A Flurry of Films

A lovely few days over in Ireland for Christmas, and a quiet new year trying to keep Marcus calm, but there have been a good few films along the way.
I’m still smarting over Cats – it’s not so much the content or lack of a plot – lord knows Company or Chorus Line have minimal plot as such, but it’s just so badly edited, interrupting the dance every second, and the world of the cats is just so inconsistent. As always, give me the stage version.
The aeronauts – I would have loved to have seen this in the cinema, but I enjoyed it enormously, and loved the design that had the suggestion of a hand tinted postcard. Yes it was certainly thrilling, but it was undermined by the fact that the central sparring relationship was invented, and the incident took place over Wolverhampton, not London. I can understand why Wolverhampton is less than pleased, as is the family of the man who was actually in the basket. Too woke!
The Two Popes – sort of came across by accident and we nearly turned off as the first chunk is all in Italian and we feared we were missing something crucial, but slowly it segued into English, and oh what joy was this film. Huge questions were being raised as two elderly men sat in the Sistine chapel, superficially chatting about pizza. One of the warmest films I’ve seen, and Hopkins and Pryce seemed barely to be acting – they simply were. And the recreation of the Cistine Chapel was somewhat breathtaking.
Gladiator was watched, and yes that’s a masterpiece in every way – such good plotting. OK the CG does look a little clumsy now, and it’s a film totally devoid of sex, which I suspect is not doing a gladiator’s life justice.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Nah, I didn’t get on with this. Every frame bombarded me with unsubtle, blatant retro references – so in your face, and what the hell was that extended scene at the ranch and with George about. Like everything in the film, it was indulgence over storytelling. But for all the detail about the time, and and the process of film making, it was still playing with you. several sequences purported to be a western being shot, and the characters came out of character, but then the film simply would not have been shot like that. fake film making.
The BBC’s Christmas carol looked gorgeously bleak, but Dickens played second fiddle to some extent. I must check if dickens had scrooge meeting Ali Baba. Andy Serkis was busy acting a lot.
i’m looking forward to watch a ballet of Romeo and Juliet tonight, filmed in the streets of Italy, hoping that it will work. It did for West side story. Am excited about this.

And so this year, please let me contribute to something, and not have been discarded.

All fur coat and no knickers…..Cats

after nearly four decades of wondering how anyone could ever make a film of Cats, I”m guessing that we still don’t have an answer. Even though the film is out, the director is still tinkering with some of the less good effects. I suspect they won’t save the basically flawed concept.
OK, so I am an animator and in the course of that have seen many strange characters and creations and bizarre worlds that I have happily accepted, so the ‘cats’ in Cats and their environment did not worry me, but I wish there had been some coherence and their ever changing scale, and about who wore clothes and shoes and wedding rings, and who did not, rendering them effectively naked, and who had bumps and lumps and who did not, and what the convention about being on two legs or four was. And the feet – many feet just didn’t seem to have contact with the floor. Some of the CG faces reminded me of the notorious dog/man in the invasion of the body snatchers. The infamous lack of a plot did not worry me, and come on, there is a plot. There were some surprisingly effective sequences and some truly ghastly ones – mostly involving Rebel Wilson and James Cordon (when you have the beauty of TSEliot their adlibs are simply crass), and yes I was enormously moved by McKellen’s Gus and Dench’s Deuteronomy, but what I can’t forgive is the absurd editing chopping up the dancing with little rhyme nor reason, and the frantic camerawork – we simply were not allowed to see what was going on clearly. That’s possibly why the McKellen scene works as the camera sits and watches. Elsewhere the camera is so hyper., interrupting the movement of the dancers, so that any shape or structure of the dance was lost. Nor can I forgive the mice or the beetles. what the effing heck were they. And the literalness of the direction – leaves gathering at grizabella’s feet, and so we have a shot of the leaves clumsily gathering at her feet. So what to make of it – not sure. some imaginative touches, but i’m not sure the ‘world’ and its’ rules were thought through clearly. But heck I was moved on a couple of occasions, but never exhilarated by the dance as I should have been, thanks to the awful editing.
One way or another it is a significant moment in film history.


December 18th

The good mood generated by two pantos in three days has been dissipated by the sound of chainsaws in the garden and two glorious and healthy trees are felled due to interfering neighbours scaremongering. If a tree is vertical and was lush with leaves this last summer, and it’s sawn trunks revealing no tell tale disease that I think it is a crying shame, and yes I have been mightily upset. To think what those trees have witnessed and now gone for little more than cosmetic needs.

But two pantos, one professional and one at the Garrick do bring so much joy – the sheer fact that we accept such silliness without questioning what we are watching. the sound of 1600 kids yesterday screaming out to Snow White not to take the poisoned apple is something we must never lose. And the magic of a good transformation scene, or the joy of the dame, or the silly billy squirting the audience. I wonder if there’s a film to be made about the essential ingredients – and how bizarre they are. One day I’d love to play dame.  Our Garrick had an excellent flying carpet and the Opera house a good, if rather aged, flying dragon and lots of pyros. But oh a good Dame is priceless, and eric Potts as Dolly crumble was sheer bliss.

December 15th

Well the whole country has been tetchy, and the deed is done, and we are now shocked, resigned and all manner of other words, but the deed, as I said, is done. The promises floating around in the air like gossamer, and I know in the scheme of things the Arts may not be a priority, but did one party mention them. not that I saw.
I had a slump after the activity of Cleo, etc, but did go to a brilliant concert at the Halle of Romeo and Juliet highlights, along with Act 2 of nutcracker. Oh the death of Tybalt, the night before the election results, sounded more dramatic and resonant than ever.
But otherwise all a bit quiet, no I tell a lie, I was best man at a glorious wedding, the background to which would make a film in itself, and I was also in a short film – watch this space.
And today I saw an impressive flying carpet down at our theatre’s Aladdin.

Goodbye Dick.

And what a week that was with Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick. i’d provided the set, and it had caused me months of going in directions that were not relevant before I settled on the final design. With the harsh rehearsal lights on it looked bare and spartan, but when lit it was very striking and so credible as an empty sound studio that I don’t think most of the audience realised it was designed and every inch considered. We had great reviews, and enthusiastic audiences and standing ovations, but more in terms of numbers would have been great. I enjoyed my moments of being on stage and my short moment with babs was like having a moment with the real Barbara Windsor. I think we did the piece proud and did a visually striking production and added lots of detail. And that’s been my week. having a show at night structures the whole day. Another show well done.

Cleo and Dick

well we had the Manchester Animation Festival last week, and being involved, and how, with the play I couldn’t really attend other than the awards. And truth to tell I felt a little uncomfortable as my contribution to the world of animation and Manchester animation has this year been insignificant. But the awards were slick, unlike the little hiccup we had last year. But great enthusiastic crowds, and it si comforting to know that, somehow, films are still being made. I’ve no idea how, but there they are. That’s a particularly pertinent thought this week as the Aardman lIp synch series was first broadcast thirty years ago. Whilst it was not exactly easy to make films then, there was certainly a possibility, and the commissioners listened to you, and helped you develop stuff. I’m still fond of Next, and I would so love to restore it. It still works as it did and certainly has not aged. Sadly, many of the crew have gone.
It’s all been full on at the Garrick with the production of Cleo, Camping, Emmanuelle and Dick. We open on Monday and I think we are in good shape. it’s a good looking show – we just need a good audience. What I have done with the set is pretty bold. The stage is stripped right back with all the wing space on view. And what a huge space we have. Tonight we have the screening of 42nd street which I’m introducing. a packed house tonight, and we did pretty well for Romeo and Juliet ten days ago.
Am learning two speeches for the wedding in two weeks, where I am the best man.
Busy times – oh I did go up to UCLAN and had a rather quiet group of students, but hopefully they got something from the session.

November 9th

All over the place. I had a very brief trip back down to Falmouth which was great fun, but the travelling was less so. everything that could go wrong with the travelling did, and whilst I was rewarded with a lovely hotel, I was only in it for a few hours. but I do love Cornwall and this school – just getting there is a real pain. And a talk for a local grammar school, with a wonderful set of pupils who were there out of choice, and were very intelligent. Perhaps potty mouth purves should not have described Lady Macbeth as a bitch. A more in depth psychological description would have inevitably come to the same conclusion though.
I’ve done a couple of evenings filming as a corrupt judge for a music video. Well I went for it, encouraged by the director, and many lines were crossed. I wonder if a more controlled performance might have been more effective. We’ll see. So a corrupt judge and a baby eating grandfather earlier this year…….what image do I give off?
Nearly every day down at the Garrick, painting the set for the play about the carry On films, and other activities with my other hats on. So many hats, so much time.
I saw Mame at hope mIll. A lively precise production of not a great musical. Not too fond of the jerry Herman shows. But I did take a friend to see the Royal ballet, in the cinema at least, to see Enigma Variations and it was devastating. The Nimrod variation with its’ almost stillness whilst the orchestra was surging away is heartbreaking. I must remember that for my next class.
The Manchester Animation festival is lurking and I’ll only be there for the Awards do. i’m a bit apprehensive about this as I am so on the fringes of the animation world at the moment – though we did submit our short film script to the BFI this week. A long wait for the inevitable rejection for not being woke enough……I hate that word.

October 25th

I’ve been battling technology somewhat these last two weeks. My producer and I are writing a script, but between Celtx, Final draft, Word and PDF we’ve still not really managed to swap our ideas easily. Things are so overly complicated and don’t match formats.
After getting back from Poland I raced, well not raced as the journey took me five hours, down to the NFTS. Lovely to be back there and there are some exciting films in production, though they all seem to be shooting in airless cupboards. And I was at edge Hill the next day for a good informal session. Whether I burst in so full of energy and ideas, but students these days seem rather shy and quiet.
We’ve started rehearsing for the play about the Carry On’s and I’m designing, no surprises there, a none too conventional set, but it should be striking. I’m still waging a losing battle about set design. On our stage at the moment is a monumental but traditional set for a play, and it stands there resolutely making no comments about the play, nor being anything other than literal.
I was at a lovely wedding reception on Saturday and rather threw myself wholeheartedly into the country dancing – so much so that the caller asked me if I’d like to join their Jane Austen dance group. I’d love to but little time at the moment.
We had a good screening in the theatre of Lady Windermere’s fan – much pith and with and rather moving. we showed my G&S film which I guess is the most unloved of my films, but actually I will stand up for it. it certainly has a clever script.
And I did go and see The exorcist on stage. Again very literal and fragmented as a result, and woefully underpowered, but they managed the 360degree head spin which was hugely impressive.

Phew – that was a hectic few days

13th October
So I’ve been to Poland and back, to the Animarkt festival in Lodz (Wooodge), for three long days of workshops in an old restored power station, which was a truly bizarre and lovely setting. A great bunch of people, and my students had varied abilities, but some produced some startlingly good work. On the last day Mars attacks! was shown in my honour, and a cake to celebrate my 40th years as an animator, though I was not going to send the cake back and admit it’s near the end of my 41st now. Delicious cake. Mars attack – a movie marking the start of a new technology is certainly looking a little awkward now, and I’d not seen it for ages, but was surprised at just how many of my gags and ideas were still in the film. Such a shame, in one way, that stop motion was not involved in the end.
A bit of an epic and stressful journey home, and then straight in to presenting my Tchaikovsky film and Matthew bourne’s swan Lake at the Garrick – heck that’s a good double bill, though I say it myself. Swan Lake is simply a masterpiece and always will be. so rich, so sensual, such an achievement. I never tire of it, though the ‘opera house’ scene does go on for ages and the Prince gets sidelined there. He needs a rest. But what a piece. So many of my friends were very sniffy about this, and didn’t take the chance to see it.
I had another trip to the RSC to see measure for measure, which is not my favourite play, but heck this production was thrilling. The scenes between Aneglo and Isabella as the deal was plotted were simply breathtaking, with the audience gasping at the audacity and relevance. A great production – and very ‘woke’ (heck I hate that word. But every box was ticked.
I’d like to say this week will be quiet and I can concentrate on the script i’m writing for the BFI submission but heck no.