Archive for Richard Lester

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 2, 2017 by dcairns

Up at Edinburgh to York train at 6.55.

As a lecturer, I’m encouraged to do what is called “research” — but as I teach on a practical filmmaking course, nothing that would constitute research for me — stuff I could use in my practice — qualifies as academic research. But when Neil Sinyard notified me that there was a symposium on British cinema in the sixties, and that Richard Lester was taking part, I naturally wanted to go, so I offered a paper, and to my surprise it got accepted.

Richard Lester is appearing at the London bit of the programme next week, my paper was in the York section. So, two trips. Then I found out that, as a “teaching fellow,” I’m not actually required to do any research at all. Nobody had told me. This is possibly good news, except it leaves me in the dark as to whether I can claim expenses back. Too late now.

Sunny day. York is lovely. I haven’t been since I was a kid, and all I remember is the Cathedral, which stays out of sight this time. Taxi to campus because I don’t want to worry about getting lost. All the way there I see nothing later than the Victorian era, except the cars. And then the campus is completely brand new, and of course deserted (summer holidays).

I’m giving a paper on screenwriter Charles Wood (CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, top image), which I’ll doubtless post here later. Right away I meet someone I know, my editor from Electric Sheep magazine, who’s presenting a paper on Michael Reeves using her secret identity. I’m slightly worried because I don’t really know what a symposium looks like. Will we be in a theatre with a podium or some kind of boardroom? Apparently it’s both — I can choose which bit to attend, as there are parallel talks going on at once, Reluctantly I pass up Michael Reeves to hear about Joseph Losey.

We get coffee and lunch and beer/wine, which makes it a pretty nice gathering, even though I don’t know what a symposium is. I get to talking to two men both called Martin Hall. “You’ve lost your identity,” says a Martin Hall, and I agree, but he points at the floor, where my name card has fallen out of my badge. I’m now wearing a translucent panel on my chest, the kind of ID the invisible man might wear.

The second strange coincidence, following on from meeting someone I know under a different name, is learning that the continuity girl on Losey’s FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE was called Connie Willis. On the train down, I’d started reading To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis. A different Connie Willis. Time-travel comedy inspired by Jerome K. Jerome. Very hard to make anything of this synchronicity, except that time travel books are always about continuity, aren’t they?

I had been concerned that my presentation — I’d written as essay, probably too long, and was going to read it out — might not fit with what was expected, but it seemed to be roughly along the right lines. Some people had been poking about in archives — fascinatingly, all the correspondence from Film Finances, Britain’s biggest completion bond guarantor, is now available for research, but others had been talking to survivors of the era. One fascinating talk dealt with Peter Whitehead’s muses, one of whom was into trepanning, that ancient Egyptian practice whereby you bore a hole in yourself and let the sap run out. Some bloody images were shown. Whitehead had attempted to film his partner aerating her skull, but fainted, according to one account.

I shared the stage with a paper on widescreen style in THE IPCRESS FILE, which amounted to a strong defense of flamboyant style in British filmmaking.

My paper seemed to be well received! It was seen as odd that I was delivering this paper at the home of the Charles Wood Archive, but had not been to see it. I think that’s odd too — just didn’t have time. Hopefully I’ll find out I can claim expenses on it and can come back soon. At any rate, gratification was expressed that someone was paying attention to this important, criminally neglected artist.

The sun set all the way home ~


On the bus from the railway station to the chip shop, I sat behind a man with a livid X-shaped cut right on the apex of his cranium, in the centre of his bald spot, stitches visible. Had he been trepanned? It looked exactly like the bloody images I’d just seen. Strange coincidence No. 3.

Next week — London, Lester, Tushingham, Sandy Lieberson, PETULIA at the BFI Southbank!

Last Ciggie at Marienbad

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , on September 1, 2017 by dcairns

So, yesterday I posted what I take to be Richard Lester’s MARIENBAD-inspired Grant’s Whiskey commercials, and WITHIN THE HOUR I get word on Facebook from Steven Otero — he has the L&M cigarettes ad Lester mentioned in his Sight & Sound interview with Joseph McBride, which is also a Resnais pastiche. Very much so, in fact!

Lester: “I made a rather odd L&M commercial. John Schlesinger, Karel Reisz and I each made one of a series.”

McBride: “What was yours like?”

Lester: “It was like Marienbad. Why they came to me I don’t know. They said they wanted something which was absolutely me and suggested something that was absolutely Resnais. But, eclectic to the end, I sort of pitched in.”

I guess that architectural plan way of looking at buildings DOES connect Resnais and Lester — the palace scenes in THREE MUSKETEERS, for instance.

I’m not sure Mr. Lester really wants all this stuff dug up. It was meant to be ephemeral.