My Pop Life #228 : God Give Me Strength – Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach

LicheinsteinintheskywithDiamonds

God Give Me Strength – Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach

Now I have nothing
So God give me strength
Because I’m weak in her wake
And if I’m strong I might still break
And I don’t have anything to share
That I won’t throw away into the air
That song is sung out
This bell is rung out…

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New Year’s Day   :   Drowning The Baby

*

this is verbatim the diary I wrote between January 1996 – July 31st 1998

Part Three

Easter Monday 1998

Spoke to Don McPherson today who said all the right things.  Separate the personal from the professional. It’s a marathon not a mile. Twat him in the face.  Things like that.  Park your revenge and then pick it up at a later date.  Don is famous (to me at least) for banging Steve Woolley’s head onto the floor of the restaurant in Groucho as he held his ears, something of which Don is “not proud”. I understand nevertheless.  I decide to rewrite the beginning as a hotel fire at Gatwick, and do so today.  Suri calls me and while we talk Jenny places a post-it note on the TV which reads ‘The Naked Clown’.  She is a genius.  Very hard for her that I am still involved in this cocksucker of a film.  But I am.  Don reminds me that my hurt can be redoubled if I get branded as a troublemaker – ‘he wanted his wife in the film’ etc.  He advises me to pick up the piece of shit from the floor, place it into my mouth and chew slowly, while pretending that it tastes nice.  Unfortunately he is right.  I park my revenge and take my cuddly toy out of the car, putting it where my body should be.  I’m so cute.

Wednesday April 15th 1998

Great day yesterday. For me.  Pleased with my handling of these amateur ego merchants.  I travel to London late Monday, meet Brian & Emma & Pete in the Giraffe Kennington where Guinness is still being served at 12.30am, Emma fiddling with the best. this means she was playing the violin in a public house  We retire for a bottle of wine and I end up sleeping at Pete’s after smoking 15 skunk/temple ball joints. 3 hours sleep. Up & at ’em.  A five minute walk to the office.  Slimmed down staff – plenty of desk space.  Uneasy atmosphere.  I wear my Alien 3 shirt “All other considerations secondary. Crew Expendable”.  yes I can be a cunt tha knows  I fiddle with the new beginning – fire in a hotel.  Some people seem to want the lone gunman scenario.  This will be where I part company with the film I predict.  We’ll see : it’s complicated now – David Thompson wants a draft tonight where the middle has been altered.  Granada want one where the beginning is changed.  Because of my late involvement last week on script matters I cannot do the BBC one in time, and in fact it seems that Suri has already written it !  When I leave the office at 1.30 ‘NYD by Ralph Brown’ is given to me – but I didn’t write it. This is the one I’m taking in to the office today. Actually bits of it aren’t bad – but other bits are execrable. even the temple ball skunk couldn’t quite conceal that The fact that it had been done at all is the most disappointing of course. Steve eventually arrives looking sheepish and tired.  Charles pulls him aside to ask “what is going on?” and they mutter darkly to each other for ten minutes.  Eventually I suggest that we go for a cigarette.  In the Giggling Sausage Steve updates me on the charade.  There are two scripts now – mine, and Suri’s. Granada have all but closed us down. Rumour has it that Pippa is to be sacked.  yes that’s how it reads in the diary – no editing here folks ! The BBC don’t mind the avalanche but can’t decide either way.  I say my piece: ‘This is wrong.  You and Suri have produced a draft – for what reason? You can’t just leave me out – you’re wrong – I nearly left you this last weekend.  Start producing the film. You’re in charge at the moment, start behaving like you are.’  And all that. Steve says – read this draft, then have a think, then read it again then we’ll all get together like we used to and thrash it out. let’s get back to killing this baby properly!  Are you hiring another writer I ask baldly?  Categorically not says Steven, you know the characters better than anyone. No I say.  Why would you hire someone when You and Suri will write it instead.  He is sheepish again.  What a bunch of amateur arse.  I then explain why the lone gunman is so pathetic as an opening.  I then leave the office and get stoned with Pete.  Meeting my new literary agent today to see what she’s like.

STOP PRESS Version of the script going to the BBC with lone gunman opening as I write this. Charlie in the office was foolish enough to let me know.

Monday April somethingth 1998

What a week that was. I read their draft (Suri’s notes, Steve’s writing) on the train – some good things, and my stuff remained largely untouched, especially the big scenes. I called Cameron to let him know that I hadn’t written the draft winging its way to him. (Cameron McCracken who is on board as a producer/financier expert). Then had a great meeting with Jessica Sykes at ICM and we went through the history, the betrayals, the backstabbing, the draft going out with my name on that I didn’t write.  “They can’t match my writing” I realised. We talked for an hour and a half with no interruptions – a good start to our relationship. She advised me to stay cool and Not Take My Name Off, as then I probably wouldn’t get paid.  And I deserve to be paid, gunman or no. Oh yes, I deserve to be paid.

I should explain here that nobody gets paid until the first day of principal photography which is when the first tranche of money gets released.  See My Pop Life #143, #144, #145 which document with unerring and occasionally amusing clarity my experience as a writer on another film called Red Light Runners. I didn’t get paid for that one, and neither did anyone else.  It was both less and more of a car crash than New Year’s Day. 

 

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Pager

That night I stayed at Wembley to celebrate Mrs Jules 56th birthday.  Next morning Suri pages me to call immediately. I let him stew for an hour then it’s “call me back on my mobile, I’ll be outside on the pavement” and all sorts of bollocks.  When we finally talk Suri is full of apology, chagrin, pleading : “I was wrong and you were right, we’ve got to get the flavour and integrity of your script back, it’s slipping away and I need you to help me to fix it”.  Laughing quietly to myself I arrange to be in the office the next day (Friday) to discuss the script.  Steve also pages me and leaves a message at home, which I do not return. Next day I go into the office late – about 2pm – and we huddle in a corner, me, Steve and Suri – and they try to launch into the script – and I say hold it – I just want to say two things.  One – remember the Pardoner’s Tale which was in all of the early drafts of the screenplay, an English class at school with Mr Diamond discussing Chaucer’s story where we’d cut from the chalk cliff to a piece of chalk in his hand writing the word ‘Death’ on the blackboard – three chaps decide to go and Kill Death, find a pot of Gold, decide to wait until dark before moving it, meanwhile send one to find food, he poisons it but the other two kill him and eat the food afterwards. So they all die.  Suri was secretly smiling at this. And number two I said, said I ~ I will be credited on all office paperwork as Writer/Co-Producer as it says in my contract.  “I don’t want the chain of command to be confused” says Steve.  “If anyone asks me a producery question, I’ll tell them to ask you, OK?”   So that was that.  Point made I then pulled out my gear, my papers, tobacco and grass and rolled a phat one.  Charles wandered over “Is that a Camberwell Carrot?”  This is a no smoking office and building so I lit up and inhaled deeply.

 

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Camberwell Carrot

Then on with the script.  The lone gunman idea was discussed for an hour.  My position was that I wouldn’t be writing that. Suri agreed and that was that. Other areas were discussed as we waited for Granada to phone and give us the go-ahead for another week.  Madness.  We talk about a ‘Don’t Look Now’ beginning where Shelley senses the avalanche. Great idea but will we miss the skiing? I think we will. Another joint.  Suri shares it. We get the OK from Granada – not quite a green light, that has to wait until Tuesday. Budget now £2.16million. Lots more cutting and pasting arguments to come.

Saturday drive to Shrewsbury in Mark Williams’ brand new Alfa Romeo, see the Albion lose 2-1 you’re Welsh and you know you are Sunday go to Wilf’s 1st birthday at Steyning then drive to London for a 6pm meeting with Clear Eye (on a Sunday?). We work for an hour then I leave him to tidy up the remains of the gunman from the script and go to Paulette’s to see A Respectable Trade on the TV, directed by Suri, starring Warren Clarke, Emma Fielding, Ariyon Bakare, Hugh Quarshie, me and Jenny Jules my wife. Jeez. Staying at Pete Sullivan’s tonight as we have a script meeting at 6.30am in the morning. This is to clear up any further disagreements the three of us have..then its the BBC Thursday to see if they’ll give us their quids. In the meantime we have to assume they won’t and cut scenes. Fuck me.

Wednesday night April 1998

Two very early morning starts and all day meetings on the script.  Knackered.  Jenny flew to New York today. Got to finish this draft today.  Timbuktu is currently in.  it’s a scene where our heroes go to Timbuktu for an ice cream  Saw video of the boys and the kids from the beginning.  Jill Hagger didn’t get the make-up job, Elaine Smith from Respectable Trade did.  Finished latest draft last night at 8pm and today took the day off – completely shattered. Green light still not there. The possibility looms of a postponement until the autumn/summer.

Tuesday April 28th

Had a meeting booked with Pippa at Granada today at 11am. Awoke at twenty to eleven, called Steve and said I wouldn’t be coming in. It’s a lovely sunny spring day in Brighton and I’m going out. Hurrah!

Wednesday May 6th

Cancelled two more meetings as the promised green light failed once again to materialise and some energy evaporated from the project.  Tuesday casting in North Acton for Sgt Bristow and Mr & Mrs James – Sharon D. Clarke and Burt Caesar came in, who we hope will do it.  Another Wednesday rolled around and Suri, Mark, Urvashi (Suri’s PA) and Robin the location manager met me at Cuckmere Haven visitor’s centre to see the meanders, the sea, the cliffs.  There is already a problem with Lewes County Council regarding shooting on Seaford Head due to the nature of the script – suicide, drugs etc.  We are not to identify the area in any shot, so after negotiating, reframing and sweet talking it seems we can use the area !  Placing a monument – a bell – on the cliff-top helps, as does painting out the cottages.

 

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Paul Bhattacharjee

Tragically the actor Paul Bhattacharjee jumped from these cliffs in July 2013 after being declared bankrupt, a haunting legacy for all those who knew him, which included me and previous girlfriend Rita. I can’t write about Seaford Head, suicide and NOT mention Paul.  RIP. 

James Wilby meets Suri & I for lunch in the Golden Galleon and is immediately offered the part of Robin (Steven’s father, an MP) which is great as he is my first choice.  Then to Brighton and a saunter down the Palace Pier (where we can’t film for the above same reasons – strange that Brighton is worried about a film which portrays drugs!!) then under the pier, down to the West Pier then the Pavilion then back to Frances’ house for a cuppa.  We are all frustrated by a phone call from Steve which indicates that the light is indeed green but there are more cuts to be made. Steve needs to stop being so flexible.  We need a stand from now on, from everyone,  no more cuts!

Monday May 12th 1998

And so it came to pass that Granada asked if we could cut another £100,000 from the budget and it was not good, and we did not confer, yet Steven Cleary took it upon himself to say unto them “No”, for verily many cuts of this nature had already been suffered and we were upon the bone.  And thus the green light failed to materialise and the office was closed down and the weekend was spent calling people and telling them the news and many tears were shed.  But strangely the writer did not share their grief for he had been mighty unhappy with the project as constituted and did distrust Granada as Executives but even so he could see that it was a shame. And it meant that the months of debt would continue even unto the autumn or whenever the film was to be reconstituted with a certain Simon Channing Williams.

 

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Simon Channing Williams

(Simon’s company Thin Man Films produced all of Mike Leigh’s films and had an office on Greek Street. A great producer and a decent guy.  Simon did eventually produce NYD.  He sadly passed away in April 2009)

It also meant that the emasculated version of the script would not be filmed and there was a chance to do the thing properly, and even, breathe it if you dare, with the wife of the writer back in her rightful position as Veronica so help me God. And the possibilities were good.  But the producer had not called the writer, no even unto the morning of the sixth day after the event for he was mighty depressed, yea, even unto the telephone. The director had made the writer aware of much of what had transpired, and the writer vowed to keep this relationship open and sweet, regardless of his personal feelings for the director, for verily it is good to separate the personal feelings from the professional.

May 12th 1998 Monday

Met Suri & Urvashi in “the office” and we left carrying boxes and vowing softly through our humiliation Never To Return. Lunched at NFT where Steve arrived late and without 2 million pounds. Walked back to Granada and up to Pippa’s office. She thinks that we can still put a deal together by asking everyone for another 20 grand each. Since we have now stopped  and would have to re-start at the beginning of pre-production this is not really very likely. The putative budget is back at 2.3 million, Steven said he wanted to explore other avenues meaning the substantial Channing Williams one and Pippa had to agree. She kept mentioning the script being “not quite there” which got right up my nose.  predictably  She is especially concerned that the 2 boys don’t jump off the cliff at the end “because they want to commit suicide”.  No, they jump because they said they would.  Pippa also slags off Lynda LaPlante’s KillerNet because of her supposed inability to “get down to the level of teenagers”.  I leap on this angrily. I have never considered teenagers to be “down” on any level below me or anyone else.  They are on the same level as us.  When I was a teenager I thought that and I still do. Extraordinary.

May 13th 1998 Tuesday

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Filofax

Leave the house at 11.30 in a cab, realise I have forgotten Filofax (it’s the 90s kids!) and Suri calls as I re-enter house to change meeting to 2.30.  I mow the lawn. Suri arrives at Groucho with birdshit on his hat but not on his head. Everyone proclaims this to be Good Luck and he then brandishes a green lighter he found in the pub the night before. Round to Greek Street and up to Simon Channing Williams’ office where he sports a splendid moustache but no beard.  Steve explains – Granada have already spent £75,000 on the film but that is included in our new budget which stands at £2.3 million.  Simon reaches for the calculator – “Let’s call it £2.4” Suri and I are immediately sold, Steve and Simon fiddle with figures for 5 minutes (Simon has a different Sales Agent with a higher quote) and they decide that if we get a UK sale from somewhere – C4 or the BBC – then Thin Man and David will fund the film completely. “You know I’ve always loved this script” says Simon.  The sun is still shining.

Wednesday May 20th 1998

Suri called yesterday and Jenny picked up “Hello Jenny it’s Suri” “RALPH PHONE!” heh heh how rude we all thought.  Anyway today’s brilliant idea was how about a cable car crash? I said No Suri we have discussed this A MILLION FUCKING TIMES YOU PEA-BRAINED MORON it’s an avalanche it’s an Act of God there are no repercussions no investigations no negligence actions no blame NUFFINK JUST GRIEF BABY PURE FUCKING SORROW got that?  Really got it now or SHALL I SHOUT IT INTO YOUR DIM LITTLE ORIFICE YOU SPINELESS EXCUSE FOR A CRUSTACEAN? FOR FUCK’S SAKE I AM WORKING WITH PYGMY SHREWS WITH NO DICKS GOD HELP ME ! !  There will be no script meetings until Simon Channing Williams has made a decision on THE MONEY.  FUCK THIS MOVIE.  I HATE IT SO MUCH.

clearly a touchy time for me then.  The diary of a fourteen year old bipolar wanker. To be fair to Suri and Steve, they’re trying to squeeze a story into a budget. I was in the luxurious position in some ways of purely telling a story. The idea to me of the avalanche being expensive wasn’t important.  I’d been through the alternatives and they all produced very different films. As I had explained. to be fair to me, many many times. 

Booked a hotel in Aix-en-Provence today for the 1998 World Cup having scored 4 tickets for England v Tunisia.  Hoorah.

Friday 22 May 1998

Pete informs me that Aix is the capital of the French fascists.  Marvellous !  No meeting yesterday – waited until we’d heard from SCW and… it’s a yes… Now we have to extricate gently from Granada.  Steve & Charlie have gone into a huddle to discuss the best “deal”. Arse to that let’s get this creaky cranky fucked up marriage-busting turd of a show on the knobbing ROAD!  Suri tells me he cannot call me at home anymore because of the abuse he receives from Jenny – ‘cocksucker’ being the latest overheard remark. diddums He can call my pager instead.

Wednesday 27th May 1998

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A Voyage To Lilliput

shit this is going to get worse isn’t it

Suri arrives with Muttley or so he calls Urvashi this morning. It is an indication of something that he has to have an assistant for a meeting between him Steve & myself. An indication that he is a twat, for example. He gets very heated with Steve over the possibility that Granada might need “another month” to put the deal together. We all say No to that, but the problem is that they own it, and they could become difficult and delay us again. Pippa will not allow us to use any of the other co-producers – Newmarket Films, British Screen, the French at Canal+ or even the BBC as she started the dialogue there. (or at least continued it). So a face-saving moment is underway.

Meantime script notes are produced by Naked Clownface and we argue over point one and point two for about an hour when Suri or rather Muttley has to take his car off the meter.  So we arrange to meet again on Friday, when I plan to SMASH.  I see out of the corner kick of my eye that Suri’s notes are far-reaching & radical and I just want to rip them up and stuff them down his throat as the contents are just what the last person who read the script told him. “Steven’s character is under-developed” gets a whole section to itself.  I am so furious in the meeting that I do not speak for ages just tap my feet and smoke and Muttley takes notes. I finally realise what we are trying to solve on points one & two and suggest that Both Boys want to commit suicide, or rather, don’t really know one way or the other….in other words, what I wrote three years ago.

I’m a fucking righteous prick by this point clearly

I am totally at the end of my patience with this procedure and the small people nibbling at my ankles are about to get stepped on. I only have to flex my bicep to release my arm from their puny ropes – just wait til I get angry you midget cloud! I will smite thee and all thy progeny! There will be wailing and gnashing and grinding and blood.

June 5th Saturday 1998

Took a week off.  Meeting produced further irritation and no promised SMASH unfortunately but it was pretty tense and irritable and I told Suri I was offended by his notes. Steve was saying stuff like “well we have to discuss this” and I was “sure, let’s but I disagree” and basically it was crap.  Agreed to do another draft but have no intention of doing so until we have more news…

World Cup tickets confirmed, we’re off in a week, driving down to Marseilles for England v Tunisia….the World Cup now dominates all thinking and feeding and drinking habits and I am strangely nervy and jumpy today thinking about it.  Can’t wait.

Wednesday July 31st 1998

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The World Cup came and went – a separate diary – in fact I did put in a new draft just before we left, it was a tweak no more, dialogue for Veronica, Geraldine & Robin and now it all seems so far away from me, small insignificant people scrabbling in blancmange, specks, dust. Finally it doesn’t matter.

Surely this is a blatant lie.  ‘It doesn’t matter’.  Jeez.  What are you saying>?  Lies

In three more days Rebecca my sister will marry John, and I will drive her as requested to the Registry Office.

Suri and I had dinner on Monday.  He wanted to know how we could resolve it. I said we couldn’t, short of offering Jenny the part, which I knew wasn’t going to happen. He said “Ralph, look, I know Jenny and I will never be friends again, but me and you – we’re all right aren’t we?”

I think I was gobsmacked frankly. I finally understood my mis-reading of the man we had considered to be our friend, who had slept at our house, who we had both worked with, the man I had given the gift of my first precious screenplay. 

“We’re all right though aren’t we?”  

He wanted to know how we could proceed as friends.  I explained in short, easy-to-understand sentences why this was not going to happen. Why we were not going to have a friendship going forward of any kind. It was civilized (Groucho Club, upstairs) and low-key – in other words, no disagreement occurred, no voice was raised, no anger or frustration erupted. I drank white wine, gin, vodka, water and in a low serious voice outlined my year so far. I was completely honest, and announced that I would have no more to do with the project New Year’s Day unless asked, but added an important coda that I felt, as the writer, that I would be asked regularly for my opinion.  But even so I felt released dear reader, unshackled from the lead weight that has been dragging me down down down and I let it go.  It sank.  So did Suri.  He claimed that my friendship was important to him.  The feeling was not reciprocated. We parted.

I shall probably never see New Year’s Day, the film that I wrote.

I feel cleansed and free.

I can’t hold on to her
God give me strength
When the phone doesn’t ring
And I’m lost in imagining
Everything that kind of love is worth
As I tumble back down to the earth
That song is sung out
This bell is rung out
She was the light that I’d bless
She took my last chance of happiness
So God give me strength
God if she’d grant me her indulgence and decline
I might as well
Wipe her from my memory
Fracture the spell
As she becomes my enemy
Maybe I was washed out
Like a lip-print on his shirt
See, I’m only human
I want him to hurt
I want him
I want him to hurt

*

Well thanks for bearing with me readers as I dug over the rank soil of this awful era.  I am so glad that I kept a diary for I had erased almost all of this from my memory.  When I was house-clearing in Brighton last month (August 2019) I found some papers and this was among them.  It contained some of the greatest professional and personal pain I have experienced as an adult, much of which has been directed back at myself for trusting the wrong people with my precious writing.  But a mistake is an opportunity for learning, because life goes on.  I will gather my forces and rise.

The song for this chapter is from a magnificent album that was released in September 1998 just after this blog ends.  It is a pinnacle release for both Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach who collaborated on the songs, on the words, on the music.  Beautifully written, orchestrated and sung, it was that October when we scored tickets to see the show at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles.  Lulu Norman took my ticket because I never made it due to work commitments. It wasn’t because New Year’s Day was finally shooting.  On the Isle of Wight.  That would be the following spring.

God Give Me Strength. Elvis Costello’s finest vocal performance :

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My Pop Life #227 : Paranoid Android – Radiohead

LicheinsteinintheskywithDiamonds

Paranoid Android – Radiohead

Please, could you stop the noise
I’m trying to get some rest
From all the unborn chicken voices
In my head

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New Year’s Day   :   Drowning The Baby

*

this is verbatim the diary I wrote between January 1996 – July 31st 1998

Part Two

March 25th 1998 contd

We travel up after the workshop to London together.  I meet Jenny at Beverley and Paulette’s and tell her my news.  There is chaos and weeping and anger and fury. I am grateful that two of my oldest friends who understand from all sides are there to help us through this incredibly difficult time. I have a calm fury, a murderous shine to my eyes, Jenny’s are black. I resolve to insist that Suri meet Jenny for lunch face to face.  He will not get away with this.

[However he is directing my screenplay, my baby, and I have at the very least a morbid fascination about the bubbles and the exact time of death. So on the train journey I remain tight-lipped and decide Not To Undermine Not To Punch In Face Not to Kill quietly in Notting Hill side street Not To Disagree Violently because I sense that if I champion certain things strongly in an aggressive sulky moralistic way Suri is quite likely to do quite the opposite.  If I become visibly his enemy in face, my opinions will rebound against me. I have to keep my lip zipped (as far as Suri is concerned) for one year.  Any honesty, any real honesty at this point will not help me (I probably cannot be really honest with Shekhar either). A long game is preferred now, a painful steep learning curve called “How To Make A Film” (I will choose and re-choose to stay with my baby wounded and twisted and mis-shapen though it is I will not abandon it entirely I will choose the difficult path the learning curve that curls up and over my head in a perfect arc toward my shoulder blades where it embeds itself firmly in my back, sharp and piercing and drawing blood but not killing me) so I will be at Production Meetings, castings etc I will take Mark Stevenson production designer round Lewes to original locations so that he can double them in Surrey I will hold the baby’s head underwater for as long as I fucking can!  At the time of writing it is not dead yet.]

I go to the Production Office next day and have an hour or two with Charles Steel our associate producer.  Suri is talking to Mark. He thinks Marianne will be offered the part and that Jenny will not even be seen.  Well he should fucking know !!  I tell him that he must call Jenny ASAP and meet her for lunch and make out that my marriage is on the line.  It actually was a month ago because Jenny of course was way ahead of it all and smelled it out and knew deep in her bones.  Her bag was ready and packed until she could see that my pain was equal to hers that I was on her side that I was losing too.  In fact I want Jenny to tell him what we both need to tell him but for reasons explained above, I cannot.  My learning curve bends again and I feel nauseous at the extent of human selfishness.

Over the weekend Jenny and I are immersed in pain.  Lightened somewhat by seeing Thomas Jules Stock perform in front of 12000 screaming teenage girls at Wembley Arena, supporting Backstreet Boys.  He is fantastic, and Jenny and I both secretly claim authorship and feel proud. All the family come and feel the buzz.  On Tuesday night we see Lyndon David Hall on Jools Holland and meet Spiritualized properly (at the Royal Albert Hall after a fantastic gig of Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space), and Wednesday is dinner at Noel Greig’s with Mala from Delhi who works with the Street Theatre Movement in India, and all of these social events smooth the rough edges of our days – good people – good music – good conversation and love.  The love seems to have disappeared from NYD.

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       The Magic Circle in Lewes behind the castle – holy ground for me                –   a ‘cathedral of the imagination’ for Cleary.  Well exactly.

On Tuesday Mark Stevenson came to Lewes and I made him fall in love with it. He loved the space – Hamsey in particular, the castle, the Downs, the schools. We got on tremendously well but I am seeing bubbles all day as we are down to 2 weeks shooting in Lewes now in The Schedule.  The soul of the film starts to leave me, there is a funeral every day and the thought of jumping off chalk appeals as it must.  NYD is a story about a teenage suicide pact which is set partly on the chalk cliffs where the South Downs meet the sea, famously at Beachy Head near Eastbourne.  

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But the baby stubbornly refuses to die.

Evening Same Day

What’s that?
(I may be paranoid, but not an android)
What’s that?
(I may be paranoid, but not an android)

Another great betrayal is at hand.  Weakness and the centre & accountants bullying are leading to the internal collapse of this film.  Not green lit yet, with few outstanding candidates for the lead boys on offer, now a location panic resulting from Granada insisting on a five day shoot in Lewes (!) and the production team squeezing two weeks out of them – not enough time to shoot the exteriors so it would be mix and match. I would rather it wasn’t in Lewes than be a bastardization of my town, and so would Suri clearly.  He and Mark are planning a jaunt to – yes – The Isle of Wight – next Wednesday to see if it can work there!  Well readers what a turnabout we have here then. Writer provides director with vehicle for his ego. Cuckoo pushes eggs out.  Small man flexes. It is ugly this loss of love this appropriation this betrayal.  I explain to Frances Tempest (costume designer and neighbour) on the train that Suri asked me to set the script on the IOW three years ago – we visited the island and I came back and decided to set it in Lewes. why didn’t I see the signs why didn’t I see the signs  I am reminded about conversations about bonfire night and the cliffs, the castle and the river.

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This sucks.  This is like Wimbledon moving to Dublin. (this was proposed before the club was moved as a franchise to Milton Keynes in a hugely controversial relocation). Location matters. NYD is SET IN LEWES.  If this fact is overlooked and altered in the next week then we have a war my friends.  A war. My benevolent neutrality must be sought for the soul of this movie to fly.

When I am king
You will be first against the wall
With your opinion
Which is of no consequence at all

Jenny has a meeting with Suri tomorrow.  I must ask her to tape it. I am incredulous at these events and must only wonder at the state of mankind for these things to be possible. To be defended. If I had written dots instead of words I would be revered now, but the director in this case, not content with taking the credit for my movie, wants to shit on me from a grat ehight at the same time, piss down my back and tell me it’s raining, and for that, revenge will be administered. And I will leave this fiasco to its doom.

Note: Suri called to cancel the meeting with Jenny this morning as I left to fly to Shetland.  We expected that he would.

Tuesday March 30th midnight

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After a peaceful empty sane weekend in Shetland with Mark Williams, Flora Avery and Simon Day I return to life in my life – Paulette’s birthday which we miss because of prior invitation to Catherine Wearing’s to see the final episode of Our Mutual Friend which I pronounce to be the best one.  McGann is excellent, as is David Bradley, Tim Spall, Pam Ferris, Peter Vaughan, Anna Friel and Ken Cranham.  The Jules’ family dog was put down today at 18 years of age (good innings!) so the idea is to give Mandy some support but we don’t get in until 2.15 and she is asleep and unhappy.  Jenny and I are a bit up our arses to be honest.

Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
Kicking, squealing, Gucci little piggy

Back in the office next day I meet Steve and Suri in “sorry we haven’t called you” mode.  We have lunch in The Giggling Sausage on Great Suffolk Street. There seems to be co-production money from France, the U.S. and the BBC, but how much we will find out this afternoon.  Green light expected in the next “29 hours”.  Steve and I have a private conversation after Suri has left and the Isle of Wight is laid to rest – just between us (oh no it wasn’t – just between us).  The fact of its contemplation by Suri though is enough for me, but I shall not let him know anything while he is making the film.  One day he will find out how I feel. As far as he is concerned my position is this :  “if you don’t shoot in Lewes that leaves the town for me, for my film projects, it remains virgin film territory”.  And indeed, that is partly my position.

“we’re going to make a great film” Suri says to me. “Once you have discharged your duty to Jenny I will be able to have a proper conversation with you” I reply.  It’s something he understandably doesn’t want to do.  But he will have to meet her.  This has all been handled very badly and people must own their lives and choices.  One thing is certain, Jenny has insisted (quite correctly) He will Never be Invited to my House Again.

We now have an Art Director, a Production Supervisor, Runner, Location Manager and Director’s assistant alongside the already employed Production Accountant, Production Manager, Costume Designer and Producer’s Assistant.

I tell Charles Steel that my title is not Writer but Writer/Co-Producer.

Every step of the way.

Bubbles

Oxygen

Please god, let me start soon on whatever will be next, then next, then next.

Friday April 3rd

Great drunken Brighton evening last night at the Zap Club the launch of Surf 107FM with free beer and Malibu all night.  Hungover today. Went into the office a couple of times this week.  Had a short chat with Steve Cleary – he is mental on the money raising side – no green light yet – the BBC (David Thompson) can’t decide how much money to put in which is holding everything up.  Designers can’t work, crew can’t do proper breakdowns of the script and schedule and every department’s budget is way over the top.  Current budget = £2.4million.  I reckon it will need nearer £4million but we’ll never get that.  Therefore more horrible decisions to be made – more cuts and slices and chops.  Dead baby food. Suri never calls me now. Avoids me in fact.  Has no interest in my opinion, or is scared of it.  Collaboration over.  Cunt. Hate him now more than I can say.  Give us your screenplay and Fuck Off. Well, we have at least one more draft to go and we’ll see what happens there – I know already how Suri wants it to go ie here are the script changes, now go and write them. I haven’t been party to any of these meetings, discussions or conversations.  Every time I changed the script or storyline over the last three years I phoned Suri to run it by him. That’s the kind of fellow I am. I am sick to my guts that I have made this basic error of judgement regarding the character of this disloyal weak unimpressive swine.  Jenny goes to meet him at six today in Browns, St Martin’s Lane.  The sword of justice and the shield of honesty are her weapons.  Watch out Krishnamma!!!

Sunday 5th April 1998

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Suri called just as Jenny was leaving to cancel the meeting again. Asked me how I was because I’d answered the phone (pre-mobile days pop fans). Said I’d been better. He asked why. Long story I said, we’ll talk about it one day. He then talked to Jen, cancelling, leaving us in this unresolved limbo for another weekend, then we spoke again. Asked me about the long story.

You don’t remember
You don’t remember
Why don’t you remember my name?
Off with his head, man
Off with his head, man
Why don’t you remember my name?
I guess he does

I gave him some of it, diluted:  I don’t feel welcome, I feel you want to make the film all on your own, where is the collaboration, I gave you this film as a gift and you don’t want me around anymore. He said Frances Tempest had talked to him, and he wished I hadn’t been party to the information about “location”. What do you expect me to do, I said, I have an opinion.  It’s just an opinion, that’s all it is. I was silenced, neutralised over the Veronica issue – no you weren’t he said, you took yourself out of the debate by writing “no comment” on the fax to Jane Deitch against that character.  A subtle rewriting of history occurs whereby it is all my fault. I hang in there though. because i have decided to be a limpet and stick with my baby and protect it where i can because i can and i will not walk away and hand it over to this cunt  We discuss the end, Katrin Cartlidge, the jump, Shelley.  I decide not to go to Paris to see Thomas sing with Backstreet Boys, so they can’t have another production meeting behind my back.  No more of that. I also decide to forego skiing with Michael this year for the same reason.  This is too important.

Tonight we went to see Kundun at the Duke of York’s in Brighton.  That’s how to make a movie…

Monday April 6th 1998

Jenny finally met Suri tonight.  For probably the last time.  Haven’t spoken to her properly about it – she was drunk with Doraly but said “it was horrible” and I believe her. A fundamental moment for us all.  Steven and Suri have a production meeting tomorrow at 7.00am.  Doubt I’ll be at that then.  Or the one scheduled for 6.00am on Wednesday. At some point in the next 12 hours Granada will, or will not greenlight the project.  At which point I will pierce my face, symbolically and actually.

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Good Friday

Good friday arrived, the sky darkened on time
‘Till he almost began to negotiate
She held his head like a baby and said “it’s okay if you cry”
What shall we do, what shall we do with all this useless beauty?

All this useless beauty

Well well.  It wasn’t greenlit I finally discovered on Thursday afternoon.  In between times I developed an eerie cool about it all as a result of Jenny’s blood-letting with Suri. Apparently she ended the meeting saying that he was weak, disloyal, a coward (to which he replied Fuck You) and that he wasn’t her friend.  She then walked off. I achieved a strange serenity regarding the project. Cool.  Suri called Tuesday to say he had a tape for me to watch of possible Jakes and Stevens and that the Jenny meeting had been constructive (!) what a fucking coward he was what a fucking jerk Steve Cleary also called for a chat. I spoke on Wednesday to them both after learning that they had been ensconced in script meetings together at 6.00am and that I wasn’t to be invited in to the office until Thursday late afternoon.  I arrive to see office workers leaving for a break.

Steve & Suri tell me that we don’t have a greenlight, that Pippa Cross’ job may be on the line at Granada, and that a scenario for saving the shoot is as follows : cut back to six weeks, lose the avalanche and the trip to France, replace with another tragedy. This is the opening sequence, more or less, of the screenplay. Their favourite was the mad gunman scenario – Dunblane or Hungerford.  I react coolly to this – we haven’t done the research, the film doesn’t discuss this.  Cleary “We are now in the crucible of production and we must redouble our efforts to get this film made”.  Suri “We must get this film made now, we can’t lay all these people off They’ve been working on the film for weeks (!!)”  A 6-week shoot based at Bray Studios with 4 days on location in Sussex including Beachy Head, Brighton and maybe some river. The gunman will make it more powerful – that’s why Jake wants to commit suicide !  I listen, and now and again suggest another way of doing the avalanche – radio, darkness, all sorts.  Steve & Suri keep looking at each other.  We go to the pub. I leave after half an hour to meet Jen.  More tomorrow on my plan….

Easter Sunday

Rain down, rain down
Come on, rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height, height
Rain down, rain down
Come on, rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height, height

My plan is making me ill.  Or am I just ill? A Psychosomatic flu has enveloped me – I can’t think straight, ache all over, tired, very very hot as if the raging fury cannot be contained by my mere body. I feel like I am exploding within all day.  Temptation is not to write anything at all and sink this version of the project with all hands on deck.  I would not contemplate this had I been included in the process up to this point, I would have proper relationships with all the crew and would do whatever I could to save the project.  Bit I feel left out. Overlooked. Uninvited. Excluded. Ariyon called last night and talked to Jen, let it slip that Andrew Lee Potts had been offered the part of Jake.  I haven’t even been informed of this.  What is their problem?  Are they really so scared of me that they can’t tell me when the lead character has been cast? Unbefuckinglievable.  I leave a message for Clear Eye to tell him that I cannot proceed until we have had a face to face meeting.  I actually want to hole this thing below the waterline because it doesn’t feel like mine anymore. How childish is that?  Catherine supports this point of view – it’s already a bastardization, kill it off.  Then I spoke to Stuart Orme on the phone (he directed me in Ivanhoe and other TV shows, a father figure to me in the industry)  and he said is that what you really want to do?  It will sour forever and be difficult to get off the ground again. But I don’t want to change the beginning and I cannot continue to work like this. Steve needs to know what a bully Suri has become.  Fuck it all I’m going back to sleep.  Feel like crap.

Radiohead.okcomputer.albumart

Radiohead released OK Computer in June 1997 just after Jenny and I had filmed A Respectable Trade.  It was a dystopian soundtrack for the ugliness which was to come, twisted lyrics reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails over stunning music that had veered unmistakably into prog, especially on this song, a three-part nightmare in technicolour and black & white interference. They were still students, morose angry bitter students and we loved them for it –  they weren’t students obviously and neither were we but the bond there was tight.  Fuck the world it’s all shit.  The key song was Fitter, Happier. The disgust expressed throughout the LP seemed to be the only honest reaction to how the world had become so lacking in compassion, so full of dishonesty corruption and greed. The album was a perfect soundtrack to my struggle.  Exit Music was actually written for a film – Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet, and Paranoid Android is just what is says on the tin.  thanks for reading

That’s it, sir, you’re leaving (Rain down)
The crackle of pigskin (Rain down)
The dust and the screaming (Come on, rain down)
The yuppies networking (On me)
The panic, the vomit (From a great height)
The panic, the vomit (From a great height)
God loves his children
God loves his children, yeah

My Pop Life #226 : Exit Music (For A Film) – Radiohead

LicheinsteinintheskywithDiamonds

Exit Music (For A Film) – Radiohead

We hope that you choke
That you choke
We hope that you choke
That you choke
*

New Year’s Day   :   Drowning The Baby

*

this is verbatim the diary I wrote between January 1996 – July 31st 1998

Part One

January 1996

Almost exactly a year since I first took NYD public, pitching it to Suri in the Atlantic Bar before jetting back to LA for one last month to write the screenplay. I suppose I have spent 6 to 8 weeks of the year since then writing and re-writing the script.  On Monday I delivered the official 3rd draft (actually the 6th but that’s how it works).  On Tuesday producer Steven Cleary left a message on the ansaphone saying “I need to edit this draft so would you please send me a disc so I can show you what I mean – it needs to lose 6 or 7 pages”.  I was so furious that I didn’t even reply for two days and Steven eventually called Suri to ask where I was. When I eventually returned his call he was in a temper and didn’t understand why I wouldn’t send him the disc.  He is becoming quite irritating. We still haven’t got a contract even thought the money has been agreed. Mine is 2 & a half % of the budget, minimum £30K, max £75K, 25% of producer’s budget at back end.

At each script meeting the project – my baby – is placed on the table between Steven, producer, Suri, director and myself, writer.  We take it in turns to cut it, twist it, pull it, open it up, mend it, wound it, kill it.  In this way it gets better because it gets stronger.  Once the 3 of us have punched it in the face a few times, stabbed it and held it underwater until the bubbles stop, why then, it has become almost invincible…

July 1996

I have no desire to write the next draft – officially – believe it or not – the 3rd draft (I know) despite the eight I have written so far.  I actually have 5 separate drafts on the hard drive (we are pre-computer and pre-internet here) but Clear-eye felt I had only written two. I was repulsed by this betrayal having been writing this film now for 18 months, and as a result my interest in the screenplay has almost vanished. (See My Pop Life #75).  I no longer give a shit about the story or the characters, couldn’t care less whether the film is made or not, whether I’ll be involved or not. I feel totally drained of juice, enthusiasm, interest, buzz, creativity.

December 1996

A million pounds has evaporated – indeed, it was never there in the first place.  A next draft in the offing. I read the 1st draft again recently thinking in my arrogance that it would be better than the “3rd draft”.  It wasn’t.  The screenplay has steadily improved since it was first thought of, and can improve again.

Steven Cleary has moved house, been burgled, and had a baby (Stephanie has) as he attempts to sew Granada/Rank into the deal.  Suri now committed to “A Respectable Trade” with the BBC until April – as are Jenny and I.  NYD slips back to autumn 1997…

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A Respectable Trade…

October 1997

Ten months later and Steven is married.  Granada and I are still negotiating my contract – I am now to be credited as co-producer separately from screenplay. They have a clause about giving any new writer credit on the screen – ‘screenplay by Ralph Brown and…’ well bollocks to that.  I’ve been stalling them anyway as I am not that happy with the whole set-up.  The last draft was met with silence. I eventually received a copy of my script typed up by Steven’s secretary, edited by Steven. Which was, as you can imagine, quite hilarious.  Irritated by these developments, I kept my cool and sold Steven on a new draft based on a book review I had read in Bristol ‘The Importance of Disappointment‘. He bought it.  I rewrote the character of Veronica going back to draft 5 for the structure.  This of course annoyed everyone, but that’s the current draft and battle will be resumed when there is Money On The Table and not before.  I have refused all requests for script meetings this summer.  Simon Channing Williams is still interested and I am meeting him this Thursday October 9th.

I felt at this point and others that script meetings were being used to create energy when there was no movement on the money front.  Rewrites to keep us all energised.  Slightly patronising, sometimes useful, more often just chewing over stuff which had been shaped perfectly well.  When there is no movement on the money let’s get Ralph to write another draft. 

January 20th 1998

We appear to be in pre-pre-production. A small shared office on the 17th floor at Granada on the South Bank with a beautiful view over the Thames and London.  I saw the sun setting over the Houses of Parliament today while chatting to Suri about Barry Ackroyd who seems to be shaping up as the DP.  Good.  Kathy Burke seems to have fallen through as an idea as she is slated to shoot David Kane’s movie at the same time .  Shame.  She would have been perfect as Shelley.  We have a casting director – Jane Deitch who worked with us all on A Respectable Trade.  An open audition is planned for Feb 11th in the Theatre Royal Brighton for prospective Jakes and Stevens (lead characters in the film, two 16-year old boys).  Very exciting stuff.  Tomorrow is the Premiere of Up’N’Under in Leicester Square with Mums Dads Brothers Sisters coming.  Interview with Andy Oliver at GLR in the afternoon, then Thursday up to Hull for the Northern Premiere.  Hoorah !

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

(in keeping with the bellyaches and gripes herein I merely note that my agent failed to negotiate my name on the poster)

February 1998

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Great week in Brighton with Jane and Suri and Jenny going to schools and drama groups then holding an open casting at the Theatre Royal then another at Granada Studios in Manchester.  500 kids turn up in Brighton – we are overwhelmed but manage to see them all.  The quality is low, but the hunger is fantastically exhilarating.  Highlights of the week were : 1. Varndean – great class with lots of talent and very strong potential ‘Jake’, 2. The Academy – almost all young girls (12-15) who blew us away with their improvisations and their production of the Orestia – all credit to their teacher Mel, 3. Going back to Priory in Lewes to audition the 6th form – some talent here too.  Great production of Guys & Dolls by Blatchington Mills School at the Gardner Arts Centre and disappointment at Falmer and Shandy Stage School which was in fact quite Moonie-like and spooky.  A very enjoyable week indeed – spoiled for Suri only by the local Argus headline “500 queue to audition for Ralph’s film”.  He is very competitive, silly thing.  Jane was wonderful with the kids, spoke her mind, and we all loved her and her husband Mark who came down to help at the Theatre Royal.  The hunt for ‘Steven’ goes on.

March 3rd

Bad day.  Suri has gone seriously paranoid about me and refuses to invite me to casting sessions or casting discussions with Jane.  Shoot planned for 4th May, time spent worrying about snow, ski-ing, avalanches.  Today Suri manages to disagree with everything I say, regardless of what it was about – contrary to the Nth Degree.  Very disturbing indeed and all thoughts of collaboration, friendship, protecting my film go out of the window.  I meet Charles Steel who is our Associate Producer (friend of Steve Cleary) who is great, friendly, positive, lovely.  We get on immediately.  Steve is in Paris talking to potential French co-producers, and doing a workshop for Arista.  We need him full-time now. I spend the day looking through Spotlight – the whole thing – and run up my shortlists for the principal cast.  This is what Jane and Suri did on Friday.  I simply do not understand why Suri would not want me in one of these discussions.  I cannot get my head round it at all.  I can only assume that he is really insecure and needs to flex his status as much as possible.  He is behaving like any weak director who feels threatened by a writer. He is also perhaps (as Catherine Wearing suggested) a stick-in-the-mud, rather inflexible about how he works and how he has always done it, ignoring our relationship and my experience in film because in some way to change his working method is to undermine him. I am deeply worried about Suri for a number of reasons – not least of which is that he is now going out with Nikki again who does not approve of NYD, or doesn’t like it, and with whom he spends as much time as possible rather than on the film.  This will get increasingly irritating as we go into pre-production (starting Monday) and fucking outrageously annoying while we shoot.  Oh dear.  I start to take the sanguine long view, I start to plan my short film, my next full-length screenplay and the rest of my life without a good friend who has become an arse.

8th March Sunday night

Life has become empty without New Year’s Day in it.  I made one call to Suri the next morning – paged him “I WON’T BE IN AGAIN THIS WEEK. DO YOU WANT TO SEE MAN UTD GAME WITH ME?”.  He called back immediately said he couldn’t see the game and we had a chat about things, tried to improve the atmosphere and I think we were both relieved. Cleared the air. But the truth is he doesn’t need me now. He has work and so does Nikki. She will help in increasing his confidence which i good but there’ll be no more cosy chats over a big spliff.  It’s a shame but I really have to let it all go.  I feel as if I am going mad. Gwen (o seed – gwaine in patois) in Los Angeles brilliantly understood it all as an authorship problem and and insecurity/potency problem to be resolved through authorship and advised me to breathe the air and wait.  Good advice.  I need to start writing again, something new, and more than that I need to spend a week getting stoned out of my face.

25th March

A horrible fortnight.  After faxing my forthright casting comments up to Jane Deitch a silence ensues for over a week.  I later learn that this is when I am betrayed by all.  Granada want a star name in the Veronica part and I am not invited to offer my opinion – first betrayal.  It will be embarrassing for Pippa (Granada producer) if I’m there because I’m married to Jenny, for whom I wrote the part of Veronica, and who is under consideration.  This all starts to stink bigtime bigtime.  I spend a week being furious and gutted.  Wednesday I lunch at Quo Vadis with Fiona McGloughlin my new acting agent but not before Ian Amos (my Literary Agent) beckons me quickly into his office to inform me that he is leaving ICM to set up a music agency.  Oscar Wilde springs through my mind – to lose one agent is unfortunate (Michael Foster having left in December) – to lose two looks rather like carelessness.  Over spinach leaves and stuff I tell Fifi my whole life story for some reason and explain why writing is so important to me. I go to the Production Office where Suri is busying himself with something or other and we greet and hug stiffly. “Do you still hate me?” I ask like an ingenue. “No” he replies, but it ain’t right.

Steve and I go downstairs for a meeting where he tells me that Suri needs a clear run at the casting and it’s the area which is causing the most problems and I tell Steve that I understand the authorship issue and that’s why he’s insecure and precious but no – it turns out that Marianne Jean-Baptiste is being sent the script for the Veronica part (at least she’s black I think to myself) and Granada insist and Jenny won’t get a look-in – although this doesn’t transpire until much later.  The writer always dies three times intones a frankly unsympathetic Steve Cleary doing an unpleasant dirty job, or rather half of it, that Suri hasn’t the balls to do himself.  It is an awful moment.  I am left in the canteen of LWT with a knife protruding from between my shoulder blades.

The next few days are spent analysing this turn of events and the extra piece of information that Sting has been sent the screenplay for the Mr Diamond role.  I discuss with Jenny.  We shred blankets with our teeth and smash crockery and karma is summoned and charlatans and cowards and the knife is still there.

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Fuck me I want to kill someone now.  This feeling persists all weekend as Conrad and I go to watch Barnet 2 Brighton 0 and singalongahoolie with the Albion away contingent which is therapeutic.

On Sunday I decide to send Suri my pain, all wrapped up in love.  A fax to his house.  We wait three days for the reply but in a strange way I feel calmer.  I know he must reply.  I call mutual friends Meera and Shekhar and discuss.  Shekhar is brilliant and I love him.  He promises to “have a word with Suri”.  I feel as if I may have miscalculated many times over with Suri, particularly in relation to my friendship with the man. This hurts the most – the possibility (!!) of being wrong in a personal judgement haunts me terribly and I keep pushing it to the back of my mind, but I cannot help thinking that Something Is Up and Suri cannot face me, cannot talk to me, would rather I wasn’t there probably.  I think every day about turning my back and walking away, letting three years three years or more of my life be colonised invaded changed altered crucified sold out massacred a droned infant keeps appearing in my mind. I feel perhaps I should help to hold its head under the water until it stops breathing.  But to date it has refused to expire.  And I cannot leave yet.  New projects appear in front of me and I grab at them for sanity as I must – Groucho meetings twice a week with young writers, cinematographers, directors, friends.  No solace there though.  The monkey must be faced down.

Suri eventually replies to my fax.  (damn I wish I had it, or could even remember what I wrote !) He had to, and for his own sense of worth, had to invite me back.  But the worst is yet to come.  On Thursday 19th March we hold a workshop in Varndean School for the creme of the Sussex kids.  It is a beautiful sunny day with a fresh breeze blowing off the sea when I pick up Jane, Suri and Theresa from the station.  I had arrived early and bought myself a nice wake-up coffee, after all it is 8.45a.m.  As my now full Jaguar swings round the Seven Dials roundabout my cappucino tilts karmically into Suri’s lap and he is drenched with hot coffee.  The rest of it ebbs away into the carpet and we both apologise – me for burning his leg and wetting his trousers – he for not saving a drop of coffee as it emptied onto the floor – a snap decision made in shock and anger I felt.  We arrive at the school and run through the workshop.  The kids are fantastic and I am really proud of them – original, individual, colourful.  Some fine actors stand out and I have my first inkling of problems with Jake and Steven as Suri doesn’t like the boy who stands out for Jane & I.  We lunch in a pub, we continue in the afternoon. It is a very successful day although perhaps without leading contenders (except the aforementioned Joe).  I drive Suri to the station via my house, which is empty.  We roll a joint and smoke it.

He then informs me that he has met Marianne Jean-Baptiste and she is heavily pregnant but that Granada have insisted she is cast in order to raise the money for the film.  I feel instinctively wrong about all of this. First I am neutralised, then excluded, then Jenny is cast aside. All out of my viewing.  A kind of defiant skulking quality appears in Suri – apologetic, but Marianne will be “terrific”.  I can scarcely contain my shock and disappointment (at him and indeed at myself for not seeing it earlier, years earlier, for why indeed had I asked this man to direct my screenplay?  Because I trusted him, because I felt that he would understand the material and the vibe of the story, that we were friends.  But no.  We never were.  In fact, just before the contracts were signed I changed my mind about everything and decided that I would direct it myself.  I called Suri and told him so.  He was furious.  He said he would initiate another project which would be his version of this story.  I said he could do what he wanted and we left it there.  But for SOME FUCKING REASON I changed my mind the next day and surrendered to someone else’s ego and sacrificed my story, my screenplay and my marriage to my woman to this worm of a human being who now held my finest hour in his grubby little hands the utter fuckwit) and indicate as I had done to Steve a week earlier that the other grown-up characters should be cast first, in deference to me, so that we can see where we get to vis-a-vis names, money-raising names.  Kathy Burke as Shelley, James Wilby as Robin, Paul McGann as Mr Diamond – then the way is clear for Jenny to play Veronica.  But no.  To head straight for this part and secretly cast it so obviously against my wishes is a high level betrayal which everyone has colluded in.  When we get back to the pub Jane asks Suri if he is “all right”.  I am the bully.  I am not asked if I am all right.  In the great scheme of film-making it is less important.  I start to believe, to realise, that Suri has not actually fought for Jenny to be considered.  It’s difficult to know because I wasn’t there was I?  Despite it being in my contract as associate producer that I am to be invited to all meetings etc etc.  I was carefully neutralised at the critical moment.  Suri’s weakness becomes immediately transparently apparent.  The way he switched so quickly, isolating me.  Jenny suspects that he wanted Marianne all along which is quite possible, but then he shouldn’t have said to me IN FEBRUARY (oh yes, quite recently) that he wanted Jenny to play the part.  There is no one better in England to play it.  No one.  I start to think long term again.

I have to for my sanity.

The bubbles come out of its mouth and its legs are kicking

I’ll never do this again

Ever

Suri is not

in fact

my friend

At this point Jenny and I had a series of extremely painful and raw heart-to-hearts which I did not diarise in any way.  They are private conversations.  They are about how much we mean to each other.  They are about her (and my) public humiliation at the optics and the actuality of what is happening.  They are about how we survive these betrayals without resorting to murder.  We question everything that we are doing, have done, will do.  What is the point of it all?  We – the idea of we – is under serious attack.  Who is betrayed?  Who is fighting?  Who is hurting?

We are being rent asunder.  

*

Wake from your sleep
The drying of your tears
Today we escape, we escape

Pack and get dressed
Before your father hears us
Before all hell breaks loose

Breathe, keep breathing
Don’t lose your nerve
Breathe, keep breathing
I can’t do this alone

Sing us a song
A song to keep us warm
There’s such a chill
Such a chill

And you can laugh a spineless laugh
We hope your rules and wisdom choke you
Now we are one in everlasting peace
We hope that you choke, that you choke

We hope that you choke, that you choke

We hope that you choke, that you choke

My Pop Life #220 : 3 A.M. Eternal (Live at the S.S.L.) – The K.L.F.

LicheinsteinintheskywithDiamonds

3am Eternal (Live at the S.S.L.) – The K.L.F.

( The Ancients of Mu Mu )

*

Alien 3  –  Paranoia In Pinewood part 2

The six stages of Film Production : as seen carved into the wall in Pinewood, Studio Five, by someone presumably better-versed in the industry than I :

  1. Wild enthusiasm
  2. Disillusionment
  3. Panic
  4. Search For The Guilty
  5. Punish The Innocent
  6. Reward The Non-Involved 

The above quote from the diary I kept in 1991 while filming Alien 3 in Pinewood Studios.  I released it into the atmosphere as My Pop Life #171 – Praying For Time.  I think it’s time for part 2, don’t you?

*

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Production still

Things settled down a little after the heart-thumping and deeply paranoid first month recorded in the previous episode.  No one was sacked.  I don’t think.  No one was re-cast.  There was a terrible accident one day when Sigourney’s make-up lady Linda was standing in a doorway on set – one of those science fiction doorways with a sliding panel which goes up and down with a swish.  It was a wooden contraption with a weighted pulley which failed, and it came down suddenly onto her face, right onto her nose. I wasn’t there but it was a nasty accident and she was rushed to hospital.  We never saw Linda again. Later I learned that she didn’t want to claim the medical expenses from the company, but having had a facial reconstruction and various operations I think that she eventually did settle.  Dangerous places film sets.

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The cast of Alien 3 with David Fincher on set, 1991

My relationship with Sigourney had subsided into a kind of sulk, and although she would make the odd remark, the earlier fire and brimstone had calmed down a bit.  Not that we’d made up at all.  Sadly we weren’t friends.  I’d confided in other cast members – Niall Buggy thought I was completely bonkers “What are you talking about Ralph, she’s lovely!”  Pete Postlethwaite and Phil Davis felt the same way.  Dhobi Oparei too.  I was happy that they were enjoying working with her, but just as I started feeling cornered, there was Charles Dance asking me how it was all going as we waited for a set-up.  I think I was tentative at first but eventually told him what had been going on.  He confessed that he’d had the same kind of experience. “Is that how you’re going to say it?” and all of the paranoia about how clean he looked, other competitive nonsense.  I felt relieved that I wasn’t going totally mad.  It was only people she had scenes with where the behaviour occurred.  Wait – was Charles Dutton also having this relationship with her?  No.  He was a friend already and he was not the enemy.  Charlie and I have been firm friends ever since.

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Charles Dance as Clemens

One day on set Sigourney and I had a scene on a balcony, after the fire. Men had died.  The Alien was trapped, locked in a loading bay. Dutton and his men were praying below us.  The scene wasn’t going well.  But we got it at around 8.00pm and Fincher pulled me aside.  “Dude.  She vampired that scene. Don’t worry I can cut around what you did, we got it.  But you’re letting her get to you.”  I think I said that I was trying to stand my ground.  “If you ever need to leave the set, take five minutes, regain your centre, just say it OK?  I got your back.”  It was another welcome acknowledgement that I wasn’t paranoid.  I went home, cuddled my lady and gritted my teeth for the long haul.  I had to try and protect my performance at the end of the day, that was what mattered.

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the balcony scene is in the “director’s cut” on the DVD

As the weeks progressed, all of the actors were called in every day, in case we were needed.  First thing – put through ‘the works’ – costume and make-up – and then sat in our dressing rooms to await the call, often all day.  I often went into the next-door dressing room occupied by the Prison Governor, my boss the legend Brian Glover, who’d memorably played the gym teacher in Ken Loach‘s heartbreaking film Kes.  Brian was from Barnsley and did the voice overs for Tetley Tea Bags : ‘Tetley. Make tea bags. Make Tea.

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Brian Glover as Andrews

Brian regaled me with stories from his days as a professional wrestler, fighting on the circuit with Giant Haystacks, Big Daddy and Mick McManus.There’s money in ugly Ralph‘ he would announce, his squashed ear a keepsake of his years playing rugby.  Every 45 minutes the lovely 2nd AD Marcia Gay would knock and pop her head around the door – ‘Gentlemen. You won’t be required for the next 45 minutes. Just relax‘.  This became alarmingly irritating until one day Brian swivelled his giant head in her direction and asked ‘Is the money the same?‘  Marcia was puzzled.  ‘Yes‘ she said. ‘Well Fook Off Then!‘ shouted Brian.  Rude and fucking funny.

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Fincher on the camera with Alex Thomson alongside him who had taken over as DP when Jordan Cronenweth was too ill to continue

There were eventually four units running at the same time – 1st Unit with David Fincher directing and another legend Chris Carreras as 1st AD.  The eye of any storm, the 1st AD basically runs the set, oversees all of the departments and keeps a keen eye on who is slowing the unit down.  The 1st AD is basically making the film.  Chris had an amazingly calm temperament but I saw him biting his tongue a couple of times.  Years later in 1999 I would contact him and ask him to 1st AD my film New Year’s Day, which he graciously agreed to do.  Without him it wouldn’t have got made. I was going to create a link there to the blog where I talk about the film that I wrote and which actually got made.  So scarred am I from this experience that 220 blog posts later I haven’t even started to think about discussing it.  Watch this space !

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Paul McGann as Golic

Meanwhile back in Pinewood, the other 3 units which might or might not need actors for any given day were :  2nd Unit with Martin Brierly directing (and Nick Heckstall-Smith assisting, whom I would also work with later), Action Unit doing Alien Stuff and other SFX, and a Fire Unit which set fire to things and put them out while stunt guys ran around with falmes one their clothes.   We were all required, at one point or another, on all of these units.  But there were interminable days when nothing happened.  Backgammon became institutionalised, with American actors Chris Fields and particularly Holt McCallany relieving us of our wages on a regular basis with ruthless use of the doubling dice. I soon saw the error of this form of time-wasting, likewise poker and other competitive pursuits. 

Paul Brennan, Pete Postlethwaite, Leon Herbert

One day when it was clear once again that nothing was going to happen a group of us decided to wander around the studio lot and see what else was going on.  Like a bunch of escaped prisoners escorted by a correction facility officer.  That was me.  We went into one of the bigger studio buildings (Alien 3 had the majority but some were still available for hire) – I can’t remember precisely who was in that gang but I think Peter Guinness, Paul Brennan, Clive Mantle and Danny Webb certainly were. Maybe Niall Buggy and Vincenzo Nicoli too. 

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Charles Dutton as Dillon

And there was a giant pyramid structure with lights on frames around it and people with cloaks wandering about.  We’d asked permission to visit of course, and the producers knew who we were, what we were doing there.  The band was The K.L.F. and they were shooting a video for their single 3am Eternal which had been at Number 1 in the charts that January.  A video it turned out, for the US market. We watched a take with smoke and lights, bleeps and heavy metal guitar chords, acid house beats and rap, capes and cloaks. It was all a bit mental.  Then they took a break.

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We wandered into the next studio through a heavy door.  And there was Kylie Minogue, dressed for the Shocked video. We were all introduced and I became suddenly aware of a tiny elfin Australian blonde woman being dwarfed by half a dozen dirty shaven-headed prisoners from outer space.  She shook everyone’s hand then gently wandered away and asked one of her people if they could ask us politely to leave.  Which we did.  Poor love.

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Kylie Minogue is Shocked at the power of love in 1991

There’s a curious link here because Bill Drummond, (who with Jimmy Cauty is The K.L.F.) had worked as an A&R man for WEA (now Warners) in London in the mid-80s and had apparently spent half a million pounds on a band called Brilliant who never quite took off.  Stock Aitken & Waterman were writers & producers for Brilliant, and Jimmy Cauty was in the band along with Martin Glover aka Youth from Killing Joke.  And Stock Aitken & Waterman were now writing and producing for Kylie, along with a vast stable of acts including Donna Summer, Mel & Kim and Jason Donovan.  Kylie & Jason had starred together in Aussie soap Neighbours, and to continue the odd waltz between the 2 acts, the K.L.F. had made a single called ‘Kylie Said To Jason‘ which was a hilarious rip-off of ‘Left To My Own Devices‘ by The Pet Shop Boys.  Confused Yet ??

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Bill Drummond & Jimmy Cauty

I didn’t make any of these connections at the time.  I was listening to George Michael, Public Enemy, The Breeders. Catching up with Bob Marley and Miles Davis.  Discovering Wagner – again.  Looming on the horizon was Massive Attack. The K.L.F. seemed to me a little like The Tubes, one of my favourite bands to be sure, or the Bonzo Dog Band (see My Pop Life #77), formed by musicians who wanted to lampoon the music and the industry and anything else they could gather into their fiendish net.  Like everything was in quotes. I mean who sang along with the phrase “Ancients of MuMu” without a silly grin on their face?

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And of course we were still recovering from the smiley-face rave culture moment from which the K.L.F. appeared to have emerged.  In fact they were rather more like a situationist art project that wanted to burn the whole thing down.  Anarchists.  Their career was inspired partly by the theatre show The Illuminatus Trilogy, written and directed by mad genius Ken Campbell in Liverpool where Bill had been the set designer.  He walked out one day to buy a sandwich and never came back. He formed a band called The Justified Ancients of MuMu with Jimmy Cauty and released a single in 1987.   After two? albums and a legal dispute with ABBA they became The Timelords with a big novelty hit Doctoring The Tardis, then The JAMS (Justified Ancients of MuMu) with the single What Time Is Love which got re-issued a number of times from 1988 onward, then The K.L.F.  Their brilliant warped career  peaked a year later in 1992 at the BRIT Awards when Drummond machine-gunned the audience of music industry execs from the stage, and a dead sheep was left at the door of the afterparty with the message “I died for you – bon appetit” attached. A few months later in May 1992 The K.L.F. announced that they had quit the music business and deleted their entire back catalogue.  Other stunts followed such as the infamous burning of a million pounds, the Soup Line, the 17 Choir and other innovative ideas.  Apparently Bill Drummond lived just down the hill from me when I was in Brighton but I never met him, I don’t think.

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Niall Buggy as Eric, Danny Webb as Morse

Back on the Alien3 set a few days later it was Valentine’s Day.  I had been sent a card and an AD delivered it to me as we relaxed between shots.  It was of course from Jenny my beloved.  We were not married at that point.  And I could swear Sigourney was looking over my shoulder to see who it was from.  Hahaha.  Fincher was shooting a lot of footage.  “I’m doing long pans & track so they can’t cut into my footage” he explained one day.  It meant that when we had a group scene we could open a book on how many takes it would be.  Anything under five was unpopular.  Over twelve was possible, common even.  I think we did a tenner per set-up.  Someone wrote the names down and the number they’d chosen.  Often no one would win because we went up to Take 17 and no one wanted to put ten of your earth pounds on that.

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Here’s an idea…

In fact Sigourney and I had one of our scenes discussing plans regarding telling the company their was an Alien on the planet, and playing a fella who wanted to go home to his wife and kids, rather than perish in some millennial cult group suicide, Aaron ’85’ suggested a plan.  Ripley’s response was tentatively ‘yes maybe‘.  We did a couple of wide shots, then into my single.  Can’t remember how many takes it was – probably around seven or eight.  Then turned round onto Sigourney.  David didn’t like her tone, which suggested that Ripley thought Aaron was a dick.  He didn’t think that was right at that point in the story.  So. One more.  Turn over. Sound Speed. Scene 178 take 17.  Mark it. And….Action! Blah blah blah.  Cut.  Same result.  He’s not your enemy.  Take 22.  Don’t sneer. Take 29.  You think it’s a good idea. Take 34. By which time we were all so exhausted and dizzy from the repetition that Sigourney said the line in a kind of dazed acquiescence and Fincher had the take he wanted.

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About a year later in Los Angeles, after the re-shoots, I had two days of ADR in a West LA studio on Olympic Boulevard.  David remembered the scene well, 34 takes.  He’d never done ADR before though – Automated Dialogue Replacement – where you can change the inflexion, emphasis, tone, shade and meaning of a line just by using your voice and matching the lip movements on screen in front of you precisely.  Movie magic.  Some actors hate it, I made friends with the process very early on after I had to voice the whole of my performance as Danny in Withnail & I for the US market. The test screenings had indicated that audience members couldn’t understand what he was saying.  Who could? I did that piece of work at Twickenham Studios in 1987 where the engineer consoled me having to re-do my entire performance at the same speed except more intelligibly by telling me that Michael Caine had done Alfie and Bob Hoskins had also done The Long Good Friday for America.  And yet we were expected to understand Stallone’s mumbles or Pacino’s – hey that’s what it means to be an outlying part of The Empire right?  I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen the US version of Withnail but I suspect it would be a bad idea.  But having said that the experience toughened me up for future sessions.  Especially the Alien 3 session which was two long days – the reason for that was the amount of atmospheric smoke and steam in the design of the film which was very noisy to produce.  Often back in the day on big movies the Sound Department knew that they were recording a guide track only, to be completed and polished in ADR.  So here we were down on W. Olympic and David says – if I’d known about ADR in Pinewood I would never have done 34 takes just for a vocal inflection…

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It’s hard to recall now in 2019 how difficult that experience was.  Jenny can remember quite clearly how I would come home every day, full of doubt, full of worry and anguish, just because I was trying to do my best work.  What a fantastic opportunity for me, but you know I was running fast just to stand still.   I remember a visual image I used to produce while trying to explain it to friends, as a learning curve which came from my chest, looped back over my head and stabbed me in the back.  I wondered if, at some point, whether the fact that we were making a horror film in space meant that we had to have a horrible experience in space.  I called Richard E. Grant one day who was shooting Hudson Hawk in Italy – another picnic – and he asked me how much I was getting. I told him. He said

well – that’s the amount of shit you have to eat then.”

I could almost understand why Bill Drummond had formed The K.L.F.

 

My Pop Life #219 : Work It – Missy Elliott

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Work It – Missy Elliott

Is it worth it? Let me work it
I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it

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September 2002 – Marrakesh, Morocco.  Sitting by the pool with various Max Factors – Andrew French, Eddie Osei, Israel Aduramo, Gabriel Mann, Clara Bellar, Julian Wadham, Ilario Bisi-Pedro, Billy Crawford – listening to the head honcho of Morgan Creek Mr Jim Robinson holding us in thrall with his hilarious stories as his well-endowed Asian girlfriend splashed around distractingly in the water.  Imogen Stubbs is here too, on holiday.  Stellan Skarsgard is off somewhere with director Paul Schrader whom I had auditioned for a few months ago in Shepperton Studios.

Yes. That Paul Schrader. Screenwriter extraordinaire – Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Blue Collar, Obsession, The Last Temptation Of Christ.  Director of tight moral fables such as Blue Collar, Cat People, Mishima, American Gigolo.

We’re about to start shooting Dominion – a prequel to The Exorcist, in the hills to the north of this medieval city.  We can see the Atlas Mountains just to the south. It’s warm. We’re happy.

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Paul Schrader with some of Vittorio Storaro’s boys on location

I had many highlights on this job – and very few lowlights, despite the supposedly haunted nature of these films.  The original, the famous William Friedkin masterpiece came out in 1973 when I was 16, and a gang of callow youth from Lewes caught the bus into Brighton and queued outside the Odeon while being sprinkled with holy water as religious types prayed over us and the back two rows of the stalls were reserved for St John’s ambulance.  Despite the gruesome special effects – Linda Blair’s head famously revolving on her shoulders, green vomit and so on, the only time I covered my eyes was when she was take to hospital and they plunged a needle into her arm.  People carried their fainting girlfriends out. Next to me Jon Foreman, Martin Elkins, Conrad Ryle, Chris Clark laughed loudly at anything truly horrible to keep it at bay and dilute its undoubted power.  We were freaked.

Now I was getting my freak on making an Exorcist film.  Quite thrilling – this one takes place in 1947 in Turkanaland, northern Kenya where the priest Merrin (played by another Swedish actor Max Von Sydow in the original) and haunted by a WW2 massacre, is excavating a buried Christian Coptic Church when he finds something beneath the foundations…

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Clara Bellar & Stellan Skarsgard

Given that we were supposed to be in Turkanaland, the land of the Turkana, Morgan Creek had flown in 15 men from the Turkana tribe in Kenya to be in our movie. They also provided some music too because they were in a band.  Lovely fellas. I seem to remember buying each of them a watch from the market with my expenses which they accepted with grace and delight and proceeded to sell them the following day for local currency.  But the bulk of the film’s extras were local, originating from Senegal.  One Sunday we arranged a football match out on the recreation area near the hotel – Senegal v The Rest Of The World which ended up as crew & cast people from France, Morocco, Italy and England.  It was 1-1 at half time but we were over-run in the second half and lost 5-1. Just like real life !

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Billy in full gear as possessed Cheche

Up in Billy’s room we were bonding over music.  Billy Crawford is playing Cheche a young disabled boy who becomes the devil.  His face is sweet and clean and he is young and good fun, mixed-race Filipino and a pop star in Manila, although he lives in LA and sounds American.  His and my favourite song at this time is Missy Elliott’s Work It, which has just come out, and it tops all her other hits which we are also huge fans of – I Can’t Stand The Rain and She’s A Bitch and Get Ur Freak On.  There isn’t really an internet to speak of yet, but there is MTV.  So generally we get high and listen to a stereo and chat.  Missy’s videos are remarkably good though.

 

She wears expanding jumpsuits.  She is an awesome pop star. The beats, by her buddy Timbaland, are fantastic.  Her influences are global. Get Ur Freak On in particular opens in Japanese and includes an unlikely break in hindi in the 2nd verse.  Work It we obsess on however because it is brand new and also because :

Is it worth it? Let me work it
I put my thing down, flip it and reverse it

followed by

Ti esrever dna ti pilf, nwod gniht ym tup

which is the same line played backwards.  A simple trick you might think, but wow we spent quite a few stoned hours trying to actually say it.  Were we possessed by the devil?  Was she?  Remember the playout on the vinyl disc of Sgt Pepper after the final mighty chord of A Day In The Life has finally faded – sounds like something backwards – “we’ll fuck you like supermen” if you spin it back with your finger at the right speed….

Or all those heavy metal tunes with backwards growling supposed to raise Satan or one of his precious minions.  Coincidence?  Anyway. Other moments in this immense tune include the Chinese boys, her ass going aromba bomp bomp  – keep your eyes on my aromba bomp bomp and

Prince couldn’t get me change my name, papa
Kunta Kinte a slave again, no sir
Picture blacks saying, “Oh yess’a, massa”

It was an explosive song on so many levels for 2002 when she did indeed bestride the world like a colossus.

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from the album, came the single

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[Jenny and I went to see her much later in 2005 at Brixton Academy – we were very excited to see the living Missy Elliott in person – but despite a few cracking moments she didn’t deliver a great gig, spending much time inviting audience members on the stage to dance or chat shit or wiggle their arsecracks, then Missy herself wandering out into the audience – and up onto the balcony – which took at least 20 minutes out of the set.  Pretty poor all in all. A review of said gig in the NME reveals all] :

https://www.nme.com/reviews/live/reviews-nme-5188

Meanwhile back in Marrakesh I am five minutes late for the bus and get severely told off by Stellan Skarsgard who is travelling with us, not in a private sedan which is usually the way with leading actors.  In irritable early-morning Swedish-English he tells me that it is unacceptable to be five minutes late and don’t let it happen again.  He’s right of course.

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Julian, Gabriel, Stellan

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Weeks later, in the hotel bar where we all gather Every Night he has further lessons to impart :

Where were you today Ralph?  You did your shot, your close-up, all fireworks and action, then they turn around on me and there’s hardly anything going on

I blanch and think about it.  Possibly some Hollywood A-lister has previously said to me “Ralph – turn it down, it’s not your shot“, so I have got into the habit of not giving everything in my opposite number’s shot.  I’m wrong.

Ralph, the scene isn’t about you, or me.  It’s about the energy between us. So we both have to turn up every time they turn over

A valuable lesson and I love him even more.  We worked together back in 1996 in Newport, Rhode Island on Spielberg’s Amistad.  The rest of the cast are new to me apart from The Wad, Julian Wadham who I’ve met round at Richard E. Grant’s house a few times.  He’s a good man.

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Sgt Major Harris reporting to Major Granville (The Wad)

But in the end I spend most of my time with Billy Crawford and Andrew French on days off, walking around the Djma-El-Fnaa which is a medieval North African souk not just for the tourists, but displays traditions that clearly go back centuries – acrobats, snake charmers, fire-eaters and jugglers mix with the carpet & slipper sellers and the endless silk scarves. It is a wonderful place that I returned to briefly in 2005 with Stoned, my old friend Stephen Woolley’s film on the death of Brian Jones.

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with Rick Warden, Stellan Skarsgard & Andrew French

But we are filming miles away from Marrakesh. About an hour in the bus every morning and every night. In the desert, with a lunch under a tent.  I am Sgt Major Harris in the British army.  Vittorio Storaro the legendary Italian cinematographer has his huge team of assistants and students lighting the film. He does some extraordinary work and I watch mesmerised as his lights fade and rise, dip and pan with the action. So graceful, so beautiful.

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Israel Aduramo playing Jomo

Earlier in the process I had arrived with a strange rash on my chest which had started to manifest on the palms of my hands.  Given the film we were doing, certain people thought it was an Omen, or perhaps a Conjuring.  One of the British actors, Israel Aduramo offered to help me with this affliction. He came into my trailer and prayed for about twenty minutes over me.  It didn’t do anything I’m sorry to report.  when I went home that weekend a lovely woman in Brighton Miriam Greene (RIP) examined me and announced that I had a recent and temporary allergic reaction to citrus fruits.  My mother had been ill the previous month and I was under a great deal of stress.  At the same time I was drinking this new drink Oasis that had appeared  – a lemon-type refresco citrus punch full of aspartame which was addictively delicious.  I stopped it immediately along with oranges, lemons and the bells of st clementines.

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Schrader was an interesting dude.  He would meet me in the lift, look me up and down at my shirt & trouser colour combo and say “Ralph.  Red and Blue just don’t go together. Sorry“.  He would sit in a djellaba smoking a hookah and regale us with tales of Hollywood which I won’t recount here because these people are still alive.  But he had strong opinions.  Brought up as a strict Calvinist he wasn’t allowed to watch a film until he was 18.  I liked him, but he appeared to be under immense pressure.  Directors always are.  When we were in Rome towards the end of the shoot he saw me sitting in a hotel lobby reading something and came over to thank me, for “making something interesting out of what is essentially a yeoman character“.  I was pleased with this acknowledgement, and it remains the only time that anyone has used the word “yeoman” in a conversation with me.

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Earlier on, when we had checked into the Hotel Excelsior in Rome, I had a special thrill.  This was the hotel from the original film, so the rumour went, when a character goes to see the Pope in the holiest of the holies, but I can find no reference to this “scene” in any of the previous Exorcist films. We were shooting some interiors of the haunted buried pre-Coptic church in Cinecitta Studios.  I check in and was given a key to Room 666.  I decided to invite the chaps over for a quick spliff before we went out to dinner together and got a message from Gabriel Mann who was playing the priest – “Sorry Ralph but I won’t be able to come into your room.  I’m sure you’ll understand.”

After we’d finished shooting loads of stuff happened which I won’t go into here, another director (Renny Harlin) was hired and indeed another film was made, with some of the original cast, not me.  Sometime thereafter two Exorcist : Dominion movies were released.  Paul Schrader didn’t get the funds to finish his SFX or the score, or colour correction, but his, our version remained the better one of the two, and most of us were reunited in Belgium at a film festival for the film’s premiere. After the Antwerp show I travelled to Paris with Billy because he was doing a gig there.  Those were the days huh.

I saw Billy a couple of times after that but we’ve long since lost touch. I’ve seen Julian too, but none of the others I’m afraid.  I heard that Ilario passed away. That is the way of the long swim. But I cherish these memories and add them to my museum of recollections.  Go well, dear reader.

 

My Pop Life #174 : Learning To Be – Eleven

Learning To Be   –   Eleven

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Slipping away I get closer each day I been looking for love to find me

Digging away I will search I will pray I been waiting for truth to blind me

Only perceive and the world will conceive there’s a seat in my heart that binds me  

awake in a dream I believe it’s extreme, ruling out that all this is magic…

“If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters both the same…”  said Rudyard Kipling in his incomparable poem “If…”.   Well I can’t.  I pretend I can, but no, I prefer the triumphs.  Is that what they’re called ?  Those goals into the top corner.  Those victories.  Yes, I prefer those imposters to the failures.  But people always say wise self-help guru stuff like “you learn more from your failures”  or “crisis and opportunity is the same word in Chinese”  or even “I get knocked down but I get up again”.  You know?   I prefer not to get knocked down at all.   I feel like my life was built on crises.  But still they come.

David Fincher

In 1994 I was living in Los Angeles.  It was David Fincher‘s idea.  He’d directed Alien 3 in 1991 and suggested that Jenny and I move to California.  “Come to LaLa” is actually what he said.  In 1992, after we’d got married and shot Undercover Blues in New Orleans which coincided with our honeymoon, (see My Pop Life #158) we rented an apartment in West Hollywood and stayed for three years.  David was very disappointed with Alien3 because the studio hadn’t accepted his cut, indeed had hacked the shit out of his cut, and after the glamorous premiere in LA and razzamatazz opening weekend fizz had died down, it was a film which didn’t knock everyone out, neither the public it seemed nor the critics.  David took it very badly – personally and professionally.  He spent the following two years silently fuming and plotting his revenge, and his next move.  We spent a lot of time together, round his apartment which at the time was on Beverley & La Brea with his new wife Donya Fiorentino, and Rachel his PA, her boyfriend Paul Carafotes, and David’s friends Chip & Carol, Ron, James, Marcie, and other friends.  We had a handful of friends already there – Anita Lewton from Moving Parts days (early 80s) was in Venice Beach, Suzy Crowley and Tony Armatrading were hanging out too.

Donya Fiorentino

We ate out a lot – on Sunset Strip, on La Brea, at Pane e Vino on Beverley.  We went to the movies together.  We got drunk.  We visited Lake Arrowhead one weekend and played pool and ate mushrooms.   We drove to Malibu.  Venice.  Went to gigs, clubs, parties.  We hung out in other words.

I got a gig on the film Wayne’s World 2 playing a roadie named Del Preston, and it was rushed out only a few months after it was finished (unusually).  David and Donya were round at our place on King’s Road when the LA Times review came out – it was great for me, and David said something along the lines of “I hope you remember me when you collect your Oscar“.  He wasn’t joking, he was feeling the pain of not working for two years.  Oh the irony !   Then one day some months later we were round his apartment off Beverley and he gave me a script, saying “there’s a great part in this for you Ralphie“.   It was a film called Seven.

Awake In A Dream by Eleven

There was an album that we listened to a lot that year called Awake In A Dream, by a group called Eleven, who were from LA.    A three-piece band writing intelligent glossy pop/rock with great melodies and unusual chord changes.  Their genesis was entwined with another LA band, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and then later after Eleven split, Natasha Shneider played bass with Queens Of The Stone Age in their early days before sadly dying of cancer in 2008.  The other two band members were Alain Johannes (who also joined QOTSA in 2005) and Jack Irons.   Their first LP from which this song comes was released in 1991.   Two songs stood out – Learning To Be and Rainbow’s End… 

…Here at the rainbow’s end, there is no pot of gold, no matter what you’re told…

which was clearly a song about LA itself.   It was a sign.  An omen.

Me, Anita Lewton, Jen, Gary Kemp, Donya, David, Annie & Paul McGann

I’d always had a dream of Hollywood, and I’d never chased it, for fear I would fall flat on my face.  I’d been turned away from LA in 1989 on a trip across the USA in Auto Driveaway cars (see My Pop Life #147) getting as far as Phoenix on Christmas Eve before turning back to El Paso.  I’d always wanted Hollywood to ask me in, even in a small way, and in 1991 they did.   I had to shoot some extra Alien3 scenes and Fox paid for Pete Postlethwaite and I to travel to Culver City in LA (for another story).  I’d got an agent, got a job, got an apartment, and now a few years later I’d got the massive opportunity that eventually comes around.

 1994 was a watershed year for me, looking back.  After that incredible review in the LA Times I did not work for a whole year.  “Kim Basinger is fantastic and Christopher Walken marvellous, but walking away with the whole picture is Ralph Brown as Del Preston” is what it said.  It was the kiss of death of course.   I was going up for three films per week.  Everything that was made in 1994, I auditioned for.  Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead.  The Usual Suspects.  Crimson Tide.  Devil In A Blue Dress.  Heat.  Jumanji.   True Romance.  The Quick & The Dead.  And many many others lost to the mists of time.  Learning lines, forming character, turning up with well-chosen clothing and delivering the scene, over and over and over.  Fincher helping me with auditions sometimes (True Romance – offered to Christopher Walken).   Meeting after meeting.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  And No.   I’d hit the glass ceiling.  Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken were getting the gigs.  My gigs.  How could I break through that invisible barrier ?

In June the World Cup gave us some welcome respite.  We got tickets for all the Rose Bowl games in Pasadena, just by sending off for them – an advert in the LA Times, and a country that wasn’t interested, bar the foreigners, the Latinos, Africans and Europeans.  We decided to support Cameroon in an early game v Sweden and met Ashley Joyce (English) and Jeremy Thomas (Welsh, just separated from Drew Barrymore after two months of marriage) who ran The Room a groovy bar just off Hollywood Boulevard.  They are still friends of mine.

The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, 1994 World Cup Final 

The month that followed was glorious – wall to wall football, no England to disappoint us (we didn’t qualify) – over 100 degree heat for a Colombia v USA game, a July 4th game USA v Brazil in San José, a quarter final in Pasadena Romania v Sweden, a semi-final Brazil v Sweden and tickets to the actual final Brazil v Italy, a 0-0 draw, and Roberto Baggio blasting his penalty over the bar, cue Brazilian Carnivale, and meeting my old friend Stephen Woolley from Scala Cinema days and The Crying Game outside the stadium after the Final – in town doing screenings for test audiences of Interview With A Vampire.  “That’s no way to make a film” I said.  “Asking the audience which characters they prefer”  “When you’re spending 40 million dollars, it’s the only way to make a film”  he replied.  I was so green, really, so innocent.  But I was certainly living life.   Learning To Be.

Roberto Baggio has just missed a penalty at the World Cup Final

The best game was Romania 3 Argentina 2 after Maradona had been sent home for drug abuse and Hagi’s sweet left foot sent the East Europeans through to the quarter finals.   I think Germany were beaten by Bulgaria, who in turn lost to Italy.  Klinsmann was playing, Roger Milla, Alexi Lalas, Stoichkov, Romario.  We particularly enjoyed watching games on TV with absurd, nay, surreal commentary from US commentators deciphering a game they scarcely understood:  “The ball has crossed the end line” or “great touch by the goal-handler“.  Or the Latin American channels with the hyperbole of the gods :

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLL!!!!

We had a laugh.    Then as summer turned to late summer and even later summer (you don’t really get winter in Los Angeles) – our thoughts turned to work and I carried on getting NO from meetings.  They’ve gone another way.  They loved you but it’s not going to work out this time.  Or even worse : silence.  The dwindling hope that finally extinguishes.  And then David gave me the script for Seven.   I read it – and as I’m sure you know dear reader, it was dark and clever.  My character was called John Doe.   David assured me that he wanted me to play it.   It was my gig.  This was great news.   I hadn’t worked for almost a year and was a) going slightly mental, and b) running out of money.   David then called one afternoon and said the producer would like to meet me on Thursday.  Would I mind reading?  “Course not”  I said, “no problem”.   I prepared the scenes in my own accent and also in an American accent.  I’d had an accent coach since one of the films I’d gone up for (The Ice Cream Story) had insisted on me reading again and again ( I went in 3 times and still didn’t get it).  My accent coach told me that my accent was perfect – nailed on.  But the director was nervous, and was projecting his nerves onto me.   I rationalised bitterly.

Wilshire and Fairfax in LA

So Thursday rolls around and I sit in that old space-age diner Johnie’s just above Wilshire Boulevard on Fairfax while I wait for the meeting across the road.   Then I cross Wilshire and go in.  David greets me all smiles like an old friend – he is an old friend.  Introduces me to the producer who in my memory was Arnie Kopelson.  The casting director was there too I think, Billy Hopkins who since Alien3 which he’d cast with Priscilla John had got me in for loads of things, including Speed which is for another post.  Maybe he wasn’t.  But there were a few people there watching me, and I immediately felt uncomfortable.  Like I was on the spot.  I suddenly realised that I had to make David look good.  We did some small talk then someone suggested we read.  There was probably someone there to read the off-lines.  I was shit.  My accent was terrible.  I apologised.  David smiled “It’s cool dude, just do your thing”  I tried it again.  I was shit again.  “Just use your own accent Ralphie” said Fincher, “Just do what you do“.    He was so kind and supportive.  I was in pieces. It was excruciating.

Sometimes I think that eternity blinks paying no due respect to logic

I’ve thought about this moment many times, and I don’t know why I didn’t seize it.  His dream must have seemed so close that he could scarcely fail to grasp it.  He could not know that it was already behind him…wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald…The Great Gatsby’s final paragraph.

I didn’t get the job.  Kevin Spacey did.  He smashed it.  He took a few jobs off me that year.  It was his year.  And the following year certainly was too.  We ended 1994 with one BBC job in Italy and nothing in Hollywood, broke.  We decided to move back to England, but not before I’d written a movie called New Year’s Day which would eventually get made in 1999 (see My Pop Life #75) and which is about – ouch – The Importance Of Disappointment.

..Give me your hand we are part of this plan we can force all this chaos to rhyme…

At some point during the post-production for Seven or Se7en as it was then written, David and Donya separated.  This was painful for everyone, and Jenny and I attempted our usual even-handed response to these painful events and stayed in touch with both parties.  David didn’t like that, or perhaps Donya used us against him in an argument.  In any event I have hardly seen him since 1995.   No bad feeling, just the end of an era.

Donya’s photograph of my wife Jenny Jules, 1994

It was an incredible opportunity in retrospect.  If I’d been cast in that role, it would certainly have changed my career.  I absolutely under-anticipated the stress of that meeting, thinking in my foolishness that David holding the door open would be perhaps enough to swing it for me.   It was a harsh lesson.   Many times I have played it over in my mind, re-entered the room, better prepared, psyched-up, played the scene properly like I’d planned it.  (Spacey played it exactly as I’d rehearsed it in the finished movie).   But I didn’t get it.  Even today, writing this, it bites me.  It was a gift horse and I gave it a thorough dental examination.   Oh well.  I’m still here.  Some things are just not meant to be.  No regrets.  Learning To Be.

Like all hinge moments one cannot eventually regret the way it went.  If I’d been cast in Seven we would have stayed in LA.  Or at least I would.  First and biggest problem.  We wouldn’t have bought a house in Brighton.  Tom, Millie and Lucy wouldn’t have moved down.   Scarlett and Tom wouldn’t have met.  Skye wouldn’t have been born.  I wouldn’t have played in The Brighton Beach Boys.  And on and on.  You cannot unmake a moment, even in your wishes.  And thus, once again, writing out one of my haunted moments in a blog post has allowed to me to understand the wound and clarify the misty darkness which surrounds it a little bit more.   And it becomes not a defeat but just another chapter in My Pop Life.

Look in the eyes of the water that falls
Hiding behind every flower and rock
Why do we dance on the wheel and forget
Life is a child that will never regret
Learning to be, be, be
Stepping away, I get closer each day
I’ve been looking for love to find me
Digging away, I will search I will pray
I’ve been waiting for truth to blind me

Learning To Be :

and Rainbow’s End – it’s not a great quality video, but it’s all there is :

My Pop Life #128 : A Whiter Shade Of Pale : King Curtis

A Whiter Shade Of Pale   –   King Curtis

1987 Wardour Street W1.  A basement screening room in Soho, Central London, which serves as the centre of the British Film Industry – in other words : A small group of overwhelmingly decent men and women in smallish offices talking on the telephone, often to each other.  Of course we have Pinewood and Shepperton Studios out on the M25, but this is our Hollywood:

De Lane Lea on Dean St.  Palace Pictures used to be in Wardour Mews off D’Arblay Street, near Fish where I used to get my haricut.  Working Title.   Mike Leigh’s office is in Greek Street.  The Groucho Club.  Soho House.  Century.  Blacks.  The Sound Studios.  The Edit Suites.  The Distributor’s offices.  Old Compton Street.  Marshall Street.   Meard Street.  Frith Street.  Lexington Street.  Berwick Street.  Soho Square.   The Dog and Duck.   The Coach and Horses.  The French House.  Kettners.  Ronnie Scott’s.  Bar Italia.   Oxford Circus tube.  Shaftesbury Avenue.  Lunch in Chinatown if you fancy.  A small tight and dedicated community squashed into the narrow lanes next to prostitutes walk-ups, strip clubs, pubs, bars and gin joints.   And more recently : chichi hotels and Japanese restaurants as the seedy down-at-heel glamour of the area turns into another monied area of the capital of the world’s capital.  Oh well.  Everything changes right ?

The British Film Industry has been described as a cottage industry, as a few people on the phone, as punching above its weight, as a contradiction in terms.  I’ve worked with many of these dedicated and frankly faintly insane people over the years.  It’s been my honour to have done so.  To make a film in the United Kingdom you need to be more than a little mad.  It takes years of hopeless and often unrewarded effort to get the money, the group of people, the script, the whole thing to work, and often the  punishment is a sniffy review by a critic who prefers the latest Hollywood offering to your carefully nurtured baby, your precious flower on which you have spent weeks, months, years, lunches, breakfasts, dinners, blood, sweat, tears, rages and sleepless nights to bring to the general public.   Only to have it shat on.  And for you to come back for more.  It’s like a drug and we can’t get enough.

 

On this particular day, this auspicious day, one of the better days, it was exciting to be rolling up at 2pm to an underground screening room in a hallowed Soho with a handful of actors : Richard Griffiths, Richard E. Grant, and Paul McGann and a director, Bruce Robinson, a producer Paul Heller, a composer David Dundas and one or two other faces for the first showing of Withnail and I, a film we’d all worked on 18 months earlier in 1985.   I was excited, nervous, worried, hopeful and frankly thrilled to bits.  I hadn’t done that many films at that point.   In fact aside from The Hit, in which I scarcely spoke, this was my first film.  I was almost 30 years old, done a bit of TV and walked off The Bill because I wanted to do films.  This had been the first one that turned up.  It had been a blast to make  but that’s for another story.  Here I am now sat next to lovely Richard Griffiths in the second row of the tiny theatre and the lights go down.  Only friends in here.

The first image on the screen is Paul McGann looking utterly wasted, fading drugs seeping through his pores as he smokes a roll-up. He wears John Lennon glasses and his hair is wavy.   A kind of pained exhausted beauty.  And as he sits and smokes we hear King Curtis playing that saxophone cover version of A Whiter Shade Of Pale, the huge Procol Harum hit single from 1967.  I’d never heard it before.  The saxophone seemed to be be sweating and feeling queasy and unsteady on its feet and then it found its purpose again and magnificently reaffirmed its point before spinning into a personal journey of emptiness and beauty that was so clearly a live version played by a person who was solid gone.  I mean crazy.

I enjoyed the film.  I though Paul and Richard were fantastic.  I laughed.  I loved them.  Then I came on, wearing shades and holding a fucking saveloy.  I was speaking    s  o      s  l  o  w  l  y     that I cringed inside with embarrassment.  All that lovely vibe that Richard and Paul had built up to that point had been thrown away – I was so totally off the pace it was like I was in a different film altogether.  Excruciating.  Rich Griffiths next to me patted my leg with enthusiasm :  “Marvellous dear boy, marvellous“he whispered.  I looked at him quickly in alarm.  “I’m talking too fucking slowly” I hissed at him.  “Nonsense dear boy, wonderful” he replied and we shut up to concentrate on the next scene.

Richard Griffiths in Withnail 

There were other musical highlights that day, but all involving songs I already knew really well.  I loved the movie.  It was the one I had read in my flat in the Archway Road a couple of years earlier.  Funny, well-written, and sad.  I though everyone was great except me.  It was a reaction that would come back to haunt me on a regular basis every few years, most recently in Bristol in early 2014 when Paul and I attended a Comedy Festival screening of Withnail and were interviewed on the stage afterwards by Phil Jupitus.  I made the mistake of watching the film again, and once again fell into the pit of finding myself wanting.  I have enjoyed my own performance on one or two occasions, and I still enjoy doing ‘the voice’, although I have rationed its professional use.  But I will never watch it again I suspect.

We retired to a bar afterwards and I found that Richard Grant’s reaction had been even stronger than mine – I believe he vomited and subsequently vowed to never watch one of his own performances ever again.  We enjoyed each other’s acting however and Bruce was happy and the mood was bright and happy so we drank some drinks and cheers’d ourselves and clinked and drank some more and went home glowing and happy.

The rest was a slow burn to infamy.

King Curtis had the kind of career as a saxophone player that I could only dream of.  When, at the age of 27, I was considering whether to be a professional saxophone player or an actor, I tried to imagine what a successful horn player’s life would be like.  At best I could imagine being a good session player, doing a solo on a Pink Floyd LP or Listen To What The Man Said, maybe being in a pop band for a few years like Madness or UB40, shagging loads of birds, taking drugs, becoming unpleasant and sad by the time I was 40 or disappearing into the jazz world and becoming a brilliant elusive junkie.  Curtis was the king of the instrument all right, starting as a jazzman with Lionel Hampton and others before making his mark in the pop world from The Coaster’s Yakety Yak, to John Lennon’s It’s So Hard,   LaVern Baker’s I Cried A Tear, Clyde McPhatter’s A Lover’s Question and co-writing Reminiscing with Buddy Holly.

King Curtis, Percy Sledge, unknown, Jimi Hendrix

In the mid-sixties he played in a soul band with Jimi Hendrix on guitar backing Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett and  Cornell Dupree.  He also had his own band The Kingpins who opened for the Beatles at Shea Stadium in 1965 and cut sides for Atlantic Records including the hits Memphis Soul Stew, Games People Play and Ode To Billy Joe before opening for and arranging  Aretha Franklin at the Fillmore West which became two live albums (one by Aretha, one by King Curtis) and from which A Whiter Shade Of Pale is taken.  Much loved by the Rock Establishment – Duane Allman, Eric Clapton, Lennon and others, he was murdered in an altercation with junkies outside his apartment in New York five months after this concert.

On the DVD for Withnail & I (which Paul McGann and I did a commentary on for the special edition) I make a spurious claim, now crystallised for all eternity, that Curtis died on the night of the Fillmore West gig, just after recording the emotional genius of Whiter Shade Of Pale.  I can be wrong tha knows…

In the end the art of film-making hopes for a similar end result to the musician – to affect the audience.  To move you in mysterious or obvious ways.  Language is often a blunt tool, but in this opening sequence to the film that changed my life, there are no words, either on screen or in the sobbing song which accompanies it.  A man of quintessential loquacious eloquence like writer and director Bruce Robinson knew when to let the music and the actor do the work.

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