Taking Care of Business: Act Three

25th April 2021

Nicholas Young (Elvis) & Martin O’Shea (the Colonel). Original Berlin cast

ACT THREE

     Elvis appears. He goes over to the TV’s and repeats his movements from Act One, but without any enthusiasm. Finally, he goes to a chair and slumps down. On a table he sees an old pizza box, with some left-overs. He picks one piece and eats, but mechanically, his jaws moving in a uniform rhythm, also without enthusiasm or pleasure. There is more debris in the room and rubbish on the floor. After his food, Elvis just sits staring vacantly into space.

     Enter Colonel, slowly, with a sideways glance, a look of pity and confusion rather than disgust.    

Col: Well, I’m still here. I was re-instated in my post. For the sake of peace and quiet, I apologised and promised not to do it again, a promise I have every intention of keeping, I might add … my back was aching for days afterwards. I left my girlfriend or at least tried to … she wanted to break up with me. Something about me not being so much fun anymore, no sense of adventure. Work’s the same. I no longer bother to speak about what’s going on in my life … I merely listen to others drone on. I’ve developed a whole series of gestures and non-committal phrases like these …

(demonstrates various movements of head and body to match his words)

You don’t say; no, really ? Well, whatdoyaknow ? How do YOU feel about that ? What do YOU want to happen …Thanks for coming, hope to see you again, real soon … When I come home … it’s this. The work has dried up and so has he. No-one seems to want an Elvis, anymore. I felt in some way responsible for his depression. I tried to cheer him up by doing things like this …

(to Elvis)

Hey, Elvis, I put some flyers around town and some adds in papers, how about leaving Graceland for a while and going back on the road ? You know your public needs you.

(addresses audience)

we got a little response … we were put on a short list for a walk-on part in a TV add … Elvis likes TV, but they chose to go with a George Michael look- a-like in the end.

Elv: Won’t they get a surprise when they go to the can !

Col: Right ! Who needs it ? Walk-on parts ! Opening shops selling any old tack.

Elv: You know, I think you’re right there, boy. I shouldn’t be limiting myself to small commerce. I have a higher calling. Doggone right, you know, I’ve got it, I know what I have to do … call the Limo, Colonel, we’re off to … the Reichtstag ! (1)

Col: Say what ?

Elv: Yeah, I’m gonna offer my services to the state, hell knows they could use them. What do those politicians know about real life ? C’mon let’s go see ol’ man … er, who’s the big boss man, these days ? Is that big mother still there ? (2)

Col: No, there’s a new kid on the block. And that kid’s a woman.

Elv: Hilary ? Man, she’s cute. Love that hair-band thing.

Col: No, not Hilary. Not cute, either.

Elv: But a woman ?

Col: More or less. Give or take, though you’d probably want to take more than give. Name’s Merkel.

Elv: “Urkel” ? Oh, well, I be damned if I’ll go then. Wait till they get a President worth clambaking … can’t have a man like me wasting photo-ops with a two-bit cow-faced in-bred hillbilly.

Col: (To audience) Then I had an idea and bear in mind that I’m getting increasingly desperate. This is something I tried a few weeks back.

(To Elvis)

Hey, Elvis, Paul McCartney’s outside, he wants so much to meet you. Can you find the time to give him an audience ?

(A mere nod from Elvis. Colonel goes off stage and returns presently, dressed as a Beatle, dark suit and Beatle wig. Throughout, he speaks with an exaggerated Liverpool accent.)

Col: All right there, Mister Presley, honour to meet ya, like, it really is, fab, gear and groovy. Me and the lads got all your records, we really love you, we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you, like every time we write a song, we think, “how would it sound if Elvis sang it ?”

Elv: Better.

Col: Hey, you could be right there, Cock.

Elv: Bet your arse I’m right.

Col: So, which one of us is your favorite … everyone has a favorite Beatle ? Is it me ?

Elv: None of you.

Col: Oh, ‘ey, ain’t you a one, hey, a right Bobby Dazzler. Is it me ? It’s normally me. All the girls like me.

Elv: Boy, you sure as hell look like a girl. Whoa … I like the drummer … Bongo. He’s all right. ‘Course, he’s not the best drummer in the world.

Col: “In the world” ? He’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles. Ta-da ! An oldie but goldie. But can I ask you, where does your talent come from. People ask me all the time to …

Elv: Stop talking ?

Col: Oh, you do like a laugh, oh, ‘ey, fab, like, gear, WWHHHHOOOOOHHHHHHHHH

Elv : No, boy, I mean … stop talking ! You can get a signed photo on your way out. It’s my time to commune with the higher power now. An’ if you wanna know where my gift comes from, well, I suggest you get your skinny, white arse down to the local Baptist church. Randy Scouse git !

Col:

(To audience, as he removes his Beatle garb)

I gave it my best shot, what do you expect ? It got to the point where I was past caring, I thought I’d just let him rot, what’s it to me ? If he couldn’t pay his rent, I’d sling his fat arse out of the joint. ‘Course, I might need some help, someone with a JCB, maybe, but then … something happened. I was at work, drying glasses, when this guy comes in. He orders a beer and we strike up a conversation, you know, I’m thinking about the tips, well, this guy, he’s talking about his house and he’s got some light switch, which, I dunno, either it worked, or only sometimes, doesn’t matter … this guy’s talking to me … about light switches ! I don’t know the guy and he’s not drunk, he just goes on and on and on, he presses the switch one way, on comes the light, then when he tries it the opposite way, the light stays on, that kinda thing … and I’m LISTENING TO HIM ! I’m trying to follow him, see where he’s going with this … then it struck me … OK, the Ku’Damm (3) is hardly the road to Damascus, but this night, could I honestly say that my flatmate was any crazier than this guy, Mr Off-Switch ? Or any of the others in that sad and sorry place ? The guy playing video games all day long ? The girl who puts all her hope in computer-dating ? Anyone who’s ever gone to a Karaoke bar ? Maybe he had the answer … he felt that his life simply wasn’t good enough so he did something about it … little extreme for some tastes, I grant you, but … he did something. He was happy … was … so who was I to judge ? He made people laugh and, for a time, forget their own lives, their own problems. You know, I think people envied him. Really. He had the balls to be what they wanted to be. HE’S NOT ELVIS … he knows that. Did I have any better solutions, any answers, any … thing ? The next day, a letter arrived which gave me an idea. It was actually a bill for 46 Euro that’s 45 for the pizza and 1 for the stamp. I phoned and put a little proposition to them. They could have Elvis eat there every night for a week. I got him a booking …                   

Elv: What’s that you say, boy ?

Col: Elvis, you listen and listen good. 

(Speaks in a heavy, Southern accent)

I’m an old army man and I’m used to discipline. Now I’ve been good to you, almost too good, lettin’ you enjoy the fruits of your labour, an’ all. But heavens to Murgatroyd, they want you ! Your public’s crying out … they’ll be banging on the doors… Elvis, you’ve got to throw a little bone once in a while. I’ve got you booked into a week’s residency and by golly, you’re gonna do it.

Elv: A gig ?

Col: You betcha a gig.

Elv: Enough to keep us here, safe in Graceland ?

Col: More pizza than even you can imagine … but ya gotta get back into shape, son, back into motion.

Elv: Yeah, I have to … warm up a bit, that’s all. Why I can hear the crowd now … faint but expectant … murmuring. I can feel the excitement mounting … the lights, the make-up people running around, the choir doing their scales, musicians tuning. I gather my children around me for a little prayer, the audience getting louder and louder, sweat beginning to pour. I’m calm, gotta keep my people under control, but my heart’s pounding. I owe so much. People living their humble, God-fearing lives, have this one night to get a taste of, a glimpse of … something … higher. They need me … they need me to show them the way, to give them hope, belief, happiness … they need my love … they deserve … my love.

(Colonel slowly exits during Elvis’ speech. As Elvis reaches the end, ‘If I Can Dream’ comes on so that he can go immediately into his routine. He mimes along to the entire song. There should be no parody in the performance. Elvis can give out towels or flowers to women and as the music ends, the play finishes and lights go down.)

Notes

(1) Reichtstag – the German Parliament building.

(2) A reference to former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl

(3) Ku’Damm the main shopping road in west Berlin

Takin’ Care of Business: Act Two

24th April 2021

No photo description available.
Nicholas Young as ‘Elvis,’ with Jason Daly
No photo description available.

ACT TWO

It is seventeen weeks later. The room is even more tacky, with junk food wrappers and various Americana and kitsch items strewn around. As the Act begins, both are sitting on the chairs. Colonel tries to read but is put off by noises and mumblings coming from Elvis. He stares at Elvis, who seems oblivious. After some moments of silence :

Col: So then … what’s your favourite Elvis song ?

(slight pause)

Elv: All of them.

(slight pause)

Col: What’s your schedule this week ? I said …oh, what’s the use ? Think I’ll go and see Cordelia.

Elv: (suddenly appearing animated ) Oh yeah, the little lady. You take good care of that sweet lil’ bundle of honey – loving.

Col: What would you suggest ? Man of your experience.

Elv: (deep in thought) Uh … women. Boy. Whewww.

(Elvis doesn’t seems as if he’s going to add anymore.)

Col: Thank you, that was very helpful.

Elv: Shoes.

Col: Excuse me ?

Elv: Yeah, shoes. They love shoes. Buying shoes, trying  shoes, choosing shoes, they never wear them. Then take them out. A show, something that women like.

Col: Such as ?

Elv: That play they’re all clucking about … what’s it called ? Something … The Monotonous Vagina, that’s it.

Col: OK. Actually, I’m gonna break up with her. I don’t think it’s working out.

Elv: Attaboy ! Send her back to the farmyard where she belongs. Then when you come back we’ll go cruising on beaver patrol. I’ll show you why they call me ‘The Pelvis’. This rooster’s gonna rustle a few feathers, t’nite !

(He gets up and rubs his back, making slight moaning sounds)

Hold that thought, boy, not sure the King’s back could take it. Couldn’t you just pick up a pair of cuteys ? Use my name. That’ll work.

Col: Well I wasn’t planning on going down Hackershe Mackt (1) way. Listen, why don’t you use those phone numbers … satisfaction guaranteed, all for local rates.

Elv: And they’ll come here ?

Col: No !

Elv: Then …. ?

Col: You know … you know.

Elv: Yeah … what ? I dunno … what ? Oh….OH ! No, listen, I’ve been meaning to have a little chat with you … now seems a good time, what with you breaking up with Corolla.

Col: Cordelia.

Elv: See ! There you go, again. You always have to disagree with me … anything for an argument. When I think of what I gave, what I give to you, shucks, I don’t like to say, but doggone it, people would be falling over themselves to have your job. I don’t ask much, I’m just a simple country boy at heart, don’t let these luxury surroundings tell you otherwise. You have to admit, your work isn’t backbreaking, twenty-four hour a day hard manual labor. Hell, boy, it ain’t hardly work at all. I thought you liked looking after me … me who, well, me who gives so much pleasure to millions … don’t you think …

Col: Whoa, there, Tiger, time-out, time bloody out ! Enough is enough … what was the first record you bought ? What were the names of your pets  ? What’s the ingredients of your favorite peanut-butter and banana sandwich ? I have to say that your knowledge of trivia is disarmingly poor. I’m ashamed of you ! What happened last week ? Opening that dry cleaners ?                     

Elv: “Star Cleaners … feel like a star.”

Col: And that little kid comes up, asking where you were born… and you said “Dortmund”.

Elv: Well it was that Monroe look-a-like … she put me off … I couldn’t concentrate.

Col: So you may have been looking at the stars, but your mind was in the gutter.

Elv: Hey, there’ s a pal, get her number could you ? Tell her I’ve got a seven year itch she’s welcome to scratch. You know, I didn’t like the way Charlie Chaplin was looking at her. No values that man. Ah, she’s too old for him. He liked them young, barely out of their school uniforms …

Col: It’s no good knowing trivia about others … why don’t you read up ?

Elv: Why don’t you shut up, boy ? You can’t speak to me like that ! I made you what you are ! I took you out of that bar and gave you a firm foundation in life, set you up, away from that bedrock of sin and vice and nurtured you in an atmosphere of warmth and love and spiritual guidance. Now ! Get me Monroe’s number … I can’t get her tits out of my mind !

(Elvis gets up and prances around, fiddling with the TV’s, looking restless and generally lost as Colonel speaks. Halfway through the monologue, he sits down)

Col: I don’t know what to do with him. It was a joke at first, went on a bit long, but there was a line. As you can see, said line has been crossed, yes sir, and the truck is gonna keep on a-truckin’. He now refuses to believe that he’s not Elvis. He sits around all day, in the costume, same costume, watching TV’s, eatin’ junk and shouting out, “My boy, my boy.” Maybe it’s like a sleepwalker, you know, you’re not supposed to wake them. Imagine the shock he’d get when he realizes that he thought he was Elvis all these months. On the other hand, what if Elvis, his Elvis that is, suddenly realizes that’s he’s not who he thought he was, but he’s actually a bloke from Dortmund. You see where I’m going with this ? There’s one for the deconstructionists in the audience. Oh, I still work in that bar, for the time being. The boss told me to stop speaking to the customers about living with an Elvis impersonator. Apparently it’s depressing them and I have to survive on the tips. But why do all Elvis impersonators have to choose the 70’s Elvis ? Surely, if you’re gonna impersonate someone, you’d want to capture them at their best ? Why does no-one go with … the … ahhh … I have an idea. I won’t lie to you…it’s not without risk. There is, as you see, no safety net. Anything can happen and I cannot be held responsible. But I think it’s the only choice. You have been warned !

 (Exit)

Elv: Where you off to, boy ? Too ashamed by your behavior ? Well, I don’t hold grudges. You’ll be out of the ol’ doghouse soon and we’ll carry on as …

(Opening melody of ‘Are you lonesome tonight’ is heard, played by a toy xylophone. Elvis looks down at the landline phone and picks it up, slowly, with trepidation.)

Ahhhh … er, yeah, what, say, hello ? Yes, you are speaking to … The King … yes, say what, boy ? Burger Bar ? Yeah, I think it’s my God-given duty to open your Burger Bar … I’m a great patron of the arts. My fee …? er, well, hold the line … Colonel … COLONEL … Colonel ? Ah, heck, right, I’ll take 40,000 dollars cash and a bucket of burgers for the … hello ? Hello ? Damn Yankees ! Where’s the Colonel ? How dare he leave me before I sacked him. Kick his arse for sure. Skinny runt. Thinks he can talk like that to me … me ! The King …THE KING ! 

(attempts some moves but has to stop and rub his back)

Ohh, maybe it’s time I eased into my ballad period. Get the Colonel to hire some doo-wop backing chicks … short skirts, religious like. Oh, the …What in tarnation … ?

(The Colonel appears dressed in tight jeans with quiffed hair and carrying a guitar around his neck. He goes into a routine, singing and playing ‘Hound Dog’. The routine should start off quite serious and impressive until Colonel gets self conscious or loses his confidence and it becomes more of a parody. During this performance, Elvis gets increasingly irritated. First he is perplexed, then offended and finally angry. He tries to obstruct the Colonel, who is too nimble and quick. For the first time Elvis appears at least aware that there is an audience, as he tries to block the view and stop them seeing the ‘upstart’. Colonel then exits, singing and playing as he leaves. He gives one final turn and performs a series of pelvic-thrusts, then blows kisses. Elvis remains standing, breathing hard and heavy and mumbling to himself, though a few words may be intoned clearly. He seems to come to, breathes more calmly, then storms off stage. There are muffled sounds of Elvis screaming and cursing then some banging and thumping. Elvis reappears, dragging Colonel by the ear.)

Elv: I have never … never …

Col: (A la Gilbert & Sullivan) What never ? Or hardly ever ? Arrgghhh !

Elv: Ever seen such a hootenannying display of vulgarity. Boy ! My stomach is a turning over. I’m sick, sick, that a man could … and me … and … and… there’s nothing else for it. I’ve been carrying you for too long and this is how you say thank you, King. To think I was ever you ! The army didn’t come a moment too soon, doing my duty to God, serving in this fair country, comforting those little frauleins, all in the spirit of brotherhood and … and why weren’t you here ? Burger … burger … or whatever phoned … they had a gig for me … I don’t know how to speak to money people … my message is to the hearts, not the wallets. I only asked for 40,000 …see, they knew it’s too little, they must have thought they’d got hold of a crank. I HAD A GIG !  WHERE WERE YOU ? All this has cost me work … not to mention the insult, the … I’m trying, Lord, but … I can’t … I can’t. Some things are unforgivable. You have 24 hours to leave Graceland … and may the Lord have mercy on your soul.

(Exits)

Col: OK, so maybe I overdid it. I didn’t know he’d take it so hard. Disgraced in Graceland. Run out of town. Been given the boot. I’m no longer the pretend manager of a pretend Elvis. Maybe I could get a job as pretend Brian Epstein and pretend to manage pretend Beatles. What am I saying ? It’s getting to me … I have to leave, get back to normal people, have normal conversations, return to reality. Somebody around here has to. I don’t think it’s going to be him.

      END OF ACT TWO

Notes

(1) Hackershe Mackt an area in central Berlin where ladies of the night ply their trade.

Takin’ Care of Business: Act One

A comedy in three acts written & directed by Paul Pacifico

23rd April 2021

May be an image of 1 person

First performed in Berlin early 2000s with Nicholas Young as ‘Elvis’, Martin O’Shea as ‘Colonel’ and Chad as ‘Pizza Boy’. Later revived with Jason Daly as ‘Colonel’ and Philipp Pressmann as ‘Pizza Boy.’

Feel free to use this play as you see fit. If a small profit is generated, I would appreciate a donation to a cancer charity.

This version is set in Berlin. See notes at the end of the play for any references to specific locations or vocabulary.

Legal notice: should you wish to perform the play, you should check for copyright issues or music publishing rights. Original music may be used instead.

And now … lights down … Richard Strauss ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra.’

Takin’ Care of Business

Cast :    Elvis

     The Colonel

          Pizza Boy

Berlin : The Present.

ACT ONE

One room which is a microcosm of Graceland. In one corner hang multicoloured drapes. A table with some plants. The other corner contains three TV sets. Two comfy chairs.

Darkness. Intro of Strauss ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra.’

Two corner lights (red and blue) switch on.

Elvis enters after a minute or so. Lights up.

Elvis switches on first one, then the other TV’s. He looks at them, moving his head from side to side at regular intervals. He is dressed in 70’s costume and periodically alters his garb, without shame or any self-consciousness. He moves around the room. Suddenly he leaps into posture, performing a few karate kicks and muttering to himself, “Master tiger”. Then he does some ‘moves’ or set pieces. He gives a little chuckle to himself and mumbles something. He moves to the TV’s and changes the stations, eventually ending up with the same programmes as beginning, but on different sets. He watches intensely, moving head from side to side. He then moves around the room, performing two set pieces, one facing left, other to the right.

Elv: Well, that’s my work out finished. As the man said, if ya can’t fix it, don’t chyou go a-breakin’ it. Hahaha … Makes a guy hungry … Colonel…  (shouts) COLONEL ! Oh, Col-on…

Col: WHAT !

(He appears from side. He obviously isn’t Colonel Tom Parker but a young man dressed in normal street wear.)

Elv: Hey ! What were you doing upstairs ? You know NO-ONE is allowed upstairs !

Col: Certainly not the cleaning lady. And as for the bathroom …

Elv: Hey! What happens in the bathroom, stays in the bathroom.

Col: Yeah, just make sure it does. Would it kill you to open a window ?

Elv: (with exaggerated pathos)

You know I have a weak constitution. My lil’ ol’ body can’t take those winds rushing up from the Delta.

Col: Yeah, rolling in from the badlands of Kreutzberg. (1)

Elv : Why, you’d tease the bobtail off a muskrat. I know ya don’t mean a cotton pickin’ word. C’mere…give me a southern-fried hug …you know you want to.

(Elvis goes to grab Colonel, who leaps out of the way, almost into the audience. Elvis freezes, mid pose. Colonel now addresses the theatre.)

Col: It’s not easy. I mean, isn’t life hard enough without having a flatmate like this ? I blame myself … it was that party … the theme was ‘great singers of the past who are now past it.’ I chose Dean Martin, which … “Elvis,” here, thought was extremely funny, as he’d been to school with two brothers who were called Dean and Martin. Anyway, I chose ol’ red eyes then suggested that what with his physical dimensions, he’d be a dead – ringer for the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. That was the day my music died. Mind you, the signs were all there. He once went through a Beethoven phase. He spent a week frowning at everyone, demanding that we all speak up. Of course, with Beethoven he only attracted geeky nerds. You know the sort … they understand computers. Believe Fox News is “fair and balanced”. Pockets full of crap: screwdrivers, batteries, long forgotten toffees … not a girlfriend between them … literally. Anyway, sorry for this digression but if you remember rightly, I was about to be slobbered over by that inflated blimp behind me. Consequently, I’ve no real desire to resume this play, but, the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the audience, the show must go on, yagga-yagga. Besides, I’ve learnt how to cope with all … nearly all … situations … Watch this…

(Colonel returns to his former position, ie, about to be hugged)

Col: SALAD !

(As predicted, this repulses Elvis.)

Elv: Lord have mercy, Colonel, give a guy a heart-attack. Ah, heck, ya can’t fool me. I know you’re a grizzled ol’ whiskey soaked man’s man, but, deep down, you’ve a huge capacity for love. I respect that. I know where you’re comin’ from and so if sometimes I don’t say it, well, doggone it, I love you, you ol’ moonshine shadow, you, (sings) “I don’t have a wooden heart.”

Col: No, just a wooden head.

(Goes to phone)

Elv : Say what, boy ?

Col: I said I’ll get onto the pizza hot line. What would you like on yours ?

Elv: Cheeseburger, of course. Hahaha, no, I’m only having my little laugh, no, gimme the Hawaiian Five – O.

Col: That’s pineapple and five types of meat ?

Elv: Yeah….and five of them. Gotta keep in shape.

Col: Oy, Elv, the guy here says if you order the Hawaiian Five -O-One, you get a free pair of jeans. Guess that’s some kinda baker humour.

Elv: I haven’t worn jeans since my ’69 special.

     (awkward silence)

Hell, you know I don’t wear jeans … too restricting for my fan base.

(He can think of nothing else to say, after floundering around for a short while. Suddenly he strikes some poses and exaggerates his pelvic thrusts, which should be a balance of vulgarity and humour)

Col: Everyone’s a comedian, hey ? Oh, the guy said don’t try and fob the Gästarbeiter (2) delivery boy off with one of your tin foil medallions. They want cold, hard cash.

Elv: Cold and hard … just like their pizzas … HAHAHAHA … whee-whee, boy, you didn’t see that one coming, did you ?

Col: (With heavy sarcasm) No, gee that was a good one. Way to go, dude.

Elv: Spoken like a good ole boy !

Col: I was speaking to Jimmy the other day. You know Jimmy ? He’s a real American.

Elv: He’s not American ! He’s from San Diego. I don’t wanna hear … I’m worn out … you’re driving me too hard … what do I hire you for anyway ? You should be making all the day to day decisions … what pizza do I want ? How do I know ? That’s your job … I’ve got so many other things to think about, shows to prepare, a public constantly demanding more, wanting to know every rinky-dink detail … I tell you, they won’t be happy until I’m dead. No, don’t apologise, my head is too full up … I must prepare myself for pizza. I’ll be over here … in the Jungle Room.

Col: Well, that’s him quiet for a few minutes. Let me take advantage of this little respite to hip you in to some other info. As I was saying, it all started at that party. He blew everyone away. He was great. Dancing, singing, even the Southern accent kept up. He was fun and you know why ? Because people wanted him to be fun. He fed on their expectations and their spirit. And he got lucky. Yeah. Women who wouldn’t even look at him before, were fighting over each other for his attentions. He learnt the meaning of the English expression ‘knackered’ that night and no mistake. The fact that a girl I had my eye on went over to the far side and got herself “a hunk, a hunk of burning love,” didn’t exactly endear me to this sequinned monster I’d created. But I got over it. He didn’t. He’d found something he’d never had before. He was popular, people loved him. I don’t know where all the moves came from. Very disturbing. I’d advise you not to try any of them at home, certainly not in public. Illegal in seventeen states kinda moves. I thought it was just a phase. Unfortunately not. Quite the opposite … he’s now the head member of the Berlin branch of the Elvis impersonators. They’ve got their own website. He opens supermarkets, gets booked for parties and signs CD’s at markets and Messes (3). He signs … ‘Elvis Presley.’ It seems that people need Elvis, even if it patently isn’t Elvis. He pretends he is and they let him. They want him to be Elvis. The sonofagun makes more money than I do. He can pay for the pizzas … he’ll sure as hell’ll eat them.

Elv: (Makes sniffing noises) Pizza’s here.

(A knock on the door)

Col: Amazing. I suppose you want me to get that ? Sure you don’t want to meet your public ?

Elv: No, even the King must have one night off. Oh, to be King, but where is my queen ?

Col: Well, if you’re a good boy and eat up all your pizza, I’ll put on my Little Richard costume.

Elv: I told you never mention that man’s … er … make that woman’s name around here. He … er, she says she invented Rock ‘n’ Roll. Upstart, Johnny come lately, and don’t start me on Jerry Lewis.

Col: Guess you mean Jerry Lee Lewis.

Elv: I know what I mean, now get the door … pizza waits for no man, and this man don’t wait for pizza.

(Door is opened. There stands the Pizza Boy, loaded with boxes)

Pz : That’s 45 Euro and no tin foil. I’ve heard about you two.

Col: Me ? What have I done ?

Elv: Problem, Colonel ?

Pz : Colonel ? Bloody hell !

Col: No, it’s him, I’m not … what the hell am I speaking to you for ? You just deliver pizza, and not even quickly. If you think you’re getting a tip, you can whistle Dixie … you’d only spend it on comic books and bubble gum.                                       

Elv: Whoa, there, Tiger, that’s no way to speak to guests in our fair country.

(Goes to door to speak to Pizza Boy, looking more at the boxes, than the boy)

Helloo, Chief … and … how … do …YOU … like our … country ?

Pz : Well, it’s OK, I guess. Get to meet all sorts of interesting people. See what they get up to. Makes me think my life ain’t so bad after all. So you taking these pizzas or what Mr Presley ? Or may I call you Elvis ?

Col: Ut-oh, that’s done it.

Elv: Why son of my heart, c’mere lemme give you a…

Pz : I don’t want one of those tin foil medalli …

Elv: …kiss

(Gives enormous smacker on the mouth)

Pz : Aaarrgghhhh … fuck this for a job ….. think I’ll join the army.

Elv: And now’s a good time, plenty of work.

(Pizza Boy Exits cursing, random ad libs like, “Go back to Brokeback Mountain.”)

Elv: Kids … they love me, what can I do ? An’ yer know the best thing ?

Col: We didn’t pay.

Elv: Hot diggerdy-dog, yep, let’s eat.

END   OF   ACT   ONE

No photo description available.

NOTES

(1) Kreutzberg – an area south of the river in Berlin, famous for being a student hang-out, full of bars and Turkish restaurants and, in the 80s & 90s, squat houses.

(2) Gästarbeiter -‘guest workers’, typically immigrants who work in the less desirable sectors such as cleaning or general unskilled work.

(3) Messes – trade fairs, business and marketing events

Nicholas has his own website: http://www.thesoulofelvis.de/photos.html

Pessoa and Kiarostami: The Disquiet of Close-Up

25th February 2021

Fernando Pessoa - Revista ESTANTE
Doc on life of Abbas Kiarostami to go on screen in Tehran - Tehran Times

Serendipity – I only recently became aware of the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa (1888 – 1935) while watching a YouTube video on modernity in literature. The video mentioned some of my favourite writers of the early C20th namely Camus and Kafka, as well as Pessoa.

Despite a lifetime of reading; pulp, poetry, popular, philosophy (OK, enough alliteration) literature and drama, I’m overwhelmed by the amount of authors I haven’t read, authors of whom I’m not even aware. Therefore, when Pessoa was grouped with other authors I’ve read and love, I had to investigate … and what a story. In fact, before one reads Pessoa, one needs to read about him, his lifestyle and writing habits.

Firstly, Pessoa adopted different personalities under which to write. Instead of simply using a pseudonym, Pessoa became these ‘writers’, each one having individual characteristics, and he coined the term heteronym to explain his system. Pessoa wrote poetry under different heteronyms however, his most famous work is ‘The Book of Disquiet’, unpublished for 47 years after the author’s death. This book is credited to the heteronym Bernardo Soares.

Mua The Book of Disquiet (Penguin Classics) trên Amazon Mỹ chính hãng 2021  | Fado
The Penguin Classics edition

Not unlike his Czech contemporary Dr Franz Kafka, Pessoa spent his working life in an office, burdened by the drudgery of routine, dreaming of writing yet seeing very little success in his lifetime. More information can be found on these Wikipedia sites:

For ‘The Book of Disquiet’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_Disquiet

For Pessoa’s life: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fernando_Pessoa

So, the plot … there isn’t one. The book, nearly 800 pages on my online version, is comprised of various musings, ramblings, sketches, observations, poetry in prose, diary-like entries and endless pathetic fallacy; it seems to be always about to rain, to be raining or has just stopped raining.

The topography of Pessoa’s Lisbon is also extremely limited; his office, his flat and his local restaurant. This short video encapsulates his environment succinctly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gsOAKWBuuo&ab_channel=TurismodeLisboaVisitors%26ConventionBureau

The style of the book means that one can just open at random, read in reverse order or return to it after reading other books. Personally, I find that I read maybe ten – fifteen pages at a time, although some pages may just contain a single sentence. It’s like poetry, each section is densely packed with meaning and significance; to race through it would be to miss the view and it’s the journey that has the meaning … not simply reaching the destination.

I just wish to add a couple of extracts that appealed to me.

Entry 84 (p. 148 online version), Pessoa quotes the Holy Roman Emperor, Sigismund (1368 – 1437):

“It is told of Sigismund, King of Rome, that when someone pointed out a grammatical mistake he had made in a speech, he answered, ‘I am King of Rome and above all grammar.’ … Every man who knows how to say what he has to say is, in his own way, King of Rome.”

Entry 269 (p. 387), Pessoa, another vociferous reader, refers to Charles Dickens:

“One of my life’s greatest tragedies is to have already read The Pickwick Papers. (I can’t go back and read them for the first time.)

THE PICKWICK PAPERS (illustrated, complete, and unabridged) - Kindle  edition by DICKENS, CHARLES. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @  Amazon.com.

Coincidentally, I am also working my work through the complete Christmas Stories by Dickens, an author I consider one of life’s greatest pleasures.

Meanwhile, while devoting time to focus on Iranian cinema, I watched the 1990 film ‘Close-Up’ by one of the most famous Iranian directors (possibly the most famous outside of Iran), Abbas Kiarostami (1940 – 2016), a filmmaker who uses Persian poetry in his films, and whose styles employs allegory and symbolism.

Close-Up (1990 film) - Wikipedia
‘Close-Up’, often appearing in Best Film polls, notable the Sight & Sound Top 50 films poll of 2012

As with Pessoa, we have a film that doesn’t fit into a neat genre (fiction, documentary, re-enactment). Allow me to explain, and at least with the film, we have a story, if not a plot.

Abbas Kiarostami quote: The film [Close Up] made itself, to a large  extent...

Hossain Sabzian is struggling to make his way, and escapes into cinema, identifying with downtrodden protagonists such as the eponymous ‘Cyclist‘ (1987) by Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

On a bus ride, a fellow passenger notices that Sabzian is reading ‘The Cyclist’ screenplay, and asks where she can buy a copy. Sabzian gives the book to her, claiming to be the writer and director Makhmalbaf. From here, Sabzian gets to meet her family, and is invited to their home which he says could be used in a future film.

The pretend director begins examining the house and garden, as if setting up shots. He is almost caught out when he is informed that one of his films has just won a prestigious prize abroad, of which he is ignorant. However Sabzian, thinking very quickly, says that the prize was for the music score, and not down to him. Finally, a reporter friend shows the family a photograph of the real director; the police are called and the imposter is arrested.

This is not fiction; it all really happened.

Norman Holland on Abbas Kiarostami, Close-Up, Nema-ye Nazdik

At this stage, Kiarostami became involved, interviewing Sabzian in prison.

Can't Explain: Close-Up (1990)

Then, in documentary style, or news reportage, we see the director asking permission for the trial to be filmed, permission which is granted. What differentiates this film is that Kiarostami then got the real-life protagonists to re-enact the situation, from the meeting on the bus to the arrest.

The Film Sufi: "Close-Up" - Abbas Kiarostami (1990)
The real Ahankhah family in their home

So, it’s not a documentary per se, as the characters are recreating scenes, knowing how they will play out (of course, there are famous examples of documentaries using recreation or the staging of ‘real’ scenes), it’s not fiction or, as is so often seen, ‘based on a true story’ … it is a true story.

To go back to my earlier point, we have story but no plot that is, no psychological motivation for Sabzian’s deception.

One of the sons claims that the fraud was perpetrated in order to ‘stake out’ the house, see what was worth stealing and how to gain entry. Sabzian strenuously denies this. Conversely, there are no doctors to give an evaluation on Sabzian’s mental health. Is he a criminal, acting delusional, or a person in need of help, caught in a delusion that escaped his control ? The audience, like the judge, can only rely on the facts, what happened, not what could have happened.

Thus, although guilty of deception, Sabzian appears contrite and, having no previous record, is pardoned by the Ahankhah family providing he use this opportunity to change his life and become a productive member of society. The film ends with the real Mohsen Makhmalbaf driving Sabzian back to the house to greet the family and apologise.

The Cinematheque / Close-Up

I hope you can pardon this heavily condensed synopsis of a very nuanced and rewarding film. ‘Close-Up’ is an absolute ‘must see’ film for cineastes and, like all works of art, requires repeat viewing(s).

If I have inspired anyone to look for Pessoa’s work, or to watch the Kiarostami movie, then I can consider this blog a success.

Thank you all for reading – please stay safe and well

Peter Green 1946 – 2020

18th February 2021

Image result for peter green fleetwood mac
Peter Green in Fleetwood Mac, late 1960s

A belated tribute to this English guitar legend whose passing I only recently read. Music fans will know Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, by name if nothing else, but not so many will be aware of Peter Green.

There are many video bios on YouTube and this is a good, short introduction:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xw6g5VfhF6k&ab_channel=TheGuitarHistorian

In 1966, Eric Clapton was THE guitar hero; graffiti around London proclaimed, ‘Clapton is God.’ When Eric left John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the new guitarist would have a near impossible task. Yet Peter Green, Clapton’s replacement, achieved it, with many fans regarding his guitar work, and the subsequent LP, just as good as the iconic predecessor. Some would say better.

Image result for clapton beano cover
1966
Image result for peter green hard road cover
1967

During this time, Peter met drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie, and when he decided to form his own band, he named it Fleetwood Mac. The group started out as Blues band, but as Peter’s songwriting developed, other musical styles evolved, even English Classical Music ( Vaughan Williams was said to have inspired ‘Oh Well Part 2’).

Image result for bb king on peter green
Peter with B.B. King

However, after such hits as ‘Albatross’, ‘Man of the World,’ and the aforementioned ‘Oh Well’ Peter became increasingly unhappy with the music business, the fame, the money (all of this is covered in the Fleetwood Mac biographies). The situation was compounded with drug use, culminating in the notorious Munich party (not Berlin as mentioned in the otherwise excellent Guitar Historian YouTube video) after which, according to his friends and bandmates, he was never the same.

Peter left the band (which by 1969 was selling more than The Beatles & The Rolling Stones combined) and released a solo LP in 1970, ‘End of the Game.’

Image result for peter green end of the game

The record is a massive departure, being a series of edited jam sessions (the cuts are quite evident in places), and is not recommended as an introduction to his work.

Following the release Peter suffered mental illness, being diagnosed schizophrenic, became a recluse and grew his nails making guitar playing impossible. Finally, he entered a psychiatric hospital and had electroconvulsive therapy the merits of which are still debated.

In the late 1990s, Peter began playing again, and was encouraged to form the Peter Green Splinter Band.

Image result for peter green splinter group

I saw this band in KBs Malmö, Sweden, a venue with a capacity of 750. The club was barely half full. Eric Clapton used to play up to ten nights at London’s Royal Albert Hall, with a capacity of 5,200.

Although it was amazing to see a rock legend, I felt quite depressed, comparing how Peter used to look, how he used to play, how his life could have been very different. As far as I remember, he didn’t even speak during the show, and even stood towards the back of the stage, as if he were the backing guitarist.

Be that as it may, we still have the music from John Mayall and the early Fleetwood Mac years. For an introduction, try this LP.

Image result for fleetwood macs greatest

Some individual songs, on YouTube (at least in my region):

Man of the World: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GPR848mhIs&ab_channel=Beat-Club

Black Magic Woman:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRu7Pt42x6Y&ab_channel=rowfant123

Yes, Peter Green wrote this, which was a massive hit for Santana

Now a song I’m trying to learn (I apologise to my neighbours):

Oh Well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-C6p-GwHfA&ab_channel=cameraman32

Goodbye, Peter … thanks for the music xo

Waiting Fo (u) r Godard: A play for one actor & two laptops

5th August 2020

WAITING FO(U)R GODARD by Paul Pacifico

Copyright 2020. Paul Pacifico asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work

Anyone is free to perform this play, royalty-free

If significant revenue is generated, then I merely ask that the actor or company make a donation to a cancer charity, UNICEF or the WWF

Have fun and break a leg

The play can use the actor’s real name and list their credits, for example the actor in the script is called James Green and he performed in ‘Krapp’s Last Tape,’ among other theatre, film and TV.

Directors are free to add their own ideas to localise the play.

BLACK

SOUND FX : The end of the world.

: Silence.

: Increasing sound of insects scuttling about.

: This fades as sound of a projector starts, very loud.

: Projector volume drops, but continues. Seagulls.

: Still with projector noise, various traffic and city sounds, cut in at random, at different levels. Ends with a loud bicycle bell.

LIGHTS

The stage has two tables at front, left and right, each with an open laptop (facing away from audience), one Windows, one Apple. Around the stage are symbols of film making: tripods, cameras, lights etc. as well as one old chair.

One door, upstage

Sound of knocking on door

MAN enters and, with a little trepidation, looks around. Closes door carefully. He is wearing a light brown raincoat covering a shirt and tie. He carries a slip of paper on which is written, ‘MAN’

MAN : Is this the place ?

Man seems encouraged when he notices the equipment. He looks around and slowly paces the room

MAN : Only me here. Hello ? Hello ? Maybe I should call my agent.

Man pulls out a mobile phone, tries calling, then walks around room holding phone out at different angles

Man : Can’t get a reception. Merde ! Ok, better warm up the voice.

Man changes voice and intonation

“Is this the place.” “Is this the place ?” “Is this the place !”

BLACK

SOUND FX : A voice with a European accent:

Germany, Year Zero.

LIGHTS

MAN : Ah, sounds like a European art film, lucky I wore my coat of many characters. What better to induce the ambience of world-weary, coffee-stained existentialism ?

Man demonstrates a sense of Fado, leaning forward as if the weight of the world were oppressing him. Suddenly he springs upright and starts to shake pretend hands a la Jacques Tati

ManMr Hulot by Jacques Tati. In addition to the aforementioned Tati, I can also play detectives, gumshoes, pickpockets, secret agents, private I’s, philosophers, misanthropes, gamblers, gun-runners, Bullitts, Samuarais, spies who come in from the cold, hit-men, thin men, conmen, last men, lusty men and bicycle thieves. The director will love it. Speaking of a director … I didn’t get a script. Maybe I should call my …

Man repeats procedure, seeming to loose his confidence as he tries, in vain, for a signal

Man :No reception. Merde. I have no idea what the part is, just says, ‘MAN’ … or who the director is … or where he is. Naturally, we, the actors, represent him, because it’s usually a man, but I don’t want to get into that now, a physical envoy of his thoughts and feelings, the idea made flesh, abstract peregrinations given tangible form. I hope I get a great speech like that…and sound effects, juxtaposed together. It would serve to support my thesis relating to the dichotomy of cinema, at one and the same time being the foremost cultural influence …

SOUND FX : A heavy piano chord

MAN: Charming. Very dramatic. I suppose it serves to highlight the very lack of drama. Is a bare stage the same as a stage that’s bare ? I don’t know. Je ne sais pas. Ich weiss es nicht ! See, I can act in three languages … and brilliant in each one.

SOUND FX : An electronic chicken 

The Windows computer seems to come ‘alive’. Man walks over, excitedly, to the laptop. 

MAN: Hello ? I’m here for the part of ‘MAN’ ? Hello ? Bonjour ? Guten Tag … Ni hao ? That’s it I’m … Oh, wait, Ciao …

Laptop : Enter password

MAN : OK. What is the password ? And why’s it just me here ? Will there be other actors coming ? You can just give me the part now, that will save every…

Laptop : Enter password

MAN: Ohhh ! La-la ! What is the blo … what is the password ?

Laptop : 3 point 1 4

MAN: Oh, easy as pi.

Laptop :15926535 8979323846 2643383279 5028841971 6939937510 5820974944 5923078164 0628620899 8628034825 3421170679

Man tries to enter the numbers but can’t keep up. He gets increasingly agitated and finally shuts the laptop

MAN : Never work with children, animals or computers. Or professionals but that doesn’t seem to be a problem here.

Man opens laptop. The voice has stopped. He tries for a phone signal again; no luck, again

Man : Merde ! Maybe I can email my agent. Hey, wait a moment.

Man walks over to other laptop which is an Apple

Man : The anguished cry of modern man, “What’s the wifi password ?” Hey, Siri, what’s the wifi password ?

SIRI : The password is …

SOUND FX : A loud electronic buzz blocks out the answer

Man : Oh, that’s clever, thanks, Siri. Pretty obvious, really.

Man enters password and the Apple seems to come ‘alive’

Man : Hello ? I’m here for the audition.

SIRI : Name ?

Man : Yes, haha, John, John Green

SIRI : Hello, Yes, haha, John, John Green

Man : Everything screwy is normal in this crummy place.

MAN walks to the centre of the stage and faces the audience, preparing himself before speaking.

MAN : Is this comedy or tragedy ? I don’t know. For the benefit of late-comers, an actor in the time when cinema is dying, is attending an audition for an unknown part in an unknown production with an unknown director. Talk about a script found on a dump. Who wrote th … oh, him ! I know him, well he’s far away in Viet Nam, now, best place for him. Remember the golden age of Hollywood ? Real writers. Now they just pick a hit book and call it a ‘ready-made script’. Siri, please tell my agent he’s fired.

SIRI : I’m sorry, Yes, haha, John, John Green, I can’t do that.

MAN : What ? Then what use is your hard-drive and motherboard and billion bytes of RAM ? You’re just a pocket calculator loaded with conspicuous consumption.

SIRI :Thespian !

MAN :Status symbol

SIRI :Character actor !

MAN :Over-priced piece of crap

SIRI :Walk-on parter !

MAN :Made in China rip-off. I’m going back to Windows

Man closes the Apple and types something into the Windows laptop.

SOUND FX : Sounds of people moving equipment around, background chatter, sounds from a film set.

MAN: Hello I’m … John Green. I’m here for the audition. Is this the right place ?

Windows: Hey, who are you ? What do you want ?

Man: I want a plot ! I’m here for … Excuse me, do you know what time the director’s getting here ? Only I don’t have all day. I want to watch ‘The Swimmer’ on TV with my friend Burt Lancaster ?

Man turns to camera and makes exaggerated smile

SOUND FX : A heavy piano chord, different from before

MAN: Well you’ve changed your tune. I have a question for you … What exactly is cinema ?

Windows: (in a different voice, a working class agitator)

Thank you brother. Cinema: it markets a dream which is unavailable to the target audience who could never participate in an equivalent reality. It propagates the idea that such dreams are possible while, at the same time and working in collusion with multi-national corporations, strives to ensure that such equality can never exist. I will now let my small brother, who represents the developing world, expand, expound and explain.

MAN: It’s full of symbolism, isn’t it? If you don’t like symbolism, if you don’t like metaphor, if you don’t like subtexts … you can get stuffed.

Windows: (in another different voice)

Thank you, brother. Success is only measured in how close we come to emulating the standard product. Such factors as locality, language or legend are labeled ‘colourful’ but viewed with suspicion, and are detrimental to the cause. Overseas sales are increasingly imperative in the battle for survival and as such, the product has to have a universality readily identifiable.

MAN: Now I have a headache. Ok, Let me draw an analogy between Cinema and the hamburger. Audiences will be unquestionably conditioned to accept one, and only one, type of movie. There are fewer and fewer descendants of D.W.Griffith as cinema plays whore to the lure of the dollar. 

Windows: (working class agitator voice )

We will leave you with a thought from the Polish filmmaker Andrej Wajda. Under Communism, any film could be made, it just may not have been shown. In the West, any film gets shown, but may not have been made. Which is the better ? 

Windows appears to shut down.

MAN: Well don’t look at me, I don’t know what’s going on. What should I do now ? 

SOUND FX : A high-pitched, weak bell as in a works canteen

Man: Hello, who’s this ?

Electric voice: Union lunch break. Stop all work. Tea up. First coffee break.

MAN: At last. They must know I’m here, at least. What’s on the menu ?

Electric voice:Fizzy beverage. Pastry.

MAN: I get it, the drink represents USA and the pastry represents Europe, right ?

Slight pause.

Electric voice:Fizzy beverage. Pastry.

MAN: Well, if we’re going to share a stage, you’ll have to do a bit better than that. Do you have any more lines ?

Electric voice:Yes, I have a good one, imminently. 

MAN: Nu ? I’m waiting, boy am I waiting ? How about some acting ?

Electric voice:That’s not my job.

MAN: Oh, come on, it’s easy, you know you want to, don’t want to disappoint the audience, do you ? And don’t say “fizzy beverage” again.

Electric voice: It’s my bona fide line. 

MAN: What if I were to tell you, teach, yes, teach you something. I would then be passing on the training to another union member.

Electric voice: errrrr….

MAN: Bon. Alors, how about if I teach you some reactions ? How about surprise mixed with wonderment ?

Electric voice:Oh, I don’t know anything about …

MAN: La-la, it’s the easiest thing, we learn it on our first morning in acting class. Slowly open your mouth and make your eyes bigger, and wooooowwwwww. Voice high and soft.

Electric voice does perfect reaction

MAN: Wow ! Formidable ! Zwei mal wunderschoen!

Electric voice:Yes, well, I, er … don’t like to, er, blow trumpet, but, er … well … to business. Look under the table

MAN finds a can of Coke, a croissant and a copy of ‘Das Kapital’

Electric voice:For the children of Marx and Coca-cola.

MAN does a Groucho Marx impression

MAN : Last night I shot an industrialist in my pyjamas. He was studying the relations of re-production.

Electric voice:Twenty dollars.

MAN : What ?

Electric voice:Fizzy beverage and pastry. Twenty dollars.

MAN : I hate no-budget projects. OK, I’ll ask you a question, and if the answer is ‘I don’t know’, you owe me twenty dollars. Exactly, what is this play about ?

Electric voice:I don’t know.

MAN : Right, that’s twenty dollars you owe me. Don’t worry about it, use it to cover the cost of the catering.

SOUND FX : a bell as if played back on a broken tape player

MAN: It’s not even a real croissant ! It’s a prop.

MAN starts making little jumps around the stage, ending with a large jump.

MAN: Practicing my jump-cuts, and I do my own stunts. Now, here’s a trick I learnt in montage class.

Lights go out for a short period. When they come back, the MAN is standing on the chair, in a far corner. Light out, back on, MAN is making a sideways running gesture, frozen in mid run. Lights out, back on, MAN is under the chair, crawling out.

MAN: Merde ! This is why actors hate montage; no control over what happens. Hhhmmm, no-budget film, hey, or play, or project, or workshop, or … thing. Probably no effects. I also have that covered. Alors, watch this … I walk across the stage in real-time. Now, backwards … now looped, see the same sequence repeated, repeated … Now, a personal favourite, slow motion. Phew ! A guy can get tired like that. I should take a break ?

Apple laptop seems to come ‘alive’

Siri : From what ?

MAN becomes increasingly dramatic during his speech

MAN: Je ne sais pas … la vie … love, existence. 

All this … being … nothingness … oh, why am I

doomed to play in such insubstantial fare ? Where are

the inspired roles of yesteryear ? Where can I liberate

my oppressed soul in lofty flights of poetry, escape the

drudgery of moribund routine and don wings to ascend to

the Olympian heights of elegance and eloquence ? Oh, what time’s ‘The Swimmer’ on ?

SIRI : 21.30

MAN: You’re speaking to me again. Hey, Siri, why did I get a croissant ? Wouldn’t an English muffin be more appropriate, London and all ?

SIRI : I’m sorry, Yes, haha, John, John Green, I don’t know the answer to that.

MAN : Oh, not that again, just call me ‘Yes’.

SIRI : Yes 

MAN: It probably refers to the middle-classing of Socialism. You won’t find many poor socialists now, they can’t afford it. People have to be capitalists to earn the money to become socialists. To wit, the croissant, symbol of middle-class leisure and ineffectuality. 

SOUND FX: The MGM Leo the Lion roar

MAN: Hey, Siri … is this a play that thinks it’s a film, or a film that thinks it’s a play ?

SIRI : I’m sorry, Yes, haha, John, John Green, I don’t know the answer to that.

MAN : Someone needs an upgrade.

SIRI :Someone needs acting lessons.

MAN : I can unplug you, Missy !

SIRI :You and whose army ? Anyway, I have a lithium polymer battery to provide maximum battery life in a compact space. 

WINDOWS: (WORKER’S VOICE) Thus exploiting the downtrodden people of the Democratic Republic of Congo in cobalt mining.

MAN : The laptops get dialogue ? Hey, Siri … where did you get a script ? Windows … ?

SIRI & Windows together: 

We’re sorry, Yes, haha, John, John Green, we don’t know the answer to that. 

Black

SOUND FX : A voice:

Later, that same day.

LIGHTS

MAN is still walking around trying to get a signal. His coat is off and he is in shirt-sleeves.

MAN: No signal. Merde ! 

MAN continues searching, thinks he has a signal, but no success. Suddenly the Windows laptop appears to come ‘alive’.

Windows: Absurd.

MAN: Great ! Another extra with only one line. Look, I’ve been thinking, if the director’s not going to show up, I may as well leave.

Windows:D’accord. Goodbye.

MAN: You mean he, because it’s probably a man, may arrive ? I think I’ll stick around for a bit. Just a few minutes longer.

Windows:Just a few minutes longer, Just a few minutes longer.

MAN: So he’ll, it’s usually a he, he’ll be here soon ? Oh, I get it. This is the audition. All the while, all these cameras and lights and whatnot, the computers, yes, haha.

SIRI : Yes, haha, John, John Green.

MAN: Shut up, Siri, all the while, I’ve been watched, studied, scrutinised and, still being here, I’m evidently doing a great job. Now to reel them in.

Windows: Hey, who are you ? What do you want ?

MAN : Well, I’m glad you asked. Something engaging, with just the right amount of Brechtian alienation and a bit of Beckett to boot. I can act, magnificently, play guitar, musically, drink, moderately, you’ll never get me on a horse. I play the lead, supremely, react, subtlety, dance, sublimely, for extra money, of course. And, if the script calls for it, and the lady is cute, I mean … you know … artistically cute in a non-judgemental, non-patriarchal, non-Harvey Weinstein, sicko-pervo kinda way … if script calls … I do ‘love scenes’.

Windows: No love scenes. Bad for the Chinese Market. Mustn’t forget the Chinese market.

MAN : The population of China is, Siri, what’s the population of China ?

SIRI : The population of China is 1.42 billion

MAN: Is 1.42 billion, believe me, people in China are having love scenes.

SIRI : Haha. That told him. So what are you doing now ?

MAN: I’m just waiting for the director. .. been waiting since … No script …don’t know what, if any, rôle I’ll have …

Windows: You’ve been waiting for a director who won’t show up, without a script, which hasn’t been written, for a part, which doesn’t exist.

SIRI : Haha. That told him. So what are you doing now ?

MAN: The laptops get a love scene ? Why do I always end up in screwball comedies ? Enough. From my experience of no-budget, low-budget plays, the director ain’t gonna show. And, “It is beyond doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience.” 

Windows: You can’t say that.

MAN: I can’t ? but Kant can. And if Kant can, I can’t see I can’t. Adieu. Fare thee well.

MAN starts to leave, but before he reaches the door

SOUND FX : A fast sports car screeching to a halt

: Some music playing, fading in

: With song still playing, sound of heavy rain on a city street

: Electronic voice: 

The Second Act. Decision of the actor. Resolution

MAN: Lucky I stayed. Now we’re getting somewhere. 

MAN pulls out phone, extends but doesn’t even check if he has a signal.

MAN: No reception. Merde ! I see, Project Phoenix, Project MK Ultra, Russian sleep Deprivation, Big Brother. How will I respond, not to direction, but to no direction, to no director. To nobody. This is ‘opennism’. Allow me to explain. It’s up to the audience to contribute, to read the text and extract from it what they will. The play itself takes on a sort of existential life force, with no preconceived ideas or fixed point of reference. The audience is doomed to make their own interpretation, with no old fashioned abstract morality about what is right or wrong …

The Windows laptop appears to come alive. MAN runs over to it, with a hint of desperation

Windows:John Green.

MAN: Oui, c’est moi

Windows: Theatre – Krapp’s Last Tape, you were Krapp

SIRI: Haha

(Windows adds full list of theatre and acting work)

SIRI: Mr Green, exactly, what is cinema …?

MAN: Enough words, let me show you. Cinema is action, is passion, is dedication, is vision, is love, is life. Cinema is the composition of Ozu, the landscapes of John Ford, the ticking clock of Hitchcock, it is la Dolce Vita and playing chess with Death, Eisenstein steps, Tarantino toes, Bunuel eyes and a Bardot pout. It is the reason I live, and the reason I am here … here, alone, all alone, no one to improv with, no one to bounce ideas … just here, alone, all day, talking to computers. I will tell you about Cinema: Cinema is life and this isn’t living.

SIRI: … in five words or less

MAN: He’s, because it’s usually a he, he’s not here. There’s no one to impress. I need a break. I suggest running away from this play and starting my own. Let me just … search … hhmmm, 

SOUND FX :Sound of a heavy glass door opening. Immediately, new sounds of a busy café/restaurant.

MAN: : Some wonderful music, please.

SOUND FX : French-style accordion music

MAN seems more relaxed, walking around the stage as if it were a chic Parisian cafe, nodding to friends, kissing the hands of ladies. Windows laptop seems to come ‘alive’ as SOUND FX fade.

Windows: Is this modernist or post-modernist ?

MAN: It’s a cafe, look around, use your … imagination. I’ve always wanted to be in a kick-arse movie, directed by a Nicholas Ray. Today, the lead will have to be a hot chi…, I mean a highly-talented female actor. That looks good in leather.

Siri: Is this post-modernist or post-post-modernist ?

MAN: I don’t know what this is. Neither … both. It has the post- modern aspect of requiring a departure from the conventional structure, while being chockablock with pop culture references, though Bergman and Wajda are hardly Lady Gaga and those Kardashian calamities. To both break tradition but still being vaguely recognizable … within boundaries. Then something more, something else, something the audience has to bring, or take from it. As for our director, he’s either, as Camus would predict, having coffee or killing himself … because it’s usually a he. This is absurd.

Windows: Absurd

Siri : Absurd

MAN: Absurd ! Lenin said two things which are of eternal relevance. Firstly, cinema is the most important of the arts. Secondly, and of especial interest to us, ‘What is to be done ?’

Windows:Is it difficult getting an actress to do love scenes 

MAN: Getting an actress to do a nude scene isn’t the problem. Try getting an actress to keep her clothes on. But that’s only in cinema, alas. I’m tired, I can’t go on much longer. I can’t leave, not after waiting so long. I know …

MAN snaps his fingers 

SOUND FX : Sixties guitar-based song.

MAN : Come on, let’s dance.

MAN performs a very impressive dance routine, very ‘Ye-Ye’ and full of twists and shouts

SOUND FX : Record stops immediately as LIGHTS go down.

: An electronic hum/buzzing.

: A car stopping on some gravel. Door opens and shuts. Footsteps on gravel. Doorbell.

: A typewriter. The keys are hit slowly at first, then faster and faster. This turns into machine gun fire.

: A medium paced drum beat, played by a fairly competent amateur.

MAN is sitting in the chair, leaning back against the wall and balancing the chair on its two back legs. 

DRUMMING STOPS

MAN: I’m trying to sit like Henry Fonda in ‘My Darling Clementine’. This is getting us nowhere. Where’s my café gone ?

SOUND FX : The French music resumes, sounding as if it is being played on an old jukebox.

: A small café, quite busy. Coffee machines, glasses knocking against each other, an old cash till.

MAN: Somewhere that serves beer, but I don’t want to have to go through a whole linguistic routine with the barman about ultimate and abstract issues. I just want a beer. And I’d quite like some kind of resolution. I just want to do what actors do best … hang out in bars and tell people how talented we are.

SOUND FX : Sound of beer bottle being opened, then poured

MAN: To have come so far without getting anywhere … at least, nowhere that can be discerned. Does the fact that we can’t measure metaphysical distances make them less or more valid ?

Siri:Definition is a prerequisite and often the most contentious. The truth of a sentence lies in the ability to prove its meaning.

MAN: Then most of my lines have been meaningless.

Windows: Only insofar as they are subjected to the laws of that particular concept. Even when we reduce, we are still left with words such as ‘meaning’ or ‘truth’.

MAN: Truth is, I’m not even sure if this is a part at all.

Siri: That will at least save you from the actor’s revenge; preferring the life of the character to such a degree that they abandon their own self and take on the identity of the rôle. However, maybe a Cartesian approach to your dilemma will prove beneficial.

MAN: The central questions of knowledge and the relationship between mind and body ?

Windows: To counter the doubts about the character: You are acting, are you not ?

MAN: It’s a matter of some debate, but I believe I am.

Siri: Therefore, you have a character. Proceed from there.

MAN: As long as I continue to act, I will have a character. I act, therefore I, the character, am. If I act and I’m conscious of this, it follows that they must be a time when I’m not acting …

Windows: Or else it wouldn’t be acting.

MAN: And the time when I’m not acting is when I’m myself. I stop acting, therefore I am. The actor – character relationship can be seen as an analogy of the mind – body concept. I wonder if Jean Renoir would apply a Cartesian reading to his work ?

Siri: When one has mastered the art of storytelling, why trouble oneself with philosophy ? Appreciation and perpetuation of beauty is gift enough. Besides, one no sooner accepts a view of life, only to see it challenged and dismissed by a Wittgenstein 

MAN: A return to zero.

Lights slowly, slowly start to fade

SOUND FX : The following lines spoken as if at a political rally, with crowd reaction audible in the background, cheering and clapping:

Philosophy is not a body of doctrine but an activity.

It will signify what cannot be said by presenting clearly what can be said.

SOUND FX : A burst of laughter like in an English music hall. This continues during the following,

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.

What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.

SOUND FX : Huge roar of laughter and applause.

LIGHTS return to normal

MAN: Hey, Siri, ca va ?

Siri: Oui, ca va.

MAN: Well, how do we end this ? We could have a classic Hollywood ending, fall in love and get married. Or fall in love, anyway … there ain’t nobody with whom to fall in love … or marry. Siri …

Siri No, that’s silly.

MAN : I quite like this … sitting around in coffee bars and talking. I wish I could get a job doing it, as my career as an actor is on the rubbish dump. 

Windows: Don’t you have anything else lined up ?

MAN : Maybe some adverts, but screw that. Oh, merde ! So it’s come to this ? I’m going to end it the way I want to. Nothing to lose, now. Doesn’t look like he’s coming. Maybe he never intended to. Because it’s usually a … Hey, I’ve an idea …

SOUND FX : An authoritarian voice reads the following:

The MAN pondered a neat, conclusive ending such as is found in the films of Howard Hawks. The Man also pondered something more dramatic, along the lines of Orson Welles. Then the MAN pondered a fixed camera fade on him, in the style of De Sica. Then he pondered … and he pondered

MAN: I don’t know.

SOUND FX: The opening movement of Mozart’s Requiem

MAN walks around, and finds a book he hadn’t seen, under the other table. He flicks through it, then finds a paragraph to read

MAN: Baudelaire, writing about Goya, the Spanish artist. He writes, “Goya often plunges into savagery or soars into comic brilliance. He is at all times a great artist and often a terrifying one … No-one has ventured further into the realms of the absurd than he has.”

BLACK

Windows : Cruelty, oppression, absurd

: Music stops

Siri : Absurd

MAN: Absurd

LIGHTS

There is to be no curtain call

There are to be no encores

F is for Fake, D is for Distracted: ‘Distracted’ (James Devereaux, 2018, UK)

9th August 2020

The official trailer is on:

http://jamesdevereaux.com/video-on-demand/

where the film can also be bought or rented.

James Devereaux, actor, in Distracted

Watching ‘Distracted’, with its constant contrasts, gives one the sense of being a child in a cinematic sweet shop, real and surreal, a shop designed by M. C. Escher. The audience is enticed along a hall of mirrors, catching glimpses of Melville, Fellini, Tarantino. We are never quite sure what we see, what sleight of hand is at work, what card is being forced upon us. Unlike ‘Noirish Project,’ viewers are no longer along for the Odyssey, but are watching a detective film in which THEY are the detectives.

As we distill the black and white linguistics from the multi-hued para linguistics, questioning motivation, method and montage, we realise there is simply too much evidence, too many layers to analyse in detail. Therefore, what follows is merely a focus on selected aspects of the film; one could write a monogram on this film that rewards repeated viewings.

I shall give a brief plot outline before offering an objective, then a subjective interpretation, the latter being the movie memories the film evokes. Finally, I shall suggest one possible reading, knowing that it is merely one out of …who knows ? Surely, a different reading(s) from each viewer. D is for duality, the black and white of the film, the intertwining of black and white elements in the characters, their disappointments, disillusions, disgust, deceptions and D is for distraction but who is doing the distracting and whom is being distracted ?

Objective:

Plot & analysis

Notice how the back light shifts, left to right, from pure, innocent white to grainy, jaded grey. Mountjoy (left) meet Baker.

DI Baker is partnered with DC Mountjoy to investigate the murder of a young lady, Zoe. Baker is due to leave the police within days and appears disinterested, while Mountjoy is desperate for a quick resolution, to help save his failing marriage. The pair interview Zoe’s flatmate, then her aunt, learning of Zoe’s sexual proclivities, and of an ex-boyfriend, Tony.

Baker steals some underwear from Zoe’s house, and uses these to receive messages and clues about the case. Baker & Mountjoy arrest Tony and expose him to noise torture. During one session, Baker ‘hears’ a confession, yet it is absent when the recording is played back. Exhausted, and fearing for his sanity, Baker goes home, but is troubled by his ‘visions’. He receives another message and phones Mountjoy.

Baker leaves the job, and Mountjoy thanks him for solving the murder … Tony has confessed … and for giving him a good report. Baker becomes a private investigator, while Mountjoy’s success has come too late. His wife has left him.

The wrath of Baker, the “legendary,” inspector, contemptuous of his Captain, preparing to leave and damn the consequences, Achilles reborn. The obsequiousness of Mountjoy as blind as Achilles’ chronicler, stifled by protocol, obsessively following every rule yet unable to see reality. A detective of intuition, one of procedure, an allusion to Sherlock Holmes, 221B, an ironic play on happiness, both names comprising two syllables. Such is the world we have entered and we should be prepared for conflicts, contradictions and ambiguity, and not forgetting that every Achilles has a heel. What is Baker’s ?

“I’m bored,” Baker proclaims when asked why he is leaving, yet immediately undermines this assertion explaining that he really feels under-appreciated; he does the work, others take the credit. His ego demands recognition, thus his leaving will be an act of revenge.

During the investigation, Baker curtails a conversation with Mountjoy, stating, “I don’t want to talk about it,” before doing exactly that, “I had one of my visions, again.” The ‘vision’ or madness issue is central to our understanding of Baker as he questions, several times, his sanity before his junior partner, displaying a frailty, foregrounding a character fault. “I’m going out out my mind,” is repeated with minor variations, as Baker plays Catch 22 with himself, for Mountjoy’s benefit … just Mountjoys ?

Implication over literalness; we shall encounter more of this, further on, but first a short sketch of Mountjoy, a woefully uxorious pen-pusher who is continually projecting his anxieties onto his report grading. Mountjoy is only comfortable working within rules this does, after all, negate the need for thinking. His marriage is in serious trouble, his wife making (impossible ?) demands of him: a promotion, to loose weight. Their motivations for solving the crime ? Baker’s, to show how indispensable he is, Mountjoy’s, to have personal and professional security. How well they work together is demonstrated when they interview Catherine, Zoe’s flatmate.

The grieving friend, dressed in black but looking like a classic femme fatale or silent film vamp, seems “More than happy,” with the presence of the two men in her room. She refers to herself as a “Traditionalist,” with a certain amount of “Wildness,” a lady who, she carefully enunciates, does not “Sleep around,” (although no one inquired about her private life). She and Zoe were close, “As close as friends can be,” leaving us to infer whether that in- or excluded a sexual relationship. Her whole delivery infuses every comment with a palpable sexual charge, noticeably her insistence that she is “Happy to continue,” with the interview, an invitation that is repeated … and repeated.

Louise Torres-Ryan, John Giles, actor, Distracted

Catherine provokes Baker at one point, mentioning that Zoe adhered to the principle of ‘free love’. The Inspector visibly recoils in disgust and as this is filmed in Close-Up, we know it must be deeply significant. We’ve learnt a little about Zoe, maybe a lot about Baker.

At one point, Baker asks directions for Zoe’s room and, after taking some panties from a drawer and slipping them into his pocket, suggests the interview be terminated. Both Catherine and Mountjoy engage Baker in a polite passive-aggressive farce of staying or leaving, Mountjoy being oblivious to the undertone in Baker’s voice demonstrating how he needs things explained, needs to be told what to do. Did he once act impulsively ? Was Baker betrayed in love, and what are his intentions with the underwear ? We discover the answer to the last point shortly after … or, possibly uncover more questions.

Baker is at home when he suddenly gets pains in his head. We see a very short insert of a mouth, in colour, talking. Baker questions the voice, he cannot hear what it is saying. Then he knows what to do. He puts the panties, procured from Zoe’s house, on his head and is able to ‘hear’ the message … except, the message is from Catherine, not Zoe. We need to retrace our steps.

When Baker excuses himself, to go to Zoe’s room, we have a verbal visual cut that is, Baker asking for directions and then we see him in a room. We assume that it is Zoe’s room, but let’s break down the scene. Baker leaves but the camera stays in the main room, showing Catherine and Mountjoy talking, so some time passes before we see Baker, framed in a Dutch angle [1] entering a room.

Similar to ‘Noirish Project’, the majority of this film is shot with a static camera, therefore any deviation makes a statement: we are entering a different sphere (such as when the film suddenly turns colour and we see Catherine’s mouth). Then we have another effect: the camera fades to black, momentarily, and fades in with Baker standing at a chest of drawers. More time has passed. We presume it is Zoe’s room, but it may well be Catherine’s. No matter how close the flatmates were, it is more reasonable to suppose that the message would come from the owner of the clothes.

Baker’s legendary powers have been revealed. The agony it appears to cause him also gives him the insight to ask the right questions to unlock cases. Elementary ? far from it …

Baker

We have heard the message before, when Catherine was talking to Mountjoy. Baker wasn’t in the room but he may well have overheard the conversation while he was in one of the bedrooms. The audience already has this information. However, this ‘involuntary memory’ triggers another. He phones Mountjoy and mentions a diary he saw on Zoe’s bed. In the bedroom scene, we do see Baker look off-camera but, typically, we do not see the object of the gaze. If it were the diary, then he would have been in Zoe’s room and therefore the panties would logically be Zoe’s. The ‘vision messages’ are in fact nothing more mystical than recalled conversations from his subconscious.

So why does Baker take the underwear ? Is this the Achilles heel, a fetish that stops him from looking at Zoe’s diary, a valuable piece of evidence ? A shop designed by M.C. Escher, indeed. Where is this taking us ? Clearly, as with all great mysteries, we are not going to find out in the first act. What will we encounter along the next hall of mirrors ?

Nadine Hanwell in Distracted
Zoe’s aunt, a provider of donuts, brownies and Battenberg cake.

Subjective:

Czech New Wave & David Lynch

Cineastes are very generous people, enthusiastically sharing new films, and when they become directors, they love to put film references, blatantly or subtly, in their movies. In ‘Distracted’, I noticed several such references, but two seemed to permeate the film: the work of the Czech New Wave, and that of David Lynch [2].

I detect an old Eastern Bloc atmosphere, not throughout the entire film, but certainly in the police station scenes. The rooms are bare, only the most basic furnishings, pipes are exposed and the telephone, rotary dial (as shown in the first still) doesn’t work. Later we will see recordings made on a reel-to-reel, while Baker’s small sports car looks magnificently retro.

The station is predominately white, the darker secrets of the interrogations rooms, the criticisms of the broken system, the shortages and shortcoming whitewashed over. Just look at how shocked Mountjoy is when he hears Baker speak the unspeakable.

Alfie Black, James Devereaux, actor, Distracted
White walls, radiator pipes, plastic chairs …
and the results of cacophony.

Baker knows he will not raise above the rank of DI. Maybe his results are applauded but not his methods. Maybe he is simply not a party member, and he has to take orders from those who are loyal to the State, regardless of ability. Totalitarian states are not known for being meritocracies.

Czechoslovakian filmmakers infused their art with the national characteristics of humour and irreverence, shifting from realism to surrealism, splicing in (seemingly) unrelated images, and mocking the oppression that governed, then dictated their lives. Baker’s “Captain” represents the hierarchy, the government, the system.

Although the Captain is not shown, I imagine him as a character from Miloš Forman’s ‘The Fireman’s Ball’ (1967), bungling and awkward, comically incompetent. However, two other films could help us decode more about the sidekick Mountjoy.

The sudden insertion of colour shots, the striking Close-Ups of Catherine’s mouth, and the contrasting colours of the heretofore unmentioned Battenberg cake remind me of the wildly surreal ‘Daisies’ (1966) by Věry Chytilové while the seemless moves from reality into dream, inner thought or allegory make me think of ‘The Cremator’ (1969) by Juraj Herz. The film uses techniques from these two film to ingeniously relate Mountjoy’s backstory … and tell us more about Baker.

Mountjoy’s backstory

I will define surrealism, for this essay, as the incongruous combination of two everyday items, here, a walk in the woods, and a man selling cakes from a makeshift stall. Mountjoy shows us, symbolically, why his marriage is failing. He is enticed, siren like, to the cake seller, and easily persuaded, so easily tempted to partake of this ‘forbidden fruit.’ His wife has imposed a diet on him but, as the seller points out, “Your wife isn’t here, now.” Having no money, Mountjoy immediately barters his watch, a “Solid gold,” watch, a wedding present, for some transitory sensual pleasure. The symbolism is obvious; Mountjoy had an affair, which his wife discovered.

“What have I done ?” Mountjoy cries, as the cake-seller runs away with the watch, “It was a mistake, just a silly mistake,” but one that can’t be undone. A marriage destroyed, ironically, by a piece of Battenberg, a cake invented, amidst Victorian values (and hypocrisy), to celebrate a wedding [3]. In this sequence, DI Baker helps Mountjoy, returning the watch to him, which could be read as Baker saving Mountjoy’s marriage. At any rate, we are not yet finished with our cake-seller; he shall return.

A final nod to the Czech New Wave is the Cacophony Room, a special area of the police station where Tony is taken and exposed to noise to ‘encourage’ him to be more open about Zoe’s murder. The scene reinforces the earlier similarities to a non-democratic society as Tony has no lawyer, and the police seems to operate without rules or supervision. Reel-to-reel recordings are easy to erase. Furthermore, despite the scene showing a suspect being coerced into confessing, even tortured, pleading “No more cacophony !” the scene is more comic than shocking, especially when the film is speeded up and we see Tony rolling along the floor, covering his ears. Another example of Czech black humour. Now, let’s use the cacophony to lead into a director famous for his innovative use of sound in film, David Lynch [4]

Each man delights in the work that suits him best

The links to ‘Twin Peaks’ are immediately apparent; the murder of a young lady, off-screen, and the subsequent investigation, a diary, a map to a secret place in the country. We encounter a range of idiosyncratic characters, each one appearing to have an interesting story, or two, of their own. As has been frequently mentioned on Twin Peaks posts, we don’t care about Laura Palmer, we only care about who killed her. In ‘Distracted’, we don’t even really care who killed Zoe. Our attention is on Baker and his methodology and, to a lesser extent, Mountjoy’s domestic soap opera.

Additionally we have the main detective receiving messages in dreams or visions while, similar to many Lynch productions, there is an element of surrealism, of ambiguity, of uncertainty. Viewing ‘Mulholland Drive’ (2001), a second time is different to the first due to the information we later have, think we have, might possibly have. Our third has the same effect on our second … and so on [5].

Having said that, the experimental side of ‘Distracted’ is much more restrained. As with the Czech similarities they merely reflect my own feelings and tastes. Allow me one final comparison.

For me, the main Lynchian touch is the use of sound, although with a dramatic difference. Noise, effects, a non-musical soundtrack helped define ‘Eraserhead’ (1977). Conversely, both ‘Distracted’ & ‘Noirish Project’ are notable for their total absence of music, just minimal ambient diagetic sounds so the use of sound, of experimental noise as a torture, is especially germane.

Finally, and again, this is my impression, the cake-seller is not unlike a character from ‘Twin Peaks’, is not physically dissimilar to the Fireman, as like him, he holds clues for the audience … vital clues, so now it’s time for me to deliver my verdict.

Where to Eat the Best Battenberg Cake in Europe? | TasteAtlas

Conclusion

I do not believe that Baker has occult powers, or can receive messages. I base this on the fact that what we hear is merely a repetition of Catherine’s dialogue with Mountjoy. However, Baker does appear to hear something. Let’s go back to our cake-seller. The two meet in the country and have a little banter. Maybe the seller doesn’t just retail but also makes the cakes, he is, in fact … a baker. We have Baker talking to a baker, ergo a man talking to himself.

Baker’s weakness, his Achilles’ heel, is his mental illness. He is leaving the job for this reason, despite the blasting and bombardiering. He mentions this throughout the film, and we can see his ‘trance-like’ states as physical representation of this. Yet, doesn’t Baker mention his disability too often ? In a film so complex, isn’t this answer just a little too convenient ? Our work is not yet complete. Back to our notebooks.

Baker has ‘incidents’. They must be genuine because there is no one else in the room, no one watching, no one that is … except us. All the time, it is the audience that has been distracted. We have been lead up and down this Escher-like narrative, listening to voices that aren’t really there (hence the telephone that rings but has no one respond when picked up). Watching a full-grown man with panties on his head dance around, reciting nonsensical words is, at the very least, liable to attract our attention … to distract us, but distract us from what … the truth ? Baker’s success is down to his method, not his madness. He gets confessions by coercion.

The coda ? Mountjoy receives his watch back from Baker in the country, but this has a different symbolism. Mountjoy is now taking the baton from Baker, he will become disillusioned and cynical, as indicated by our last scene of him … drinking Bells whisky, the same brand Baker drank when they first met.

As for Baker, he moves from catching criminals to catching cheating spouses being too free with their love. A bit of revenge on cheating wives ? He seems a man in pain, so maybe that explains his methods of extracting confessions. But, it’s not really him, and it is certainly not helping, so that is his real reason for leaving. Now, he is free, no tie and no ties. He can choose his working hours, and methods and no one can tell him what to do. He has his book, the sun is shining and he is free. At last, he is free.

The illogical logic of M.C. Escher

MC Escher: An enigma behind an illusion - BBC Culture

[1] The Dutch angle is usually credited to Dziga Vertov’s 1929 ‘Man With A Movie Camera’, but have a look at Teinosuke Kinugasa’s 1926 ‘A Page of Madness’, a silent that, like Murnau’s 1924 ‘The Last Laugh’ does away with inter-titles. All three are amazing films, maybe a subject for a future blog.

A Page Of Madness 1926 狂った一頁 Directed by Teinosuke Kinugasa ...
‘A Page of Madness’ (Dir: Kinugasa, Japan, 1926)

[2] There are even some connections between the two, as Lynch likes experimenting with film, and many Czechoslovakian films were abstract, surreal and experimental. Lynch has also worked with the City of Prague Orchestra, while in ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’, a poster of Franz Kafka prominently hangs in Gordon Cole’s (played by Lynch) office. I don’t attach any significance to these, it just an interesting coincidence for cine buffs.

David Lynch recording soundtrack music in Prague

[3] The cake, from 1884, is generally thought to have been invented for the wedding of Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Victoria and Prince Louis of Battenberg, though not all historians agree.

[4] James and I share similar tastes in cinema, but occasionally we diverge, and I believe this is such an example. I’m a Lynch fan (with reservations, naturally), but I’m pretty damn sure James is not so impressed by him.

[5] By the same token, watching ‘Distracted’ affected my view on ‘Noirish Project’. It will be very interesting to see the final film in the “triptych.”

‘Noirish Project’ – Theatre, Literature, Pure Cinema

11th July 2020

‘Noirish Project’ (66mins, UK, 2018)

Written & Directed by James Devereaux

Available on:

http://jamesdevereaux.com/video-on-demand/

james devereaux, alfie black, noir-ish project
James Devereaux as Jimmy (left) with Alfie Black as Billy

Torrential rain illuminated by a single street light, a face emerging from the shadows, anxious and tense, a clock ticking, pounding agonisingly, a policeman appearing unexpectedly, the essential key dropped down a drain, precision planning, split-second timing, tough times and tougher men.

Such are the images evoked by the crime sub-genre ‘Film Noir’ (1) yet we, the audience, can sense that this is not what we are about to witness in ‘Noirish Project’, written and directed by James Devereaux.

I’ve known James for several years, so I have to recuse myself from a review or critique, and instead focus on the plot, the cinematic choices used in telling this story and what I think happened – clearly there is some ambiguity, equally clearly I will be discussing the entire film, so in the modern argot there will be spoilers.

To set the scene, I’ll give the synopsis, after which …

I’ll spill the beans on what goes down so listen and listen good … go to James’ website, rent or buy the film, watch it real close, then come back and read my two cents’ worth.

Synopsis

This is taken from the official website:

Bleak, melancholy, neorealist feature film masquerading as film noir. A couple of low-lifes try to make some quick cash but end up just waiting around.

Noirish Project is a melancholy and gently comic feature film about Billy, who steals his family’s precious pearls and hands them over to low-life Jimmy (played by James Devereaux), who in turn takes them to a fence. But when the pearls turn out to be fake, Jimmy barely escapes from the fence with his life, let alone the pearls. Billy and Jimmy endevour to get the pearls back before Billy’s family finds out they’re gone, but when the fence goes missing, they realise their story has only just begun.

Shot in black and white, Noirish Project is a neo-realist fantasy, featuring moments of peculiar poetry and gentle comedy.

Additionally, there exists a prelude short, giving some back story, but I’ll just focus on the main film. Characters studies and plot will be followed by a section on cinematic technique, then my conclusion.

The title itself conveys all the information we need; this is not Noir but Noir-ish (2). Unlike the Hollywood Noir formula, with meticulous planning, boosting, hi-jacking and heists, this is a ‘project’, reminiscent of an innocent school activity; innocence and (perceived) experience as personified by the two leading characters.

The reversal of Noir conventions is further evident in the naming of the characters. The strong, regal-sounding James, William and Richard are softened to the familiar Jimmy, Billy & Dickie. Another detour from genre is the blatant disregard to the film-makers’ mantra: ‘show, don’t tell.’ What makes the film so intriguing is that almost nothing essential to a Noir film is shown … it is all told, and told by Jimmy. Therefore, our interpretation of the film relies on how much we trust him, by extension, how much we trust his narrative. This cinematic ‘project’ hangs on the literary concept of the ‘unreliable narrator’. So what do we know about said narrator ?

Our first view of Jimmy is telling. He is shown in MEDIUM-LONG shot, walking along the street, and when he realises he’s been seen, he pulls his cap further down and slips into a side street. We often see him walking away from the camera, or with his back initially turned to us, before swinging around, as if he’s been composing himself for a performance, an act.

Throughout the film, with one exception, mentioned later, Jimmy hides under a cloth cap, and wears a long black coat, buttoned up to the top, a metaphor for how Jimmy plays his cards close to his chest and is, literally and figuratively, giving nothing away. His hands are often in his pockets, which we perceive to be deep; Billy will more than once encounter the expression ‘short arms, long pockets.’ (3)

Jimmy’s language is full of portentous saying, aggressive expletives and admonishments not to apologise. He is certainly playing his part, verbally.

As for Billy, he seems a man out of time, a misfit, anachronistically resembling a refugee from Renoir’s ‘La Règle du Jeu‘ (1939), alongside US literary icons Holden Caulfield and Ignatius J. Reilly (‘Catcher in the Rye’ 1945- 6 / 1951 & ‘Confederacy of Dunces’ 1960s published 1980) (4). Billy wears a dinner suit and bow tie (a ‘Dickie’ bow) and protects his head with a fur cap with ear flaps.

La Règle du Jeu [The Rules of the Game] ***** (1939, Marcel Dalio ...
Jean Renoir’s ‘La Règle du Jeu

holden caulfield | Jorge Sette "Linguagem"
Holden Caulfield from ‘Catcher in the Rye’

Jimmy has to work, to earn his crust, Billy is protected and pampered; so much is indicated by their outfits. Jimmy is also taller than Billy and uses this advantage on occasion. He will be the dominant character in this tale, and all tales needs a McGuffin to set the wheels in motion … but first, the two protagonists need to be in the same scene. Not so easy when the evasive Jimmy seems hell bent on evading Billy.

Finally, around three minutes into the film, they start a conversation. Jimmy speaks in cliches, conveying urgency and danger but, characteristically, avoiding specifics. What follows is exposition, and a further clue to the path the film will take. There is a robbery, a jewel theft, [not shown in the film], jewels pass to an intermediary, then to a fence (5) [not shown], the fence declares the jewels fake and almost kills the intermediary in anger [also, not shown]. The previous sentence could concisely encapsulate a typical Noir plot … but this is not a typical Noir plot. Furthermore, it is the audience who has to be on their guard. We have not been shown any of the above action, we only have direct and indirect speech to go on. The plot, as the saying goes, thickens, so let’s clarify.

Billy is the thief. We learn that he has stolen some pearls from his own family. Our view of Billy as an innocence is suddenly altered, his act is both cowardly and detestable (from Greek drama we know that crimes against the family never end well). Jimmy is the intermediary; he is not the fence but knows someone who is, a certain ‘Dickie’. Or does he … ?

I’ve termed such a situation ‘opennism’: to describe a situation which has multiple interpretations, and where the reader or viewer is much more involved, indeed has to be an active contributor to the story. Thus, the viewer can accept everything Jimmy says as the truth and enjoy the film on that level.

However, for me, the interplay between characters, the changes in power, the dynamic swirls seem indicative of something deeper. Jimmy looks a guy with something to hide, and I want to find out what makes him tick.

The potential for ambiguity starts immediately. The pearls, Jimmy informs Billy are fake … at least, according to Dickie. How many permutations does that simple sentence generate?

ONE: All is 100% true

TWO: Dickie knows the pearls are real, knows Jimmy can’t tell a genuine pearl from a breathe mint and lies to him, to avoid paying. Jimmy, humiliated, leaves without the pearls, trying to save face.

THREE: As above but when Jimmy protests, Dickie gets aggressive to forestall any further discussion, and gets rid of Jimmy.

FOUR: Dickie sees they are real and offers a price. Jimmy takes the money, lying to Billy, claiming he was almost killed to explain the lack or pearls and money.

FIVE: There is no Dickie. Jimmy is flattered that Billy thinks he is part of the underworld and plays along, seeing how far he can take it.

Billy himself questions Jimmy’s reply, doubting Dickie’s appraisal (to be clear … Dickie’s response as related by Jimmy). All that we know for sure is that Billy is left without the pearls (fake or otherwise).

What follows is the Hitchcockian ‘McGuffin’: to retrieve the pearls, to put them back before his family notices, a return to the status quo although he will still be in debt and won’t be able to flee, “To Mexico,” [that ultimate goal for crooks in US Noir films]. To do that, he has to convince Jimmy to revisit Dickie, and thereafter the film turns into a quest full of challenges to be overcome and dangers to be meet and, as the synopsis promises … a lot of waiting.

First stage is to return to the ‘scene of the crime’. Jimmy takes Billy to where he (claims) to have met Dickie. It appears to be some sort of clinic, a very basic clinic with a receptionist, whose occupation is signified by a single telephone, and a doctor, an older man in a suit, with a stethoscope serpent-like around his neck.

Jimmy is unable to communicate with the receptionist, who speaks like a witness caught by the police, afraid to squeal: “I don’t know nothing, I’m a nobody.” The doctor appears, perturbed and aggressive, demanding to know what is happening. Despite Jimmy’s explanation (for Billy’s benefit ?) the doctor claims to know nothing about any pearls, nor to know anybody by the name of ‘Dickie’, furthermore, he seems unduly unsettled when he hears that Jimmy has been, “Asking questions.”

The doctor then breaks the Hippocratic Oath by nearly breaking Jimmy’s arm, knocking his cap off and pushing our anti-heroes out of the building. Instead of following Jimmy and Billy, we remain in the clinic and listen to some very dubious dialogue, a text-book sexual harassment case. However, the ‘receptionist’ plays along, willingly, possibly suggesting that another type of film is about to be made at this location, and explaining why the ‘doctor’ was so anxious to clear the set.

Back outside, we have some more revealing character development. Jimmy, so easily threatened and beaten by the doctor, tells how he could have snapped the doctor with just a click of his fingers. He further suggests going for a drink in Dickie’s local and, setting a repeated pattern, asks Billy to wait. Jimmy later returns with some more reported speech: Dickie isn’t in the pub but the bar staff said that he was on his way. In fact, they were preparing his drink right now. Unfortunately [with a theatrical show of hands on chest], Jimmy has left his wallet, “In my other coat.” The audience may wonder if Jimmy even owns a second coat, but Billy is taken in and, despite the perfunctory protests, Jimmy accepts the offer of a drink. There follows a long take, in shallow-focus, of Jimmy and Billy playing pool or snooker, for nearly ten minutes. All that time, Dickie fails to appear.

Jimmy phones Dickie and engages in a very friendly conversation, but again, this seems put on for Billy’s benefit as we don’t see Jimmy paying for the call, nor do we hear any voice at the end of the line. The banter makes it sound as if Jimmy hasn’t seen Dickie for a long time, as opposed to a few hours ago, while Jimmy signals to Billy with smiles and repeats the name ‘Dickie’ more times than is necessary or natural. The upshot … Dickie will come to meet them so now they wait outside at a train station … and wait.

The Beckett parallels are obvious, albeit with one difference; only Jimmy knows if Dickie really intends to come or, as I posited earlier, if there even is a Dickie.

Tension builds as the characters, and the audience wait .. and wait. We hear the sound of trains arriving, twice … but as in Beckett, “Nothing happens.” Finally Jimmy goes to phone Dickie and offers to buy some coffee, with Billy’s money, naturally. In his absence, Billy asks how he will recognise Dickie (an issue that didn’t seem to occur to Jimmy, further strengthening the theory that Dickie was never going to arrive). The answer is shown, but again is literary: Billy wears a sign saying, “Dickie.”

Time passes, Billy portraying his innocent side, plays with a yo-yo. Not only does he play with a yo-yo but he evidently carries one with him. Later, innocent as a babe, he falls asleep, only to be awoken by Jimmy. The quest takes another turn. They must visit Dickie in his country home. There is, of course, no coffee for Billy, “There’s no time for coffee !” yet when Billy says he’s hungry, Jimmy agrees. We can presume that Jimmy’s had enough coffee, while he was off-screen, but is also hungry. Of course, Billy will be paying.

We cut to, appropriately enough, a waiting room and wait, then ride a prosaic commuter train to a country station.

A further dichotomy arises, that of city and country. Jimmy, a city dweller is out of his comfort zone, and what starts as a pleasant city-break, a walk in the woods takes a more ominous turn as Billy realises that Jimmy doesn’t know the way, that he has been lead in circles (in both senses) and loses his temper, though it is more childish petulance than macho aggression.

Finally, Jimmy sees the house, or perhaps we should say a house. This is far removed from a reclusive, inconspicuous country getaway. It resembles a Baronial manor, an estate run by the National Trust. Unsurprisingly, Jimmy instructs Billy to wait, at quite a distance, and unsurprisingly the wait is long. Billy falls asleep.

Jimmy has the pearls, in a black, plastic bag. Billy sees them and is content. The quest is over, now the return to the city. Under a soulless station underpass, Jimmy offers to buy Billy a drink … he was given some money, he alleges, from Dickie. For Billy, this day has been a rite of passage. He has failed in his criminal endeavour, and maybe also lost faith in Jimmy. He built Jimmy up, in his imagination, as someone ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’. Now he’s not so sure. Billy declines the offer and exits with a, “See you around,” which is code for ‘I hope I don’t see you around.’

As for Jimmy, he has a little money in his pocket, whether from Dickie, or Billy, maybe even his own which he had all the time. He walks alone, pondering his day, then goes to a cafe, drinks coffee and watches the world go by.

The film uses, exclusively, a static camera (6) and the opening shot, is rather Zen-like in its framing. We see the city, the Docklands area of east London occupying the lower part of the frame, the upper devoted to the sky. The division sets a visual theme of two opposites (innocence / experience, city / country, breaking the law/ being caught), areas clearly demarked, not unlike a Rothko painting.

Mr Devereaux’s London story has similarities with ‘Tokyo Story’ (1953) by the Japanese director Ozu, also known for making films with a static camera exclusively. As in the aforementioned film, ‘Noirish’s’ opening shot has movement, here provided by two Tube trains, who could easily represent the two characters. One trains enters, slowly laboriously making its way across the screen, while a second train enters from the opposite direction at speed, leaving the shot while the first train is still trudging by. We first see Billy, sitting at a cafe, then Jimmy, walking rapidally.

We also feel how this will be ‘Noir-ish‘. The scene starts in clear day, not a rainy night and unlike the frantic, fast-cutting in action films, we have a long, very leisurely take. The film will use long takes frequently, many shots lasting well over a minute, in contrast to what audiences expect from a crime caper. By my calculation, the entire film is composed of just 150 shots. Compare that to the contemporary ‘Bourne’ films with an average shot length (ASL) of around two seconds (7) .

The static camera sets up the scenes rather theatrically. Characters enter and exit the scene [usually] from the sides in the city, while the transition to the country enables Jimmy and Billy to enter from the back of the scene and walk towards the camera. The viewer is allowed time to consider the action or situation as the camera often lingers a numbers of seconds after the actors have made their exit, and we are allowed to view the scene, as if that too were a character. The camera is passive, not active; will that reflect the ultimate actions of the characters ?

The static camera / long take dynamic is taken to the extreme in the pub interior scene, the pool scene. This could be a homage to Hitchcock’s ‘Rope’ (1948), shot in ten-minute takes, at the time, the maximum length of a film reel. In keeping with the film, we don’t see the game, just the players sitting and watching each other play and passing comment on the action.

The day ends with nothing gained, especially for Billy. He has a chance to repent, and his crime can be erased. It never happened. Throughout the film that are symbolic clues to indicate what could be the future if things had developed along a different trajectory. Jimmy and Billy are so often shown trapped or enclosed against walls, doors and windows. Waiting at the station, the pair are framed against a wire fence, resembling a prison yard with nothing but wasteland and a thick, high wall in the background. A police siren wails and even in the waiting room, a security camera can be seen, observing them.

During the train ride to the country, we have some focalisation, where we see Billy as Jimmy sees him; Billy has a false beard on. This could be a comic interlude, indicating Jimmy’s fatigue, a semi-dreaming state, or it could be a deeper realisation, that maybe Billy isn’t all that he seems. He too is putting on a front and Jimmy should be on his guard against this ‘innocent’. Jimmy has handled stolen goods, but Billy is the actual thief. So who is the worst of the two ? The final scenes, dialogue free, pure cinema, hold, I believe, the answer.

After Billy leaves, Jimmy walks, from the right into shot, as the train entered in the opening shot. He leans against a wall, framed, again like the opening shot, in the lower half, the upper showing a nondescript building. He smiles to himself. The film CUTS TO:

A street scene, two house doors next to an antique, bric-a-brac shop. The scene cuts back to Jimmy, in the Zen framing, thinking what happened, what could have happened.

Jimmy looks in the shop window. How easy to buy a cheap set of pearls and keep the real pearls. Billy would probably never know, and even if he did, what could he do ? He couldn’t beat Jimmy physically, nor could he report him to the police, nor hire someone from the criminal classes to beat Jimmy – Jimmy is the only person he (believes) to operate in that milieu. Like taking candy from a baby. Is that what Jimmy does ? The answer, for me, lies in a subsequent shot.

Jimmy is shown, back to camera, typically, walking away from camera, in a covered retail area. Concrete bridges create a heavy shadow on one side of the frame. Jimmy starts to move to the shadow … then changes his mind. He walks in the light and out of shot. Back at the antique shop, we see him look in, turn … and walk past the shop. He doesn’t go in, he doesn’t con his friend.

London may hold 8 or 9 million stories but Jimmy knows his isn’t one of them. He’s no Bogart or Mitchum, no Belmondo or Delon. He goes into a modest cafe, alone, and thinks about his day, how he played at being gangster, a life of thrills and danger but now he’s safe, protected behind a thick pane of glass, and watches the world, watches other people … watches.

References

Alfred Hitchcock: British film director, famous for crime and suspense movie.

Yasujiro Ozu: Japanese film maker, famous for his use of the static camera and low-angle ‘tatami’ shot. While the camera remains fixed, there is so much movement within the shot.

Jean Renoir: Regarded as one of the best ever French film directors

Mark Rothko: US artist

Untitled No 3 1967 Painting By Mark Rothko - Reproduction Gallery
A typical Rothko painting, showing clearly defined and separated areas

Notes

(1) A style of crime film popular in the 1940s and 50s, often with many night scenes and shadows, hence the name ‘noir’ which means black in French. The films were often about gangsters or criminals planning to rob banks, or rich people, then escaping but they were usually caught or killed by the police.

The Elements of Film Noir - Page 2 of 8 - The Script Lab
CNS media blog: Film Noir and Femme Fatale.

(2) The – ish suffix is applied to words to mean ‘a little bit,’ ‘to an extent.’ Examples would be,

“Are you free now ?” “No, I should be ready at 5-ish,” meaning some time around 5 o’clock.

“What colour is that ?” “It’s kind of blue-ish.”

(3) An humorous English expression to indicate a lack of generosity, meanness and selfishness.

(4) Famous and canonical ‘modern’ US fiction by J.D. Salinger & John Kennedy O’Toole, both of whom were troubled and ‘out of time’, but that is beyond the scope of this blog.

(5) Slang term for a person who buys stolen goods and then sells them to other people.

(6) The camera does not move at all. Characters can enter and exit the scene. Several directors use this style of filming, to various extents, in their films but I will draw comparisons with Ozu.

(7) Concerning the increasing speed of cutting in the Bourne Trilogy: https://www.businessinsider.com.au/jason-bourne-ruined-action-movies-hollywood-film-cinema-2018-4

Hooray for Harold Lloyd

28th June 2020

Harold Lloyd: Jazz Age Daredevil

In the early 1990s, I inherited an 8mm Bell & Howell cine camera and, with my flatmate Martin O’Shea as actor, began making short films in the East End of London.

Pacific Rim Camera Catalog
8mm cine camera late 1950s / early 1960s

We had a two-bedroom flat near Mile End Tube Station (which we could somehow afford on a student grant), walking distance to Bethnal Green, Brick Lane and Limehouse, areas synonymous with names such as Hawksmoore (the architect), The Kray Twins (local crime lords) and Jack the Ripper (local ripper).

St George in the East - Wikipedia
St George in the East, a Hawksmoore church

The area is incredibly historic, and well worth a walk for local historians, psychogeographists, or anyone with a passing interest in this less salubrious quarter of London.

The Ragged School Museum - East London - Britain's Decays Urbex
Ragged School Museum, Mile End

Walk is what we did, one Saturday night, up to Victoria Park, down to the street markets of Brick Lane and back home via the city farm at Stepney and a visit to St Dunstan and All Saints Church, where we had a lovely chat with the vicar. He was in his working outfit, white, pressed and clean … us, none of the above.

This was where we decided to film what was, I believe, our first film together, ‘A Day Well Spent’, and I think this would be Spring 1992.

St Dunstan and All Saints Church, Stepney, East London

Now the technical side. 8mm film lasted four minutes in total. The film had to be thread, in a figure 8 shape, in the camera, then reversed after 2 minutes. This meant keeping careful time, and not shooting anything vital in the dying seconds before the film ran out.

The film was silent and the camera, I believe, had no zoom and no auto-aperture; the light had to be set manually. Basically, it was a ‘point and shoot’ affair. Close-ups had to be physically close, long-shots, far away.

So, we had four minutes to tell a story, beginning, middle and end. Martin plays a tramp, a happy-go-lucky, Chaplinesque character. He awakes, on a rubbish heap, scratches himself, looks around and gets up. He wanders through the City farm at Stepney

Farmer's Paradise: an inside look at Stepney City Farm | City farm ...
Stepney City Farm
Stepney City Farm (London, England) - Đánh giá - Tripadvisor

Naturally, he’s hungry and seeing the chickens gives him an idea; he has to ‘procure’ an egg for breakfast, without being detected or suffering an avian assault. With his cunning and agility, he is successful, and celebrates his victory by holding his prize aloft as he runs past St Dunstan’s.

However, when he searches his pockets, he only has a fork with twisted prongs … not a suitable implement to eat his breakfast. Disappointed, he throws the egg away, and decides to go back to sleep.

We also had a recurring event, namely a visit from the rozzers (London slang for police). One burly boy in blue was curious what we ne’re-do-wells were up to in his manor. To see a young guy, in trenchcoat, asleep on a rubbish tip alerted his instincts. And we had a recurring escape, namely I showed my camera and all became clear … “Oh, they’re making art,” heavy irony on the pronunciation of ‘art’, and that sarcasm has repeated through the years.

Or maybe, like most people of my generation, he would have seen some short compilation films on BBC1 after 5.30 pm and before the 6.00 pm News. This was how so many of my friends were introduced to the world of Harold Lloyd.

Harold Lloyd - Wikipedia

Everyone knew Chaplin, most people had heard of Buster Keaton, but Mr Harold Lloyd was totally unknown. That all changed with a series of 20-minute programs featuring scenes from his silent films … and all my school-friends were knocked out by them. You would even hear people shout out as they left school, “Don’t forget to watch Harold Lloyd.”

Harold Lloyd | Biography, Movies, & Facts | Britannica
HAROLD LLOYD and JOHN AASEN in WHY WORRY? -1923-. Photograph by Album

Harold Lloyd, referred to as ‘The Third Genius’ was, and remains, a major influence, especially in how to tell a story by images alone and how comedy works. This photo from ‘Safety Last’ (1924) is iconic … and even more amazing when you know that Lloyd lost a thumb and finger in an accident on a film set.

His films and many clips are available on YouTube. I used to show them during break time to my Kindergarten class, and they loved him … I was able to silence 15 hyper-active kids with a silent movie star.

Happy Thanksgiving! Harold Lloyd in Hot Water (1924) | Nitrate Diva
Hot Water (1924): Harold Lloyd versus the Turkey on Make a GIF

Meanwhile, Mr O’Shea is busy in Berlin with a massive project: to put all our 8mm and Super 8 films onto computer, add commentaries and upload them on social media. Wish him luck, and take some time to watch Harold Lloyd … you won’t be disappointed