Tag Archives: films

The 10 films that changed my life

21 Apr

the-rocky-horror-picture-show-1975I was asked to do this Facebook thing of “In no particular order, list 10 all time favourite films, which really made an impact on you. Post the poster and nominate a new person each day.” But a) I’ll only forget each day and b) I imagine it all started as a way to harvest data on sharing and friends. So here it is as a blog instead.

NOTE: this about impact, not objective quality. The dates are when I saw these films, not always when they were released. Inevitably, they are concentrated in my formative years. I have seen many brilliant films since, but nothing can rock your world and change your life like films you see in your youth.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). When I won a scholarship to Winchester, my dad said he would take me to London, where I could do or have anything I wanted. I chose to see this. I had never laughed as much. But mostly, it’s here for the father-son bonding thing. And the Black Knight. And the questions three. And the shrubbery. And the farting in your general direction.

Star Wars (1977). Blew my head clean off and made me swear to be involved with film in some way for the rest of my life (leading me to Time Out, and later to write shorts of my own).

Aguirre: Wrath of God (1979). My first art-house film in a rep cinema. Realised belatedly there was a whole world of film out there, which I spent my uni years devouring.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1979). Any film you’ve seen 40+ times has got to be on this list. This was in the early days of call-and-response and dressing up at midnight screenings. I’ve shown it to people since, and they’re like, “Nice songs, quite fun, but what’s the big deal?” People forget, now, how liberating and transgressive and attitude-changing the film was at the time. I’ve since been sung to by both Richard O’Brien and Patricia Quinn (now Lady Stephens) 😊

Apocalypse now posterApocalypse Now (1980). I saw this loads of times at the Towne Cinema midnight screenings in Ottawa, with bongs being passed up and down the aisles. Epic sweep that never loses touch with the human drama; very much of the drug culture but with a coherent plot; horrifying and hilarious and equal measure.

Napoleon (1983). I saw the restored version at the Barbican with, if memory serves, triptych screens and a live orchestra. I’ve seen it in cinemas twice since, as well as on TV. I studied the French Revolution for my degree, but more than that, it is astonishingly modern for a film made in 1929 – and started me off on a whole silent movie kick.

Blue Velvet (1986): Because obviously. I mean, imagine seeing it on first release, with no expectations or preconceptions about what David Lynch was capable of. It was, to quote Colonel Kurtz above, “like I was shot… like I was shot with a diamond… a diamond bullet right through my forehead. And I thought, my God… the genius of that! The genius! The will to do that! Perfect, genuine, complete, crystalline, pure.”

Akira (1988). My gateway to the astonishing world of anime.

The Lion King (1994). It amuses me that the plot is filched from Hamlet, but really this is here because it makes me think of my boys. I took Theo to the premiere at the Odeon Leicester Square when he was seven months old! Start ‘em out young. He slept through much of it, but we watched it a gazillion times subsequently on DVD. My mum would take me to films when I was young, and I’ve extended this to the next generation. Sam’s even made two excellent shorts of his own, one a nominee for student film of the year.

animalcharm-posterAnimal Charm (2012). The idea for this 20-minute featurette came to me in a flash in the gym: a fading fur fashion designer kidnapped by animal rights activists, with a grand guignol horror twist ending. Sadie Frost and Sally Phillips starred, with Michael “Ugly Betty” Urie and Boy George in small roles. It was really good. Kate Moss came to the premiere the W Hotel and sat in the aisle as there were no seats left. Director Ben Charles Edwards (who also co-wrote) has since gone on to make two feature films, while I have gone back into paid journalism, but it was still the culmination of a life-long dream to see something of mine up on the big screen. Thanks, Ben. You’re an extraordinary film-maker.

 

 

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10 Ways Hollywood Looks After Loved Ones — From The Afterlife

7 Feb

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At last! I’ve been asked to write a sequel. Not of one of my film scripts, admittedly, but of an article. Hot on the heels of The 11 Best Films About Life Insurance comes 10 Ways Hollywood Provides For Loved Ones From The Afterlife.

You wouldn’t have thought there was a whole sub-genre of Hollywood films that feature dead people belatedly caring for their families, but from Always to Ghost via PS I Love You there were way more than ten – I had to leave some out (many thanks to my friends in the Facebook hive mind for suggestions). It even includes Oscar nominee Michael Keaton in a film he must be hoping Academy members have forgotten – have you?

Click here to read the top ten.

The 11 best films about life insurance

12 Dec
Ned Ryerson, life insurance salesman, in Groundhog Day. So good I could watch it again, and again, and again...

Ned Ryerson, life insurance salesman, in Groundhog Day. So good I could watch it again, and again, and again…

Who knew life insurance could be so fascinating? I didn’t, until I was asked by The Guardian to compile a list of the top 11 movies about life insurance. It has provided the engine for many a film noir, but also featured in comedies such as Groundhog Day and Terry Gilliam’s brilliant short film.

Read the surprisingly interesting top 11 on the Guardian website.

The Last Impresario: Michael White’s life, from Pythons to Rocky Horror to Kate Moss

25 Sep

Who is Michael White? In The Last Impresario, the documentary about his star-cross’d and star-making life which opens in London tomorrow, and which I saw last night with a Q&A between the BBC’s Alan Yentob and the film’s young director, Gracie Otto, he is described as “the most famous person you’ve never heard of”. Otto herself hadn’t, when she attended the Cannes Film festival in 2010 as a recent film studies graduate, and noticed a mischievous, nattily dressed septuagenarian with an eye for the ladies (including herself) towards whom everyone seemed to gravitate at parties.

The more she found out about Michael White, the more convinced she became that she had the subject of her first film. White launched the careers of both the Pythons and the Goodies when he discovered a Cambridge Footlights show of unusual talent, and put it on in the West End. “It was extraordinary,” reflects John Cleese in the film. “I mean, this student show, in the West End! Unheard of. It allowed me to pay off my student debts in three months.” Bill Oddie, later of the Goodies, was another member of the revue: “Michael White was a bit like a Bond villain,” he recalls. “Always had a glamorous blonde on his arm.”

White put on Kenneth Tynan’s infamous avant-garde, fully nude erotic revue Oh! Calcutta!, which in 1970 didn’t so much push the envelope of acceptability as tear it into tiny pieces. It was only two years earlier that the centuries-old requirement for all plays to be approved by the Lord Chamberlain’s office had been scrapped. Despite (or because of) scandalised and negative reviews, the show became the longest-running in Broadway at the time.

White was the first to bring Dame Edna to London, though he lost a fortune with “her” on Broadway. He made The Rocky Horror Show a hit, then signed away the rights for a song to a hard-nosed American producer while distracted by drugs and women. In film, he produced such cult hits as Monty Python And The Holy Grail, My Dinner With Andre, and Polyester by John Waters, “the Pope of Trash”. The Cannes screening was presented in “Odorama” – scratch-and-sniff cards with scents such as fart and dirty socks. Waters recalls, “They broke the glass on the doors, people were so keen to get in.”

Oh, and lest you think White had a talent only for spotting actors, during the Q&A Otto mentioned one bit she hadn’t managed to fit into the film: White once attended a dinner bringing a friend whom he predicted “would be big in computers”. The friend was Steve Jobs.

Jobs, of course, is no longer available to interview, but Otto tracked down some heavyweight talking heads in The Last Impresario. Here’s a small sample:

Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue: “He was one of those extraordinary people who seem to know everyone on the planet. He was certainly by far the first person to talk to me about Kate Moss, before any agent.”

Kate Moss, supermodel: “When we first met, we ended up talking on and on, and then it was ‘let’s go to another club’. He was the only one who could really keep up with me.”

John Waters, cult film-maker: “He wasn’t a suit. Or if he was, he always had a great one on.”

Yoko Ono, whose art show White put on in pre-Lennon days: “Michael’s an interesting guy, a visionary. Very cool and visionary.”

Jim Sharman, director of The Rocky Horror Show: “Michael was one of the few producers who were prepared to take a punt, a gamble, on risky ventures that challenged the status quo.”

Michael White

Michael White in San Tropez

But for every party, there’s a hangover. And when your whole life is a party, that’s one doozy of a come-down.

By the time Otto catches up with White, he has suffered three strokes. The second, according to Peter Richardson of the seminal ‘80s comedy troupe The Comic Strip (yes, White produced them, too), came hot on the heels of the first.

“Imagine: you’ve had a stroke, then you go out partying with Jack [Nicholson, natch]. Jack saved him, I think, and got him to the best hospital.”

White is also broke, and somewhat tearfully packing up his memorabilia for sale at auction. In particular he has an extraordinary collection of 30,000-odd candid pics of the stars (see above) – at any social function, he’d be snapping away. An ex-partner felt it was his way of dealing with people, keeping them close and yet simultaneously at arm’s length. Sent to a boarding school in Switzerland at seven to cure his asthma, he was terribly lonely. Ever since, he liked to cocoon himself in a whirl of fascinating, dynamic people, while keeping his emotions and real feelings to himself.

In the end, White remains a charming enigma, the calm at the heart of the storm. He is not a loquacious interview, as a result of the strokes, but he seems not much given to self-analysis anyway. Who is Michael White? This fascinating documentary gets as close as anyone is likely to.

In the psychiatrist’s chair: six revelations from David Lynch (interview part four)

29 Jan

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What follows is self-contained, but there’s more good stuff to the interview. Click the links to read parts one, two, and three, or for a review of his current photography exhibition.

Despite the recurrent obsessions on display in his patently f***ed-up films, David Lynch has never undergone psychoanalysis. “I went one time,” he explains, “and I asked him if it might affect my creativity. And he said, ‘David, I have to be honest with you, it could.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m happy to meet you, but I have to go.’”

I tell him that in that case I’m going to play psychiatrist, right here in this Paris hotel suite. I’m going to give him six words – connected with key imagery from his films – and he has to tell me the first thing that comes into his head for each. Surprisingly, Lynch agrees. The results are strangely revealing…

fire

1. “Fire.” I’m thinking of Lynch’s trademark close-ups of cigarettes (above); the blaze that haunts Wild At Heart; the burning cabin in Lost Highway; the very title Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. But what’s Lynch thinking? Fifteen seconds elapse.

“Well, it’s… It’s kinda…. It means different things in different situations. When I just think about fire, it’s so pure, I don’t think about anything else.” And then, shockingly: “When you said it, I was picturing being in it.”

Your first student short was of heads throwing up and catching fire, I add. “It was the reverse, actually. But the elements water, earth, air and fire, it’s no accident that we really like those things, and things get reduced down… Fire is so magical. There’s a texture to it that occurs nowhere else. And controlling something like that… It wants to get bigger if it can, and then you’re very worried that one will go out! With me, I always think about magic, the unexplainable.”

jazz

2. “Jazz.” Lynch works very closely with his composers, though it must be said, Bill Pullman in Lost Highway (above) is the least plausible jazz saxophonist ever seen. There’s hardly any pause this time: “Freedom. It’s like no constraints, an opening, and then barriers going away and lifting and breaking and experimentation and… it’s like attempting for something.”

brain 3. “The brain.” Each Lynch film out-grosses the last on brain injuries; in Eraserhead the hero’s head is made into pencils; The Elephant Man is killed in his sleep through the sheer weight of his head; Blue Velvet has the shot cop briefly still standing, brains exposed, like a faulty electrical appliance; in Wild At Heart Sherilyn Fenn wanders about in shock after a car crash, holding her brain into her cracked skull (left), while asking if anyone’s seen her hairbrush; Lost Highway tops the lot by burying a glass coffee table in a man’s cranium.

“Well, um…” Nineteen seconds go by. I wait. Then: “The brain is just like a plate but the nervous system and the mind is, ah….” Fully 27 seconds of silence as he furrows his brow comically like a boy at examination time. “It’s the thing that traps us and ultimately frees you.”

bed

4. “The bed.” In The Grandmother, Lynch’s best early short, a lonely boy grows a grandmother from a plant on his bed, on which she later dies; Wild At Heart contains a number of heroic sex scenes (above). Complete silence for 48 seconds. What part of “first thing to come into your head” does he not understand? Then Lynch giggles like a schoolboy to whom one has whispered the word “sex”. “It’s sort of like… A bed is used for many things, but it really is a closeness to death.” Pause. “And birth, too.”

red curtains5. “Red curtains.” I’m thinking of the afterlife/limbo of Twin Peaks (left); how in Lost Highway the camera moves over red curtains like a spaceship exploring a strange planet. Immediate response. “Curtains are both hiding and revealing. Sometimes it’s so beautiful that they’re hiding, it gets your imagination going. But in the theatre, when the curtains open, you have this fantastic euphoria, that you’re going to see something new, something will be revealed.”

outside

6. “The outside.” This is where Jeffrey finds the severed ear in Blue Velvet; the woods are where all the weirdness happen in Twin Peaks (above); there’s the Lost Highway itself. I tell Lynch I’ve read that he was terrified of the outdoors as a child. Immediate response. “Right, I did have a period of that. I really like captured space. Even great vistas are okay because I see some edge. But the word ‘outside’, it’s uh, too random. I lose a bit of control with that word.”

And yet your dad worked for the Department of Agriculture. “My father was a woodsman, yes. And wood has played a huge role in my life. So I like building things out of wood, I like chainsawing, I like the smell of the wood, I like the look of a tree, particularly my father’s favourite tree which was the Ponderosa Pine. The wood is… everything all the fairy tales made you feel.”

Journey into the art of darkness with David Lynch

24 Jan

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David Lynch’s exhibition of black and white photos at London’s Photographers’ Gallery is typically unsettling. Seen individually, each is a banal portrait of a post-industrial setting: a factory in Łódź, or a set of chimneys in Britain. But cumulatively, and particularly knowing Lynch’s films, they force you to start constructing a narrative in your head, to disturbing effect.

Smoke. Brick. Steel. Pylons. Peeling paint. Broken windows. Shadowy, inexplicable doorways, behind which you can’t help intuit a brooding presence. Snaking pipework – what gas or fluids do they carry? A wall of windows, some lit, some not, forming a geometric mosaic like a black-and-white Mondrian.

But the most striking picture of all, given all those that have gone before, is this one (below). We have had a succession of claustrophobic warehouse or factory interiors, all disused – abandoned after a radiation leak, perhaps; or one-time scenes of inexplicable workforce deaths; or currently used for the occasional kidnap, torture and murder. This is the only window on to the outside world in the whole exhibition, and it focuses directly on a single house.

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It’s hard not to feel like a deranged stalker looking out on a prospective victim. The perspective makes Father Dougals of us all — the house seems not so much far away, as very, very small. A dolls’ house whose inhabitants are of as little consequence, and there purely for the viewer’s sport.

Or is that just me?

I saw an exhibition of Lynch’s paintings in at the Galerie Piltzer in Paris in 1997. Again, they were individually unremarkable, until you realised that, cumulatively, they created a record of a crime scene.

Or was that just me?

Humans are meaning-creating creatures, the film guru Chris Jones has said. In other words, you don’t have to spell everything out for the audience when you make a film; the viewer will work hard to supply meaning to a scene in which little is said.

It works for David Lynch’s films, just as it works for his photography and paintings. Starting tomorrow, I will serialise my 1997 interview with Lynch, conducted for Time Out on the release of one of his most obscure and unsettling films, Lost Highway. Y’all come back now, y’hear?

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!