Monday 30 October 2017

Halloween Horrors (VHS treasures)

It's Halloween, when all the ghosts and ghouls come calling (usually for chocolate), when the evenings are dark and the air smells of woodsmoke and the thoughts of us all turn to the idea of watching something scary and creepy.
After last years Halloween post (which you can read here) featuring behind-the-scenes shots from scary films, I've decided this time to go in a different direction.  As regular readers of the blog will know, I love artwork that is cheesy, sleazy and often ever-so-slightly over the top and if that's what you're looking for, you can't go wrong with 80s video covers.  Back then, as video was starting to make inroads into people's houses, corner shops and town centre shops alike suddenly brought in racks and shelves, filling them with gaudily decorated boxes of horror films that me and my friends were very keen to watch.  The 1984 Video Recordings Act curtailed some of those adventures but there was still plenty for us to catch up on and we most certainly did.  The players were expensive and only two of our gang had them - Steve's VHS came complete with a remote control that had to be plugged in and David had a top-loader Beta, soon replaced by a top-loader VHS.  Later, after making several (very) low budget films with David's brother Matt, he & I set up an informal little group we called The Tacky Video Society to watch just these kind of treasures.  In fact, sometimes a visit to the local 5 Star Video in Rothwell would consist of scanning the horror shelves until artwork caught our eye and renting that film, regardless of whether or not we knew anything about it.

And here are a few examples.

Happy Halloween!
1981 (aka Burial Ground and Zombi 3)
I saw this sometime in the mid-80s and, for the most part, found it plodding and dreary.  But then something very, very weird happens between the kid (who was actually a 25-year-old actor) and his mother which propels this to another level altogether.

Another of my suggestions to the group, this went down very well.  So well, in fact, that years later I was able to convince my best friend Nick to go and see Hellraiser with me by telling him it wouldn't be as bad as this...

One of my favourite horror films (I wrote an in-depth essay about it for This Is Horror, which you can read here), this is the cover of the pre-certificate VHS sleeve before the film ran into trouble.  Although it was passed uncut for a British theatrical release, it fell foul of the Video Recordings Act and was prosecuted and banned as a 'video nasty' (which it quite clearly isn't).  It was re-released in the late 80s with 5 seconds of cuts on the Video Collection label, then finally released uncut in 1999 by Polygram.  I saw it on 30th July 1985 (I keep a diary) with the gang and it was a banner day for us, when we rented three films from Dines' Video Library (which is now long-gone) - Twilight Zone: The Movie, Evil-Speak (another video nasty casualty) and this.  Good times...

I watched this in 1983 (I'm sure we rented the film but that can't have been possible) on a bright Saturday morning, in a sun-filled room, with David and Matt and all three of us were absolutely terrified.

By the time this was released in 1983 by Palace Pictures, we'd been talking about it at school for at least a year and most people 'knew someone' who'd seen it and was quite happy to talk up the gory bits.  This doubled when it became a 'video nasty' and was banned, even though the BBFC had passed it for theatrical release in 1982 with minor cuts.  The VHS accounted for 40 prosecutions (the vast majority of which were overturned) and the BBFC was forced to about-face on it.  Palace then sent out replacement sleeves with a grey banner across the front: "Not guilty! - The Evil Dead is back, B.F.F.C. certificate applied for".  It was finally passed uncut by the BBFC in June 2002.

I convinced my friend Steve this would be a great film to watch (I put forth that Debbie Harry was in it, we'd both loved Scanners and I convinced him Rick Baker's effects were always great) - I really enjoyed it, he really didn't.  My love for it has grown over the years (I wrote about it here) and I recommend it whole-heartedly!
(there was a later VHS release, which I bought, that was labelled as 'uncut'.  And if you click on the image above, you'll see, below the credit block: "This film received an '18' certificate for cinema release.  The version of the film comprised in the videocassette has been further edited at the discrection of CIC Video".  This was because, in a case of very bad timing, the film fell foul of the Video Recordings Act with police forces in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire apparently warning dealers against stocking the film even before it had been released.  CIC pre-empted this and went at the film with scissors, as it was due for release when 'Video Nasty' hysteria was at its peak.  It's now available uncut and, to be best of my knowledge, the film never influenced anyone unduly - or, at least, if anybody has ever had a Betamax tape slotted into a vagina which has magically appeared in their stomach, I've never read about it...)

I can't remember now if I first saw this on VHS or Alex Cox's wonderful Moviedrome but I do remember I liked it a lot.

There's so much to like in this film - O'Bannon's script, the acting, Linnea Quigley, Tar Man - where do you start?

I actually saw this at the cinema first, with my friend Craig Tankard and the artwork is perfect for the film (for which my affection remains strong decades later!)

Another cinema first (again with Craig), this has the creative crew of Re-Animator back with Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton and their second loose Lovecraft adaption.  Less gory, certainly, but sexier!

Years later, after my friend David Roberts & I had been to see the first Lord Of The Rings film at the cinema, I told him about this but - crucially - forgot to mention the two films were remarkably different.  He gave me the DVD back the next time we met up and said "I didn't watch all of it..."

I first read about this in either Fangoria or Gorezone in the mid-80s and was very keen to see it, though it proved elusive and I didn't get to watch it until much, much later.  I did, however, enjoy it as much as I hoped I would.

 I didn't see this until long after I watched Phantasm 2, another cinema first with Craig, at the Forum cinema in Corby (also now long-gone).  At some point in the run the film had broken and been patched up so when we watched it, there's a big jump at the climax and it wasn't until years later, watching it again, that I realised the ending wasn't as surreal as I'd originally thought...

I was introduced to this by Matt, who adored it and I could see his point - a solid, fun exploitation film, with a smart cast, a great baddie and some glorious special effects.

My second glimpse into the world of Frank Henenlotter (following the gloriously low-budget Basket Case) and, to this day, it remains my second favourite of his films after the wonderful Frankenhooker ("wanna date?").  Even better (and much later), through the wonders of first LiveJournal and then Facebook, I became friends with Greg Lamberson who worked on this.

Happy Halloween!

with thanks to mutantskeleton and Living On Video (Covers) for some of the scans
Video Nasty information from The Video Nasties Furore: The Prosecution of the DPP's 74, by Neil Christopher

Monday 23 October 2017

Star Wars At 40 (pop-up 4) - UK TV Premiere, 35 years ago

As hard as it may be for people (such as Dude) to believe these days, in the not-so-distant past, once a film had left the cinema that was the last most of us saw of it until it turned up on TV.  In the early 80s, video recorders were starting to become affordable (ish) and some of my friends had them (big old top-loader machines, some of them Betamax system), but most didn’t (including me).

Although I was a big fan even then, I’d only seen Star Wars a few times - the original release in 1978 (at least twice, if memory serves), the re-release in 1979 and then again as part of a double bill with The Empire Strikes Back in late 1980 (at Corby cinema) - and I wanted to see it again.
I finally got my chance in 1982, when ITV premiered it on Sunday 24th October 1982, a good four months before it hit network television in the US on 26th February 1984, though it had already been shown on pay-per-view channels there.  Tony Crawley, in his March 1982 Starburst magazine column, reported the news of the purchase but pointed out George Lucas wasn’t pleased - Lucas owned the TV rights to the sequels but distributor Twentieth Centry Fox owned Star Wars.  Sid Ganis, Lucasfilm’s spokesman, was quoted as saying “If it were up to Lucasfilm we wouldn’t sell Star Wars to TV” as they felt “there is considerable theatrical life in the film.  And that’s why Lucasfilm will not sell the TV rights of The Empire Strikes Back or Revenge of the Jedi.” Jedi, under its original title, had begun filming in January 1982.  Lucas, Crawley pointed out, took the view that if Disney had been so quick to sell films to television rather than reissue them at cinemas, Disneyland would never have been built.

Even so, I was well chuffed and hatched a plan (we might not have had a video but I owned a tape recorder with a hand-held microphone) - if I couldn’t record the images, I could record the soundtrack!  It was an idea of utter genius, something only a Star Wars-mad 13 year old could come up with.

The TV Times magazine for that week made a big deal of their film premiere and Star Wars was the cover story.  "The Force Comes To ITV", it crowed, "Star Wars Sunday" (it also mentions “Channel 4 is coming” and that there were  “5 Ford Sierras to be won”).  Although the gang were all present - Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, the droids and Darth Vader, towering over them all holding two lightsabers - the image was taken from a poster for The Empire Strikes Back (shown left) with the non-New Hope elements taken out.

Coverage started with a double-page comic strip by Martin Asbury (who also drew the Garth strip in the Daily Mirror and was a key artist for Look-In magazine, which I wrote about here), showing how the Rebels got the Death Star plans to Princess Leia (not apparently read by the writers of Rogue One).  There were two articles - “Unveiled: The most famous faceless men of films” about Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker and Peter Mayhew, whilst “’I’m a female Woody Allen,’ says Princess Carrie” is an interview with Carrie Fisher - a competition to win a host of Palitoy products and resident critic David Quinlan’s brief review, in which he writes “it’s a lot of fun” but compares it to a pantomime.

My tape (note the Topps card cover) which I haven't listened to in years
At 7.15, I settled in front of the TV with my trusty tape recorder, reminding my sister Tracy to be quiet and stressing to Mum & Dad that if they needed to come into the living room, could they please do so quietly.  The film started, I pressed record and then stage one of my plan came undone - I was using a Winfield C60 cassette, giving me one-hour recording time with the necessary tape-flip midway through and it just wasn’t enough.  Yes, I should have realised before (I'd suggest it was a schoolboy error but, then, I was a schoolboy), but in the excitement it just didn't occur to me.  The film, with ads, was due to finish at 9.30 so I filled one side of the tape and then gave up, content to just watch.  Yes, it was a pan-and-scan version (apart from at the cinema, I wouldn’t see it in widescreen again until the one of the 90s VHS re-issues, when it was a revelation how much visual information was lost) and didn’t have a stereo soundtrack but it was still as exciting and gripping and utterly thrilling as I remembered.  As I wrote in my diary entry for that day, “it was ace” and I just wanted to see it again, as soon as possible.
The film rights, negotiated by Leslie Halliwell who was an ITV buyer as well as writer of the eponymous Film Guide, were bought for $4m.  At the time, it was the highest ITV had ever paid for a single film and allowed them three showings over seven years.  The premiere topped the ratings, with an estimated 16.8m viewers though it has since been suggested the figure was higher, as it wouldn’t include people taping off TV.  Halliwell was apparently disappointed, saying, “for top money, I would expect 20m viewers”.

The film was originally released on VHS in 1982 (though back then, sell-through copies were very expensive) and I didn’t buy my first version until much later (I picked up the 1985 re-issue and numerous versions afterwards).

Star Wars was re-shown on Sunday 30th December 1984, Thursday 1st January 1987 and Friday 1st January 1988 and, according to my diaries, I watched them all.  The Empire Strikes Back premiered on Christmas Day 1988 and the following year, Return Of The Jedi premiered on Boxing Day.

I remember that evening well, partly for the thrill of seeing the film again, partly because of how big a deal it was that Star Wars was finally going to be on TV.  You don't get that kind of hype now for films on telly. 

This YouTube clip was taped from TV (the trailer was the same for all regions, though this comes from London Weekend Television, as you'll see towards the end), this is how ITV advertised their big film.

Episode Nothing: A Day Long Remembered - 1982 Star Wars TV Times
Leslie Halliwell and film rights info from Halliwell’s Horizon, by Michael Binder

2017 marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, which was released in the US on 25th May though it didn't hit the UK until 29th January 1978 (following a 27th December release in London).  I was lucky enough to see it in early 1978 and it remains my favourite film to this day.

To mark the anniversary, I'll be running a year-long blog thread about the film with new entries posted on the first Monday of each month.

May The Force Be With You!

Find all the entries in the thread here

Monday 16 October 2017

"Kick" by INXS, at 30

Kick, released on the 19th October 1987, was the sixth studio album from INXS and remains their most successful, with almost 14m units sold.  It spent 85 weeks on the ARIA album chart (peaking at number 2), 81 weeks on the US Billboard chart (peaking at number 3) and 103 weeks on the UK album chart (peaking at number 9).

To help celebrate its 30th birthday, here’s a retrospective of the album…
Following the release of Listen Like Thieves (which I wrote about here) in October 1985, the band toured it through until July 1986.  After the tour ended, the band had a short break (during which Michael Hutchence appeared in Dogs In Space) before appearing in a series of outdoor concerts across Australia, organised by their manager Chris Murphy, featuring Jimmy Barnes, Divinyls, Mental As Anything, The Triffids, Models and I’m Talking.  The band then reconvened with Chris Thomas (who’d they’d worked so successfully with on Listen Like Thieves) to start work on the next album.  “We started from where that [album] finished,” Tim Farriss said in interview.  “Chris really understood the band by then. He'd flown around the world to see us play. He said, ‘My goal is to make you come across on record the way you do live. And’ - these were his very words - ‘you haven't done that yet.’”

Andrew Farriss agreed.  “What Chris brought to us was sort of an extension of what we were already feeling.  His attitude was very daring and free. He trusted our vision, and I have to say that his belief in our confidence was so important.”

INXS and Thomas based themselves at Rhinoceros Studios (which the band part owned) in Sydney, where the 180 degree layout meant they could all play simultaneously and see each other.  “[They] asked me to use their engineer, David Nicholas, for the recording.  I went along with the idea and it was fantastic – there was a direct communication with him.”  It was such a successful partnership, the two men worked together for the next eight years.
gatefold CD cover
from left - Tim Farriss (guitar), Garry Gary Beers (bass), Andrew Farriss (keyboards/guitar), Kirk Pengilly (guitar/saxaphone/clarinet/backing vocals), Jon Farriss (drums), Michael Hutchence (vocals)
Track Listing
1:  Guns In The Sky (M. Hutchence)
2:  New Sensation
3:  Devil Inside
4:  Need You Tonight
5:  Mediate (A. Farriss)
6:  The Loved One (Clyne/Humphreys/Lovett)
7:  Wild Life
8:  Never Tear Us Apart
9:  Mystify
10:  Kick
11:  Calling All Nations
12:  Tiny Daggers
unless noted otherwise, all songs by A. Farriss/M. Hutchence

One of the biggest lessons learned from Listen Like Thieves was that successful singles drove big sales and, as Kirk Pengilly said later in interview, “we wanted an album where all the songs were possible singles”.  The huge success of What You Need gave Andrew and Michael the confidence to try something different and whilst on tour in Germany, Andrew suggested an idea.  “I felt incredibly confident,” he said later in interview.  “Even before I'd started writing for Kick, I knew the audience was there for it. I said to them, ‘If you trust Michael and I to write the whole of the next record, it will be massive. We know what we're doing.’”

Using What You Need as their template, Andrew and Michael sequestered themselves away to start writing.  “The melding of funk and rock was always in our heads,” said Andrew, “and we were very excited about the idea of overlaying two types of songs and genres together.”  On the subject of focus, he said, “I think what makes the Kick album so dynamic is that we weren’t so much interested in what everybody else was doing as we were on what we wanted to do.”

Michael & Andrew work on Mystify (frame from the video)
A lot of the songs were written on tour.  Mystify was demoed in Chicago (“on an old 16-track tape recorder”) and New Sensation was another early song, though the demo gave it more of a blues feel.

Devil Inside was written in a hotel on Edgware Road, London.  “I wrote the riff and recorded the demo in my room,” said Andrew, “played everything for Michael and he said, ‘Let’s run with it’”.

INXS had already recorded The Loved One (originally written by an Aussie band in the 1960’s called The Loved Ones) in March 1981 as an Australia-only stand-alone single (which I blogged about here).  It was Tim who suggested they record it again, this time as a “balls-to-the-wall blues-rock track”.

Never Tear Us Apart was written in New Zealand and demoed with keyboards and guitars but Chris Thomas felt it needed a more formal sound and suggested strings which, as it turned out, fit perfectly with Michael's lyrics.

Chris Murphy had scheduled a European tour to follow the recording but, as with Listen Like Thieves, Chris Thomas felt something was missing.  Since this same feeling had yielded What You Need, Andrew and Michael went to Michael’s apartment in Hong Kong with orders “to create a hit single in two weeks”.
The Hong Kong sessions started well - and quickly - with Andrew coming up with the riff to Need You Tonight before he left, though he was convinced he’d heard it before (as I wrote about here).  He demoed it at home in Sydney as a taxi waited to take him to the airport, telling the driver to hang on while he recorded it.  “The driver was oblivious to my creative urges and reminded me that unless I got in the cab I was going to miss my flight,” Andrew said in interview.  “I made the plane with just minutes to spare and flew to Hong Kong.  Michael loved what I played him, said, ‘Give me a pad and a pen’ and wrote the lyrics in something like an hour.”

Andrew wrote the music for Kick the day before inspiration struck with Need You Tonight, though the demo was acoustic and Michael wanted to toughen it up and play it as a straight rock song with plenty of brass.  Calling all Nations rounded out the Hong Kong demos and when Chris Thomas heard them, he knew the album was done.  The session “produced some really important material,” he said, “and that gap gave them a chance to think and realise what was and wasn’t working.  It swung the album around.”

Following a couple of weeks recording at the Studio De La Grande Armée in Paris, the band went on the pre-arranged tour and then met up again with Chris Thomas in Paris to listen to the album.  Chris Murphy was also there and everyone present knew they’d captured something special.  Chris Murphy immediately flew to New York to play it to the top executives at Atlantic, the band’s label but unfortunately they didn’t hear the same thing.

“They hated it, absolutely hated it,” he said.  “They said there was no way they could get this music on rock radio. They said it was suited for black radio, but they didn't want to promote it that way. The president of the label told me that he'd give us $1 million to go back to Australia and make another album.”  Worse, the Australian and European labels didn’t get it either.

Kick, therefore, became INXS’s biggest challenge.  “I don’t know where I got the strength,” a shocked Murphy said, but decided the best way to deal with it was to do it themselves.  He took inventory of the band assets and made the executive decision to gamble them to break the record in America - on the understanding that if they won there, the rest of the world would follow.  He didn’t tell the band but hired a promo team and used guerilla tactics, gaining favour from inside Atlantic (though the rock people didn’t know how to market it, nor did the funk team) and in the end it was Andrea Guinness, the head of college radio promotions, who became his ally, saying she could make it a hit.  Murphy organised a string  of concerts at colleges and, as an excellent live act, the band won over the fans, the reception pushing Atlantic Records into adding Kick to their schedule.

When it was released, Kick was an instant hit and Murphy’s gamble (he didn’t tell the band about it until much later) had been a resounding success - after years of building their reputation, INXS were suddenly one of the biggest bands in the world.
To support the album, the band mounted the enormous Kick World Tour which started at East Lansing in Michigan on 16th September 1987 and took in America, Canada, the UK, Europe, Japan, New Zealand and Australia.  The tour ended on 13th November 1988 at the Sydney Entertainment Centre, having played to more than 3 million people.

Once the tour was over, the band members took a year off, pursuing individual projects and enjoying time with family and friends.  Michael collaborated with Ollie Olsen on the Max Q album and appeared in Frankenstein Unbound (as Percy Bysshe Shelley), Andrew produced Jenny Morris’ Shiver album and toured it, Tim produced a documentary called Fish In Space and contributed to the music along with Kirk and Jon whilst Garry toured with Absent Friends

The album yielded 5 singles:
Need You Tonight/Mediate, backed with I’m Coming (Home), was released on 23rd September 1987 (re-released in the UK in November 1988, it hit number 2, their highest ever chart position)
Devil Inside, backed with On The Rocks, was released on 13th February 1988
New Sensation, backed with Guns In The Sky, was released on 31st March 1988
Never Tear Us Apart, backed with Different World and Guns in the Sky (Kick Ass Remix), was released on 8th August 1988
Mystify, backed with What You Need (12” remix), was released on 15th March 1989

All five singles also had accompanying videos (as did a couple of the ‘b’ sides)

Need You Tonight was directed by Richard Lowenstein.  It featured a combination of live action and animation, the visual effects created by cutting up 35mm film frames and photocopying them, before re-layering the images over the original footage.  Given his pick of album tracks, Lowenstein chose this because “it spoke to me with all the funk and syncopation and clean sounds. I knew I could do something with all those rhythms. Michael’s sexy, I said that’s the one, if you want a No. 1 hit give me that one.”  The video took three months to produce and ended up winning five MTV Music Video Awards including Video Of The Year (1988).

Mediate was directed by Richard Lowenstein and is a deliberate homage to Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues (which worried the band).  It was filmed, without permission, outside a steel mill in Newcastle, Australia and captured in three takes.  Lowenstein said, “the only person who was supposed to have rhythm, Jon Farris the drummer, messed it up and couldn’t get his placards [turned over] in time! We had to speed it up, you can see it speed up and slow down if you watch closely.”

Devil Inside was directed by Joel Schumacher and filmed in Balboa, California.  Kirk Pengilly didn’t like it as he felt it was “too American”.  For me, I think it now stands as the archetypal 80s video.

New Sensation, Guns In The Sky and Never Tear Us Apart were all directed by Richard Lowenstein and filmed in Prague.  “I’d gone to Prague on a film festival,” he said in interview, “[and] it was like going back in time.”  The country was then behind the Iron Curtain so it had hardly been seen on film and Lowenstein knew they could “do long, slow, incredible shots.”  New Sensation and Never Tear Us Apart (it’s not often a song’s sound and vision match so perfectly, to my mind) were scheduled to be shot there and Lowenstein managed to film Guns In The Sky in various corridors while waiting for shots to be set up for New Sensation.

Mystify was directed by Hamish Cameron and created whilst filming the In Search Of Excellence documentary.

The videos were collectively released as KICK: The Video Flick which also included behind the scenes footage.  It was released in the UK by Channel 5 video and I still have my VHS copy.
“Sometimes we think, ‘How'd we get here without being a pack of assholes?’ It's pretty rare. That's what it's about: respect for your position and appreciating it. . . . And I know we're going to keep going. We may burst our own bubble, but I don't think we're going to let anybody else do it for us.”
- Michael Hutchence, Rolling Stone magazine interview, issue dated 16th June 1988

“Generally speaking, I suppose making Kick was the best fun I’ve ever had – it was the pinnacle.”
- Chris Thomas, interviewed in 2002.

Kick was certified 7x Platinum in Australia (the second biggest selling album on the Australia charts for 1988), Diamond in Canada, Gold in France, Germany and Hong Kong, Platinum in Switzerland, 3x Platinum in the UK and 6x Platinum in the US showing total sales of around 14m units.

INXS were nominated as Best Group at the 1988 Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Awards.  At the 1989 awards they won for Outstanding Achievement and Best Group while Never Tear Us Apart won Best Video and was nominated for Single Of The Year.  The band would be inducted into the ARIA Hall Of Fame in 2001 alongside The Saints.

Kick received a nomination in the 1988 Grammy Awards and INXS was nominated as Best International Group at the 1989 Brit Awards.

At the 1988 MTV Video Music Awards, INXS was the night's biggest winner and nominee, with five awards from nine nominations.  Need You Tonight received eight nominations and won five (Viewers Choice, Video Of The Year, Best Group Video, Breakthrough Video and Best Editing In A Video) whilst Devil Inside earned one nomination (for Best Editing).  New Sensation was nominated at the 1989 Awards.

Receiving their platinum album - manager Chris Murphy is standing
between Garry and Andrew in the pale brown suit
Critically, it was well received.  All Music gave it 4.5/5, Christgau’s Record Guide rated it a B, The Encyclopedia Of Popular Music gave it 4.5/5, the LA Times awarded it 2.5/4, Q Magazine gave it 4/5 and The Rolling Stone Album Guide gave it 3.5/5.  BBC Music reviewed the 2004 Deluxe Edition, calling it “a near flawless collection of songs”, Ian McFarlane in the Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop wrote it was “the band's most enduring release by mixing the hard rock sound of Thieves with a looser approach to dance grooves”, while Newsweek said it had “a hard-driving, irresistibly danceable sound and a sexy, live-for-the-moment attitude -- tempered with just a dash of social consciousness.”

Personally, I think Kick is INXS’s best album and sounds as fresh and exciting today as it did 30 years ago, full of energy and excitement, superb musicianship and a crisp, clear production.

Happy 30th birthday Kick and thanks for all the good times.

Story To Story: The Official Autobiography, by INXS and Anthony Bozza
Chris Thomas Interviews
The 100 Greatest Bands of All Time: A Guide to the Legends Who Rocked the World edited by David V. Moskowitz 25 Iconic Australian Videos
Tour information (oocities)
Music - Andrew talks KICK, track by track
Mix Online Classic Tracks
Rolling Stone article - INXS: New Sensation
X tour programme
Sales certification figures

Monday 9 October 2017

James Bond at 55

As regular readers will know, I’m endlessly fascinated by the behind-the-scenes processes on films and have written about them on the blog often (you can read the posts on this link).  I’m also a huge fan of the James Bond series (especially the Roger Moore-era ones) and have written retrospectives on some of them, as well as covering the miniatures work by genius’ like Derek Meddings and John Richardson.

So when I discovered the 55th anniversary of the films fell on 5th October, I thought it’d be a good way to celebrate by combining the two - a retrospective with behind the scenes shots.

Happy anniversary, Mr Bond!
clockwise from top left - Sean Connery, Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Timothy Dalton
James Bond first appeared in Casino Royale, which was published on 13th April 1953 in hardback by Jonathan Cape.  A considerable critical and commercial success, Pan Books issued a paperback edition in 1955.  The novel was adapted into a one-hour television show as part of the CBS Climax! series in 1954, with Barry Nelson playing James ‘Jimmy’ Bond and in March 1955, Fleming sold the film rights to producer Gregory Ratoff (which is why it took so long for that novel to be filmed as part of the official series).

In 1959, Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli expressed an interest in adapting the novels for the screen but his partner at Warwick Films, Irving Allen, wasn’t keen.  In June 1961, Fleming sold a six-month option on the film rights to ‘published and future James Bond novels and short stories’ to Harry Saltzman.  Introduced by screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz, Saltzman and Broccoli formed Eon Productions (believed to mean ‘Everything Or Nothing’, though Broccoli often denied it) with the intention of producing the first Bond film.  Turned down by a lot of Hollywood studios for being ‘too British’ or ‘too blatantly sexual’, the two eventually signed a deal with United Artists to fund and distribute seven films.  Broccoli and Saltzman then founded Danjaq S.A. (named for their respective wives, Dana and Jacqueline) to hold the rights to the films Eon Productions was to produce.
from left - Cubby Broccoli, Sean Connery, Ian Fleming and Harry Saltzman on the set of Dr No (1962)
After producer Kevin McClory took Fleming to court for breach of copyright, the initial Eon choice of Thunderball as the first Bond film was shifted to Dr No and Mankowitz wrote the first draft with Richard Maibaum, the latter of whom would remain with the series until Licence To Kill in 1989.  Patrick McGoohan turned down the role of Bond and it was given to Sean Connery, who wasn’t either Broccoli or, indeed, Fleming’s first choice.  Terence Young signed on as director, Ken Adam became set designer (a role he would mostly continue until Moonraker in 1979), Maurice Binder created the title sequence (and introduced the gun barrel opening which has since appeared in all of the Eon films) and Monty Norman wrote the soundtrack.  His Bond theme, apparently written in two minutes, was arranged by John Barry.

Dr No received its premiere on 5th October 1962 (before going on wide release on the 7th) and, on a $1.1m budget, has since earned almost $60m.  It received a mixed critical reception but was a hit with the paying public, being the fifth most popular film of the year in the UK and a notable success in Europe.
John Kitzmuller (Quarrel), Ursula Andress (Honey Ryder) and Sean Connery film a sequence - director Terence Young is on the pallet below the camera
It was quickly followed by From Russia With Love (1963), for which United Artists doubled the budget.  Terence Young returned as director but Ken Adam (working on Dr Strangelove for Stanley Kubrick at the time) was replaced by Syd Cain.  It was the first film for which John Barry created the soundtrack.

With success building, Goldfinger (1964) was chosen next with the intent of cracking the American market.  Guy Hamilton was brought on to direct and he was keen to inject humour into the series, as well as including more gadgets along with bigger and more elegant sets.  Ken Adam delivered those in spades, creating a Fort Knox from his imagination that featured gold bars stacked on top of each other.  Ian Fleming, who visited the set at Pinewood Studios, died in August shortly before the film’s release.
Guy Hamilton finds his angles during the fight scene between Sean Connery and Honor Blackman (Pussy Galore) in Goldfinger (1964)
Unable to come to a compromise on Casino Royale with Charles K. Feldman (who took over Gregory Ratoff’s rights), the next film was Thunderball (1965), which had a troublesome history involving Kevin McClory and Fleming (they came up with plot elements together and McClory later remade the film as the non-Eon Bond Never Say Never Again in 1983).  The film earned $141m worldwide (the highest grossing instalment until The Spy Who Loved Me).
Director Terence Young on the set of Thunderball (1965) with Molly Peters and Sean Connery
Since the first four Bond films had been popular in Japan, Eon took advantage of the market and made You Only Live Twice (1967) next, with Lewis Gilbert directing.  Made on a budget of $10.3m (Ken Adam spent $1m building Blofeld’s huge volcano set at Pinewood), the screenplay was written by Roald Dahl and was the first Bond film to jettison the premise, retaining only the title, the Japanese setting, the use of Blofeld as villain and Kissy Suzuki as a Bond girl.  Released in the same year as the Feldman produced Casino Royale (which Roger Ebert called “possibly the most indulgent film ever made”), the posters stated “Sean Connery IS James Bond” though the actor, having grown jaded of the role and his importance to the producers, had already announced it would be his last Bond film.  At the time, Broccoli told Alan Whicker “it won’t be the last Bond under any circumstances—with all due respect to Sean, who I think has been certainly the best man to play this part. We will, in our own way, try to continue the Bond series for the audience because it's too important.”
Director Lewis Gilbert directs Tetsuro Tamba (Tiger Tanaka), Mie Hama (Kissy Suzuki) and Sean Connery on Ken Adam's volcano set at Pinewood Studios for You Only Live Twice (1967)
Saltzman proposed that the next film be The Man With The Golden Gun, to star Roger Moore as Bond, but the star was signed up for The Saint TV series.  Instead, they picked On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), which had previously been considered to follow Goldfinger and Thunderball and the series editor Peter Hunt was allowed to make his directorial debut.  He “wanted it to be different than any other Bond film” and it was decided to drop the gadgets and focus more on plot (using the model of From Russia With Love).  George Lazenby, an Australian former model and car salesman, was chosen to replace Connery, even though he’d only acted in adverts before.  He developed an attitude as filming went on and declared, before the film was released, that he wouldn’t play the part again - meanwhile, the production went two months over schedule due to a warmer than usual Swiss winter.  Critical reception was poor, especially around Lazenby and even though it was popular, it only made half of what You Only Live Twice did.  Roger Moore said of the film, on the commentary for The Man With The Golden Gun, that it was a “very well made film.  Peter Hunt, excellent, excellent, excellent fight stuff, excellent snow was one of the better Bonds.”  The film marked the last occasion Peter Hunt worked on the series.
Peter Hunt directs Telly Savalas (Blofeld) and George Lazenby on the Piz Gloria location, Switzerland for On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Diamonds Are Forever (1971) featured the return of Sean Connery, with a fee of $1.25m plus 12.5% of the gross (after the sting of George Lazenby, United Artists chief David Picker apparently insisted money was no object) and the condition UA would finance two films of his choice.  Connery used his fee to establish the Scottish International Education Trust.  Inspired by the commercial success of Goldfinger, Eon hired Guy Hamilton to direct and this was the last time Spectre featured in the series until the 2015 film of the same name.
Sean Connery and Trina Parks (Thumper) relax on the set of Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Live and Let Die (1973) marked the debut of Roger Moore as Bond, who tried not to imitate either his friend Connery or his own performance as Simon Templar in The Saint.  Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz adapted the script to emphasise Moore’s persona, creating a lighter feel.  While searching locations in Jamaica, they discovered a crocodile farm (with its ‘Trespassers Will Be Eaten’ sign) owned by Ross Kananga, who inspired the villains name (and it was Kananga who performed the stunt of running over the crocodiles backs, after assuring the producers he could do it).  John Barry was unavailable so Paul McCartney was asked to write and perform the title song but his salary ($15,000 plus royalties) was so high they could only afford to hire McCartney’s old producer, George Martin, who had little experience scoring films.  The film was a critical and commercial success.
(you can read my retrospective essay here)
Roger Moore struggles to see where he's going, filming Live And Let Die (1973) in the Louisiana bayous
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) was filmed in the Far East after production designer Peter Murton saw pictures of Phuket bay in a magazine.  On a scouting trip in Hong Kong, Broccoli saw the partially submerged wreck of RMS Queen Elizabeth and decided to use it as the base for MI6’s operations whilst the 1973 energy crisis provided the backdrop (along with the MacGuffin of the Solex Agitator).
Christopher Lee (Scaramanga) and Maud Adams (Andrea Anders) relax on Phuket for The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
This was the last Bond film to be co-produced by Harry Saltzman.  Financial issues relating to other investments meant he was forced to sell his 50% stake in Danjaq to United Artists to raise much-needed funds.  The resulting legalities delayed production of the next Bond film and soured the relationship between Broccoli and Saltzman.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) lost Hamilton as its director after he left to pursue Superman (1978), which was ultimately made by Richard Donner.  Lewis Gilbert, who’d previously directed You Only Live Twice, signed up and brought Christopher Wood into the fold to write a script (with Richard Maibaum) that had been worked on by John Landis, Anthony Burgess and Stirling Silliphant, amongst others.  John Barry, who couldn’t work in the UK because of tax problems, suggested Marvin Hamlisch, who co-wrote Nobody Does It Better (the first Bond theme not to share a title) with Carole Bayer Sager (it was sung by Carly Simon), which was nominated for an Oscar.  Ken Adam’s design for the Stromberg Supertanker was so big, a special stage was built for it - the 007 Stage at Pinewood was the largest in the world and cost $1.8m.  Broccoli knew his first solo effort was a pivotal film in the series but it was a tremendous success and is Roger Moore’s favourite film of his tenure (a view I happen to share).  The end title card said it would be followed by For Your Eyes Only.
(you can read my retrospective essay here)
Filming the chase scene from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) - the production used the Lotus chairman's car for the camera crew
Moonraker (1979) replaced For Your Eyes Only in the schedule to capitalise on the box office success of Star Wars.  On a $34m budget (double any of the previous Bond films), the film was based in Paris due to high taxation laws in the UK at the time, though all of the Oscar nominated visual effects (supervised by Derek Meddings) were shot on the 007 stage at Pinewood.  Ken Adam’s sets were the largest ever constructed in Paris, taking over all available stages and it was to be his last film for Eon.
(you can read my retrospective essay here)
Filming on the space station set for Moonraker (1979)
For Your Eyes Only (1981) was something of a reboot, a conscious return to the style of the earlier Bond films (and works of Fleming) using realistic sets and less gadgets than before.  John Glen (who’d worked for Eon since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) became director, Peter Lamont took over as production designer and the script used elements of the short stories Risico and For Your Eyes Only from the eponymous collection - the keelhauling sequence from Live And Let Die was also utilised.  Topol, who played Colombo in the film, suggested Broccoli might want to invite his estranged ex-partner Saltzman to the premiere - it marked the first re-union between the two men since their break-up in 1975.
(you can read my retrospective essay here)
Carole Bouquet (Melina Havelock), Roger Moore and Julian Glover (Kristatos) film the climax of For Your Eyes Only (1981), as Cubby Broccoli (far right of picture, behind Glover) looks on
Octopussy (1983) was the first Bond film released by MGM, who bought United Artists in 1981 after the studio fell into financial difficulties.  Roger Moore, whose original three-film contract expired with The Spy Who Loved Me, had suggested it was time for him to hand over the reins but news that Sean Connery was to play Bond in Never Say Never Again (1983) led to him being persuaded to return.  The film was a success, taking $183.7m at the box office over the rival’s take of $160m and although media reports talked of a ‘Battle Of The Bonds’, no rivalry existed between old friends Moore and Connery, who took the opportunity to have dinner with one another once a week.
Filming the circus sequence for Octopussy (1983), Roger Moore and Christopher Reeve chat 
A View to a Kill (1985) was the first film with Michael G. Wilson as co-producer at Eon.  He’d first worked on Goldfinger and had been involved with every production from The Spy Who Loved Me onwards, serving as Executive Producer from Moonraker.  Filming was disrupted when the 007 stage burned down on 27th June 1984 but it was rebuilt and re-opened in January 1985 in time for filming to take place.  During filming, Roger Moore decided this was his last Bond and, aged 57, handed in his Walther PPK.
Old friends Roger Moore and Patrick Macnee (Sir Godfrey Tibbett) share a joke whilst filming A View To A Kill (1985)
The Living Daylights (1987) was written while the producers searched for Roger Moore’s replacement and they settled on Pierce Brosnan (who’d met Broccoli when his wife, Cassandra Harris, appeared in For Your Eyes Only).  He couldn’t take the role (his TV series Remington Steele was revived) so Timothy Dalton was cast.  This was the last Bond film to have its soundtrack composed by John Barry (who cameos as the conductor of Kara’s orchestra).
(you can read my retrospective essay here)
John Glen (centre of picture) directs Timothy Dalton and Andreas Wisniewski (Necros) on the set of The Living Daylights (1987)
It was decided Licence To Kill (1989) should continue the more realistic style of The Living Daylights (which suited Dalton’s performance) and also show the ‘darker edge’ of Bond.  With the removal of the Eady Levy in 1985, rising costs forced Eon to film completely outside the UK for the first time and they settled at Estudios Churubusco in Mexico City.  A strike by the Writers Guild of America meant Richard Maibaum couldn’t write the script he’d developed with Michael G. Wilson and the plot uses elements of Live And Let Die (Felix getting partially fed to a shark).
(you can read my retrospective essay here)
Filming the aircraft sequence on Licence To Kill (1989)

Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli
Licence To Kill was the end of an era for a lot of the crew and became the last Bond film for director John Glen, title designer Maurice Binder, Richard Maibaum and cameraman Alec Mills.  It was also the last film produced by the Albert Broccoli/Michael G. Wilson partnership.  A relatively poor box office performance (it was released the same summer as Batman, Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade and Lethal Weapon 2) led Broccoli to question his leadership and he put Danjaq up for sale.  The situation was complicated in 1990 when MGM/UA was sold to Qintex who, wanting to merge with Pathe Communications, leased them the Bond back catalogue for less than the market value without consulting Danjaq.  Danjaq sued and Broccoli appointed his daughter Barbara to co-produce alongside her step-brother Wilson while he concentrated on legal matters.  The dispute was finally settled in 1993, the same year Timothy Dalton’s six-year contract expired and, after reading the script for the next film, he decided he wasn’t right for the role and left.

Goldeneye (1995) marked the long-delayed debut of Pierce Brosnan.  John Woo was originally asked to direct but turned it down (saying he was honoured by the offer) and Martin Campbell was chosen (he’d previously directed Brosnan in an episode of The Professionals).  With Pinewood Studios occupied, Eon converted an old Rolls-Royce factory at Leavesden Aerodrome into a new studio.  In a film full of excellent miniature work, this was Derek Meddings’ last film and he passed away shortly before the release. Goldeneye is dedicated to his memory.
Derek Meddings and Pierce Brosnan on the set of Goldeneye (1995)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) was given a tight release date which didn’t leave Eon a lot of time for pre-production.  Campbell was replaced by Roger Spottiswoode and the script went through four different writers and was finished a week before principal photography began.  Leavesden Studios wasn’t available, Pinewood didn’t have enough capacity and so Eon converted an abandoned warehouse in Hertfordshire for filming.  David Arnold joined the Eon team as composer.
Pierce Brosnan filming the pre-credit sequence on Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The World Is Not Enough (1999) saw Bond finally back at Pinewood Studios.  Barbara Broccoli originally wanted Peter Jackson to direct (having enjoyed Heavenly Creatures) but changed her mind after watching The Frighteners.  Michael Apted, who directed, re-wrote the script with his wife, Diana Stevens and the changes didn’t please Brosnan, so Michael G. Wilson re-wrote parts of it himself.  David Arnold won an Ivor Novello award for his soundtrack.
Pierce Brosnan drives the Q Boat on the Thames for the pre-credit sequence of Tomorrow Never Dies (1999)
Die Another Day (2002), the 20th official Bond film, was released on the 40th anniversary of the Bond film series.  Directed by Lee Tamahori, it features a lot of nods to the earlier films (the bikini from Dr No, Q’s lab full of old gadgets and Roger Moore’s daughter as an air stewardess) but doesn’t really work (and features some truly dreadful CGI).  Brosnan was too good a Bond to have this as his final film in the series but, unfortunately, it was.
Pierce Brosnan filming part of the ice-field chase in Die Another Day (2002)
After various legal squabbles, MGM obtained the rights to the 1967 version of Casino Royale from Sony Pictures Entertainment who, in turn, bought MGM (suffering, again, from severe financial issues) in 2004.  At the time, Barbara Broccoli said in interview, “For years, my father wanted to make Casino Royale - it’s the Holy Grail.  We wanted to make a tougher film, the way it should have been made years ago.”  Michael G. Wilson said, “We felt the last film was too fantastical, so we decided to go back to basics and update.”  Unfortunately, they kept the same writers - Neal Purvis and Robert Wade - who started the script with Pierce Brosnan in mind, though Paul Haggis was later brought in.  Martin Campbell was brought back as director and the producers chose not to renew Brosnan’s contract, announcing Daniel Craig as the new Bond in October 2005 to a storm of online protest even before a second of film had been shot.

Casino Royale (2006) was based at Barrandov Studios in Prague with the finale in the collapsing house shot at Pinewood on the 007 stage.  The reboot was hugely successful (it was the fourth highest grossing film of 2006 and the highest grossing Bond film to that time)  with Craig praised in the lead role.  The film was Peter Lamont’s last, as he retired.
Daniel Craig and Eva Green (Vesper Lynd) filming the beach scene for Casino Royale (2006)
Quantum Of Solace (2008), based on an original idea by Michael G. Wilson, was hit by the 2007-2008 Writers Guild strike which meant director Marc Forster and Daniel Craig were forced to re-write Purvis & Wade and Haggis’ script themselves.  Forster, who felt Casino Royale was too long, wanted this to be “tight and fast, like a bullet” but achieved it with editing that was often so quick it became unwatchable.  Craig later told Time Out he wasn’t as happy with the final product as he would have liked and admitted “I guess the solution was: ‘Do more chase scenes’.  I guess at no point did Forster pipe up and say, ‘Yeah, I’m not really good at shooting those’.”  The situation led to him being allowed more say in choosing the director of the next film.
Setting up the rooftop to balcony jump on location in Siena for Quantum Of Solace (2008)
Production of Skyfall (2012) was suspended through 2010 because of MGM’s financial troubles and given official approval in January 2011.  Sam Mendes, who Daniel Craig had worked with in the past, was chosen to direct.  Thomas Newman, who had a long working relationship with Mendes, replaced David Arnold and Adele’s theme song won an Oscar, the first Bond film that happened on.  Shot on a budget of $200m, the film earned $1.1bn.
Daniel Craig throws himself into a stunt on the London Underground for Skyfall (2012)
Spectre (2015) retained Mendes as director and, at $245m, is the most expensive Bond film to date.  Daniel Craig was listed as co-producer and said in interview, “I’m just so proud of the fact that my name comes up somewhere else in the titles”.  An original story, it uses Hannes Oberhauser (ie, Blofeld’s father) who was a background character in the Octopussy short story whilst Charmain Bond, mentioned as Bond’s full-time guardian, maintains the back story Fleming established.  The theme song, by Sam Smith, won an Oscar, which must have grated on previous Bond composers since it’s not one of the best.  Sony Pictures’ contract to co-produce the Bond films with MGM and Eon expired with this film.
Daniel Craig on a rooftop in Mexico City for Spectre (2015)

The James Bond films are the longest continually-running series in history, from 1962 to the present day (the longest gap being the six years between 1989 and 1995).

In 1986, Albert and Dana Broccoli acquired United Artists 50% stake and so assumed complete control of Danjaq.  Following the death of Cubby in 1996 and Dana in 2004, control of Danjaq was passed to Michael G. Wilson.  Eon Productions is still owned by the Broccoli family, with Wilson and Barbara Broccoli acting as current producers of the films.  Cubby Broccoli’s name has appeared in the opening “presents” credit of every Bond film - up to The Man With The Golden Gun, the credit read ‘Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman present’ (the order of names was sometimes switched), then from The Spy Who Loved Me through to Goldeneye it was ‘Albert R. Broccoli presents’.  After his death, the opening credit became ‘Albert R. Broccoli’s Eon Productions presents’.

With a combined gross of over $7bn, the Bond films are the third hightest-grossing series behind Harry Potter and the Marvel Universe though, taking inflation into account, the gross is closer to $13m making them the highest.
Timothy Dalton, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan, at the Cubby Broccoli Memorial Service held at the Leicester Square Odeon, November 1996
Harry Saltzman (born Herschel Saltzman on 27th October 1915) died of a heart attack on 28th September 1994.

Albert Romolo Broccoli, CBE (born on 5th April 1909) died of heart failure on 27th June 1996.

Dr. No (1962)
From Russia with Love (1963)
Goldfinger (1964)
Thunderball (1965)
You Only Live Twice (1967)
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
Live and Let Die (1973)
The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Moonraker (1979)
For Your Eyes Only (1981)
Octopussy (1983)
A View to a Kill (1985)
The Living Daylights (1987)
Licence to Kill (1989)
GoldenEye (1995)
Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
The World Is Not Enough (1999)
Die Another Day (2002)
Casino Royale (2006)
Quantum of Solace (2008)
Skyfall (2012)
Spectre (2015)

DVD documentaries and commentaries
Daniel Craig Time Out Interview