Category Archives: Movies

Which gangster films do gangsters like?

Reggie Kray, Micky Fawcett, singer Lita Roza, Ronnie Kray, actress Barbara Windsor & actor Ronald Fraser in the 1960s

In a blog a couple of weeks ago, I was saying the word ‘gangster’ is a strange word but, if it has to be used, then Micky Fawcett, a close associate of the Kray Twins, probably counts as one.

A former one. He wrote the highly-admired memoir Krayzy Days.

I got talking to him about movies.


JOHN: You told me that people in the business like The Godfather: Part II. That surprised me.

MICKY: Did it?

JOHN: It’s a lovely film, but I think about two-thirds of it is in Sicilian. I think Paramount considered putting it up for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film.

MICKY: Maybe that’s why people liked it. My favourite ones usually are the French ones – I’m watching one now on television – Spiral – this is the second series – it’s a subtitled French police thing.

JOHN: Oh, like those Scandinavian noir TV series.

MICKY: Not so much the Scandinavian ones; more the French.

JOHN: Why?

MICKY: Realistic. In the last one I saw, there were two policemen on a stake-out who have a fight with each other. You didn’t get that in Dixon of Dock Green. When I was growing up, everyone used to say: Oh! English gangster films! They’re useless! I remember them talking in The Kentucky Club with Joan Littlewood and one of her crew. You go down to get costumes for them films and you get a black shirt and a white tie… but nobody dresses like that! They were in the Kentucky surrounded by genuine gangsters.

JOHN: I think British gangster films got better after Get Carter. That and The Long Good Friday were good.

MICKY: They didn’t do much for me. There was Villain with Richard Burton…

JOHN: That was based on the Krays, wasn’t it?

MICKY: Richard Burton thought he was playing Ronnie Kray, yeah.

JOHN: Why was that good?

MICKY: I never said it was.

JOHN: It just felt to me like watching Richard Burton playing a part. I never really believed in it. I believed Donnie Brasco.

MICKY:  Yes, that was very good. But it was too good for the ordinary person.

JOHN: Why?

MICKY: Well, people like to see more shooting and violence and all that type of thing if they’re gonna watch a gangster film. But Donnie Brasco was very, very realistic. The scenes with Al Pacino in the house. A really, really good film.

JOHN: I don’t know if it’s true, but there was a distinction made in it that, if you introduced someone as “a friend of mine” he was a friend of yours but, if you introduced someone as “a friend of ours” he was a made man in the Cosa Nostra.

MICKY: That worked. It used to. They’re gone now: the Mafia. It’s the Russians now.

JOHN: I think maybe it helped it was made by an English director – Mike Newell, who did Four Weddings and a Funeral – he could see things objectively.

MICKY: Goodfellas I liked – That beginning and the cigarette as a currency.

JOHN: I don’t really like Martin Scorsese – in Mean Streets they really did just mutter.

MICKY: I thought that was a good film.

JOHN: The Departed was OK and I liked Casino. I think a lot of that is based on reality. The head-in-the-vice scene where the eye pops out.

MICKY: The line I remember in Casino is when the old-timers are talking and the boss says “Look, why take a chance?” So they shot him.


(EXTRACT FROM THE CASINO SCRIPT)

The BOSSES are gathered around a conference table as the 

lawyers and nurses silently walk out the door as if on cue.

                      NICKY (V.O.)

          See, when something like this happens, 

          you know how things are gonna work out.

          It’s always better with no witnesses. 

          So, what about Andy?

THE CAMERA PANS FROM ONE BOSS TO THE OTHER.

                      FORLANO

               (Putting down his 

               oxygen mask once the 

               door behind him is 

               shut)

          He won’t talk. Stone is a good kid. 

          Stand-up guy, just like his old man. 

          That’s the way I see it.

                      BORELLI

          I agree. He’s solid. A fuckin’ Marine.

                      CAPELLI

               (Holding his oxygen mask) 

          He’s okay. He always was.

          Remo, what do you think?

                      GAGGI

               (Pause)

          Look… why take a chance? At least, 

          that’s the way I feel about it.


JOHN: And I think that was based on a real incident too. Any British equivalent to that?

MICKY: No. No. The trouble is, for me… If you was a professional footballer, you wouldn’t really want to watch films about professional football too much, because you’d be criticising them all day long. When you’re surrounded by it, as I was for years…

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Corduroy LPs, a gay film & the luvvie… Who? – We dare not speak his name…

The energetic and saintly David McGillivray.

Cough, cough. I have a cough. I am now on antibiotics.

But, earlier in the week, I went to yet another launch by film producer, critic and cult movie aficionado David McGillivray.

Last week, he was launching a twice-the-original-length re-publication of his book Doing Rude Things – The History of the British Sex Film.

I blogged about it.

This week, he was back in the same upstairs rooms of a North Soho/Fitzrovia pub in London, launching the soundtrack of his controversial gay porn film Trouser Bar –  “It’s the sexy package you’ll want to fondle. A green vinyl LP lovingly wrapped in haute couture corduroy complete with lavishly illustrated insert, Paisley hankie, badge and (director) Peter de Rome‘s visiting card.”

I blogged about the film in October 2015, when it was being touted as hard-core, and in March 2016 when it was not – just well-promoted – and was first screened.

Among those appearing in cameos in Trouser Bar are Julian Clary, Barry Cryer and Nigel Havers.

This week, as last week, David McGillivray gave a speech to the assembled, definitively eclectic, audience. He said:


Composer Stephen Thrower (left) with David McGillivray and the corduroyed soundtrack LPs. (Photograph by Alex Main)

My only purpose in being here is to lament the fact that two people who should be here can’t be here.

One is the alleged writer of the screenplay.

(LOUD LAUGHTER FROM THE AUDIENCE) 

I appreciate that response. Obviously, there’s probably nobody in this room who doesn’t know who I am referring to, but I still can’t say his name. Isn’t that marvellous?

The other person is the man for whom the alleged writer wrote the screenplay – the great erotic pioneer Peter de Rome.

How both these men would have loved both Trouser Bar and Stephen Thrower’s musical score!

Over the past year, it has been my enormous pleasure to tell the story of this collaboration throughout the world. Next week, I will be telling the story yet again in Buenos Aires – How exciting is that?

The story starts a long time ago, in 1976, when the alleged writer of the screenplay was appearing in a play on Broadway in New York. The alleged writer was a huge fan of pornography and he wrote in a letter to his friend that, while on tour with the play, he had seen in Washington the film in which Linda Lovelace was fucked by a dog. Those are his actual words.

Now, he did not say whether he liked that film but he did say, in a letter which I’ve seen, how much he admired the work of Peter De Rome.

And that is why, one day in his hotel in New York, the alleged writer wrote the screenplay of Trouser Bar. And that is his title, as well.

(Left-Right) David McGillivray, Ethan Reid and Peter de Rome

I worked on three films with Peter De Rome.

During the production of the first, he presented me with this screenplay which had been written for him in 1976. It was still in the envelope from the hotel.

Astounded is not a strong-enough word as far as I am concerned.

For the rest of Peter’s life, I tried to get him out of retirement to make this film. But, alas, he was absolutely adamant. He was fed-up with filming. He found it tiresome.

I failed.

So, when Peter died in 2014, there was nothing else for it – I had to make it for him.

I honestly assumed that, when I contacted the John Gielgud Charitable Trust – and, due to the vagaries of English law, I CAN refer to that organisation – I honestly thought they would be delighted that we were making a film based on the only known screenplay written by the alleged writer.

David McGillivray & Nigel Havers at the Trouser Bar location.

How wrong I was!

They were furious and litigation proceeded over a period of three years.

When they found out that we were due to start production – now, this is something I have never ever told the people involved in the production of the film until tonight – they threatened to sue me AND everybody involved.

Well, it was like a red rag to a bull. 

We went into production the following week.

I assumed that the film would never be released and I was quite happy to leave it on a shelf until every member of the Trust was dead. But the reason we are here tonight is because of two very important people, one of whom IS here.

Brian Robinson of the BFI during the shoot.

He is Brian Robinson of the British Film Institute who suggested that we could release the film without a screenplay credit.

The other person is my indefatigable solicitor, who isn’t here.

That is the reason the film premiered at the BFI, Southbank.

After the premiere, more than one person came to me and said: You must release the music on an LP, preferably corduroy-clad.

I said: It’s not going to happen, because how can it?

Well, I reckoned without the composer Stephen Thrower.

Because of his skill and determination, here is the record.


You can currently hear samples from the soundtrack online.

David McGillivray is, as ever, energetically promoting it…

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Why would you re-issue a 25 year old book about dodgy soft-core porn films?

David McGillivray first turned up in this blog in 2013 feted for his highly-admired work on cult sex films, horror movies and scripts for Julian Clary pantos etc.

At the time, he said: “My films are not art. They’re just product designed to give people a bit of a thrill in whatever way is possible.”

He turned up here again in 2016, talking about his gay porn film Trouser Bar, which featured cameos by Julian Clary, Barry Cryer, Nigel Havers et al in a script that was definitely not written by Sir John Gielgud. Oh no. Not at all. Wipe the very hint of that idea from your soiled mind.

David McGillivray talks to the throng (Photo: Yak El Droubie)

Now he is back here again, in two crowded-to-overflowing upstairs rooms of a pub in NoHo or Fitzrovia or whatever you want to call it in London…

…launching a reprint and update – the new edition is twice the length of the original – of Doing Rude Things – The History of the British Sex Film, his book on dodgy and, frankly, not always 100% well-made soft-core porn films.

Why?

Well, this is what he explained to the assembled throng of well-dressed and (mostly) respectable-looking fans of dodgy British soft-core sex films in the room above the pub:


Doing Rude Things could define David’s career

When I was about 10 or 11, I found my father’s ‘glamour magazines’ in the bottom of his wardrobe.

When I say ‘glamour magazines’ you all know what they were – and they were called ‘art studies’ in those days. I was intrigued by them.

I thought: I’m obviously not meant to see these. He obviously hid them so that I wouldn’t. And so I became intrigued.

I reckon that discovery dictated the rest of my life and certainly my career.

Who could have thought that, in 1992, Pamela Green who, of course, featured prominently in all the magazines, would write the foreword to my book Doing Rude Things?

Pamela Green in Peeping Tom, the now critically-lauded film which destroyed director Michael Powell’s career in the UK

And then, another 25 years on, here we are in the Blue Posts pub, just a stone’s throw from Newman Passage, the main (opening) location of Peeping Tom which, of course, Pam starred in.

When the book first came out in 1992, I think most of the films I talked about had been forgotten. And I also think that the reason today we know films with titles like Secrets of a Door-to-Door Salesman and The Ups and Downs of a Handyman is basically because of me.

This might not really be the case!

But please humour me – I’m 70 years old and I deserve it!

The films had been forgotten but subsequently, after the book went out of print, they were kind of re-discovered and suddenly there was a film of the book and the films turned up on television for the first time, were issued on video for the first time – and I like to take credit for that.

The 1992 edition of Doing Rude Things

By the time the book had come out in 1992, I had already been working in soft porn for about 20 years – I had written porn films and I had written a lot of reviews of the films, because nobody else wanted to see these films.

As a result, I wrote a series of articles for a magazine called Cinema, which became the basis of the book Doing Rude Things.

After that went out of print, several people came to me and said: Why don’t you re-issue it? And I said No to basically everyone.

My feeling was that I couldn’t think of an audience for a re-print of the same book.

But, 25 years down the line, a publisher came to me with a new proposal for an updated edition and, by that time, life had changed.

Back in 1992, the internet DID exist, but nobody was using it.

By 2016, when I started working on this book, there was an entire community online – young and old – all sharing notes about these TERRIBLE films. Suddenly, there was a new audience for this genre.

So that is why the book has come out again.


There is a video online of David talking about his film Trouser Bar

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A glimpse at the history of the casting couch before/during the Weinstein era

Harvey Weinstein at Cannes Film Festival (Photo, Rita Molnár)

With Harvey Weinstein in the news, I thought this was quite interesting.

The currently-posted Wikipedia entry on CASTING COUCH has these under the heading ALLEGATIONS. I have edited out the more generalised bits.

I can, of course, not confirm the truth of any.


EUROPE

• In 1930s Nazi Germany, Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels allegedly ran a casting-couch operation and aided the careers of actresses such as Jenny Jugo and Irene von Meyendorff. In her memoirs, Swedish actress Zarah Leander described the “sleazy seduction scene” Goebbels arranged for her at his villa.

• In 1956, British fan magazine Picturegoer published a four-part casting-couch exposé entitled “The Perils of Show Business” featuring interviews with actresses such as Joy Webster, Dorinda Stevens, Anne Heywood and Marigold Russell.

• On an episode of The Word in 1994, English actress Kate O’Mara claimed American producer Judd Bernard pulled down her panties during a hotel-room audition for the Elvis Presley vehicle Double Trouble (1967). In her autobiography Vamp Until Ready: A Life Laid Bare (2003), O’Mara described this alleged casting couch incident (p. 61) and “many other close encounters with… this very unpleasant and humiliating procedure” (p. 32), including a well-known television casting director (pp. 32–33), the boss of Associated Television at Elstree Studios (pp. 34–35) and the director of Great Catherine (pp. 41–42).

• In 1998, writer-director Bruce Robinson described how as a 20-year-old young actor he was given a role in Romeo and Juliet (1968) after Franco Zeffirelli went down on him in Rome.

• In 2002, actress Lesley-Anne Down (b. 1954) spoke of finding fame in the late 1960s: “The casting couch was in full swing, people expected it… My teen-age years were pretty intense, a lot of pressure and a lot of horrible old men out there”. In a 1977 interview, she had also said: “I was promised lots of lovely big film parts by American producers if I went to bed with them… Believe me, the casting couch is no myth”. In 2015, Down discussed her experiences of sexual harassment in the 1970s by an unnamed legendary Hollywood actor and also by producer Sam Spiegel, saying that she had never really enjoyed her acting career: “Partly that was because of all the lecherous men, studio executives, producers and directors. There was so much running away and hiding under tables. Anyway, I started when I was ten and I’ve been doing it for 50 years.”

• In 2005, French film director Jean-Claude Brisseau was found guilty of sexually harassing two actresses between 1999 and 2001 during auditions for Choses Secrètes (2002).

• In 2008, actress Ingrid Pitt described the unwelcome advances of two producers in hotels.

• In August 2012, actress Julie Delpy spoke out about casting-couch paedophiles in France in the 1980s.

• In October 2012, filmmaker Ben Fellows published claims that the casting couch was rife in the worlds of British television, theatre and advertising when he worked as a child actor and model in the 1980s. He claimed “the problem is both institutional and systemic in the entertainment industry.”

• In 2013, Myleene Klass stated that, “I don’t think there’s a single person in the entertainment industry that hasn’t, at some point, experienced the casting couch thing”. Earlier, in 2010, she revealed a major Hollywood star (named in 2017 as Harvey Weinstein) wanted to sign a sex contract with her.

• In 2013, Thandie Newton told CNN of how, aged 18, she was auditioned by a male director and a female casting director. “The director asked me to sit with my legs apart – the camera was positioned where it could see up my skirt – to put my leg over the arm of the chair and before I started my dialogue, [I was told] to think about the character I was supposed to be having the dialogue with and how it felt to be made love to by this person. It turned out the director used to show that video late at night to interested parties at his house – a video of me touching myself with a camera up my skirt.” She declined to name the director.

• In 2014, it was claimed that incarcerated former public relations guru Max Clifford‘s “casting couch” at his Mayfair office was “his daughter’s specially adapted disabled toilet cubicle”.

• In May 2017, actress Barbara Windsor claimed that in the 1950s an influential former actor ran his hands all over her after promising her a film role.

UNITED STATES

• In her memoir Past Imperfect: An Autobiography (1978), actress Joan Collins described her experience of the casting-couch behaviour of two 20th Century Fox execs in the 1950s.

• Since 1988, Theresa Russell has alleged in multiple interviews that she was propositioned by legendary producer Sam Spiegel during her first casting session for The Last Tycoon. According to his biographer, Spiegel had previously made liberal use of the casting couch during the making of The Chase (1966).

• In her memoir Child Star (1988), actress Shirley Temple claimed that one producer exposed himself to her in 1940 when she was 12.

• In 2003, Italian actress Asia Argento stated that Hollywood producers expect oral sex from young starlets in exchange for roles. Her semi-autobiographical film Scarlet Diva (2000) features a scene along these lines with painter Joe Coleman playing a lecherous producer inspired, as revealed in October 2017, by Argento’s alleged experience with Harvey Weinstein.

• Robert Hofler’s book The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson (2005) alleged that Hollywood agent Henry Willson was a gay casting-couch predator.

• In her 2005 autobiography, actress Goldie Hawn stated that cartoonist Al Capp sexually propositioned her on a casting couch and exposed himself to her when she was nineteen years old. When she refused his advances, Capp became angry and told her that she was “never gonna make anything in your life” and that she should “go and marry a Jewish dentist. You’ll never get anywhere in this business.”

• In her autobiography Ich habe ja gewusst, dass ich fliegen kann (2006), Austrian actress Senta Berger (b. 1941) claimed that in a New York hotel suite in 1965 a producer (b. 1902) exposed himself to her beneath his silk dressing gown and offered to forgive her for the atrocities of the Nazis if she slept with him.

• In 2006, a New York City producer was accused of sexually harassing several members of the cast of the off-Broadway play Dog Sees God.

• In 2007, an article in Vanity Fair denounced former manager of boy bands the Backstreet Boys and ‘N Sync, Lou Pearlman (who was arrested for financial related crimes such as money laundering) for improper casting couch-behavior.

• In 2009, Hollywood composer Joseph Brooks was arrested on charges of raping or sexually assaulting eleven women between 2005 and 2008, allegedly having lured them to his apartment to audition for movie roles. Brooks committed suicide in 2011 before the case came to trial.

• In a 2009 interview with OK! Magazine, actress Charlize Theron claimed that when she was 18 she was propositioned at an audition by a pajama-clad Hollywood director. “I thought it was a little odd that the audition was on a Saturday night at his house in Los Angeles, but I thought maybe that was normal.”

• In a 2010 interview with Elle magazine, Gwyneth Paltrow revealed that early in her career a film executive suggested that a business meeting should finish “in the bedroom”.

• In April 2010, actor Ryan Phillippe admitted on the Howard Stern Show that he had had to flee a “creepy” casting-couch session when he was 18 or 19.

• In a 2010 interview with Access Hollywood, actress Lisa Rinna said a producer had asked her for “a quickie” when she was a 24-year-old candidate for a role on a prominent television series. At the same interview, Rinna’s husband Harry Hamlin claimed that a female casting director attempted to seduce him in the late 1970s when he was 27.

• In 2011, Corey Feldman alleged that children were also victims of the casting couch. Paul Petersen said that some of the culprits are “still in the game” and Alison Arngrim claimed that Feldman and Corey Haim were given drugs and “passed around” in the 1980s.

• In the November 2012 issue of Elle, Susan Sarandon spoke of a “really disgusting” casting-couch experience in New York City in the late 1960s or early 1970s. “I just went into a room and a guy practically threw me on the desk. It was my early days in New York and it was really disgusting. It wasn’t like I gave it a second thought. It was so badly done.”

• Amy Berg‘s documentary An Open Secret (2014) followed the stories of five former child actors whose lives were turned upside down by multiple predators, including the convicted sex offenders Marc Collins-Rector, Brian Peck, Marty Weiss and Bob Villard.

• In July 2016, television executive Roger Ailes was accused of sexual harassment by former Fox News Channel anchor Gretchen Carlson. More than twenty other women, including Megyn Kelly and Andrea Tantaros, have since come forward with similar allegations about Ailes’ predatory casting couch-like behavior in the television industry over a 50-year period.

• In October 2016, Cher posted on Twitter that she had had a “scary experience” with an unnamed and now deceased “gross” rich, important film producer at his house. She stated that she walked out and they never spoke again because “no job is worth that”.

• Also in October 2016, Rose McGowan tweeted that she had been raped by a studio head who then bought the distribution rights to one of her films. She was then shamed while her rapist was adulated despite the rape being an open secret in Hollywood. A year later, the studio head McGowan accused was revealed to have been Harvey Weinstein.

• On 1 November 2016, defence lawyers for Bill Cosby, who has been accused of sexual assault by over 60 women, wrote that, “Even if proven (and it could not be), the age-old ‘casting couch’ is not unique to Mr. Cosby, and thus not a ‘signature’ nor a basis for the admissibility of these witnesses’ stories, let alone a conviction.”

• In March 2017, actress Jane Fonda claimed: “I’ve been fired because I wouldn’t sleep with my boss”.

• In June 2017, Alison Brie claimed she was asked to take her top off during an Entourage audition and Emmy Rossum alleged she was asked to visit a film director’s office in a bikini.

• In July 2017, actress Zoe Kazan stated: “I had a producer ask me on set once if I spat or swallowed”.

• On 5 October 2017, a New York Times article accused Oscar-winning film producer and mogul Harvey Weinstein of three decades of sexual harassment of and paying off settlements to actresses Ashley Judd (in 1996) and Rose McGowan (in 1997), Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez (in 2015) and several named and unnamed female Miramax and Weinstein Company production assistants, temps and other employees. Weinstein promptly issued an apology for his past behavior and denied some of the allegations before being fired by the board of his own company. Shortly thereafter, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Judith Godrèche, Heather GrahamCara DelevingneLéa Seydoux, Kate Beckinsale and many others spoke out about their experiences of being sexually harassed by Weinstein.

• In the immediate aftermath of the Weinstein scandal in October 2017, actor Terry Crews tweeted that a “high-level Hollywood executive” had groped his genitals at an industry event in 2016, actor Rob Schneider spoke of a “gross” hotel-room encounter before he was famous with a famous, now-deceased director and actor James Van Der Beek tweeted about sexual harassment by “older, powerful men” in Hollywood.

 

 

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The link between ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair & gangsters The Kray Twins

(L-R) Coronation Street actress Pat Phoenix, Tony Blair, Cherie Blair (née Booth), Tony Booth, 1983

In the 1960s: Labour MP and Soviet agent Tom Driberg (left) with Conservative Lord Bob Boothby, a chum of Ronnie Kray.

I always think Six Degrees of Separation is overstating the case.

It is usually less. And the overlap of politics, showbiz and crime is pretty much a given constant.

Three days ago, actor Tony Booth (of Till Death Us Do Part, Coronation Street, the Confessions comedy films et al) died.

He married Pat Phoenix (of Coronation Street). His daughter – Cherie Booth – married politician Tony Blair. (of Iraq War Two). His brother was the actor James Booth (of Zulu etc).

Coincidentally, two days before Tony Booth died, I was having a chat with former Kray Twins associate Micky Fawcett and the Stratford East Theatre Workshop cropped up in conversation.

Joan Littlewood outside the Theatre Royal, Stratford East

This was a hotbed of new working class talent run by alas now half-forgotten Joan Littlewood in the 1950s and 1960s.

Her base – the Theatre Royal, Stratford (in London’s East End) – was/is a hop, a spit and a left hook away from the Krays’ family home in Vallance Road in Bethnal Green. So, of course, everyone knew everyone else. East End working class culture and all that.

The Kray Twins owned the Kentucky club in nearby Mile End Road.

A lot of the Joan Littlewood acting talent appear in the movie Sparrows Can’t Sing which she directed. It starred her protegés James Booth and Barbara Windsor and, apparently in a small cameo towards the end, the Kray Twins even turn up in it.

James Booth at the Kray Twins’ club in Sparrows Can’t Sing

“Joan Littlewood was always in The Kentucky,” Micky Fawcett told me. “Her, Barbara Windsor, Victor Spinetti, James Booth, George Sewell – George Sewell’s dad was a famous character.

“She said to me once: I’d love to make a film about the two boys and I’d have him – James Booth – play them. But she never made it, of course.”

According to Micky, both Joan Littlewood and the Twins hated the biographical film The Krays, eventually made in 1990.

In his book Krayzy Days, Micky writes of the Twins:

‘They loved having the celebrities around and were thrilled to be invited to the premiere of Sparrows Can’t Sing at the ABC, a cinema which stood opposite The Kentucky. I usually blanked all of those showbiz events. They were a real bore. Whenever the stars were around, the conversation would always have to be about the Twins. That was all any of them were interested in. Ronnie and Reggie were happy to play along. That night, they were done up in dinner suits, standing out from everyone else with their bow ties. A friend of mine whispered to me: I can’t wait to see if one of them stars thinks Ronnie’s a waiter and asks him to get a drink.

The premiere of Sparrows Can’t Sing, with Barbara Windsor (an ex-girlfriend of Charlie Kray) accompanied by future husband, armed robber Ronnie Knight.

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The Edinburgh Fringe, Indonesian film, children’s book and crime quadrilogy…

Dyslexic but hectic writer: the four Cook books

Despite the imminent start of the Edinburgh Fringe, non-comic creative endeavours continue in Edinburgh and elsewhere.

I have blogged about Jason Cook before. If he were turned into a pill, cocaine and speed would seem like sleeping tablets.

Despite being dyslexic, his fourth crime novel is about to be published. He has a new children’s book out. Pre-production goes ahead on a feature film. And he is involved in another feature film which is currently shooting in Scotland.

“You are an Associate Producer on this film that’s shooting in Edinburgh,” I said.

“Yes it’s not my film but I am supporting them. They’re an Indonesian film company. I’ve worked closely with the producer on other projects before in Oxford and London. This one is a love story about an Indonesian man and woman who fall in love in Scotland. We’re shooting iconic places around Edinburgh now – the first week of the Fringe – with a crew of 21 from Indonesia.”

“And you have a fourth novel coming out.”

“Yes. On August 12th. Cocaine: The Devil’s Dandruff, the fourth and final instalment of my quadrilogy about The Cookster, – a young boy gets sucked into the underworld and gets pushed around like a chess piece in an international smuggling ring.”

“The title of the film of the first book was going to be The Devil’s Dandruff,” I said.

“Yes. The first film will have a different name now. The working title is The Devil’s Dandruff.”

Jason’s children’s book – Rats In Space

“My head hurts,” I said. “Your children’s book Rats in Space. That’s a planned film, too.”

“Yes. We’ve just had an animatic done for the Rats in Space film – first draft drawings of the scenes. We’re working with King Bee Animations at Elstree Studios.”

“Are you appearing in the Indonesian film?” I asked.

“I auditioned for the part of a pervert, so maybe. Did anything come of your appearance in Ariane Sheine’s music video?”

“No,” I laughed, “It was rather overtaken by political events at the General Election. I had hoped that it might be my entrée into the glamorous world of well-paid porn – perhaps granddad porn – but sadly not. I am not an actor. Any tips?”

“When I was young,” he told me, “I fancied being an actor. I was at a nightclub and I was approached by an agent who told me: You’ve got the look we’re looking for. Would you mind coming down for an audition? I thought it would be interesting to be an actor.

“I went down to a dress rehearsal in Camden Town so the director could meet me and take some trial shots. I went through reception and into the office studio.

Jason – Could he have had a big ginger part in Hollywood?

OK Jason, I was told, take your clothes off and we’ll get things ready for you. There was lots of clothing lying around. I wondered which costume I would be in. So I took my clothes off down to my pants and I was given a dressing gown. The director came through, shook my hand and said: Thanks for coming down. Come through and meet the crew and actresses.

“I thought: OK. Great. This is all good.

You can take your robe off now, he told me, and your pants.

“I said: Sorry??

“We walked through curtains and there was a set with three naked girls on a bed and all the crew were there, including a woman spraying water on the girls.

“The director said: OK, you can get on the bed. 

“To be honest, I was a bit nervous. I said: What sort of film is this?

It’s a porn film, of course, said the director.

“I said: I didn’t know it was a porn film. I thought I was going to be an actor.

Determined Jason Cook did make it into the film industry

You WILL be an actor, he said. You’re going to be the first ginger porn star and you’re going to be in Hollywood. It’s called Ginger Cocks Does Blondielocks. You will be the first ginger porn star and you’ll be absolutely massive in America. It’s the ginger porn version of Goldilocks & The Three Bears – Ginger Cocks Does Blondielocks.

I came out thinking: Hang on, I want to be in the film industry, but not that way!”

“Indonesia is the future,” I said.

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Award-winning UK comic to write play about Twin Peaks director David Lynch

Mr Twonkey promotes his Christmas in the Jungle in Brighton

So I had a chat with Mr Twonkey aka Paul Vickers at King’s Cross station in London.

He was on his way back home to Edinburgh. Last year, he won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“How were your Christmas in the Jungle shows at the Brighton Fringe?” I asked.

“It was so hot,” he told me. “I don’t think people were feeling… They were… It occurred to me that maybe doing a Christmas show in the middle of the summer isn’t such a great idea.”

“But surely,” I said, “with your act, to do a Christmas show at Christmas would be a silly idea.”

“Well,” he replied, “I was pitching it as The only Christmas show on at Brighton in June. Unfortunately, there was another one called The Grotto. And, when I was flyering for it in the street, people were asking me: What’s wrong with you?”

“You are,” I checked, “still doing Christmas in the Jungle at the Edinburgh Fringe this August?”

“Yes.”

“Have you seen the new Twin Peaks TV series yet?”

“No. But I am trying to write a play about David Lynch.”

“Your previous play was Jennifer’s Robot Arm,” I said.

“Yes. That was more kitchen sink drama/science fiction. This would be about people who actually exist.”

“How are you getting the facts?” I asked. “From Wikipedia?”

“Various sources. There’s a few books about him. The trouble is none of them are any good apart from one which is not bad: Lynch On Lynch, which is a series of interviews with him.”

“Does he know anything about himself?” I asked.

“I would imagine there are a few gaps. But there’s also a good documentary online about someone following him around while he’s making Inland Empire.

“And there’s a book coming out in February 2018, published by Canongate Books which has his full support. I think it’s called Room To Dream.”

“So your play,” I asked, “is about… what?”

“I want to focus on is the time he spent in London. The early part of people’s careers is always the most interesting. He was living in a flat in Wimbledon, making a suit for The Elephant Man.

‘You know, in Eraserhead, there’s a little deformed baby. I think he kept it very damp. I think he used chicken and raw animal flesh, moulded it together and used maggots quite a lot – to eat away the face. And then he kept it damp. His daughter wanted to play with it and he told her: You can play with it as long as you don’t touch it.

“After Eraserhead, he was a cult figure – a young hotshot director – and he had a few films he was trying to pitch. One of them was called Gardenback, which was about a community of people who could only speak to each other by passing an insect between them, either through the ear or through the mouth.

“The studio kept pushing him to write dialogue for it and he couldn’t write any. He said: Well, that’s the whole point: that they don’t speak. They communicate by passing the insect. So that project was shelved.

“Then he had another project called Ronnie Rocket, which was for the actor of restricted height in the Black Lodge. It was like Rocket Man, but he was small and it was surreal and it had villains called The Donut Men. But no-one would pick it up.”

“Jam on the fingers?” I asked.

“Yeah. So then they just gave him a pile of scripts and he picked The Elephant Man without reading it. Mel Brooks was producing it.”

“Mel Brooks,” I said, “once told me that, whenever you get your photo taken, you should always open your mouth.”

“Did he? Anyway, Mel Books had had success with Young Frankenstein as a black & white film and I think he quite liked the idea of re-invigorating the genre and Eraserhead had been in black & white.

The Elephant Man was a big responsibility for David Lynch and apparently it was the closest he ever came to committing suicide. He almost put his head in the oven in Wimbledon during the development process. I was going to have a bit in my play where he puts his head in the oven and it turns round and Mel Brooks comes out from a theatre where he has been viewing Eraserhead.”

“This is live on stage?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Will the insects from Gardenback take part?”

“They could. But I was thinking focussing more around the fitting of the costume. They gave him six months to make a costume for The Elephant Man based on the fact he had done well with the baby in Eraserhead. And apparently what he created was horrendous. John Hurt came round for a fitting and he couldn’t hardly breathe or walk and certainly couldn’t act in the costume.

Mr Twonkey takes a train and a door north to Edinburgh

“So that process was unsuccessful and a lot of money had gone down the drain and I think that was when he thought about putting his head in the oven.”

“And the costume in the finished film?” I asked.

“I think, essentially, he got someone else to make it. There was a bit of controversy on the set because he was young but had experienced British thespians like Sir John Gielgud and Anthony Hopkins who had been round the block a few times. I think there was a friction with young David Lynch adapting to these older British actors.”

“Maybe they didn’t talk about it,” I suggested.

“What?”

“The elephant in the room.”

“That’s a good title.”

“You just have to make the play relevant to the title,” I suggested. “Would you perform in it?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re the wrong shape for David Lynch,” I suggested.

“I don’t think I could play him convincingly enough for more than 5 or 10 minutes; then I would run out of steam. It needs to be a proper actor.”

“The good news with a play about David Lynch,” I suggested, “is that there’s no limit to the possible surrealism.”

“It can be a BIT eccentric,” Paul agreed. “It can be a bit Lady in The Radiator in Eraserhead.”

“But it can’t all be that. What would give it real poignancy is revealing a bit of his history that people didn’t know about. The main scene would be the fitting, where it goes wrong.”

“Hold on,” I said, “If you are going to do a show about David Lynch making a costume he can’t make, you have to make the costume, don’t you?”

“That’s true.”

“Is that a problem?”

“It will have to be a good costume.”

“The one that isn’t successful…”

“Yes. But it can be really horrendously bad. That will be good.”

Mr Twonkey and Sir Nigel Gresley, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Northern Railway (1911-1923) and the London & North Eastern Railway 1923-1941). He designed The Flying Scotsman train.

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