Tag Archives: directing

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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How Dec Munro became the hottest young comedy director in Britain…

sofiehagen_sohotheatre_maingc

Dec Munro

Dec Munro: producer, director, amateur thief

Sofie Hagen’s Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Bubblewrap is currently at the Soho Theatre in London. It was directed by Dec Munro. I thought it would be interesting to chat to him about it.

He thought it would be more interesting if he interviewed me about myself. So we did that. Which is why this is shorter than many of my blogs.

“What have you been up to?” Dec Munro asked me .

“I dunno,” I said. “I remember nothing. I’ve been sleeping a lot. I got food poisoning. I think it was food poisoning. Minor food poisoning. It wasn’t good. Monday. Sunday. Dunno. Could have been. Might not have been. Who knows? So… Sofie’s top-notch comedy show Bubblewrap won the Best Newcomer Award in Edinburgh this year…”

“The increasingly prestigious Sofie Hagen’s Bubblewrap,” said Dec. “Currently at the Soho Theatre until 6th January.”

“And, because of that,” I said, “you are the hottest young comedy director in Britain at the moment.”

“I definitely wouldn’t say that,” Dec replied.

“I can though,” I told him. “Had you directed before?”

“I helped a little with Ben Target’s show Discover in 2012 and that got nominated for the Best Newcomer Award, which was great. But I didn’t direct his show. I was just involved in it and had some thoughts.”

“So how did you direct Sofie Hagen’s show?” I asked.

“My key contribution,” Dec replied, “was to take her out, get her drunk, steal most of her belongings and tell her I would put them on eBay 48 hours later because, for about three weeks, she had told me she would get a script to me and there had been variety of different excuses from I’m hung over to I’m tired to I’m ill.

“I said: Look, if you don’t get this done, then the show’s not going to go to Edinburgh. So I stole her ear-rings, necklaces, wallet, cards and told her that, at 5.00pm on Friday, I would eBay all of her possessions that I had unless she sent the script across and I think at 4.57pm she sent it across. I think that was probably the biggest thing I did… She’s great, though. She’s intelligent. She works really hard. It’s quite nice to be a first-time producer, first-time director and have it go really well.”

“What did the producing involve?” I asked.

“I flew up to Edinburgh, found a venue and then worked on quite a few marketing-type tricks – a strategy – various ways of getting people to come along, talked to all the flyerers. Her agents (Get Comedy) organised a poster and lots of the other important stuff. Other than that, we just worked out how to make it fairly busy fairly quickly and that worked very well.”

Dec Munro in London yesterday

He knows more than any normal person should

That’s it, really.

This blog.

Dec seems to know more than any normal person should about the inner workings of the Mexican drug cartels and how they kill people.

“Weirdly, I’m genuinely fascinated by it,” he told me. “I think it’s utterly, utterly fascinating. The drug cartels in Mexico are astonishing.”

“So,” I asked, “is this why you want to direct comedy shows? You want that level of power.”

“Yes,” he laughed. “The money is in directing Fringe shows. So what are you going to do after you stop your daily blog on 31st December?”

“I was thinking,” I said, “I might finance my next trip to the Edinburgh Fringe by touting myself as a consultant or director for hire on comedy shows.”

“You could do that,” Dec said.

“But alas,” I said, “I am not the hottest young comedy director in Britain at the moment. That’s you.”

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The newish comic most likely to become successful? I get sidetracked by Chaucer

Archie at Soho Theatre this week

Archie at the Soho Theatre in London this week

You can never tell who is going to succeed. Some extremely talented performers crash and burn. Some with minimal talent strike it lucky. (See vast swathes of BBC3.)

So who do I guess is the current reasonably-new comedian most likely to succeed…?

Archie Maddocks.

Maybe as a comedian.

Maybe as something else.

I blogged about him back in October last year.

I saw him recently in the Amused Moose Laugh Off Awards semi-finals. He got through to the final at the Edinburgh Fringe on 3rd August.

And I was one of the judges at the English Comedian of The Year a couple of weeks ago. Archie was competing but was not in the first three.

“What about talent contests?” I asked him when we met at Soho Theatre this week.

“I completely understand why they’re there,” he told me. “But I really don’t like them. The judging panel could love someone on one night then see them another night and think they’re shit. There’s so many different things go into that one night.

“My ideal way to do it would be to have a final every night for a week and put the comedians in different places on the bill, then take an average score. That would make sense for me in terms of comedy.”

“You’re at the Edinburgh Fringe this year,” I said, “but not in a solo show.”

Edinburgh Fringe show 2014

Maddocks’ & Oliphant’s Fringe show 2014

“I’m not going to do a solo show,” said Archie, “until 2016 at the earliest. At the Fringe this year, I’m one of the acts in Just The Tonic’s Big Value Showcase. And I’m doing a free show called Cookies & Cream with Jamie Oliphant who, surprisingly, doesn’t have a joke about his name. And I’m doing lots of other little things. But not a solo show. I’m not ready.”

“What’s your Unique Selling Proposition?” I asked.

“Probably confidence,” said Archie. “Everyone seems to say I’m stupidly confident for my position. But I’m very at home on stage. Some people have said that to me as a criticism, but how can that be a criticism?”

“I guess,” I said, “you feel comfortable because you grew up in a theatrical family where it was not abnormal to stand up in front of people and do strange things. Do you get stage fright?””

“No, but you can tell I’m nervous if I speak faster. I used to do this pacing thing just cos I wasn’t comfortable standing still and talking. But now I am. I only move when it makes sense to move. Coming to stand-up from an acting background is weird. I think there’s more recognition for acting. When an audience watches an actor, they recognise what that person’s job is. Whereas, with comedy, they’re not quite clear what job the comic is doing.”

“If you’re an actor,” I suggested, “the audience knows you have artificially created that atmosphere in the room but, with a good comic, it feels like they are just chatting to you in a non-artificial way so it feels like they are not performing, just being themselves.”

“I guess,” said Archie.

“You’ve probably,” I joked, “written 15 plays since the last time I chatted to you.”

Archie’s Compulsion at the Fringe

Fringe Compulsion: self-punishment & flagellation

“I’ve written a few plays,” laughed Archie. “One is going to be at the Fringe. It’s my first Edinburgh play. It’s called Compulsion and it’s about self-punishment and self-flagellation.”

“Sounds like comedians,” I said.

“Sort of,” laughed Archie. “It’s set in the minds of this one man and it’s him compulsively going over whether or not he has been a good person, looking back at memories of when he found himself being ashamed of something. It’s about him kind of descending into insanity.”

“You’re not performing in that?”

“No. I’ve written and directed it.”

“And a ‘serious’ actor plays the part of the man?”

“There’s several of them.”

“Different facets of the mind?”

“Exactly. They are called The Facets. Four of them altogether; one playing the same character throughout; the other three switching between facets and memories.”

“Directing is dead easy, isn’t it?” I said. “You just tell ‘em to stand over there and put more emphasis on a couple of words.”

Archie at the Comedy Cafe Theatre

Archie straddling comedy and theatre at the Shoreditch venue

“It is much harder work than I anticipated,” replied Archie. “It’s the first time I’ve directed a proper production; I’ve directed youth theatre before, but that’s very different. I think it’s something I’d like to do more of later on. It’s interesting to be so much more immersed into a text – moreso than when you are just acting. I feel I am the eyes of the audience and I’m conducting how I want them to see it.”

“It’s like writing,” I suggested. “The way to write is not to think of yourself as the writer but to go round 180% and look on what you are writing as if you are the reader, seeing the words for the first time as they appear on the page.”

“Exactly,” said Archie.

“As a director,” I asked, “did you change any of the pearls of wisdom you wrote as a writer?”

“Yes. Cut words. Cut entire scenes. Added in new scenes.”

“Was that,” I asked, “because you changed your mind or because the actors played it differently to the way you had imagined?”

“A combination of things,” explained Archie. “And we have no budget, so there were some scenes I thought we would be able to pull them off and we couldn’t.”

“Because of scenery and effects?” I asked.

“Scenery and time constraints, because it’s only a 50-minute play. There was originally a scene where they were going to be talking in metaphor about how a man has to use his tools in order to be a good craftsman and how that translates into actually being a good man. It was a nice scene but, in the whole dynamic and rhetoric of the play, it didn’t add anything. I would have had to dress them up in high-visibility building gear. That’s an expense we don’t need. We would have had to build a soundscape for the builders’ yard. So I threw that out. Now we have people in parks, people in showers. Very easy to do just with subtle lighting changes.

Archie Maddocks

Archie – stories not words are precious

“Obviously I found it hard directing my own writing because I’m so close to it – It’s hard to cut certain things and, if the actors dropped a line, at first I would get a bit precious. Oh no – I wrote that for a reason! But, if rhythmically the actors are not getting what I saw and it’s coming out not as I thought it would come out, then I’ll change it around to make it make sense. The exact words are not that important. The story is still being told.”

“It’s like spelling,” I said. “Correct spelling is much over-rated. Shakespeare couldn’t even spell his own name.”

“And he made up words,” said Archie, “No-one complained about that.”

“Did he?” I asked.

“I think he made up the word ‘swagger’ and made up the phrase ‘heart on your sleeve’. Something like 500 words and phrases have been attributed to Shakespeare.”

“I think Roald Dahl invented the word ‘gremlin’,” I said. “You could die happy if you got a new word in the Oxford English Dictionary.”

“This is why,” said Archie, “I get really annoyed with people who don’t like kids who talk in slang. It’s their own language. You can’t be annoyed at that. If you don’t understand it, don’t say You must talk like I talk.”

“Chaucer is unintelligible,” I said. “Have you read Chaucer?”

“Yeah. I love Chaucer. But it’s hard to get through.”

“I couldn’t cope with Chaucer,” I said. “Shakespeare’s within bounds, but Middle English is another language.”

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight

Seer Gahwayn and Te Green Kennihte or however it was pronounced in the far-off Middle English days

Sir Gawain and The Green Knight,” said Archie. “Great story, but its readability… phwoah!

“I remember,” I said, “reading some Edgar Wallace novel which was written maybe around the 1910s or 1920s and thinking it was written in a slightly different language from the 1960s and 1970s.”

“Yeah,” said Archie, “Language evolves and people should accept the evolution of it, rather than try to kill it.”

“Presumably,” I said, “English will develop into the world language, but there will be Indian English and Chinese English as well as American English. I mean, Yorkshire English and Glasgow English and Kerry English are all slightly different.”

“There will,” said Archie, “be just be loads of different versions of pidgin English.”

“Which is why it’s a great language,” I said.

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Gay Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, Now Linked To Sight Gags for Perverts

Jon Brittain without Margaret Thatcher in Soho yesterday

Jon Brittain without Margaret Thatcher in Soho yesterday

“It’s not a play. It’s not a musical. What is it?” I asked writer Jon Brittain at Bar Italia in London’s Soho yesterday afternoon.

He co-wrote and directs Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, which this week starts a 4-week run at Theatre 503 in Battersea.

“Well,” replied Jon, “we describe it as a drag comedy Christmas musical extravaganza. The idea behind it is that Margaret Thatcher, played by a man, has become a cabaret singer and she tells you the story of how she went from being Prime Minister to cabaret singer.

Matthew Tedford as Margaret Thatcher

Matthew Tedford stars as Margaret Thatcher, queening it up

“Basically, we tell the story of Section 28 – the law that stops councils funding the promotion of homosexuality in schools. It’s Margaret Thatcher, played by my friend Matt Tedford (who co-wrote the show) and two dancers in hot pants and moustaches who dance along to songs and play all the other parts in the show while never really wearing anything more than hot pants and moustaches – including when they play women and children.

“My girlfriend Laura was very confused about the whole thing. We rehearsed in our living room and I think having to hear the voice of Maggie Thatcher all the time got a bit grating for her.”

Jon also directed John Kearns’ award-winning Sight Gags For Perverts show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

Jon Brittain (right) with John Kearns

Jon Brittain (right) with comic John Kearns

“John and I did a double act together at UEA – the University of East Anglia,” explained Jon, “and he’d been in a lot of plays I’d directed.”

“Was there,” I asked, “much difference between directing Sight Gags For Perverts and Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho?”

“Not much,” replied Jon. “John and Matt are both really spontaneous. John knows where he wants to get to and, if something happens in the room, he will respond to it… and Matt’s very much the same, even though Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho is a much more rigid script and much more about the story.

“John’s Edinburgh show was much more about the experience and he could go off in different directions. His show was deceptively stupid, but he’d thought about it loads and it was very intricately layered and worked-out. There was a really powerful emotional feeling behind it: a real sadness and loneliness and desperation behind the very silly, seemingly stupid, surreal stories he was telling.”

“But you have directed straight plays as well,” I said.

“Yes,” said Jon. “Directing comedy is different from directing a play… With a play, you’re saying Stand here… Do this… As the director of a comedy show, you go in and suggest There is a problem here: how are you going to solve it? and the performer is the one who has to come up with the solution.

John Kearns in Sight Gags For Perverts

John Kearns in the award-winning Sight Gags For Perverts

“During my time in Edinburgh with John, we had a lot of conversations about the end of his show and how to tie together the loose ends. I made a lot of suggestions as to how he could do that and then I went away and came back at the end of the run and he had solved the problem in a way that was entirely different to any of my suggestions. But I think my useful function was asking the questions and pointing out the problem.

“I think there’s a temptation in theatre plays to say everyone has assigned roles – the actors do this; the writer does this; the director does this – and no-one crosses-over into other people’s fields. Whereas I do a lot of crossing-over. I direct my own stuff and do the sound design and, in Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, Matt acts and writes and there’s a lot of crossing-over.”

“How did the idea for Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho come about?I asked.

The Margaret Thatcher - Queen of Soho poster

Margaret Thatcher – Queen of Soho poster

“Matt hadn’t performed in about five years – not since university. He’d been a civil servant and other things. I held a Hallowe’en party in 2012 and he came along dressed as Margaret Thatcher – in the same costume he uses in the play – with a wig. He looked amazing. He had a pint of milk in his handbag that he would pull out and say: Would you like some? No, it’s not for sharing.

“Then I was asked if I wanted to write something for a night of short plays – Thatcherwrite – a few months after Margaret Thatcher’s death. So I asked Matt to write something with me.

The original night

The original night when Margaret Thatcher first appeared

“We wrote a 15-minute version which he performed on the Thatcherwrite night. Most of the other plays were, by-and-large, quite serious. A play about the Falklands War. A play about the housing bubble.

“So we thought it would work if, at the end of the night, suddenly an announcer went: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for your headline act of the evening – Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho! – and she comes out and sings YMCA with two backing dancers in hot pants. Just make it, on the surface, as stupid and silly and ridiculous as possible. Though there is a point underneath, because it is about Section 28 and gay rights and what she could have done if she’d chosen to.

Two dancers who always keep their moustaches

Margaret Thatcher + 2 dancers never without the moustaches

“From our research – which we pretend not to have done but which we did do – it sounds like she had gay friends and was OK with them as individuals, but she supported this legislation and so, with our play, we imagine what might have happened if she’d actually supported gay causes. That’s underlying it, but we try to do it in the most ridiculous, stupid way possible so that any kind of message is buried deep down.

“Even during the most po-faced emotional monologue we have in it, in the background there are dancers doing the most disgusting dance moves, grinding and slapping their arses in slow motion.

“One of our male dancers plays Jill Knight, an MP in the 1980s, but in a bright pink cardigan still wearing his moustache and we have Peter Tatchell as if played by Ray Winstone.”

“You are not interested in performing yourself any more?” I asked.

“I’d be really interested in doing some story-telling,” said Jon. “About five years ago, I did stand-up very loosely for about a year and then very often for about a year and, at the end of that, I just wasn’t having fun. The reason I stepped away from it was I didn’t really have a ‘voice’. I could write stuff, but there was no unified point of view when I performed and I didn’t feel I could find it.”

“I suppose,” I said, “that a writer of plays can change into different voices, but a stand-up comedian can’t switch from warm-and-cuddly one moment and Frankie Boyle the next.”

Jon Brittain - a working playwright

Jon Brittain – a working playwright who knows his Ps and Qs

“Yes,” agreed Jon. “And I felt confident writing dialogue for stage plays and more confident of the worth of it. When I was writing jokes, almost every single one I thought: I don’t know if this is going to work. When I write a story, everything in that is working towards the telling of the story. I felt much more confident and comfortable with that. So I would quite like to return to standing up on a stage – but telling a story not jokes.

“I don’t really subscribe to the barriers between comedy and storytelling and theatre anyway. It’s people in the industry who like to put the barriers up so they can figure what section of the Edinburgh Fringe Programme it goes in and what person from what TV Department should go and see it.”

“If they still had such things,” I asked, “what would you write in your passport – writer, director or performer?”

“I don’t really act at all, though I do the voice of Winston Churchill in Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho – I do the voice and someone else operates a portrait where the mouth moves.”

“Like Captain Pugwash,” I said.

“That was the aesthetic we were going for.”

“But obviously without Seaman Staines…”

“Only backstage,” said Jon.

I think I’m a writer first and the directing comes out of that. I’d really like to direct more stand-up comedy and direct in different media – film, stage, live comedy. But I think I’m going to take a year off theatre and just write television scripts, because I’ve started making a bit of headway. Me and Suzi Ruffell have written a sitcom script that’s in development.”

“You’ve worked in TV already haven’t you?” I asked.

“I did six months at Cartoon Network,” replied Jon, “which was like in a writers’ room. It was called The Amazing World of GumballI worked with James Lamont and Jon Foster who wrote The Harry Hill Movie.”

“Do you get repeat fees on the Cartoon Network programmes or was there a buy-out?” I asked.

“Oh, there was a total buy-out. When my agent sent me along, the first thing said was: Whatever you do, do not create any characters!

“Wise advice,” I said. “When people are dead like Margaret Thatcher, it’s always comforting.”

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“The Avengers” writer on directing for TV and film and un-made vampire films

Prolific TV & film writer Brian Clemens

Recently, I have posted a couple of blogs comprising parts of an interview I did with writer Brian Clemens in 1979. It was published in issues 29 and 30 of Starburst magazine.

In Part One, he talked about his background and the early Avengers TV  series. In Part Two, he talked about the style of The Avengers and about internationalising shows. This is Part Three of that interview…

***

Although Brian Clemens claims to have lived a bland life, it has been pretty tough. For ten years he was married to an ex-model called Brenda; they divorced in 1966. Then Diane Enright, Diana Rigg’s stand-in for the 1965-1967 Avengers series, was with Clemens for ten years. But, in 1976, she committed suicide. There was also a particularly acrimonious and very expensive court case in 1975 when Clemens accused writer Terry Nation of copying his idea for the Survivors TV series.

Clemens claimed he had registered the series format with the Writers’ Guild in 1965 and asked the High Court “to rule that the ideas were his property and told in confidence to Mr Nation between 1967 and 1969”. Nation and the BBC defended the case. To this day, both Clemens and Nation believe they were the innocent party and are reticent on the subject – neither will talk about the case except off-the-record.

One thing Clemens will talk about, though, is the astonishing fact that he seldom pre-researches any facts for his highly-detailed plots:

“I don’t really believe in research,” he says. “Usually I do the plot and then go back and research it. And it’s strange, really, because I’m usually 99% right. It’s curious that a layman’s knowledge is usually enough. After all, though, if you’re writing something about science, it’s got to ultimately appeal to a layman, so it works like that.

“I did a fringe theatre play about the Moors Murders which had a certain amount of success at the King’s Head and the Rock Garden (two London fringe theatres). And, as a result of the publicity, I met the Chief Constable of Lancashire who was in charge of the case. There were certain things I’d put in the play which were not in the public domain at all – I’d invented them – and it turned out they were absolutely true. That was only interpreting the known facts, really, from a dramatic point of view.”

Clemens directed the play but what he would really like is to direct another film.

“I could have done The New Avengers or The Professionals on TV or something,” he says. “But that’s not really… I’m not diminishing it… But I think you’ve got to be a really experienced director  to put anything on screen in ten days that means something. Having only directed one film (Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter, 1972) I’d probably direct a very bad Avengers under those circumstances. You need plenty of preparation time.”

A few years ago, Clemens was quoted as saying that TV directors don’t have a visual imagination, so he was starting to write visual directions into his scripts. But this is not a true reflection of his views. His point is much more subtle:

“I don’t think they’re idiots,” he says. “I think the system’s idiotic. Within (video) tape TV, they never get a chance to develop a visual sense. (Director) Desmond Davis told me that the difference between tape and film is that, with tape, you have to place the camera always just not quite where you want it to be, This is because a taped show is shot ‘live’ with three or four cameras which can get in each other’s way; film is shot with a single camera and each angle is shot separately”.

Clemens also believes “the machinery behind tape means that a director is always subjugated to the system and so never gets a chance to develop his own style. Filmed series like The Sweeney and The Professionals have probably liberated new directors more, in a few weeks, than they ever got in years in tape. You see, I believe that there is ultimately only one place a camera should be in viz a viz a certain scene or emotion.

“You just have to watch any Hitchcock movie to find that out. (Director) John Ford never zoomed in his whole career – a cut from wide to close-up is so much more incisive and more controllable too – and he rarely panned either. He just composed wonderful shots, played scenes within the shot, then cut to the next bit.”

Another factor which limits creativity on material shot exclusively for television is, according to Clemens, the internal restriction imposed by unrealistic time-schedules. He gives as an example any episode of his Thriller series (made by ATV).

The title sequence of Brian Clemens’ Thriller series on ITV

Each Thriller, he says, is made up of plot and atmosphere and, like a good joke, depends very much on exact timing:

“All the Thrillers I did I could improve 50% with an extra day and a half of editing. You see, you’re taken over by the system, where you edit from A-Z. As the time runs out, the last reel – which is the most important – is the one you’re doing quickly. And over that 3-day edit, you might have three film editors. Now that’s rather like having Van Gogh and his brother and sister paint a portrait and I don’t understand that.

“It offends me, because it means that what they’re putting on screen they don’t really give a shit about. If they really did, they’d say We can’t have three editors! It’s got to be one man. I mean, that’s traditional in all the media: you don’t change the director or the star of a stage play halfway through. It’s exactly the same. Getting back to the thing I said about television directors… There are some film directors… Lean, Ford, Kurosawa… if I see a shot of their work I can tell it’s theirs. You can’t say that about many television directors. If any.”

Clemens was involved in scripting major movies early in his career, such as Station Six Sahara (1964) and The Peking Medallion (1964 aka The Corrupt Ones) but it was not until after And Soon The Darkness (1970), which he also produced, that he decided he really wanted to be a director himself.

“My business partner (Albert Fennell) said You should have directed it and suddenly I thought Yeah, perhaps I should have done. I knew I could have directed it better. Then I wrote and produced a film for Hammer – Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971) – and, in the meantime, we wrote an original screenplay called Buff where Bryan Forbes (then Head of Production at ABPC) agreed I would direct. Then he was thrown out, so I was left with the script and that became Blind Terror (1971 aka See No Evil) with Mia Farrow, which Dick Fleischer directed.”

Clemens got his chance to direct when Hammer accepted his storyline for Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter (1972), now a cult film.

Captain Kronos reflected Brian Clemens’ desire to direct

“The name Kronos is Greek for Time,” says Clemens, “and I thought that, if the idea took off, I’d be able to move him through the centuries. A whole series of films. I even had some follow-up stories.”

For Clemens, Kronos represented the return of the film hero.

“You see,” he says, “in all the Dracula films, Dracula’s the hero so you’re rooting for a villain and you know he’s going to end up staked through the heart. I thought Well, it’s good to change the emphasis and have a proper hero. So I invented Kronos, who’s a swashbuckling character with a hunchback aide and he picks up a beautiful bird (Caroline Munro) along the way and they’re vampire hunters.

I think why people such as the Time Out reviewers like it is because I turned the genre upside down and had a speech from the hunchback which really liberated all vampire films. A guy says But these girls were drained of youth. They die very old. They can’t be vampires. And the hunchback, who’s the authority, says There are as many species of vampire as there are beasts of prey. Their method and motive of attack varies and so does the way you kill them. Some you can’t kill with a stake through the heart; some you have to kill by decapitation or hanging, drowning and so on.

“It’s a super scene in Kronos where they have a vampire, tie him to a chair, put a stake through his heart and he lives and they hang him and burn him and they gradually find out he’s got to be stabbed with a piece of holy steel. It did liberate the vampire lore.”

The film is a combination of Errol Flynn swashbuckler and Hammer horror. It climaxes in a three-minute sword fight between Kronos and the vampire.

“It’s got this marvellous moment,” says Clemens, “where Kronos stabs him with the wrong sword and this vampire walks around with this rapier through him. There’s quite a bit of humour in it.”

Tragically, Hammer/EMI kept the film on the shelf for two years, not releasing it until 1975 and then giving it poor distribution as part of a double feature. Clemens is uncertain why his film was treated in this way but thinks it was probably “a tax loss/tax shelter thing”.

He says: “I really enjoyed Kronos. I was on a peak then. I was ready to go into another thing and make it better, but it didn’t happen. I was hoping to make another Kronos adventure, but then I got into Thriller for TV – I did 43 of those, which is quite a lot, really. They’re 90 minutes each in America – 72 minutes running time – which is quite a lot of writing.”

Nonetheless, Clemens is so prolific that, at the end of the series, he still had another 20 plots lined up and ready to go. He says he enjoyed doing the Thriller stories and found them pleasant and rather easy to do: “Easy because they weren’t locked into running characters and you could just let things happen as you wanted.”

Plotting comes quite easily to him: “If, in a one-hour show, you’ve got four highspots, you’ve just got to link them. Sometimes it can be just a single brilliant idea. I mean, with Alien, people just went to see the thing burst out of his stomach; they didn’t really know what the rest was about. With The Exorcist, they went to see the bloke puked-on. In Bullitt, it was the car chase.”

TO BE CONTINUED… HERE 

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“Get Carter” – the best British gangster film ever made despite alcoholism

Michael Caine playing his own ghost in Get Carter

The first time I ever paid attention to film directing as a child was watching the British ABC TV arts series Tempo.

One episode I saw was so visually stylish and so vividly edited that I actually went to the TV Times listings magazine and checked who the director was.

It was Mike Hodges and I looked out for his name ever after. He is 80 years old in nine days time.

He directed the wonderful and little-seen 1969 Thames TV thriller Rumour (if ever any film were ripe for a re-make, this one is) and his first cinema movie was Get Carter (1971), arguably the best British gangster film ever made (although The Long Good Friday gives it a run for its money).

Michael Caine has said: “One of the reasons I wanted to make Get Carter was my background. In English movies, gangsters were either stupid or funny. I wanted to show that they’re neither. Gangsters are not stupid, and they’re certainly not very funny.” He said central character Jack Carter was the sort of person he might himself have become: “Carter is the dead-end product of my own environment, my childhood; I know him well. He is the ghost of Michael Caine.”

Mike Hodges had originally written the script (based on Ted Lewis‘ novel Jack’s Return Homewith Ian Hendry in mind for the title role (in the finished film, he plays a subsidiary role as the henchman Eric Paice). But producer Michael Klinger wanted Michael Caine, by then already a bankable star.

Ian Hendry’s career had declined, he was alcoholic and in poor physical shape. The climactic chase scene between Caine and Hendry was shot in reverse order, with Hodges filming Hendry’s death first because he was worried Hendry would be too out of breath to play the death scene after running. Hendry’s jealousy of Caine’s success was apparently obvious on set and was made worse by his drinking. Hodges tried to rehearse the film’s racecourse scene between Caine and Hendry in their hotel the night before, but Hendry’s “drunken and resentful state” forced him to abandon the attempt.

Despite all this, Ian Hendry got a 1972 BAFTA Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor and Michael Caine, in one of his best film roles, got nothing.

Mike Hodges introduced a screening of Get Carter at the National Film Theatre in London last night, part of their celebrations of the hundredth birthday of cinematographer Wolfgang Suschitzky (who was in the audience and, according to Mike Hodges, still “leaps up stairs like a gazelle”).

The reason Hodges chose Suschitzky to shoot Get Carter was because he remembered seeing a 1963 movie The Small World of Sammy Lee starring the great Anthony Newley, on which Wolf also cinematographer.

“I loved that film,” Mike said last night. “It was shot in Soho and I was going to be shooting Get Carter in the North East of England, but it was in the same sort of milieu as Get Carter – a seedy underworld.

The Small World of Sammy Lee was shot in black and white. To show poverty and seedy world is comparatively easy in black and white: it lends itself to showing that kind of decay. But colour is a different matter.

“There had been a film called Up The Junction released a little earlier, in 1968. It had been a TV play in black and white, then they made a cinema film of it in colour, which made it look very glossy and beautiful and expensive and, although it was made in London in the same sort of sad, junky-ridden areas we were shooting in in the North East… Well, Wolf’s gift to me on Get Carter was to capture the seediness in colour.”

Thus are great movies made.

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