Monday, 26 April 2010

Southend Film Festival 2010

As someone who is known to bang on about the much missed local cinemas of yester-year, I must give a quick 'heads up' to any Essex readers (or anyone further afield who is REALLY keen!) on the Southend Film Festival, which kicks off today (26th April). Yes, for the next 10 days, Southend will once again become a town with multiple screen venues! The Palace Theatre, Southend Library, The Park Inn Hotel (the recently refurbished Palace Hotel where Laurel and Hardy once stayed), Southend Museum, South Essex College, The Beecroft Art Gallery, East 15 Acting School, The Railway Pub and The Sand Bar will all be turning themselves into makeshift cinemas for the event. The Southend Odeon, our only 'proper' cinema is also taking part in the proceedings.

There are dozens of films to go see, and entry is a bargain price of £2 a go... yes, just TWO EARTH POUNDS!! less than the price of a DVD rental. What a great opportunity to see some classics films in the environment that they were designed to be watched in. There's a very varied selection of films on offer, and must be something to suit all tastes. They include:


There's also some classic British Film Noir: THE GAMBLER AND THE LADY, THE HOUSE, 36 HOURS, WINGS OF DANGER and THE GLASS CAGE.

and how about this all-nighter at the Railway Pub which is FREE to get into:


And if that isn't good enough, there's some talks, special guests, exhibitions and local short films to enjoy too. Unsurprisingly, I'm particularly interested in the following two items:

LET’S ALL GO TO THE PICTURES... IN SOUTHEND (Sunday 2nd May, Palace Theatre, £2), which is described in the programme as a "shameless wallow in nostalgia, taking a look at
Southend’s cinemas over the years. Settle back in your seat and enjoy an evening in the company of local cinema historians Chris Izod and David Simpson, together with their very
special guest Ron Stewart. Known as “Uncle Ron” to thousands of children who went along to Saturday morning pictures at the Regal at Rayleigh and the Classic at Westcliff, this legendary cinema manager will look back over a lifetime spent working “at the pictures”. A real treat for anyone who’s ever enjoyed a night in the ‘one and nines’!"

THE ULTIMATE LAUREL & HARDY PICTURE SHOW (Monday 3rd May, Park Inn Hotel, Laurel and Hardy Suite, £2). The programme says of this one "In August 1952, when Laurel and Hardy performed live at the Odeon cinema, they had suites in this hotel. Now, those
suites have been transformed into function rooms. The Ultimate Laurel & Hardy Picture Show will illustrate their extensive careers, with special reference to their visit to Southend. The show will run approximately 90 minutes, and will culminate with a screening of the classic short Helpmates.

Amazing stuff! I'm delighted that something of this quality is being done in my hometown, designed for real lovers of cinema and not all about trying to rip off the punters too. It sounds like a real treat, and I certainly hope to get along to a few bits (babysitter permitting!).

You can find out more information on the official website here

And you can download the programme detailing all the events here


Friday, 16 April 2010

Stephen Pickard: Chapter Two - MGM

Last month I posted the facinating recollections of Stephen Pickard, who was a projectionist at the Southend Odeon Cinema in the 60's. That post dealt exclusivly with his memories of Southend Cinemas, but was so well received, that I cheekily asked if we could maybe find out a little more about his life in film. Stephen very kindly agreed, and below is his next installment. This post covers his move from showing films to making them, concentrating on his time spent working for MGM.

I was interested in films and the cinema as far back as I can remember - It came from my Mother's side of the family. My Mother's aunt and her sisters went to the cinema regul
arly and also her elder sister and Aunt used to send away to Hollywood for film star pictures. Unfortunately the collection never survived and was probably destroyed or even stolen during the second world war bombings in London.

My recollections of going to the cinema in the early fifties are not very clear, but I do remember my Grandmother regularly taking me to the cinema in Muswell Hill, North London, and I clearly remember going there with my family to see "A Night To Remember". For some reason my memory is clearer once I moved to Eastwood, Essex in January, 1959. Maybe it was the change in the quality of the air from coal-smokey London to the crisp sea air of the coast of Essex!

My best subject in school was English and my Father had ideas that I might get into Journalism, or as I liked to draw, something in that direction, however I wanted to somehow be involved with films. My Father wasn't too keen on the idea, and had designs on me going to college when I left school. It was the experience of seeing "Lawrence of Arabia" in 70mm in London that finally did it. David Lean became my favorite director and I lived and breathed movies day and night (as one or two of my old friends will tell you!). However I had no idea how to get into the Industry, as unless you had a relative working in the business it was next to impossible to break in as it was a 'closed shop', due to the stringent rules laid down by the powerful entertainment union ACTT (Association of Cinematograph, Television & Allied Technicians). I thought that television might be a good starting point, but that idea didn't appeal after an interview with the BBC. Somebody else suggested that a way to get into the business was to train as a cinema projectionist. My Father didn't take to this idea at first but soon adapted when he learnt that I would have to spend one day a week attending a training course in Electronics, Mathematics, Cinema Engineering and Physics at Wandsworth Technical College in South London.

So in January, 1964 I started work at Granada Theatres at the Century Cinema in Pitsea, Essex. In September I went to work at the Odeon Cinema in Southend and by this time I had a good idea how a projection booth was operated. See Stephen's previous post for the full story of this part of his career.

In April, 1968 I left cinema projection. I was now a member of the cinema projectionists' union NATTKE, and I was able to transfer directly to the film studios in a projection-related capacity. I went to MGM-British Studios in Borehamwood for an interview with Tom Howard, who was a special effects cinematographer. As some of you may know, Tom Howard's career goes back to the days of Alexander Korda, and he worked on many British-based MGM films in the forties, fifties and sixties; "Village of the Damned", "The Haunting", "Gorgo", "2001" to name just a few. MGM moved into the lot in Borehamwood (Amalgamated) after the war and would remain there until 1969. Besides MGM, Fox and the Mirisch Corporation also shot some British productions there.

Tom Howard had an office in the MGM Laboratories. His department not only covered the field of photographic visual effects but also the process projection department which dealt with projecting specially filmed backgrounds known as plates that were projected on a screen behind actors in the safe location of a studio stage. I got the job and re-located to Borehamwood.

As MGM was the first studio I worked for, I found it was quite overwhelming. At every opportunity, I would walk around the studio. On the backlot there were the remains of exterior sets of "Quatermass and the Pit", and "The Dirty Dozen", and a satellite dish - which was part of the Discovery in "2001" - all sat rotting away. I met many veterans of MGM who had worked there for many years. One person in particular was a carpenter called Reg, and he described to me how he achieved and executed the effect of the 'bending door' in "The Haunting". I also recall visitng the property department and sitting high on a shelf at the back was Gorgo's head! (I regret not claiming it when I left, as it probably finished up in the trash when the studio closed).
At this time there was little work for us, but within a week or two Tom Howard came to us with some news that we would be starting on a production in June, called "Where Eagles Dare".

During the slow times we would have to service the projection equipment. Unlike regular cinema projectors, which were equipped with an intermittent sprocket beneath the picture gate, they were installed with a 'Mitchell movement'. This was probably the most successful method of moving film through the gate at an extremely steady rate. It was designed by the Mitchell Corporation in the US, many years before for the 35mm motion picture camera and was the standard throughout the film industry for many years. The film we used, which was known as 'plates', was specially photographed by a unit on the production, or from a library of moving backgrounds photographed at various angles, which were projected behind actors in various set-ups, boats, planes, cars etc. These 35mm standard four-perf plates were specially color graded and utilised the complete negative area.

When the main "Where Eagles Dare" unit arrived from Switzerland and Austria they immediately started filming on existing sets that were constructed on the various large sound stages, of which MGM had many. From memory, Stage 10 housed the 'Gold Room' where Burton and Eastwood confront the Germans during a meeting. On another stage there was the interior of the cable car station which was located at the top of the castle. The station itself was built high up on the stage as several feet were needed for an approach and departure for two 'practical' (i.e. working) cable cars. The cables themselves ran several feet to the bottom of the stage. The scenes that we were to prepare for were backgrounds for the plane on it's approach and escape from the airfield, the bus, the motorcycle, the cable cars and for odd close ups of actors. Our very first set up was a shot of Richard Burton in the cable car unscrewing a light bulb while instructing on the timing of the explosives.

On the many occasions where we utilised actors, we would have to wait, sometimes hours, fo them to become available from the main unit. On the cable car scenes, we utilised a front projection rig. This front projection rig was specially designed for Stanley Kubrick on "2001". It consisted of a method of projecting a static 10x8 positive/negative plate which was projected through a special 50/50 transmission/reflection glass plate mounted at 45 degrees onto a large glass bead coated screen, developed by the 3M company (now widely used). The image on the screen was amplified in light level by many times, reflected straight back into the mirror and reflected at a right angle into the lens of the camera which was attached to the same rig as the projector. The main benefit of this process was to pour more light onto the background image resulting in a more realistic illusion of the foreground subject being in the same location as the background - a problem which has beset rear-projection set-ups for many years. Kubrick was so sold on the idea that 3M had developed, that he planned to use it extensively on his next project which was to be "Napoleon". On one of my many visits to Tom Howard's office, he showed me a rough plan of how he and Kubrick planned to apply this material.

Tom Howard was one of the 'old school' gentleman, and very much a father figure to me. (I was only 20 at the time). He knew I was genuinely interested in what he did and was always eager to share it with me. The last time I saw him was at ABPC around 1977, almost eight years after MGM closed, and he told me of his plan to write a book called "From Korda To Kubrick" which I don't believe was ever published.

The front projection rig was only used for background shots behind exteriors and interiors of the cable cars, when leading actors can be seen clearly. I do not want to discredit the incredible work of the stuntmen headed by the legendary Yakima 'Yak' Canutt and his team. Unfortunately, I did not meet Canutt at the studio as I think he left after the location work was completed. However, I did befriend Alf Joint who doubled for Burton. The rear projection work on the bus was utilised by a method called 'triple head' projection. Looking toward the rear and the front of the bus three simultaneous images were required, one facing at the rear and one on each side. Three interlocked projectors were used. The shutters had to be phased with each other as well as the camera and each image was projected onto individual translucent screens. The motorcycle, airplane and car-crash sequences utilised the traditional single projector set-up. With rear projection, being located on the other side of the translucent screen to the camera and actors and crew, you couldn't observe the action being filmed. All you could hear was the director shouting instructions to the actors and the actors performing their lines and sometimes firing weapons, which were often extremely loud.
As I have already mentioned, we would set-up the equipment and then sometimes sit around for a long time for the main unit to come over to the stage. If the set-ups involved using main actors, the main first unit would come to the stage, and I had the opportunity to get to know most of the crew. Brian G. Hutton, the director, was very friendly toward me. His background was as a Hollywood actor. He played 'bad' roles in "Gunfight at the OK Corral" and "King Creole".

Where the rear projection set-ups only used a portion of the stage, the art department built several sets. I had the oppportunity to watch them being filmed. Among the scenes I recall was a brief scene shot between Ingrid Pitt and Mary Ure in her bedroom. The underside of the bridge was constructed for the scene of Eastwood and Burton rigging it with explosives. On this occasion Liz Taylor came to visit the set one evening. We did a front projection set up with Richard Burton retrieving his parachute. I recall the camera operator requesting Burton's hood not to be pulled too far forward over his face, immediately Burton snapped back that audiences would know who it was!

There was a mock-up of the snow covered roof of the cable car station. This was used for an insert of two gloved hands, where Burton reaches out to prevent Eastwood from sliding off the roof. Obviously, the actors were not needed for this shot, just two stand-ins with jackets and gloves. After watching the first hour or so of the film last night, I was reminded of the contribution of the matte artist, Douglas Adamson, an MGM employee. I visited his department on one occasion where he and his lovely assistant Anne were painting on glass a long shot of the 'Castle of the Eagle' with the surrounding mountains. A large miniature was also constructed on the back lot. The painting can be seen when Derren Nesbitt accompanies Mary Ure and Ingrid Pitt in the cable car at night. The scene is made up of location, (the cable car station - at the bottom - when the cable car leaves) the POV's of the Castle which are the matte painting and / or miniature and interior studio when they reach the cable car station. Similarly, the sequence where Eastwood and Burton travel on the roof of the cable car, is a mixture of location with stuntmen, studio with actors and front projection set-up.

When filming was completed on the cable car station, the set was struck with the exception of the cables and the two cable cars. This was left for the shot where Burton leaps from one cable car to another after rigging it with explosives. The jump was done by Alf Joint. On the morning, I managed to go down to the stage to watch. Alf did it in one take successfully, but in the process he landed on the cable car and caught his mouth on the rail, which ran around the rim on top of the car, cutting himself badly.

During the filming of the interior of the plane sequences, the costume or props department asked if I would be willing to put on Mary Ure's parachute, as at that age I was approximately her height, so they could check to see how it would fit and make necessary adjustments before she arrived on the stage. I also recall that day several actors, such as Patrick Wymark and Peter Barkworth, relaxing and reading whilst sitting in special prop chairs. One of my supervisors was always grumbling and complaining and on that day he raised his voice to me and I will never forget Wymark's expression when he looked up and frowned at him!

One morning when the crew were walking toward Stage 10 to film on the 'Gold Room' set, I noticed Derren Nesbitt in costume and a bandage over his eye. I did not realize until that evening or the next day, when I read in the newspaper, that Nesbitt's eye was injured. Apparently a squid effect of him being shot by the squid somehow misfired and part of it went into his eye.

During the completion time of "Where Eagles Dare", the new James Bond film "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" was readying to go into production. The climax to the new Bond Adventure was a fight between Bond and Blofeld on the roof of a cable car. When the Bond Producers heard of the fights aboard the cable car in "Where Eagles Dare" they rewrote the end of their screenplay to a fight on a toboggan run instead. I spent nine months in the projection department. I projected dailies for the productions based at the studio. I also helped out in the dubbing stages where the soundtracks were mixed. Among the productions I was involved with at the time were "OHMSS", "Strange Report" TV series, "Dracula Has Risen from the Grave" "Carry On Up the Khyber" and "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie".

In late July early August 1968 filming was completed and, with no immediate work in sight, I decided to take a projectionist's position at Pinewood Studios. It was just a year later after the completion of productions such as "Captain Nemo", "Goodye, Mr. Chips" and "Alfred the Great" that MGM Studios were closed permanently.

MGM continued to be represented in England for a few years, by name only when they collaborated with the Associated British Picture Corporation and became MGM/Elstree Studios. One victim of the closure of MGM was Fred Zinnemann's production of "A Man's Fate", of which much money had been spent including extensive exterior set construction on the back-lot.
A very big thank you to Stephen for taking the time and trouble to share these memories with us, it's much appreciated.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

What A Load Of Pants

Well, the internet has done it once more.... At the weekend I had one of those odd thoughts that flashes in your noggin, and you wonder where the hell it came from. It was quite an odd one too, for some unknown reason (maybe I'd been eating a lot of cheese), I suddenly thought of Frank Skinner dancing in his pants!!! Now rest assured, this wasn't some odd perverse kink resting in the depths of my brain, y'see I'd already seen him do it before... on his TV Show, probably a good 15 years or so ago. I think that odd computerised 'Dancing Baby' phenomenon was all the rage at the time, and Skinner did a parody of it. But have I thought of it once between now and then? Not till the weekend I hadn't no.

I was convinced that I must be the only person on the planet to remember it, but called up YouTube anyway just to confirm it.... Incredibly, all I had to type in was "frank skinner d...." and YouTube kindly filled in the blanks, yes "frank skinner dancing in pants" has received almost 83,000 views since Langstond78 posted it! Amazing!

I don't know exactly what it is about this clip (is it the cheery smile? the jaunty arm and leg movements? the pants??!), but after 15 years it still made me snigger (ah, maturity and sophistication are wonderful things!).

So now it's only fair that I share Frank Skinner dancing in his pants with you too! (no, really, there's no need to thank me, it's all part of the service).

And this is what I think he was parodying:


Friday, 9 April 2010

Malcolm's Bootleg Swindle!

Everyone has got a view on how big (or little) Malcolm McLaren's influence was on Punk. The man himself would have told you he created the whole thing, lock, stock and barrel. Lydon on the other hand will tell you he did almost nothing. Malcolm certainly made the most of it (whatever 'it' was), and had a reputation for being somewhat 'inconsistent' when retelling his story too. I'm guessing that somewhere between the two is probably more likely. However I don't think anyone can doubt that the Punk scene would have been a duller place without him. But I'm not here to debate that one - the rest of the net already seems to be doing that....

A few years back I read an article about what was at that time, the upcoming Ian Curtis biopic (if I remember rightly, casting had not even finished at that point). The article went on to say that a fabulous soundtrack was being built up for the movie, but particular praise was singled out for a bootleg remix that Malcolm McLaren had done for the project. The 'mashup' threw together Joy Division's 'Love Will Tear Us Apart', and Captain and Tennille's 'Love Will Keep Us Together'.... the bastardised output being titled 'Love Will Keep Us Apart'. The article must have spent a good paragraph or two saying just how great the track was.

From that moment on I was desperate to hear it, I was intrigued at how he could have made these two so very different songs sit together as one. I frequently Googled it, but never with any success. The film (and Soundtrack album) came and went, and I never again heard any mention of Malcolm's mix. But I was still curious to hear it and never quite gave up the search.

In 2009, whilst involved with something completely unrelated, I came across what appeared to be a legit personal e-mail address for Malcolm McLaren. I thought about it for a few days, and eventually decided to drop him a line about that elusive track. What's the worst that can happen I thought, he'll almost certainly ignore it anyway... Incredibly, the next day I got a reply from the man himself, and not only that, he gave me a link to download the mix too!

Unfortunately, this story doesn't quite finish on the high I had hoped for. After all that time and effort, I was actually quite disappointed by the track. I found the mix a little stodgy, and personally I didn't think it went anywhere. It was a mediocre bootleg remix at best (pretty much anything by Go-Home Productions is a far superior effort), and it made me wonder what on earth that original reviewer had seen in it in the first place. Perhaps they were blissfully unaware of the Bootleg remix phenomenon, and this was the first time they had ever heard two records fused together in such a way, so were 'blown away' by the idea, without realising it wasn't a particularly good example of a Mashup.

Still, I was very grateful to 'ol Malc (and I of course politely thanked him for his trouble without mentioning my disappointment!) and was at least relieved to have finally tracked down this tune and satisfied my curiosity. It never did get a release... Perhaps they couldn't get clearance to use one (or both) of the tracks, or maybe someone finally twigged that it actually wasn't all that good after all.

Nevertheless, this track is still a small part of his legacy, and probably one part of his career that isn't being dissected to the nth degree at this moment in time. So for what it's worth, here is that unreleased bootleg remix that Uncle Malcolm kindly sent to me, see what YOU think of it, was it just me or was it the hidden gem that some obviously thought it was?:

Oh and whilst we are at it, I cant finish a post on Malcolm Mclaren without posting his very own version of that Max Bygraves favourite 'You Need Hands', taken from the Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle album!

Thanks Malcolm, you certainly made the world a more interesting place.


Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Podrophenia - Show 9... The Mystery Hour!

Mondo and I are back with the 9th installment of our Podrophenia nonsense... The theme for this outing had to be changed at a very late stage (long story!), so as a quick replacement we decided on a mystery theme... two to be precise! We both came up with a theme in secret, and the other had to guess what it was. While we were at it, we invited a few bloggin buddies along to try and guess them remotely during the show (we were feverishly texting throughout!)... so why not play along too??!

As well as hearing 10 mystery tunes, during the hour you can also find out who really came off best in the budget, get the very latest from the Podrophenia newsroom, find out which mild mannered musician turned up in a banned video nasty, and hear a brand spanking new feature!!! Also find out the connection between a track in the last podcast and this fella....

You can listen to it here:

Or download it here:
Podrophenia Show 9

You can also pick it up on iTunes here:
Podrophenia 9 on iTunes


Thursday, 1 April 2010

Johnny Hicklenton 1967 - 2010

I was gutted to see in today's obituaries that John Hicklenton passed away last month (19th March). Not a household name by any means, but I'm sure comic lovers would recognise his art if not his name.
Born in Brighton on May 8 1967, John's life was changed forever when as a child he discovered the groundbreaking new English comic 2000AD. Just obtaining one issue was enough to make him decide he wanted to draw comics for a living. At art college, John got a lucky break, and ended up being sat next to a girl called Hannah Smith, who turned out to be the daughter of Judge Dredd artist Ron Smith (Ron is my all time favourite Dredd artist). He drew a picture of Dredd for Hannah, and her father saw it, and got him a job on the comic. Amongst other things he had spells drawing Future Shocks and Nemesis the Warlock in 2000AD. He also did stories for other British comics such as Crisis, Toxic and Deadline.

He finally got his ultimate gig in the early 90's when he became the artist for Judge Dredd in the characters own spin-off comic (The Judge Dredd Megazine).

(one of Johnny's fab covers for the Megazine)

At the age of 28 John started to suffer from various aches and pains, but it wasn't until 2000 that he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (which he descibed as a "terrorist, medieval disease"). The cold way in which he was told haunted him for the rest of his life "The doctor, a locum, just stared at her computer screen and never once looking at me, she said 'You've got MS. You'll be dead in 12 to 15 years'". but he battled on, and never gave up his art. Indeed, it seemed to give him the strength to carry on "I haven't got MS when you are looking at my pictures. I haven't got MS when I am drawing them. I am getting out a lot of rage through the pen." His battle with MS was documented in a More4 film titled "Here's Johnny". It was filmed over 5 years and I was lucky enough to catch it when it was shown last year (and even still had it on my Sky+ box until in was replaced a few weeks back)... it was a very humbling experience.

John spent the last year of his life working on a graphic novel titled "One Hundred Months". Once this project was complete, he arranged to go to the Dignitas suicide clinic in Switzerland. This had always been the plan, in the documentary, John said "I'm not worried about losing my life, I'm worried about losing my demeanour, my mind, my interaction with life."

In his tribute to John, 2000AD founder Pat Mills called him "the Jimi Hendrix of comic artists. Easy viewing comic 'muzak' he's not. His grotesque images bear comparison with Gerald Scarfe and Ralph Steadman and are not for the squeamish."

John was married, lived in Brighton, and was younger than me. He was a very brave and talented man.

Rest In Peace Johnny.....


Here's Johnny is available on a very limited edition DVD (just 1000 copies made), you can find out more about it and view a trailer on the official site for the film here.