Tag Archives: Stanley Kubrick

An ordinary day in Borehamwood: I become trapped in my rubberwear

I live in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, which can occasionally have its moments.

Last night, there was the weekly ritual of spotlights on the skyline and distant roars as an eviction went ahead in the Big Brother house. The house is built in the former water tank at Elstree Studios, which is why contestants entering or leaving the house have to climb up steps, go through a door, then go down steps again – they are going over the side of the water tank.

Sadly, I moved here a few years after the late night fire at Elstree Studios when Stanley Kubrick was filming The ShIning – the heat from the fire caused his polystyrene snow to rise and float, causing polystyrene snowfall over part of Borehamwood.

But yesterday was an ordinary day in Borehamwood.

I went for my annual check-up at the optician. Every year, I think my eyesight has deteriorated badly and I may be going blind. Every year, they tell me:

“No, there’s not much change: it’s just your age.”

Next week, I am going to South West Ireland and a friend, who has been trying to persuade me for almost a year that my rarely-worn Wellington boots are two sizes too small (in fact, they are a little tight but perfectly OK) got me to go into a shop to try on some new, larger, Wellingtons.

“Your old ones scrunch your toes up,” she insisted.

My friend can be very insistent.

“It was bad for Chinese women,” she told me. “And it is bad for you.”

I went into the shop for a quieter life, though I was slightly torn between that and wanting to go home and go to the toilet.

I tried on a pair of grey Wellington boots two sizes bigger than my current ones.

“Too big,” I said, relieved, thinking this would free me for the toilet trip home.

“We will try them one size smaller,” my friend insisted. “That will still be one size bigger than the ones you have now.”

“They don’t seem to be in green,” I said weakly. “They are only in grey. I think they should be in green because we are going to Ireland. It will cheer the Irish up.”

My friend was insistent: “I will go get an assistant and see if they have a green pair.”

Unfortunately, they had a pair. I put the right one on. It was a little tight to get on but, once on, it was very comfortable.

“That’s OK,” I said, grudgingly.

I put the left one on.

“They’re just the right size,” I said, grudgingly.

I took right one off. A bit of a struggle.

I tried to take the left one off.

It would not come off.

My friend tried.

I tried again. My friend tried again.

It would not come off.

I tried again. And again. And again.

It would not come off.

My friend tried, pulling the toes and heel.

“Careful of the toes,” I said.

It was a bit sore on the toes.

A shop assistant tried.

The green rubber Wellington boot would not come off.

At this point I realised I still wanted to pee.

Rather a lot.

A second shop assistant arrived, pulling me nearly off seat when he yanked the boot at the heel and toe.

“Careful of the toes,” I said.

“We may have to cut it off,” the second shop assistant said.

“Well, it might not be necessary,” I said. “I had a circumcision a couple of years ago. I didn’t think it was necessary; the doctors did. I eventually agreed to it because the doctors told me it would be no skin off my nose.”

I looked at the shop assistant. He did not laugh.

“We may have to cut it off,” he repeated.

My friend nodded.

My toes were feeling sore.

“I have a high instep,” I explained.

“Do you want to buy them?” the shop assistant asked.

My friend and I looked at him.

“The boots,” he said. “Do you want to buy them?”

He was not joking.

“No,” my friend replied patiently. “He would have to sleep in them because he can’t get them off.”

A third shop assistant arrived and tried and failed to pull them off. My toes were getting sore; there was what felt like a bit of a sprain on the ankle; and, every time someone pulled, I was having to hold onto the sides of the seat to avoid being pulled off onto the floor.

I was now desperate to go to the loo and all that rubbing and sliding of my bottom backwards and forwards on the seat had now aroused the back-up of shit building-up on my colon or intestines or wherever-the-hell it builds up. It was getting quite insistent about heading for the exit in both retail shop and bodily terms.

“Are the Wellingtons waterproof?” I asked.

“Of course,” the shop assistant replied, surprised. He looked at me: “They’re rubber Wellingtons.”

The three shop assistants went away to get the manager. My friend tried again.

“Careful of the toes,” I said, holding on tightly to the sides of my seat,

By now, a nearby middle-aged couple had stopped trying on new shoes and were just sitting back watching our floor show with considerable interest.

“I have a high instep,” I explained to them.

“If the assistants can’t do anything,” my friend said, “I’m calling the fire brigade.”

I smiled, though I was thinking more of a warm toilet seat and sausages.

“I’m not joking,” my friend insisted – and I knew she was not. My friend can be very insistent. She took out her mobile phone. “You have your leg and your foot stuck in a Wellington. The fire brigade can cut you out. That’s what they’re there for.”

About eight seconds later, the manager and third assistant arrived with a pair of scissors.

I thought of toilet seats and the movie Murder on the Orient Express.

The train remains trapped in a snowdrift as detective Hercule Poirot tries to figure out whodunnit. When the case is finally unravelled, the snowdrift is cleared and the train is free to continue onwards. I have always thought the symbolism was wonderful. I wondered if, as they finally released my foot and leg from my rubber prison, I would piss down my leg and shit would explode out of my bottom.

I will spare you further details.

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John Lennon, Aristotle Onassis and the famous ballerina who was a gun runner

“There’s nowt as queer as folk,” is a saying which perhaps doesn’t translate too well into American. In British English, it means there’s nothing more strange nor more interesting than people.

So bear with me, dear reader, as I tell this meandering tale of less than six degrees of separation, a Wagnerian concentration camp, John Lennon and hand grenades in Cricklewood, north west London.

In my erstwhile youth, while I was a student, I lived in a Hampstead house of bedsits. One of the other inhabitants was the late Martin Lickert who, at the time, was John Lennon’s chauffeur. He lived in a bedsit because he was rarely home and only needed an occasional single bed to be unconscious in at night. Although, one night, I had to swap beds with him as I had a double bed and he had to entertain a girl called Juliet. He later went on to become a poacher-turned-gamekeeper. Long after I knew him, he trained as a barrister and specialised in prosecuting drug cases for HM Customs & Excise.

His relevance, as far as this blog is concerned, is that he accidentally appeared in the little-seen and staggeringly weird Frank Zappa movie 200 Motels.

In that film, shot at Pinewood Studios, the part of ‘Jeff ‘was originally going to be played by the Mothers of Invention’s bass player Jeff Simmons who quit before filming. He was replaced in the movie by Wilfred Brambell, star of BBC TV’s Steptoe and Son and The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, who walked off set in a rage after a few days and Frank Zappa said: “The next person who comes through that door gets the part!”

The next person who came through the door was Martin Lickert, by then Ringo Starr’s chauffeur, who had gone to buy some tissues for his drumming employer who had a “permanent cold”.

The co-director with Frank Zappa of 200 Motels was Tony Palmer, famed director of documentaries on classical composers who, last night, was talking about his career in a Westminster library. I was there.

It was an absolutely riveting series of anecdotes which lasted 90 minutes but it seemed like 20 minutes, so fascinating were Tony Palmer’s stories.

He has, to say the least, had an odd career ranging from directing Richard Burton, Vanessa Redgrave and Frank Zappa in feature films to large-scale documentaries on heavyweight classical composers and from making documentaries on Liberace, Hugh Hefner and Peter Sellers to Swinging Britain TV rock shows like Colour Me Pop, How It Is and the extraordinary feature-length 1968 documentary All My Loving, suggested to him by John Lennon and so controversial at the time that it was shelved by David Attenborough (then Controller of BBC2) who said it would only be screened over his dead body – Attenborough denies using these words, but Palmer has the memo.

All My Loving was eventually screened on BBC TV after the channel had officially closed down for the night. I saw it when it was transmitted and, even now, it is an extraordinarily OTT piece of film-making.

Tony Palmer’s film-making career is much like the composing career of Igor Stravinsky (whom Palmer introduced to John Lennon when The Beatles were at their height). Stravinsky saw Tchaikovsky conduct in the 19th century and was still composing when he died in 1971, after The Beatles had broken up. So there are fewer than even six degrees of separation between Tchaikovsky and Martin Lickert.

Palmer – who is currently preparing a documentary project with Richard Dawkins – has had an extraordinarily wide range of encounters from which to draw autobiographical anecdotes.

He directed Michael Palin and Terry Jones in Twice a Fortnight, one of the important precursors of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and he directed the 17-hour, 12-part 1977 TV series All You Need Is Love tracing the development of popular music. Again, that project was suggested to him by John Lennon and he discovered that, though The Beatles had never tried to copyright the title All You Need Is Love, it had been registered by a Hong Kong manufacturer of sexy clothing and a brothel in Amsterdam.

Palmer also advised director Stanley Kubrick on music for his last movie Eyes Wide Shut and has apparently endless anecdotes on the great creative artists of the 20th century.

Who knew that the cellist Rostropovich used to get paid in cash, would put the cash inside the cello which he then went and played on stage and bought refrigerators in bulk in the UK so he could send them back to the USSR and sell them at a vast profit?

I, for one, had never heard that the German composer Richard Wagner, Hitler’s favourite composer and much admired by the Nazis, actually had a grandson who ran a concentration camp towards the end of World War II.

Nor that, in the 1950s, ballerina Margot Fonteyn got paid in cash which she then took to a Cricklewood arms dealer to buy guns and grenades which were channeled though France to Panama where her dodgy politician husband was planning a coup.

It’s amazing that, by now, someone has not made a documentary about Tony Palmer.

I suppose the problem is ironic: that the perfect person to have done this would have been Tony Palmer.

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The truth about “A Clockwork Orange” and why some movie critics deserve a colonoscopy

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned actor Rutger Hauer’s famous death speech in Blade Runner and someone complained on my Facebook page that, in fact, I should have credited the film’s writers – the screenplay was written by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?

In fact, it’s almost inconceivable but true that Rutger Hauer actually made up the speech off the top of his head. I saw a TV interview with the film’s director, Ridley Scott, where he said Rutger just went over in a corner and came back with the speech in its entirety:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I’ve watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

It wasn’t in the script; it wasn’t in the book; the director didn’t write it; the actor made it up.

But the guy who complained about my crediting the actor not the writer is quite right in general. People tend to overlook who actually creates movies: the writers. Without them, zilch. A director may be brilliant – for example, David Fincher with Fight Club and The Social Network – but the 1950s French-spawned cult of the director is just as stupid as any other piece of intellectualising about movie-making.

It never fails to amaze me what pseudo-intellectual bullshit some so-called critics spout about the movies. When you create an academic subject, it seems that reality goes out the window and, rather than look at the movies, some people just look up their own arses

Last night, I went to a special screening of Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 movie If…. introduced by Sir Alan Parker. He had chosen If…. as the movie which had most influenced him, despite the fact that its director Lindsay Anderson didn’t much like him and had once (with John Schlesinger) sued him in the courts for defamation of character over a cartoon he had drawn.

In fact, it seemed, Alan Parker had mostly chosen If…. because he greatly admired its director of photography Miroslav Ondricek, not its director.

A lot of film criticism is utter twaddle written from the bizarre ivory towers of academia. I can never get over the stupidity of film courses which claim that the ideal movie is Casablanca and therefore, by extension, people should follow the example of Casablanca when writing a film script.

Casablanca was a terrible mess of movie production. The truth is that the actors – along with everyone else on the movie – had no idea what was going to happen at the end and had no idea if the Ingrid Bergman character was going to go off with Humphrey Bogart or Paul Henreid in the final scene, so could not tailor their performances accordingly.

Virtually each night, after completing a hard day’s shooting, they were given new script pages and script rewrites for the next day’s shooting. Neither the director not the producer and especially not the writers (credited as Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch with an uncredited Casey Robinson, based on the play Everybody Comes to Rick’s by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison) – nobody – had any idea what was going on.

So the ideal way to shoot a movie would be (in this ludicrous theory) to start shooting with no finished script and actors who have no idea what their characters think or feel.

Much has been written about the fact that If…. has some sequences in colour and some in black & white. I had heard this was because they had run out of money and (surprisingly in 1968) it was cheaper to shoot in black & white.

Alan Parker said last night that he had heard the interiors of the church were shot in black & white because shooting in colour would have required much more lighting and, as a relatively low-budget film, they could not afford that, so Miroslav Ondricek shot with faster black & white film. The rest of the black & white sequences appeared to be simply random and done on a whim.

As for the auteur theory that the director creates and controls everything, at the summit of this must be Stanley Kubrick, who was a legendary control freak. There are stories of him going to suburban cinemas with a light meter and taking readings off the screen so he would know the intensity of light with which his films had to be screened for optimum viewing by ordinary audiences.

He insisted on take after take after take of scenes – sometimes 50 times for one shot – so that the lighting, framing, acting et al were perfect.

A Clockwork Orange is one film of his that has been written about endlessly

But, last night, Alan Parker said the star of A Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell, had told him that, when cast in the lead role of Alex, he wasn’t sure how to play the part and had asked Lindsay Anderson for advice. Anderson told McDowell to remember the slight smile he had put on his face as the character Mick Travis when entering the gym for the beating sequence in If…. and to play the character of Alex like that throughout A Clockwork Orange. McDowell said it was the best piece of direction he had ever received.

The auteur theory?

Academic film critics?

They might as well get a colonoscopy and stick the camera up their arse.

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