Saturday, February 13, 2010

Metropolis regained

Full marks to the German/French arts channel Arte for going to town with the restored version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. The screening of the reconstructed film was preceded by half an hour of speeches and interviews, then followed by a documentary on the restoration. I had planned to record the evening's proceedings for later viewing, but I found myself caught up in the excitement of the occasion, unable to tear myself away, just about following the captions and commentaries with my rusty schoolboy German. The idea that I was sitting in my Lowestoft living room experiencing this film in something resembling its entirety for the first time in 83 years, at the same time as the audience in the Friedrichstadt Palast in Berlin, was ever-so-slightly mind-blowing. The idea that I was experiencing it in a relatively warm environment while thousands froze their extremities off at the Brandenburg Gate to achieve the same end made me profoundly grateful for my £30 Lidl satellite box and the hours I spent up a ladder aiming the dish.

What of the film? Well, I'll be honest. I'd never seen it before, not even in the 1980s pop version by Giorgio Moroder. However, having seen it now with the restored material, I can't believe that it made any sense at all in its edited form. Every single reinstated frame seemed vital to me, no matter how dire the picture quality. I say dire, but the restorers have worked miracles with the 16mm reduction print found in Buenos Aires. This clip gives a rough idea of how much work they've done.

It's like patching a 30ips audio master tape with sections from a wax cylinder, but the most important thing is the story, and the elements told in those flickery fragments were meant to be there. And now they are, again.

I'll expect the same gala treatment from BBC4 when the telerecording of Fred Emney Picks a Pop finally surfaces.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Barrymore spiked

When the Irish chap in the previous Barrymore clip mentioned a troublesome encounter with Spike Milligan, I suspected very strongly that the Cheeseford archives held a copy of it. So it proves. Interesting to see how Barrymore deals with a turbulent guest. Interesting also to see how much Spike was relying on verbatim recitations from his war memoirs by this point. Apologies for the long-play VHS recording on threadbare tape via indoor aerial-type quality of the clip.

Barrymore is less

Cards on the table: I like Michael Barrymore. I saw him live at his mid-1980s peak, and I've never seen anybody control an audience like him. The self-destructive urge within him prevented him from becoming one of the greats, but, on his day, he was a stunning performer. As for the Stuart Lubbock thing, the basic, horrific fact is that a man drowned in his swimming pool. However, the same happened to Art Malik, and nobody blames him for what happened. Relative values at work again.

Fast forward to Barrymore's recent appearance on an Irish chat show with right-wing crusader and host Brendan O'Connor. If ever something deserved the description "car-crash telly" this is it. With a strong, intelligent interviewer, Barrymore would be a worthwhile guest. He needs someone to say "Sit down and stop showing off. You're here to have a conversation with me". Brendan O'Connor isn't that man. Barrymore evades every question in the most unsubtle manner. O'Connor should have opened with a couple of softball questions, just to see if Barrymore was in chatty mood. Then, he could have asked about the comedian's fall from grace. Instead, he opened with it, and was met with a rambling and unfunny flight of fancy about being the patron of the Sheep Society, followed by an audience participation version of Charles Aznavour's 'She(ep)'.

From there, getting any sense out of Barrymore was impossible. The male guest (who he?) almost managed it by remembering Barrymore trying to keep a similarly wayward Spike Milligan under control. For a second, it looked like Barrymore was going to respond with a proper anecdote about working with Spike, but he was distracted by a gap in the sofa and the thread was lost again, with Barrymore standing up and asking the audience if they liked his shoes. That this interview should be such a jaw-dropper for all the wrong reasons is a shame, because Barrymore's looking better and sounding more lucid than he has in years. If he sat down, behaved himself and talked like an adult about his life and bad choices, maybe people wouldn't think so ill of him. The odd thing is that his success was based largely on refusing to sit down or behave himself. Barrymore remains constant (the Jedward gag near the end is a genuine flash of the old mad brilliance of the man, and also a fine example of his utter fearlessness on stage), but the context has changed. Pre-Lubbock, the public were happy to indulge him, but the goodwill is no more.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Sir John Dankworth (1927-2010)

When I heard the news of Sir John Dankworth's death on the radio this morning, I thought I was hallucinating. I hoped I was hallucinating. After attending the 3 Bonzos and a Piano concert at the Bloomsbury Theatre last night, I and a few friends had stayed up all night talking (mostly moaning about the non-existence of this 24-hour drinking culture that's supposedly breaking Britain even further - try getting a glass of milk in Soho after 3am and the options are limited to Balan's Cafe and Bar Italia, each not much bigger than my front room and thus rammed to bursting), so my brain wasn't exactly in peak condition at 7.30am. Unfortunately, what I'd heard was real, and so my sleep-deprived brain had to process the fact that one of my lifelong heroes was no more. Fortunately, he leaves an amazing legacy of music, including a TV theme tune that did a lot to get the infant me into this thing called jazz. Condolences to Dame Cleo, and to Alec and Jacqui. A few years ago, I was covering a jazz festival in Guernsey for Crescendo, at which the JD5 - Sir John, Mark Nightingale, John Horler, Dave Olney (depping for son Alec) and Allan Ganley - were performing. They opened the second set with the Tomorrow's World theme, and very little can match the feeling of glee that overtook me. That was the only time I met Sir John, but I'm happy to report that as well as being a first-class musician and composer, he was also a genuinely nice chap. RIP, Sir John.