Pretty as Paint

So, I picked up Twiggy’s autobiography, just to see what she had to say about Ken Russell and THE BOY FRIEND. She seems to have enjoyed the experience.

Amusing story ~ they’re restaging the famous girls-dancing-on-plane gag from FLYING DOWN TO RIO and Ken decides he wants the biplane to be silver. This will involve painting it overnight.

But the next morning the plane is white. The man responsible explains that there was no silver paint to be had and so they thought Ken would be OK with white.Ken explodes, which was one of his talents. “Do you know who I am?” Twiggy quotes him as saying. Usually, the answer to that question ought to be “An arsehole?” but here it would be more properly rendered as “Mad genius enfant terrible scourge of the boring and unambitious British cinema,” perhaps adding “and a man who very much wants a silver biplane.” Ken settled for “I’m the director of this fucking picture!”

The man is sent off to get silver paint. He comes back with a lot of little eggcup-sized cans, the kind sold in model shops. About 500 of them, in a van. The only silver paint to be had in London. (The ’70s were crap, in some ways.) You ever used that stuff? Tiny tins, and you can never get it to come out silver. The idea of painting an entire plane with it…

I love the art department, as I may have mentioned before. A can-do art department marks the difference between an efficient, fun shoot, and a slog.

I always remember this story from Ed Naha’s The Making of Dune. David Lynch has invented a scene not in the script (and it’s HIS script!) in which Kyle McLachlan trains his Fremen warriors to destroy a rotating black cube thing with sheer lung power. I can’t, off-hand, recall if the scene made it into the finished cut, which always seemed most lacking in what should be the second half of act 2. Suddenly it’s the climax!(The scene exists, but the “box” Naha describes is a pyramid. Did they reshoot it with a different Platonic solid shape-thing?)

Anyhow, Lynch has twenty minutes left to get the shot when he notices a speck of white on the black cube. He calls for an art department guy. The guy walks up to the blemished space cube and delivers a daub of black paint from a paint-pot.

Lynch is dumbfounded. “Now I have brush-strokes up there!” he exclaims.

Lynch’s eyes dilate even further as the worker returns with a ladder and proceeds to repaint the entire top of the black box… with a brush.


Lynch stares at the box. “No! Not OK! It looks fifty times worse! One hundred times worse! Can anyone see if they can find a can of black spray paint?”

One feels for him. It’s a scenario right out of some Hollywood spoof, with the director (jodhpurs and megaphone) driven to apoplexy by some incompetent underling (Marion Davies, Peter Sellers), jumping up and down and tearing his hair out. Or as Lynch confides in the documentary Lynch, while shooting part of INLAND EMPIRE with an inexperienced team, “You wonder what kinda heavy burden Einstein musta carried. Surrounded by fuckin’ assholes.” It’s also a lot like Lynch’s scenes of Kafkaesque bumbling accomplices: there’s a good filmmaking one in INLAND EMPIRE. The first is probably Paul (a favourite Lynch name: DUNE was meant to be) in ERASERHEAD, the buzzer-happy pencil manufacturer.

A little later, in Naha’s book: “That guy? Our painter? He’s usually very good.”

8 Responses to “Pretty as Paint”

  1. david wingrove Says:

    I adored every moment of THE BOY FRIEND but must admit I don;t remember the scene in DUNE. Perhaps I had dozed off at that point?

  2. It’s not the most memorable bit. And I had forgotten Freddie Jones being menaced by Sting holding a box with a sphinx cat with a mouse bandaged to its side. It’s a film with MANY bits.

  3. Einstein or Eisenstein? Why would Einstein have found himself surrounded by “fuckin’ assholes”?

  4. Mark Fuller Says:

    Vladek Sheybal, Freddie Jones…..just where are the character actors of that talent and class these days ??? (Apart from Emmerdale in Freddie’s case…or his son Toby, who has both ) They just don’t seem to be around …….I mean, Freddie’s Claudius on tv in the sixties was way more believable than Sir Derek Jacobi’s, and yet….Emmerdale .

  5. Freddie’s other son, Rupert, was at art school with me and has just made a feature film. Fun fact.

    I think the Einstein idea was that to Einstein, nearly everyone would seem like a “fuckin’ asshole” — or it may have been “fuckin’ moron,” actually.

    I don’t think we’re ever short of great character actors. What baffles me is when fun and unique character actors like The Boy Friend’s Murray Melvin and Brian Murphy don’t get used regularly. Where are they?

  6. bensondonald Says:

    I’m conflicted about “The Boy Friend”. The low-rent theater folk behind the glitzy musical fantasy are funny, and the visual excess is fun, but ultimately it feels like Russell wants us to sneer down at the artificiality of both the onstage and the offstage action rather than directly enjoy it as entertainment.

    Felt a bit like a kid trying to watch Robin Hood as an older sibling hammered away at the historical inaccuracies, the realities of medieval sanitation, the use of stuntmen, why I should feel guilty for cheering Robin, etc.

  7. What he ISN’T cynical about is the imagination: the visual excess is served up “straight”, I think. It does make the plot of the play wholly secondary to the surrounding “real” plot (or tertiary, to the fantasy sequences) but if you can accept that…

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