto veteran BBC film critic Barry Norman – a good plan, since host Stewart Till turned out to be sat next to him, and the Guest of Honour, Alan Parker, turned out to be the man whose Reserved notice we shoved one along to make way for Geoff and me.

The director of Midnight Express and Fame was never high on Time Out film critics’ list of beloved auteurs, and his appointment as head the BFI was proving controversial, so I introduced myself as “editor of your least favourite magazine”, and we got on famously. Parker looks completely square, block-headed, compact, like a human battering ram; younger and healthier than I expected, especially after surfacing from filming Evita with Madonna; amusing, articulate and definitely not suffering fools gladly. He was particularly undiplomatic about Mike Leigh, whom he called a “patronising twat” – Parker had offered him the cash to make two films, only to find Leigh taking the piss out of his accent later.

I also asked Barry Norman what he thought of Dennis Pennis, who asks embarrassing questions of stars on the red carpet by pretending to be a “proper” BBC interviewer, which I imagine makes life hard for the real arts journos. Barry said he saw him chased by some bodyguards last year after some prank and all but shouted out “Yes! Get him!”

After which, my time in Cannes was nearly up. I just had time to look in on the New Producers’ Alliance party on the way to the station, carrying my bags with me, but for the first time fell foul of Cannes accreditation bureaucracy. Instead I found a BFI party at the British Pavilion to spend my final hour with. And then, too soon, it was time to go. Will I ever make it back here?

Little did I know that, 15 years later, I’d be back with a short film of my own I had co-written, Colonel Badd: see here. My previous 1997 Cannes diary extracts start here.