Putting the F in art films + a surrealist comedian mistakes himself for a chair

Martin Soan as Miss Haversham at comedy club Pull The Other One last night

I mentioned cult movie The Room in yesterday’s blog – a film which it might seem difficult to out-surreal.

But reality, as always, tends to be more unbelievable than fiction.

In the last of a trilogy of odd memories, mad inventor John Ward told me another tale yesterday about working as the projectionist for an independent cinema in the 1960s.

“Our boss used to screen a right load of old rubbish,” John says. “As in cheap but perhaps not cheerful.

“We had more than our fair share of ‘Continental’ offerings – as in stuff you had never, ever heard-of plus the added fun of subtitles.

“Our matinees used to attract a small, demented audience filled with the sort of characters who could have been in David Croft sitcoms.

“One afternoon, we were showing some French film that the poster, as always, claimed had great delights but in reality included no known form of coherent entertainment. There were nine living breathing mortals in the audience, including someone the box office staff had christened ‘Mad Martha’.

“It was a 5-reel film and we inadvertently screened Reel 5 in place of Reel 3 and nobody noticed.

“On her way out through the foyer, Mad Martha commented in all seriousness to the box office staff that Her in the nice cream blouse were a brilliant actressThat film were a masterpiece.

I would be dubious about the truth of this story except that, eerily, exactly the same thing happened when I worked for Anglia Television, minus Martha.

In those days, feature films were screened from film reels on telecine machines, not off tape. During the screening of one late-night adventure movie with a complicated plot, the reels got scrambled and were shown in the order 1-2-5-3-4.

No-one complained.

The assumption by the Presentation Department was that people watching thought either that they had missed something in the complicated plot or that it was Art.

I did wonder when I later saw Quentin Tarentino’s excellent movie Pulp Fiction – where one central character is killed then comes back to life because the plot does a back-flip in time – if he had written the film in chronological order, realised it lacked tension, then simply swapped some of the pages round to make it more interesting.

All this would seem surreal except, last night, I went to the Pull The Other One comedy club and saw the former Frank Sanazi (sings like Sinatra; looks like Hitler) appear as orange-faced Tom Jones soundalike Tom Mones and Martin Soan appeared briefly as Miss Haversham from Great Expectations sitting in a chair. His costume included the chair. You had to be there. Allegedly the costume took a year to make. He was on stage for perhaps two minutes.

The critic Clive James once wrote of Martin Soan: “A total lack of any sense, rhyme or reason to the extent that the insignificance of this show completely escaped me… The funniest thing I have ever seen.”

I think I may have to go and have a lie down.

1 Comment

Filed under Art, Comedy, Movies, Surreal, Television

One response to “Putting the F in art films + a surrealist comedian mistakes himself for a chair

  1. A few weeks ago I attended a ‘talk’ given by another old, retired projectionist and basically he ‘died’ as I don’t think he could cope with a large-ish audience(!) and I was asked to ‘stand in’ and finished off otherwise folk would have rioted at such a small, time-wise ‘talk’. I mentioned about the reels being mixed up and the chap in question also admitted it had happened to him as well on his watch – so nothing is really new then. Oddly, I have been asked to do talks on the cinema of years goine by as opposed to the poor chap who thought he had a budding ‘sideline’ taking off and was looking forward to other ‘bookiongs’ but to be fair, I was’nt really looking to do it but what the heck! – why not! – if it upsets my critics, it’s worth it…

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