Category Archives: Movies

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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Human pups, video nasties, stuffed rats, Dead Elvis and sex – with Tony Hickson

I bumped into Tony Hickson at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden and he asked me if I wanted to hear about Dogboy – his ‘dogumentary’ film – not a documentary, a DOGumentary – about human pups. So, a few days later, we met at the Soho Theatre Bar. The up-market glamour of my life never ends.

“Human pups?” I asked.

“You must know what they are, John.”

“There is,” I said, falteringly, “some sub-culture where people dress up in furry animal costumes and have sex.”

“No,” said Tony. “Those are Furries. The human puppy thing is mostly latex and a bit of bondage stuff and dog leads and that sort of thing. One of the people in the dogumentary used to be a Furry.”

Tony Hickson directed the new DOGumentary

“Why did he change?” I asked.

“He was drawn to the dog thing, dressing up with the mask and all that.”

“Do they dress up as specific dogs?” I asked. “Are there human chihuahuas and human King Charles spaniels?”

“Now you are just,” said Tony, “being silly.”

“No,” I said. “When you say ‘dress up as a dog’ do you actually mean fur and ears and …”

“More a PVC suit with a dog’s head,” said Tony. “PVC or leather. Not fur.”

“Rather un-dog-like, then,” I suggested. “More BDSM.”

“I did ask them,” said Tony, “whether it was sexual or not. They said it wasn’t. They said it was about being in the headspace of master and servant and roleplaying.”

“How did you stumble on this sub-culture?” I asked.

“I was driving along the seafront at Whitley Bay in Tyne and Wear and one of them was walking along and he was on a lead. So I stopped and asked: Can I make a documentary about you?”

“Was he on all fours?” I asked.

“No, just walking normally.”

“That’s not being a dog at all!” I complained.

“But,” explained Tony, “if you were on your knees, it would take you ages to walk along the seafront.”

Dogboy with his ‘handler’ shopping in Newcastle city centre

“How long is the Dogboy dogumantary?” I asked.

“22 minutes. I made it for Made Television in Newcastle and their slots are 22 minutes.”

“They screened it?”

“No. They didn’t like the subject matter though there’s no sex in it and it’s not dirty in any way.”

“Have they transmitted other stuff of yours?”

“Yes. A documentary about gurning. I won the South East England Gurning Championships.”

“In the DOGumentary,” I asked, “were the people OK with being identified?”

“One of them never takes his mask off, but his handler doesn’t wear a mask.”

“That’s the official name, is it?” I asked. “Handler?”

“Yeah.”

“What do they do? Just walk along seafronts?”

“They go to meet-ups with other pups.”

“Do they smell each other’s bottoms?”

“I never asked that.”

“Do they urinate on lamp posts?”

“I never asked that. You are going a bit Channel Five here, John.”

Dogboy plays with his bone and ball in Tony Hickson’s film

“I still can’t get my head round what they do. Do they just walk along seafronts and go to meet-ups where they bark at each other?”

“No,” Tony replied. “They play with their rubber bones and their balls.”

“Have you tried any of this yourself?” I asked.

“No. Personally, I can’t really see the point.”

“Do women get involved?”

Yes, but it’s mostly just men.”

“So not much bitching?”

“No.”

“Do they go dogging?”

“I never asked that.”

“So you have made documentaries on gurning and this human puppy thing. What else?”

“I normally make short cartoons. I did make a horror film called Nasty Splurty Brains in 1992 but didn’t start submitting it to festivals until about 2002. It was banned in Scarborough.”

“Banned in Scarborough?” I asked. “Surely not. Why?”

“In 2004 or 2005, there was going to be a film festival in Scarborough called Whitby Shorts and the Council were humming and hahing: Oh! You’ll need a licence and the films will need to be licensed! which was bullshit. So I thought: How can I turn this to my advantage? The BBFC have got a list of video nasties and there’s a copy on Wikipedia, so I added Nasty Splurty Brains at the bottom of the list. Then I wrote to the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association saying: It’s on the list of video nasties! and they got onto Scarborough Borough Council and it was banned because it was on the BBFC list.”

“That’s an interesting piece of alternative marketing,” I said.

Where’s Mary? – legally, Tony’s short film obviously can’t say.

“I also made a 10-minute puppet film called Where’s Mary?” said Tony.

“Who is Mary?”

Mary Bell.”

“Oh Jesus!” I said. “Let’s keep off that!”

“It did not get banned,” Tony continued, “but I got a lot of heat. A few death threats.”

“What was the basis of the film?” I asked.

“A child killing other children. A puppet film. Originally, it was going to be more esoteric and experimental, but then I shifted it to puppets. I sold it to the Horror Channel. They went bankrupt.”

“Your other films?” I asked.

I Suck Your Guts – full of movie moments we will never share

“I started making a feature film called I Suck Your Guts around 2012. It was about time-travelling Nazi zombies. But it never got finished, because I fell out with the writer.

“I studied TV and video production at college in Newcastle and worked in corporate video in the late 1980s.

“I stopped making films when I came to London in 1991 because I just ended up working in shoe shops and record shops. I got back into film-making in about 2005 because I started to enjoy it again. Shall I tell you about Dead Elvis?”

“Oh, go on, then.”

“I first started performing as Dead Elvis when I left the circus.”

Circus boy Tony on trapeze at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle

“The circus?” I asked.

“Before I was an actor, I was in the circus. I trained as a trapeze artist and ended up doing knife-throwing and fire-eating for Zippo’s Circus and at a circus called The Foolhardy Folk up in Norfolk.

“I did about five years in the circus but then I got bored. The novelty wears off. Then I came up with a cabaret idea called Dead Elvis around 1998, based on a 1980s drag performer called Dead Marilyn. He did Marilyn Monroe… after she was dead.”

“Did you have much success as Dead Elvis?” I asked.

“I was in a programme on Channel Five.

Dead Elvis supported the 1998 Scottish football team

“And I was in the 1998 Scottish World Cup video as Elvis – not Dead Elvis, just normal Elvis.”

“Why did they have Elvis in the Scottish World Cup video?”

“Because it was filmed at Prestwick Airport, which is the only place in the UK that Elvis ever visited.”

“And Dead Elvis?” I prompted.

“When I did live events, people hated it. I used to sing Suspicious Minds and there’s a part where the lyrics say Dry the tears from your eyes and I had this plastic Madonna on stage which squirted water out of its eyes. And I would sit on a toilet and pull the chain and there was a pyrotechnic which exploded and blew glitter everywhere. But the audience just didn’t get it and I would get booed off stage and I thought: I’m wasting me time here.”

“Would you revive the Dead Elvis to perform it again today?”

“No. There’s lots of people doing it now. Even when I was doing it, there was the Lesbian Elvis, there was the little one – Elfis –  and there was Elephant Man Elvis. Then there was El-vez (the Mexican Elvis) and there was Harry Singh – he was the Sikh Elvis, back in the 1980s with Don’t Step on My Popadoms.”

Tony as Dead Elvis in Jesmond Graveyard on New Year’s Day 1997, shortly before getting thrown out for climbing on graves

“You seem to have had a few careers,” I observed.

“Round about 2008 or 2009 I was a paparazzo photographer in London. I did get Kate Moss once, when she came out of a taxi. I had thought it was going to be Jarvis Cocker but it was Kate Moss and Pete Doherty was with her and she had his guitar in her hand so it looked quite cool.

“As she walked by, I was pressing the button on my camera and the flash didn’t go off and she said: Yer flash is really shit and, for some reason I apologised to her – Oh, sorry.

“On my way home, I threw my flash over Waterloo Bridge into the water. Pete Doherty was always pissed, he always looked like a bag of shit so pictures of him were guaranteed to sell.”

“But I get the impression,” I said, “that you really want to make movies now.”

“In 2015,” Tony told me, “I did a Masters degree in screenwriting at the London College of Communication.”

“And you have made films since then?” I asked.

Ratty etc – such stuff as dreams are made on

“There was Captain Ratty: Intergalactic Space Crusader. I made it in 2015. It was screened at about five film festivals including one in China and at the Anča International Animation Festival in Slovakia.

“It uses rats. Proper rats. The rats are dead. One of my hobbies is taxidermy, so I just bought a rat, two mice and a gerbil from the local pet shop and stuffed them. They were dead before I stuffed them.”

“Do pet shops,” I asked, “sell dead rodents?”

“Yeah. For snake food. Captain Ratty: Intergalactic Space Crusader is good. It’s quality. People hated it though… Obviously.”

“Did the stuffed rat move?” I asked.

“Yes. I moved it with me hand. Like a puppet. There was a film festival in Brighton where they brought in kids from the local autistic school.”

“Please tell me you didn’t stuff them,” I said.

“No. But one of the kids saw Captain Ratty on the screen and he freaked out. He had to be taken from the hall. He didn’t like it. But it is a good film. Highly recommended.”

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Don’t Think Twice – When scripting a movie, a story is not the same as a plot.

Five days; two movie previews; two bizarre starts.

Last week, before a movie preview, comic Richard Gadd persuaded me he was half-Finnish and starred in the film. Neither was true.

Last night in London, I went to a preview of the movie Don’t Think Twice. I had not actually been invited. I was a last-minute stand-in as someone’s +1.

I arrived well before they did, explained to the PR people who I was and who I was with. We got right through to the point where my name badge had been written out, put in its plastic sheath and handed to me when I – for no real reason – asked: “This IS for the Don’t Think Twice preview, isn’t it?

It was not.

It was for a New Statesman talk on Brexit and Trump.

I was tempted to go to that because I actually HAD been invited to that event and had not been invited to the film preview.

But I took the movie title to heart and went to the Don’t Think Twice preview.

It was what used to be called a ‘talker’ screening and is now apparently called an ‘influencer’ screening. In this case, an audience of comics and comedy industry people.

Afterwards, one comedian told me they loved it. Another told me they thought it was awful. Yet another told me that, as long as they remained within the confines of the building, they would say it was very good.

As I wasn’t officially invited to this screening, I feel I can actually be honest about my thoughts.

The story is about a New York improvisational comedy group – they are middling fish in a small pond – all of whom see their next career step as being invited to be one of the regular performers in the TV show Weekend Live (a not-really disguised fictionalisation of Saturday Night Live). The publicity says the movie “tells a nuanced story of friendship, aspiration and the pain and promise of change”. And therein lies the problem.

Well acted, well-directed, well-intended, but only an OK script

Mike Birbiglia is the director/co-star (it is an ensemble piece). He is a comedy performer as are most of the cast. It is shot in a successfully easy-going style. But it falls prey to the problem of a movie created by actors about and for actors.

Actors are interested in building atmosphere, character and relationships.

Which is good.

But that ain’t plot.

The movie tells a story – Which, if any of them will get on the TV show? There is a sub-plot about their live theatre closing and the father of one of the performers is dying. And there is the thought: Will success spoil existing relationships?

But those are stories, not a movie-movie plot.

Clichés are clichés because they tend to be right.

The cliché plot structure is:

  • You start with a major unresolved problem. That is the ‘hook’.
  • The body of the film involves the unravelling of the problem.
  • The problem is resolved at the end of the film.
  • Along the way, the hook is refreshed and additional subsidiary temporary hooks are inserted and resolved while the main plot continues.

A subsidiary ‘rule’ in a movie-movie is breadth of scale and that, ideally, the entire set-up of the movie, the main characters and the hook are established in the first 2-4 minutes. (The best example I have ever seen of this is the original Die Hard movie in which everything is set-up, including an important back-story, under the opening titles.)

Don’t Think Twice starts with sequences which establish the main characters and the general setting but the main hook (the not-quite-strong-enough Saturday Night Live Will-they?/Won’t-they? plot) is brought in far too late.

The film is high on atmosphere and fine on characters. Good.

It has a story.

But not a gripping plot structure.

There is nothing particularly wrong with it as a piece of entertainment. It will probably feel better watched on a TV or computer screen at home rather than in a cinema because it is not a movie-movie. It is a TV movie or (in olden days) a straight-to-DVD movie.

It got some laughs of recognition from the rather industry audience I saw it with. But, at its heart, it is a movie created by performers, about performers and for performers. Average punters Dave and Sue in Essex or Ohio, in South London or East LA have no real reason to be gripped.

‘Story’ is not the same as ‘plot’.

But – Hey! – What do I know? I did not like the multi-5-star-reviewed Finnish film The Other Side of Hope and liked Guy Ritchie’s $175 million mega audience disaster King Arthur.

Don’t Think Twice was shown in the US last year. It opened on one screen in New York City and grossed $92,835 in its opening weekend, the highest per-screen gross of 2016. Rotten Tomatoes currently gives the film an approval rating of 99% based on 111 reviews.

What do I know?

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