Here's an article I wrote in March of 2010 for Hound Dawg PDF Issue 5 on lost pin up girl JOI LANSING...
Perhaps now viewed as a minor B movie cult star and classic 50s pin up girl, Lansing started her screen career alongside Orson Welles and ended it in obscure flicks like Hillbillys in a Haunted House. Joi Lansing was born Joyce Wassmandorff in Salt Lake City, Utah, on April 6, 1928. By the late 1940s, she had made her way to Hollywood, where she began modelling assignments and making brief walk-ons in films. She made a brief appearance in the Orson Welles classic Touch of Evil, however, her film career didn't come to fruition, so she resumed her television career in a series of guest spots on the TV series The Beverly Hillbillies. In the fifties and sixties, Lansing was often compared to Jayne Mansfield and seen as something of a pin up, hence her appearances so often being scantily clad in movies. Other notable film roles included Hot Cars in 1956 and starring with Frank Sinatra in Marriage on the Rocks. By the mid 60s Lansing was working as a night club entertainer and singer while still making notable appearances on film. She shot her final film Bigfoot in late 1969, and the film was released in October 1970. Sadly, as her career was winding down Lansing was stricken with cancer and passed away on August 7, 1972, at age 44. She was survived by her fourth husband, to whom she'd been married since 1960 yet the couple had lived apart for years. Frank Sinatra is rumoured to have paid her medical bills after her death. Another interesting fact is that she was a Mormon, never drank or smoked and although she frequently shed her clobber, never posed nude. She is also the subject of Joseph Dougherty’s strange biopic paperback Comfort and Joi.
This interview features in my book The Life and Work of George Melly, as well as in my documentary, George Melly The certainty of Hazard...
It's not often I get to chat to genuine legends, a word used for just about everyone these days. But Wally Fawkes, now aged 94, is one where the word genuinely fits the man in question. Born in Canada, Fawkes always had an interest in comic books and cartoons, but his first job was during the war, painting the roofs of factories in camouflage tones to hide them from bombers. He won an art competition during the war run by the Daily Mail and ended up getting work there providing illustrations from 1945 onwards. He also struck up his passion for jazz, playing in war time bands and eventually joining the legendary Humphrey Lyttelton band. Around this time he took on the pseudonym Trog, and quit professional jazz in 1956 to give the cartooning the full attention it required. He provided strips and caricatures for The Spectator, Private Eye and the New Statesman, with George Melly as his text writer.
I rang Wally's home one Monday afternoon, his wife answering the phone and disturbing Wally from listening to an audiobook on his headphones. He then came to the phone, a gentle sounding and good humoured bloke, very easy and nice to talk to.
So Wally, you knew George all those years. How would you sum up his character in the early days of the 1950s?
He didn't really change. George was always larger than life, which made everybody else seem smaller than life. He had a terrific sort of life force with him, incredible enthusiasms. I remember saying to him once, after some outrageous bit of behaviour, 'If only you could overcome your shyness, there'd be no end to your possibilities.'
I'm interested in how you both ended up working on the Flook comic strips together, with you doing the art work and George writing the text.
Well Trog was my pen name. Humph had been writing them for me before then. I had got to the stage that playing in Humph's band, with the increasing amount of touring while keeping the strip going, and other political cartoons emerging, I was finding it difficult to keep all the things together. I knew for a fact that the playing was fun, enormous fun, and I loved it, but it was not a career. I knew my real work was the cartooning. I could do it from home, for a start. You can't play in a band from home, not without the neighbours complaining. So I quit Humph's band in 56 to spend more time with the cartooning. So Humph was doing the Flook strip, and by releasing him from the strip, it enabled him to really get on the road in a big way. So it became more than full time. The manager of the Mick Mulligan band, for whom George was singing, was a friend, and I was telling him about this and he said 'Why not get George in to do the strip?' I knew George as a sort of outlandish and marvellous man, but I hadn't thought of him for the job. But of course he was brilliant. He brought to it the social world that he inhabited, because he liked them but he mocked them mercilessly. He loved the minor aristocracy. And he really bit the hand that fed him, and I am like that too. That was perfect for the strip and perfect for the time. The middle fifties was when the social scene was beginning to unravel. You can't think now, but the Prime Minister was called Sir Alec Douglas-Home. But we accepted all that. Then the whole thing changed. The revolution I suppose, the revolution in the theatre, all before rock and roll and pop took over, to put an end to us (jazzers).
I suppose the jazz thing came back again bigger in the 1970s didn't it though?
Oh yeah. George came back too, but it was different, it was to do with his personality. If he'd been a trumpet player or a trombonist it would have been different, but it was his singing, which was extravagant to say the least. It made me wince every now and again. It wasn't my favourite sound, George's voice. (Laughs)
But you and George were playing with John Chilton for a bit weren't you, in the early 1970s?
Yeah that's right, we were playing at Merlin's Cave, near King's Cross every Sunday, around mid day.
What were those shows like?
Oh, fabulous! Tremendous. They were lovely, absolutely lovely. And children were allowed in too. You couldn't get in unless you had a child with you. They used to blow their coke bottles at us in retaliation as we blasted away. And the visiting Americans used to come in. And then George started coming in, and that put an end to it, in a way and as far as I was concerned, because we were then accompanying a singer instead of having a free time blowing. You had to be accompanying, which still had its own sense of fun, but it became less of an attraction. Then George took the band on the road, world tours, Australia, America, and again I couldn't do that.
You just fancied playing for fun?
Yeah. I was enormously fond of George. But musically I didn't see it as a step forward. And I didn't have the time either. I was just playing twice a week in pubs all within the London area. That suited me perfectly, it was tremendous fun. I played a lot with George and John Chilton. That was a good partnership.
So you knew George for years. What are some of your favourite memories nearer to the end of his life?
My favourite story... (Laughs) I mean towards the end George got slightly pompous. He did that Christmas gig every year at Ronnie Scott's, and then it changed hands and became less of a serious heavy jazz venue and it broadened itself up a bit. I saw him after he'd done the first one under the new management, and I asked him 'How was the new club?' he said, 'Oh it was terrible,' thinking that it was because the principals had all been changed, but he said, ' The doorman didn't know me.' So that upset him more than anything. And there was another occasion when the band and George played an old people's home. He turned up and there was a lovely old lady sitting at the front of the entrance. And she said 'Oh hello!' (very excitedly) and George said 'Oh, do you know who I am?' And she said 'No, but here comes matron, she'll tell you.' (Laughs)
That's a really good one.
Yeah. His ego tripped him up every now and then, but it was colossal and it took a lot to trip it up.
So you think he was kind of a loveable egomaniac?
Yeah! Who said that?
That's very good. But it was great fun doing the Flook strip. We spent a lot of time doing that together. He wrote the stories. We had a conference every week at the Daily Mail and we discussed future lines to explore. Then he filled it all out. He was more wordy than Humph, in fact it got to the stage when there was hardly any room in the frame at all to do any drawing. It was all balloons and words, you couldn't see the people. But we overcame that. You can't keep a good man down. But he had a huge success in later years as a singer. A lot of grey haired old ladies used to go along to be shocked by him. He got a lot of pleasure out of it.
Do you remember him more as a great figure than a musical talent? I think you once said he used to shout a bit too much.
Yes. The more he shouted the more out of tune it went. But some things he did were better when he took it more quietly. He was influenced by Bessie Smith mostly, and in those days they didn't have microphones. She used to sing down a great cone to get heard, to project the voice. Bessie opened it up and hollered away. Fantastic power. George did all that but with a microphone, not instead of. Without a microphone it might have been better.
So it was double amplified!
(Laughs) Yeah! He had such effervescence. I swore that I saw him smile out loud. It was all tremendous fun.
Writer and actress Marie Findley worked with maverick filmmaker Ken Russell in the later years. Here she shares her memories of him.
What were you doing before you met Ken?
In my late teens I lived in Torquay and a couple of friends and I decided that we were going to be the English Riviera's answer to John Waters. We got a super 8 camera, some outrageous clothes and adopted new personas: Emma became Cherry Muffin, Jamie was Leggy Mañana and I was Tulip Junkie. We started making trashy films and called ourselves Lovely Movies - our naive and rather smug attempt at irony. The films were full of cross-dressing serial killers, gratuitous vomiting and, for some reason, a lot of bad running. A few years later, after participating in numerous underground cinema events, Emma and I (now writing comedy for TV) hosted our own club 'Afflicktion' which had a run at the Edinburgh Festival. We had cherry picked the best of the underground scene for the uninitiated. 'Our Honeymoon' was a film of found footage, spliced together to form a basic narrative: there was a sweet and wholesome fifties/sixties wedding and then bang - the film cut to a 70s porn flick, hence the title of the film. Our Honeymoon happened to contain a tiny flash of an erect penis but that tiny flash was enough to get us on the front page of the Edinburgh evening news (or some such paper) and a serious threat of closure for the Pleasance, where we were performing. It was all very nasty but the ruckus also ensured us guest places on Ned Sherrin's radio 4 show Loose Ends, and Our Ken was one of the guests.
What was it like meeting him?
I was beside myself with excitement because I was a big fan of his work. When I was studying for my theatre A level, I remember my English lecturer asking me what my dramatic ambitions were and I said that I wanted to be in a Ken Russell film. Tommy had kick started my interest - a real assault on the senses - and my fascination continued the more I saw of his work. He was unapologetic, indulgent, and outrageous - in short, everything I longed to be. I was dying to meet him.
Compared to the other esteemed guests, Emma and I really had no right to be on Loose Ends but Avalon were our wonderfully pushy agents and, despite the initial intimidation, we found ourselves enjoying the playful banter between Ken, Ned and Leslie Phillips. We joined in happily - I retold the tale of our misfortune for daring to show the sacred sausage and Emma shocked the sophisticated Radio 4 audience by saying "beef curtains", though I don't remember why. I don't know whether it was these things that piqued his interest or whether he just fancied an afternoon snifter but we ended up having a drink with Ken in the Pleasance, of all places, and invited him to come and see our humble show. There was some sycophantic appreciation of his work but I genuinely think it was the idea of the underground scene - people making incredibly inventive films with next to no budget - that convinced him to come.
Afflicktion did not get a massive daily audience, I have to confess. Maybe it was our poster, which featured a cartoon character throwing up at the thought of Forrest Gump, who knows. But the small crowd always made the obligatory audience participation a bit of a trial. However, Ken put his heart and soul into it and I could tell he was enjoying himself. After the show, Ken spoke to us about the show and was bubbling over. He was particularly enthusiastic about the work of Arthur Lager who, like Ken, not exactly subtle, had created a cinematic orgy between a Barbie doll and several aquatic sea creatures. The cogs were turning - it was true. There were thousands of people out there who weren't concerned with a trifling little thing like funding. They were creating their vision anyway, no matter how ambitious. As Ken enthused about our underground offering I could feel something changing. Were we witnessing, dare I say it... an epiphany?
So how did you end up working with him?
A few weeks later, back in our flat in London, Emma and I were trying to recover from the mayhem of the Edinburgh Fringe. We kept looking at Ken's number but we were nervous. What if he was just being polite? Maybe he just felt flattered? Perhaps this wasn't even his number. Eventually I dialed and the self doubt subsided because Ken was pleased to hear from us. And that's how it started.
The films we made with Ken, came to be known as his 'garage films'. I am aware that many, many people would have probably preferred it if Ken had not made any garage films at all. I get the sense that admirers of his work feel this is the point where a dramatic genius went off the boil. Perhaps they're right, but I think some of the things that people have always enjoyed about Ken - that he was flamboyant, audacious and often ridiculous - are embodied in these films. They enabled him to grow old disgracefully - I mean, we are talking about Ken Russell here - he was not going to go quietly. What more did we expect, and what more could we want? Ken was not trying to hark back to his former glory or attempting to recreate a Hollywood production with hardly any money. He was embracing the underground movement and trying to make a trash movie. And that was one of the most wonderful things about Ken - he was still hungry, he was still curious, he did not want to stagnate - he was invigorated by experimentation. In my mind, the most enjoyable underground films are the ones that recognise what can't be achieved and celebrate that. They are fiercely anti-slick and generally feature flawed story lines, exaggerated and implausible characters, friends and family members struggling with demanding roles, cheap special effects and maybe even a deliberate continuity error thrown in for good measure. Ken's garage films were textbook trash. So, when considering the merits of Ken's work, a comparison between his garage films and his former feature lengths seems a bit irrelevant - they are two different art forms. Yes, Ken's later works might not be as good, but that's partly because he was aiming for bad. For we trash movie makers, low art is a lofty ambition.
Did you enjoy being directed by him? Must have been quite surreal...
For some reason, I had it in my head that Ken would be a tyrannical kind of director. It must have had something to do with the stubborn and singular vision that runs throughout his films. My enduring memory, however, is of an incredibly generous director - one who would regularly take on my suggestions and ask my opinions. It felt like a genuine collaboration. And, in the days before Lisi wrote his emails for him, he would write weekly letters discussing ideas, his inspirations and possible creative solutions. I think he enjoyed the immediacy of low budget filmmaking. If he had an idea he could execute it there and then; no waiting around while lights were repositioned, cameras rearranged, actors marks changed. And of course, no one stopped him from showing off in front of the camera himself. He was fired-up which made for an exhilarating shoot.
Because of the nature of this type of filmmaking, we would stay at Ken's house in the New Forest. It was a unique experience to be able to live and work with him at the same time. After work, we'd take his pudgy dog Nipper for very short walks. Ken would cook, the wine was uncorked and the stories would begin. Ken had so many stories - tales of his time in the navy, problems with his ex-wives, hanging out with Ollie Reed. Despite his shuffling walk and the socks and sandals combination there was a child-like exuberance about Ken. A naughty child I might add. All his stories came with dramatic embellishments, silly voices and Ken's faux naivety. One particularly devilish thing he used to do was, if introduced to somebody he was unsure of or just didn't like, he'd wait for the handshake and then let his wrist go limp and shake about his floppy hand saying, "poorly hand, poorly hand," in an oh so pitiful voice. He wasn't going to do anything for the sake of politeness if he didn't want to. And that is my enduring and definitive memory of Ken: that floppy hand was a cheeky act of defiance and despite looking lifeless, it was actually a hand sticking up two fingers to the establishment and to convention.
The Hollywood remake is a murky and often controversial subject. The 1990s were certainly the decade when the dreaded remake really started to rear its head and it seemed that almost every other film was a remake of either an old classic or a foreign hit. The worst example of this trend was 1998's shot-for-shot remodelling, or "reimagining" as a lot of filmmakers like to say, of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. They did a great job of replicating every shot, no doubt about that, but it was merely visual, with all of the atmosphere and suspense completely gone; and the less said about Vince Vaughan as Norman Bates running around with a wig on, the better. The remake then, is nearly always a depressing situation.
One really interesting, yet vastly underrated "reimagining" came in 1996 with Sharon Stone and Isabelle Adjani starring in the moody and genuinely thrilling remake of the 1955 French classic Les Diaboliques. With a script by Single White Female writer Dan Roos, co-credited with the first film's original director Henri-Georges Clouzot and Jeremiah S Chechnik behind the camera, it all gels together nicely; a perfect blend of mystery, twists and simmering tension. Chazz Palminteri plays Guy Baran, a nasty head teacher married to the meek Mia (Adjani) but also having an affair with fellow teacher Nicole (Stone). After getting together to plot his murder, they act it out with apparent success and dump his corpse. Strangely, the body vanishes and with cop Shirley Vogel (Kathy Bates) on the case, things become tense, especially when Guy is spotted walking around and various clues are left around the school that hint towards the fact that someone has been watching them; or indeed that Guy is alive and well.
Most cinema buffs will know of the original film and its classic moment where the "murdered" rises from the bathtub. It's a truly chilling scene and in this updated version it's similarly haunting, although the fact it's in colour and not black and white does soften the creepiness a little. There are some terrifically filmed sequences and genuinely exciting moments where you are on the edge of your seat. A completely different entity to the 1955 original, comparing the two is kind of pointless. You may prefer the original, but had you not seen the 55 version, you would still enjoy this one and be along for the ride.
Adjani gives a wonderful mouse like portrayal of the put upon wife who has had enough, perfectly embodying the desperation of a woman who feels she has no options left. Palminteri is fantastic too, nailing the nasty bastard to a tee. Stone herself gives what I feel to be the film's best and perhaps most multi layered performance. After all, she was seeing Adjani's husband, but builds up a friendship and closeness with her that often hints towards sexual tension but never quite gets going. Clearly, they are united in their hatred of the man and it brings them together, or so we think. Stone can be calm and collected one minute, then a complete bag of nerves the next. She gives a brilliant effort, perfectly measured and balanced, reflecting the situation she is in. In her outrageous comic book costumes, she looks great too, smoking endless cigarettes and constantly ensuring they have their stories straight. Of course, like all good femme fatales, she isn't at all what she seems.
Unfortunately, Diabolique was a massive flop, both critically and at the box office. With a large budget of 45 million, it only managed to claw back 17. This loss may have had something to do with the critics, who it has to be said, ripped the film apart. Remaking such a beloved classic was a bad idea in some respects and with film critics holding the original so dearly, it was only ever going to get bad notices. In effect, they killed the picture stone dead.
Mike Clark of USA Today was a voice against the picture, writing "The husband is still a brute, and the swimming pool is still moldy, but the new Diabolique fails to translate into anything more than the latest ham-handed Hollywood makeover of a European classic." The New York Times didn't like the picture much, but they at least enjoyed Stone's performance, although more ironically than in any other way. "If Diabolique no longer works as a thriller," they wrote, "it does offer the spectacle of Ms. Stone marching triumphantly toward the Dragon Lady stage of her career. There is no small entertainment value in this, not with the star playing schoolteacher while evidently in the throes of an intense love-hate relationship with her costume designer. Ms. Stone's over-the-top performance overshadows Ms. Adjani's more demure one... Ms. Stone, as the mistress, keeps busy delivering either menacing wisecracks or campy ones."
Roger Ebert, not exactly in love with the picture itself, for one seemed to appreciate her input, writing that Stone "walks around with a cigarette in her mug and makes biting remarks. The cast is not the problem... the acting would have distinguished a worthier screenplay. Stone finds an acid edge to Nicole."
"Sharon Stone, strutting around in leopard skin and angora, is the ice-blooded mistress who lures Adjani into joining in a payback homicide scheme," wrote Entertainment Weekly, adding "Sharon Stone, in a familiar role, hones her smirky, hostile hauteur to a witty edge. The biggest change in the new Diabolique is that it’s been recast as a feminist revenge tract. This means that there’s now an overtone of lesbian sisterhood between the two women, and that the big twist segues into a luridly cheesy exploitation climax."
In their review, titled "Diabolically Bad," SF Gate butchered the film, spitting out "Diabolique, starring Sharon Stone in a mannequin performance as a murderess, is a paint-by-numbers, implausible remake of one of the great thrillers of all time."
Despite what I feel to be a good effort from Stone, it was met with almost mocking contempt. Once again, her old friends at the Razzie Awards nominated her for Worst New Star, a joint nomination with her role in Last Dance, released the same year. Of course, this was a joke, as the "new" was what they called "the new serious Sharon Stone." It was a mocking and nasty put down, but at least she lost to Pamela Anderson for her cardboard acting in Barb Wire. Still, it was unfair for a talented actress like Stone to be seen as something of a joke. Of all the thrillers she's made- Scissors, Basic Instinct, Sliver, the later Cold Creek Manor - Diabolique is the best of the lot. Definitely worth a re investigation.
This article appeared in Chris Wade's 2017 book SHARON STONE ON SCREEN, available on Amazon
John Gosling (pictured in the middle above) joined THE KINKS in 1970 for the Lola Vs. Powerman era, bringing keyboards and piano into the ever broadening sound of the band. As the 1970s went on, Gosling was present for the dividing concept era - Schoolboys in Disgrace, Preservation Acts 1 and 2, Soap Opera - and quit in 1978. Here, is my 2012 Q and A with him from my book, UNITED KINKDOM...
Where abouts did you grow up John?
I was born in Paignton, South Devon, but grew up in Luton, Bedfordshire, where I learned to play the piano and organ while singing in the choir at the local church. I was also active on the local folk circuit, singing my own songs and Dylan, Paul Simon etc.
What music did you like when you were growing up? The Kinks were everywhere in the UK and I’m sure you aware of The Kinks’ music, but were you a fan at all?
I liked all kinds of music except jazz and opera. I was very much a Dylan and Beatles fan, but it was hearing the Kinks play Long Tall Sally on Saturday Club that prompted me to form my first rock band. We made our own guitars and amps. I played bass then.
How did you become involved with The Kinks then?
A man called Pete Frame, who happened to be my class monitor when I was at school in Luton, ran a music magazine called Zigzag and he gave my phone number to the Kinks management, who were looking for someone to play keyboards on the next tour of the USA. At the time I was studying at The Royal Academy of Music in London. I did the audition at Morgan studios in Willesden. One of the tracks eventually turned out to be Lola.
As soon as you joined they made the big comeback with Lola and Ape-Man. Were you overwhelmed with the sudden success?
Of course; who wouldn't be? It was an incredible life-changing experience.
How was life on the road with the band in the 70s? Wild times?
Wild times indeed. Large amounts of alcohol were consumed, hotel furniture re-arranged etc. Whenever Dave and I shared a room we were located on a different floor to the rest of the band - we had the record player and were mad, bad and dangerous to know. Later on, as Dave became more withdrawn on tour, my room was dubbed 'the noisy room' where nobody got any sleep but plenty of everything else.
What was the most memorable gig you played with The Kinks?
The Wolmann Rink in New York's Central Park was a gem. Sponsored by Schaeffer beer! Also, I loved playing the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park.
Did you feel that the albums were becoming a little too conceptual and off the wall or were you fond of the ever maddening concept LPs?
I was not at all fond of the concept albums. The stage shows started off as fun, but became tedious and too structured. The band's identity was swallowed up by them.
Why did you end up leaving the band?
Several reasons... it was never the same after our bass player John Dalton left. I was tired of being part of Ray’s touring entourage, which seemed to be getting bigger and bigger. There were many arguments and disappointments. I really missed it being just the five of us playing some rock and roll.
What did you do right after the Kinks?
I formed a band called Network with Andy Pyle, who had been playing bass with us for a while. It was a superb line-up and we made an album at Morgan Studios. Then Punk became big and R&B and rock were not the things to be playing
What are you doing now?
I've retired from music and I live the quiet life in Oxfordshire with Theresa, my wife of 42 years. I played with The Kast Off Kinks for about 15 years and still join them on stage from time to time.
How do you look back on your time with The Kinks?
I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I still feel as if I'm part of the family. Once a Kink always a Kink I suppose!
Below are some of my favourite Kinks songs featuring Gosling in the band...
Director Howard J Ford talks about his modern classic zombie horror flick, THE DEAD, and its, shall we say, rather tricky shoot...
Had you always been into zombie movies?
I wasn't even aware of zombie movies until my brother Jon and I watched Romero's 'Dawn of the Dead' when I just hit my teens. It scared the absolute hell out of us and for me, brought horror into the light. Not just hidden in dark corners. It could be anywhere and anyone...
You'd made a couple of movies before you got to The Dead. How did you come up with the idea for it?
At the age we saw 'Dawn', we were already out making short movies on super8 film with friends as actors and all that and we fully intended to make a zombie film after the terror turned to inspiration. Jon still has the original notes on a 1978 diary about one man in a desert type landcape with the dead everywhere. But at that time, zombie movies were largely laughed at in the film industry, people forget that. It was extremely hard to get taken seriously. Thrillers were more acceptable so we shelved it until we started shooting TV commercials, some of which were in Africa, then 'The Dead' was formed!
How do you and Jon develop an idea together, writing and directing. Was it easy working on The Dead together?
I almost laughed here at the thought of working on The Dead as being 'easy'. The script process was fine, that was Jon and I in the room and I believe our different views actually complimented each other. However, being on location in Africa with so much illness, Malaria, threats at gunpoint - knifepoint muggings and all the cast and crew had to endure to make the film was close to unbearable. Many times I thought we would come home in a body bag. I even wrote a book about this ('Surviving The Dead')
How did the plot and ideas come together?
Essentially, the dead was a metaphor for death creeping up on you. No matter how far you go, where you hide and how many 'shrewd' moves you make, you can never escape it... So that basis formed how we went about the plot. We also wanted to keep it moving and not be stuck in one location, barricaded in, which we had been getting bored of. We also wanted sparse dialogue, not a talking heads movie.
How hard was it to get the film to shoot over to Africa?
Africa is a beautiful place with some lovely people in it but it's a harsh environment and that was part of the point of the plot. Sadly though, it was near impossible to get the shoot done. For example, if the sound recordist wasn't puking up or with dysentery, we could do dialogue that day. That's how we rolled!
It must have been an amazing experience in a strange way...
It wasn't an amazing experience. It was one of the worst periods of my life and there was so much real death, starvation and all so close to us we couldn't wait to get out of there. Don't get me wrong, there is a lot to love about Africa and we have some great friends there now, but we faced so much corruption on a daily basis, I reckon about one third of the budget went on bribery and corruption just to keep us alive and moving.
You wrote the book about the making of the movie firstly as a cathartic exercise, but you realised it was actually a good account of the film didn't you?
I initially wrote the book just to get the experience out of me and I planned to burn it as an exorcism type thing. I felt I needed some healing after what we went through, but then someone in a coffee shop picked some up and read it and laughed about our misfortunes, I laughed too and that was it. It was a healing of sorts. They made me promise not to burn it and to get it out there. I did so, but I have not done any promotion. It's out there if you look hard enough!
The film gets in a lot of top zombie movie lists. You must be so pleased. Are you still happy with it?
It's lovely to see that, and we are very grateful to all those that supported the film, but I'm afraid Jon and I are bitterly disappointed with most of it. It's a shadow of what we would have made had we even had access to the equipment, props etc. we shipped in and all sorts of other horrific goings on that derailed a huge portion of our intentions. We probably got 35% of what we set out to do!
People even say it's the best zombie film since Day of the Dead. What is it about it that appeals to people?
Happily, many understood at least the 'vibe' of what we had tried to create. To take the zombie film back to it's roots and we even hear about new people discovering it for the first time and calling it a cult classic etc. Hugely appreciative of all these things, but, perhaps ironically, it eats Jon and I up as we know most of the opportunity was missed. It didn't help that we watched it shoot to number 1 selling horror movie in the world at one point but we got royally screwed over it and watched the smart distributor's contract eat up all the money!! Right now, both films sell in the US, UK and pop up on TV all over the place and we get absolutely Zero. This is one of the main reasons part 3 will never happen.
Then you went to India for The Dead 2. Were you happy with the sequel?
I can be honest now. We made part 2 to get paid for part 1! We knew the distributor in the US thought they had the sequel rights but the sales agent had signed them the rights even thought they didn't have them to sign in the first place. India was beautiful though and when we realised none of us were going to go back to Africa to shoot the Dead 2 there, we looked for the most beautiful country in the world and there it was. It was a much nicer experience and we only got threatened with death on one or 2 occasions so it was a breeze compared to The Dead 1!
Finally, could you name me your personal fave zombie movies?
For me, it really is Dawn of The Dead, even the re-make is pretty good and I think I wanted to hate that. I also appreciate Night of The Living dead 2 for it's originality. Jon is also a fan of The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue. We both liked the potential of Zombie Creeping Flesh but that seemed like another missed opportunity. I wonder if they had a fun shoot too!! I should have mentioned that the late George Romero sent is well wishes on the dead’s theatrical release. I met him in Cannes and was able to tell him of his inspirations. By the way this is my last interview on The Dead. It’s 10 years ago at this very moment we were out in Africa and our poor star Rob Freeman nearly died of cerebral Malaria!
Actor Norman Eshley played the sailor in Orson Welle's underrated 1968 movie, The Immortal Story. Here in a sample from Chris Wade's new book on Welles' career as a director, Eshley recounts his memories of this larger than life legend.
"I played the lead in the Bristol Old Vic's showcase play in 1966 and I joined the Old Vic company to tour the USA with three plays. My agent rang me and sent me to London for an audition. I never asked what it was for, did it and went back to Bristol. I then had another call from my agent who said "Orson Welles wants to see you in Madrid". I was astonished to say the least. The tickets arrived and Mum and Dad took me to Heathrow. It was the first time I had flown.
At Madrid airport I was met by a man with a stretch limo and I was driven to Welles' house. I was met by Welles wife, Paola, who told me that Orson was delayed because he had been out getting drunk with Joseph Cotton and was sleeping it off.
Later that afternoon I was called into the house and waited in Orson's study. The great man arrived. I was warned by his staff that he didn't like yes-men so I argued with him about a playwright of whom I knew almost nothing. He realised that I was bluffing and started to laugh. He pressed a bell on his desk and his secretary came in. "Give the guy some dough and let him go see the town". I said goodbye to Welles and was taken outside. "You've got the job" I was told. I went home still not knowing what the job was.
Welles had me on set in costume for about a week before he used me. He knew that it was my first role and that I knew nothing about filming. In those days drama schools only taught stagecraft. He wanted me to learn on the set and it was invaluable. We had lunch together every day and I began to understand the process. Then one day he said that I would be filming the next day. So my first day's professional work was in bed with Jeanne Moreau directed by Orson Welles!
He was nothing but kindness towards me and I feel strange saying Orson because I never called him anything but Mr Welles. The very fact that I had his name on my CV opened all sort of doors. Some 20 years after the film I was employed by directors wanting to know about him. My memories are of a very kind giant that kicked off my career."
To read more, click on the link below to order Chris's essay book on Welles' career, which focuses primarily on Citizen Kane and The Other Side of the Wind being its two bookends.
Now few people will be interested in this post I am sure, but allow me some self indulgence. Gulag is a 1985 prison drama set in Russia, starring David Keith and Malcolm McDowell. It is rather obscure, but was a favourite of mine as a teen when I had it on a large box format VHS. I managed to get some questions to its director, and here are his vivid answers.
Do you recall how you got involved in directing Gulag?
I believe I was offered the film through my agent. The producer, Andrew Adelson contacted my agent and asked if I would be interested. I read the script and thought it was great. So I signed on.
What view did you take to directing the film? Did you plan much ahead?
One of my favorite memories in all of my work was the day that Andy and I boarded a plane in Los Angeles, flew to Oslo, which was about eleven hours, took a taxi to the train station in Oslo, boarded a train, took it five hours straight north to a tiny town where we got off. It wasn't even a town. It was about four buildings, if I remember correctly. One was a two story hotel, if memory serves. We were met at the train by three or four people from the Norway production company. They walked us across the tracks and into the hotel. They told us to drop our bags there, and that they'd like to take us scouting. We said; "Fine." So they handed up some snowmobile suits. You know, those all-in-one-piece kind of coveralls. We pulled them on over our traveling clothes that we had worn from Los Angeles. They gave us some heavy boots. We left our shoes in the lobby. They said; "This way." And we walked out the back door of the building. There sat four or five snowmobiles, and a SnowCat. A big sort of tank with tank tracks, that would seat about six people, I believe. It was running quietly. It looked very powerful and even a bit military. They asked if we would like to ride in the SnowCat, or take a snowmobile. I choose a snowmobile because it looked like fun, and Andy kind of reluctantly agreed. They gave up rudimentary instructions: "Start it here, brake here, accelerate here." Okay. "Follow us." They all got in the SnowCat and Andy and I swung our legs over our snowmobiles and started them up.
The Snowcat pulled out and we followed. After just a minute or two we were out of sight of the buildings and the railroad. Nothing but mountains everywhere, and all were covered with snow. I looked over at Andy and began to laugh. He and I were running our snowmobiles beside each other and it suddenly hit us that about seventeen hours ago we had been in Los Angeles, California. Now here we were, on snowmobiles, following a Snowcat, in the mountains of Norway! Hilarious! We couldn't stop laughing. The life of filmmakers can be fascinating !
I took a lot of scouting trips on the snowmobile. One almost killed me and Andy, and another almost killed me. Andy and I went on another scouting trip a few days later. This time he rode on the back of my snowmobile, with me. It had always been sunny when we took the scouting trips, and the sun on the mountains allowed us to have a rough idea of where we were in relation to the hotel, and in relation to the area we had chosen as a shooting location. So, this time instead of following the slow SnowCat, I told Andy: "I know where the location is." and I veered off from the SnowCat, reeving up the snowmobile to maximum velocity, and off we went. It only took a minute for us to be out of sight of the SnowCat and all alone in the mountains. But then something happened that I had not anticipated. The clouds came in. Now everything... and I mean everything.... looked the same. No sun on the mountains, meant no landscape to guide by. Everywhere you looked all you saw was white. No peaks to guide by. Just blank white. I turned back toward where I thought the SnowCat was. No sign of them. We drove around for more than an hour. Andy asked me if I knew where I was and I shouted back; "Oh yeah." I kept looking down at the fuel indicator. It was dropping fast. We were lost, and night was coming. Spending the night out there could easily be deadly. The temperature was already below zero and dropping fast.
Finally, after I don't know how much time, I came over a hill and I saw a tiny, tiny dot in the distance. I shoved up my goggles and stared at it. Was it the SnowCat? I took off toward it, and as it grew larger, I realized we were saved. I stopped the snowmobile for a moment to pretend that I wasn't racing toward the safety of the SnowCat. Andy said: "You were lost, weren't you?" "Yes." Nothing more was said. We took off to join that slow SnowCat with a driver who knew what he was doing. Not one from LA.
Another time I was out scouting with the main scout, a man who had grown up there. We were at the base of the glacier. He had taken me there at my request. It was dramatic. Tons of ice moving slowly. You could hear it moving. Groaning as it pushed its way across more tons of ice.
I was walking around the base of the glacier when he said to me: "Don't go too close---" That was as far as his sentence got before the ice gave way under me. I fell in up to my chest. I had grabbed at the ice as I fell, and was holding on in some way. The hole was small, so my body was kind of being supported by the ice. He ran toward me and then laid down and crawled the last few feet. He said: "Take my hand." He got close enough that I could grab for him. "I'm going to pull you out." He yanked on me and I started to come out. I fought to get a better grip on him, and finally got both hands on his body. Somehow I got out. I can't remember actually how. But when he got me out he kept dragging me on my stomach until we were several yards away from the hole. I heard the ice give way in the hole, and I could hear it falling. The hole got bigger. Probably three times bigger. And then silence. We crawled further away, and then he said: "Okay, you can stand up now." I looked back. There was a blue hole where I was standing before, and "knives" of ice surrounding the hole. I said: "What would you have done if I had fallen into that?" He sort of screwed up his face for a moment, and then said very matter of factually: "Gone back to the hotel."
While we were shooting up there two cross country skiers died. They had gotten lost apparently, and had not done the necessary thing, which is to stick your skies in the snow, standing up. They had laid their skies down, which had allowed them to get covered with snow very quickly. Skis sticking up to almost their full height can be seen at some distance. But skis laying down, and skiers laying down get covered with snow quickly. They froze to death.
I learned a lot about snow while I was there. At one point in the film we have a scene where the boys cover themselves with snow in order not to be seen by a Russian helicopter. After the helicopter goes over, the boys are supposed to stick their heads up out of the snow. So, I set the cameras and we dug a shallow hole in the snow. They boys got in, and we covered them in snow. They were only just barely under the snow, but not visible. We rolled. I waited until enough time had gone by for me to establish that the helicopter had gone by (to be shot later), and then I yelled "Action", for them to stick their heads up out of the snow. Nothing. I yelled again, louder. Nothing. Louder. Nothing. I moved as close as I could to where they were buried without getting into the shot, and yelled as loud as I could. "ACTION!" Nothing. Finally I cut the camera and we rushed in and uncovered them. They were fine, but they said they never heard a thing. I realized how people buried in an avalanche could never be found. I don't remember how I finally made the shot work. But we got it.
We had some problems while shooting, as one always does. One of the big ones was that the day we were supposed to begin shooting in the Gulag camp the Production Designer came to me and said: "We're not ready." I had never heard that before or since. Not ready? I have a crew and actors ready to move into this set, how can you not be ready? We lost a whole day, as I remember.
We shot some of the film's interiors in one of the studios in London. We had lots of Russian extras for those scenes. And I remember being amazed that they all seemed to be drunk on vodka by the afternoon. But I never saw anyone drinking. I was fascinated that they could smuggle it in every day.
How did David Keith come to be cast and how was he to work with?
David and I were not particularly simpatico. He took direction fine, and we never argued, that I can remember. But we were not buddies. I remember that Andy and I had tried to get William Hurt to star in the film. We even went to New York and met with him in his apartment. He said he was very tempted because of the scene where his character would jump in the tank of shit. He thought that was a great scene. But he turned us down for some reason.
Malcolm McDowell is a favourite of mine. How did he get cast and was he good to work with?
I LOVED Malcolm. He was great. Funny. Happy. Lovely man. I remember he was having trouble with one line on a particular day. I don't remember if he couldn't get the line right, or if I wanted him to do it differently than he was doing it. Maybe both. But he got so frustrated and I thought maybe the extras were making noise that was distracting him, so I asked for total quiet. He said: "It doesn't matter, Roger, I'm hearing the M5 in my head." The English crew laughed. I didn't really get it, but we were hundreds of miles from the M5.
I wish I could have worked with Malcolm many more times.
What kind of reaction did you get when the film was released?
Don't remember. I remember being quite proud of the film, and thinking that the weakest part was before David's character was arrested. I wished I had done a better job with that section. But I thought the prison and gulag scenes were well done.
All these years on, do you ever get people mentioning the film to you or any feedback?
No. I think very few people ever saw that film, unfortunately.
So let's readdress that...
WATCH THE FULL FILM BELOW...
(Note: The text here is from my book, MALCOLM McDOWELL ON SCREEN, 2018 EDITION
There aren't many individual mavericks these days in the film world, though the ones that exist are all on the outside of the mainstream, ploughing their own way through the indie scene. Simon Rumley, born in London in 1968, is definitely one of these rare filmmakers, a man doing things his own way, building his own cinematic universe, whether he consciously knows so or not. He is, in short, an example to all indie filmmakers.
Though he's been making films since the early 2000s, it seems lately he is really building up some serious steam as a force to be reckoned with. His brand of "extreme drama" (as he calls it himself) is very much his own style, and no matter the genre or area his film is centred on, he gives it that hard edge always evident in his very human, painfully raw films.
His first feature was 2000's Strong Language, while other notables include The Living and the Dead (2006). It was with Red White and Blue though, his 2010 thriller, that he entered a whole new realm. His debt to the genius director Nicolas Roeg was evident, and indeed it has become clearer in more recent films. He never shies away from the harsh truths of our human frailties and the complexities of the brittle mind; in fact, he charges at them, wrestles with them, redefines them. Lately he's been making disturbing little masterpieces, including his adaptation of the Donald Crowhurst story, and the startlingly powerful Fashionista. Here he answers some questions about his movies and building his own universe off to the side of the mainstream film world.
When did you come up with the idea to get the Crowhurst story on film in your own way?
Well it was one of those where the producer and financier came to me. And in all honesty, I hadn’t heard of Donald Crowhurst at that point but I read the script, watched the excellent documentary Deep Water and I was hooked. We met up about the film in 2014 and for various reasons it didn’t work out at the time and everything fell apart so I was kicking myself when I read about the Colin Firth starring film about the same subject matter which was announced in early 2015. Luckily, by February, Crowhurst was back on and we started shooting in April that year…
As ever with your films, you've created a complex psychological study. Was it a hard shoot to get this to come to life in the way you wanted and get it just right?
Thanks! Well the great thing about working with Mike Riley is he’s a producer with a great understanding of cinema and technique. So when he brought me on board, he did so because he wanted something more interesting than an average biopic. And certainly, with the Mercy as competition, there was no way that if we’d kept ours straightforward, it would have had better production value etc.
The toughest thing about this shoot was all the exterior shots we did on water - in the Bristol Channel in fact. I was partly attracted to this film due to the elite list of directors who have shot on water - Steven Spielberg, Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Roman Polanski etc - but any time you read anything about shooting on water, it sounds like a nightmare. I wouldn’t go that far with us, but it was very difficult so as well as trying to shoot the script, we literally shot as much as we could so that we’d have more in the edit suite to play with so that was an interesting experience and certainly gave an extra intensity to the film. In terms of directing it’s the place I’ve had to think most on my feet, constantly changing and re-inventing things…
I knew that as Donald Crowhurst went progressively, mentally downhill, I wanted to match that with film-making techniques, some of which I’d planned from the offset, some which came to us in the edit suite. All the sound design and the score and the grading helps make this process more notable and the fact that I’d worked with a lot of people like Milton Kam (DP), Richard Chester (composer), Vince Watts (sound designer) certainly made things easier to get what I wanted…
With Nic Roeg being the producer, is this something of a dream to be collaborating with one of your heroes? What's Nic like? He seems to me to be so direct and nice.
Yes, absolutely and to be honest it’s been something of a career high and I’m guessing always will be. I’ve always loved his films to the point that he’s my favourite director who mixes sex, drugs, rock n roll, psychology into such elegant and challenging, but ultimately satisfying and jaw-droppingly beautiful films.
Having him on board was a blessing because Mike Riley kept asking me or indeed telling me to ‘do what Nic would do!’ So that was completely music to my ears. It’s happened a few times before that I’ve had producers bring me on board because they want me to ‘elevate’ their script but when I actually do this, they don’t like it because they don’t have any real knowledge of film history or how film can be worked as a medium, so they’ll ask it to be changed into something less interesting or good, which is always sad.
So we went around to Nic’s house a few times and discussed the script and his films and the really interesting thing is that he tried to do a Crowhurst film just after The Man Who Fell to Earth and, like many of these things, it unfortunately fell through. But to be able to spend some time in his study, surrounded by memorabilia from his films and discuss both our script and his thoughts was absolutely amazing. He also came to see a test screening of the film and had some really useful and insightful comments about that too, which we took on board and really helped with the end cut.
He’s an absolutely lovely man and incredibly modest and yes, it was an honour to have shared an onscreen credit with him as my producer!
You're on a roll lately with your feature films. How is it to see so many films coming to fruition?
It’s been amazing but not without its trials and traumas. I’m not sure if it’s just my films or if it is film-making generally but none of the films have been very smooth behind the scenes. And as the years have progressed, it’s really getting harder and harder to sell any films, let alone low budget ones without A-list talent attached. Less and less DVDs are being bought and, irrespective of what anyone says, streaming hasn’t replaced this market so it’s very tough in reality. That said, I’ve shot one film in Louisiana, one in Austin, Texas, one in Bristol and one in London, so I’m very grateful I’ve been able to work so much.
I have to say Fashionista is one of the best films I have seen in years. It's very powerful, daring and original. How did the idea come about?
Ah, thanks very much! Well, it’s a long story but basically I wrote a script about consumerism which no-one really reacted to very strongly - people didn’t hate it or love it, they just thought it was OK. So in the end, I felt this wasn’t good enough so I scrapped that idea and thought about what I was really trying to achieve. And at this stage, I’d just worked with Nic Roeg and had always wanted to try to do a film structured in the kind of way he structures films. I knew I wanted to shoot the film in Austin because I’d shot Red White & Blue there and had a great bunch of people I wanted to work with again and then I thought about writing something for Amanda Fuller who was also in RWB, so I phoned her to see if she’d be up for me writing something for her, which of course she was and it all went from there... As well as being about consumerism and clothing and identity and self-perception, it’s also about gentrification and how I’d notice Austin change over the years since I first started going there in 2006…
I was interested in how you get those performances on the screen, especially from Amanda Fuller, who is staggering in the film. Did you tell her to let loose and go free, or was there a precise area you wanted her to stay within? It never goes over the edge, always skirting on the edge, until the very end.
Thanks. Well, I wrote the script specifically for Amanda and having worked with her on Red White & Blue, I knew exactly what she was capable of - which is pretty much anything. She’s an amazingly natural and intuitive actress with a very strong emotional core and a fearless attitude to boot. Again, having worked with her previously, there’s a big amount of trust there and we go through the script in detail before we get on set - she’ll have a few questions, we’ll have a few discussions and then once we’re filming, I pretty much let her get on with it with the occasional direction... As she starts to fall to pieces, the costume and make-up also get crazier and crazier and that’s something we all had fun with…
How long did it take to write Fashionista? And the edit, I imagine that was a long process too.
Well actually, the initial draft took only about 3 weeks and because I wrote it in the structure you see in the film, it was a weird process but ultimately quite liberating, withholding what I was showing the audience for as long as possible. The edit wasn’t much longer than about 9 weeks and although it’s all non-linear, we really followed the script pretty much scene for scene. I think there’s a 20 minute chunk in the film which took a long time for us to really make flow and we cut out a few scenes here and there, but it was relatively straight forward to be honest...
That non linear structure is what I found really fascinating, almost like a cubist approach to filmmaking, seeing events from different time points and views. You pulled that off amazingly I think. (Sorry to be gushing, I love the film.) Why is it that some people find this kind of thing so challenging, whereas I found it more enjoyable and relatable than the traditional Hollywood cliches... perhaps because events are not always recalled tidily and chronologically in our own minds.
Thanks and it’s interesting you mention the Cubist thing because I remember Danny Boyle saying he thought Nic Roeg was a ‘cubist’ director, the Picasso of the film world, so that makes sense. Yes, it is interesting to see how some love this film and others really don’t; it’s hard to understand but I guess some people don’t like to be challenged by what they see and don’t want to think too much about what they’re offered. I’m the opposite I suppose and if things are left deliberately unclear in films, I suppose some times it can be annoying but it also allows for peoples’ own interpretations which I like and think is fascinating. This film is also about an emotional and mental state of being which if you don’t accept or don’t want to accept, can make it hard to really get into the film. I’d actually be curious to see what a younger audience makes of Nic Roeg films, to be honest. I was at a great genre film festival in Vienna recently and was excited because that’s where Nic had shot Bad Timing but only a handful of audience members had heard of the film, let alone seen it, which was worrying given that it was a genre festival. But yes, this kind of structure and film-making definitely errs towards the less reliable narrator which is a fascinating concept to consider but I suppose infuriating if you don’t buy into it…
Amanda Fuller is turning into one of my favourite actresses. You also worked with her on the very raw Red White and Blue (2010). Was that a tough film to make, given the grittiness of the subject matter?
She's amazing and it’s been great to see her make some new fans with her new role in Orange Is the New Black. Red White & Blue was a very hard film to cast - especially Amanda’s role. We had a few semi-known actresses who were all interested but one didn’t want to do the sex, another didn’t want to do the violence and then a third had just done her first Hollywood film and wanted to wait and see how that turned out. In the end we held an open audition in LA and Amanda was one of the people who came along. It was pretty obvious from the get go that she really understood the character better than anyone else and had the emotional ability to give the film the tragic element that I wanted. So I cast her and it was the best decision I could have made. We’d discussed the sex and she was completely of the opinion that because it wasn’t gratuitous, it was necessary to tell the story so we closed all the sets and just got on with it. We did it with as few takes as possible and moved on. But her professionalism (and the guys involved) made it easier than it could have been. We shot the film in 3 weeks so it was meticulously planned and it was so intense that we just got on with the job in hand. As well as great actors, we had a great crew so, to be honest, although we were filming at times in 110 degrees, apart from the cameras stopping a few times, it was generally a fantastic and pretty straightforward shoot…
I'm looking forward to seeing Once Upon A Time in London. I might be reading too much into the title, but is this going to be a British gangster film done in the poetic Leone sense?
Well that’s the idea…Albeit on a lower budget…but we’ll see how it works out in the end!
Do you have more films in the pipe line?
I’m just finishing writing/developing 3 completely different projects which will hopefully all go out at the same time and am talking about directing a few projects from other writers so we’ll see where that all ends up…
What I love about your filmography is that you have made your own film world, a very dark one at times, but it's YOURS, and it's your style. Was that always a dream, to have this cinematic universe of your own, off to the side of the mainstream but often embraced into it, like Roeg in some ways?
Well to be honest, I never had a masterplan, as such. I always thought to stick out one should try to do things differently to the mainstream, especially with lower budget films. I guess because I’ve written the majority of my own scripts, even though they’re all completely different in terms of subject matter, there’s an emotion, rawness and honesty that I tried to imbue them all with, no matter what the subject matter. To be honest, it’s not something I’ve thought about much in the past but it’s great to hear you say this - long may it last!
What other directors have influenced you over time? Am I jumping the gun to think of Ken Russell (one of Roeg's favourites) in the editing, Lindsay Anderson even?
Ken Russell was always someone I’ve loved, of course; Gothic was a favourite. I always loved If but not so familiar with Anderson’s other films. Otherwise, Scorsese, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Park Chan Wook, Jodorowsky are a few more…