Friday 30 October 2015

Britain is a country which once made and has now lost its old and greatest film critic, Philip French

Philip, who has died at the age of 82 after serving for 50 years as the Observer's film critic, watched more than 14,000 movies, wrote six books on the subject and received an OBE for his 'Services to Film' was made and inspired by his father's enthusiasm for film and the solace and escape the cinema gave him, as a boy, from the bleakness of the Second World War. It took him into a world of hush and semi-darkness, where his stutter and alopecia counted for nought, of commissionaires with waxed moustaches, usherettes with ice-creams and, as he remembered, the 'overwhelming' experience 'when the curtains parted and the lights went down the immense close-ups of the characters, at once gigantic and intimate, the abrupt switches of location, the swirling action seen from so many different angles.'

What you possibly didn't know about Philip, that he :

was born Neville Philip French in Birkenhead, Cheshire in 1933 and grew up in a suburb of Liverpool, the son of Bessie and John, who had been a dockworker at the age of 13 before becoming an insurance agent and at the age of 4 had just started school in Leicester, where his peripatetic father was based, and recalled his parents 'chatting over breakfast about how they'd spent the previous evening. They were talking about 'the pictures' and I was intrigued. I had never seen a film or heard of television, we didn't have a telephone and our only direct contact with the outside world came from the radio in the sitting room. I bombarded my father with questions about 'the pictures'. He was worn down by my persistence. Dad gave in and took me to the cinema that very afternoon.'

* was 'invited to moonlight as Deputy Film Critic at the Observer, the true beginning of my career as a writer' after being asked, by the newly-appointed Arts Editor of the paper, Richard Findlater, knowing that film was one of his passions,
to write a trial column and 'Returning home, I told my wife about the meeting. She said: 'Well, you've seen this week's films, why don't you write it tonight?' So I did - on Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly Bryan Forbes' The L-Shaped Room and How the West Was Won That trio said something about the excitement of movies at the time: great films coming from Europe (Bergman, Fellini, Antonioni, the French New Wave) as well as from Asia, a new realism in the British cinema and the western entering its last great decade.'

* in 1963, in one of his first columns for the Observer, went to see The Damned a Joseph Losey 'Hammer' movie and wrote an enthusiastic review of his significance and saw 'People went to see it and it was reviewed elsewhere and United Artists, encouraged by these reviews, brought it into the West End. I got a letter suddenly from Joseph Losey. I'd never met him. First of all I thought it was a practical joke but it was a genuine letter. "Thank you," he said, "for praising it and not for overpraising it" and "This has changed the situation for myself and my associates" meaning it prepared the public for a small film 'on a small budget with everybody deferring their payments, a film called The Servant which is one of the finest films ever made in this country.'

* recorded that, at the age of 39 in 1972 : 'driving into London from Stansted after some months of teaching in Texas, and passing two of my favourite cinemas, both closed down during my absence. One was the magnificent Astoria, Finsbury Park, beloved of John Betjeman' and 'The second was the Tolmer, across the Euston Road from Warren Street station. It reeked of cigarette smoke and disinfectant and always showed double bills. To me, all ports are different, all airports much the same. Cinemas have become as anonymous as airports.'
* in 1973 was finally offered the Movie Column at the Observer on a permanent basis and set about carrying out his project : 'First, it was to bridge the gap between arthouse and so-called popular cinema, to be equally rigorous about both, but neither to revere film as art nor despise it as commerce. Second, I wanted to find a style and language that would encourage readers to look at film as a distinctive medium that combined all the other arts while realising itself as the great new art of the 20th century.'

* for several years kept an unsigned, crudely written note pinned above his desk. 'It attacked me for having given away the plot of some now long forgotten thriller and began: 'You cunt! You fucked up my weekend!' It stood beside an autographed photograph of Satyajit Ray and Akira Kurosawa, walking thoughtfully together in front of the Taj Mahal, taken during a trip I made with them to Agra from a festival in Delhi in the 1970s. When I wonder whether writing about the cinema is worthwhile, I look up to that photograph for reassurance.'

* said, in 2008 at the age of 75 : 'I love seeing movies as much as I ever did. What have I done these past 70 years, apart from sit through around 14,000 films and be paid for doing what I like? I may have helped a few careers (Martin Scorsese, Stephen Frears, Walter Hill, Terence Davies, Bertrand Tavernier, Neil Jordan, Christopher Nolan) and encouraged readers to think about the contributions of cinematographers, editors, composers, production designers. I hope I've contributed to creating a climate that looks at cinema and its history in a more comprehensive manner' and five years later on his 80th birthday retired as film critic for the Observer and said "I think one of the key rules to learn in the art of party-going is when to leave with dignity."

* in 2013 gave one of his last recorded interviews at the Bristol 'Festival of Ideas' at Watershed, where he discussed his life's work and the films that had influenced him the most : and spoke of  Kind Hearts and Coronets "It is beautifully lit by Douglas Slocombe who was actually a hundred a couple of months ago. I met him last week and he's still in great form. Unfortunately he can no longer see but he certainly has all his marbles if not his lens."

* once said of Sean, Patrick and Karl :  "All my sons love movies. I started taking them around the age of four. I would take them to films I thought were quality, so I made sure that by the age of five or six they had seen the complete works of the Marx Brothers. They often tease me about when I took them to see a double bill of two westerns – Hombre and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – and quizzing them afterwards to make sure that they had been convinced that Hombre was a much better film than Butch Cassidy!"

also said :
"From time to time you may pull your punches, but not in the next round. You have to be truthful."

                 What better obituary might an old film critic have ?

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Britain is no country for old singer songwriter, Labi Siffre, who feels unwelcome in the land of his birth, yet still believes in love

Labi, who was born Claudius Afolabi Siffre, the fourth of five children at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in Hammersmith, London at the end of the Second World War to a Barbadian/Belgian mother and Nigerian father, is 70 years old. He has enjoyed a 50-year career as poet, song writer and singer and played Soho jazz clubs, been covered by Madness & Kenny Rogers, sampled by Eminem, Kanye West, Jay-Z & Dr Dre. He gained global status with his self-affirmation anthem ‘Something Inside So Strong’, written after he was profoundly affected by a television documentary from South Africa showing a white soldier shooting at black children. He came out of self-imposed retirement from music in 1985 to write this protest song against apartheid as a response. He had originally intended to give the song to another artist to sing, but was prevailed upon to release it himself.

This morning he was interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 'Today' Programme by Mishal Husain
 at 02.45.05 in :

Mishal asked : "The theme that's been part of your music over many years and we've probably seen that most strikingly in the song you wrote in the 80s for which you're probably best known, 'Something Inside So Strong', human rights, that particular song was seen very much as an anti-apartheid anthem, is that the way we should see it ?"

Labi : "As soon as I'd written the first two lines, 'The higher you build your barriers, the taller I become', I realised, with a shock, that I was writing about my life as a homosexual from knowing I was gay when I was four, long before I'd even heard the word 'homophobia' or 'homosexuality' and went through the societal abuse of being told that I was, as a black man and as a homosexual, I was a 'wicked evil, disgusting pervert'. I tend to find in my life that human rights and good things are like spotlights. They move. Things happen here and then the spotlight moves and bad things take their place. So as far as I'm concerned it's a little too early to say everything's changed."

Mishal : "But you, in your own life, were able to eventually have a civil partnership with Peter Lloyd, your late partner, who you were with for almost fifty years You eventually had the recognition of your relationship which I imagine for a long time was only a dream."

Labi : "Now these were practical things for me and they were things that I burned about ,waiting for the society I lived in to grow a perceivable backbone. It took such a long time that my life and the life of homosexuals of my age, in the same way as black Americans of a certain age, it's too late to wipe away what some people would call 'bitterness' I would call 'justifiable hurt' a wound that won't ever heal. I never as a gay man and as a black man ever felt welcome in the land of my birth. I feel a little more comfortable. I got married and that's great."

 In 2012 when asked what views he had on gay marriage he had answered :
" I favour it. In time it will help heterosexuals realize that love is love is love is love and the responsibilities inherent in love, regardless of sexuality, should and must be acknowledged by the state. That inclusion will encourage the ideal that all are accepted as valid and equal members of society, and thus share equal responsibilities.
I have never felt welcome in the land of my birth. In December 2005 after 41 years of love, my partner, Peter Lloyd, and I entered a Civil Partnership. We gained, for example, the legal right for him to attend my funeral or for me to attend his. The alienation lessened. State recognition of equal validity in love through the equal right to marriage would further lessen that alienation."

Labi met Peter in July 1964. They remained together until Peter's death in 2013.

"Something Inside So Strong"

The higher you build your barriers
The taller I become
The farther you take my rights away
The faster I will run
You can deny me
You can decide to turn your face away
No matter, cos there's....

Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
Tho' you're doing me wrong, so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
Oh no, something inside so strong
Oh oh oh oh oh something inside so strong

The more you refuse to hear my voice
The louder I will sing
You hide behind walls of Jericho
Your lies will come tumbling
Deny my place in time
You squander wealth that's mine
My light will shine so brightly
It will blind you
Cos there's......

Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
Tho' you're doing me wrong, so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
Oh no, something inside so strong
Oh oh oh oh oh something inside so strong

Brothers and sisters
When they insist we're just not good enough
When we know better
Just look 'em in the eyes and say
I'm gonna do it anyway

The Today interview finished with :
Labi : "Two things I've written about since 1970 is a world, what some people call political and the other thing is love and how love is (sighs). You are really lucky if you find it. It's a wonderful thing."

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Goodbye" to an old, film screen writer called Christopher Wood

Christopher, who had a writing career which started with serious novels, moved on to lucrative risqué comedies and film scripts and matured with scripts for multi-million pound, Cubby Broccoli, James Bond films and the novelizations which followed, has died, just short of the age of eighty.

What you possibly didn't know about Christopher, that he :

* was born in Lambeth, London in 1935, four years before the outbreak of the Second World War, the only child of Audrey and Walter, who, after the outbreak of War and eager to protect him from the Blitz on London, sent him, at the age of six, to the Edward VI Grammar School in Norfolk as a junior boarder, where, tormented by a gang of bullies after lights out, was given respite after putting  a sock full of crushed gooseberries into the bed of his companion in suffering, Phillbrick Minor, leaving him 'alone in his misery' and took a sense of shame at his betrayal with him for the rest of his life.

* at the age of 7 was puzzled why supposed allies, US airman and local squaddies, fought outside the 'Samson & Hercules' Dance Hall opposite the school and only later realised that Norwich girls, who favoured the elegantly dressed and nylon-bearing Yanks, were the cause of the nightly battles and about the same age was beaten by the Headmaster after being caught when a senior boy sent him to retrieve a tennis ball from the rubble of the adjacent medieval school which had been bombed in the 'Baedeker Blitz' on the cathedral city in 1942.

* returned to London to continue his prep school education as a day boy at King's College Junior School, Wimbledon, where he was at risk from certain masters who he recalled as 'drunken, mentally disturbed, sexual predators' whose peccadilloes were blamed on them being shell-shock victims from the First World War and found that, when he reported some of the more outrageous behaviour to his parents, who, living in rented accommodation, had scrimped and saved to pay for his education, they chose to ignore him.

* later reflected that : 'for six years Hitler made increasingly desperate attempts to kill me with bombs and eventually, as a last resort, rockets. He failed. I was lucky' and moved into the Senior School at King's towards the end of the War, where he excelled academically, became Head Boy and captain of the rugby team and in his free time at home listened to the radio 'but for me that was part of family life, like stewed rhubarb or being told to get you hair cut. For real entertainment there was only the cinema' and was soon 'going more than once a week; filching, I am ashamed to say, money from my mother's purse or gas meter in the communal bathroom' which paid for his ticket at the 'Granada' at Tooting, 'Tooting Broadway', 'Odeon' at Balham or 'Classics' at Tooting Bec.

* as a teenager developed 'an increasing partiality for French cinema because attractive women sat on the edge of beds and took off their stockings. What I didn't realise was that when I guessed what the actors were going to do and say next, I was revealing that I had learnt something about how films are made and I knew when I had seen something good : Citizen Kane, The Third Man , La Salaire de la Peur. They left an impression. I went out into the dark, usually wet, South London streets excited, moved, my imagination stirred. I ran for the bus that was always trying to escape as the lights changed, charged with the vigour and emotion of what I had seen. It was a stagecoach, a biplane, the last train out of town. I had to catch it. It never, ever occurred to me that one day I might be part of that world.'

* left school and two years later at the age of 21 in 1956, took up his place as an undergraduate to read Economics at Cambridge University's oldest college, Peterhouse and stayed on after graduation to study for a further degree in Law,
and while a student 'worked at a variety of vacation jobs - loader, labourer, mason's mate - that brought me into contact with the prevailing truth/legend/myth nurtured by my workmates : "My mate's a window cleaner," I was to be told, "E's only up there cleaning this posh bird's windows, ain'e ? An' she's in this negligee thingy, right ? An' she says, "Ew, would you fancy a cup of tea ? An' 'e's up 'er like rat up a drainpipe."

* in 1960 at the age of 25 and one of the last men recruited into the Army for two years National Service, was based in Cyprus shortly after the 1955-59 EOKA uprising during which 105 servicemen had been killed and then posted to West Africa where the Army was helping to conduct a 1961 UN supervised plebiscite in the Southern Cameroons, then back in civilian life after discharge from the Army in 1962, got a job with 'Masius Wynne-Williams' and later recalled : "I was a frustrated advertising executive interested in cinema and the arts generally. I watched TV and groaned : "I could do better than that." My wife said : "Why don't you ?" After some TV ideas were turned down I started writing a novel on the train commuting to work. It was published. A new life had started"

* in 1969 had used his Cameroon experience for his first novel, 'Make it Happen to Me' and invented a wife for an unmarried man, identifiable by his job description and turned her into a raving nymphomaniac only to find that he had since married and his new wife 'was unhappy. She was very unhappy' and 'eventually, after sincere grovelling apologies legal action was avoided, but the book was withdrawn and pulped. Not a promising beginning to my writing career.'
* was heartened the following year by the success of  'Terrible Hard, Says Alice' a title taken from a line in A.A.Milne's poem, 'Buckingham Palace' : 'Alice is marrying one of the guard. "A soldier's life is terrible hard," Says Alice' and based on his Army experience in Cyprus and in 1961 saw his 'John Adam – Samurai' Critic Richard Newman in 'Books and Bookmen' praise him with : 'underlying it all, one feels that he has done his homework and knows his Samurai very well. And he really makes you think you are watching it all. Qualities like this are worth developing. His is the imagination which could come up with something really good.'

* at the age of 36, with the recognition that serious novelists rarely made money and recollecting the tall tales he'd heard during summer jobs as a student when 'The more I listened, it seemed preordained that sexually deprived- or totally depraved- upper class totty only had to clap eyes on a sturdy, working class lad's squeegee before they experienced a sensation of incredible lightness in the area of knicker elastic', told his publisher that if he committed them to the page, and passed them off as a 'Cockney geezer's confessions', they'd sell a million and recalled :  "I could almost see the pound signs in my publisher's eyes."

* in 1971 created 'Timothy Lea' his hero and pseudonym for, the first bawdy comic novel, 'Confessions of a Window Cleaner' and saw it become an overnight hit and followed with 'Confessions of a Diving Instructor' and 'emboldened by this success I handed in  my notice at the advertising agency - I remember thinking I felt like a ship leaving a sinking rat - and prepared to write full time for a living.'

* found that his decision to quit his salaried job did not meet with universal approval : 'My Father burst into tears (his own father, a small shopkeeper, had gone bust in the Great Depression and the idea of being unemployed was like cancer to him) and friends scolded me for being grossly egotistical when I had responsibility of a wife and three children, I didn't see it like that. The Confession series - as it was becoming- was going to keep the family in custard and knickers for a while.' and "for the first time in my life I was able to pay bills when they came in, and not wait for the red letter. I was thrilled."

* produced the film script for 'Confessions of a Window Cleaner' in 1974 and later recalled the best moment of his career as : "walking on to a set for which I had written the script from my book and feeling a mixture of excitement and trepidation. The physical reincarnation of something that had only existed in my mind was immensely satisfying, but I also had the sense that I was responsible for the investment entailed - supposing the the movie was disaster ?" , but had the pleasure of seeing it take the biggest UK box-office takings of the year.

* continued to turnout at a rate of one in five weeks : the 'Long Distance Lorry Driver', 'Plumber’s Mate', 'Pop Performer' and 'Private Dick' and produced the film script for 'Confessions of a Pop Performer' in 1975 followed by writing a 'Luxury Liner', 'Nudist Colony' and 'Milkman' and scripted 'Confessions of a Driving Instructor' in 1976, the year in which he worked with director Lewis Gilbert who had mentioned to his agent that he was looking for a writer : "They recommended me for 'Seven Nights in Japan'. I would drive to his home and we would discuss the story and its development and many other things. Lewis was a warm, friendly man, very easy to work with, immune to pressure and tantrums."

* also in 1976 was taken on to co-write the script for his
first Bond film, 'The Spy Who Loved Me', with seasoned Bond writer and American, Richard Mailbaum and after "out of the blue Lewis rang me up and asked if I would like to write the new Bond movie. I thought he was joking. I was presented with a script when I got to London but had no idea that apparently so many writers ( including Anthony Burgess and Stirling Silliphant ) had contributed to what I was given. I would have been terrified had I known. The script had 'Jaws' and the sub guzzler and Norwegian fjords and a bunch of young revolutionaries. I remember thinking that it was very distant from the Bonds that I had enjoyed and recommending back to basics. Nearly everything in the movie was written by me"

* flew out to the film set on the Japanese island of Okinawa and recalled : 'I was being brought into the presence of Cubby Broccoli, leader of our enterprise, for the first time and felt like a small boy arriving at his prep school a term behind everybody else. At that moment I did not realise that boys in all shapes and sizes had been arriving at regular intervals before me.'

* reflected on his role as scriptwriter :
" However great you think you are your work's going to be cut, changed. Any number of other writers can be brought in at any moment to change your work. You might find that five other writers are working on your script at the same time. I mean it has happened. When it gets in front of the camera the director might decide to cut and change a scene. If they're shooting on location and you're not there he might have a better idea. An actor may not be able to speak a line and it's taken out. You just have to accept  that. if you are so terrible finicky and caring about your work, that you can't bear to see anything touched. If you're very a temperamental and hypersensitive person, then the film industry is not the place for you."

* in 1979 returned as script writer for the next Bond film and recalled : "I did not like the premise of Moonraker. It seemed to me that we were copying Star Wars. I also found the idea of space, slow in filmic terms. It is difficult to rush around in an astronaut's suit. Did I tell Cubby that his idea sucked ? "No" It was Cubby's idea to leave the fate of 'Jaws' open at end of 'The Spy Who Loved Me'.  He was a popular character and certainly one of the most memorable heavies in the Bond Series."

* recalled : "I originally wrote the Corinne Clery part in Moonaker as a sassy Californian chick. Then for financial reasons the movie was shot in Paris with French actors and Clery was cast. Had I been given the chance I would have rewritten the part for a French actress. It is another scene that distresses me, especially the terrible last line : "I never learned to read" and was left  with Roger Moore's first meeting with Corinne as Dr Goodhead at the Pompidou Centre : 

* at the Moonraker London Premier said : "I think the challenge is to deliver what Bond lovers expect and want to see in a Bond movie, but to prevent him becoming hackneyed. In other words to do the same thing, but to do it differently and to do it better every time." and in the same year continued to demonstrate his flexibility with and scripted, for London Weekend Television, the 13 episode comedy series, 'Lovely Couple', starring Pauline Quirk. 

* became the first script writer to follow his Bond films with novelizations :  'James Bond, The Spy Who Loved Me' in 1977 and 'James Bond and Moonraker' in 1979 which he enjoyed creating, but found "was a real challenge to integrate the extraordinary world of Bond film into the more prosaic real life settings of the novels" and "tried hard to replicate Fleming's style. It seemed the natural thing to do. This was the guy who started it all" and with scripts and books, incidentally found that : "My kids were particularly relieved. It made them terribly popular at school"and was complimented by Kingsley Amis in 'The New Statesman' with : 'Mr Wood has bravely tackled his formidable task, that of turning a typical late Bond film, which must be basically facetious, into a novel after Ian Fleming, which must be basically serious.  the descriptions are adequate and the action writing excellent.'

* scripted the 1985 'Remo Williams : The Adventure Begins' for 'Goldfinger' director Guy Hamilton and based on the popular Sapir/Murphy men's adventure paperback series, 'The Destroyer', and later admitted that  the "adventure did not begin with Remo. There are many reasons. Fred Ward is not a leading man, the high octane ending was dumped for budgetary reasons and maybe the script and direction were not good enough.  There wasn't a second Remo because the first was a box office failure. I like Fred Ward but he is not a leading man. Ed Harris was up for the role. I think he might have made the difference. I had also written a slam bang action finale that was cut for budgetary reasons. That didn't help."

* in 2004 at the age of 69 wrote his semi-autobiographical novel, 'California, Here I Am' which William Boyd said was : "A very funny, shrewd and horribly accurate novel about the movie business, Hollywood-style, written with sustained brio and mordant intelligence." and in which he and harked back to his screen writing for Roger Corman :  'The book is based on a time I was writing screenplays in Hollywood and my son, fresh down from university and considering a career in the movies, came to stay with me. The story is told by a young man lodging with his ageing, boozing, womanising screenwriter father in Los Angeles, and moves around Hollywood, Santa Barbara, Sun Valley and a Virgin isle. Any resemblance between the characters and real people and events is regrettable .'

* in 2006 saw his 'JAMES BOND, The Spy I Loved' published  and said :  ‘No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money.’ Thus spoke the excellent Doctor Johnson and I have to confess that I would probably not have embarked on my book had I not become increasingly aware over the years of the incredible worldwide interest in all things Bondian and associated this with the approaches I have received from fans worldwide for any relics/mementos/reminiscences etc. associated with my participation in the making of the films.'

* after Bond films, 'Casino Royale' and 'Quantum of Solace', said in 2012 : "I am not shaken and stirred by 'new' Bond. The movies seem like immitations of the Bourne Series and I find Daniel Craig, though a good actor, akin to a muscle-bound hobbit. I miss the lightness of touch of the old Bonds and having shifted uneasily through Casino Royale was not tempted to see the next one."

* in 2013 living in semi-retirement in France, was pleasantly surprised by the re-publication of the 'Confessions' series and said : "Why not? People still like to laugh, don't they?" and in reference to his 1975 'Confessions of a Private Dick' : "I wouldn't be surprised if these ended up being used as GCSE texts. I'm serious! They are full of clever alliteration, onomatopoeia, metaphors and similes. Getting children to read has always been difficult, and these might start them off. They did in the 1970s, so why not again now?" and "Fifty Shades of Grey? I picked that book up in an airport recently, but only managed to read one paragraph. Sorry, but it was risible in its awfulness. Risible. It made Confessions seem like Aristotle." 

 * had said and lived his own advice to the full :

"Any potential screenwriter should see as many movies as, of every type as possible. He will learn what works and how it works and discover lots of thing he can steal"

"Advice to any writer? Never lose faith in yourself. Never quit. Really enjoy what you are doing - it is the only reward you are guaranteed"