Archive for Graham Crowden

Time Gentlemen Please

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2018 by dcairns

On my last day in London I went to see The Clock at the Tate Modern — Christian Marclay has created a 24hr film that’s a LOT more interesting than 24hr Psycho. It’s essentially a day-long scratch video  composed of snippets from movies of the last 120 years or so, all on the theme of time, most featuring clocks — clocks arranged in the edit so that if you enter the screening room at 11.20, as I did, you will see Susan Hayward facing execution at 11.20 in I WANT TO LIVE! (“Why is she – ?” began a small child before being hushed.)

Three minutes later I was startled to see an actor I had the pleasure of working with, Graham Crowden, speaking the time aloud in BRITANNIA HOSPITAL. He was the only I actor I’ve known personally to turn up while I was watching.

We also got PETULIA. And REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE (above), which was startling as I’d just been interviewing a crew member from that one the day before. Of course HIGH NOON turned up at the appropriate time, intercut with Waring Hudsucker making a flying exit from Hudsucker Industries and various heist films. Lots of heist films all through, as people like THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN naturally need to synchronize their watches. Lots of people hurrying to catch trains, too — fitting, as I had a train to catch at 3. This is a movie you can watch without any fear of losing track of the time, which is the exact effect most other films are supposed to produce. It was quite a strange sensation: as a whole bunch of films illustrate the passage from 12:05 to 12:10, time is drawn out and it takes a while to get there, but at the same time the film is extremely diverting — What’s that one? I know that one! — and so the time seems to pass very quickly when you look back at how long you’ve been sat there. Time is simultaneously being stretched, squashed, and kept absolutely in place.

I stayed for the duration of a regular feature film, but would really like to see the whole thing so I could declare “This is where I came in!” Is that a thing? Does anybody take a seat at 9am and stay there until 9am the following morning, when the same clip starts showing? Toilet breaks would be permissible, and you could probably smuggle some modest snacks in… it would take care of my London accommodation, saving me the need to sleep on an inflatable bed that slowly thins out and lowers me to the floor by morning…

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Graham Crowden, 1922-2010

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on October 20, 2010 by dcairns

That’s Graham Crowden in my film of Robert Louis Stevenson’s THE ISLE OF VOICES. He was 72, I was 27. Just heard from my writer friend Colin McLaren, screenwriter of DONKEYS, co-author of CRY FO BOBO, and author of another short film, FANTOOSH, which starred the Great Man, that Graham is no longer among us.

My fondest memory of that shoot is doing an insert shot of Graham picking up a seashell. “Just need a bit of hand acting here, Graham,” I said. He grinned that grin. “Oh, I’m very good at that!” And we carried on that exchange whenever there was an insert shot, or a shot of his back.

I introduced Graham’s sorceror character with three shots, going closer, then closer — a device nicked from James Whale’s presentation of the Frankenstein monster.

He was a lovely man, a true eccentric, a genuinely theatrical figure. Honour him by running IF…, O LUCKY MAN!, or BRITANNIA HOSPITAL, in each of which he’s sublime. “Do you have an opinion???”

The Near Future

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 21, 2010 by dcairns

My friend Niall Greig Fulton’s retrospective season at Edinburgh Film Festival has already produced some fascinating and little-seen works from Britain in and around the seventies. While Peter Watkins’ PRIVILEGE is often dismissed as a misfire, it’s a very interesting one, and I haven’t ever read anything which really pins down its virtues and vices in a way I recognise.

Paul Jones and Jean Shrimpton get a lot of stick for their flat, depressive delivery, but the non-actors actually work quite well with Watkins’ faux-documentary approach. It’s the more experienced cast members, playing in a slightly comedic manner, who clash with the verité trappings. And indeed, those stylistic choices seem a little unhelpful. This is meant to be a near future world where a pop star is used as a means of controlling and subduing dissent. But no BBC documentarist would ever be allowed to document such a process in a real totalitarian state, so the film might have been more convincing as fiction. Or, if Watkins was determined to employ the style he’d successfully used on CULLODEN and THE WAR GAME, he ought to have had the grotesque establishment figures played in a more subdued manner — inventing the low-key comedy of something like The Office, perhaps.

Watkins seems a reclusive sort, but Kevin Billington was on hand to introduce his 1970 film THE RISE AND RISE OF MICHAEL RIMMER, which he co-scripted with Peter Cook, John Cleese and Graham Chapman (who all appear). While PRIVILEGE is set in a sixties vision of the near future, the Billington is resolutely contemporary, yet seems far more prophetic. It was nice to learn that the drones of Watkins’ dystopia are watched over by a coalition government, “since there is no longer any difference in policy between Labour and Conservative,” but RIMMER’s idea that party politics are rendered redundant by the overwhelming power of the PR department is more sinister yet.

In PRIVILEGE, the church harnesses the power of a youth icon to make the masses conform — “By 1990 the only people going to church will be the clergy,” and to boost attendance (but the film is oddly tone deaf about pop culture, and we’re never convinced a move this bald-faced would work), but the bishop played by the great Graham Crowden in RIMMER has progressed beyond this. “We’ve tried everything, you know:  pop groups, bingo, hallucinogenic drugs in the wafers, son et lumiere in the graveyards…” Rimmer, played by Peter Cook with sinister smiling emptiness, a thin void in smart duds, tells him the problem is God, and they had best get rid of Him.

Like all the films so far, the movies are both thronging with familiar acting talent — the lovely James Cossins is in both. And Harold Pinter appears as a current affairs show host — I laughed at the name of his show, Steven Hench is Talking To You. Here’s Billington on meeting Pinter ~

Billington: “It all seemed to be I was in, as I discovered later, this Pinter world, when you were with him. […] Whenever you were alone with him, wherever you were, the world became the way he wrote. It’s the most extraordinary thing. With just one or two marvelous writers, in a funny way, this is how the world is with them.”

Billington very sweetly apologized to the ladies in the audience for the film’s prevalent sexism — a near-pornographic advert for sweeties produced by Rimmer is acceptable as satire (and anybody who’s seen a ’70s Cadbury’s Flake ad know how close to reality it is) but starlet Vanessa Howard is served up in a gratuitous nude scene which cheapens the movie. She doesn’t have much of a role, and it’s sad when you see how amazing she is in Freddie Francis’s nearly-lost weirdfest GIRLY.

Meanwhile, we have creeping dictatorship, covert invasion of a non-threatening country, bogus weapons of mass destruction, and the evidence of a generous budget from Warners, making this an unusually lavish and ambitious British comedy for any era (produced by David Frost of FROST/NIXON fame).

Me: “There must have been times in the last several years when you’d be watching the news and experience deja vu. Was there a particular moment when you thought, ‘This might not be satire anymore?'”

Billington: “Absolutely. I do have to say that the whole New Labour thing smacked so much… of how you ask the people… this whole thing is the people, they’re going to decide. Which has obviously strong links back to socialism in the early days. That’s not the way it’s used here. […] I could see the way politicians wanted to use television, and what they were actually thinking was ‘How do we come across?’ […] So when Blair suddenly was there, and his youth, ‘a New Tomorrow’ etc etc… I shouldn’t go on about Blair because at the moment we have a chap called Cameron who has a certain amount of PR about him. So I’m not being party political at all now, it just happened that that’s the way it came.”

It certainly did.