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Issue 7 / Wednesday 22 September

Cambridge Film Festival Daily F eature D review

A dangerous liaison with Stephen Frears Halfway through his onstage interview at the Festival, director Stephen Frears grumbled: “I was horrified to learn that this event was called Looking Back.” It is relatively common for artists to avow frank disinterest in all aspects of their past work, but Frears seemed not so much modest as sincerely abashed about certain aspects of his longstanding career. As host Jan Gilbert cued a series of clips from Frear’s filmography - prologue and repartee from GUMSHOE (1971), then the railway-bridge reunion from MY BEAUTIFUL LAUNDRETTE (1985), and so on to the present - the director returned spades full of droll. On GUMSHOE: “that’s just what we were like then; a bunch of children overexcited by American films!” On his work in the 1990s, something of a ‘dark’ period for him (though any survey of

Hot Ticket Wednesday 22 September -- TBC Slots Now Confirmed -Don’t miss docu-drama THE MIRACLE OF LEIPZIG about the 1989 Monday demonstrations in East Germany. Now screening today at 8.30pm. Gaspar Noé’s challenge to the senses (and eyeballs) ENTER THE VOID will be screened at 1.00pm. Stephen Frears © TC

living auteurs could turn up victims of more prolonged and egregious lapses in quality): “I thought I’d be rather good at making studio films. But I was a disaster.” On filmmaking in general: “If you make a film, it’s very frightening. [Pause] Nothing has changed.” Within a ten-minute interval, this frequent collaborator with Hanif Kureishi, Peter Morgan, Roddy Doyle, described himself as “hopeless,” “shameful,” and “completely ignorant” - more than once. Compulsive putdowns and vaguely curmudgeonly tendencies notwithstanding, Frears throughout the event presented a hugely respectable figure - refined in his tastes (particularly ‘in writing and in actors’), honest and pragmatic in matters of self-regard, and sincerely grateful for the creative moment and milieu into which he’d had the good sense to be born. As a burgeoning thesp and bored-to-tears Law student at Cambridge in the early sixties, Frears met, befriended and worked with a gaggle of talented, committed young entertainers, many of whose names are more famous than his is today (“you couldn’t move for people who were going to become celebrities”). Though reluctant to draw explicit morals from any life-stories, Frears suggested consistently that his experiences at university, and in his early jobs at the BBC and the Royal Court theatre, taught him an indispensable lesson about the value of the company that continued on page 2

Jan Harlan © TC

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a creative professional keeps. The ensemble, or the community of likeminded ‘clever’ and serious people on a given studio, set, or stage, is what Frears reckons as the irreplaceable asset to his creative work. Frears’ film repertoire is notably catholic. One looks in vain for a common tone, subject, or style. To gauge from this interview, this eclecticism stems primarily from the stream of new material - new literary matter, chiefly, and new faces on new actors - that keeps him well-furnished with raw matter from which to select the high quality he seeks. Asked at one point why so many of his film projects began life as novels (THE GRIFTERS, DANGEROUS LIAISONS, TAMARA DREWE etc), Frears answered that the choice to adapt existing source-matter to the screen was never deliberate. “There are just so many wonderful books about.” The theme of the value Frears places in supportive creative environments resurfaced in one of the interview’s more affecting passages, when the director shared his wry, rather bleak impressions of Hollywood (gained, there could be no mistake, through repeated harsh personal experience). “It’s very, very formal,’ he mused, ‘and very hierarchical. It’s a closed insider community - it’s like the eighteenth century! [And] it’s like a sort of game they play… they decide who you’ll get [for the film]. It’s all rather beyond your control.” Returning to the UK seemed much the sensible move. This keenly interested man, an inveterate observer and documenter of human relations however humble, clearly had better things to do with his time. Emma Firestone Stephen Frears: Looking Back took place on Tuesday 21 September


Kubrick Unboxed Ian Christie and Jan harlan lift the lid on cinemas unmade dreams

The great unmade films have seldom been the object of study in themselves, but rather a footnote in cinema history. But this year two truly fascinating looks at their history have taken place at the Festival. The first saw film historian Ian Christie give a talk on the history of unmade cinema, in which he suggested that not only does the study of unrealised projects provide an important insight into how all movies are made, but also that these projects can often help reshape our view of certain filmmakers. It was this latter point that the second event really delved into, with a talk dedicated to arguably the greatest of all the unmade movies: Stanley Kubrick’s meticulously researched Napoleon biopic. A project MGM pulled the plug on mere weeks away from shooting in Romania, due to the oncoming presence on the 1970 film WATERLOO; although Kubrick’s film was set to be far more extensive than that movie, as he planned to show Napoleon as a man, serving as the ultimate example of humanity’s capacity for equal amounts of genius and stupidity. Kubrick’s producer and brother-in-law Jan Harlan was on hand to discuss his personal experience working on the project (which actually provided his first occasion working with the filmmaker). He was joined by Alison Castle, the author of the groundbreaking Tachen volume, The Stanley Kubrick Archives – as well as a more recent, and even more extensive book focussed on the doomed Napoleon project. The talk provided a tantalising glimpse of images from the Napoleon archive: a work of unprecedented research for a film, containing thousands upon thousands of reference drawings, history books, location photographs and an entire

trunk of screenplay treatments. Most impressive of all is the great wooden chest of drawers which contains a number of small cards accounting for every single day in Napoleon’s life – which allowed the filmmaker to find out where the emperor, and any member of his extensive entourage, were at any given time and with relative ease. Castle described it as being the 1970s equivalent of Google, and it is indeed a towering monument to Kubrick’s dedication (or even obsession) for the project. It is a sadness that we will never see what he declared would be the greatest film ever made. Although Harlan revealed that he and Spielberg oversaw an attempt to resurrect it a few years back with Ang Lee at the helm. Lee decided to make HULK instead. But whilst he arguably took a wrong turn (at least if the audience laughter was anything to go by), sometimes missed opportunities can be a blessing in disguise, argues Christie. Had NAPOLEON gone ahead as planned, we perhaps would have been denied another remarkable work: “Kubrick had immersed himself so much in the 18th century that he wasn’t going to throw all that away – and he’d become fascinated by it. I’m sure BARRY LYNDON owes a lot to that!” Whilst on other occasions, projects that a director finds themselves falling into, perhaps at the expense of more personal fare, may bring their own rewards: “Scorsese is a good case in point... he was very ambivalent about making THE DEPARTED, even though that one finally got him the Oscar!” Thanks to people like Ian Christie, Jan Harlan and Alison Castle, unmade projects need not be viewed as total disappointments, and may now find a new life as objects of study and research. Even providing great enjoyment in their own right. Hopefully other unmade projects, such as Michael Powell’s THE TEMPEST, may soon find themselves objects of similar interest. We can only hope so. Robert Beames



Hawking his wares round town It’s been over a decade since comedian Tony Hawks released his first best seller, the well loved, Round Ireland With a Fridge. The book involved the true-life account of Tony as he hitch-hiked the circumference of Ireland in order to win a £100 bet that he’d apparently drunkenly made with a friend. Since then, the Brighton-born comic has followed up that success with three further travel-based books. But the time has come to bring that original success to the screen. And indeed, the film version of ROUND IRELAND WITH A FRIDGE has finally been realised, with its world Première held at the Festival tonight. It hasn’t been plain sailing making the transition from book to cinema screen. Indeed Hawks was reluctant to adapt it into a movie at all until inspiration came from an unlikely source: “I was approached by various producers, about once a year and I thought ‘oh, I won’t make a film’, but then I saw the David Lynch film where that guy crossed America with a lawnmower, and I thought ‘ah, if you can get a film out of that you can get a film out of Around Ireland With a Fridge.’ And that’s when I started having a go at the first screenplay.” But if the book, as a slow and uneventful journey, bears some slight similarities with THE STRAIGHT STORY, the film is pitched somewhere broader. The subtlety of the book has made way for a more overtly comic re-working of the events, which favours slapstick and exaggerated caricatures. Hawks has made his own character (a fictionalised version of himself) less likeable, and the story has also had a structural makeover to meet what Hawks sees as the demands of movie narrative, saying of the book: “it doesn’t naturally have the ingredients a 90 minute film needs. It doesn’t have the obstacles, it doesn’t have the same characters appearing. It’s an episodic thing with just lots of silly things happening.” Making these changes also involved writing in a love interest, a sassy roving radio reporter, although she has some basis in the original journey. “She’s based very much on the character of Antoinette in the book.” And it seems this isn’t the last we’ll see of Tony on our screens, as he revealed that he’s already completed shooting a movie based on his second book, Playing the Moldovans at Tennis: “I’ve just made a film of that as well, in a similar way.” But he’ll be hoping ROUND IRELAND WITH A FRIDGE will lay the ground work for this next film to ensure it finds an audience, “because Moldova isn’t of interest to Americans and Ireland is.” But he can’t start worrying about that movie yet. At this stage the comedian is still tentative about his first film, and he remains unsure how the Première will go. “We don’t really know, to be honest, until tomorrow night how it’ll be received. It’s never been seen and it’ll be the first time with the general public.” Robert Beames ROUND IRELAND WITH A FRIDGE is screened on Wednesday 22 September at 6.00pm


Mysticism... and banking EMPIRE OF SILVER Dir / Cristina Yao 112 mins / China 2009

EMPIRE OF SILVER rewards patience. The story burns slowly and there are a lot of characters to keep track of, but any investment by the audience is remunerated by a story which perfectly conjures up a mood of social upheaval whilst maintaining a poignant core. The film charts the travails of the third son in a leading Chinese banking family at the end of the nineteenth century, who unexpectedly finds himself in line to take over the business. His opinions differ wildly with those of his father concerning how to balance social responsibility with the family’s interests. The plot is intricate – but in the relationship between the son and his stepmother the story finds a central point of reference to which viewers can emotionally attach themselves. Aaron Kwok’s performance as the third son is elegant and a development into maturity is captured perfectly. Visually lavish, the direction juxtaposes the mysticism of the Chinese landscape with the banking family’s rigid code – under threat through western influence – and the historical context is indeed important in the narrative’s progression. Audiences in the West might have a hard time preventing themselves from drawing modern comparisons, but arguably, in drawing attention to how these Chinese bankers were called the Wall Street of their time, director Christina Yao encourages the link. Historical epics which don’t seek to bombard the audience with either battles or bodices are hard to come by, but EMPIRE OF SILVER takes the risk, and the result is a deep and engaging drama. Oliver Ford EMPIRE OF SILVER is screened on Wednesday 22 September at 5.30pm

Round Ireland with a Fridge

FILMMAKERS ON FILMMAKING We pose the questions plaguing budding filmmakers to the maker of HAPPY FACE, director Franklin P. Laviola. How did you go about raising the funds for the film? Like most independent films, especially in the US, it was all privately funded; self-funded for the most part. What would you say is your greatest challenge as a filmmaker and how did you overcome it? It’s just shepherding everyone together – getting everyone committed and passionate about a small project, because obviously no one is going to make large amounts of money out of the endeavour. I wanted to produce this as if it was a feature – not with the budget of a feature, but with the same kind of crew talent and acting talent as a feature. Our female lead dropped out four days before the shoot and we really had to persevere and focus our

energies into remedying the situation. My producer and I made a list of actresses that were realistic contenders and just started calling managers to see who was available. Which filmmakers and films do you most admire? I’m a huge fan of David Cronenberg, from his low budget first features which are unapologetically genre horror, to his key masterpieces like DEAD RINGERS and THE FLY. I love SPIDER for the tightness of that film; there’s not a wasted shot – it’s so perfectly executed. Apart from SPIDER, I’d say Lodge Kerrigan’s CLEAN, SHAVEN; Roman Polanski’s REPULSION; and George Romero’s MARTIN. All of these films are made on tight budgets, especially CLEAN, SHAVEN and MARTIN, and they’re able to create this disturbing subjective horror experience through just the bare essentials of the film making medium. There’s a beautiful minimalism to all of these films.

Postgraduate Film Study in Cambridge


What do you feel are the pros and cons of filming on digital and on film? Which do you personally prefer? I shot on HD the Arriflex D-21. Apparently it’s used a lot more in the UK than the US. I loved the result with that camera, but there’s something about film – especially the texture of film and the way film registers the natural colour and lighting scheme that makes me, on an aesthetic level, prefer it to HD. Hopefully my eventual feature will be shot on Super 16 or 35.

O LUCKY MAN!, a 1973 British comedy, follows the somewhat unstructured journey and return from IF, of Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell) as he gradually abandons his principles in order to succeed in a capitalist society. Anderson’s use of black comedy manages to successfully reflect the social, political and economic corruption of the times with a sense of wit and absurdity. However at nearly three hours long one must be patient! O LUCKY MAN! is not easy viewWhat advice would you give to ing; it’ll keep your brain swelling and budding filmmakers and script churning from start to end in a frantic writers? effort to understand its meaning. That, Work hard and persevere, I guess! And however, is what I think makes it spedon’t be too grandiose on your first cial, and in my eyes a British classic. It film. Fiona Scoble promises you hours of post-film digestion and manages to ambiguously drop HAPPY FACE is screened with WE ARE WHAT WE ARE on Wednesday 22 elements into the shots you’ll still be September at 10:30pm questioning hours later. The defining moment for me is when Travis is told “The species will be lucky 60mm flyer:Layout 1 29/07/2010 09:35 P to survive beyond the year 2010.� I think we can agree that the species is still alive in the year 2010, and in my This newsletter is produced view so is Lindsay Anderson’s legacy. on re-cycled material & Catriona Hay printed with vegetable based inks under the sponsorship of TOP TEN: THE PEOPLE’S FAVOURITE FILM AWARD


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CFF10 Daily #7  

Cambridge Film Festival daily newspaper issue 7