Tag Archives: Lincoln

Are all actors barking mad? The case of Daniel Day-Lewis even before “Lincoln”

(This piece was also published on Indian news site WSN)

US poster for Spielberg’s movie Lincoln

Across the Atlantic, Daniel Day-Lewis is getting rave reviews for his performance in the title role of Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln – which does not open here in the UK until January.

Nicholas Hytner is Director of the National Theatre in London, but he also occasionally directs films. In 1996, he directed a movie of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Scofield.

Yesterday, Nicholas Hytner gave the annual Directors’ Guild Peter Brook Lecture in London and said this about the filming of The Crucible:

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Nicholas Hytner’s movie of The Crucible

Daniel was looking forward to working with Scofield more than I think any actor has ever looked forward to working with any other actor. I think he assumed that, because Paul was so mysterious and seemed to have access to such a kind of vast inexplicable world – he seems to channel something from deep beyond what’s easily expressible – Daniel, I think, assumed he would be a kindred spirit.

And Daniel really does – though he’s much more genial and self-mocking about it than you would ever know from the way he’s written about – he really does all the stuff he’s reputed to do.

So he came and he helped build the house that John Proctor lived in and farmed the land that John Proctor was farming and tried to live the life of a Puritan farmer… though he still came out for dinner with us at the end of the day.

He did all that.

And Daniel was, at that stage, in a place where he could barely admit he was going to learn the lines. It was an enormous challenge for him. Because, on the one hand, he was doing it because of this extraordinary text, the extraordinary texture of the way Arthur Miller had written for this Puritan farmer. That’s why he was doing it. On the other hand, by learning the lines, he was admitting the artificiality of the proceedings.

It’s been just one of the most thrilling parts of film-going in the last thirty years – to see Daniel struggling with that conundrum in movie after movie and coming up with this incredible series of great, great, great performances.

He expected Paul to be the same.

He reluctantly agreed to quite a lot of rehearsals, which Paul wanted because Paul said I’m in my seventies. I need these rehearsals or I’m not going to learn the lines. 

So, at the first rehearsal, Daniel is holding the script behind him and as far away from him as he can as if to kind of deny that it’s even there… and mumbling, because he doesn’t want to commit himself to anything until he does it spontaneously on the day.

And Paul starts by rehearsing the vowel sounds.

We live in a new TIIIME… a new TYYMMME… a new TIYEMM…

That is how Paul got into his character, how he got there… through the vowels. And also through the costume. He was twitching his cloak. All that stuff.

So, initially, Daniel was phenomenally disappointed.

But you put them in front of the camera on the day and they’re doing exactly the same job. They’re both completely in the present. They’re both completely spontaneous. They’re surprising each other. They’re firing off each other.

The point is, as a director, you’re often in the middle of approaches as different as that.

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Filed under Acting, Movies, Theatre

Eccentrics think differently – but maybe everyone else is out-of-step

(This blog was also published in the Huffington Post)

Someone somewhere sometime – well, it may have been Victoria Melody in Lincoln yesterday (more about her later) said: “We are only as interesting as the people we know”.

And I do try my best.

Yesterday I went to an Eccentrics Symposium at the University of Lincoln. Purely as an observer, you understand.

I went along with my chum mad inventor John Ward, whose yo-yo safety net (a hair net attached to the yo-yo-using person’s leg) once got a two-page spread in German magazine Stern when they were writing about serious conservation issues. John says:

“I have found that, if you keep a straight face, people will print anything. James Dyson will be remembered for inventing his vacuum cleaner; Frank Whittle will be remembered for inventing the jet engine; and I will be remembered for inventing the electric bra-warmer.”

(It was featured in the science pages of the Guardian.)

Interestingly each of the speakers claimed that he or she was not actually an eccentric himself or herself – except for John who had little alternative but to admit it, as he has featured in various academic books on eccentricity.

Anthony Schrag, the first speaker, grew up in Africa and was nicknamed ‘Wrinkle Blue Bum’ as a child because he liked to climb trees so much that he reminded his friends of local apes. He is an artist interested in the way people move. His CV says he focuses on “blowing things up, climbing on things and occasionally kidnapping people”.

Yesterday, he revealed he had discovered that, if you tightly wrap a boy in a blanket or similar covering and roll him down a hill, the boy cannot stop himself rolling. He also persuaded the audience to try the internet craze of ‘planking‘ – lying straight, across unlikely objects… though the President of the World Egg Throwing Federation (of whom more later) claimed that, on the internet, ‘planking’ has been replaced by the craze of doing a ‘Batman’ – hanging upside-down by your toes from unlikely objects.

John Plowman talked about his hats – he always wears one except when having a bath and having sex and buys them in London, New York, Chicago and – well – anywhere… mostly pork pie hats although, he admitted, this is rather odd as he is a vegetarian.  He seemed to have bought two non-pork pie hats because they have initials inside them; one of those two had his own initials inside them. He always carries an umbrella with him because he does not like his hats to get wet.

Project Pigeon’, an “art and education project which works with pigeons as a vehicle to bring people together”, did not send anyone along but they did send a video along which included shots of pigeons doing back flips. These are a specific type of pigeon and they have to be kept in quite small cages to prevent their tumbling getting out of control.

Unless I misunderstood, tumbling pigeon and ‘parlour rolling’ contests are held and this type of pigeon was specifically developed by a bus driver in Birmingham in the early 20th century by selective breeding. Quite how he chose pigeons with the appropriate genes I am uncertain. The Project Pigeon website claims that this particular type of pigeon is “the uniquely acrobatic Birmingham Roller, a type that originated in 1920 in Bordesley Green, Birmingham, after local fancier William Penson noticed one of his birds perform a backflip while in flight.”

It looks to me a bit like the pigeon is having a panic attack but, according to Project Pigeon, “today there are hundreds of Birmingham Roller clubs around the world and fiercely fought competitions to pick the birds that perform the most dramatic tumbling.”

The utterly fascinating Victoria Melody  as previously alluded to – “We are only as interesting as the people we know” – had actually spent about a year living with pigeon fanciers because she has a passion for other people’s passions. She said that, when she put an ad in a magazine saying she wanted to live with pigeon fanciers for a year, she got a lot of responses from much older single men living alone.

Yesterday, she screened a video taken by a tiny camera and transmitter which she had attached to a pigeon which then flew across Brighton; she says she received and recorded the pictures using a satellite dish on top of a car. The pigeon, alas, went AWOL.

An even briefer video of two pigeons playing ping pong was apparently shot by B.F.Skinner, the highly admirable man who later created the concept of a pigeon guided missile during World War Two: a concept which I feel the US military was short-sighted in rejecting.

But Victoria Melody’s passion for people’s passions stretches far wider than pigeon-fanciers. She spent a year immersed in the fascinating Northern Soul scene – centred round what she described as “the Motown Music that never made it into the charts”. It was a year, as she described it, of “being taught how to dance in people’s living rooms”.

Her latest cultural immersions have been dog shows (with her Basset hound Major Tom) and the world of beauty pageants, specifically preparing for next year’s Miss Galaxy 2012, where all contestants have to be married women.

Which brings us to Andy Dunlop, aforementioned President of the World Egg Throwing Federation, which was formed in 2006 though the sport started in 1322 in Swaton, Lincolnshire. Andy has managed to persuade the English Sports Council to recognise four of the five main egg throwing disciplines as legitimate sports. These are:

– two-person Throw and Catch, which consists of one catcher and one tosser.

– six or seven-person Static Relay (in which competitors pass eggs to each other by throwing them).

– individual Target Throwing, although Andy did not mention to the English Sports Council that, at the annual World Egg Throwing Championships, the target is the World Gravy Wrestling Champion – with extra points for hitting his groin.

– team Egg Trebuchet, a trebuchet being a large catapult-like siege engine which was employed by armies in the Middle Ages.

The English Sports Council, rather short-sightedly in both Andy’s and my opinion, refused to recognise as a legitimate sport (despite the obvious skill required) Russian Egg Roulette.

This involves guessing – sorry, skilfully choosing – which individual egg in a six-pack of eggs is raw as opposed to hard-boiled. Five are hard boiled; one is raw. Contestants, with handkerchiefs tied round their foreheads, as in the Vietnam movie The Deer Hunter, then smash the eggs on their foreheads to prove/disprove their choice. Obviously, the one who smashes a raw egg onto his or her forehead loses.

Victoria Melody attempted this with tragic results. Her hair was still sticky with raw egg 40 minutes later.

Egg Throwing is a fast-spreading sporting event. This year, the World Championships in Lincolnshire attracted TV crews from 26 TV stations worldwide. The Deputy Vice President of the World Egg Throwing Federation is former British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott – or, at least, Andy Dunlop chose Mr Prescott’s non-refusal of the offer to be an acceptance. Likewise, he took actor George Clooney’s non-refusal to attend the World Egg Throwing Championships as an acceptance and got worldwide press publicity across the globe for George Clooney’s decision to turn up at the championships in Lancashire which, sadly, he did not.

But, as Andy says, “it cost nothing, got us worldwide publicity and was better than paying £60 to put an ad in the local paper”.

This is a major factor as important in general eccentricity as it is in egg-throwing.

A more serious point was made by Andy when he pointed out that it was only a few centuries ago when almost everyone believed the world was flat and that the planets all revolved around the Earth. People who thought the world was round and that the earth revolved around the Sun were seen as slightly mad eccentrics.

And who was right?

The minority.

The eccentrics.

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Sport

Duck! The dangers of Chinese subtitles, kidnap and Rupert Murdoch’s flying bus

Yesterday, I went to see a movie The Beginning of the Great Revival (aka The Founding of a Party), which was screening in London as part of the China Image Film Festival. It seemed to be very good film. A sumptuously made movie. Of course, if you work for the state film company, have a virtually limitless budget and you are making a movie about the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, this could help. But I thought I espied a director who had been influenced by Sergio Leone’s historical epics.

I say The Beginning of the Great Revival “seemed” to be a very good film because, alas, despite opening and closing titles with English translations, the actual two-hour long historical epic turned out to be in Chinese with Chinese subtitles.

This reminded me of the time I sat through Sholay at the National Film Theatre when they had accidentally rented a print of the epic Indian language movie with French sub-titles.

I speak neither French nor Hindi but you cannot fail to enjoy an all-stops-pulled-out Bollywood film where (as always) people randomly burst into song and the hero has both his arms cut off yet continues to fight in true action man style. (Both Sholay and Monty Python and the Holy Grail were released in 1975 so I doubt if either ripped off the idea of an armless hero; it must have been the spirit of the times.)

I also do not speak Mandarin nor read Chinese script and my knowledge of Chinese history 1910-1921 is a tad hazy, but The Beginning of the Great Revival was never less than interesting. You can see why in the (subtitled) trailer on YouTube:

I was brought back to some form of reality when I came out of the cinema and read Rupert Murdoch’s iPad-only newspaper The Daily. The front page story was:

DUCK! – Anyone’s guess where 13,000-pound satellite will hit

sub-headed as:

READY TO TUMBLE! Satellite hurtles toward Earth – and scientists can’t say when or where it will hit

This was a story I had never heard of before – and I had seen the lunchtime news on BBC TV yesterday.

“NASA scientists,” The Daily said, “are shrugging their shoulders with little or no idea when – or where – a satellite the size of a bus will fall to Earth. The latest projections last night were that the defunct NASA satellite would tumble to Earth from space sometime this afternoon, but because the satellite is free-falling, the space agency and the U.S. Air Force cannot make a precise prediction about when and where it will hit.”

According to the article, NASA claimed the chances of someone being hit by a piece of falling debris was 1 in 3,200 and the debris would fall along a 500-mile path.

Those odds of 1 in 3,200 seemed surprisingly low to me.

“The only confirmed case of a person being hit by space junk,” The Daily told me, “was in 1997 when Lottie Williams of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was grazed on the shoulder by a small piece of a Delta rocket.”

NASA has apparently warned people against touching any part of the satellite they might find lying around on the ground.

“While it contains no hazardous chemicals,” The Daily reported, “the space agency said people could potentially be hurt by sharp edges.”

Apparently what NASA calls “medium-sized junk” falls back to earth about once a week. Debris the size of a bus falls about once a year. When bits of the Skylab space station (the size of a house) fell onto parts of Western Australia in July 1979, local authorities fined NASA $400 for littering.

I thought I should perhaps check if anything the size of a bus had fallen on London while I was in the cinema watching the glorious founding of the Chinese Communist Party in The Beginning of the Great Revival so I got a London Evening Standard (which is now owned, like the Independent newspaper, by an ex-KGB man).

Its front page news was a story about a boy who had been encouraged to read by the Duchess of Cornwall. I could not find any story anywhere about anyone being killed by a bus from outer space falling on their head so, when I got home, I checked the BBC News channel (no unusual deaths; no mention of death from above) and then checked my e-mails to find one from mad inventor John Ward – designer and fabricator of the highly-prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards for comedy.

He told me he had been booked by the University of Lincoln to appear on 12th October at something entitled An Eccentric Symposium – Tomato Tomäto.

Among other billed events and speakers at this academic symposium are ‘Project Pigeon’ (“an art and education project that works with pigeons as a vehicle to bring people together”), the World Egg Throwing Championships and a talk on Gender, Exercise and Art by Anthony Schrag, an artist now living in Scotland whose work, according to the University of Lincoln, “focuses on blowing things up, climbing on things and occasionally kidnapping people”.

I could take no more.

I went to bed.

When I woke up this morning, the BBC News channel was reporting that the NASA spacecraft could not be found, but it had passed over the UK twice during the night and was now “the size of a refrigerator”.

They also reported Prime Minister David Cameron’s warning to the world that we live in dangerous economic times.

Fuck the economy. Where is the fridge?

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Filed under China, Eccentrics, Movies, Newspapers, Science