Archive for December, 2008

Sunday 30th November 2008

December 10, 2008

Sunday 30th November

Derek has been nominated for an awards ceremony that I’ve never heard of. Arriving at the old Fish Market at Billingsgate. I’m surprised by the amount of bling involved. Following the money I discover that this grotesque event has been funded by the Film Council –buying themselves a celebrity led story in the next day’s newspaper that they can show their ministers and all congratulate themselves that there is a British Film Industry. John Woodward who destroyed the British Film Institute ten years ago (sacking me in the process) gives the speech of welcome. The ten years haven’t been kind to him – he looks like a man who knows he can’t get another job and will have to go down with his ship. His nasty little speech goes on about Britishness in a way that would delight the BNP.
The UKFilm Council is a typical New Labour quango – hatched in secrecy and cronyism it has no basis either in statute or political debate. Rumour has it that Chris Smith was wined and dined on the Polygram Jet; what is certain is that his Polygram pals Alan Parker and Stuart Till were given a brand new institution with more lavish funding than any previous film regime. Chris Smith, Alan Parker, and indeed the PolyGram Jet, have gone the way of all flesh but John Woodward, their appointment remains, a cultural Pol Pot presiding over an economic desert of his own creation. His only success is setting financial records for the quangocracy. The last published accounts for the UK Film Council show that no fewer than 7 executives are earning more than a Cabinet Minister’s 130,000 a year . These figures bear no comparison to salaries in the industry itself. The Head of Development is on a cool 160,000 a year (at least three time the industry norm). And where does this money come from? Well Lottery regulations forbid its money to be used for overheads so the Film Council has devised a method of investing Lottery money in commercial films that would be made anyway and then using the revenue to fund the excessive salaries. In everyday language this is called money laundering.
Perhaps this public sector largesse could be justified if there were a burst of original and crowd pleasing movies. No such luck. If you compare the UKFilmCouncil with its modest predecessors – British Screen and the British Film Institute Production Board – then on any value for money criteria the UKFilmCouncil is a miserable failure. It is true that there were two great British films at Cannes this year Terence Davies’s Of Time and the City and Steve McQueen’s Hunger. But neither of these had anything to do with the Film Council. Indeed Davies, universally acknowledged as one of our great directors, had not worked for nearly a decade as the UKFilmCouncil had turned down one after another of his projects. Indeed the Film Council’s funding of these awards seems merely part of their remorseless attempt to hide their substantial failures by stamping their logo everywhere. There are touching moments in the awards as when Sean Bobbitt, the cinematographer for Hunger says how much he learned from McQueen. However, all I can see is a microcosm of the disaster Brown has made of the British economy. I leave early.


Friday November 28th 2008

December 10, 2008

Friday 28th November

In February I will have been alive for 60 years. Well over the mean for the species. Of course, in this age of compulsory youth, everybody tells you how young they feel and it is true that the thin subjective streak knows no time – that the old man that steps onto the Central Line at Liverpool Street has no distance at all from the 7 year old boy who took the tube to Ealing Broadway from Chancery Lane. But as dawn rises and I travel on it is difficult not to feel old. When I first went to Geneva in January 1967 I knew every twist and turn of London’s underground to the north and west. Now I wander through strange stations like Stratford making unexpected connections to the Jubilee Line and then changing again at Canning Town for the equally recent pleasure of the Docklands Light Railway. I arrive at the City Airport (where we were one of the first to film in Melancolia (1988) quicker than if I had taken a taxi. However, contemplating all that capital and labour expended in my adult lifetime has the monkey of age feeling heavy on my back.
I read Bazin on the plane, the great Bazin who we mocked in our youth as a theoretically naïve empiricist, the idiot of the family. But we were the idiots for Bazin’s elegant writing conjugated the variables of film-making – industry, art, technology with a depth and sophistication that our own analyses desperately needed. But my mind is not on Bazin, it is racing and angry. Every time I think I have achieved Stoic wisdom and that the venal mendacious and corrupt politicians of New Labour are incapable of disturbing my equanimity, some new outrage destroys my inner enlightenment to render me an eye-bulging spittle flecked angry old man. The police have raided the House of Commons and detained an MP for 9 hours. It is impossible to believe this. So desperate have these third rate spinners become that in the attempt to snuff out tomorrow’s gossip column they have sent the physical force of the state into the heart of the legislature.
My mind is calmed in Geneva by the efficiency of the train station at the airport (more new capital and labour) and the familiarity of the central station Cornavin in whose forecourt Le Petit Soldat first saw the heart stoppingly beautiful Anna Karina. Geneva seems a little less prosperous than the one I have fixed in my mind, but this may simply mean that there not as many cafes serving Swiss wine, what I’m looking for, as there once were. But I find one and after ordering two decilitres (another pleasure of the Swiss café – you can drink exactly the amount you require). I phone Denis MacShane ( MP for Rotherham schoolfriend) – some badinage about having heard the fendant at midnight and then I learn that the whole affair is even more sinister as the contemptible Speaker is now quite obviously a creature of the government.
Pleasant lunch with pleasant young researchers at the University of Geneva, Patrizia Lombardo ( Professor of French at Geneva, colleague at Pittsburgh 1987-1994) has organised a typically elegant session. It is a great relief to talk with students and Faculty who assume that film and literature are interrelated.
The next morning I’m at the airport in good time. In enough time to send a postcard to Godard congratulating him on the title of his new film, which I’d learnt the day before was Socialism. It is remarkable that as capitalism visibly founders and founders in the way that Marx predicted, there is no voice in the developed world raised for socialism. Godard, as always is ahead of the curve. Later I sit gazing at the Jura mountains where I lived 41 years ago and have an airport moment. Luckily it is brief and the Paddington Express (more capital, more labour) whisks me home for lunch.