I recently found this article in an old copy of Cosmopolitan magazine from November 1973. It involves “tree love”, kissing cousins, cherry cola trade-offs and witchcraft and just had to be shared:
I need your help here, please – I bought this little beatnik doll from a flea market recently, well, I think it’s a beatnik doll… I’ve named her Vali, after the dancer and artist Vali Myers, but I wondered if anyone knows anything about this little lady – what type of doll she is, who made it, where and when it comes from &c.
She’s made of hard plastic and has winking eyes. I like her eye make-up, her necklace and the little sandals (painted on). I didn’t want to mess up her clothes too much but I can’t really see any markings other than the “Empire” sticker which is on the bottom of one of her feet. I’m assuming this just means empire made, but I know very little about dolls!
If anyone has seen one of these dolls before or knows anything about her, please let me know! (Excuse the “stuff” in the background, you might have noticed I am a bit of a “collector” – or “hoarder”, if you prefer…)
I was always an avid reader from a very young age and my mum got me into reading Alan Sillitoe’s books when I was still quite young (I had to get special permission to borrow them from the school library because they were deemed to be “too adult” for me). I used to be able to talk to my mum about Alan Sillitoe’s characters – we talked about them as if they were real people, because they seemed to be real to us – and what was most special for me was that Sillitoe came from Nottingham, which is my home town. I felt a kind of connection with him and his “people”.
It’s funny the things you remember. In the 1980s, I got myself a part-time job working at the Nottingham Playhouse and I remember that Alan Sillitoe’s brother was in the band which was playing during one of the runs there – one day I saw Mr Sillitoe in the orchestra pit when I was checking the theatre and I was very worried that he might be dead as he was lying down and his eyes were closed. Turned out he was just having a kip between shows, but he didn’t half give me a fright!
Something else I remember was seeing Alan Sillitoe doing a Q&A session at the Broadway Cinema in the early 1990s, I think, and afterwards there was a chance to meet him – I tried but I was just too terrified, because he was my literary hero and I was scared that I would embarrass myself by busting out crying – roaring, as we called it in Nottingham – so I just let him walk past without telling him how much his writing meant to me.
Years later, a friend who knew this story and worked for the press, asked me if I would like to go and interview Alan Sillitoe at the Phoenix Artist’s Club in London. I figured I should do it whilst I had the opportunity, even though there was always the chance I would start roaring. The date was 3 April 2008 and, yes, I did start roaring and he was very nice about it. How embarrassing, eh? He was a gentleman though – very occasionally your heroes live up to your expectations after all.
My mum always wanted me to be a writer and I remember thinking that if I ever wrote anything, the two people I would want to like my work would be my mum and Alan Sillitoe. But when I showed my mum this interview, all she could say to me was that there were two typos in it so I never showed her any of my writing. Funnily enough, Alan Sillitoe gave me his address and said that if I ever wanted to send him any of my work to look over I was welcome to do so. Sadly, I never got around to doing that before he died nearly 7 years ago. I’ve been working on a book (non-fiction) on a very part-time basis for the past 3 years, it’s hard work but I am dedicated to it; hopefully this year I will be able to finish it, but I know that I won’t be able to show it to my mum or Alan Sillitoe, as they’re no longer with us. Maybe someone else will like it?!
Anyway, for whatever reason, I don’t think this interview was ever used – I was never told so if it was. So I thought that as it’s very nearly 9 years ago that I met my hero and he was so very encouraging, I should share my interview here now. If you spot those two typos my mum mentioned, you know what to do!
PICTURE “BORROWED” FROM THE WONDERFUL ALAN SILLITOE WEBSITE (Go and visit it after reading this interview, please!)
This is the article exactly I wrote it back in April 2008:
Alan Sillitoe was born in Nottingham in the East Midlands in 1928. He began writing at the age of twenty when he was struck down with tuberculosis and had to spend eighteen months in hospital. His first novel Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was published in 1958. His second book The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, a volume of short stories, was published in 1959. Both Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner were made into influential British New Wave films in the early 1960’s. Nearly fifty years on Sillitoe has had more than fifty books published. This year to coincide with his 80th birthday, A Start in Life, a novel originally published in 1970, is being re-issued by London Books.
Are you pleased to see A Start in Life re-issued?
I’m very pleased actually because I’ve always rather liked it. I mean, you write a lot of books, some you like, some you don’t particularly like – although none of them you hate, obviously – but I was very happy when London Books said they would re-issue it because… well, I mean the reason I have so much affection for it really is because I wrote it at a time when I needed to sort of cheer myself up. In a way I wrote it for myself, entertaining myself and making myself laugh, and thinking that if I could make myself laugh then so would everybody else because I’m just a normal person like everybody else I meet. So I do like it for that reason. I was playing music all the time when I was writing it – Handel’s Messiah and also another great piece of music by Handel Israel in Egypt from the Bible. Wonderful! Over and over again.
A Start in Life, to use your words, ‘tells the ordinary and no so ordinary experiences of a bastard and a proletarian to boot.’ The tale starts in Michael Cullen’s home town of Nottingham and follows his journey to London in the 1960’s. There was a follow up in the 1980’s and there’s going to be a third volume shortly, isn’t there?
First of all you had A Start in Life in 1970, then in 1985 you had Life Goes On and now there’s Moggerhanger, but so far I haven’t really got a publisher for it. Maybe one day London Books will do it but I don’t know yet. [Moggerhanger] is the final volume – that’s the lot – and it takes place in the present day.
A Start in Life seems to be essentially about sex and gangsters, so it’s rather cheeky that the protagonist Michael Cullen says ‘there’s more to books than reading about sex and gangsters.’ Of course, the book proves him right…
There’s been so many good books about sex and crime throughout history anyway, of a certain sort, think of Alexandre Dumas and all of those wonderful writers. But [A Start in Life] is not explicit though – you’ve got to put two and two together and then it’s about sex and crime and all the rest of it.
You’ve written so many books about the Seaton brothers, Arthur and Brian; several books about William Posters; and now you’ve written your third volume on Michael Cullen. Do you get attached to your characters?
I do actually, I mean the thing is whenever I’m at the end of a book, I just don’t know what is going to happen to them. Then two years later I think, ‘Whatever happened to William Posters?’ or ‘Whatever happened to Arthur Seaton?’, as if they lived and I knew them. I always think of them as people because in that way they’re very vivid to me. It’s then up to me to make them very vivid to others.
How much of your characters is in you personally and how much is incidental? For example, you have the same initials as Arthur Seaton, who, like you, has a brother called Brian…
That’s true, but I never thought of that when I was writing Saturday Night [and Sunday Morning] – it’s funny that! Somebody pointed it out to me – but it is very interesting.
And Michael Cullen wears waistcoats, which you always wear…
Yes, this comes out in details sometimes but I’m not basically [like my characters], although I must be a little bit, somewhere, otherwise I wouldn’t have had this sympathy [for them]. You know, you have to love your people whether or not you love them as a brother or love them as a sister or whatever. And if you do that you get into them and if they become real to you on the paper, as I said already, they’re real to others who read the book.
A lot of your books are set in your hometown of Nottingham. Nottingham has changed a lot over the years and, sadly, for many people, perhaps those who have not visited, it always seems to be linked with news reports of violence and crime these days. Has this perception affected the way you write about Nottingham characters at all?
It’s not the old Nottingham types who are involved in crime, we all know that – it’s the drug dealers killing each other and I would never write about them because I have no sympathy for them; anyone who can murder with such ease, you just can’t get to them… I’m always up and down to Nottingham and always have been all of my life, even though I haven’t lived there since I was 20 or 21, I want to know what’s going off and the rest of it. When I’m with my two brothers, Michael and Brian – Brian just died – we’d just put on our cloth caps and go to a pub and we’d just laugh, talk, reminisce and all the rest of it. And it was just like it ever was, and if there’s one thing that doesn’t die, first of all is the accent, secondly the argot, the slang – new things come in but if they’re not suitable for the Nottingham slang they go out again very quickly. I love Nottingham really; I always have.
Your characters quite often seem to be working class anti-heroes. Would you agree with that?
Yes and no. They’re all individuals really. I don’t believe in the working class at all. The Nottingham character is an idiosyncratic bastard, awkward, opinionated and so on. But they’re human, very, very human; I couldn’t deal with anyone else.
Characters like Michael Cullen, Arthur Seaton and Colin Smith all seem to be rebellious and opposed to authority and the establishment. At the end of the film of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning even though Arthur Seaton is settling down in one last act of defiance he throws a stone at the new build houses – in effect, at his own future life – and Colin Smith in The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner throws the race…
Well, [Arthur throwing the stone] was more futile than Colin Smith throwing the race. That story, [The Loneliness of] the Long Distance Runner, is really my guide through life actually. You’ve got Colin Smith in Borstal, he’s trying to keep his integrity whilst they’re all bombarding him with what he should and shouldn’t think. When he lost the race, he put them in their place and told them what he was. So that was a good action, even though, as my mother used to say, he cut off his nose to spite his face. But, still, everything costs something and he knew it; he wasn’t a fool. So that’s what he did… if he’d won the race there wouldn’t have been a story.
Albert Finney played Arthur Seaton in the screen version of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning in 1960 (directed by Karel Reisz); Ian McKellen played the stage version in 1964 at the Nottingham Playhouse; Tom Courtenay played Colin Smith in Tony Richardson’s screen version of The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner in 1962. Who would play Michael Cullen if A Start in Life were ever adapted for the screen?
It’s a good question – who would I pick? Somebody a bit Irish really, a blabbermouth, a seducer, a confidence trickster… I’ve actually had offers to make it into a film but they’ve all fallen through. I’ve written a treatment of it, so if we do it I would have to meet the Casting Director and they would show me who was possible. With Saturday Night I was not absolutely keen [on casting Albert Finney as Arthur Seaton] but I realised that he was a good actor and that was all that mattered really; that’s a lesson I learnt. Of course he was perfect for it but that surprised me because when I was writing it I’d got it into my head that Arthur Seaton was tall, a little bit thin, hard, muscley, and so not physically exactly like Albert. But in the long run you need a good actor.
I read in an interview somewhere that you said for someone with your background to be a doctor or a lawyer would have been a real difficulty, ‘but if you want to be a writer – there’s the pen and paper, and you just write.’ You are a very prolific writer, having written more than fifty books in all (including novels, volumes of short stories, poetry, children’s books, plays, an autobiography and essays). But is it really that simple – ‘you just write’? Do you have any advice for budding writers?
Well, I mean yes, you read everything you can possibly get your hands on. All the Latin and Greek classics in translation, all the great novels from everywhere; Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Dickens – everyone really that’s gripped life in their writing – Shakespeare and the Bible. They were all such a pleasure to read. Yes, [they influenced my writing] but then I threw the influences off and found my own voice. You’ve got to be influenced, but you’ve got to find your own voice. Reading, reading, reading, and then writing. When you write, you use your pen and ink or what you do and over and over again you re-write so that it becomes clearer, in clear English. Mix it with the demotic, you’ve got a style; you’ve got a style, people remember. Anyway, that’s what I would say. It took me ten years from beginning, from starting to getting something published, which is not long. It seemed like forever at the time but if I look back on it, it’s not long.
A writer should be like a fish in water; nobody knows you, you walk around the streets, nobody knows you, it’s wonderful. You see faces; a face can suggest a story or a character or something, or part of a character. So you just are an observer of life and then you try to, what shall I say?, mash it up inside you until it comes out like ‘art’ if you can used such a pathetic word; you try to make some kind of art out of what comes into your brain.
What does the future hold for Alan Sillitoe? Will you carry on writing?
That’s not for me to say. I’ll either be pushed into continuing or I shall not. If I am, so much the better; if I am not, I’ve got nothing to lose. [Moggerhanger] was finished a couple of years ago. I’m writing a book now, a novel, which I haven’t finished but I’m polishing off. It’s about a carpenter who lives in Arnold [a district of Nottingham]. Well, I don’t know who he is but he just popped into my mind. I just like to keep my head down and work and hope it keeps coming and if it didn’t, so what? I’ve done a lot of work.
A Start in Life is now available in hardback, published by London Books. An authorised biography of Alan Sillitoe, The Life of a Long-Distance Writer, by Richard Bradford is also available, published by Peter Owen Publishers.
Earlier this year I bought myself a book about Joey Dee and the Twist for £1. The photos and diagrams in it are great, but I was even more excited when I realised that the book had previously belonged to Raymonde Du-Val, the drumming marathon champion and drummer for everyone from Gene Vincent to Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. As a kid I remember me and my brother were obsessed with What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For?, which Raye Du-Val drummed on. Who’d have thought that all these years later I would have a book that belonged to the drummer of Emile Ford and the Checkmates?!
The book’s not in very good condition, and it looks like it has changed hands a fair bit (all those different prices in the front page!), but I love the fact that Raye had his own stamp and bothered to put his full address in the front cover of his books!
Regular readers of Hero Culte will have noticed that I have written a few little articles about a German/French co-production called Durch die Nacht mit / Au cœur de la nuit, (aka Into the Night) which is basically two artists or cultural figures spending an evening together on the town. It’s not a “set-up” or scripted, it’s two people hanging out followed by a camera crew – sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve written articles about 3 different shows now (Franco Nero and Fred Williamson; Michel Houellebecq and Calixto Bieito; Alejandro Jodorowsky and Daniel Pinchbeck) and they all happened to be directed by this chap: Hasko Baumann.
The good thing about doing this site is that sometimes people get in touch with me – not often enough for my liking, I’m always pleased to hear from people! When people do get in touch thought it’s usually a very nice experience. Hasko Baumann first got in touch when I wrote the Michel Houellebecq review; it was lovely to hear from him and we’ve been in touch again when I wrote the other articles. In the end, instead of getting all the inside info for myself I thought I should just ask Hasko for an interview for the site. He was kind enough to agree and here it is:
Hero Culte (HC): Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into film making in the first place
This is one of my favourite Durch Die Nacht Mit shows so far – again directed by Hasko Baumann – this is the one where Franco Nero meets Fred Williamson. Absolute classic, you need to track it down if you’ve not already seen it. Here we go:
So what’s on the itinerary? A visit to an old man’s club, a meeting with a young stuntman, then the Libreria Cinema where they meet Barbara Bouchet, dinner at a restaurant where they meet the writer Lorenzo de Luca and Franco joins in with the house band, then finally a meeting with Enzo G Castellari at the cinema before calling it a night.
For me, Franco Nero comes across as a lovely, friendly laid-back chap who will shake hands or give an autograph to any fan who accosts him on the street (it’s a very regular occurrence), but Fred Williamson seems to be trying to impress the whole time and goes in for one-upmanship. In his defence I should say that Fred is not on his own territory in Rome – everyone knows Franco and loves him and maybe they’re not expecting to see Fred Williamson on the streets of Rome, so they might not want to go up to some big guy and say, “Excuse me, are you Fred Williamson?” in case they’re wrong. And maybe it is something to do with his background in professional sports, but he always seems to want to compete. I bet if they had bought ice cream Fred would have wanted to see who had the biggest scoop. Anyway, I am sure he is a nice chap, it’s just that Franco was far more laid-back and I like that. There’s nothing of the star about him – very down to earth and silly.
Here’s my summary of their evening out:
- Women – Fred Williamson has brought his wife along for the trip and left her back at the hotel. He says of her, “All my money goes there”. Later he tells Franco that he had spent the day walking around Rome with his wife and she was “spending money like crazy”. When they look in on a women’s clothing store next door to the old man’s club, Fred says the women don’t come into the social club because they are in the shop spending money. That is clearly what Fred thinks of women: they spend money. Here’s what I think of Fred: he is obsessed with women, or at least he wants to give that impression. He says he wouldn’t go to Franco’s club because there are no women there. Franco says, “Forget the women”. He just goes to the club to unwind with his friends – they play cards and watch sports on the TV. It’s like their equivalent of having a garden shed or an allotment – somewhere to go to get away from the women. In this respect Franco and Fred are total opposites. Or so it seems. In the film bookstore, Fred complains to a customer that he wanted to meet the “beautiful women of Rome”, but Franco points out that Fred’s wife is waiting for him back at the hotel. Fred tells Franco: “I get the women in all my movies; I want you to know this.” Franco responds, “I’m not bad too, I tell you.” Fred has the last word: “Yeah, but you marry them all. I never had a wife, only girlfriends.”
- Competitive sports – when Franco says he still plays football and only needs to get 3 more goals to achieve 2,000, Fred tells him that he played competitive American football for 10 years and that it is “more violent” than the “soccer” Franco plays. Franco says he went fishing in Palm Springs (where Fred lives) and Fred tells him that fishing is for old men. Later, when they meet Enzo Castellari, Franco says he is still fit and young and plays tennis – Fred says he doesn’t run around though, so Franco calls on Enzo (clearly the father figure in this scenario) “I run, tell him!” and Enzo confirms that he has seen him and he does. Franco, cheekily, getting back at Fred for the earlier fishing comment, says: “He plays golf; old people play golf”. Franco may have been the White Ninja, but Fred was the Hammer and he is an expert in Gun-Fu!
- The Stuntman – I don’t know what this guy Alex Mariotti has done to Fred Williamson, but he really has it in for him. First off when Alex says he understands they will kick his ass, Fred says “No, I don’t beat up people smaller than me.” He is 6′ 3″, so maybe it’s his get-out clause cos that’s pretty tall and even Franco Nero looks small next to him. That way he gets out of fighting. That’s my theory. Then Alex asks him for tips with the ladies and Fred immediately writes him off as a lost cause: “Well, you have to be tall, dark and handsome first of all, so that eliminates you right away. You’ve lost already.” Ouch! Then Fred slags off modern day stunts, saying that they’re just not realistic looking these days – Alex is a modern day stuntman, so it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to realise that Fred is saying his stunts aren’t worth watching. O dear… Fred loves to do his own stunts though, “I love it! I love to hit!”
Fred Williamson hits Alex Mariotti where it hurts
- The film industry – Franco says there used to be 13,000 cinemas in Italy but at the beginning of the 1980s the number had gone down to just 1,600. Fred and Franco discuss people they know from the film business: Menahem Golan, who Fred says has now opened an amusement park, he also alleges that there is not one person that Menahen doesn’t owe money to; producer Ibrahim Moussa, who looks quite geeky, but who somehow was quite handy with the ladies, including Nastassja Kinski, Candice Bergen and, apparently, Isabelle Adjani bought him a Rolls Royce for some unspecified reason. Franco thinks he knows the reason why – he whispers, “The women say he has the biggest cock in the world. That’s what they were saying. Can you imagine it?” Apparently Fred can imagine it, but he also wants Franco to know that black men are blessed in that respect too. Franco has heard that as well. Fred also helps to clear up the conspiracy theories about Bruce Lee’s death. Lorenzo de Luca says Jean-Claude Van Damme told him Bruce Lee died because of drugs, but Fred is not having that. Fred knows what happened to Bruce Lee – here’s the story: Bruce Lee hurt a lot of people for real in Enter the Dragon and so they told him he should never come back to Hong Kong or there would be trouble. Bruce Lee came back to Hong Kong and there was trouble – he got into a fight with 6 or 7 guys and he won the fight but when he got home he felt ill. Eventually he was taken to hospital and he died of a blood clot to the brain. And that is what happened to Bruce Lee. Fact! (According to Fred Williamson, anyway…)
- The film bookstore – Poor old Fred, you have to feel for him really. When they head off to the Libreria Cinema to meet Barbara Bouchet, Fred can’t get the door open and pretends to kick it down. Franco puts his hand on the door knob and turns and, Open Sesame!, the door opens no problems. Fred asks Franco if he’s ever made a film with Lucio Fulci cos he’s done 2 with him; turns out Franco has done 3 or 4 films with him. Franco shows Fred a book about R.W. Fassbinder – Fred doesn’t know Fassbinder, so Franco describes him as “a genius, one of the greatest directors of our time” and tells him that he acted in his film Querelle, which was, he says, “a masterpiece about homosexuality.” Fred’s response? “Was it a sexy film? Franco , you did erotica!” Things don’t get much better when Barbara Bouchet turns up – one hour late, after getting a manicure done – and she doesn’t seem to remember Fred at all much to his chagrin. During their conversations about films, Tarantino and Fred’s background in American football, it suddenly dawns on Barbara that she has a photograph of herself with Fred. She doesn’t remember at all even when he tells her that they had previously met several times at the Taverna Flavia and through their mutual agent Rosanna Policia. To make matters worse, Barbara has been invited to a Tarantino retrospective in LA and Fred hasn’t and, furthermore, she knows Franco really well and even played his wife in a film. You can feel Fred’s embarrassment: “Maybe next time you’ll remember that we know each other?” (Sad Charlie Brown walk…)
- Franco’s theory on small dogs – Fred wonders out loud why Italians have such big dogs; Franco thinks it because they make them feel safe. He also has a theory on why women have small dogs: “You know the small dogs, what they do with women? They lick the pussies. That’s what a woman told me. A woman told me. Believe me!”
- Fred Williamson the First: Fred was the first black cowboy, the first black sportsman in martial arts films, the first black James Bond. Fred Williamson likes to come first
- Franco’s (ahem!) singing: It doesn’t take a lot to get Franco up and “singing”. He takes Fred to a restaurant where he made his film Forever Blues and when the house band start to play his favourite song When You’re Smiling there’s nothing you can do to stop him joining in. If someone knows better and there is something you can do, please, someone just do it! Just look at Fred’s face to see what I mean
- Enzo Castellari – Now, surely this should be safe since both the boys know Uncle Enzo (a very smiley chap)? Erm, not so much. Fred did 3 films with Enzo. Fred asks Franco: “You only did one film with Enzo?” No, Fred, No! Franco tells him he did 10 films with Enzo. Fred is just not going to win this competition, is he? But, nonetheless, they all seem to have fun and there’s a great sequence where Fred suggests they all make a film together because now they are more “mature” they can “go deeper into the characters” (he says, making a digging gesture with his hand). Franco joins in and then Enzo suggests that they can do it with two hands instead. Haha! Maybe you have to see it or be there – it was a great way to end the evening
A fun watch – thoroughly recommended for a viewing or two!
I like collecting other people’s collections – very lazy of me, I know. I picked up Baloo’s scrapbook today at a car boot sale and loved the matchbooks, although I must admit I was a bit disappointed that he (guessing Baloo was a boy…) had cut them up to stick them in his book. My favourite one is this French one below but I’ve scanned all the pages in (excuse any wonkiness or blurring as I didn’t want to damage the book):
On Friday last week I went along to the first 42nd Street to Paradise Film Festival in Birmingham to see just what Grindhouse madness they had in store. The schedule looked good with a drive-in cinema on Friday evening screening Terrorvision (dir Ted Nicolaou, 1986) and Deadbeat at Dawn (dir Jim Van Bebber, 1988) and further screenings at the Custard Factory on Saturday.
The two films were great fun, my enjoyment of the drive-in cinema was marred only by two guys talking all the way through both screenings and not even having the decency to shut up when told (several times but very politely) that it was disrupting our viewing of the films. To my dismay I soon realised that the two people talking were the directors of one of the films to be screened on the Saturday (VHS Forever? Psychotronic People) – all I can say is that I am surprised they have managed to watch even one entire film between them because they could not keep their traps shut for even five minutes. If you’ve seen Cinemania (dir Angela Christlieb / Stephen Kijak, 2002), you’ll know what I mean when I say I’m like one (or a combination of all) of the cinemaniacs and I just wanted to tape their mouths shut, or worse!
The talking continued throughout Saturday, which was a terrible bore – just SHUT THE F*** UP! Anyway, that’s enough on that subject although I do feel the guy organising it could have been a bit more “present” and a bit more commanding, but he was trying his best to organise the festival (which must have been a lot of work) and aside from the disruptive element it was a very good festival which shows promise for the future if it continues. I hope it does.
The screenings on Saturday included the aforementioned VHS Forever? Psychotronic People (dir Darren J Perry / Mark Williams), which was good if only because the subjects of the film were interesting and amusing; technically it was lacking somewhat but to give them their dues, they wanted to make a film and just went out and made one. That’s a positive to bestow on them but that’s as far as I will go. And, no, they didn’t stop talking even for their own film – the mind boggles…
Herschell Gordon Lewis’ The Wizard of Gore (1970) was next up and it also was good fun – laugh out loud funny and terribly bloody but the kind of gore I can stomach. By far my favourite film of the weekend was Umberto Lenzi’s Violent Naples (1976), which starred the fabulous Maurizio Merli and John Saxon. It had the most exhilarating motor bike race through Naples that had the audience gasping in awe. I just love those Italian cop thrillers and it was absolute perfection, complete with tearjerker scenes with a child which had me crying with laughter (maybe it was just me but it was so corny that it was hilarious).
Photo of Norman J Warren by Dave Tinkham of Datapanik Design
The highlight of the weekend, for me at least, was getting to see Q&A sessions with the director Norman J Warren and the actor Ian McCulloch. After much preamble and moaning about people talking in the cinema (one of my pet hates, but I think you got that already), here is a little write-up of the Norman J Warren session. The Ian McCulloch session will follow shortly. Just to explain, these are not interviews I carried out, I wrote notes from the sessions and am just writing them up in case they’re of interest to anyone who couldn’t be there. I wrote extensive notes (what can I say? I used to be a committee secretary and minute taker…) but instead of quoting verbatim I am just writing these notes up in categories. Hope someone will find them of use or interest:
How Norman J Warren got into film making
As a child Norman J Warren spent a lot of time at the cinema as his mother was mad about films. He described how he became fascinated by the beam of light, convinced that that was where the magic came from. His aunt worked at a cinema and managed to get him an invitation into the projection room to see the magic for himself – he was hooked. By the age of 12 he was making his first films – comedies – and he joined a local cine-club. He made films at the weekend and he knew that was what he wanted to do with his life.
When he left education, he followed up on his wishes to join the film industry but found it was largely a closed shop. He eventually managed to get a foot in the door, starting as a runner and working his way up. It required dedication and he knew that he would have to be prepared to give up his life outside if he was to get anywhere.
Horror films were always of interest to Norman, although they were banned when he was a teenager. He saw films like Creature from the Black Lagoon but the Hammer films started his interest in the genre. Another film that has stuck in his mind is The Beast With Five Fingers, which featured Peter Lorre. Later, when Suspiria was released, he became aware of the work of Dario Argento; he has been a great influence on him ever since.
Norman has mixed feelings about modern horror films and is not very keen at all on the Hollywood films, which he feels are losing their way a bit and lack imagination. The output in the UK is pretty low at the moment – although he did enjoy The Descent and 28 Days Later… – so he mainly watches Korean films.
Earlier in his career, Norman had worked as an editor doing censor cuts on other people’s films but his own films have largely avoided censorship. Terror (1978) had a few cuts, Inseminoid (1981) had no cuts. The thing to bear in mind, he says, is that your film will be changed by your distributors anyway as soon as it goes out.
Films Norman J Warren didn’t get to make
- Gargoyles – a project that was to be co-financed by Richard Gordon, but which collapsed and led to him making Inseminoid instead
- The Naked Eye – it was going to star Vincent Price, but sadly never got made
- The Book of Seven Seals – he didn’t give any details about this one
- Back to the Future – No, he was not in the running to direct this but when asked if there was any film he wished he had directed, Norman named this one and described it as “A beautifully made film, perfectly constructed”
Spaced Out (1979)
Norman made this space sex comedy because, to quote him, “I needed the money, to be honest”. He didn’t really want to do it but the producers really wanted him on board and said he would be allowed to change things a bit. As a jobbing director, as Norman described himself, he said he had to do such things but that ultimately it was “not such a bad experience” and, apparently, it did well in America!
This film came off the back of the unmade film Gargoyles, Norman was given a script called Doomseed to look at after the collapse of Gargoyles – he said it all happened very quickly, with the film being financed from the initial script within 6 weeks. The film was also made very quickly. Nick Maley, who wrote the screenplay, also created the creature, the SFX and gore effects for the film. It took 9 people to operate the babies. This film was on the “hit list” for censorship but it actually avoided being banned.
Norman described this one as a James Bond spoof (I’ve not actually seen it myself, but I’m going to look it out) but he said it didn’t get much of a release. It was being shot in Macclesfield at the end of November / December when it was cold and dark and they were supposed to have helicopters, boats and all the glamour you associate with James Bond type films but the reality was very different. An atomic submarine was supposed to be used for one sequence but in the end they had to use something like a drain pipe in place of a submarine. Furthermore, there were not many extras and so people often had to die twice!
Bloody New Year (1987)
This one was made with the same producer as Gunpowder (Maxine Julius) and Norman experienced problems on this one too – mainly because the cast had already been selected and he was tied in to using them; the problem being that they were models and not actors. The film was also lit like an American TV show and Norman felt it needed to be darker.
Satan’s Slave (1976)
Norman enjoyed working with Michael Gough and said he had a wonderful sense of humour. The film was shot in Techniscope and for one particular scene they had to have Michael Gough sitting on a bed which was raised about 8-9 inches off the floor, so they could get everything in the shot. The only problem was Michael Gough forgot about this and when he had to get off the bed, he fell onto the floor and said: “If you want me, I’m downstairs”
This was, according to Norman, a hard film to do in a very short time. However, he enjoyed it a lot and said it was like being at a party every day whilst they were working on it; at the end of the film, they all just wanted to carry on. The budget was, again, restricted and at the end of filming they could only afford one electrician for the last day – but even though they knew they could not be paid, they all turned up to work.
This lovely little short arty b+w film is one of the extras on BFI Flipside’s excellent release of Her Private Hell – it was also screened at the festival. Norman said it was “very arty, very much the fashion then”. He described it as “very important” to him as it helped him to get accepted as a director. He was 23 or 24 then and he was getting frustrated at not being able to break into directing and so he made Fragment with his own money. It cost him about £200 to make, which was obviously quite a lot back then, but even so he couldn’t afford any sound, hence no dialogue and the limited story.
Norman managed to get Johnny Scott to do the soundtrack for free – he had just been working on a documentary called Shellarama, which Johnny Scott worked on. When Norman said he had no budget to get a soundtrack for Fragment, Johnny Scott offered to do it for free. Apparently, a vinyl EP will be coming out shortly of the Fragment soundtrack. It sounds like something Johnny Trunk would put out, so keep a look out for that soon. The soundtrack is excellent, as is the film.
When Fragment was made, Norman had to go out talking to cinema managers to ask them to screen it. Eventually a manager at a Kensington cinema agreed to put it on and it turned out that he was trying to get into film making himself; he and a friend had decided to make sex films because they thought that was they way to make money. They gave Norman a call and that’s how he got into making his first feature film!
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That is all the notes I took, but I have to tell you that Norman J Warren is such a lovely guy and his love of cinema comes through when he is talking. It is such a shame that guys like him don’t get more opportunities and better budgets to make films. I, for one, would love to see him make some more films soon.
Norman J Warren – an interesting film maker and a lovely guy
Ever since I watched and wrote about Michel Houellebecq meeting Calixto Bieito for the TV show Durch die Nacht mit (aka Au coeur de la nuit), I have been meaning to watch more of the show. I’ve seen a few now but the latest one I’ve seen was when Alejandro Jodorowsky met Daniel Pinchbeck, again directed by Hasko Baumann, and it was most excellent.
Jodorowsky is described as a film maker, writer, tarot expert and shaman, which reminded me of Garth Marenghi: “I’m Garth Marenghi. Author. Dreamweaver. Visionary. Plus actor.” But Jodorowsky is all of those things and more besides – what comes over is that he is a very understanding man and, above all, a lovely person. The writer and journalist Daniel Pinchbeck, on the other hand (at least for me), needs to work on himself – he comes across as quite a self-absorbed sort of person who has little time or place in his world for a significant other. I should forgive him a little for this as his father never really wanted him and had no real interest in him – luckily for him, Jodorowsky offers the advice his father should have given him but never did.
They discuss everything – the mystery of crop circles; collective intelligence; abstract mysticism; collective manifestation; communication with extra terrestrials from the star system Sirius; serpents; space ships; crocodiles; vomiting; useful art (to heal people) as opposed to conceptual art (business for the museums); drug taking. But maybe Jodorowsky can sense that Pinchbeck is “stuck” because he offers him guidance in the way that he sees best – first of all by suggesting that if you smoke (which Pinchbeck does) and drink, that you won’t live a long life. Jodorowsky does not drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes or even drink coffee because he wants to live to 120 years or more – I’ve got to say he does not look bad on it at all (he’s about 80 in the image you see above). It may have something to do with his abstinence but, then again, he does also have something magical in his life: the love of a good woman, and a young one at that (more than 40 years his junior). His wife is the artist Pascale Montandon.
Jodorowsky tells Pinchbeck that when you find the woman of your life, it’s absolutely evident. Pinchbeck is still at the stage in life when he seems to want it all, he declares himself happy in his relationship “for the time being” but says he is considering “alternative relationship models” because monogamy is something he finds difficult. Jodorowsky’s response to this is that “When you find the treasure, you don’t need anything more.” He suggests Pinchbeck can attain the same happiness he has by healing himself first, putting the past in the past, rejecting all the bitter experiences and moving on.
There’s a hilarious sequence when he explains to Pinchbeck how he can do that – his idea is that Pinchbeck should dress up in his dead father’s clothes, hold one of his paintings, dress his girlfriend up in his mother’s clothes and then “Make love with her, like this.” Pinchbeck rejects this notion as impossible because his mother is short and his girlfriend is tall and his mother’s clothes will look silly on her, but do you think Jodorowsky sees this as an obstacle? Not for one second, here’s his response: “When you was a child, you see your mother very tall.” No room for excuses, Daniel Pinchbeck! But somehow I doubt he took the advice.
Here’s a few images of Jodorowsky looking rather fabulous in his youth to break this up for you a little bit:
But in room 26 of this hotel in Paris, he offers Pinchbeck the cards and tells him he cannot tell the future, just the present, but if he has any questions he wants to pose he can do so. Pinchbeck, surprisingly, asks how he can find some level of contentment and happiness in personal relationships, so maybe there is hope for the boy yet:
Daniel Pinchbeck thinks that men and women desire different things; Jodorowsky concludes that Pinchbeck has a fear of dominant women and needs to live another 20 years before he will be ready to open his heart and give and receive love, but in the meantime here is his advice summarised down in one of my little diagrams:
But can he put his money where his mouth is? I guess so, look at the way his wife looks at him:
And the way they put their arms around each other as soon as Pinchbeck leaves their house:
They look very happy to me, so my advice to any gentlemen reading this blog post would be: Follow Jodorowsky’s advice if you want to keep your lady happy. And where are my flowers and chocolates, come to think of it?!
Other interesting things from this episode:
Smells like Jodorowsky’s spirit
Jodorowsky was once ripped off by a “Master” – that’s my take on it anyway, although Jodorowsky didn’t see it that way. He wanted to be “enlightened” so he went to see a Master (Oscar Ichazo) and had to pay him $17,000 in order to achieve enlightenment. The Master did this by giving him LSD and one hour later a joint – Jodorowsky’s trip lasted for 8 hours. After this he made The Holy Mountain, which looks fabulous, and maybe Jodorowsky managed to write-off the $17,000 fee to production costs, I don’t know. But, otherwise, it sounds like expensive drugs experimentation to me.
Jodorowsky thinks he speaks English like Speedy Gonzales. He does have a strong accent, but it sounds lovely anyway.
As with the Houellebecq episode of Durch die Nacht mit, I thoroughly recommend seeing this if you can track it down, it’s so interesting and very stylishly made. My one complaint: I wish the show was more easily accessible in the UK.