Thursday, May 28, 2009

Purple Pose

With so much entertainment to be had from watching all the sponging MPs squirm over the expenses scandal, I’d quite forgotten to follow the goings-on at the Cannes Film Festival. Back when I first became aware of the event the focus always seemed to be on some starlet parading her assets up and down the beach while the slavering press photographers closed in. Nowadays it’s all about which directors can make the biggest tits of themselves at the laudatory press conferences.

This year the winner by a country mile has to be the idiot film thief, Quentin Tarantino, who proclaimed: “I am not an American filmmaker. I make movies for planet Earth...” Could he be an even bigger cock? As for Inglourious Basterds, which seems to have been hastily cobbled together just to show off at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, while Empire magazine unsurprisingly rushed to gobble him off with blind praise, I preferred the much more unbiased review by Peter Bradshaw for The Guardian who declared it was, “achtung-achtung-ach-mein-Gott atrocious”.

After the initial hoopla that had whipped around La Croisette wafted emptily out to sea, all there was left was the hope that this nonsense of his didn’t scoop any of the major awards. Luckily the jury saw sense for once and gave the Palme d’Or to The White Ribbon, Michael Haneke’s parable of fascism set on the eve of The Great War, rather than Tarantino’s nasty and disrespectful wartime fantasy. That aside, after two weeks of the big carnival, the one item of news that stood out for me was Variety announcing that producer Robert Evans has teamed up with ITV Global to make a feature based on the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson television show, UFO.

With their intrepid heroes, secret organisations and high-tech craft involved in futuristic action adventures, the various Anderson-produced shows like Stingray and Thunderbirds and had been a key component of my childhood television viewing. Carrying on in the tradition of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, UFO featured SHADO’s efforts to repel an alien menace, although the big difference was that unlike those earlier puppet shows, famously “Filmed in Supermarionation”, this drama was the Anderson’s first series to be shot in live action.

If UFO stands out in my mind more than their previous shows it was simply because watching an episode was a little victory. All ten series the Andersons made for ITC were never transmitted across the ITV network at the same time. The different regions would choose when they wanted to broadcast it, so while the first run of UFO began on ATV Midlands in September 1970, London Weekend Television didn’t picked it up until a full year later. On Westward Television it was given a Saturday afternoon timeslot opposite the BBC revival Frank Muir and Denis Norden’s public school sitcom Whack-O!, which just happened to be one of my sister’s favourite shows. In the battle of the TV viewing she usually won out.

From the few episodes that I did manage to catch, the highlight of the show was Derek Meddings’ exemplary model work involving the SHADO interceptors taking off from the Moonbase, the Sky One jet fighter launching from the front of the Skydiver submarine, and the SHADO Mobiles rumbling through forests to locate the downed flying saucers. It was only when I caught some of the episodes many years later that I realized the aliens were coming to Earth to harvest human organs while many of the stories, rather than being action-oriented, centred on the psychological effect the secretive work had on the organization's operatives.

This unexpected adult tone, which, over the course of the series, featured SHADO’s Commander Straker’s disintegrating marriage as well as one particular episode where civilians encountered aliens while under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, obviously wasn’t the most ideal teatime viewing. Neither perhaps were SHADO’s female Moonbase operatives in their distinctive figure-hugging metallic catsuits, silver boots and purple wigs. If the movie does come together, not only do I hope they make a better fist of it than the recent Thunderbirds movie, but they retain the iconic costumes however batty they were.

Sometime around the early 1990s I had to interview the actor Ed Bishop. We talked about his appearances in Kubrick’s Lolita and 2001: A Space Odyssey, the bit parts in two of the James Bond movies and, having seen him recently at the National Theatre in Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass, his varied stage work. Because The X-Files had just began on the BBC, the topic of conversation obviously got around to UFO and his role of the determined Straker, more intent on blowing aliens out of the skies than skulking around in the dark with a flashlight.

After discussing the uneven tone of the show and how the early evening timeslot was most probably inappropriate, I broached the subject of the Moonbase operatives uniforms. Based on the information I had been able to pull together, the wigs were meant to serve as protection from the ‘migrane-inducing electromagnetic fields’ produced by the equipment in the base’s control sphere, even though the men working there could do without. Taking that onboard, Bishop’s response, if my memory serves, was a look of complete bafflement followed by laughter.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Do They Still Have Sandwiches There?

When it came time to book the upper abdomen ultrasound scan at the local hospital’s Diagnostic Imaging Department I was hoping they could fit me in yesterday afternoon because, since I had to be in town later in the day for a birthday drinks bash, it would kill two birds with one stone. Obviously this kind of misguided optimism illustrates how little I know about the workings of the NHS because although I did get a Friday afternoon appointment, it isn’t until well past the middle of next month.

Talking with Mister Mark, who was also going to the evening do, we figured it would be an idea to use the time I had planned to set aside wisely and go see Star Trek. Given that it was a summer movie with plenty of whiz and bang it had to be seen on a big screen with a sound system that would make your ears bleed. Since it had only been on release a couple of weeks we figured that shouldn’t be a problem. Unfortunately what neither of us had taken into account was Night at the Museum 2, whose unwanted arrival uprooted Star Trek and relegated it to the multiplex broom cupboards.

I suppose there is a place in the world for charmless and unfunny Ben Stiller comedies. Landfills, for instance. Its appearance was like deciding to go to a restaurant only to find that steak was off the menu and replaced by a steaming turdburger on a stale bun. There was still the BFI IMAX, but it turned out their afternoon performance was already fully booked. Both the Wimbledon and Greenwich IMAX screens were showing Star Trek and both had seats available, but checking the actual sizes of the screens, it didn’t seem worth it. Just as we were giving up, Mister Mark discovered the Vue at the O2. Apart from the biggest screen in London to watch the film on, it offered free parking too.

It may not be the greatest film ever made, but Star Trek was well above the average summer blockbuster. A couple of weekends back, probably when the film was opening here, Channel 4 screened the previous movie Star Trek: Nemesis, which handily showed just how stale the long-running franchise had become. Obviously in need of a reboot if they were going to squeeze any money out of it, at least Paramount had the good idea to hand it over to someone who wasn’t an avid fan, thereby saving us from being served up a big helping of shit stew.

Like Ron Moore’s expert take on Battlestar Galactica, JJ Abrams and his boys examined what they had been presented with then saved the best and junked the rest. Luckily one element that got flushed was Gene Roddenberry’s useless wish fulfilment utopian edict that in the future everyone in the Federation got on like happy families, thereby allowing some proper conflict between the characters to enter the equation. Concentrating on establishing the characters, and thereby making them the heart of the story, meant that it didn’t run out of plot and spunk its budget on overblown spectacle to make up for the deficit, which is usually de rigueur for summer movies.

Star Trek may not have been perfect but, like last year’s Iron Man, it proved to be an entertaining couple of hours rather than a mindless special effects frenzy. If the story may have close to tying itself in knots, the unspoken acknowledgment that the elder Spock was ultimately responsible for the death of Kirk’s father was an interesting move. Amongst the nicely balanced jokes, it’s a shame the captain of the Enterprise didn’t have a co-pilot with him when he took the shuttle to the Romulan ship. That way, with two federation officers under interrogation, directly after Nero’s questioning the subordinate could have shouted, “Don’t tell him Pike!”

After that it was off to the birthday bash, which we got to even after London’s tourists deciding to stray off the pavements and wander in the roads. The past week or so, after the GP’s appointment it has been fun and games trying to determine what I could eat without it leading to rather catastrophic results. All dairy products and red meat were out. Even the few times I’d tried something as simple as a piece of baked fish and boiled vegetables things hadn’t turned out too well, so to save further discomfort I’d resorted to a daily diet of lightly salted rice cakes and water. Dull, I know, but safe.

With all that ongoing, when we got to the pub and having not seen some of these bods for a while, people like Rox, our wonderful Persian Princess, were telling me how well I looked. Even an actress friend that I’d meant to hook up with during the past few weeks but had been sick herself thought I appeared much healthier than usual, and that was even before she’d been to the bar. Maybe an unknown ailment is the path to good health after all.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In The Dollhouse

Just days after the low-rated Dollhouse surprisingly got renewed for a second year, the first season washed up on the UK’s Sci-Fi Channel. With it came a strange sense of déjà vu.

To begin with the well-documented production troubles between creator Joss Whedon and the FOX network, which saw the original pilot junked even after extensive reshoots, served as a painful reminder of Whedon’s dealings with FOX over the short-lived Firefly back in 2002. Finally watching the first episode, although labelled as a mix of La Femme Nikita and Charlie’s Angels by the press, the thing it most reminded me of was Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s Joe 90.

While Dollhouse’s central conceit involved an organisation wiping its operatives minds before installing whatever personalities and skill sets their clients require, Joe 90 featured Joe McClaine receiving the experience of experts in different fields from the BIG RAT to become an agent for the World Intelligence Network. Here was Whedon’s return to television, which, after the sadly ill-fated Firefly should have been something of a celebration, and all I could think of was this puppet show I had seen as a kiddie.

As the muddled pilot of Dollhouse progressed, suffering its own crisis of identity as what was essentially the “adventure of the week” failed to gel with the far more intriguing construct forced into the gaps, I felt like I’d prefer to be back watching the old puppet show. Even though, being purposefully more character based, it didn’t employ anything like the same level of Supermarionation spectacle as previous Anderson shows like Thunderbirds or even Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, at least Joe 90 didn’t give off that faint whiff of compromise, knowing exactly what it was about.

In an opening scene reminiscent of Luc Besson’s spy thriller, the head of the Dollhouse explains to her reluctant new recruit that, “actions have consequences”. Meanwhile Eliza Dushku’s Echo was reminding her that a clean slate still shows what was on it before. It didn’t take an expert to see that this set up was a pubic “Fuck you!” to FOX for demanding changes. Still, the question remained, after getting fucked over by the network with Firefly, what the hell was Whedon doing back there?

I’m sure that I’d read somewhere that Whedon wanted Dushku to headline the show and since that’s where she had a production deal it meant going back into the belly of the beast. Even if the show gets itself in shape, and the sixth episode is apparently where it starts coming together (for anyone who can bother to stay the course that long), sadly the real weak link of Dollhouse is Dushku herself. With an acting range that goes all the way from A to... Ah!, she can just about play the party girl but failed as a hostage negotiator, even with the glasses. Looking back the Joe McClaine puppet was more convincing.

It’s been over eleven years since I saw Whedon up on stage during a memorabilia fair at The Shrine Auditorium, stumping for Buffy the Vampire Slayer along with Nicholas Brendon and, if I remember rightly, Charisma Carpenter. While Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was a hoot, having been off the air since Angel wrapped up five years back and on the evidence of Dollhouse, it makes me wonder whether Whedon’s time in the genre firmament has sadly come and gone.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sic Transit Atlantis

There’s always fun to be had from seeing grubby little politicians squirming in embarrassment after getting caught with their snouts pushed deep in the expenses trough. But after a week where the newspaper revelations snowballed out of control, by Saturday most readers were in need of a respite.

Before fatigue set in, and along with it the danger that after such relentless condemnation we might start to unwittingly feel a tiniest bit of sympathy for those irksome weevils, yesterday The Times decided to provide us with the breathing space. Yesterday they printed this astonishing photograph on its front page.

Taken earlier in the week, it shows the space shuttle Atlantis seen in solar transit as it heads to its rendezvous with the Hubble Space Telescope. As well as repairing failed and faulty components, the crew of STS-125 will install new and improved cameras and scientific equipment.

Amongst them are the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph, which will observe light emitted by extremely faint, far away quasars and see how it changes when passing through the gases between distant galaxies, and the new Wide Field Camera 3. Complementing Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys, the WFC3 with its ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths will allow the telescope to help produce, according to Hubble’s senior scientist Dave Leckrone, “a complete family album of the universe.”

As entertaining as it is to see snapshots of disgraceful members of the House of Common Criminals wriggling on the hook, Hubble will show was insignificant specks they really are.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Sick Twist

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that the mindset growing up in the West Country, especially the years spent living on a farm, was that you never bothered going to a doctor unless a limb had been ripped off or you’d coughed up a vital organ.

That’s not to say that we foolishly believed ourselves to be of such hardy stock that we could blithely forgo any medical attention. Ultimately it came down to a combination of healthy living and the good fortune that most farm incidents that occurred were relatively minor, which was lucky because when anything did happen it was almost always at a time when seeking immediate treatment would have been more trouble than it was worth.

Bangs and scraps would obviously painful when they happened, whether it was smacking the base of my spine into oak beams when filling a barn with hay bales or having a wood pile in one of the outbuildings collapse onto my leg, but once the pain eased there never seemed any point in getting them tended to. Although the former would cause intermittent problems in the following years from not getting any attention, it was still wasn’t as bad as the time when a big, hefty bullock decided to stand on my foot. That hurt like an absolute motherfucker.

The problem with not going to a doctor over the slightest thing back then is that I still don’t know when to see a doctor now. Without any immediate physical symptoms to display there in the GP’s office, I always feel like a fraud. It may have been because when I eventually registered with a GP – a good seven or eight years after I moved up to the capital to attend The Esteemed School of Art – of the two surgeries in the area that I could have signed up with, well, let’s say I chose poorly.

Until then I’d only needed attention when, at a party at The Esteemed School of Art I’d become quite tired and emotional and a misstep damaged the lateral ligaments on the outside of my right foot. Five or six days after the incident, with the skin around my ankle still tattooed in livid shades of black, purple and blue, I stopped by the A&E department of the Royal Free Hampstead to get it checked out. When the staff discovered how long ago the accident had taken place they decided that, if I couldn’t be bothered to get treatment immediately, they couldn’t be bothered to treat me. I was given a support sock and shown the door.

Still, their mien was much better than that of the miserable bastard of a GP. The few occasions I did need to see him, especially when I returned from a sojourn in LA with a virulent bout of food poisoning, he always made me feel particularly unwelcome. Obviously it was an age thing because ultimately he went down for taking a far more unhealthy interest in his much, much younger more vulnerable patients. Luckily the medical practice I’m signed up with now has far more decent individuals on their payroll.

Sunday evening, a couple hours after my evening meal, it began to feel like someone was inflating a balloon in the right side of my abdomen. This had occurred once before, maybe a month or so back, but on that occasion the pain had subsided after a few hours. Now it just kept on coming. By midnight it was a nightmare. The continued throbbing pain was bad enough, but what annoyed me the most was that this was happening at the most inconvenient time imaginable. It didn’t seem a bit enough of a deal to set off toward a hospital but there was no way it was going to let me get to sleep.

It was probably gone four in the morning when I finally fell asleep. When I woke up, well past the alarm call, the constant ache was gone so I just put it behind me and carried on. Wary of ingesting any food, I didn’t bother eating. Since the hours awake had been punctuated by bouts of vomiting, I didn’t have much of an appetite anyway. Tuesday evening, feeling better I cooked a light meal. And a couple hours later it all cycled around again. Having previously tried reading Roger Moore’s rather haphazard autobiography to take my mind off the pain by, this time around I watched the first half of Lawrence of Arabia. It almost had the desired effect.

By the time I came round on Wednesday I figured it was best to get a doctor’s opinion. Trying to book an appointment can be bad enough at the best of times. With the potential snoutbreak on the cards, it appeared that the centre had already gone into emergency lockdown. Before I got through to their booker, who seemed very vague about when anyone could see me, an automated switchboard message told callers who are feeling a touch dodgy to basically keep the hell away.

Finally I had to shuffle up there. Expecting to be tackled to the ground by figures in hazmat suits and have my head ground into the tarmac before the automatic doors parted and my presence contaminated the building, I simply breezed in to find the receptionist casually sitting behind the front desk with a welcoming smile in place of a face mask. Apparently three days of unsurprising revelations that pretty much every elected not-honourable MP is a sleazy, money-grabbing scumbag thief had wiped the hysteria of impending pig death off the front pages and everything was pretty much back to normal.

She took my number and told me to go home and wait for a doctor to call me. Maybe this was erring on the side of caution or standard protocol, but either way the phone rang at the exact time she said it would. Before I could finish explaining the predicament the doctor butted in and stated that I ought to come in. The last couple days, having stuck to a single bowl of soup and a few slices of dry bread for sustenance, so when I strode into the doctor’s office I was feeling better.

Without displaying the symptoms, and with only my explanation to go on, the doctor couldn’t give a clear diagnosis. He suggested it could be gallstones, but obviously wasn’t sure. So that means come next week I have to book a visit to the local hospital’s radiology department, which should be nice, and then return to the medical practice for the obligatory blood tests. After all that I still forgot to ask what the best thing to eat was. I suspect the best thing to do is keep it simple and not pig out.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Re Definition

Wasn’t there talk some time back about Jaws getting a makeover, replacing the mechanical shark where it looked particularly dodgy with a spiffed up computer–generated version? Maybe it was just an idea casually thrown out and given more credence than it deserved, or maybe it really was on the cards until someone quite rightly concluded that it would be a rather pointless exercise.

If the latter was the case then it’s good to know that a small oasis of common sense still exists within the Hollywood system. However much the continual failure of the mechanized shark to perform impacted on the production back in the 1970s, keeping it out of the frame and leaving so much to the power of suggestion ultimately played an integral part in scaring the absolute bejeezus out of the audience back then.

Judging by the content of most of today’s movies, few seem to take that onboard as they indulge a younger audience of largely unimaginative cretins who want everything up on screen and in their face. Because of that we get served up utter nonsense like Renny Harlin’s typically gormless Deep Blue Sea which was like having lukewarm dog vomit smeared over your eyeballs. The movie’s CGI “super sharks” were so godawful that it made me pine for the ropey old shark that once terrorized Amity, even when it was bizarrely leaping onto the stern of Quint’s Orca.

I can understand the absolute need for actual, proper film restoration, the likes of which has been carried out by Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz on Lawrence of Arabia, Spartacus and even The Guns of Navarone. Putting J. Lee Thompson’s classic Boy’s Own adventure back together the restoration team only did what actually needed doing like reinstating dialogue and turning a day for night shot back from day to night. When the massive guns are blown out of their cliff top emplacement in the explosive finale at no point did they decide that the obvious models needed to be digitally replaced.

If it’s no longer on the cards, maybe the enthusiasm for rejigging Jaws fizzled after the 20th anniversary reissue of ET: The Extra-Terrestrial arrived first in cinemas then on DVD. With its own selection of digital nips and tucks, the revised version was rightly criticised for rather absurdly replacing shotguns originally wielded by the government agents with walkie-talkies to make it, I assume, less threatening and more kiddie friendly. Dicking around with the shark simply to gild the lily is one thing, but pandering to cloying political correctness is something else altogether.

When it comes to putting things back to the way they were intended, how far should filmmakers go before it turns into needless tinkering? The prime example of this shameful doodling has to be the “special editions” of the Star Wars films, squeezed out into cinemas with much hullabaloo during the first quarter of 1997. Apart from spiffing up large portions of the effects work, crowding out scenes with unnecessary incidental characters and installing windows in the Cloud City, what did the rejigged versions of George Lucas’ fantasy trilogy actually achieve?

They didn’t make either the plots or dialogue any more bearable. Even the infamous Jabba the Hutt scene, reinstated in the first film, trumpeting the siren song of nerd nirvana, was utterly redundant however much it made their nether regions flutter at the thought of seeing it. Though pleasing those dedicated fans it showed a contempt for narrative by going over exactly the same ground as in the earlier cantina sequence, which created it’s cause for controversy amongst the nerd herd. Then again I suppose coherent storytelling wasn’t what the special editions were about.

On one hand, with The Phantom Menace on the way, those revised films served as a reminder to the short attention span fans who had since latched onto the next, next, and next big things that this was one of the original big things. Alternatively, their arrival was also an exercise in supreme narcissism on Lucas’ part, when he probably should have spent the time more wisely, making sure the new films, which that were all that remained of a stalled career, actually engaged the audience.

While we wait without baited breath for their next irrelevant incarnation – apparently in 3D – as further evidence the series has become Lucas’ own Forth Bridge that he keeps furiously repainting, Paramount picked up the torch, giving the original Star Trek series a makeover. Having originally come out in late 2007 as an HD DVD boxset (for those unlucky enough to have put their faith in that particular format) and then shown on American television, the remastered show is now out on Blu-ray and bog standard DVD over here.

Having been distracted of late, I’m not sure how long these DVDs been available but it’s remarkable that they’ve appeared just in time for the imminent arrival of the new JJ Abrams-directed Star Trek movie. The more jaded amongst us might see this as a cynical ploy by Paramount to get their hands on whatever Lucas left behind after repeatedly raiding the piggy-banks of fools from whom money is easily parted, and they’d no doubt be right.

When it comes to proper restorations, studios are obviously doing everyone a favour by overhauling much older material that hasn’t been properly taken care of and therefore not in the best of shape. But in the back of their minds every of them knows they can always make a fast buck appear even faster if they target the socially maladroit fanboys who remain blissfully unaware that surplus cash should be wisely spent on drugs and hookers.

The first time I saw Star Trek was probably when it was repeated on the BBC sometime toward the late 1970s. Usually fun to watch, even most episodes didn’t always live up to expectations, if there was one other let down to exploring all the new worlds with their gaudy colour schemes, it was that the brief optical effects never really seemed up to snuff simply because I had been brought up on the more elegant effects work produced by Derek Meddings and later Brian Johnson for the Anderson-produced shows like Thunderbirds and UFO.

While they had been created mostly in camera, Star Trek, with its marker pen-thick matte lines, always looked particularly ripe by comparison. Judging by the promotional videos for the remastered series that are floating about on the internet, they’ve been the first to go. Ahead of the spruced up background plates and the more garish colour schemes toned down, the big selling point is that they’ve junked the old effects sequences in favour of rudimentary computer generated replacements that don’t than awkwardly jar with the modesty-budgeted production designs of the 1960s.

Rather perversely, the last time I stumbled across one of the original Star Trek episodes those ropey old effects actually added to its appeal, but I suppose that’s not the point. As home entertainment is herded forcefully toward High Definition everything is going to need to look its best in 1080p. Does that mean a hearty scrub and a quick coat of slap or an aggressive makeover that will reawaken childhood memories with something you don’t remember?

Ultimately I don’t care what happens to Star Trek or Star Wars either in content or format because neither are going to get my money, but when it comes for something like Universal Pictures’ marvellous old Flash Gordon serials to get a wash and rinse, the studio better not touch those wonderful Art Deco rocketships that fizzled across the screen.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Book Worms

The last couple of weeks I’d been spending my spare time reading about movies rather than watching them, which worked out quite well. The session started with Final Cut, Steven Bach’s intimate chronicle of the making of Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, continued with Peter Biskin’s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, and then carried on to Julie Salamon’s The Devil’s Candy, which I’m only part way through.

The impetus to go back to Final Cut after all these years was reading of the recent, untimely death of its author, the one time Head of East Coast and European Production at United Artists who saw his career derailed by Cimino’s train wreck of a movie. Although everyone, not least the studio, was brought down by the director’s hubris and megalomania, and there’s no doubt that Cimino is a total cock, I was interested to be reminded how it came apart so spectacularly.

Having found The Deer Hunter, however celebrated, to be one of the most tedious movies I’ve ever had the misfortune to watch, I have to admit I did enjoy Heaven’s Gate when it was eventually released, in its original 219-minute uncut version, in London sometime in the mid 1980s. Not to sound like an old softie, but when the final title card announcing “What one loves about life are the things that fade” appeared, I was a complete mess. I suppose I should get hold the vanilla-disc DVD to see if it still holds up. I suspect there’s no point holding out for a special-edition set.

Back when I first read Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, as entertaining as it was, I figured it was best to take Biskind’s account with a pinch of salt. After all, to drive home his point required ignoring not just a vast portion of what was happening in Hollywood, with directors who had flourished during the days of the old studio system still churning out masterpieces, but the emerging filmmakers who still made great movies without acting like complete cocks. Then again, it’s always the fuck-ups that provide the best copy.

Although set in the business, it’s really a morality play about how a bunch of young upstarts acted appallingly and got their just desserts. The book’s subtitle, How the Sex-Drugs-And Rock ‘N Roll Generation Saved Hollywood, still confused me a second time around. Maybe I missed something but how did they “save Hollywood” exactly? Most of these fuckwits behaved so badly and flushed away so much money on their useless vanity projects that by the 1980s the producers had taken charge, leading to the sort of nonsense that gets released nowadays.

While I’ve talked about all the great films of the 1970s that I miss due to their unavailability on disc and non-appearance on television, most of them aren’t covered in Biskind’s book. It may be sacrilege to say this but I couldn’t stand Easy Rider when I saw it at a late night screening during my art school foundation year. I’d have been quite happy for the shotgun-toting rednecks to turn up in the first couple of minutes and blow the arseholes away so I could have gone home and got a few extra hours of sleep.

When it comes to Robert Altman, while I love The Long Goodbye, MASH, and even Brewster McCloud, Nashville, which is regarded as his masterpiece, just leaves me utterly cold because the characters are just fucking annoying. If only the obligatory mad gunman had turned up earlier, with automatic weapons, and flamethrowers, in a tank, with air support. That aside, if he was the monumental arsehole that Biskind depicts in the book, he still managed to make a better fist of it than the likes of Bogdanovich and Billy Friedkin.

Even when it comes to the survivors of the decade, as lauded as Scorsese is, by the time I caught Bringing Out the Dead in a small cinema in the northeast corner of Key West, having ducked out of scuba classes, I’d had my fill. Having dutifully gone to see every new release, including the god awful New York Stories but barring Kundun, and caught up on the earlier films at repertory cinemas or on tape, however technically accomplished they films were, I’d more than had enough of investing in thoroughly repellent characters that I simply didn’t want to see again.

Reaching for The Devil’s Candy, which was the next book on the shelf , reminded me that I had been in New York all through the filming of The Bonfire of the Vanities. Every time I left the apartment and headed past a newsstand the Post was usually trumpeting some story about the madness involved in the making of the picture. Ultimately the movie was a diabolic mess that simply didn’t work when they tried to redeem the central characters, but you have to admire the optimism of Brian De Palma who, thinking he had a big hit on his hands, allowed a journalist from The Wall Street Journal unrestricted access to the production.

Whereas a more manageable tabloid hack might have stayed on the set getting all doe-eyed over the leads, Salamon spent more time roaming the production offices to discover how bad decisions and compromises brought the film down, especially once the press got the scent of blood in the water. At a Coro Foundation where Spike Lee and Tom Wolfe were featured speakers, the filmmaker mentioned to the author that the latest script draft rewrote the end of his book, giving the newspapers another field day. I loved how Salamon described Lucy Fisher, the Executive Vice President of Production at Warner Bros dealt with the situation, which basically says it all about the Hollywood game:

When she finally got through to Wolfe, the issue was settled with a brief, polite exchange. Spike Lee, however, was another matter altogether. He wasn’t an outsider like Wolfe. No matter how hard he worked at posing as the last angry black man, he made his films with Hollywood money. That made him part of the community and subject to its rules.

“How would you like it if you had a movie and someone else got up and started talking about the end of the movie and it was in the paper?” Fisher snapped at Lee. “How would you like that?”

Lee’s apology was sufficiently deferential to Wolfe, De Palma and Warner Bros,. though Fisher wasn’t entirely satisfied. She would have liked to yell at Lee a little more, but she hoped someday to work with him and didn’t want to press her luck.

Oddly enough, when I came back to the UK I found myself working for a producer who was ex-BBC Pebble Mill and therefore thought she was God's gift to television. Having dealt with Lee in some capacity when he had been interviewed for some damn programme she was involved with, she had described him as an insufferably arrogant prick. Given the histrionics and bad behaviour of both herself and her husband, that was saying something.

Between all the reading, the one programme I did make a point of catching was The South Bank Show profile of William Goldman. It’s been a while since I’ve seen an episode of ITV’s flagship/only arts programme and as bad as it used to be, it seemed to have gone rapidly downhill since. Goldman should be interesting, right? Instead it seemed to have been cobbled together from two interviews that covered the same ground that rather boringly stuck to the highlights and even allowed Goldman to almost contradict himself at one point.

It had all the depth of a saucer of water that had been left out in the sun for a few hours. While I could understand why Sir Richard Attenborough, who had directed both A Bridge Too Far and Magic, was invited to reflect on the man, along with Robert McKee who was there to comment on Goldman’s scripts, but why the fuck had Hugh Grant been brought along to contribute? I would have thought The Princess Bride would have got a look in. Having struggled to read Goldman’s absolutely appalling adaptation of Wolfe’s The Right Stuff, mention of his failures might have been as interesting as recycling the oft repeated anecdotes regarding the successes.

Then on Saturday evening I put the book aside and sat down to watch Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain. As I mentioned previously, I thought Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children were great pieces of cinema and Alien Resurrection an absolute mess. I’d missed Amélie even though everyone had said how brilliant it was, so with Channel 4 screening it, I figured I ought to make the effort to watch.

As a big fan of the great Ealing comedies and the Powell & Pressburger classics, I’m not adverse to whimsy, but after watching forty minutes of this utter nonsense I was overwhelmed with an urge to hurl a blunt object through the television screen. It actually made me want to slip in the DVD of Armageddon solely for the scene where the asteroid splinter creams Paris. Two days later, and having gone right back to the books, I’m still trying to figure out whether Amélie is the most irritating film ever made.