Category Archives: Movies

Two stars. Two totally different acting methods. One worried movie director.

The Legend of Hell House poster

When I was a kid growing up, living with my parents, watching television a lot, there were two people who established in my brain the importance of the director.

One was Mike Hodges, who directed some of the ultra-stylish ABC TV Arts series Tempo. He went on to direct movies including Get Carter and Flash Gordon.

John Hough

John Hough’s feature films include Escape to Witch Mountain, The Watcher in the Woods, Twins of Evil and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry

The other was John Hough (pronounced ‘Huff’) who directed five years worth of The Avengers TV series under producer Albert Fennell.

I always reckon, if you see an Avengers scene shot through an empty wine glass or with exceptionally arty angles, it was a John Hough episode.

Last night I went to a rare screening of The Legend of Hell House, a movie produced by Albert Fennell and directed in 1973 by John Hough from a script by the brilliant Richard Matheson based on his own superb humdinger of a novel Hell House.

After the screening finished, John Hough was asked which actors he most enjoyed working with in his career.

John Cassavetes,” he replied, “was really interesting to work with. I did a couple of films with him (Brass Target and The Incubus). He genuinely never read the script. He would ask: What’s the situation? He just wanted to know what the scene was about and how the character was feeling and then he would ad-lib the scene brilliantly.

John Cassavetes co-starred with Sophia Loren in Brass Target

John Cassavetes co-starred with Sophia Loren in Brass Target

“But, when I did a picture with him and Sophia Loren (Brass Target) she could not ad-lib so, when I said Action! she was waiting for him to say what was in the script and he didn’t say that. I was in big trouble there. She couldn’t do it.

“So I rang up MGM – it was their picture – and the answer came back: The poster reads SOPHIA LOREN… and John Cassavetes. So he had to learn the script.”

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Being in a video and talking tits on TV

Anna Smith hospital 2013 - CUT!

Anna Smithspent many years in very rude health

Anna Smith spent many years as a fake nurse

In yesterday’s blog, Vancouver-based occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith mentioned: “An HIV researcher has been given a $75,000 grant from the Elton John AIDS Foundation in support of his work to prevent HIV infection among Canadian sex workers. The money is going to facilitate the consultation (and possibly record a pop video of it).”

She is flying to Toronto tomorrow to take part in a discussion at the University of Toronto.

In a further email, she says:


As a long term fake nurse, I am thrilled to be involved in a real public health consultation at a university.

When in Toronto I will be collecting a copy of a short safe sex film I made in 1986. It is not online anywhere. It is  in the private collection of Martin Heath, an ex Londoner and friend of the late (eccentric comedy performer) Ian Hinchliffe. Martin is one of the founders of The Toronto International Film Festival. He is equally devoted to film and bicycles and he owns a private cinema and bicycle repair facility in downtown Toronto called Cinecycle.

In London, he worked as a film librarian for a totally eccentric wealthy left wing film collector who ordered him to destroy with an axe any film in his collection which was not in impeccable condition. Martin was supposed to document these ‘executions’ with photos. He could not bear to destroy all the imperfect films so he became adept at faking the executions and fabricating evidence of their destruction. Thus began his extraordinary collection.

I have not seen my film for over 25 years and I wasn’t even sure where it was until a year ago, so I’m looking forward to seeing it again. The last place I had seen it was at Cinecycle.

I hired a fantastic young cinematographer just out of school called Gerald Packer to do the camerawork. He is now one of the top cinematographers in Canada. He is currently doing a television comedy series called Schitts Creek.

I used the film as part of my comedy stage act which I performed dressed as a nurse at the second AIDS benefit in Toronto.

The film shows me in my World War Two nurse outfit (complete with navy blue cape) making a home visit to demonstrate the proper use of condoms. I use a gigantic plasticine penis for the demonstration. It also demonstrates why penises should not be made of plasticine. I showed the film to 200 gay men who were very excited and then gave a collective shout of No-ooooooh… when the giant penis broke in half.

I had had ten seconds of fame in a previous video in London for an Al Jarreau music video, Raging Waters.

I am the big girl, centre frame, eight seconds in,  giving the big wave, then on the left of frame, stepping towards the ship. I have vanished by 19 seconds in. The barely recognisable Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green) is disembarking directly behind Al Jarreau. Shooting the video took hours of being on a freezing dock, for a fee of a few pounds and the opportunity to wear a snood for the first and last time ever.

I was in one other pop video in London in 1984. It was for some rock band I had never heard of. I still have no idea who they were and no idea of the song. I don’t think it was David Bowie unless he was having a really bad day.

They had rented the most amazing derelict ballroom – possibly in Bromley – that had three kinds of ceiling lights all combined on its low ceiling: mini chandeliers, those ones the mini pink lampshades and one other style, maybe fake Japanese.

I always took my own stripper costumes to any audition because invariably they were better than anything provided. At the ballroom I was immediately cast as ‘The Cigarette Girl’ and given a cheap, ill-fitting costume which I discarded and put on my much nicer outfit. The costume they gave me to put on was a corset that was ten sizes too large and some frayed fishnet tights. I had the same things in my bag but the corset fit and my tights were new.

The rock band was significantly older than us healthy young extras and they looked horribly dated to us, with their big blond hair, shiny pink or blue lamé 1970s clothing and their songs were old too, like they’d been disinterred.

But they weren’t as old as the venue, which looked like it hadn’t been used since the 1920s. We wondered how such an out-of-date band could afford to make a video.

The ever interesting Anna Smith

The ever interesting Anna Smith

I was also in a couple of the first pop videos in Canada but that was because my boyfriend was a Canadian rock star who will remain nameless until further notice. He is now a recluse and lives in a forest.

I recently saw him described as a legendary blues singer. I used to strip to his recorded music. All the other strippers thought I was so cool for that reason and he recorded some songs  especially for my act… Lady Strips the Blues was one… I was on one of his albums making loon calls.

I let CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) know that, if they ever needed a stripper to appear on TV – or radio – I was available.

One day they called me up because they were doing a talk show about breasts. This was instigated by a middle aged couple from New York who were in Toronto to promote a very serious coffee table book called Breasts. It was a very boring book. Each page had a large black and white photograph of a pair of breasts on it and none of the sets of breasts were spectacular in any way.

It was meant to show the variety of shapes and sizes breasts come in.

Being a stripper, I was used to seeing all kinds of them anyway, but it was a lot nicer to be laughing with your topless coworkers and seeing your friends laugh or bitch about their breasts. The way they were presented in the book seemed terribly clinical – in black and white, all photographed at the same angle, head-on and without the faces or anything. It was like seeing a series of mugshots of breasts.

As well as the CBC lady host and the couple, there were three guests on the TV show. One was a woman who had had her breasts made larger; one was a woman who had hers made smaller; and there was me.

First, the couple were interviewed; then the other two ladies were interviewed about why they had changed their breasts; and then the hostess turned to me.

Anna Smith as her alter ego ‘Nurse Annie'

Anna Smith as her stage alter ego ‘Nurse Annie’

Now Anna, she said, You are a stripper. Why is it, do you think, that men want see your breasts?

Well, I said, lots of the men who visit strip clubs don’t get to see them that often…

The hostess nodded: Yes. And…? 

And also, I added helpfully, I think they want to suck them.

The hostess’ reaction was just to say: Thankyou Anna.

At that time, it was risqué just to say the word ‘breast’ on television. I think she was trying to be ‘modern’ and ‘with it’.

It was broadcast live across Canada.

I was pleased with being on the show, as it had seemed a very easy way to make $100. The couple said they were thinking of doing a sequel book and asked if I was interested, so I said Sure and gave them my phone number. I thought it might be good for my career. Soon I was going to be a page three girl. In the meantime, though, I went to work back at the same old strip club.

One night, not long afterwards, I got home from work and my boyfriend – who was older and normally placid – was in an extremely agitated state. He told me: Some asshole phoned up and wanted to talk to you about your tits so I told him to Fuck Off.

I had to calm him down and tell him it was just the guy from the CBC show, and then I got upset because he had wrecked my opportunity to be in Breasts: Volume Two.

Anna Smith, Chicago Virgin

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The Krays’ associate Micky Fawcett has advice on how to stay healthy & fit.

Jason Cook’s movie The Devil’s Dandruff

Jason Cook’s movie – The Devil’s Dandruff

I’ve mentioned before in this blog, author and former criminal Jason Cook’s plans to film his three semi-autobiographical novels. The first in the planned trilogy – The Devil’s Dandruff – is based on his first book There’s No Room For Jugglers in My Circus.

The selling line of the movie is:

ONE LINE IS NEVER ENOUGH
…A THOUSAND IS TOO MANY

I had a chat this week with former Kray Twins associate Micky Fawcett. He has written arguably the definitive insight on life with the Kray Twins – Krayzy Days – but it involves much, much more than the Krays.

“So Jason sent an email asking if I would play a cameo role in his film,” he told me.

“As yourself?” I asked.

“Yeah. He sent me a couple of options – One was I could have a non-speaking part. The other was him and me sitting playing chess and I look up and see Mr Adams…”

“Mr Adams?” I said, surprised.

“That’s the words.”

“That’s not a good idea,” I suggested.

“Mr Adams might be the name of the screw,” said Micky. “I dunno. I look up and say: Looks like the game’s up, Jason.”

“Well,” I said, “it might well be.”

Then we talked about the uncertainty of film financing and other more general financing and how to recover debts.

Micky Fawcett outside the May Fair Hotel in London

Micky Fawcett outside the May Fair Hotel, London, last week

“Well, the first thing you gotta do,” said Micky, “is make sure they’ve got the money. Otherwise you’re banging your head on the wall.”

“So how did you persuade them of the error of their ways within the letter of the law?” I asked.

“Well…” said Micky.

“People will have told you their theories,” I suggested.

“Someone once told me,” said Micky, “that you can soften them up and your solicitor points out to them that they should get a solicitor. Then that other person’s solicitor gives it to your solicitor who passes it on to you. You don’t take the money direct. You would not want to be guilty of demanding money with menaces.”

“But, if you did something naughty and, coincidentally, money was transferred…”

“Well,” said Micky, “it wouldn’t be you who did anything naughty either, would it?”

“It would be an act of God, probably,” I said.

“Exactly.”

Micky is, to be honest, knocking on a bit.

“But you must still be very healthy,” I said to him, “because of all the exercise you did in your boxing days and before.”

“I used to do a lot,” Micky told me. “My exercising is very restricted now but, if I don’t do it, I start fretting. Valentine’s Park in Ilford has got all the equipment in it. I’m a big fan of walking as well.”

“I never owned a car until quite late on,” I said, “and I don’t have one now.”

“I am,” said Micky, “pleased with the fact I was disqualified from driving a few times. I used to just walk everywhere. I have had motor cars and I also like driving but now I don’t drive if I can help it.”

“When I was a student,” I said, “I used to live in a bedsit in Hampstead and sometimes walk down to the college in Regent Street – it was lovely – about 45 minutes walk. Swiss Cottage, Primrose Hill, Regents Park. A nice walk. Now I’m trying to slim. But I put on 5 lbs last week.”

“Walking is good,” agreed Micky.

“How are film plans going for your own Krayzy Days?” I asked.

“That’s another story,” said Micky.

Krayzy Days – remembered as they were

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Plot structure in movies and novels

cropped-pencil2.jpgI was talking to someone about plot structure this morning.

You are right. What do I know?

But that has never stopped me before.

Years ago, I read an excellent description of that awful phrase ‘the story arc’ for a movie. Which was that, at the start, there is an unresolved problem. The climax of the film is the resolution of that problem. And the core of the film is the unravelling or further complication of the problem.

Novels which sell well would, obviously share that basic structure though, with what is called ‘literary fiction’, it can be replaced by an immense amount of waffling around with polysyllabic words not getting anywhere except possibly a Booker Prize nomination.

DieHard_posterThe other thing I have heard which is, I think, valuable is that the best movies set up the central characters and the main plot elements within the first two minutes.

The best example I have ever seen of that is the original Die Hard movie where, under the opening credits, all the main characters and their back stories are set up as well as the unresolved marital problem and the elements for the main action plot.

But, as I say, what do I know?

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A Dada celebration staged by a foolish man + Brian Blessed’s voice & a urinal

Mike Freedman is a New York writer and film maker. Or is he?

“I was born in New York,” he tells me, “but I have lived here in London for 31 years. My parents brought me over as a child.”

He has an American accent but was brought up here and, as an adult, has lived in London. So what is the reality? What is reality?

Mike Freedman in Soho - London not New York

Mike Freedman in Soho, London not New York

Mike Freedman is very serious.

“I love film,” he tells me, “because it is the only art form that is all the other art forms. It IS drama, theatre; it can also be dance, painting, music, rhythm. All artistic expression can be found in films – if they are good – to an extent that is simply not possible in the other media.”

He made an award-winning feature-length documentary titled Critical Mass, the blurb for which says:

With the planet bursting at the seams, the intelligence and physiological traits that make us human are now crucial to mankind’s survival. This intelligent film interweaves a fascinating 1960s rat experiment with a slick snapshot of today’s urban jungle.

He wrote a book titled: The Revolution Will Be Improvised: Critical Conversations On Our Changing World.

So Mike Freedman is very serious, yes?

Well, he has played in various bands and was a founding member of the “invisible acoustic comedy minstrels” known as Chicken Tikka Masala: The Band.

“I recently finished making a comedy web series,” he tells me, “called The Incidentals, which we will be putting out near the end of the year. It’s about a group of musicians who are hired to write music for a sitcom and it’s done as a behind-the-scenes documentary.”

A week today – next Thursday – Mike is organising LonDADA at the Cinema Museum in Elephant & Castle.

“No-one nowadays,” I suggested to him, “knows what Dadaism is, do they?”

“I think that’s the point, isn’t it?” he replied.

“What?” I said. “That it isn’t?”

Mike replied: “I think it was Tristran Tzara who said that there’s nothing more Dada than being anti-Dada. It is the formlessness that appeals to me.”

“So LonDADA is celebrating 100 years of Dada?” I asked.

Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich, in 1916

An early Dada event at the Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich, in 1916

“Well, June 23rd 1916 was the date that Hugo Ball performed his Karawane at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich for the first time and that was the birth of Dada poetry. The Cabaret Voltaire had existed since February and had had a couple of salons but they hadn’t really had their own work.”

“1916,” I said, “is right in the middle of the First World War.”

“Well,” said Mike, “Dada was, in part, a response to the First World War. The mainstream understanding of it is that the horror of the First World War and that wholesale slaughter and the bourgeois industrial capitalist mindset that had created the conditions that made this sort of madness possible was what they were rebelling against. Class structure, monarchy, commercialism, consumerism, industrialism. Dadaism was really a rejection of what came to be regarded as 20th century civilisation. Except they rebelled early.”

“Urinals,” I said. “That’s all people know about Dadaism.”

Marcel Duchamp’s original ‘fountain’ by R.Mutt in 1917

Marcel Duchamp’s original ‘fountain’ by R.Mutt in 1917

“You are referring,” said Mike, “to Marcel Duchamp who was offered the opportunity to submit an artwork, so he went to a plumbing supply store and purchased a urinal and signed it R.Mutt, dated 1917.”

“Why R. Mutt?” I asked.

“That was the name of the plumbing supplier.”

“That would make sense,” I said.

“He submitted it as a fountain,” explained Mike. “It is what is now called ‘found art’, but was called ‘readymade art’ at the time.”

“So,” I said, “reality in 1916/1917 was so shit that people went to the opposite extreme – the surreal?”

“Well,” said Mike, “Surrealism came later. It was effectively what killed-off Dadaism.”

“So what’s the difference between Surrealism and Dadaism?” I asked.

“To my understanding,” said Mike, “the distinction is that Surrealism sought to speak to or to touch the human by dealing with the language of the sub-conscious and the language of dreams. Surrealism deals with a different language that is only bizarre if one is looking at it in terms of waking life. If you look at Dali paintings as expressions of a dream landscape, they’re not strange at all. Surrealism is very much the idea that, in order for art to touch the heart, you have to bypass the conscious mind. Dadaism was several things that Surrealism never was.

“Dada was political from the outset, certainly in Berlin. Dada was born in Zurich at the Cabaret Voltaire. It spread to Berlin and to New York. There were brief flutters of it in other places. It became less political in Zurich and New York. The Berlin gang were very political. New York Dada was more interested in the bizarreness of this deconstructionism philosophy. The French obviously got in on the act when René Clair made Entr’acte with Erik Satie – a very famous Dada film. Also Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera was considered a Dadaist film because it was intentionally nonsensical to what the structure of what film was at that time.

Mike Freedman with Duchamp’s urinal, not taking the piss

Mike Freedman – he is not taking the piss

“What interested Dada was shocking the observer in order to create a response that was not anchored in the mind. In that sense, it shares an intention with Surrealism, but it absolutely does not share a visual or artistic language.”

“I see,” I said. “A urinal is not surreal.”

“Absolutely not,” agreed Mike. “The famous example of how to Dada was to just take a newspaper and cut it up and re-order the letters and see what you come to.”

“Like William Burroughs later,” I said.

“Well, about 40 years later,” said Mike. “If you have any inclination towards Punk Rock or the so-called Underground in music and film – the idea of just making things happen for yourself and re-purposing what is around you, of re-interpreting reality by tearing it apart and re-building it – that aesthetic idea has its roots in Dada.

“If you have something that’s a little more Arthouse in that it’s about confounding the intellectual mind by presenting it with imagery or sounds that simply does not speak the language of the everyday life, that is more Surrealism.

Mike Freedman’s definition of himself...

Mike Freedman’s definition of himself in three words…

“Dada was very strongly anti-Establishment, deconstructionist and anti-itself. Its view was that it couldn’t be anything or it would be no longer the thing that it was meant to be. So you got announcements that DADA IS NOT DADA.”

“Why is it called Dada?” I asked.

“No-one knows for certain. One belief is that they chose the word because ‘Dada’ is the first word of almost any child in any language. I find that a bit spurious.”

“Isn’t ‘Papa’ more common than ‘Dada’?” I asked.

“You are assuming they mean ‘Dad’.” said Mike. “They just meant the sound. The idea was to move art away from established forms and disciplines  back to its most protean state where it literally could be anything and rejecting the encroachment of commercial society by intentionally making things that under no circumstances were saleable. Which, of course, is ironic, because now a replica of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘fountain’ is on display in the Tate Modern.

Hugo Ball performing at Cabaret Voltaire in 1916

Hugo Ball performs at Cabaret Voltaire, 1916

“At that time, getting up on stage, wrapped in cardboard and expounding in a fully-made-up language that was, on purpose, totally nonsensical – and taking it seriously… was… Well, they were very much invested in this idea that what they were doing was important. It was not just Let’s fuck around and see what happens because no-one’s done this before, which is what a lot of people tend to do today.

“What produced Dada in 1916 was a perfect storm of social tension and dissolution and disillusion. There was a beautiful synergy between artistic and political radicalism. Today, we no longer seem to have that visible thread of artistic radicalism.

“So, on June 23rd – European Referendum day – the exact 100th anniversary of Hugo Ball’s first performance of Karawane at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich – we are putting on LonDADA at the Cinema Museum – the closest thing that I can muster to a recreation of a Dadaist salon. We are having live performance, theatre, poetry, music, film, art, clowning, short films, a 1968 documentary about Dada which has never been shown before in the UK and we are screening Hans Richter’s Dada film Ghosts Before Breakfast from 1928 on 35mm.

“When the Nazis came to power, they destroyed a lot of film as ‘degenerate art’ – including all known copies of Ghosts Before Breakfast which had the soundtrack. No-one knows what the soundtrack was. So I got Austrian composer Vinzenz Stergin to compose a brand new score which he will perform live.

“From 1.00pm on the day, a screening room will be open showing a looped programme of short films (about 90 minutes in all) by Helmut Herbst, Australian Dadaist Bob Georgeson, American Francis Thompson and John Smith, the award-winning British video artist and a few others. That loop will run all the way through.

12823246_566985420127358_2975024586101518057_o

“At 6.30pm, the main event starts and goes on until 11.00pm. In the first half of it, we will mainly have live performance and a screening of Ghosts Before Breakfast with live musical accompaniment. Then there will be a theatrical performance and a screening of Germany-DADA: An Alphabet of German DADAism, which runs for about an hour. Before that, there will be a short video introduction from the director, Helmut Herbst. We will also show a very special animated film by Chris Lincé of Karawane voiced by Brian Blessed – he recorded it specifically for the festival.”

“Good grief!” I said. “I’ll go along just for Brian Blessed’s voice.”

“There are also a few ‘Easter eggs’,” said Mike, “a few surprises we are going to throw in. Tony Green as Sir Gideon Vein and a lot more. And live music.”

“Who is going to go to this?” I asked. “Students of Dada?”

“Basically, we have a 120-capacity and I need to sell it out to break even.”

“So you are a foolish man?”

“Yes. A very foolish man. I am banking on the desire of Londoners to experience an evening of out-of-the-box entertainment.”

“Banking might not be the right word,” I suggested.

“Perhaps ‘praying with white knuckles’ would be better,” agreed Mike. “Praying that the population of London comprises at least 120 people interested in the bizarre and the avant-garde.”

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BREAK A LEG! (a showbiz suggestion taken too far) – Matt Roper in New York

I’ll Say She Is

Bleary-eyed but still smiling Matt Roper, early this morning

Bleary-eyed but still smiling Matt Roper, early this morning

This morning, I was supposed to Skype English performer Matt Roper in New York at 0630 UK time (0130 New York time) to talk about the first off-Broadway preview night of I’ll Say She Is, the ‘lost’ Marx Brothers show in which he plays Chico.

Matt was not online at 0630.

At 0641 UK, I got an e-mail – “John! Problems this end! We’re at the theatre. Disaster tonight! – The ‘butler’ in the show fell and we had to dial an ambulance! I’ll be home in an hour (3am)!”

We eventually talked at 08.30 UK / 03.30 New York time.

“You look bleary-eyed,” I said.

“It’s the middle of a heat wave,” Matt told me. It was 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32C) today. It’s nearly four in the morning now and it’s 76 degrees (24C) outside!”

“What happened to the butler?” I asked.

“You’ve seen the Marx Bros films,” said Matt. “The dowager character played by Margaret Dumont has a sort of butler/footman. He broke his leg.”

“Oh, wonderful!” I said with genuine enthusiasm, thinking of the publicity potential.

“Your Satanic grin!” said Matt. “You’re loving this, John, aren’t you?”

“Well,” I admitted. “That old theatrical good-luck wish – Break a leg! – he really did take it too literally – and on the first preview night!”

(Top to bottom; L-R - (Photo by Mark X Hopkins)) Matt Walters as Zeppo, Noah Diamond as Groucho, Matt Roper as Chico, and Seth Sheldon as Harpo

(Top to bottom; L-R – Photo by Mark X Hopkins)
Matt Walters as Zeppo, Noah Diamond as Groucho, Matt Roper as Chico, and Seth Sheldon as Harpo

“I think,” said Matt, “it was when he was going off stage, coming down a step. Something like that. He slipped. It’s a big loss, because a lot of his sequences are with Harpo, because Harpo is the one who is stealing all the family silverware. We have a good understudy, but we’re going to miss this guy because his comic timing is brilliant.”

“How long will it take to mend?” I asked.

“I don’t know. The ambulance came and he was whisked away. He might be able to perform on opening night at the Connelly Theater on Thursday on crutches: we might be able to work that into the show.”

“So what,” I asked, “other than people breaking their legs, has been the most difficult thing for you?”

“Learning to play the piano for the last eight weeks. Chico had such a particular style of playing.”

“All the funny hand movements,” I agreed. “Could you play the piano ‘normally’ before?”

“A little bit. Obviously, for my Wilfredo act, I sing and write music but, when the Chico’s hands start going, that’s something completely different. If you hit the wrong key on a piano, it’s invasive, right? But it went fine tonight.”

Les Dawson: comedian & piano player extraordinary

Les Dawson: comedian & piano player extraordinary

“If you can play the piano to begin with,” I said, “it must be really difficult to play oddly. It must have been really difficult for Les Dawson to play off-key because he could actually play properly.”

“Yes,” agreed Matt (whose father George Roper was one of Granada TV’s legendary 1970s Northern Comedians) “because Les was a very accomplished pianist. I mean, before he became famous, he was making money as a pianist. He spent months in a brothel in Paris playing piano.”

“He did?” I asked.

“Yeah. I mean, Les Dawson had this great ambition to become a poet and a novelist but, back in the 1940s and 1950s, because of his working class background, he felt he couldn’t, so he ended up making a living playing piano in all sorts of places.”

“Anyway,” I said, “back to the Marx Bros.”

I’ll Say She Is website

Premiering on Thursday off-Broadway

“Well I’ll Say She Is,” said Matt, “pre-dates musical theatre as we know it. It pre-dates Show Boat. It’s a revue, really. This is the show that really made the Marx Bros. It got them off the vaudeville circuit. They had been ready to give up. They had had enough by 1923/1924. They had been going for about 15 years and had made a lot of enemies on the vaudeville circuit.”

“So it’s more of a revue than a story?” I asked.

“It has a very loose plot, which may be why it was never made into a film. It’s a series of sketches, really, with a lot of music and the chorus girls and so on. But it does have a plot. The niece of the Margaret Dumont character is a high society girl on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and there is a sequence in the show called Cinderella Backwards. She longs to be poor and in the gutter and experiencing the gritty side of life.”

“How did you,” I asked, “an Englishman, get the part of a New York Jew playing an Italian-American?”

“I was doing a gig at a supper club called Pangea, on the bill with Sabrina Chap, a singer-songwriter, and we just got chatting and she said: I’m musical directing this Marx Bros musical. We have still to cast Zeppo and Chico. So I sent an e-mail to the producers and they said: It’s funny you should write, because we have heard about you through other people. Why don’t you come in and read for us? That’s how. Just circumstance.

“Chico,” I suggested, “is possibly not as interesting as Groucho and Harpo?”

Chico Marx - interestingly naughty man

Chico Marx – interestingly naughty man

“No,” Matt disagreed, “he is very interesting. The story goes that, as a young boy, in this great immigrant city of New York, he used to defend himself from gangs by adopting accents. There were anti-Semitic attacks and so on. If he ran into an Irish gang in the Lower East Side, he would pretend to be Irish. If he ran into a gang of Italians, he would pretend to be Italian. And that was how his Italian persona developed from a young age.

“And he was a compulsive gambler. He lost ALL of his money in crap games and poker. The Marx Bros movie A Night in Casablanca was made specifically so that Chico had some money to live off.

“Somebody once asked him How much money do you think you’ve lost gambling? and his reply was Ask Harpo how much money he has made and that’s how much I’ve lost. If he saw a drop of rain on a pane of glass, he would bet on which direction the drop would run down. He was a naughty, naughty boy.”

“He was called Chico,” I said, “because he was a womaniser?”

“Yes. His wife actually spied on him and caught him with a chorus girl and his response was: I wasn’t kissing her, I was only whispering in her mouth.”

“I had better let you get to sleep,” I told Matt.

I did not say Break a leg.

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The golden age of exotic dancers remembered in a new documentary

The legendary Judith Stein

The legendary Judith Stein in the Golden Age

Two weekends ago, I came down with a very nasty flu.

When I eventually got better, I opened an email from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. She was raving in glowing terms about a documentary she had seen called League of Exotique Dancers.

It was a documentary about burlesque dancers in what is described as ‘the Golden Age’.

“The film,” Anna told me, “includes much never-before-seen footage of exotic dancers (much of it from a private collection of over 300 rare early black and white films of exotic dancers), photos from the private collections of the dancers themselves and interviews with the dancers today.

“And Kitten Natividad is in the movie!!!” she added. “She is hilarious! AND Russ Meyer!”

“Ah,” I replied. “The beloved Russ…”

“Russ, Russ…” agreed Anna. “Very funny indeed. He is wearing a snazzy jacket. Maybe it could inspire David McGillivray to make a jacket film. I wasn’t cultured enough to appreciate Russ Meyer movies when I was young. I preferred porn films with exotic locales and bad translations.”

Anna is not someone without knowledge of the world of exotic dancing. She told me:

“When Beneath The Valley of The Ultravixens (starring Kitten) was released, I was dancing at The Metro Cinema in Toronto. We did shows between the films. It was a vast, echoey, run-down place, but the owner was a nice foreign man who paid us really well.

“He hired me to do voice recordings on the answering machine to announce the coming attractions. I would make up exciting announcements: Chesty Morgan has just arrived from New York and will be here until Friday, four shows a day, starting at noon! Next week, Nurse Annie is flying in from Argentina to attend to your needs….

Anna as her alter ego ‘Nurse Annie'

Anna’s alter ego ‘Nurse Annie’ caused problems

“That one didn’t work out so well because a reporter from the local Spanish paper showed up wanting to interview Nurse Annie (who was me).

“The cashier was an old lady who was practically blind and often she would accidentally let small groups of twelve year old boys into the cinema. I would get out on stage and the twelve year olds would be sitting in the front row like idiots and I would storm off the stage and call the projectionist on the intercom to get them out of there.

“The League of Exotique Dancers also depicts how the dancers coped with the dramatic industry changes over the years, the hardships they overcame and then how they reacted when they were asked to return to the stage… after absences of thirty years!

“It also showed how we used to dance to live bands. And there were comedians too ! And funny strippers…

Camille in 2000 from the League of Exotique Dancers

Camille 2000 from the League of Exotique Dancers

“I was laughing through most of the movie, and crying… The film was BRILLIANT… Plus I was at a writers’ workshop for hookers all afternoon…There were eleven of us…

“On opening night in Vancouver, 66 year old Judith Stein performed a comic striptease before the movie started…

“After seeing the film (and making myself known to all in the following Q&A session) I went out with a group of directors and editors including Exotique‘s amazingly intelligent (some might say wily) young female director Rama Rau,  producer Ed Barreveld and Judith Stein.

Judith Stein (left) with Anna Smith at the documentary's Vancouver premiere

Judith Stein (left) with Anna Smith at the documentary’s Vancouver premiere

“When I asked Judith how to get into The Burlesque Hall of Fame show in Las Vegas, she asked me how old I was. I told her my age and she said: “You’re too young. You’re not allowed in until you’re sixty.“

“Don’t quote me on this, unless you can’t help it, but I have never seen a contemporary burlesque stripper move as well as the older ex-professional ones, (such as myself haha). One of the dancers in the movie noted that although she admires the efforts of contemporary burlesque dancers the fact is that, for most of them it is a hobby rather than a profession. She also admired the working strippers of today, lap dancers and pole dancers who make a lot of money and see glamorous, travel, etc. She said they work really hard for it though..

“When I see contemporary burlesque I find it usually looks a bit too contrived. Obviously, when we did the shows six and seven days a week for years on end, that experience became part of our stage presence and we became good at adapting and improvising according to the club and audience.

Anna Smith lives a quiet life near Vancouver

Anna Smith lives quietly in Canada

“Since I didn’t know anyone, but had been kindly invited along by Ed and Judith, I didn’t speak much, but sat there fascinated, listening to their astonishing and articulate discussion about film making,

Editors are fuckers…they have to be… etc.

“Somehow, toward the end of the night, I found myself hearing two men (I have no idea who they were) talking very seriously about Mr Methane.

Mr Methane?” I cried out. “I know Mr Methane!

“The two men looked at me with surprise. One of them was Irish and he said in disbelief:

You know Mr. Methane?

Well,” I said. “I mean I know who he IS… We appear in the same blog, sometimes even on the same page… Sometimes it is a bit embarrassing.

Mr Methane

Mr Methane – not a known exotic dancer

“I asked the Irishman who had shown an interest: “How do you know Mr Methane?

Oh,” he told me, a bit exhaustedly, “I have been trying to make a film about him for years… about eight years… What blog?

John Fleming’s blog,” I said.

“The man scrambled for a pen. After all, he was Irish.

Just look for TheJohnFleming,” I said.

Is he on Facebook?

He is on Facebook. He is on Twitter. He is on everything.

“I promise to Skype you when I get a phone again. I keep hoping my old (lost) phone will appear and been trying to revive several old ones without success.

“My sister on Vancouver Island has a WordPress blog about dolls… “

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