Monday 29 June 2015

Martin Scorsese on The Third Man...

Extra Large Movie Poster Image for The Third Man (#1 of 8)

Martin Scorsese on 'The Third Man': The best revelation in all cinema
A reissue of 'The Third Man' is released on Friday. The Hollywood director Martin Scorsese reveals how Carol Reed's classic British noir from 1949 has influenced him and why it feels as fresh as ever

Martin Scorsese
Tuesday 23 June 2015

I saw The Third Man for the first time on television in New York, with commercial interruptions. I think I was about 15 years old, maybe 16. I saw Citizen Kane around the same period. I remember that I wanted to see the film on its first release, but was unable to do so, which created a mystique about the film. The theme was a radio hit, but my first viewing was on TV, around '56 or '57. But even with commercial breaks on a 16-inch screen, the power of the picture, the surprise, the entertainment, the film-making itself… a revelation. Expressive style, virtuosity – I became fixated, obsessed.

I couldn't wait to see the film again, but I had to wait until it was shown on television, maybe four or five months later. It wasn't the optimum viewing condition, I still lived in a small apartment with my family, so it was difficult to find the concentration and quiet I needed to figure out why the picture affected me so much. I was becoming aware of film-making itself around this time, about storytelling, about extraordinary cinematic experiences.

Simultaneously, a young priest who was a mentor to me and some friends gave us Graham Greene's books to read. The Power and the Glory had quite an effect on me. There was a stage version of it off-Broadway, and a live TV play with Laurence Olivier and George C Scott, also. Graham Greene's Catholicism had a strong impact on me, his themes of sin and redemption. I was very much aware of Graham Greene's contribution to The Third Man before seeing it. And I had seen his name on the credits of The Fallen Idol, in particular, the combination of Graham Greene and Carol Reed. I also admired Odd Man Out, as both of these films were shown on TV constantly.

I remember going to a place on 14th Street called Movie Star News where they had 8 by 10 glossies, production stills, and I bought a beautiful set of The Third Man, including some great artwork, and a great shot of Anton Karas under a table in the recording studio. They heard him playing his zither in a nightclub in Vienna, and when they went into the studio in London it didn't sound the same. They figured out that acoustically it would sound more like it had in the nightclub if they had him play under a table.

About four months ago, I screened a beautiful 35mm print of the picture for my daughter and her friends. "Why do we keep watching this?" I suppose it's [Joseph] Cotten and [Alida] Valli – that's the emotional core of the picture. For instance, the scene where Holly Martins (Cotten) finally goes to her apartment. He's a little drunk, and he tells her he loves her and he knows he doesn't have a chance. That's when she says, "The cat only liked Harry." So that leads right into the great revelation of Harry Lime in the doorway with the cat – which is iconic. But it's more than that – it's one of the great epiphanies in movies: the cat turning the corner and nestling itself on those wing-tip shoes, and then Harry Lime being revealed when the light is turned on in the doorway and it shines in his face.

Remember Walker Percy's great novel The Moviegoer? He refers to that moment in such a beautiful, special way. It became a moment internationally, a shared experience for a vast audience seeing that film. It's not just a dramatic revelation – there's something about Orson Welles' smile at that point that shifts everything to another level, and it sustains no matter how many times you see it. Welles comes into the picture about halfway through. That's the first time you actually see him, after you've spent so much time picturing him in your mind because everyone has been talking about him and thinking about him. So that might be the best revelation - or the best reveal, as they say - in all of cinema.

When Holly Martins finally meets Harry face to face on the Ferris wheel, you expect Harry Lime the criminal. Instead, he just jauntily walks up, says, "Hey, come on, let's take a ride." It's just a casual conversation… about all those dots moving around down there, and do you mean to tell me that if somebody came to you and said you could make a lot of money, but the only catch is that every once in a while, one of those dots might stop moving, you'd really say no? And then the great line—"Tax-free, old man, tax-free." And not to mention, Harry's response to, "You used to believe in God" – "Oh, I still do believe in God, old man. I believe in God and Mercy and all that. But the dead are happier dead. They don't miss much here, poor devils." Welles' contribution is enormous, of course. He inhabits the character. It's all a perfect fit.

You can't talk about The Third Man without recognizing the incredible contribution of [cinematographer] Robert Krasker. Those night scenes, the streets they wet down, the reflective surface it creates. Mad magazine did a memorable parody of The Third Man, picturing water trucks all over the city with massive hoses watering down every street. Then there's the city of Vienna itself, split up into four sections, with people living in beautiful baroque apartments, the camera pans and we see half of it in ruins. There's this extraordinary sense of a world that's come apart, accentuated by the off-centred cameras, the canted angles. It depicts the emergence from mass psychosis, 60 million people killed in the war, a civilization destroying itself: the camera style expresses that. The images never feel grounded. There's a story about when William Wyler, the great director, saw the picture and, as a joke, sent Carol Reed a level to keep his camera straight.

When the picture was released, the music became popular all around the world. That Third Man theme was a part of our lives. That sound was so strong, raw, yet jaunty. The sound of the zither itself feels ironic and provocative. I later found the actual soundtrack of the picture on an LP – it still sounds better than the CD. The zither music is a character in The Third Man, reflecting the madness and the desperation of that ruptured world, the feeling that anything can happen at any time. The upbeat irony of it…

Has it had an influence on my career? When I saw it, I was ripe for it – ready to understand what you can do with the camera. The themes of the picture made me feel comfortable about dealing with similar kinds of characters, characters you'd consider undesirable - the charm of evil. I did a paper on the film when I was 18 at NYU. The professor had different ideas. He wrote a note on the paper: "Remember, it's only a thriller." I disagreed. We know what happens in Psycho or Vertigo or The Red Shoes. So why do we keep watching? If some dismiss a work because it "fits" into a genre, then why does it sustain repeated viewings? It's more than the plot twists and surprises of the story. Certainly, it's the characters, the world they inhabit, the love stories, the trust and betrayals – the human heart. Each presented with intelligence, wit, and a very real joy of film-making, while still feeling fresh.

I hope The Third Man reissue prompts re-evaluation of the work of Carol Reed, a wonderful film artist.

This is an exclusive transcript taken from a filmed interview with Martin Scorsese. Additional writing by Martin Scorsese.

Saturday 27 June 2015

Philip Larkin for Poets' Corner...

James Booth: A place for Larkin in Westminster’s Poets’ Corner is long overdue
The ‘pre-eminent poet of common experience’ deserves a memorial among Britain’s greatest literary figures

James Booth
19 June 2015

The poetry of Philip Larkin is an endless delight. His words possess, in Martin Amis’s phrase “frictionless memorability”. His tones range from the sulkiness of Toads (Why should I let the toad work / Squat on my life?) and the acid rhymes of Money (I am all you never had of goods and sex. / You could get them still by writing a few cheques) to the sublime nirvana of Absences (Such attics cleared of me! Such absences!) and the yearning of Love Songs in Age (The glare of that much-mentioned brilliance, love, / Broke out, to show / Its bright incipience sailing above, / Still promising to solve, and satisfy, / And set unchangeably in order).

He combines words together with an originality which teases the imagination: retired horses are safe in “unmolesting meadows”; Hull is a “fishy-smelling pastoral”; our “almost-instinct” that “what will survive of us is love”, is “almost true”. He makes familiar words sound precious and strange. Casual phrases resonate with existential gravity: “what morning woke to”, “all we are”, “what is left to come”, “the only end of age”, “nothing, like something, happens anywhere.”

He is the pre-eminent poet of common experience: “Everyday things are lovely to me”. In one of his workbooks, he pasted a photograph of Thomas Hardy with the quotation: “The ultimate aim of a poet should be to touch our hearts by showing his own.” This ingenuous intimacy between poet and reader is the key to Larkin’s appeal. He is not a “difficult” poet. As he said in an interview: “I suppose the kind of response I am seeking from the reader is, ‘Yes, I know what you mean, life is like that’; and for readers to say it not only now but in the future, and not only in England but anywhere in the world.”

His reputation as a lugubrious Eeyore is overplayed, though he did act up to the role with gusto: “Life is first boredom, then fear”; “Beneath it all, desire of oblivion runs”. But he is equally moving when celebrating the million-petalled flower / Of being here, and the “enormous yes” of Sidney Bechet’s clarinet. On hearing a thrush repeating “It will be spring soon”, he feels like a child who comes on a scene / Of adult reconciling, / And can understand nothing / But the unusual laughter, / And starts to be happy.

Many of us, pulling into London in the frail travelling coincidence of a train, will have in our ears the last lines of Larkin’s great celebration of marriage, The Whitsun Weddings: And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled / A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower / Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain.

For all his intimate familiarity you can never quite pin Larkin down. He is full of contradictions. We start with delight when we read his line”Get stewed: Books are a load of crap”. Moralists will hastily reassure us that, of course, Larkin doesn’t really mean it, and point out that the speaker of A Study of Reading Habits is a dramatised persona. The “real” Larkin was a distinguished university librarian who secured the archives of the National Council for Civil Liberties for the library at Hull, and who initiated the Arts Council Manuscripts Committee. Well, yes. But this misses the joke. The speaker is indeed a persona but one with whose disillusion Larkin empathises. Books delude us with dreams; ultimately they are a con.

We are told that Larkin’s memorial will be a tablet set in the floor, close to that dedicated to Ted Hughes in 2011. In December 1984 Larkin was offered the Laureateship. Already ill (he would die less than a year later) he declined.Aware that the honour would go to Hughes, he wrote to Kingsley Amis: “The thought of being the cause of Ted’s being buried in Westminster Abbey is hard to live with. There is regret. Always, there is regret.”

So, by one of life’s little ironies, the poetic rivals will share their scrap of literary history together. Larkin would no doubt be philosophical about this unmeant stone fidelity. The organicism and hyperbole of Hughes’s poems were not to his taste but he found his younger contemporary a pleasant enough companion over a pint. “He’s all right when he’s not reading!”

Some will make objections, particularly to Larkin’s memorialisation in an Anglican church. What about Larkin’s lack of faith? This argument was lost long ago with the admission into Poets’ Corner of Shelley and Housman. What about Larkin’s “misogyny”? The man who wrote Love Songs in Age and Afternoons was no misogynist. What, then, about his two-timing of his lovers? One wonders with whom these critics are comparing Larkin: those models of domestic decorum Dylan Thomas and Ted Hughes, perhaps? Larkin’s empathy with women, and his tendency to put himself in the wrong, contrasts strongly with the attitudes of other male writers of his generation. Is the problem perhaps that he would not marry, unwilling to promise to “stand on one leg for the rest of his life”? At least he cannot be accused of adultery.

And finally, what about Larkin’s alleged racism? Larkin sympathised unguardedly in private letters with the prejudices of two or three of his correspondents. But he had no ideological convictions about race or culture. T S Eliot believed in theories of racial degeneration, superiority and inferiority. Larkin felt that Louis Armstrong was a more important cultural figure than Picasso, “an artist of world stature, an American Negro slum child who spoke to the heart of Greenlander and Japanese alike”.
Towering figure: the Dean of Westminster, Dr John Hall, with the statue of Philip Larkin in Hull

Larkin the man, that unique blend of families and fashions, is lost in endless extinction. But as the Very Reverend John Hall, Dean of Westminster, said in his announcement: “Larkin’s work and memory will live on as long as the English language continues to be understood.” In the end it is the poems that matter.

The paperback edition of James Booth’s Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love (Bloomsbury) will be out later this year

Thursday 25 June 2015

John Steed RIP

Patrick Macnee obituary
Actor best known as John Steed, bowler-hatted hero of The Avengers

Dennis Barker
Thursday 25 June 2015

Despite a long and diverse career in the theatre and cinema, Patrick Macnee, who has died aged 93, will be remembered as John Steed, the umbrella-twirling, bowler-hatted hero of the stylish derring-do TV series The Avengers. The programme, written and presented in “swinging” 1960s London, was thrilling and dynamic, and it made a star of Macnee and his sidekicks Honor Blackman (as Cathy Gale) and Diana Rigg (as Emma Peel).

In 1960, the series Police Surgeon, produced by ABC with Ian Hendry as its star, had come to an end. The writer Brian Clemens was asked to devise a show on similar lines, but more light-hearted, and came up with The Avengers, in which Hendry would be a doctor, David Keel, being helped in his search for revenge on the drug-dealer killers of his lover by a shady and enigmatic man, John Steed, from some mysterious intelligence service.

The show was immediately popular, with Hendry and Macnee investigating assassinations, lethal radioactivity, missing scientists and political extremists. Macnee was told to develop the character of Steed in any way he fancied. “They were very sweet people and they just gave me the name,” he recalled. “They said: ‘Have you read the James Bond books? Go away and make up a character.’”

When Hendry left the show after the first series, the emphasis shifted towards the flamboyant Steed. From the time the series took root in 1961 until 1969 when it was wound up, and by which time a third female sidekick, Tara King (played by Linda Thorson) had joined him, Macnee as Steed was the constant factor.

He reprised the role in 1976 when Clemens launched The New Avengers, which partnered Macnee with Gareth Hunt (as Mike Gambit) and Joanna Lumley (as Purdey), and ran for two series. Macnee claimed that Steed was based on his own ironic approach to life. During the second world war, many of his friends had been killed, he said, and he had acquired a “wry detachment” which he liked to think he had infused into The Avengers.

Macnee was born in London, the son of Daniel, a racehorse trainer at Lambourn, Berkshire, and his wife, Dorothea (nee Hastings), a niece of the Earl of Huntingdon. Macnee claimed that his family life had been chaotic and was dominated by a “tight group of women”. He was sent to boarding school – Summerfields, Oxford – at the age of five and then to Eton, where he recalled being whipped. While at Eton, he opened a betting book, helped by the racing tips passed on to him by his father. He also raced his own greyhound at the dog track in nearby Slough.

Macnee later said that he felt that first school and then the armed forces (in 1942 he went into the Royal Navy and commanded a motor torpedo boat) stifled his emotions. It was to escape this psychological straitjacket that his thoughts turned to the stage. He won a place at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, London, and became a leading man at Windsor Rep.

Unimpressed by the overall prospects in post-war Britain, he went off to Canada, where there were opportunities for young actors on TV. He sent much of his earnings back to his wife, the actor Barbara Douglas, whom he had married in 1942. He also took parts in many US TV shows and stage productions. In 1949 he appeared in a TV version of Macbeth and in 1953 was in Othello. In 1951 he played the young Jacob Marley in the film of Scrooge (A Christmas Carol in the US). He was working in London in a rare production role, on the documentary series Winston Churchill: The Valiant Years, when he was offered the part in The Avengers.

He appeared in more than 150 stage plays from his 20s to his 70s, including the Broadway production of Sleuth in the early 1970s and the leading role in Killing Jessica in the West End of London in 1986-87. He played both Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson several times. A memorable big-screen part was as Sir Denis Eton-Hogg in This Is Spinal Tap (1984). He was also in The Howling (1981) and the Bond film A View to a Kill (1985).

The cult status of The Avengers continued to grow, and in 1990 a recording of Kinky Boots made by Macnee and Blackman and first released by Decca in February 1964, which at the time had failed to reach the charts, made the UK top 10. In 1998 a film version of The Avengers, starring Ralph Fiennes as Steed and Uma Thurman as Emma Peel, featured Macnee as the voice of Invisible Jones. The following year he appeared with his former New Avengers co-star Lumley in a TV adaptation of Rosamunde Pilcher’s Nancherrow (1999).

Macnee’s first marriage ended in divorce, as did his second, to the actor Kate Woodville. His third wife, Baba Sekely, died in 2007. He is survived by the two children of his first marriage, Rupert and Jenny.

• Daniel Patrick Macnee, actor, born 6 February 1922; died 25 June 2015

Daniel Patrick Macnee
(6th February 1922 – 25 th June 2015)

Daniel Patrick Macnee died a natural death at his home in Rancho Mirage, California, at age 93, with his family at his bedside, according to his son, Rupert.

Macnee was best known for playing the internationally recognized, charmingly elegant, quintessentially English, and slightly mysterious character of John Steed in the 1960s’ British television series, The Avengers. Patrick Macnee, along with co-stars Ian Hendry, Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg, Linda Thorson, Joanna Lumley, and Gareth Hunt, created a unique identity that has reverberated for nearly half a century. The pioneering television series aired throughout the 1960s, and The Avengers became known for its progressive approach to feminism, the female stars being more than a match for Steed…and a plethora of “diabolical master minds.” The programme was also known for its creative team’s interest in stories about cutting-edge technology,

Patrick spent his early life in Lambourn, Berkshire, England, where his father, Daniel Macnee, was a racehorse trainer, and his mother, Dorothea Henry, was awarded a British Empire Medal for her work with military families. He was educated at Summerfields Preparatory School, where he acted in Henry V at the age of 11, with Sir Christopher Lee as the Dauphin; followed by attending Eton College, where comedian and author Michael Bentine became a life-long friend. Patrick trained at London’s Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art, where he met and married Barbara Douglas. Macnee served in the coastal forces of the Royal Navy during World War II. When de-mobbed, he trudged the streets of London visiting the casting offices every day, and hung out near the entrances to London’s smarter restaurants and hotels in hope of “running into” a noted producer. There were a few near-misses. He got valuable experience onstage at The Windsor Repertory Theatre, in London’s West End, and on tours in Germany and the United States. He also accepted some minor film roles, including that of Young Marley in Alastair Sim’s classic version of A Christmas Carol. But when the call came from David Greene, a director friend at CBC in Toronto, he left England within 48 hours and spent much of his adult life in Canada and the United States. He returned to the U.K. in the 1960s when production of The Avengers began in London.

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

The Elderly Brothers: -
I'll Get You
Things We Said Today
Everybody Knows
You Got It
Then I Kissed Her
Bird Dog

Ron Elderly: -
Love Is The Drug
Dedicated Follower Of Fashion
You Better Move On
Brother Can You Spare A Dime

Da Elderly: -
Through My Sails
Long May You Run
Mother's Lament
Tell Me Why
Only Love Can Break Your Heart*

A busy night at The Habit open mic, with plenty of players and a fair turnover of punters throughout the evening. Highlights included a young picker doing 30s & 40s-style tunes, a flute/mandolin duo and our host closing the show with a superb On The Road Again (the Canned Heat one) accompanied by said flautist, who gave a virtuoso performance.

*A regular performer who usually sings acapella, asked if I could accompany him on his opening number and so I did.

The after-show acoustic jam turned initially into a Neil Young "what can you play?" session and moved on to a Beatles "what can you play?" session. The odd beer was consumed along the way too!!

Wednesday 24 June 2015

Ornette Coleman RIP

Ornette Coleman's Revolution

John Pietaro
21 June 2015

For many at the time, This Is Our Music (1961) and Free Jazz (1961) was as far as the music could go. The latter album title soon stood as the banner of the genre itself. For the next generation of social justice activists, the eponymous freedom in a free jazz was a grand symbol of, a soundtrack to, movements of liberation. This unleashing of the instrumentalist created an art form as radical as the days demanded. By John Pietaro.

Ornette Coleman, the composer and multi-instrumentalist, died on June 11, 2015 in Manhattan. He was 85. Though health challenges in recent years had been a constant struggle, Coleman’s relevance as a visionary artist kept him at the helm of the “Change of the Century”; this jazz revolution began some 60 years ago but lives far beyond his mortal years.

The challenge Ornette posed to listeners, to musicians and to the public in a period of anxious social upheaval matched the tenor of the times. With roots in Texas blues and then years spent on the road before endeavoring deeply in the Los Angeles jazz scene, Ornette’s concepts were stirring, indeed, radical on every level.

His vision of a liberated melody, harmony and rhythm, aka Harmolodics, reflected the abstract expressionist movement in visual art and yet held such a visceral connection to the blues, to African American folk forms, that it was anything but abstract. A closer listen revealed the entire spectrum of the Black experience as it pushed outward.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas in 1930, Coleman was raised in a poor household after his father died in a tragic accident. Searching for the means to grow beyond the cramped rural home by the railroad tracks, the young Ornette became enamored with the arts. His initial foray into music grew out of self-taught experimentation and high school band, and was heralded by the sounds on the radio and what he could pick up on the circuit.

Hearing Charlie Parker affected Coleman deeply and many of the musicians who knew him back in Texas have said that he had an uncanny ability to imitate the legendary Parker’s approach to the alto saxophone. Among his cohorts on the Fort Worth music scene were drummer Charles Moffet, whom he’d perform with again in the mid-’60s, clarinetist John Carter, drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson and flutist and multi-reeds player Prince Lasha, all of whom would go on to careers as expansive jazz artists.

Coleman performed in a disparate range of arenas, from minstrel shows to bars, parties to pick-up gigs, but was wont to make enemies on many a bandstand due to his burning need for invention. Not content to perform the be-bop, jump blues or R&B he was hired for, Coleman forged new ground in this unlikeliest of places - until finally finding his way to the West Coast.

Once in LA, Coleman sought out sympathetic co-voyagers in after-hours clubs until finding cornetist Don Cherry. With the saxophonist acting in the role of guide-star, Cherry’s unique voice came to fruition, offering an indelible counter-part to Coleman’s own searching, achingly blue and yet joyous tone. Both had a penchant for brief, simple folk-like melodies that, upon repetition, reconfigured into bold new layered pathways which overtook the rules of music theory. Just long enough to explode into seemingly unfettered forays.
In remembering some of the Ornette Coleman theories on race relations, the trumpeter Matt Lavelle, a student of Ornette for years and a current Harmolodic protagonist, recalled the master stating: “The major chord is white; the minor chord is black. Do you agree?” But the question was defiantly rhetorical.

Coleman’s higher form of improvisatory performance-practice, upon examination, offers clear resolutions connecting passages or movements - not the standard chordal dominant-to-tonic resolution but logical cadences summoning the return of the piece’s melody or its ending. Concurrently, Ornette Coleman’s abilities as a composer came to the forefront and he was able to draw out some of the most painfully captivating melodies from his and Cherry’s horns. Early examples such as “Lonely Woman” and “Beauty is a Rare Thing” continue to dictate the apex of jazz balladry.

To the uninitiated, the music in its formative years was akin to wild confusion. Coleman and Cherry were laughed out of performance spaces, physically threatened. Jazz critics fought over who would get their hatchet pieces to press first. Yet, Coleman’s supporters found in his music a new way, a liberation that shunned pre-conceived notions and tore off the shackles that confined.

Pianists John Lewis (of the Modern Jazz Quartet) and Paul Bley, as well as Leonard Bernstein, celebrated the daring sounds and concepts. Even Coleman’s instrument spoke of a new dawn in the music: he played an alto saxophone made of plastic which produced a throaty wail in long-held tones. This coupled with musical memories of the Southwest begat soaring, compelling phrases that dipped and contoured, offering a cry that stirred one’s soul. This was something drastically new, yet simply timeless.

The young progressive bassist Charlie Haden joined the cause, and with the addition of the driving post-bop drummer Billy Higgins or, alternately, the New Orleans-raised Ed Blackwell (who’d define free drumming), the Ornette Coleman Quartet came to be. The four-way instrumental conversations that floated over 20th century jazz constructions advanced the legend, albeit often in negative terms. Los Angeles in the mid-later 1950s was a bitter place for an African American musical revolutionary drenched in the avant garde. Yet, Coleman, brandishing the stealth symbolism of Black liberation, persisted.

The Quartet relocated to New York and held residency at the Five Spot club on the Lower East Side for months. Through the derision of negative reviewers as well as the championing of others, Coleman was elevated to celebrity status. The Quartet’s groundbreaking recordings led the way of this musical genre, this new thing, that had no title as of yet.

Following releases such as “Something Else!” and “Change of the Century”, Coleman’s next albums continued the trend of claiming ground. The self-defining “This is Our Music” led to the breathtaking “Free Jazz” which featured a double quartet–in stereo!–that included the likes of Eric Dolphy, performing freeform works.

For many at the time, this was as far as the music could go. The latter album title soon stood as the banner of the genre itself. For the next generation of social justice activists, the eponymous freedom in a free jazz was a grand symbol of, a soundtrack to, movements of liberation. This unleashing of the instrumentalist created an art form as radical as the days demanded.

The musicians of the Coleman ensembles included the aforementioned giants Cherry, Haden, Blackwell, Higgins and Moffet as well as bassists Scott LaFaro and David Izenson, saxophonist Dewey Redman and drummer Denardo Coleman, Ornette’s young son, among others. Ornette Coleman’s chameleon-like tendency toward change saw him through a variety of musical settings, testing his limits (and the audience’s) at each turn. The quartets and trios brought the leader to still wider experimentation including an expansion of his own musical arsenal, adding trumpet and violin.

Later, Coleman played in Morocco with the Master Musicians of Jajouka, he composed the epic orchestral work ‘Skies of America’, founded the space Artists House, won the Pulitzer Prize and multiple fellowships, and then realized the transformation of his Harmolodic theory as Prime Time, a band built on funk and dance grooves. Electric instruments became central and guitarist Bern Nix and bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma were among the stalwarts Coleman called upon to realize this concept.

Prime Time became Coleman’s vehicle for performance through the final decades of his performing life but he also collaborated with older bandmates at various junctures, helped to found Karl Berger’s Creative Music Studio in Woodstock NY and presented his music at Lincoln Center in a performance with the New York Philharmonic, Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson. He created the performance hall Caravan of Dreams in Texas, performed around the world and recorded an award-winning album with guitarist Pat Metheny. Coleman’s rather legendary battle with major labels saw him refusing huge sums of money as he sought out, as usual, his own way.

There was no one like Ornette, this brilliant musical philosopher and singular voice who forged a path of revolt in a time when racism and inequity coursed through the nation unashamed. His musical journey inspired new generations of free improvisers and experimental composers and demonstrated that undeterred vision can conquer the status quo.

The implications for the wider battle for revolutionary change should have been apparent in all Coleman did. The themes in his epic work ‘Skies of America’ speak volumes: “Foreigner in a Free Land”, “The Men Who Live in the White House”, “Native Americans”, “Soul Within Woman”, “The Military” and “The Artist in America” offer insight into the quiet man’s concerns for his nation and his people.

But Coleman’s commentary on the struggle could best be heard through his revolution of sound. Screaming and then subtle, devoid of the obvious, all was left to the listener to define the meaning for himself.

In remembering some of the Coleman theories on race relations, the trumpeter Matt Lavelle, a student of Ornette for years and a current Harmolodic protagonist, recalled the master stating: “The major chord is white; the minor chord is black. Do you agree?” But the question was defiantly rhetorical.

“OC just dropped in this sort of subversive, almost subliminal way to bring you to a higher perspective,” Lavelle explained. “To your own reality in that higher perspective”.

And then the profound silence which followed became enveloped in a mournful song of colossal heights.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Lunch and a chat with Brian Wilson...

Brian Wilson's Better Days
Cruising L.A., eating tacos and watching basketball with a pop genius at peace

Jason Fine
Rolling Stone
22 June 2015

Almost any day in L.A., you could find Brian Wilson pretty easily if you wanted to, sitting in a booth by the window at the Beverly Glen Deli, with a bowl of blueberries and a hamburger, or shuffling along the path of a tree-shaded park near his home in Beverly Hills. He does this circuit — deli, park, home — two or three times a day, what he calls "my daily regime," to keep in shape and to quiet his mind. "I'm anxious, depressed, I get scared a lot," says Wilson, who turned 73 on June 20th. "It's been that way for about 42 years. The park helps keep me straight. I show up feeling bad, and I leave feeling good. It blows the bad stuff right out of my brains."

On an 80-degree winter morning, Wilson walks the curving trail, his six-foot-three frame stooped and a little unsteady, but moving fast. "See that bench up there?" he says, breathing hard. "Just under that tree? We're gonna sit down there. Get ready."

We've walked about 60 yards since our last rest, in this lush oasis of palms and bougainvillea, surrounded by estates once owned by Walt Disney and Frank Sinatra, and the $18 million chateau where Michael Jackson died. "I don't normally stop to rest," he says, unconvincingly. "But I can tell that you want to stop a little bit, so I'm doing it for you."

Wilson wipes perspiration from the back of his hands onto his red Hawaiian shirt and closes his eyes. With a breeze blowing through his swept-back silvery hair, and the sun shining on his pale but still-handsome face, he looks almost peaceful. "The people in Los Angeles are fucking cool," he says brightly. "The Malibu crowd, my family, the people at the deli — low-key. That's the way I like it. I don't like surprises. I'm not as adventurous as I used to be. I don't know what happened. I guess I got old. That's just the way things go."

A petite older woman with frosted hair walks past, cooing at her two tiny dogs. "Hi, Brian," she says, with a big, doll-like smile.

"Hey, man," Brian responds.

"A regular, like me," he says after she's gone. "Think she's foxy?"

Except for when he's in the studio or on tour, this is Brian Wilson's life as a senior-citizen Beach Boy: cruising Beverly Hills in his midnight-blue Mercedes, stopping for chili dogs and doctors' appointments and maybe a little exercise, then back home to park himself in his big red chair in the family room, where he listens to the Fifties station on Sirius and watches Wheel of Fortune, while family life swirls around him. He has no hobbies. He doesn't use e-mail or surf the Internet or read the newspaper. He lost his cellphone a few years ago and never replaced it. He rarely sees old friends. "I wouldn't even know how to reach most of them," he says, "or what I'd say."

Wilson and his wife of 20 years, Melinda, have five kids, ages five to 18, and about a dozen dogs. (Wilson also has two daughters, Carnie and Wendy, from his first marriage.) The youngest kids, Dakota and Dash, climb all over Wilson in his red chair, and the whole family is in sync with his gentle eccentricities. "At a really young age, I understood that Dad is never going to be like the other dads, but he's still dadlike," says Daria, 18, who designed the packaging (and suggested the title) for Wilson's new album, No Pier Pressure.

Sometimes, Wilson wanders upstairs to his music room, but he gets easily discouraged. "I can't write a song to save my life," he says. "I sit at the piano and try, but all I want to do is rewrite 'California Girls.' How am I gonna do something better than that? It's a fucked-up trip."

One afternoon, we see a matinee of The Wrecking Crew, a documentary about the L.A. session musicians who played on records by everyone from Nat King Cole to Phil Spector, and most famously on Wilson's mid-Sixties Beach Boys classics. The film begins with clips of Wilson in the studio recording Pet Sounds at age 23: the hip, confident auteur in his chunky glasses and psychedelic shirt, pushing the veteran musicians to bring to life the complex, emotional music he was striving for.

It was surreal — and a little unnerving — to sit in a theater full of people, watching Wilson watch himself. The experience was not relaxing for him, either. He sat pressed against the back of his seat, impassive, while his younger self bounced around the tiny studio with vigor and purpose. After 45 minutes, Wilson bolted. I found him on a bench in the lobby. "That was a real ball-puncher," he said. "A heavy nostalgia thing.

"I had so much energy, I had it so together," he added. "I'd love to have some of that back."

For a guy who admits retirement may not be far off, Wilson is extremely busy. In April, he released No Pier Pressure, which features guest vocalists including Kacey Musgraves and Zooey Deschanel, and this summer he's playing amphitheaters and arenas in the U.S. and Europe. Love & Mercy, an excellent biopic starring Paul Dano and John Cusack as Wilson in different periods of his life, was released on June 5th, and the film goes a long way toward illuminating the tragedies and triumphs of Wilson's life.

All of this comes at the tail end of one of rock & roll's most unexpected and astonishing third acts: Since 1999, when Wilson launched his first-ever solo tour, at age 56, he's been on a nonstop creative roll, finishing his long-lost Sixties masterpiece, Smile, in 2004, touring the world with his stellar band, and even putting aside decades of tension and lawsuits to reunite with the Beach Boys for a 50th-anniversary album and tour.

Though much of his recent work has cast Wilson as a soft-rock survivor, he still shows glimmers of his edgier, idiosyncratic pop genius, especially on 2008's That Lucky Old Sun. On that and his two most recent albums, Wilson's best songs grapple with an uneasy subject: the end. Buried at the back of That's Why God Made the Radio, the Beach Boys' 2012 reunion record, is the hymnlike "Pacific Coast Highway" (which was originally intended as part of a 15-minute suite that we can only hope will one day be released in its entirety): "Driving down Pacific Coast/Out on Highway One/The setting sun/Goodbye." No Pier Pressure ends on a swelling, Phil Spector-style send-off with a similar, unmistakable message: "The Last Song."

"I've carried a lot of weight on my shoulders — a heavy load," Wilson says. "For me, music is about love. Love is the message I want to share. I hope people feel the love in my music. That makes the hard work worth it."

Sometimes, Wilson surprises you. Today, instead of lunch at the deli, he suggests a drive down to Malibu for sushi.

"How much gas you got?" he says, climbing into my car in his driveway, attired in his usual uniform: tropical-print shirt, sweat pants, white New Balance sneakers. His hair, perfectly slicked back yesterday, is a wavy mess today, but his blue eyes are clear and bright. He looks happy.

"We've got more than a half tank — plenty of gas."

Traffic is backed up along Sunset. "Hey, don't worry about the traffic, man," Wilson says. "Let's just relax. You got enough gas?"

Wilson asks me to set the AC to a chilly 64 and turn up the volume on his favorite station, K-Earth 101. He sings along to Steve Miller's "Rock 'n Me," the Bee Gees' "You Should Be Dancin' " and Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust." "What a weird lyric," he notes. A few seconds into "Thriller," he asks me to hit "mute."

"Hard to handle," he says. "A little scary." Then, after a moment: "Hey, you ever run out of gas before?"

No, never.

"Well, then," he says with a nervous chuckle, "what the hell are we worried about?"
Don't go near the water...

Along the way, Wilson points out the street in Pacific Palisades where he rented a house in the early Eighties, when he weighed 300 pounds and subsisted on steaks, crème de menthe cocktails and cocaine. "I was so lazy I pissed in the fireplace," he says. "Can you believe that?" Further along, he shows me the ashram he used to attend, back when the Beach Boys got into TM with the Beatles. "I meditated my ass off," he says. "I did it for about two years. Then it stopped working, so I quit." Heading north on the PCH, he sees Moonshadows, a restaurant down the beach from where he once lived. "I used to hit that place up," he says. "Sneak out of the house, drink a bottle of wine and go dance around by myself."

Wilson lived in Malibu from 1982 until 1995, nine of those years under the care of Eugene Landy, an unconventional therapist who was hired in 1983 to curb Wilson's drug use and get him back to work after years of erratic, self-destructive behavior. In some ways, the Landy program worked. "I got off on exercising — I was in Olympic-style shape," Wilson says proudly. But Landy turned Wilson into a virtual prisoner: He moved into Wilson's home, relocating him to a rental down the beach; installed padlocks on the refrigerator and live-in bodyguards to monitor Wilson's behavior; and cut off contact with Wilson's friends and family. Landy kept Wilson off recreational drugs, but he dangerously overmedicated him with sedatives and psychotropics, which left him despondent and occasionally nearly catatonic. "I thought he was my friend," says Wilson, who rarely says anything negative about anyone, "but he was a very fucked-up man."

These years are portrayed in terrifying detail in Love & Mercy. The film focuses on two distinct periods of Wilson's life: Dano plays Wilson in the mid-1960s, when he was producing his greatest records but unraveling emotionally; Cusack plays Wilson when he was living under Landy's care as a lost and largely forgotten man. "It was hard to watch the first time," Wilson admits. "I felt exposed. But it's a factual film. Whatever the film shows, it was much worse in real life."

Cusack says he cherished the time he got to spend with Wilson preparing for the role. "He's incredibly tough," says Cusack. "Like, motherfucking, seriously tough. He's not perfect. But he's healthy and happy and he's making music, and he survived. Michael Jackson didn't make it. Elvis Presley didn't make it. Brian made it."

One reason he made it is because of Melinda (played by Elizabeth Banks in the film). She was instrumental in getting Landy removed from Brian's life, and since she and Brian were married, in 1995, she's helped him get proper treatment for his mental illness, as well as orchestrated his amazing career comeback. Despite many triumphs, she acknowledges it has been a tumultuous journey. "You never know what you're going to get with Brian," says Melinda one night over dinner. A former model who met Brian when she was working as a Cadillac saleswoman and he came to buy a car, Melinda has a regal beauty, and she speaks candidly about her and Brian's life together. "This wonderful, troubled guy has surprised me every single day of our 20-year marriage. His life is like a tug of war. It's up and down. That's his cycle. It's like anybody that suffers from depression. It's real, man. But through it all, he's the bravest, kindest person I've ever known."

Sometimes, when you're talking to Wilson, you notice that he's not looking into your eyes but somewhere above the top of your head, as if a fly has landed there and it's distracting him. Cusack, who studied Wilson's body language closely, thinks Wilson's upward focus has something to do with the way he reads people: "I was like, 'Is he looking for an aura?' He's feeling you, seeing colors and vibrations. He's not a formatted, linear political creature. He's all quantum artist. I love that about him."

Darian Sahanaja, a member of Wilson's band for 17 years, has noticed the gaze, too — he used to think Brian was just looking at his hair, which rises impressively from his forehead. "I could be three feet away from him, he'll look at my eyes for a split second and then he'll look up, as if he's seeing how high my hair's going," says Sahanaja. "He's always looking upward. It's always hopeful. He looks like maybe he's going to see an angel fly out of the top of you, then he'll know you're one of the good guys."

One evening last spring, Wilson passed up courtside Lakers seats because he wanted to attend his son Dylan's basketball game at a local rec center instead. Dylan's team, the Thunder, was undefeated, and the family — Brian and Melinda, Daria, Dylan, Dash and Dakota, plus their longtime housekeeper Gloria and two nannies (the couple's other child, Delanie, 17, is away at boarding school) — headed out from Beverly Hills to root him on.

On the way, we stop for dinner at Ernie's, a favorite Mexican spot in the Valley. Wilson sits at the head of the table, sips Diet Coke with a straw and announces, "No one has to rush through dinner. We have plenty of time."

"Dylan, we're winning tonight," he adds. "I have a good feeling."

Over enchiladas and tacos, Wilson tells Dylan about his own childhood athletic career, something the 11-year-old seems totally unaware of and soaks up with glee. Wilson was a star center fielder at Hawthorne High, a skittish hitter but a strong fielder with a great arm. "I could run the bases in 44 seconds and throw the ball from center field all the way to the catcher. I wanted to be a center fielder for the Yankees. That was my ambition, but I got sidetracked into the music business."

Wilson also played quarterback for the football team, but he quit senior year. "I got knocked on my back and I felt like I was going unconscious," he says. "It scared me silly. I go, 'Coach, I quit! I don't want to play anymore!' "

"Was the coach mad?" asks Dylan.

"He just said, 'Hit the showers, Wilson!' "

"Did you have to take showers with the other players?" Dylan says with a giggle.

"Oh, yeah, I didn't like that part."

At the game, the Wilsons line up along a bench near one end of the floor. Brian has been known to walk across the court in the middle of the game, but tonight he sits on a folding chair next to Melinda, holding her hand.

With 11 minutes left in the second half, the Thunder are down by 10. "We might be fucked, honey," Brian says. Then Dylan's team makes a late run, partly fueled by Dylan's two clutch free throws, and the Thunder win in overtime.

Dakota and Dash jump up and down, and Dylan rushes to hug his dad. "See, Dylan," Wilson says. "If you stick with it, things work out in the end. Not always, but sometimes."

At times like this, Wilson seems as relaxed as I've ever seen him — goofing around with his family, sleeping as late as he wants, even soaking up a little sun in the backyard while the kids jump on the trampoline. Soon, Wilson will have to drag himself out of this Beverly Hills idyll to head out on tour — three grueling weeks across the U.S., followed by Europe — and the anxiety is starting to creep in. "I'm trying not to think too much about it or I'll get nervous," he says, driving up Hollywood Boulevard one day. "I'll get into it and be fine, but it's hard to transition."

A few minutes later, "California Girls" comes on the radio, and unlike most times one of his own songs plays, Wilson doesn't mute it — he asks me to turn it up. "I call myself Brian Willpower Wilson," he says. "I tell myself that, and it helps me push through the tough stuff. You know, I feel like I've got about 15 years left, so I want to make the most of it. So I'm taking things a little easier lately. Like, when I wake up in the morning, instead of going, 'Oh, no, not another day,' I'm going, 'Oh, God, thank you for another day!' 

Monday 22 June 2015

And the winner is... Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage wins Oxford professor of poetry election
Popular British poet selected for prestigious post ahead of strong field including Wole Soyinka

Alison Flood
Friday 19 June 2015

The British poet Simon Armitage has seen off an international field to be chosen as Oxford’s latest professor of poetry.

Speaking to the Guardian after the announcement, Armitage said he was “delighted and very excited and suitably daunted as well”.

“It’s been such a long process,” he said. “In the time it’s taken we’ve had a general election, Sepp Blatter has come and gone and come again, and we’ve nearly got a new leader of the Labour party.”

He said he would try to give students an insight into “what is occasionally quite a muddy world, and a muddy art form, remembering that the audience are primarily students, and not to see it as a platform for professorial grandstanding”.

“For me, it’s a chance to say something a little bit more contemporary,” he said. “Often it’s been professors talking about previous generations. I feel as if I’d like to bring thing up to date. To look at poetry today, in dialogue with the poetry of the past.”

The award-winning author of more than 12 collections of poetry, Armitage has been hailed by fellow poet Sean O’Brien as “the first poet of serious artistic intent since Philip Larkin to have achieved popularity”. Combining linguistic inventiveness, streetwise flair and contemporary subjects, he has reached an audience far beyond the literary ghetto with poems, novels, translations of medieval verse and scripts for radio and television.

The poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, welcomed the announcement, calling Armitage “a fine, vocational poet and a brilliant communicator for the modern age who never forgets the roots and ancestry of poetry”.

“Oxford is lucky to have gained his time and commitment to this post and should prepare itself to be shook, rattled and rolled,” she said.

Five candidates were competing for the position, a post second only in prestige to the poet laureate which was first established in 1708. Candidates “of sufficient distinction to be able to fulfil the duties of the post” – which include a lecture a term – must assemble nominations from at least 50 Oxford graduates.

Armitage was joined on the shortlist by the Nigerian playwright and poet Wole Soyinka, the American AE Stallings – the only woman in the running for a position which has been held by men for all but two weeks of the last 300 years – Ian Gregson and Seán Haldane. Armitage received 1,221 of the 3,340 votes cast, with Wole Soyinka in second place on 920 just ahead of AE Stallings on 918.

Armitage was backed by 58 names, including John Carey and Melvyn Bragg. Bragg had previously supported Soyinka, but later publicly switched his allegiance to Armitage, telling the Sunday Times of his concerns that the 80-year-old might not “bother to come to Oxford” if he were to win. Soyinka hit back, saying: “How curious that anyone would even speculate that I would allow busy and committed people – friends, colleagues and total strangers – to waste their time nominating and campaigning on my behalf for such a prestigious position if I were not serious about contesting.”

Speaking to the Guardian after the announcement, Bragg said he was “delighted for him, and for Oxford, and for poetry”.

“This is one of the few posts in this country which recognises the value of poetry on a national scale,” Bragg said, “even though it comes from just one university. It has become a post that’s nationally recognised, and we should applaud recognition of poetry on this scale.” Armitage is “a very fine poet”, Bragg continued, who “has a direct connection with a very large, young audience who like poetry, and feel he speaks to them. And I feel he’ll take it very seriously, and be available for undergraduates,” he said.

Bragg added that he backed Soyinka initially because he wasn’t aware of Armitage’s candidacy. “As soon as I registered that, I changed my mind,” he explained. “And one of the things you learn at university is that when you think about things, you are allowed to change your mind.”

The election is not the first race for the professorship to have been dogged by scandal: in 2009, Ruth Padel was elected by Oxford graduates to the post, but remained in position for less than two weeks, resigning in the wake of charges that she had leaked to journalists the allegations of sexual harassment which had been made against her rival, the St Lucian writer Derek Walcott.

The first ever professor of poetry at the university was Joseph Trapp, in 1708, with names including Matthew Arnold, Seamus Heaney, WH Auden and Robert Graves also filling the role. English poet Geoffrey Hill is the current incumbent, and will step down at the end of this academic term.

In a statement provided by Armitage laying out his hopes for the professorship, the poet and translator of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight said he had decided to run because “after so many years in the field, I feel I have plenty to say on the subject and a desire to talk and write about” poetry.

He would, he said, use the platform “to discuss the situation of poetry and poets in the 21st century, to address the obstacles and opportunities brought about by changes in education, changes in reading habits, the internet, poetry’s decreasing ‘market share’, poetry’s relationship with the civilian world and the (alleged) long, lingering death of the book”.

And he would, he ended, be “greatly excited and deeply honoured” if Oxford graduates “saw fit to appoint a self-schooled poet who views poetry from a hill above a Yorkshire village”.

“A former Oxford professor of poetry, Robert Graves, once described poetry as a continual, lifelong apprenticeship, and to that end it would be an adventure and an education,” said Armitage, who has held the role of professor of poetry at Sheffield University since 2011.

In his 2013 poem The Unthinkable, Armitage imagines a “huge purple door” washing up in a bay, “its paintwork blistered and peeled from weeks at sea”. The poem ends with a glimpse of an unnamed “non-swimmer”, “last seen sailing out, / riding the current and rounding the point in a small boat / with tell-tale flashes of almost certainly purple paint”. Students at Oxford university can look forward to seeing if their new professor of poetry sinks or swims later this year.

Friday 19 June 2015

Ron Clarke RIP

Ron Clarke obituary
Australian athlete who broke world records with ease, becoming the first man to run three miles in under 13 minutes

Peter Nichols
Thursday 18 June 2015

Ron Clarke, who has died aged 78, defined an era of distance running. He was at his most imperious when, in a flurry of races in 1965, he broke world records with metronomic regularity. Two performances stand out: on 10 July 1965, at the White City stadium in west London, he became the first man to run three miles in under 13 minutes; four days later, in Oslo, he took 36.2 seconds off the world 10,000m record. “We knew the landscape was changing,” said Bruce Tulloh, the then European 5,000m champion, and one of the athletes blown away by Clarke on the White City cinder track.

Breaking records, for the Australian, seemed to come easily. His career tally would grow to 17, to match the Finn Paavo Nurmi, and sit one behind the Czech Emil Zatopek. Winning titles was another matter. When the Olympics came around in 1968, Clarke, aged 31, was still at his peak. His world record times in both the 5,000m and 10,000m were so far superior to the times everybody else was running that, in any other Olympic year, both titles in both events would have been almost a shoo-in.

Clarke had lit the flame at the 1956 Games in his native Melbourne, but success had eluded him, a solitary bronze medal from the 10,000m in 1964 at Tokyo being the sum of his Olympic achievements. By 1968, though, the die had been cast. The International Olympic Committee, “those IOC idiots,” as Clarke would later call them, had ignored the overtures of Buenos Aires, Detroit and Lyon, all sea-level cities, and awarded the Games to Mexico City.

Mexico City is more than 2,200m above sea level. The air is thin. Sprinters love it; distance runners, who rely on oxygen transport to produce energy, do not. The athletes from lowland regions knew what was coming and, even though some tried using high-altitude preparation camps, come it did. All four distance events were won by African runners.

The first athletics final of the Games was the 10,000m and Clarke stayed on the pace until the last 400m, when his exertions, in the oxygen-thin air, took their toll. “It looks as if he’ll never do it now,” said the BBC commentator David Coleman, when Clarke slipped from contention. As he crossed the line in sixth place, 17 seconds behind the winner, Naftali Temu, everything Clarke had achieved in his career to that point was surpassed by the single thing he had not.

Over the line, Clarke collapsed. His doctor, Brian Corrigan, was already on his way. “He saw me go from normal Mexican fainting grey colour to green, which he thought was pretty dangerous. He wasn’t on the field, so to get there he had to jump over a moat and fight off a few policemen. It was lucky I took so long on the last lap, otherwise he wouldn’t have made it,” said Clarke.

Oxygen was administered and he rapidly recovered, competing in the 5,000m heats two day later (he would come fifth in the final), but the damage to a heart valve had been done and he would have heart issues for the rest of his life. Corrigan later owned that, in the moment, he thought that Clarke might die.

Clarke’s sporting career might have gone in another direction. His father, Tom, played Australian rules football for Essendon and Ron’s elder brother, Jack, would acquire near legendary status with the same club. Ron, too, played for the reserves, but when he broke a finger on his left hand in 1962 and the bone was set at a right angle (rather than amputate it), he turned to athletics.

Although he had set three world junior records at 18, Clarke’s career had to that point followed a stop-start pattern. National service interrupted his training for the 1956 Olympics (being chosen to light the flame, he said, was a “consolation”), studying for accountancy exams meant running took a back seat for the next Olympiad, and only from 1960 did he take it seriously again. His first world record came in Melbourne in December 1963, when he broke the six-mile and 10,000m records in the same race. (“That’s nice,” said his wife, Helen, when he told her about his achievement at a family party later that day. “Now would you help me hand out the sandwiches?”)

His career tally of 17 world records, is slightly skewed in Clarke’s favour because both metric and imperial records still stood and 10 of his world records came in just five races. But that is offset by the chasm he put between himself and history. Between December 1963 and July 1965, Clarke took 18.6 seconds off the world 5,000m record and an awe-inspiring and 38.8 seconds off the world 10,000m record.

Clarke eventually retired from the sport in 1970, never having dispelled the idea that he was more runner than racer. He did get an Olympic gold medal, though. After Mexico, Clarke was invited to Czechoslovakia by the four-time Olympic champion Zatopek. At the airport when he was leaving, he thrust a package in Clarke’s hand. He opened it on the plane. It was Zatopek’s 10,000m gold medal from the 1952 Games, re-engraved to Clarke.

He was later a successful businessman and from 2004 until 2012 was mayor of the Gold Coast. He was appointed MBE in 1966 and AO in 2013.

He is survived by Helen (whom he married in 1959) and their two sons, Marcus and Nicolas. His daughter, Monique, died in 2009.

• Ronald William Clarke, athlete, born 21 February 1937; died 17 June 2015

Thursday 18 June 2015

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

The Elderly Brothers: -
So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)
The Sound Of Silence
When Will I Be Loved
True Love Ways

Ron Elderly: -
No Expectations
The Way You Look Tonight
Wild Horses
Autumn Leaves

Da Elderly: -
I Don't Want It All
Old Man
Mind Your Own Business

The Elderly Brothers: -
The Price Of Love
I Saw Her Standing There
He'll Have To Go
Walk Right Back
All I Have To Do Is Dream
Crying In The Rain

A quiet night performer-wise meant two turns for some, including The Elderlys, who opened and closed the show. The second set was a rather beer-fuelled affare, with the added complication of having to share a mic (the second one having failed earlier). So this was old-time music delivered in the old-time manner; two voices around one mic - great fun. A busy night otherwise with plenty of attentive and supportive punters. The fun continued well into the morning!!

Wednesday 17 June 2015

Laurel and Hardy's The Battle of the Century - a lost film, found (probably...)

According to Martin Scorsese's Film Foundation,  almost 90% of American films made before 1929 are lost. Sadly, some silent films were destroyed deliberately as it was thought they would have no financial value after the coming of sound; other films have been lost because the nitrate film used for 35mm prints until the introduction of safety film in 1949 was highly flammable and if it wasn't stored correctly, it could deteriorate beyond repair or even spontaneously combust - the cause of the 1937 20th Century Fox vault fire. It's possible to work out the content of some films because stills photographers were on set to take publicity photos for later in marketing the film. This is the case with Tod Browning's London After Midnight (1927), starring Lon Chaney. The last known copy was destroyed in a fire at the MGM vault in 1969 (caused by an electrical fault in this case), but it is possible to reconstruct it from the surviving stills.

Laurel and Hardy's Battle of the Century, directed by Clyde Bruckman for Hal Roach, is a partial lost film from 1927 and for recent DVD release a reconstruction was made possible by the existence of stills. Originally, only the pie fight was thought to survive (saved for posterity by Robert Youngson while he was putting together a compilation feature, The Golden Age of Comedy, in 1967 - though he had edited it, meaning that it wasn't exactly as intended), but the first reel, featuring a boxing match (blink and you'll miss Lou Costello, then known as Louis Cristillo), was discovered in 1979; however, there were still some sequences missing - until recent claims suggested the whole second reel has been discovered...

Second reel of Laurel and Hardy’s The Battle of the Century recovered: that’s better than a pie in the face
June 15, 2015

A cream-filled pie landing – splash – in the face of an adversary is a popular trope of silent slapstick comedy, along with bumbling Keystone Kops and strategically placed banana peel. And now we hear that one of the classic piefights of all time has been rediscovered – the all-out epic splatterfest that crowns Laurel and Hardy’s silent film The Battle of the Century (1927).

That street brawl, involving a van full of pies and a cast of dozens, is gleeful, gore-free carnage – a classic movie moment in its own right. But until now, the fight, and the film it belongs to, have been truncated. The Battle of the Century was formed of two reels, and much of it has been missing since the silent era. The fight itself, or at least most of it, had been preserved, but the rest was not to be found. The first reel was discovered in the late 1970s, but the second reel, which contains the piefight, has been unseen for decades longer.

This weekend, according to reports, the discovery was announced to a group of silent film experts at the Mostly Lost film workshop in Culpeper, Virginia. It seems that the footage was discovered by composer and historian Jon Mirsalis among the Gordon Berkow collection – and that Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films will be taking custody of it for preservation work. Unlike most silent movie shows, at the Mostly Lost screenings the audience is encouraged to talk over the film, and make use of their mobile phones. The films on show are all unidentified, and the object of the event is to put names to faces, places and indeed whole films – piecing together gaps in films history and rescuing “lost” films from obscurity. It’s hard to imagine a more appreciative crowd.

The Battle of the Century has its fair share of great slapstick moments, and the new reel promises plenty more. The plot concerns Stan Laurel as a hapless boxer and Oliver Hardy as his unscrupulous pal trying to make some cash from his misfortune via an insurance scam. When a banana peel dropped on the pavement to floor Laurel trips up a passing baker, the flan-flinging begins!

Attendees at the Mostly Lost event were extremely excited by the news, and quick to share it on social media. The Battle of the Century is something of a cult film and its missing scenes are holy grail for slapstick fans. And the rediscovered print is surprisingly high-quality – 16mm, but struck from the original film negative. One delegate, Rob Farr from George Mason University commented on Facebook: “Miracles do happen.”

The rediscovered footage should include the climax of the piefight, including a policeman getting a pie full in the face courtesy of Stan and Ollie. There will be also considerable interest in scenes showing Eugene Pallette, who plays an insurance agent in The Battle of the Century, and went on to a long career in sound films. Other notable names in the cast list include a young Lou Costello as an extra, and Anita Garvin, who falls foul of a pie on the pavement.

The Battle of the Century may well be the find of the year!

And here's a fascinating piece on the exhibition of nitrate film today...

Nitrate fire
Film from the Ashes
A beautiful but deadly art is reborn at the Nitrate Picture Show
By John Lingan

The lights were low, and the house was slowly filling. Ben Tucker set down an armful of film reels in the projection booth and checked the Dryden Theatre’s vintage machinery for dust and positioning one last time. As assistant collection manager and archival projectionist at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, Tucker helps maintain one of the largest, oldest, and most historically valuable film collections on earth. On this evening in early May, he was screening the classic of classics: Casablanca. It was a typical evening at the Eastman House’s 500-seat, single-screen movie palace — except this version of Casablanca had the potential to kill us all.

The print dated from 1947, meaning it was made from a base of nitrocellulose, a cousin to gunpowder. Nitrate, as it’s commonly known, was the earliest mass-produced celluloid format, and the dominant motion picture medium from 1895 to 1948. Renowned for the beauty and clarity of its images, nitrate is so flammable and physically unstable that it’s rarely, if ever, still screened. The heat from a cigarette is enough to make nitrate catch, and once it does, the flame is so powerful that it’ll burn underwater. The explosive theater fires in Cinema Paradiso and Inglourious Basterds were both the product of nitrate combustion, and the first half-century of mass moviegoing was dotted with dozens of similarly deadly real-world conflagrations — the first of which occurred at the 1897 World’s Fair in Paris and killed 140 people. The UN still classifies nitrate as "dangerous goods."

Tucker was joined by two specially trained colleagues — a lot of manpower for one screening, but nitrate necessitates it: two projectionists trade off from one reel and the next on their respective machines, while a third gathers and winds each 10-minute length of brittle film and returns it to its nickel-plated aluminum canister. The Dryden’s projection booth is tiny, low-lit, and gizmo-packed, like a submarine control room. In addition to the floor-to-ceiling film gadgets, it’s equipped with sprinklers, reinforced steel doors, and a network of ceiling cables that control two guillotine-like steel gates perched above the windows, ready to slam shut in the event of a fire. The projectors themselves, which date from 1951, house each reel in a steel box of its own, and the projectionists have to keep one hand on the "dowser," which cuts off the connection between the light source and the film in case of overheating.

Despite the effort required, Casablanca was the opening whistle of an unprecedented event: a three-day festival consisting of only nitrate screenings. Announced in early winter, the Nitrate Picture Show drew hundreds of scholars, historians, critics, and classic-movie devotees to Rochester — an impressive crowd considering organizers didn’t even divulge the program until the festival began.

Megan Labrum, general manager of Australia’s National Film and Sound Archive, told me before the Casablanca screening that "there is a warmth, a brightness, a depth" to nitrate. But it’s basically impossible to see nitrate films in her home country, she said. "We have a fabulous cinema, but we can’t afford the constraints around putting it on — the licenses, the safety measures, the equipment."

The Eastman House is one of only three venues in America that are licensed and equipped to screen nitrate, and the only one outside of California. Labrum may have traveled the farthest to attend the festival, but many of us had clocked hundreds, even thousands of miles — all to watch a technology rise from the dead.

Jared Case graduated from the Eastman House’s Selznick School of Film Preservation in 2002 and has worked for the organization ever since, currently as head of Collection Information and Access and as the executive director of the Nitrate Picture Show. He’s the rare person who’s seen so many nitrate prints that he can’t even remember his first one. But the first to make a real impression was Laurel and Hardy’s Babes in Toyland, from 1934. "The clarity of those breaks between light and dark provided by the nitrate base and the silver in the photographic emulsion created images that jumped off the screen," he described in a post at My Nitrate Memories, a blog created to advertise the Picture Show and its aims. He designed the festival to provide other people with that same aesthetic epiphany.

"By showing a nitrate film, we can show that the experience people had 80 years ago can still be had today," Case explained by phone shortly after the festival was announced. He said the idea was to proclaim, "Nitrate doesn’t have to die, [be] hidden away, or… used only for research. It’s a viable, living artifact itself."

In 2015, that’s a radical notion. Beside its combustive properties, nitrate is also supremely fragile: the film naturally shrinks and deteriorates over time, even when treated with exacting care. For decades, the motto among film historians and preservationists has been "Nitrate Won’t Wait," meaning that with each passing year, more and more films are lost to history. Many have been digitized, or reprinted on polyester stock — the popular replacement for nitrate from the 1950s until only a few years ago — but a surprising number of movies have not.

And even if digitized nitrate films still exist, connoisseurs will tell you that they’re poor substitute, as if the last remnants of Van Gogh were gift shop posters. The format is prized for its famed "three-dimensional" quality and rich colors. Its proselytizers also stress the value of seeing a film the way it was meant to be seen: for people who care about cinema, seeing a nitrate projection is like watching a live orchestra performance instead of a cassette recording, attending a play instead of reading it, or standing at the rim of the Grand Canyon instead of flipping through photos. But these days, watching a nitrate film is rarer and harder to achieve than any of those experiences, and thus has an even greater aura of romance and authenticity.

The Nitrate Picture Show was conceived to raise awareness of the medium, but also to take stock of what remains. No one really knows how much nitrate exists in the world, or what kind of shape it’s in. The Eastman House currently houses 24,054 reels of the stuff, a total of 6,070 titles. But many of those are incomplete, or have shrunk to less than 99 percent of their original size, making projection impossible. For the festival, Case and his colleagues scoured the collection for the best-preserved feature-length films, and they approached some of the biggest archives in the world for contributions as well. The final program included 10 nitrate screenings, drawn from the British Film Institute, the Academy Film Archive, the Library of Congress, and the Nasjonalbiblioteket in Oslo, among others.

The Casablanca print, Ben Tucker’s favorite of the bunch, was submitted by MoMA, where it was in fact the last nitrate film the museum screened, back in 2000. That same year, the BFI hosted a nitrate program of their own, entitled "The Last Nitrate Picture Show," a nod to the fact that the medium likely wouldn’t survive long. At the time there were fewer than 30 digital projectors in the entire US and Europe combined. DVDs were still brand new, YouTube didn’t exist, and limitless streaming video was barely a dream. The intervening decade and a half has seen an explosion in the sheer number of widely available movies, which in turn has made serious cinephiles even more keenly aware of what remains out of reach, and what aesthetic sacrifices are made in the transition to digital. That skepticism isn’t limited to film fans: the last few years have seen the resurgence of vinyl records and a seeming plateau of e-readership.

That might be enough to compel the impossible. The time might be right for a (relative) nitrate revival, or at least as right as it’s ever been for the last 60 years. As the house music faded at the Dryden, Paolo Cherchi Usai, the Eastman House’s senior curator of motion pictures, stood up behind a lectern in front of the theater’s billowing yellow curtain. He welcomed the near-capacity audience to the Nitrate Picture Show and, in a move I’ve never seen at any festival or revival screening, announced the names of the projectionists, occasioning a standing ovation directed at the booth. Ben Tucker waved modestly through the glass.

Once the crowd was seated, Usai presumed with a wild grin that there was at least one individual at the screening who had never seen Casablanca. A couple stray hands shot up among the dense crowd, met with cheers. "Well, this is like getting your first kiss in front of the Taj Mahal," Usai said.

Earlier that day, a couple Eastman House staff drove an excited handful of festivalgoers to an unassuming white bunker about 10 miles outside Rochester. The Louis B. Mayer Conservation Center is where all the House’s nitrate prints are stored, though driving by, you wouldn’t expect to find anything of note inside. That’s by design: the Eastman House doesn’t advertise its address or publish pictures of the Center’s exterior, and the facility isn’t open to tourists. But this is where the real grunt work of film preservation gets done.

The midmorning sun was blinding, and huge painterly clouds hung motionless in the sky. It was a clear, brightly colorful and beautiful day — the platonic ideal of spring: "nitrate weather," as more than a few festival attendees pointed out to me.

The lobby of the Mayer Center, meanwhile, couldn’t have been more humdrum: gray venetian blinds, two walls worth of stuffed file cabinets, a half-empty water cooler, printers, and a microwave, all under fluorescent lights. Standing in the middle of it, beaming for the chance to show some fellow aficionados around her playhouse, was gray-haired, unflaggingly friendly collection manager Deborah Stoiber.

"This is my Eden," she bragged. "I don’t have kids. I don’t have pets. I have film."

The building was originally a welding factory, but since the Eastman House purchased it in 1995, it’s been transformed into a pristine temple of preservation. Stoiber led us out of the office foyer, over a Tacky Mat, and into the workroom. It was empty but for three light tables with reel-winding mechanisms.

"This is the magenta negative of the final reel of Gone with the Wind," she said, picking up a strip of film off a table, "the part with ‘Frankly my dear.’" A few audible gasps came from the group. "This print is nitrate, and was actually on set during filming. Right near Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh. Every single copy of the movie ever made has been taken from this film. Go ahead and look."

One by one, the crowd approached the table and held the filmstrip up to the lightbox. One the edge, between the perforations, the customary stamp identified it: N I T R A T E. Other than that one detail, it looked exactly like any other film, and didn’t even seem particularly aged. Despite its renowned fragility and explosiveness, nitrate film is surprisingly sturdy and durable if treated well, and this Gone with the Wind had lived the most privileged nitrate life possible: air-sealed, artfully projected, kept cold and moisture-free. In May, a UK photography studio discovered century-old nitrate footage in their archives, just as an Argentinian studio found long-unseen footage from Metropolis in 2008. With some minor refurbishing, these films played perfectly well. Try to imagine someone 80 years from now stumbling upon a box of floppy disks or a maltreated flash drive — how easily will she access those secrets? Will the technology to access them even exist?

The Mayer Center is as thoughtful and rigorous as nitrate preservation gets, and assuming its storage and environmental standards are continually upheld, Deborah Stoiber says that each of its 12,000 reels will last 400 years. The Eastman House takes this mission deadly seriously; in 1978, when their nitrate archive was kept in a literal barn, a spontaneous combustion resulted in the loss of more than 450 titles. They learned their lesson. The six vaults are now held at a continuous 40 degrees Fahrenheit with 30 percent relative humidity. A full mechanical air exchange is programmed to occur every 20 minutes. In accordance with the newest standards from the National Fire Protection Association, the building was recently updated with grated film carts, nine fire extinguishers, new emergency exits, a new sprinkler system, and outward-opening steel-reinforced doors. Before new film goes in the tightly packed vaults, it spends 24 hours in a shared "staging room," kept at 70 degrees. But not too many new films go in; each vault can hold only 2,184 reels, and most are at or near capacity.

The Mayer Center’s collection includes everything from silent rarities to undersung masterpieces like the 1924 Peter Pan, featuring early work from legendary cinematographer James Wong Howe. Martin Scorsese’s personal print of his mentor Michael Powell’s masterpiece The Red Shoes is here. Deborah gestured to one meat locker vault door and declared, "That’s where we keep all the Garbos." She asked for requests, and one of my fellow devotees asked to see Meet Me in St. Louis. Deborah pulled down Reel 12 and opened it for us to see. White fabric gloves on, my heart swelled as I held one of my most beloved movies in my hands.

In person, nitrate film is strikingly physical and tactile: heavy, thick, and dense, each reel was like a circular black brick. Thousands of tiny plastic photographs wound end to end, each one expertly tinted and color-adjusted; that’s what gives old film that famous luster and otherworldly hues. It didn’t look fragile, it looked powerful and important.

Deborah reached in the big trash can and grabbed a couple discarded feet of nitrate film. Holding it up, she asked us all, "So who wants to go watch it burn?"

Back outside, in the stunning natural light, Deborah walked us over to the far end of the small parking lot by the edge of a field. She dropped the film in an upturned canister lid, then bent over and began flicking at a matchbook.

When she tossed in the light, the nitrate ignited and hissed back at us. The flame shot up, a 4-foot pillar, and then spread laterally, unstoppably, along the length of the coiled filmstrip. I felt its glowing heat from almost 10 feet away. Within a few seconds, the film burned out and left behind only a shaft of singed emulsion, like a scrap of femur after Pompeii. Deborah laughed, delighted, as we dipped to our knees on the asphalt to take cell phone pictures of the ruin.

"If you have a fire here," she said, "it’s going to take out the whole neighborhood."

Back in the theater, the lush yellow curtain raised and Ben Tucker’s co-workers trained their beam on the screen. The scratches and pops crackled like a campfire, then a blaring fanfare announced the Warner Brothers logo and a map of Africa. I stared intently, eager to see something life-changing. But it only looked like an old movie. Maybe a little sharper than usual, but also blemished and scuffed.

Then, right after Peter Lorre’s corrupt operator is gunned down and Humphrey Bogart goes upstairs to his office safe, there’s a shot of Claude Raines’ scheming Vichy officer, standing fully lit, talking to Bogart’s shadow. When that shadow darkened the screen, I sat up. Here it was: the famous depth of nitrate’s blacks. It looked and felt like real negative space, like an infinite void. From that point forward, I began to notice all sorts of little details: the clarity of individual fibers in Bogie’s low-lit hair or the texture of Ingmar Bergman’s dress.

The rest of the weekend provided a parade of similarly breathtaking imagery. The Picture Show organizers had included a huge breadth of filmmaking styles, all of which yielded moments of incredible beauty. In Cecile B. DeMille’s 1949 biblical epic Samson and Delilah, it was an opening sequence full of red and purple smoke, which billowed so warmly that I could nearly smell it. Nothing Sacred, an underappreciated Carol Lombard screwball comedy from 1937, contained outdoor and aerial footage of Depression-era Manhattan more immersive and gritty than any comparably aged movie I’ve ever seen.Leave Her to Heaven and Black Narcissus, two of the most blaringly colored and psychosexually intense movies of the ‘40s, both felt positively enveloping. But the highlight was William Dieterle’s underseen black-and-white fantasy-romance, Portrait of Jennie, which in its climactic seaside storm scene takes on a subtle green tint before moving to full color for its last shot. The effect was overwhelming; the promise of nitrate stock fulfilled all in one emotionally devastating 15-minute sequence.

I came away a proselytizer. On nitrate, characters somehow move across the screen at a more lifelike pace than on regular film. It feels like you’re sharing an atmosphere with them, within reach of their conversations. This festival was the most wonderful moviegoing experience of my life. It was the closest I’ve ever felt to time travel.

The Eastman House sold nearly 300 festival passes to people from 20 countries, and looks poised to hold it again next year. But this excitement belies a wider unease. Film has been more scrambled by the digital age than any other medium. Once-standard 35mm celluloid is now a luxury item used mainly by high-profile directors who insist on it. Digital projection and storage is now standard, but just like its film forebears, it poses its own preservation challenges: file formats change so quickly and hardware is so unreliable that, in the words of Matthew Dessem, writing for The Dissolve, "Unless the unique challenges of digital preservation are met, we run the risk of a future in which a film from 1894 printed on card stock has a better chance of surviving than a digital film from 2014."

Cultural artifacts, like natural ones, go extinct as a matter of course. The question is simply how to carry history into each new era. There will never be a final film format; the movies will keep getting upgraded and compressed into tinier units of digital memory. But as they do, the world’s slowly improving stock of nitrate film will beckon — romantic, profound, extraordinarily novel. Before the festival, Jared Case said he hoped the Nitrate Picture Show would attract a broad group of bloggers, scholars, and film-Tweeters who would spread the word of nitrate’s viability as a living medium. "For a certain segment of the population," he told me, "it’s a real experience."

Nitrate film will never be widespread again, and certainly nothing will ever again be printed on it. But to go from near invisibility to one specialty destination weekend a year would constitute a huge increase in the sheer number of people who have actually witnessed this beautiful sight. It would offer the chance, rare for film fans, to commune with original artifacts from the golden age of the medium. And it would refute, even just a little, the stubborn idea that digitalization is forever. For a supposedly dying, deadly format, we have a lot to learn from it.