Archive for If…

Histories and Legacies

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2017 by dcairns

Me and Richard Lester. Photo by Sheldon Hall, complete with psychedelic projections. Thanks, Sheldon!

The image above was taken at the symposium British Cinema in the 1960s: Histories and Legacies at the BFI Southbank on Thursday. This was Part 2 of the conference I presented at last week. It was lovely to see Richard again, and meet Neil Sinyard, who literally wrote the book on him, and to acquire the latest edition of said book at a hefty academic discount, and hear more of his stories of his early career. Many of these appear in Andrew Yule’s book The Man Who “Framed” the Beatles, but Richard tells them better.

Academic conferences are strange things — rather jolly, though. I couldn’t believe the obscurity of some of the stuff under discussion. In York, there had been a paper based on research into the completion bond guarantor’s notes on  Joseph Losey’s FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE. In London, there were entries on the Children’s Film Foundation, the production design of IF…., censorship and colour in Hammer films (centering on that naughty studio’s practice of submitting b&w prints of colour films, to disguise the gore) and trade advertisements for Eastmancolor. I was in hog heaven, glorying in the utter abstruseness of this info. I also learned about a few films I hadn’t seen (or, in the case of TWO GENTLEMEN SHARING, even heard of). And I made some new friends.

Also: a stunning 35mm screening of PETULIA.

My idea of academia before attending the conference.

Sandy Lieberson and David Puttnam were interviewed on Wednesday, and Rita Tushingham on Thursday. So it wasn’t all about the obscure byways of the business. Some of the papers were critical analyses, Charles Drazin using Lindsay Anderson’s relationship with his former headmaster as a lens through which to re-examine IF….’s politics. Others were historical, based on archival digging or interviews. There were a trio of presentations based around the public’s memories of cinema-going at the time, looking at sexual attitudes (and behaviour in the dark of the auditorium), responses to the fantasy of Swinging London, and the difficulties of getting to a screen if you lived in the countryside. There was lots on Ken Loach (KES and POOR COW) but I was even happy to hear about that.

My only criticism would be the lack of analysis of the visual, of the craft of filmmaking. There was some of this, and there were a good number of papers which dealt with areas far removed from the art of framing, cutting, mixing, in which technique wasn’t relevant. But in some of the actual discussion of movies, the “close analysis” was confined to the story and dialogue, with the cinematic approach completely ignored. I suppose it’s inevitable when the people looking at films are word people. Richard Lester got in a gentle crack about academia when he said that he had expected that A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, once it had fulfilled its ephemeral pop-culture purpose in 1964, would only be of interest “in, well, frankly, rooms like this.”

(Of course, my paper was on a screenwriter, so I give myself a free pass on this issue.)

My idea of academia after attending the conference.

I’d go again! My odd situation is that, as a teaching fellow at Edinburgh College of Art, I’m not officially expected to do what they call “research,” although I only just found this out. For years, they’ve been asking me to tell me all about my research activities, and I’ve obliged, but none of my filmmaking or criticism really counts as academic research. Can I even claim expenses for my trip? I don’t know. If I can, I’d go to lots of these things! To me, it was just like a science fiction convention, only without the cosplay, and more fun.




Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 22, 2015 by dcairns


I had the pleasure of writing liner notes for Masters of Cinema’s Blu-ray release of Lindsay Anderson and David Sherwin’s IF…. (available below — support Shadowplay by treating yourself to a copy) in which I speculated about the enduring mystery of our time — the fact that UK prime minister David Cameron has cited the movie as his favourite of all time. Anderson’s scabrous satire of British public school life seemed an unlikely choice for a senior product of the conservative establishment to cherish. In my essay, I speculated wildly on what might have led Dave to this choice, but all my suggestions were censored by Paramount, the movie’s rights holder.

But I have now been forced to reconsider my theories, owing to recent revelations (if you are uncertain which revelations I am referring to, Google the words “David Cameron fucked a dead pig’s severed head in the mouth” and all will become clear). I now think that Cameron was confused when choosing his fave pic, and was thinking of the sequel to IF…., 1973’s picaresque fable O LUCKY MAN!

In this film, there is a scene which has haunted nearly everyone I know. I’ve met several people who tuned into the 178 minute epic part-way through, got to THE SCENE, and turned off in terror, and never quite knew what film they had been watching or even if it was real. (I’ve also met people who accidentally tuned in to ERASERHEAD while high. They didn’t look quite as shaken when recalling the experience.) For the IF…. extras I also interviewed actor Brian Pettifer, who nearly starred in this scene, only the special costume they’d made didn’t fit him. The most memorable role in the film ended up going to the actor with the right neck size. Jeremy Bulloch, also known as Boba Fett, or sometimes Boba Bulloch.


The character is a human head transplanted on to a pig’s body by rogue Scottish scientist Graham Crowden. What I’ve now realized is that, obviously, Mr Cameron, seeing this scene, cannot help but realize that somewhere that pig’s head must still be around, and he casts his mind back to happy days of higher education, and feels vestigial stirrings in his private chippolata, as he remembers when he was able to practice upon the lifeless lips of a deceased farm animal those skills he has since used upon the nation as a whole.

If…. (Masters of Cinema) [Blu-ray] [1968]
O Lucky Man! DVD Region 2 Malcom McDowell (Import)


Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on July 12, 2014 by dcairns


New from Masters of Cinema.

TOO LATE BLUES, the second film of John Cassavetes, has a video intro by me.

IF…. has a text essay in the booklet as well as an interview with Brian Pettifer, one of the film’s dazzling discoveries, conducted by me.

HAROLD AND MAUDE has another video intro.

Strange seeing myself on video on a commercially available DVD. Even stranger seeing my name as an item on the menu. DAVID CAIRNS — that’s all it says. Click here for some David Cairns.

Thanks to Brian, to Colin McLaren for the use of the flat and the excellent spaghetti and to Alberto and Lukasz and Anna and Mario for recording my blatherings. Thanks to MoC for the gigs in the first place.

Now you should buy at least one of them!

If…. (Masters of Cinema) [Blu-ray] [1968]

Harold And Maude (Masters of Cinema) (Blu-ray) [1971]

Too Late Blues (Masters of Cinema) (Dual Format Edition) [Blu-ray + DVD] [1961]