May 19, 2007
Malcolm McDowell is describing the scene in a London screening room in the late 60s, as he, director Lindsay Anderson, composer Alan Price and producer Michael Medwin look for scenes to cut out of O Lucky Man! Warner Brothers have refused to release the film at its nearly three-hour length. By accident, the projectionist jumps from reel eight to reel 10. Anderson yells "Stop!" McDowell counters, "Great cut!" He knows, mistake or not, that it will satisfy the studio's demands. Anderson balks vociferously, then reluctantly agrees. Five years later, he bamboozles Warner Brothers into restoring reel nine, but the original negative has been lost and when the duplicate negative is printed, reel nine looks a little grainy - unlike the rest of the film. Anderson, however, loves the difference in texture. As he tells McDowell: "Art is sometimes a happy accident."
This line emerged as the motto for our film Never Apologise. It is ostensibly a film version of McDowell's one-man show about Anderson - who died in 1994 - but is the result of several years' effort. The odyssey began in 2003 when the Edinburgh film festival told me they wanted to hold an Anderson retrospective the following year to mark the 10th anniversary of his death. When I called McDowell about the Edinburgh plans, he said, "I can do a show about Lindsay. You'll have to help."
So over McDowell's dining room table in California and between his daily golf dates, we went over the proofs of Never Apologise: The Collected Writings. McDowell had lots of stories about Anderson, who had cast him in 1968's If ... and changed his life. As he recounted his tales in full throttle, I took extensive notes.
Having never staged any theatre before, our efforts at this point reminded me of the Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musicals when they'd put on a barn show to raise money for some enterprise of our own. It was an analogy that Anderson might have appreciated. He loved the Golden Age Hollywood films. His flat was filled with a file index of hundreds of old movies he'd tape from television and almost always, he'd select a scene from some 30s or 40s musical to test one's film knowledge.
McDowell recalled his own introduction to Anderson's film history course with a quiz about Jean Arthur's credits. Feigning knowledge and innocently referring to Arthur as a "he", McDowell was berated by Anderson for not recognising Arthur as a great comedy actress in Frank Capra's Mr Smith Goes to Washington and Mr Deeds Goes to Town. Then Anderson indoctrinated him in the glories of American cinema, particularly the poetry of John Ford. He told McDowell: "If you're going to be in the film business, you'd better know something about it."
The Whales of August, Anderson's last film was filmed in Maine, Ford's birthplace, and between takes he would delight in singing with the actor Ann Southern, duetting on numbers from her command performances at the London Palladium after the second world war. I remember seeing them seated side by side singing Lily of Laguna. This was while Bette Davis, who had commandeered the only free room for her on-set residence, chain-smoked behind the closed door amid the kerosene-heated fumes. It was before Anderson and Bette's major row when, in front of the entire crew, he told her she wasn't "taking over the picture". Production ceased as I shuttled diplomatically between their warring camps.
Through the performances at the Traverse and three months later at the Cottesloe, our happy accident succeeded despite difficult conditions. At both venues, we couldn't get on stage until the day of the show, though we did have a rehearsal room at the National. Then there was the sudden discovery of Anderson's "letter of apology" to Alan Bates at the Anderson Archives at the University of Stirling, in which the apology turns into a diatribe of how Anderson viewed his career and the state of society. We'd both been guests at that inebriated afternoon when Anderson needled the ordinarily mellow Bates into an explosive confrontation. We always knew that the "fascinating lunch party" hosted by director Clive Donner and his wife, designer Jocelyn Rickards had to be a part of the show.
In transforming Never Apologise to film, the challenge was to maintain the impact of McDowell's magnetism so that the cinema experience would be as potent as being with him on stage. Visuals were added but every directorial decision had to ensure there was no separation between McDowell and his audience. He's either seen or heard through the entire film; his physicality and voice rhythms are inherently cinematic.
I think Anderson would have approved, because he was the one who forced me to direct. When we finally got the money to make The Whales of August, he suddenly decided that the script needed fixing. His changes mainly cut dialogue from David Berry's adaptation of his play, most of which had to be restored. Anderson and I were great friends before and after the film but during production, it was a battle every day. He viewed film-making as a war, with the producer the enemy (perhaps taking his lead from Ford).
When Anderson cut half of Lillian Gish's anniversary soliloquy to her dead husband - the scene that confirmed my buying the property - I finally hit the roof. Blinded by rage, I told him, "You'll cut that scene over my dead body." Either as a test or a deliberate decision, he said: "Then you direct it." I agreed. He'd ask/needle me weekly if I was ready, and when I told him I wanted to re-conceive the scene as a voiceover, hearing Lillian's thoughts as she looks at her husband's picture and the red and white roses, he supported the idea. He understood it as a homage to Lillian's silent screen days, and ability to convey emotion through pantomime.
When the time came to shoot the scene, I suddenly realised I was actually directing Lillian Gish. "Well, are you ready?" he queried. At "action", the playback of Lillian's thoughts began as she takes one of the roses, touching it down her cheek. I asked her to do it a second time, moving the rose slower. She was perfect.
In Gavin Lambert's double memoir, Mainly About Lindsay Anderson, he writes of Anderson's duality - imperious and caring; demanding and concerned; difficult and compassionate. Anderson allowing me to direct that scene was an act of generosity no other director would have permitted. But if I'd failed, he would have pounced.
Whales premiered in Cannes out of competition before the Prince and Princess of Wales. Anderson famously asked Diana, "Have you ever thought of becoming an actress?" Her reply was devastating: "I am an actress." With Never Apologise, Anderson is again back in Cannes, which he loved; which he first covered as a critic; where all his major films had their international premieres; where Richard Harris won the best actor award for This Sporting Life; where Anderson took the Palme D'Or for If ...
In other words I like to think of him as back in full force, cheering us on.
Friday September 3, 2004
The man who gave me a slap in the face
Ten years after Lindsay Anderson's death, Malcolm McDowell explains why he can't let go of the director who changed his life.
I was Lindsay Anderson's kind of actor. I don't know why, but I was. I know he thought that I was a Brechtian (whatever that means) but I don't think I am. I think what he meant was that I play in a style that is not realistic, but which is still real. I met him at the audition for If . . . in 1967. We got on very well, but it was the second audition that was magical because it involved me getting a slap from this girl I was playing opposite. She slapped me into getting the part - and subsequently into doing Clockwork Orange, because Kubrick saw If ... five times and cast me from that.
The slap was part of a scene we were doing that I had not really prepared, but which she knew rather better than I did. When I read the script, it said: "Mick grabs hold of girl and kisses her passionately." But I did not read the following line, which said: "The girl slaps Mick like a son of a bitch." Which was exactly what she did - although in reality it was more of a punch. And I wasn't expecting it. That hit changed the whole dynamic of the audition.
Afterwards, when I was working on the original script for what became O Lucky Man!, I didn't know how to end the film, and I was also still obsessed with this slap. Lindsay just said, "Good, well we'll use it. You became a film star, so that's how you end it, with that slap." So, at the end of O Lucky Man!, as my character does an audition, just like the one for If ... , the director, played by Lindsay, hits me with the script. Later, I found a whole bit in his diary about that slap scene, in which Lindsay says of his own performance: "Am I good? I think so. Malcolm wore too much makeup."
Lindsay was an incredible man. When Lindsay walked into a room, it sort of gravitated around him somehow, partly because of who he was, and partly because of his own presence. His voice was rather clipped. "Now, now, Malcolm," he would say. "Come on, stop messing around. Good." He was a brilliant intellect and very generous with his time, just a delightful person to be around. I was young and I didn't know much about anything, so he was very important to me and we had a great friendship. He was someone you really could call at four in the morning and say, 'I'm in trouble. I need help.' "
But Lindsay was also a curmudgeon, and he could be very difficult at times. He used to write to reviewers, complaining. He was wasting his time, of course, but he couldn't help himself. If someone said to him, "Could we have an interview with you, Mr Anderson?," he would say, "Well I suppose I can give your career a bit of a leg-up." He was prickly, but you had to see under that. It was always "us and them" with him. But that's how great things are done. There's always an edge.
I used to have thunderous rows with him. I'd piss him off all the time. Sometimes I used to do things just to get a reaction, knowing he'd be listening. I'd come into his flat and rummage around in his private mail. "Good God, you were offered this film," I'd say, holding up a letter. "There's a perfect part for me in that. You should do it." I was just teasing him. "For God's sake put that down, it's private," he'd roar back. He's still very present, in a weird way.
I remember once inviting my girlfriend of the time on location at Cheltenham College. "Who's that girl?" asked Lindsay. "That's my girlfriend," I said. "Get her off the set," he replied. He thought she would be a distraction to me, and that wouldn't serve him. But that's all directors.
Working with him was like doing a film with an Oxford don - indeed he was very much the same on set as he was everywhere else. He was a wonderful director because he led the actors beautifully without them really knowing that they were being directed. He'd let you rehearse it, of course, and make a few suggestions, but usually that was it. Directors need to be prize manipulators.
What Lindsay instilled in me was nothing more than the simple confidence to be able to do it. If he wanted to interrupt your rhythm - if you'd said something really stupid - he would repeat what you said, and then just let it hang there. But I honestly can't remember him ever saying, "That's not good." It was always, "OK. Let's see how this looks."
He always pretty much knew what he wanted, though. Sometimes he would find other stuff in the scenes, and he would be very excited, but in the main he had a pretty good idea. He was very careful with his casting, too. It was hard to say which kinds of actors he preferred, but he didn't like campness; he liked real people. He liked you to make him believe - that was paramount. I honestly don't know of one actor who worked with Lindsay who didn't adore him.
From the time we met, I spoke to Lindsay at least once a week. If I had a difficult part, he'd read it and give me notes. In fact, on Clockwork Orange he gave me the key to the role. In a very simple way he helped me enormously. He told me to play Alex like a close-up I did in If ... when I smiled defiantly at the head boy as he was about to cane me. He said, "There's a close-up of you just looking at me and smiling. That's the way you play Clockwork Orange." I never mentioned this to Kubrick.
Lindsay loved gossip; that's one thing he really enjoyed. His letters were always filled with gossip. He'd like to hear you say something detrimental about another director or a production - which, of course, would have been a hell of a lot better if he had directed it. But just in a fun, friendly, game kind of way. He wheedled a few things out of me - that was part of the fun. But he'd give me all his gossip straight away: "Did you see Glenda Jackson? Oh my God, they got terrible reviews!" He wasn't one for jokes, though. I'd say, "I've got this joke," and he'd say, "Don't bother. I don't want to hear it."
I think that my show about him would have pleased Lindsay greatly - especially if he realised how much bloody effort went into it.
One of the great surprises in preparing it, for me, was seeing everything he wrote and how beautifully he expressed himself. This is from a letter to me in 1981: "I had a late supper one evening with Frank and Treat Williams ... Treat took us for a trip in his plane around the Manhattan skyline, an incredible, somehow touching sight. I wonder why? ... We passed so close to the World Trade Center buildings that we could see the diners innocently enjoying themselves in the restaurant. In the late-20th century, it's impossible not to see the whole great heart of the city as vulnerable, exposed to attack."
Lindsay was honestly my best friend who wasn't a contemporary. I never looked at him as a mentor, and I don't really like the term, but I suppose he was. I knew that if there was ever any apologising to be done, it would probably have to be from me. That was the price of the relationship.
He was gay, but he was a celibate homosexual. All the people that he loved were unattainable because they were heterosexual. I didn't really know that he was gay, and I wasn't going to ask him because it wasn't my business. He never, in any way, made a pass at me, although he took an enormous interest in me as a person, which I suppose had homosexual overtones to it. But sex was never an issue.
When he died, well what can you say? It didn't sink in for a while. And then you realise there are no more phone calls. But I never crossed his number out of my phone book. It's still there now.
BY DANA OLAND - firstname.lastname@example.org
Malcolm McDowell on Lindsay Anderson
Malcolm McDowell met Lindsay Anderson at a nerve-wracking audition in 1967. At the time, McDowell had no idea that interaction would change his life.
Anderson cast McDowell as Mick Travis, the student revolutionary in "If" a film that propelled McDowell to stardom in England and led to McDowell's most famous role, as Alex de Large in Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange."
The two clicked on film and became lifelong friends. McDowell created a one-man show as an endearing tribute in 2004, on the 10th anniversary of Anderson's death. Now it's a film, directed and produced by Caldwell-based filmmaker Mike Kaplan, who, along with McDowell, will present the film, "Never Apologize," at a one-time showing Jan. 12 at the Egyptian Theatre. The showing is for an Idaho International Film Festival event.
The film is funny, poignant and fascinating as McDowell delves into Anderson's complex psyche and shares bits of theatrical and film lore and history. He recreates this evocative time in British film through his memories, Anderson's diaries, books and letters. He deftly recreates all the larger-than-life characters who intersected Anderson's story, including John Gielgud, Lillian Gish, John Ford, Bette Davis, Alan Bates and Rachel Roberts. Some may have fallen out of popular memory, but this film offers a chance to remember and explore some of the best films of that era.
As a filmmaker, Anderson helped shape our contemporary view of film as art.
Somewhat of a radical character, Anderson made movies that pushed at the social fabric of the 1960s. His films included the raw, gritty, Oscar-nominated "This Sporting Life" (1963), his groundbreaking trilogy "If," "O Lucky Man" and "Britannia Hospital" and the lyrical ode "The Whales of August."
The title for the piece comes from a mantra of Anderson: "I never apologize," even though he was easily one of the most difficult and demanding personalities around.
McDowell spoke about his friend from his California home last week.
Q: What was it that impelled you to create a piece of theater around Lindsay?
A: I was called up by the people who ran the Edinburgh Festival. They wanted me to be present at a retrospective they were going to have of Lindsay's films the next year. I rather glibly said, 'I'll do better than that. I'll do a show about him.' And I (cleared his throat) said that not really knowing what I was getting into, actually, but I did feel that a lot of people had forgotten who he was. And that I felt he was one of the greatest British directors ever. He's the nearest I've ever come to a genius. And I just wanted people to understand more about him and where he was coming from."
Q: What made him great?
A: "He could smell bullsh-- from a million miles away. Just having dinner with him was fabulous fun. He was an immense human being, a humanitarian if you like. Not in the sense of giving money out or something. His feeling for people was so immense. Lindsay and his world were very exciting during that period, which was the last really great period, I would hasten to say, in British film. Some people would argue with that. I think it was. Lindsay Anderson's work, along with Tony Richardson and Karel Reisz, was really the golden era of British film, and I got to be on the end of it, thank God."
Q: Who is continuing the legacy?
A: "The truth is, there really is no one like him. He was a rarity, like John Ford - the genius, the man himself. There are other great directors. They're very different.
"The thing that made Lindsay so special was that he took the classics at Oxford. I think, honestly, studying Greek theater had a great impact on him. Of course, Greece is where drama started. His sort of ethos was simplicity. You get to the point, without cluttering it. Keep it simple and then move on. He was such an original in that way. He was a great man of the theater who was a brilliant film director. He had a brilliant eye for the camera. Some of his shots were so poetic. I bet he lifted most of them from John Ford, I hope he did, because he lifted them from the master. But he used them with his own ironic sense.
"He was a unique voice that is sorely missed."
'Never Apologize: A Personal Visit with Lindsay Anderson,' 7 p.m., Egyptian Theatre, 700 W. Main St., Boise. $50 for film and post-screening reception, at 387-1273. Film only: $15 general, $12 students. Reception only: $40.
SELECTED FILMS IN WHICH MALCOLM MCDOWELL APPEARED
"A Clockwork Orange" (1971)
"O Lucky Man!" (1973)
"Voyage of the Damned" (1976)
"Time After Time" (1979)
"Britannia Hospital" (1982)
"Cat People" (1982)
"Blue Thunder" (1983)
"Star Trek Generations" (1994)
"I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" (2003)
WHO'S WHO IN 'NEVER APOLOGIZE'
In "Never Apologize," actor Malcolm McDowell takes you on a journey through a pivotal time in filmmaking. Here are some names to know to help you along the way.
Richard Harris: Today's audiences know him for originating the role of Albus Dumbledore in the "Harry Potter" films. But in his early career, he was a visceral leading man of stage and screen. He worked with Lindsay Anderson in the Academy Award-nominated "This Sporting Life" (1963) and "The Field," (1990). He received Oscar nominations for both roles. He also starred in the film version of the musical "Camelot."
Mr. Fish: Fashion designer Michael Fish led the "Peacock Revolution" in men's fashion. His designs included floral shirts adorned with ruffles and embroidery, colorful, striped jackets and slim-cut slacks. In 1968, he opened his shop, called Mr. Fish, from which he sold his very wide ties shaped like kippers.
John Ford: Ford often is overlooked in the canon of great directors because he worked in a pulp genre of Westerns. But from there, he revolutionized filmmaking and inspired multiple generations with his innovative camera shots. He is probably one of the most referenced directors in cinema. Ford directed his first film in 1917 and his last in 1976. Some of his best include "Stagecoach," (1939), "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940), "The Searchers" (1956), and "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962).
David Sherwin: Screenwriter who penned Lindsay Anderson's film trilogy "If," "O Lucky Man," and "Britannia Hospital." He also worked on John Schlesinger's "Sunday Bloody Sunday," but did not receive credit.
John Schlesinger: British film director who created a string of influential films, including "Far From the Madding Crowd" (1967), "Midnight Cowboy" (1969), "Sunday Bloody Sunday" (1971) and "Marathon Man" (1976).
Rachel Roberts: Talented and hugely successful British actress who received an Oscar nomination for her role in Lindsay Anderson's "This Sporting Life." She married Rex Harrison, best known as Professor Henry Higgins and the original Dr. Doolittle. She died of an overdose of barbiturates in 1980.
Alan Bates: British actor with more than 80 films to his credit, including "Georgy Girl," "Far From the Madding Crowd," Franco Zeffirelli's "Hamlet" and was part of the award-winning ensemble of Robert Altman's "Gosford Park." He was nominated for an Academy Award in 1969 for "The Fixer."
Catherine Deneuve: This French-born actress has long been considered one of the most luminous and talented actresses of all time. Some of her best known films include "Belle de Jour," (1967) "Les Demoiselles de Rochefort," (1967) "Mayerling" (1968) and "Indochine" (1992), for which she was nominated for an Oscar
Friday November 2, 2007
Kubrick: a marketing odyssey
It took some quick thinking by Mike Kaplan to reassure the 2001 director that his masterpiece was in safe hands. Here, he recounts the rocky start of a long friendship.
I was the resident longhair in the publicity department of MGM when I first met Stanley Kubrick, in April 1968. I had spent the previous four days canvassing the befuddled media, who were trying to grasp his new film, a non-verbal epic called 2001: A Space Odyssey, and MGM's executives were in fear about the prospects of their most expensive film to date and, consequently, their future.
Roger Carras, Kubrick's promotion executive, was taking me to meet the great man to explain to him why the film was near unanimously misunderstood. It was being presented as "an epic drama of adventure and exploration", and many were expecting a modern Flash Gordon. Instead, Kubrick had created a metaphysical drama encompassing evolution, reincarnation, the beauty of space, the terror of science, the mystery of mankind. The campaign had to be reconceived and repositioned - an impossible task unless Kubrick, who had complete control of his work, could be convinced this was vital to save his film from impending disaster and devastating reviews.
We were in the midst of the 1960s youth revolution. Friends in the underground press had already seen 2001 several times, exhilarated by his film-making, some nicely stoned. After my first confused reaction, compounded by false anticipation and intense company pressure, I walked out of the second screening elated, knowing 2001 was an experience challenging conventional movie audiences and traditional critical values.
And so Roger took me to the projection booth of Loew's Capitol Theatre in New York on the night of the movie's premiere. The Capitol's inner lobby was decorated with a fanciful garden created for MGM's previous roadshow attraction, The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm. As Roger and I crossed the fairytale bridge that led to the door of the projection booth, the incongruity of the atmosphere and my trepidation at finally talking to Stanley Kubrick was dizzying. My stomach was in knots.
He had just gone through the red-carpet frenzy - the last time he would attend one of his world premieres - and was checking the technical state of the Cinerama equipment. The "Dawn of Man" sequence had ended as we entered the large booth. He was standing casually next to one of the massive projectors, bow-tie undone, dinner jacket opened, his editors behind him.
"Stanley," Roger said buoyantly as we approached, "this is Mike Kaplan, whom I told you about." I reached out to shake his hand. Kubrick kept his in his pockets. The tension was palpable. I was the potential enemy in his den; my sincerity irrelevant. There would be no handshake. It was an existential confrontation.
His laser-like eyes locked mine: "Why doesn't Pauline Kael like my movie?" My mind raced. I had been nervous enough rehearsing what to say. He was famous for hustling chess games in his youth and had made a bold, surprising first move. Despite Roger's preparation about my passion for what should be done, this was his test of what I should know. Forget this upstart and his theories. Kael, the film critic of the New Yorker, was the most influential critic of the time.
Kael, however, wasn't a contact of mine. I had enough to keep up with the newspaper, broadcast media and wire services which were my purview. I read Pauline infrequently; found her analysis invigorating when I agreed with her and condescending when I didn't. I favoured her counterpart on the opposite side of the critical spectrum, Andrew Sarris, who had championed the auteur theory of film criticism in America and reviewed for the Village Voice, the New York alternative weekly. These were the days when critics held their opinions close to their chests and never saw a film more than once. From the brief message received by Joanna Ney, my close colleague and Kael's contact at MGM, and from the expression on the face of writer Dick Albarino, a friend who had accompanied Pauline to the first screening - and who was sworn to secrecy about her reaction - it was apparent she was going to be brutal. But no one knew specifics.
I felt the fate of the film was in the heavy air holding Kubrick's question. My answer had to meet his challenge. Perhaps a minute elapsed. Triggered by a survival instinct from some deep memory recess, I countered, "She thought The Bible was the best movie of the year." Our eyes didn't move but his body shifted slightly. It was my acknowledgment. We talked for the next two hours through to the end of the film and watched the mystified charity audience file out. Then we shook hands.
It was the beginning of an enduring friendship and my most commercially successful professional relationship. What cemented it was a marketing tactic that initiated the turning of 2001 into a cultural phenomenon. Besides Kael and Sarris, the major critical voices who could affect a film's success were the New York Times and the bright and bristling Judith Crist, the most widely known critic in the country, who reviewed for the New York Herald Tribune, the Today Show, the highest-rated morning television programme, and TV Guide, the country's largest circulation magazine. No critic ever had a larger audience.
Crist, a long-time supporter of Kubrick, was negative, reflecting the opinions of her newspaper colleagues who thought 2001 long, boring and impenetrable. The New York Times had named a new critic at the beginning of the year, Renata Adler, a novelist of note, whose film tastes were still unknown. (She would shortly compare the monolith to a Hershey chocolate bar.) Kael was on the attack and Sarris, whose views could signal an alternative force to marshal, would appear last. We were down three with one unknown. It was desperate.
Then, the unexpected. The Christian Science Monitor, the highly respected national newspaper based in Boston, published an elegantly designed full-page essay by John Allen, declaring the film a masterpiece with Kubrick reinventing the medium. This was the breakthrough, coming from a distinguished newspaper with substantial weight to balance the establishment consensus. Combined with a bubbling movement from the counterculture media, and the near-unprecedented second review by Newsday's Joseph Gelmis reversing his negative opinion within days of his first (only Newsweek's Joe Morgenstern had ever done this previously with his Bonnie and Clyde switch), the Monitor piece could refocus the film's future.
When the film came out, Stanley set up an office in the conference room on the 26th floor of the MGM building. Tearsheets of ads and reviews from every publication lined the walls. The Monitor essay had to be reprinted immediately, as an ad in the following Sunday's New York Times (Adler's weak review had just appeared) and for insurance sake, in the next issue of the Village Voice, in case Sarris was negative. Most importantly, it had to be read as an editorial; it could not look like an advertisement. The only commercial information would be a discreet line at the very end stating "2001: A Space Odyssey is showing at Loew's Capitol theatre."
Stanley got it immediately. Our plan was that I'd make the case and he'd play back-up if necessary. My boss bought the concept; there was nothing to lose. Business was well below average for a major release. And I was the film's designated point man, having Kubrick's trust. Advertising layouts were ordered immediately. But when the mock-ups arrived, I was shaken. Instead of an editorial look, the Monitor reprint was contained within the standard corporate information: MGM credits and the distinctive unfolding Cinerama logo fought the copy. It was too radical to remove the studio's corporate identity. The intended impact would be lost.
Stanley made his move. Privately, he went to the studio bosses to talk about the film's future openings, saw the mock-ups, and walked out with the layout we wanted - his calm logic prevailing. The advertising agency also delivered with placement. On Sunday, the piece appeared opposite the New York Times' main film page, making it look like a two-page editorial spread. There was nothing stating it was a paid ad. On Thursday, it ran opposite Sarris' lengthy negative review in the Village Voice. The campaign to turn the tide was engaged.
During the next four years, from the release of 2001, through its relaunch a year later with my "Ultimate Trip"/Starchild campaign, and the release of A Clockwork Orange (Stanley had asked me to leave MGM to work directly with him), we talked and strategised film distribution daily. We remained in close contact afterwards, watching Barry Lyndon with the American ratings chief in the large Shepperton screening room with his newly completed print; I visited the set of The Shining and later tried to persuade him to change the ad and slogan; I called him after seeing Full Metal Jacket to say I broke down at the visceral impact of the graveside scene, because my mother had died months before (he said, "There's nothing worse; it's like being hit in the head with a sledgehammer"). From then on periodically - I'd get a call and we'd speak for an hour or more as if it were yesterday.
Our last conversation was in 1994. I was at the Edinburgh festival, where Luck, Trust & Ketchup, my documentary about Robert Altman, was being shown. I had sent him a copy and was eager for his thoughts. He said it was "very good" then quickly moved to The Whales of August, which I had produced a few years before. "Who directed it?" he asked. (I knew he knew.) "Lindsay Anderson." "Oh, yes, I knew it was a good director. How did it do?"
It had been badly distributed, except for Japan, the only territory that followed my marketing campaign, where it played for a year and a half in Tokyo. He was intrigued and then described in detail how for Full Metal Jacket he had changed the way films were announced and released in Japan. Instituting new distribution methods fascinated Stanley as much as film-making, which he also called "an exercise in problem solving".
Next Friday, the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the British Film Institute will present a joint tribute to Kubrick at BFI Southbank, hosted by Malcolm McDowell. At the same time, in the same building, Never Apologise, Malcolm's tour de force celebration of Lindsay Anderson, which I directed, will be showing.
More than anything, I'd be eager for Stanley's thoughts, to hear his coy chuckles, and to have another long, creative dialogue on the art of making and marketing movies
Thursday November 1, 2007
Malcolm McDowell talks to John Patterson about pitting legendary directors Stanley Kubrick and Lindsay Anderson against each other - and how he moved to Hollywood by accident
Malcolm McDowell, formerly of Leeds, Liverpool and London, now lives in Shangri-La. Almost literally. We meet on the terraced restaurant of a country club near his house in Ojai, up the freeway from Los Angeles and then inland to a spectacular valley overlooked by bluffs and crags that seem vaguely reminiscent of the mountains in Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus. But I'm one Himalayan movie off, it turns out.
"This is where I've lived since 1982," he says, with some pride. "We live over there, on Meditation Mountain. It's where they put the camera for the shot of Shangri-La that they matte-painted into the 1937 version of Lost Horizon. The blue screen of its day, that view is!" McDowell's face, at 64, has lost the rounded, meat-and-milk contours of his beautiful youth, but has gained sharper, more chiselled planes that echo his still lean and athletic physique. The enormous blue eyes that Stanley Kubrick had wired open for A Clockwork Orange don't shine quite so brightly these days, but only because his splendid shock of white hair provides less contrast than it did when it was brown. It's still a great punk-rock face: tough and seemingly born for villainy and swaggering mayhem (or so an unimaginative casting director might think), but always bisected by that famous sideways grin, the smile that made Caligula, Harry Flashman, even his psychopathic Nazi in the long forgotten The Passage, seem possessed of infinite charisma.
He moved here with his second wife, the actor Mary Steenburgen. "I came to make a movie in 1979 [the time-travel thriller Time After Time], fell in love, stayed, then we had children. But when we split up in 1990, the die had been cast. Obviously, I wasn't going to move away from our children. I had never thought about moving here, it just sort of happened that way." He admits that he misses England on occasion - or rather the people. "But once you get back there," he laughs, "it's immediately, 'Get me the fuck OUTTA HERE!'"
The second act of McDowell's career has been a busy and remunerative life as a Hollywood character actor - there may be more people in the US who remember him as the murderer of Captain Kirk in Star Trek: Generations than as insurgent schoolboy Mick Travis in If ...
But we're here to talk about the earlier, British half of his career, and of his association with the director of If ..., O Lucky Man and Britannia Hospital, who discovered McDowell 40 years ago and remained a close friend until his death in 1994: Lindsay Anderson.
A year or two ago, McDowell conceived a one-man stage show as a tribute to Anderson and performed it in a nearby schoolhouse. His lifelong friend Mike Kaplan, who has worked as a publicist for Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman and others, and as a producer for director Mike Hodges, had the show filmed, resulting in Never Apologise, which opens tomorrow.
It's an intimate piece of work, with a loose, handmade feel and the sense of an obligation fulfilled, a debt repaid with honour and gratitude. McDowell shares his memories of working with Anderson, and of the tight little community the director built around him, in which moneyed superstars of stage and screen existed on an enforced equal footing with whatever misfits, unemployed actors, mad writers and other broken-winged birds were nesting in Anderson's spare room. He recalls Anderson's (and his own) friendships with Rachel Roberts, Jill Bennett, Alan Price and Ralph Richardson, reads from Anderson's monograph, About John Ford, his cinematic idol, and, most memorably, from a lyrically aggressive letter to Alan Bates from Anderson, in which the director sort of apologises for some ancient drunken insult, even as he dismisses the entire notion of apologising.
Never Apologise is a looser companion piece to the late Gavin Lambert's beautiful memoir Mainly About Lindsay Anderson. In that book, the core sadness of Anderson's life - a tremendously gifted artist, a lacerating critic, a repressed, unhappy, celibate homosexual who may have died a virgin - is alleviated somewhat by the parallel account of Lambert's almost diametrically opposed passage in life from the same junior common room at Cheltenham College in the 1930s: contentedly out of the closet all his life, in love with exile in California, emollient rather than abrasive, happy in his skin. Never Apologise works in a different register, but again Anderson's pessimism and misanthropy are made palatable by the obvious love and admiration of an old friend.
I've brought my copy of Lambert's book along with me, and McDowell flips eagerly though the photos in search of what Anderson called "The Old Crowd", all the dead old friends.
"Look, there's Tony Page and Jocelyn Herbert - she took a lot of shit from Lindsay, and gave just as much back!" We both pause when we arrive at a famous picture of Rachel Roberts and Jill Bennett in their fur coats; doomed, gifted, insecure princesses of the London stage, both married to bastards (Rex Harrison and John Osborne respectively), both suicides.
"Gavin's thing about Lindsay," says McDowell, "was always, 'Why doesn't he just come out? Why doesn't he just get himself fucked? Lindsay needs to be buggered!' Course, he'd say it to me - but he'd never say it to Lindsay! But Gavin said Lindsay never would have made If ... if he hadn't been exactly what he was. Because he was this pent-up creature, very sardonic, and a very suppressed human being. And he had that very English thing, he hated the English, but of course, he WAS English, more English than anyone I've ever known. Lindsay could only have come out of his particular kind of pain. But you never saw this because he was very defensive, which made him laceratingly lethal. He could smell bullshit five miles away and if you tried to bullshit him, well ..." McDowell mimics a series of rapier slashes in the air, bringing Flashman and Mick Travis to mind for a moment.
If ... was finally made available on DVD last year and McDowell is ecstatic about the DVD of O Lucky Man that Warner Bros will release soon. "It's the most pristine print of it I've ever seen," he says. I never manage to ask him about it, but it must be galling for an actor as talented as McDowell to have waited this long for two of his career cornerstones to become available in his adopted country, where he is mainly renowned for A Clockwork Orange.
What were the differences between Anderson and Kubrick?
"Chalk and cheese. Kubrick was at the top of his game. I think I worked with him when he was 47, the same age Lindsay was when I did If ..., also at the height of his powers. Stanley, however, was not really a people's person; he didn't like a lot of talk about acting. Lindsay loved to talk shop: if you asked him about a role, it'd be two hours, a great discussion of history, character, framework and psychological things. But Stanley, you'd ask him something and he'd look at you, say, 'I'm not Rada,' and walk off.
"But there was something very liberating about that. At first I was very pissed off - 'You've got to be kidding!' - and then you realise he's just given you an almighty present - you can do whatever you want.
"Then, when I was back with Lindsay on O Lucky Man, I would say, 'Don't talk to me, I know what I want to do!' So the tables had turned a bit since If ..., and he had plenty to say in his diary about it. 'I'm very pissed off with Malcolm - thinks he knows it all!'
"But Kubrick could be very spontaneous, surprisingly, and I picked that up from him. Stanley at his best was at the head of a giant army, like Patton, but still he was brilliant at being able to say to suggestions, 'That's a great idea!' and telling the whole army, 'We're all going THIS way now!' And off we'd go. While with Lindsay's movies, exactly the opposite, you didn't change a word."
And did Kubrick put you through 500 takes per shot?
"No, I think that started later. I think he lost some of his confidence later, but he still had it in 1971. Stanley would have been quite happy to make a film without actors - and with the Artificial Intelligence project, he nearly did. He always thought they couldn't be relied on. He once asked me if he should send the script girl to Patrick Magee's house and go over his lines with him. I mean, this is Patrick Magee. Samuel Beckett's favourite actor! 'Not if you want a happy actor in the morning!' I said. There was a lot about actors that Stanley wasn't interested in."
"I don't think Stanley and Lindsay ever met, but if I wanted a bit of fun I would sometimes pit one against the other, for my own amusement. I'd go to Lindsay, 'I never have this problem from Kubrick, one of the world's greatest directors, and a populist director at that! Makes films that people want to see!'
"Lindsay would say, 'He's far too cynical for me,' and I'd say, 'Look who's talking! What is the difference between you and Stanley?' He'd go, 'I am a humanist. He is a satirist.' I think that is exactly the right distinction - Lindsay was always right"
|Ray Bennett-Art as a Happy Accident
The programming of Cannes Classics is completed this evening with the projection of Never Apologize: In Personal Visit With Lindsay Anderson of Mike Kaplan. With this occasion, the President of the Jury Stephen Frears, young person assisting of Lindsay Anderson on Yew, Gold 1969 Palm, made a point of saying a word to the floor of film enthusiasts present among whom appeared Quentin Tarantino: “I was very lucky to be the assistant of two large realizers like Karel Reisz and Lindsay Anderson. They unquestionably made evolve/move the British cinema. At the end of the Fifties, they started to make films on the working class, and in the case of Lindsay, with a surrealist tone. In 1968, I worked on If, and Malcolm was retained for the principal role. Lindsay was an exceptional man, with a very rebellious spirit, iconoclast, very cultivated, very intelligent, funny and ironic.
Malcolm McDowell reconsidered, as for him, the genesis of this project: “The Festival of Edinburgh asked to me whether I wanted to be present well for a retrospective on Lindsay Anderson. I answered: “I will do better than that, I will prepare a spectacle on him. ” Time passed very quickly, because I was at six weeks of the first. I then called my very dear friend Mike Kaplan with the rescue. We had tons of files. I was struck. I took pleasure with me so much replonger inside. ” And Mike Kaplan, the realizer, to conclude: “All started at the time of a dinner with Malcolm. To be present in Cannes, the temple of the cinema, it is like a fairy tale. We are very excited with the idea to be there, this Festival, a place that Lindsay adored more than very other - all its important films were presented here in preview. ”
May 23, 2007
Mike Kaplan, who now lives in Caldwell, has worked in the film business for a long time in nearly every possible role.
From writing for a trade paper right out of college, to marketing and distributing films, producing, and now directing, he has done it all .
His hand is in some of the best films of the 20th century, including Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange," (he did the marketing) Robert Altman's "The Player" (he made an appearance) and Lindsay Anderson's "The Whales of August" (he directed a scene with film legend Lillian Gish).
Now, all the threads of his life and career are converging as his latest film project heads to the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France and a large chunk of his personal collection of movie posters is on display at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
"It's amazing that this is happening," Kaplan said in a telephone interview last week from Los Angeles . He was preparing to attend a gala event, the opening at the Academy for "Presenting Barbara Stanwyck" a centennial celebration of the actress' career, featuring 70 of her film posters from Kaplan's personal collection.
He also was packing for a trip to Cannes where his documentary "Never Apologize: A Personal Visit With Lindsay Anderson," starring Malcolm McDowell, screens today at the festival.
Though the events might seem unrelated, they're uniquely connected . It's a little like a game of connect the dots.
Kaplan always had a passion for old movie posters.
"I was born with the poster gene," he said, in an accent steeped in New York, even after years of living in the West. "I used to cut out movie ads from The New York Times when I was a kid. I've designed posters and have a great respect for the art."
He designed the creepy image for the "A Clockwork Orange" poster. It was on that project that he met McDowell, who in turn introduced Kaplan to Anderson, one of England's most affecting and influential directors.
"I was really forced into directing but this has been really satisfying," Kaplan said. "Most of it was created in the editing room, which is what I like."
He started editing in Boise and finished the project in Los Angeles.
It's a film of McDowell's one-man tribute to Anderson, the director who launched McDowell's career when he cast the relatively unknown McDowell in "If ...," a scathing look at the British boys-school system in 1968.
The character of Mick Travis, a rebel with a cause, was created for McDowell, and he would play that character in two more films.
"If ..." made McDowell a star and cemented Anderson's place in cinema history and won for him the Palm D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
McDowell and Anderson shared a close working relationship and friendship up until Anderson died in 1994. In his show, McDowell explores Anderson's life with humor and wit and gives impressions of their colleagues Bette Davis, Allen Bates, Richard Harris, Laurence Olivier and others.
He used his memory and Anderson's published writings and private diaries to conceive the material.
"Most people don't realize what a gifted performer Malcolm is, and what a great mimic," Kaplan said. "All of these characters really come to life. It's an inside look at the relationship between an actor and a director and a tour-de-force all-star extravaganza."
Kaplan will arrange a screening of the film sometime in June in Boise, he said.
One could say Kaplan's love of posters drew him to the movie biz. So the fact that he creates almost as obsessively as he collects movie posters shouldn't be a surprise, although the fact he owned 70 plus Stanwyck posters was.
"I had no idea I had that many," he said.
Kaplan has a standing exhibit at Cal State Northridge. Many people in Hollywood know of his collection, including Ellen Harrington, director of exhibitions at the Academy in Los Angeles.
"I've known Mike for a long time, and when I saw the Stanwyck I just lit up because I knew we were planning this celebration of her career," Harrington said.
Both Kaplan and Harrington relish the idea of paying tribute to Stanwyck, an actress who defied the Hollywood machine, thrived in her work and rarely said no to a movie offer.
She is best-known today for her hard-riding brash western women characters in films and TV's "The Big Valley." But she also has appeared in "The Thorn Birds," "Dynasty" and even did an episode of "Charlie's Angels."
She never thought a part was beneath her, Harrington said. "She just loved to work."
It's easy to forget that she was an A-list actress with an immense range, playing racy starlettes, tough-talking broads, murderers and tender romantics. Some of her classic films were "Double Indemnity," "Stella Dallas," "Christmas in Connecticut" and "The Cattle Queen of Montana."
Stanwyck was fiercely independent, managed her own career and even did her own stunts. In "Forty Guns" she was dragged by a horse.
For Kaplan, giving the Hollywood industry another chance to see and appreciate an actor of Stanwyck's caliber is nearly as rewarding as taking his film to Cannes. Nearly.
"All in all it's been a good day," he said. "Lindsay would be smiling."
|Festival de Cannes
May 25, 2007
The Cannes Classics program continues tonight with the screening of Never Apologize: A Personal Visit with Lindsay Anderson by Mike Kaplan, which was initiated by Malcolm McDowell in homage to Lindsay Anderson. For this evening’s showing, president of the Jury, Stephen Frears – who was an assistant on the film If, which won the Palme d’Or in 1969 – was present as well as many film buffs, including Quentin Tarantino.
Stephen Frears spoke fondly of the director: “I was really quite lucky to be like an apprentice of two great directors, Karel Reisz and Lindsay Anderson. I’m really here because of them. They were two of the men who changed British cinema. In the late 50s, they started to make films about the working class, and in Lindsay’s case, surrealist films. In 1968 I worked on If, and then Malcolm got cast in it. Lindsay was the most extraordinary man and a huge rebellious person in British cinema, iconoclastic, very well educated, very clever, funny and ironic.”
“The Edinburgh Festival asked if I would be present for the retrospective of Lindsay Anderson, to be in the following year,” Malcolm McDowell explained how the project came to be. “And I said, ‘I’ll do better than that, I’ll do a show about him’…and very soon it was six weeks before the opening night. And I called my dear friend here Mike Kaplan to help out. We had all this archive stuff. I was amazed; I had so much fun going through the archives.”
“It started at Malcolm’s dining room table. To be here in Cannes, the temple of cinema, it’s really a fairy tale. We are all thrilled to be here in a place that Lindsay loved more than anyplace else – all of his major films premiered here and he was a critic here,” added Mike Kaplan, director of the film paying tribute.
April 27, 2007
|"while things look bleak (and likely to look even bleaker next year), it is fitting that Cannes is paying tribute to at least one British film-maker famous for his fiery views about the shortcomings of the UK film industry. The festival will be screening Never Apologize, a new documentary about Lindsay Anderson, one of the most waspish figures in British film history.
It can be safely predicted that, if Anderson (whose best-known film If... was a Cannes prize-winner) was still around today, he'd be urging British cinema to show more of the gumption needed to impress the Cannes selectors."
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