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

Seahorse Productions: ‘Shadow Sonata’ 2014

8th June 2020

‘Shadow Sonata’ was my first film shot in London since the early 1990s, and how things have changed. I started with a Bell & Howell 8mm cine camera, splicing film by hand and playing back on a projector; now I was working on a pocket digital camera and cutting on computer.

The title is a reference to the short story collection ‘Shadows of a Sound’ by the Korean writer Hwang Sun-woo, an author mentioned in the Korean film ‘My Sassy Girl,’ and the book plays a key part in the film. The influence of Asia and Asian culture should be discernible throughout.

Hwang Sun-won Whois
Hwang Sun-woo
Shadows of a Sound by Hwang Sun-won (1990, Hardcover) for sale ...
The short story collection

‘Shadow Sonata’ is a non-linear story of a man living in London, obsessed by an old love affair, while dreaming his way out of his depression. The topography of London helps the viewer place the action in the past, the present, and what could be the future, or pure imagination.

The Man starts by meeting his blonde girlfriend by an old museum in Walthamstow, north-east London. From the sunny exterior we move to the inside of his small London bedsit, decorated with Asian posters, and full of books by Asian writers.

Walthamstow Village - Wikipedia
Old Walthamstow

He walks around London, alone, the city appearing grey, cold, emotionless. He keeps seeing a beautiful Asian lady and feels very attracted to her … if only he could meet her.

I shot this film over two days on my Samsung W200, a camera that cost me around 80 UKP. It lasted until 2017 when it just died on me but anyway, mobile phones now have better cameras (I currently use an iPhone 6s).

Samsung W200 Full HD Waterproof Pocket Camcorder: Amazon.co.uk ...

Furthermore, I was very lucky with the weather; I had bright sun for the flashback sequence and dull wet grey rain for the present.

The was for the old love affair was played on an instrument I encountered in Sweden, a nyckleharpa:

Nyckelangelo

The dream or future sequence uses ‘Oriental’ from Granados’ ‘Spanish Dances’, while the melancholic ending is a late String Quartet by Beethoven. These small scale pieces fascinate me, especially considering they followed the epic 9th Symphony … but that is possibly a theme for another blog or film.

As always, thanks so much to the actors who gave their time for free:

Mr Martin O’Shea, Ms Michelene P. Heine, Mr Stephen Grey, Mr Alex Loveridge, Ms Angie and introducing Ms Emily Yue.

And now

LIGHTS

CAMERAS

ACTION !

The link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_e3DOCT36o

Seahorse Productions: ‘Inferno’ 2007

25th May 2020

From medieval Florence to modern-day Berlin, a film shot on both Super 8 and digital video, with a professional actor and professional sound engineer / cameraman. And all on no budget, as usual.

This is a retelling of ‘Inferno’ or Hell, an epic poem by Dante.

Dante Alighieri – Wikipedia tiếng Việt

Dante Alighieri born around 1265 in Florence during a turbulent time of political infighting. He studied to be a pharmacist, and books actually were sold in pharmacies at this time.

Florence Walking Tours: Half Day Tour Florence
Modern – day Florence with the incredible architecture

Dante is most famous for his Divine Comedy, a three-part poem, starting in Hell, Part 2 in Purgatory and finally Part 3 in Paradise. Of these, ‘Inferno’ is by far the most widely-read.

The Divine Comedy: Volume 1: Inferno (Pt. 1) (English and Italian ...
A recent edition of ‘Inferno’.

The poem starts with Dante in a dark wood, having ‘lost his way’. The poem is full of allegory and symbolism, the dark wood representing uncertainty and danger, as he has stepped off the path to God and salvation. He meets the Roman poet, Virgil (70 BC – 19 BC), who acts as a guide. Virgil will help to get Dante back ‘on the right path’ but this will mean going through the Inferno.

What follows is a journey where Dante sees the souls or ‘shades’ of the dead who are being eternally punished, in appropriate ways, for their sins on Earth. The Inferno is arranged in nine circles, the ninth being reserved for Lucifer.

Dante's Inferno - Live Score by Maurizio Guarini (GOBLIN ...
Virgil guides Dante through the Inferno

As the two poets descend, the crimes, and the punishments get worse, until, finally, in the lowest circle, Dante sees the Devil.

This poem is a major work of European and World art, inspiring countless artists, including the German Gustav Dore, who etched these pictures.

Dante's Satan - Wikipedia
The Devil in Inferno, by Gustav Dore

Dante had an idealised love, a young lady called Beatrice, and her purity gives Dante the courage to continue his horrific quest.

In the film, I have a young lady (Katerina) who reads by a small river holding a lily (the symbol of Florence). A man sees her and goes to speak to her, but she goes, leaving a book behind – the book is the Aenid by Virgil.

The Man then walks through modern day Berlin, to reach his salvation.

I used the new dome of the German Parliament building, the Reichstag, to represent the circular arrangement of Dante’s Inferno, and the Man walks over, or by, several rivers, symbolising the rivers of Hell.

Visiting the Reichstag Dome – Amazing Berlin views and history
The Reichstag dome

For the crimes against nature, I updated the book to mean environmental issues; the Man walks against a skyline criss-crossed with electric wires and factory smokestacks, like Blake’s ‘dark Satanic mills’.

We also filmed at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, which is in north Berlin, to represent the unspeakable horrors of genocide, all genocide perpetrated by any nation against any person due to race, religion, sexuality or politics.

Sachsenhausen | The Holocaust Encyclopedia
Sachsenhausen Memorial (ex concentration camp) Free Tour - Berlin ...

Many thanks to my team who all worked and contributed their time and talents for free:

Mr Martin O’Shea, Mr Philipp Pressmann, Ms Manuela Fresard & Ms Katarina Worner.

All the technical, digital camera-work and editing was done by Herr F.T. Pen, and the incredible foley artist Herr Max Bauer.

LIGHTS

CAMERAS

ACTION

The link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ari5zGIpwA

Seahorse Productions: Steppenwolf, Berlin 2014

15th May 2020

Historic photos of City Life of Berlin during the interwar period ...

This film, finished in 2014, was shot in 2008 while I was living in Berlin and I attempted to give it a 1920s feel. It’s based on the famous novel by Hermann Hesse:

Quote HERMANN HESSE – MAGGIE EXPLAINS THE WORLD

The novel, which was published in 1927, is a book within a book … a young man finds a diary written by an older man and it is this diary which forms the bulk of the story. As readers, we are free to choose how much to believe of the ‘diary’; is it all true, all fiction, a combination of truth, half-truths and wishes ?

The book certainly has a surreal quality to it, moving from realistic descriptions to a final sequence which seems to resemble a dream or fantasy.

The main character, Harry Haller, refers to himself as a steppenwolf, that is someone who craves human companionship yet is painfully introverted and uncomfortable around people. This dichotomy is central to the book.

Steppenwolf' Hermann Hesse | Cover: Detail of a painting by… | Flickr
A paperback edition of the novel

For the film, I choose areas of Berlin that were more historic and evocative of the 1920s, as well as selecting some ‘modern’ classical composers who were contemporaneous (Martinu from Czech Republic, Hindemith from Germany), along with W.F. Bach (who is mentioned in the book). The film plays out with a melancholy solo guitar piece by the incredible gypsy-guitarist Django Rheinhardt.

I also used colour filters towards the end of the film, as in some silent classics, indicating that the sequences may or may not be ‘real’ … it is up to the viewer to decide.

The film style was heavily influenced by German expressionist cinema of the inter-war years, directors such as Fritz Lang, G.W. Pabst and mostly F.W. Murnau.

Mr Molnar Levente, a Hungarian actor, was in the highly successful ‘Son of Saul’ film, while Mr Martin O’Shea has appeared with Kenneth Branagh and Bill Nighy in the Tom Cruise film ‘Valkarie’.

Ms Willow de la Roche gave, I feel, an amazing performance. I’m so sorry it took so long for the film to finally be cut.

Technical details: I shot the film entirely on Super 8, then had to transfer onto a compatible disk for cutting on a Windows-based laptop. At the time I was moving between Berlin, London and Sweden and furthermore, I had to learn computer editing from scratch.

And now:

LIGHTS

CAMERAS

ACTION

The link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BaPT0X-J2EY

Seahorse Productions: ‘Bad Faith’, Berlin, GERMANY 2005

6th May 2020

Filmed in Berlin, yet our story starts in Paris …

Existentialism, rebirth, personas and inner truth

Magda Champs Elysées *** - The Paris bouquinistes: discover the ...

Walking along the iconic bookstalls of Paris, by the historic Seine, I found a copy of this book:

Being and Nothingness: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology ...

The philosophy by Jean-Paul Sartre was the inspiration behind my 2005 film, ‘Bad Faith’.

Jean-Paul Sartre (Author of Nausea)

To encapsulate a weighty, heavy-going and often impenetrable book (at least to me) in a succinct sentence or two, Sartre discusses the concept of bad faith (mauvaise foi) whereby people adopt a false persona or identity, become affected, fake, inauthentic and, as a consequence, loose their freedom.

Freedom was a major issue in the writings of Sartre, so please use the internet to discover more if this interests you.

The story of ‘Bad Faith’ takes place over one single day, in Berlin. An English man, Alan Francis (Russell Shaw) has arrived early in the morning, planning to pay a surprise visit to an old friend, an actress named Julie Retore (Natasha Kepsi). They haven’t met for a long time, but Alan has an offer for her … he is about to make a film and wants Julie to play the female lead.

They meet and discuss old times, and how their lives have changed. However, when Alan offers her the film, Natasha senses their may be more to his offer than would appear on the surface.

The film can be viewed here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4ogP5mfuUw

LIGHTS

CAMERAS

ACTION

The film contains a number of French references, the work of author Marcel Proust, the films of Jean-Luc Godard and the soundtrack features Francis Poulenc. Julie is seen drinking in a French-style cafe, while we hear actress Julie Delpy singing (in French) in the background. Julie also speaks a few words of French to a young student who has forgotten his book (the French poet Rimbaud). The area where the two protagonists meets features a large French church, and Julie’s surname comes from a character in the French-language film ‘Messidor’ (1979).

The issue of Bad Faith is exemplified by the contradictory characters. Alan appears confident, indeed, over-confident, optimist, yet admits to being terrified (in a moment of relatable honesty). Julie, by contrast, appears natural and content as she deals with the minor annoyances of her daily life. Her modest demeanor serves to highlight the affected manner of Alan’s ‘performance’. As Julie points out, it’s “Not enough for you to be a director, you have to look like one, too,” to which Alan admits is “Just an image.” We, like Julie, question this … is it a just image ?

What is apparent is that Alan and Julie had some kind of relationship in the past, when they worked together in tiny theatres, performing for tiny audiences. I deliberately left the extent of the relationship open … I want the audience to decide (just friends, boyfriend & girlfriend, one-night stand, one in love, the other wanting a platonic relationship, etc).

During the script readings, I allowed the actors to invent their own back story and NOT to tell me … so even I don’t know their history.

As the day comes to an end, Alan has to be honest about what he wants, and the scene becomes somewhat embarrassing to watch. We see that Julie is open and honest, she doesn’t want to pretend or hide behind personas anymore. Tellingly, Alan doesn’t seem to understand … or want to understand.

A final ‘clue’ is when Julie returns to her work (and eagle-eyes viewers may spot a tiny photo of Julie Delpy at the front of the desk). We see a copy of Alan’s script upon which Julie places a copy of Proust, a book whose title has been approximately translated as ‘Remembrance of Things Past’.

So which one is really free ? We hear that Alan has to work under producers and acquiesce to their decisions. Julie is alone, but she seems to have choice over what work she does or doesn’t do. Is she happy ? Does she regret her choice ? Will Alan’s film be a success ? All of these are left unanswered. The crux of the film is the interaction of the two leads. If Alan had been less over-bearing and demonstrated humility, would the outcome have been different ? I will let you decide.

CREDITS

Natascha Kepsi

Russell Shaw

David Graber

Steffi Muller

Bjorn Langhans // Christine Muller and Philipp Pressmann

Harri Ansorge, Russell Shaw & Paul Pacifico

Cameras and Edit: Harri Ansorge

Foley Artist: Max Bauer

A film by Paul Pacifico

Seahorse Productions & IRRAH

BERLIN 2005

Buying lunch at a Kina Imbiss (small Chinese restaurant) Alexamderplatz Station, Berlin.
Photo by Russell Shaw

Seahorse Productions: ảo tưởng (Dreams) 2020

30th April 2020

This is my most recent film, ảo tưởng, which translates as ‘dreams’ but with a sense of disillusion.

Filming took a number of years, as I had to juggle the availability of my lead actress, not to mention trying to find the time and energy myself after working full-time at various schools and language centres.

Another big challenge was getting around; I don’t have a motorbike and Sai Gon has no subway system. I’ve not even mentioned the heat; I’m used to filming in north Europe, not the tropics.

Additionally, I had a series of camera problems. I intended to use my pocket Samsung camera W200. The first shots were ‘in the can’ ( the university scene) only for me to accidentally delete them. Soon after the camera, which had filmed in London and came with me to Thailand, Cambodia & Viet Nam, died.

Next I borrowed a Samsung Galaxy 5 phone, only to discover it has no ‘steadycam’, so when I played the recordings back, I was shocked at how shaky there were.

After that, I had a great LG phone, with manual options for focus, light, filters etc … but that phone also died. I next used my iPhone 5 but, as related in an earlier blog, that was caught in the monsoon of Sai Gon’s rainy season. I got the dreaded red screen, and that phone died.

Finally, I was able to finish the film on my new iPhone 6S.

I could have shot some more cutaway shots (scenes of the city, without any of the actors) but i thought it was time to finish the film.

In Vietnam, where I’m currently based, I have an Apple Mac Book (though it’s approaching the end of days, I fear), but in London I have a Samsung laptop using Windows, and has Movie Maker. During a recent trip, I cut the film in two days (with a lot of very un-British shouting cursing and cussing; I have NO computer skills or patience to deal with the fact that I have no computer skills).

Finally, I posted it to YouTube … and now it is available for everyone.

I’m not going to explain the film here, I’d much prefer viewer to watch it and make their own decisions or explanations, although I’d be happy to discuss any points people may wish to raise.

Heartfelt thanks to: Ms Quynh, Ms Mi, Ms Hoang, Ms Phuong & Ms Hang and the wonderful music of Mr Richard Lewis and the experimental aural soundscape of Herr Harald Ansorge and the encouragement of Ms Lorna ‘Ace’ Le Bredonchel & Mr Martin O’Shea

Lights

Cameras

Action

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZQvWlknJpc