On Monday 6th September Jean-Paul Belmondo, icon of French Cinema, passed away. Jean-Paul, who was 88, worked with many of the top names in French Cinema: Jean-Pierre Melville, with Francois Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Claude Chabrol, Claude Lelouche, with Agnes Varda and Louis Malle. With Jean-Luc Godard, the director with whom he will always be associated.
Belmondo was much more than an actor; he was a star. His charisma and screen presence was inimitable. In the three films he made with Godard, he portrayed a petty criminal being hunted by the police (‘A Bout de Souffle’), a lovable rogue with a flair for comedy and dance (‘Une Femme est une Femme’) and an existential adventurer on the road to freedom (‘Pierrot le Feu’). With these three film alone, Belmondo became a part of Cinema history.
What are their plans for the evening ? Belmondo wants to watch a film on TV “With my friend Burt Lancaster.” He turns to the camera and smiles.
Such a scene is typical of the Nouvelle Vague, the French New Wave of Cinema that wanted to move away from studio sets and unrealistic dialogue. It was youth, energy, charm in abundance, and it was referential and respectful to Cinema and filmmaking. We hear projectors whirl, clapperboards clapping, calls for “Lights, cameras, action.” Characters were named after directors (in the above scene, Belmondo is named after the German director Ernst Lubitsch), they would turn to the camera and address the audience. Cinema was fun, it was life, “In a word ’emotion’,” and we were all invited. Fifty years later, the films retain this exuberance, this spirit, this joie de vivre.
Belomondo’s performances contribute to this magic because, for me, that is exactly what Cinema is, what it should be – pure magic.
Jean-Paul died aged 88, so at that age, death is not a tragedy. The tragedy is that he is irreplaceable. His persona was unique. So unique. For many cineastes, he is part of our cultural DNA, his work is ineffably part of our lives, which he enriched.
If you’re not familiar with Jean-Paul’s work, here’s a good place to start, some clips from fifteen of his films:
As a prelude to some blogs about my favourite Korean films, I would like to post a little tribute to one of my favourite actors, Lee Eun-ju (also known as Lee Eun-joo). The actress, who was also a talented pianist, appeared in some of my favourite Korean films of the early 2000s.
Lee Eun-ju was born in Gunsan, south-west Korea, on December 22nd 1980, and studied piano when she was at school. At sixteen, she won a modelling contest. From there, she moved into TV dramas and then movies.
One of her earliest roles was in Hong Sang-soo’s ‘Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors” (2000). This art film, shot in black & white, tells the story of how two people meet, and is told in flashbacks showing different perspectives and while some events are similar, others are very different.
The film is one of my top Korean movies. Anthony Leong writes that Lee Eun-ju “delivers the standout performance,” and her charisma is “one of the highlights,” of the film.
The following year, Lee Eun-ju appeared in the reincarnation love-story, ‘Bungee Jumping of their Own’ (2001). She plays a shy girl who falls in love, eventually, with a young man with whom she shares an umbrella during a storm. However, after planning to meet one day, she fails to appear and is never seen again. I will not spoil the film (too much) but many years later, the young man, now a teacher, meets a boy student who shares many of his old lover’s mannerisms.
The theme of boy meets girl – falls in love – one of them dies is stepped up a notch in another one of my personal favourite Korean films, ‘Lovers’ Concerto’ (2002). I even watched it (again) last night, to prepare for this blog. Lee Eun-ju shows her acting skills, as she portrays a young lady who is by turns spoilt, unreasonable, tender, loving and so fragile. With her charm and charisma, she really lights up the screen.
Unfortunately, Lee Eun-ju found her last film, The Scarlet Letter’ (2004) a very traumatic experience, along with the subsequent poor reception and backlash. The film, her family assert, caused her to fall into a deep depression, exacerbated by insomnia. On February 22 2004, Lee Eun-ju took her own life. She was only twenty-four.
How heartbreaking that someone with so much to offer should be so unhappy. How heartbreaking to think of all the films she could have made. How amazing that an actress with just thirteen film credits should be in two of my absolute favourites.
Thank you so much … miss you so much
매우 감사합니다 ... 당신이 너무 그리워
Lee Eun-ju 1980 – 2004
Leong, Anthony C.Y. ‘Korean Cinema: The New Hong Kong’ (2002) Trafford
Unfortunately, we have to say goodbye to another beloved musician. Last Tuesday Charlie Watts drummer with the Rolling Stones passed away in London.
I was lucky enough to see the Stones twice, in football grounds (Wembley in London, and in Copenhagen), but I also saw Charlie in a much smaller London theatre where he performed a tribute to Jazz legend Charlie Parker. Apart from being a Rock ‘n’ Roll legend, Charlie was a Jazz lover, and played with small groups and big bands.
Stones guitarist Keith Richards posted this image:
One of the best Sundays I ever experienced was in Nashville, Tennessee. A friend and I were on a road trip, and we had driven up from Atlanta, on route to Memphis, New Orleans and the wide open road.
Sundays in London in the late 80s and early 90s were dire; shops were closed, no football and people were either hungover or dreading the grim imminent Monday morning feeling.
Yet here were were, downtown Nashville, wearing shirt sleeves, sitting on a porch outside a store, sun shining, just passin’ the time and chewin’ the fat. Along comes a fine Southern gentleman, tips his hat to us, smiles and says, “Howdy.” Later, mid afternoon, we popped into a small bar, took an ice-cold beer and began talking with a local. Suddenly he excused himself as it was his turn to take the stage and play, and he dedicated a song to his, “Two new friends all the way from England.” The rest of the bar looked over, clapped and smiled.
London, some months later. It’s autumn, I’m living in a claustrophobic bedsit in the East End of London. The couple in the next room were constantly, and loudly, fighting. The house next door had a burglar alarm that frequently went off in the early hours, and I was working, six days a week, in an unspeakable low-paid job. And it was cold, wet and miserable.
I desperately needed to rekindle my USA vibe. ‘Twin Peaks’ was just starting on TV, but the high-rise council tower blocks made the reception almost unwatchable. Luckily, serendipitously, when I was at the library, going through the small music section (we were allowed to take out two items, price 20p each, 30p for a double cassette or LP) I saw a small black cassette tape by Nanci Griffith. It was the live recording, ‘One Fair Summer Evening’ (1988). Life suddenly became a whole lot better.
I knew very little about her, though I was vaguely aware as I had briefly worked in a record shop and we stocked her most recent LP, ‘Storms’ (1989). Now I was hooked, the intimate warm way Nanci introduces the songs, each one being a self-contained short story. Farmers barely surviving the dust-bowl years, lovers going through relationship troubles, or people just wanting to forget their troubles and take a ‘spin on a red brick floor’.
One of the standout tracks on the live tape was ‘Love at the Five and Dime’ which was on the ‘Last of the True Believers’ LP (1986). Appropriately enough, I picked up the cassette from my local Woolworth’s store in the Leytonstone High Road.
A year or two later, and Nanci came to London, performing at the Albert Hall. As she remarked during the concert, she’d come a long way from playing small clubs in Austin, Texas to this iconic venue in London.
I moved to Berlin in the mid 90s, and stayed with a friend who only had a few cassettes, but one of them was the Grammy-winning ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms’ (1993). He later formed a band and they covered ‘Spin on a Red Brick Floor’. We only had the live version to listen to, and we played it over and over, trying to get the lyrics. Some of them were impenetrable, and my friend just made noises and nonsensical sounds.
On a visit to London, I managed to pick up some second-hand LPs, including ‘Once in a Very Blue Moon’ (1984) which had a lyric sheet and I was therefore able to tell my buddy that he should be singing:
“Honey, here’s to you, sleep tight,” not “And a hoochey, coochey coo,” and:
“That hot Houston neon buzzing,” not “ahahahahahahaha hahah.”
Another LP I found, and probably my favourite cover, is ‘Lone Star State of Mind’ (1987).
So now, here’s two songs I’d be honoured to recommend (unfortunately I’m not able to post links to YouTube here).
The first is an album track from the ‘Lone Star’ LP, called ‘Beacon Street’.
The second is a live version of ‘Love at the Five and Dime’.
Last Monday, and with great sadness, my friend Pete texted me that our former bandmate, Lee Scott Revelle, had passed away the previous day, Sunday 1st August.
Lee had been hospitalised for a short time with an acute illness. His final Facebook update stated that the doctors were approaching the point when they were running out of options. The next posting was from his family, announcing Lee’s passing.
Lee and I met over our love of the 80s band Echo & the Bunnymen, and we formed a band together, bringing in my buddy Pete on bass. We only wrote a handful of songs, made one demo and played one gig, way out in Essex (east of London) in a sports pavillion. We earnt £1 … split four ways … minus mini cab fare and beers. Not a financial or artistic success, but an experience.
That band didn’t last long, but Lee continued to play, write and perform.
Pete, who’s also still making music, has an online radio show, and he’s dedicated this week’s one to Lee. Listen to it here:
Over twenty years ago I read ‘The Painted Bird’, by the Polish-born author Jerzy Kosinski and, as I was reading it, I knew the images, the emotional impact, would be indelible. Last night, I watched the 2019 film version, and now I hope this blog introduces the work to a new audience.
The book cover succinctly simmarises the tale. The setting is an unspecified area of eastern Europe during World War II. The Nazis are invading, bringing with them their ideology of racial superiority. The Communists are pushing back from the east, while brigands of bandits are attacking hamlets. Destruction, torture and violence. Mankind without the humanity, a return or regression to barbarity. There is – almost – no right or wrong, merely who is the strongest.
The film opens with a boy, Joska, running through some woods, clutching a pet stoat. We can tell he is being chased, although we do not see by whom. Inevitably, he is out-run and out-numbered and Joska is beaten by boys his own age, who take the animal. This is war time, maybe the animal will serve as food for starving villagers … but, no … the animal is gruesomely tortured. This scene encapsulates the theme: brutal violence for the sake of brutal violence. This is the world Joska was born into. No compassion, no empathy, no mercy; kill or be killed.
The Nazis, foreshadowed early in the film by a solitary plane observed by Joska, are just one of many threats. This world, this mid-C20th Europe, is dominated by ignorance, superstition and cruelty, it is the Bible of the Old Testament, animated by Bruegel and Bosch.
Already we have seen boys, children, symbols of innocence and purity, torturing for pleasure. Joska moves from place to place, at the mercy of adults, and cannot comprehend the brutality that is done to him or in his presence. He witnesses a miller, obsessively jealous of his young wife, rip the eyes out of a young apprentice because he dared look at the mistress. While the miller is beating his wife, Joska runs away, looking for the apprentice. The boy tries to help by giving the apprentice some round objects to replace his eyes, then continues his flight realising he has, inadvertently, caused more pain.
Each act of violence serves as an allegory of that world. Blindness, not knowing, not wanting to know. Genocide victims are numbered in hundreds of thousands, in millions. Such figures are beyond our comprehension, so the power of the story comes from seeing evil on an individual level. We become desensitised viewing death en masse. Watching a solitary act of brutality has a far more powerful effect. We feel the victim’s pain and fear, we abhor the evil personified by small groups of people. People who look the same as us.
The title is taken from an episode in which a seemingly pleasant older man collects small birds. He derives pleasure from painting one, then releasing it into the flock. The other birds sense something different and begin attacking. Just one of many incidents of cruelty, but a suitable metaphor, that justifies its prominence.
However, there are some glimpses of hope. A Nazi, expected to kill Joska because he is Jewish, allows him to run away, instead firing two shots into the air. Later a Russian sniper takes to Joska, protecting him. When four Russian soldiers are attacked by locals, the sniper calmly goes to the village and with a long-range rifle, kills four people. He teaches Joska the, “Eye for an eye,” policy.
Read as an allegory, we see all vices and perversions, the depravity that humans can sink to. Yet we also, fleetingly, see hope, warmth, friendship and compassion. We see how insidious intolerance and prejudice can be and what evils it can inspire.
‘The Painted Bird’ is intense in the extreme. For me, it is an unforgettable experience.
A sign of a truly great film is how repeated viewings offer different and deeper perspectives. One such film is ‘Maborosi’ (1995) by Hirakazu Kore-eda.
Makiko Esumi’s performance is stunning. Her minimal movements convey the inner anguish, confusion and helplessness. Life, so tentative, has to continue. Peace comes not from knowing but from accepting that one will never know.
After several viewings, I still want to watch the film again … and again. I will write a blog about the film in the near future. In the meantime, here is a brief photo introduction to the lead actress, a former model.
Makiko is better known for her TV work but for me, she is the soul of this beautiful, delicate film.
Russell and I met many years ago in London, when he was an aspiring actor. His career, in this notoriously fickle business, is really taking off but I’ll let Russell present himself, and share his journey.
Hi Russell. How’s it going ?
It’s a good day actually because I’ve just been cast in this feature film called ‘Witch’. I’m one of the leads. It’s probably going to the biggest movie that I’ve been in. We start shooting in the first two weeks of October, so that is very, very exciting.
Could you describe your hometown
I’m from Halifax in West Yorkshire. It’s a lovely place in the valleys, surrounded by countryside. Halifax is a small town near Leeds and Huddersfield, and about thirty miles from Manchester. It’s got a lovely place called the Peace Hall which is incredible … but the football team’s not doing too well.
At what point did you decide that you had to be an actor ?
There was no deciding. I was working as a welder at the time, doing sixty hours in a factory and I used to go home at Christmas to be with my mum and my sister and my brother. I was also going out with this girl who lived in London. I think her life, and being around her university friends, influenced me, how she was doing what she wanted to do.
I really struggled. At Christmas I would speak to my mum and ask, ‘What do I want to do ? I don’t want to do what I do anymore’. And she just said, ‘What did you like to do at school ?’ I mentioned acting, so we decided that I would get into performing arts, do a course in acting, just to find out what I wanted.
I did a two-year diploma at Arden school of acting in Manchester, and I ended up with six distinctions. I got in at Leicester and did four years in Performing Arts. I got a BA (Hons), ended up with a 2:2 for my dissertation.
For me, the real acting, the real work starts when you’re not in that bubble anymore, when you’re just out there, getting the experience, getting your showreel together, getting an Equity card, getting headshots. Getting your first professional credit. Finding out what you want to do; is it film, is it TV, is it musicals, is it theatre, is it commercials ? Is it music videos, murder mysteries ? I did them all !
There was a lot involved and I struggled a lot when I first started getting into acting, I was seeing a counsellor, one-to-one sessions, and I continued to do a lot of work by myself. I work on myself all the time, reading books. I’m a graduate in ‘More to Life’, I’m a graduate in ‘Landmark Worldwide’ which is all about how language creates your world and how the mind can run your life.
So, it’s not just a case of changing your career, it’s not easy. But I did it and I don’t give myself enough credit and I’m aware of that.
What were your influences ?
My mum and my sister. They said do what you want to do, what makes you happy. I had two cars and a motorbike when I was twenty-one but it wasn’t about the money, it was about what made me happy.
Do you have any advice for people wanting to work in the Arts ?
Believe in yourself and be aware there’s lots of negativity out there as well as positivity, and for people that haven’t had much success, it’s very easy for them to say that it’s really tough out there, and it’s this and it’s that. But if you listen to that, then you’re taking on their journey, not your own journey. For me, everybody’s journey is different, no matter where you are in life, in your career.
Be strong, always keep thinking outside the box. Develop your skill sets, keep getting the experience. Keep saying yes to opportunities and never stop learning. You’ll be learning for the rest of your life, there’s always something new to learn.
As an artist, one is inevitably going to face disappointment. How do you deal with this ?
One of the things I do, which fits into the Landmark Worldwide, is when you have a disappointment rather than say, ‘It’s me, I’m not good enough,’ what I say is that I wasn’t right for that particular part … but there will be a part that I am right for.
Always be amiable, go into everything with an open mind, like you’re learning for the first time. Don’t assume that you know everything.
Where can my readers see you ?
I have my own website, I’m on Spotlight, IMDb, Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I’m also on YouTube, so I’m everywhere, really.
I also did an eight-part TV series for TV called ‘Unexplained: Caught on Camera’, which was incredible. Look out for a monologue called ‘Borys the Rottweiler’ on Sky Arts, in which I play a dog.
Additionally, you can also see me in the Arctic Monkey Video, ‘When the Sun Goes Down – Scummy Man’.
The biggest things have been ‘Adventure Boyz’ & ‘The Lockdown Hauntings’ but the biggest thing is going to be ‘Witch’.
I’ve done loads of radio and commercials including one for Halifax Banking, which is on TV still.
What does the future hold ? Any exciting news ?
Yes, I’ve just been cast for a commercial. It’s on hold for TV and cinema but, I’ve been told, it’s going to be out on the 14th July. It’s a commercial for National Rail, and I play a father who wants to take a shortcut home to be with his wife and child. I walk across a rail track … and get zapped ! It’s basically National Rail safety. My wife is played by Miranda Nolan, Christopher Nolan’s (‘Dunkirk’, ‘Inception’, ‘Batman Begins’) cousin, so I’m looking forward to that.
The exciting news for me is that ‘The Lockdown Hauntings’ is actually being shown in Singapore, right at this very moment, at the Shaw Theatre, which is really beautiful. I’m thinking it’s going to have an American release soon.
The other big thing for me, just confirmed yesterday, is that I’ve been confirmed as one of the leads in ‘Witch’, directed by Marc Zammit and written by Craig Hines.
The film will be coming out in 2022, and it’s getting a lot of exposure. Marc Zammit is connected with Universal, Lionsgate and Paramount, so it’s definitely going to be the biggest movie that I’ve been involved in. I play a character called Thomas. It’s a 16th Century supernatural horror film.
I’m also doing a Radio 4 play next week as well as a voice-over for Medtronic which will be heard all over Europe. I seem to be doing a lot of feature films. This year I’ve got ‘Six Years Gone’ in which I play a detective. That’s coming out end of September. I’m also in another film, a black comedy called ‘Psycho List’, and I’m also in a short film which we’re shooting next week.
So, that just about wraps it up. Believe in your dreams, believe in your own path. Stay away from any negativity. More than anything, believe in yourself.
I have been lucky enough to know and even work with some actors who have gone on to far greater things. Today I would like to introduce my buddy Russell Shaw with whom I made a short film in Berlin, way back in 2005.
Since then, Russell has kept following his dream and has been in music videos, adverts and some full-length films, the latest of which is ‘The Lockdown Hauntings’ set in present day UK, where people have been living under strict lockdown regulations.
I wrote a short piece for IMDb but it didn’t appear on their site. Undeterred, I’ll repost it here with my usual disclaimer …
Summary: An allegory of fear and helplessness
DISCLOSURE: I’m a friend of a cast member, so I must recuse myself from giving a rating and instead, I’ll submit a brief interpretation.
“Fear is something horrible, an atrocious sensation, a sort of decomposition of the soul,” (Guy de Maupassant, ‘Le Peur’ 1882).
A bustling, vibrant metropolis, eerily, unnervingly quiet; these are the opening images that lead us into the surreal paranoid world of London and the UK under Lockdown. We are introduced to the characters who fear for loved ones, for their lives, for their uncertain futures. All they know is that they have no control or power over unseen and unforeseeable events.
Against this background, a serial killer has emerged, elusive in the extreme; not only are they no signs of break-ins, there are no forensic clues at all. To compound the mystery, the detective assigned to the case is herself under quarantine, waiting for test results to see if she is infected.
The unknown unseen killer could represent COVID and how easily it can be transmitted. We sense the alienation and impotence of the characters, lacking the support of friends, family and institutions. Everyone is alone and vulnerable and the deaths are the personification of extreme paranoia in extreme circumstances. We are not scared of what we know, but of what we don’t know.
‘The Lockdown Hauntings’ is a valuable source for how people lived and felt in the early 2020s as even at time of writing, we don’t know if the vaccines work (solve the case) or if new mutant variants will arise …
I’m sure Russell would be over the moon if you watched the movie and left your own comments, thoughts and reviews.
If by any chance you wish to see the film I made with Russell, that film, ‘Bad Faith,’ may be viewed here: