Monday 28 June 2021

Photo-stories and me...

When I was a kid, a major ambition of mine was to make a feature film.  Regular readers will know I'm endlessly fascinated by the behind-the-scenes process on films (especially miniatures and matte paintings) and that started in my childhood, fed by watching Clapperboard and reading Look-In.  I particularly loved it when Mum & Dad let me stay up to watch Film (whatever year it was) with dear old Barry Norman.

Growing up through the 70s and 80s, video cameras were a pipe-dream and cine cameras were far more expensive than my family could afford so you can perhaps understand why this became a kind of Holy Grail for me. To try and create something visual, I ended up making various "photo-stories", which satisfied me for a while.

(for those who don't know, "photo-stories" were a staple of some boys and girls comics back in the day, replacing hand-drawn panels in a comic strip of posed stills.  Girls comics used them for problem pages, whilst I remember Eagle comic featuring a strip called Doomlord, amongst others.  There were also photo-novels - novelisations using film stills rather than prose - but the less said about them, probably the better).

What reminded me of all this was discovering some photographs over the weekend, of one such 'strip' I wrote.
The above picture was taken in 1981 and features my Dad, me and my school friend Geoff Burbidge. We were making a story about a bounty hunter (or in effect, a very close homage to a strip called Man Tracker from The Crunch comic, which I wrote about here).  I also used this image as the cover of a novel (or, as it'd be deemed now, a long-ish short story) I wrote in 1982 called Hadley Hall Comprehensive (and which I blogged about here).
Left - Nick walks away as Geoff (in my Dad's old trilby) threatens me.  Look at those clothes - Harrington jackets, jeans and trainers!  What a look!
Right - Nick's brother Chris (I recruited absolutely anyone who showed the slightest expression of interest!) takes aim at Nick and Geoff.  Wonderfully, this shot inadvertently captured history.  The billboard and waste-ground Chris & I were standing on is long gone, the new library in its place.  The private house beyond the awning is now a Tesco Express store.
I never gained the means to make films of my own and so I never got the chance to enter the Clapperboard Young Filmmakers competition.  I did eventually make some films on VHS, with a school friend called Matt Ratcliff, but that was much later in the 80s and into the early 90s and all of them were zero-budget horror flicks.  I'll tell you about them one day.

Now, of course, everyone with a smartphone has the technology to make films but my focus has shifted to writing only (though some of my ideas do start off as me seeing them in filmic terms).  Years back, however, Dude & I made several LEGO stop-motion epics and we both had a great deal of fun with that.

I wonder how things would have turned out if I'd had the technology at my disposal then that I do now?

Monday 21 June 2021

For Your Eyes Only, at 40

For Your Eyes Only, the twelfth James Bond film in the official EON series (and the fifth to feature Roger Moore in the lead role), opened in the UK on 26th June 1981.  It was directed by John Glen (the first in his eventual five-film run), produced by Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and written by Richard Maibaum & Michael G. Wilson.  Peter Lamont was the production designer, Derek Meddings supervised the visual effects and Bill Conti wrote the score.  The film was originally planned for release in 1979 to follow The Spy Who Loved Me (it’s announced at the end of that film) but was put back to allow Moonraker to go into production.
UK quad poster
Following the outer space excess of Moonraker (which remained the series highest grossing entry until Goldeneye in 1995), producer Cubby Broccoli wanted a conscious return to the style of the earlier Bond films and, indeed, the novels of Ian Fleming.  For Your Eyes Only, he decided, would be stripped back of gadgets and humour, allowing for a grittier, more realistic approach - a reboot before they were in fashion, as it were.  Broccoli’s stepson, Michael G. Wilson, had been made an executive producer for Moonraker and was given more creative input in the series.  He agreed with the need to get back to basics and collaborated on the screenplay with Bond veteran Richard Maibaum.  The script took key elements from two of Fleming’s short stories - Risico (Kristatos and Columbo) and For Your Eyes Only (the murder of the Havelocks) - and included unused sequences from Live And Let Die (the keelhauling), Goldfinger (the Indentigraph, called the Identicast in the novel) and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the winter sports).  The macguffin of the film - the ATAC - and the villain Locque were both added by the pair.
As the script was being written, Broccoli had a major problem in that Roger Moore was undecided as to whether or not he wanted to continue.  His original three-film contract took him up to The Spy Who Loved Me and following that, he negotiated contracts on a film-by-film basis.  This uncertainty led to other actors being considered for the role, including Lewis Collins (then well-known as Bodie in The Professionals), Michael Billington (who played Anya’s lover in The Spy Who Loved Me) and Michael Jayston.  Broccoli worked hard to persuade his friend and star to make at least one more film and Moore, helped by a substantial increase in his salary, eventually signed on, though he remained uneasy about the tougher character he was being asked to play.  For my part, I think this is probably his best performance as Bond - he still has some quips but they’re toned down from the 70s excesses and his character shows a harder, more vengeful streak.  His age also seems to be acknowledged, especially with the young ice skater Bibi - he rebuffs her advances by saying “You get your clothes on and I’ll buy you an ice cream.”
At work in Cortina - front left - Tony Waye (Assistant director), Bob Simmons (Action co-ordinator), Roger Moore, Cubby Broccoli, John Glen, Michael G Wilson
Further to the back-to-basics philosophy, there were several changes in the key crew.  John Glen, who’d worked as editor and second unit director on a number of previous Bond films, was promoted to director.  Ken Adam, the production designer, was working on Pennies From Heaven in America and when his assistant Peter Lamont was asked who he thought should replace him said “why not me?”  Both Glen and Lamont decided to pull back from Adam’s trademark grand sets in favour of a more realistic design.

Of the old guard, both Desmond Llewelyn (Q) and Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) returned but Bernard Lee, who’d played M since Dr No (1962) was hospitalised with stomach cancer and died on 16th January 1981 before he could film his scenes.  As a mark of respect, the part wasn’t recast and his dialogue was split between Q, the Minister Of Defence (Geoffrey Keen) and Bill Tanner (James Villiers).
from left - Carole Bouquet, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Cassandra Harris
Carole Bouquet, who had previously auditioned for the part of Holly Goodhead in Moonraker, was chosen to play the vengeful Melina Havelock and in an interesting twist became the first Bond girl who doesn’t share a love scene with our hero until the closing credits.  She is also only a year older than Lynn-Holly Johnson.  Julian Glover, who’d once been shortlisted as a potential Bond prior to Live And Let Die was cast as Kristatos, whilst Chaim Topol was suggested by Broccoli’s wife Dana for Bond’s ally Columbo (and it was he who came up with the pistachios quirk).  Cassandra Harris, cast as Countess Lisl, took her fiance to lunch with Broccoli and his team, the first time any of them were to meet Pierce Brosnan.  Lynn-Holly Johnson, who played Bibi Dahl, was a professional ice skater Broccoli had seen and liked in the film Ice Castles (1978).  Michael Gothard played Kristatos’ henchman, the hired assasin Emile Locque, who doesn’t say a single word throughout the film (though he screams as he dies).  Unfortunately, the film ends with a cringeworthy sequence featuring then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (played for laughs by Janet Brown) which doesn’t sit with the tone of the film at all, dates it badly and feels like a terrible joke that should have been cut in the scripting stage.  Roger Moore reportedly hated it too.
from left - Julian Glover, Topol
Since John Barry was unable to work in the UK at the time, American composer Bill Conti - best known for his work on the Rocky films - was chosen.  His score, very much of its time, doesn’t really suit the film (though it’s an decent enough listen) and has dated quite badly (though I maintain that the discordant piano during the ski sequence fits the visuals perfectly).  Conti also wrote the music to go with Michael Leeson’s lyrics for the title song, sung by Sheena Easton who maintains the honour of being the only singer to feature in the opening titles.  The song reached number 8 in the UK charts, number 4 in the US and was nominated for the Best Song Oscar.  Blondie were asked to submit a song but it was rejected - it’s available on their album The Hunter and, I think, would have worked just as well.

On a budget of $28m ($6m less than Moonraker), Bond was ready to head into the 1980s.

“We had gone as far as we could into space. We needed a change of some sort, back to the grass roots of Bond. We wanted to make the new film more of a thriller than a romp, without losing sight of what made Bond famous - its humour.”
- John Glen

Production began on 2nd September 1980 in the North Sea, filming exterior scenes with the St Georges (interiors were shot at Pinewood later, as was the explosion which was filmed in the tank on the 007 stage).

The production moved to Corfu and, on 15th September, began filming at the Villa Sylva at Kanoni, which doubled as Gonzales’ Spanish villa.  On a location scout, it had been decided to use the local hills and olive groves for the chase scene between Melina’s Citroën 2CV and the Peugeot 504s driven by Gonzales’ men (Bond’s Lotus was blown up early on to show that he would be relying more on his wits than gadgets).  The chase was supervised by Remy Julienne (who would work on every Bond film up to Goldeneye) and filmed over twelve days, using four 2CVs which were modified for the stunts required.  The scene includes Roger Moore’s ad-lib “I love a drive in the country, don’t you?” which clearly takes Carole Bouquet by surprise and he has since stated that of all the cars he ever drove as Bond, the 2CV was his favourite.
The Citroen 2CV jumps the Peugeot in the olive groves
The crew moved to Kalambaka on the Greek mainland to shoot in and around the monastery that sits on top of a virtually sheer column of rock.  Although permits had been signed and agreed, the monks who lived in the neighbouring monastery of Meteora took exception, complaining that Bond’s reputation for sex and violence was an affront and demanding filming be halted.  To prevent filming, they hung laundry out of windows in an attempt to ruin the shots.  Local people and the government intervened and shooting was allowed to continue, though only exteriors were used - St Cyrils monastery itself was built at Pinewood.  On location, Roger Moore - who has a fear of heights - had to resort to some ‘moderate drinking’ to calm his nerves but the fall was performed by Rick Sylvester (who also did the parachute jump at the start of The Spy Who Loved Me).  Derek Meddings developed a system that would dampen the sudden stop and although Sylvester was nervous - he later said “From where we were shooting you could see the local cemetery” - the stunt went without a hitch.
Bond kicks Locque's car off the cliff, the scene that concerned Roger Moore

The raid on Kristatos’ warehouse was also filmed, along with the scene where Bond kicks Locque’s car over the edge of a cliff.  Roger Moore felt the scene was too cold-blooded - he said it “was Bond-like, but not Roger Moore Bond-like” (though I would argue his killing of Sandor in The Spy Who Loved Me is just as nasty) - but agreed to film it as originally written.  The raid sequence also saw Topol injured, when a piece of debris hit him in the face - the scene is included in the movie, with the actor falling toward Moore.

Could that be Locque, or is it a character from Guess Who?
Returning to Pinewood in Novermber, work began on Peter Lamont’s sets at Pinewood, including the Identigraph scene with Q.  On the DVD documentary, Roger Moore (a known practical joker) said he convinced Desmond Llewellyn his dialogue had been changed and handed him new sheets the continuity girl had typed up.  Desmond spent his lunch-hour learning the new lines only to discover, when he got on set, that it was a joke.  His response is not recorded.

The church in the pre-credits sequence was filmed at Stoke Poges, next door to the golf course from Goldfinger (1964).  The sequence of Bond visiting his wife’s grave was written to provide continuity between potentially different actors, when it was still unsure if Moore would be continuing in the role.
Martin Grace hangs on over Beckton Gas Works
The helicopter sequence was filmed at the abandoned Beckton Gas Works in London (later used as a location for Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987)).  Featuring some excellent stunt work - Martin Grace was hanging onto the Jet Ranger, whilst Marc Wolff was the pilot - it also included an incredible Derek Meddings foreground miniature, which used forced perspective to allow the helicopter to apparently fly into a warehouse.  For footage inside the building, a full-scale mock-up was mounted on a rail, allowing Roger Moore to be filmed inside it.  The bald man in the wheelchair was clearly meant to be Blofeld but ongoing legal battles with Kevin McClory meant the character couldn’t be named or properly seen.  Unofficially disposing of Bond’s greatest villain down a chimney stack was Cubby Brococli’s perfect way of saying the 007 series could survive without Blofeld, who wouldn’t re-appear until Spectre in 2015.
Not-Blofeld at Beckton Gas Works (Martin Grace on the skid)
Whilst the first unit was in England, the second unit, supervised by Al Giddings, shot the underwater scenes in the Bahamas with stand-ins. Since Carole Bouquet had a sinus condition, she couldn’t film underwater so the close-ups of Bond and Melina were shot on a dry soundstage.  Smoke, wind, lighting effects and dubbed on bubbles gave the illusion of the actors being submerged.  Giddings also co-ordinated the logistically difficult keelhauling sequence with John Glen.  The submarine scenes were filmed at Pinewood on the 007 stage tank, where Peter Lamont created two working props for the Neptune, as well as a mock-up with a fake bottom.
Filming the keelhauling sequence in the Bahamas
On 1st January 1981, the production began work at Cortina D’Ampezzo in Italy, where unusually mild weather meant no snow had fallen.  Instead, they had to ship some in from nearby mountains and dump it on the city streets.  Bond veteran Willy Bogner Jr led the second unit there and designed the chase sequence with Bob Simmons to surpass his work in both On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Spy Who Loved Me.  As well as being pursued by two motorcycles with studded tyres (to film them, Bogner used skis that allowed him to go forwards or backwards), Bond is also chased on the bobsled track in a gripping and visually dynamic sequence.  Unfortunately, on the last day of shooting the run, one of the stuntmen in the sled, 23 year-old Paolo Rigon, was killed after he became trapped under the bob.  Although he was an accomplished cross-country skier, Roger Moore wasn’t insured for downhill skiing so Bogner stood in for him.  Close-ups were filmed with Moore strapped to a sled being pulled downhill, as Bogner skied backwards operating the camera.
Locque and his men wait for Bond at the ski jump - from left, Claus (Charles Dance), Locque (Michael Gothard), Erich Kriegler (John Wyman)
Robbin Young, who played the florist, won Playboy’s “Be A James Bond Girl” where her prize was a small role and a spread in the magazine.  The film also marked the last appearance by Victor Tourjanksy, the ‘Man With Glass’ from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

First unit filming wrapped in February.  Back at Pinewood, Derek Meddings and his team created miniatures of the St George (and blew it up), Columbo’s yacht for the approach to Kristatos’ warehouse and elements of St Cyrils (including the basket lift).
top - film still
bottom - Derek Meddings with the foreground miniature exactly duplicating the real building 
A member of Derek Meddings' crew at work on the St Georges miniature, just before the diver explodes (hence the miniatures of Bond and Melina)

For Your Eyes Only premiered at the Odeon, Leicester Square on 24th June 1981 before going on general release on 26th June.  The premiere was attended by the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, for the benefit of the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation.  Topol suggested to Cubby Broccoli that he invite his former Bond co-producer Harry Salzman, which he did, marking the first re-union between the two men since their break up after The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).
left - Concept art for the poster by Brian Bysouth - right - raw photo of Nancy Stafford (the hand and crossbow used in the poster)
The poster, showing a woman standing with her legs spread, was designed by Bill Gold and caused a certain amount of controversy in the US - The Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times considered it unsuitable and edited out everything above the knee whilst the Pittsburgh Press painted on shorts.  I thought it was very good and had a copy of it on my bedroom wall for years.  The image is composite from two women Morgan Kane photographed - Joyce Bartle provides the legs (she wore her bikini bottoms the wrong way around) and former Miss Florida Nancy Stafford is the hand holding the crossbow.

Roger Moore presents Cubby Broccoli with his Irving Thalberg Award
Citroen produced a special “007” edition of the 2CV which had decorative bullet holes on the door, Corgi Toys produced die-cast models and a 007 digital watch was also available.  Marvel Comics published a comic book adaption (which I read and quite enjoyed), written by Larry Hama and drawn by Howard Chaykin.

At the Oscars on 29th March 1982, Sheena Easton performed the nominated title song and Roger Moore presented Cubby Broccoli with the Irving Thalberg Honorary Award, in honour of the Bond series.  The script was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay by The Writers Guild of America.

Setting a record for opening-day grosses (£14,998), it went on to made $195.3m ($509.6m adjusted for inflation) worldwide, making it the second highest grossing Bond film after Moonraker.  It was the last Bond film distributed solely by United Artists, as the studio merged with MGM soon after the release.

I like the film a lot though I must admit, at the time, I wasn’t so keen (you have to remember I was 12 when this was released) because after the glorious excess of Moonraker it seemed a bit too pedestrian.  But it’s not - the direction is tight, the set-pieces (especially the car chase and the submarine stuff with the St Georges) are suspenseful and well constructed and the acting is good across the board.  I’m a fan, so happy 40th anniversary For Your Eyes Only.

Monday 14 June 2021

The Art Of British Comics (in the 70s) - part 4

In his excellent autobiography about editing 2000AD and others, The Mighty One, Steve MacManus writes that the traditional age range for comics readers in the late 70s was the 8-12's (making my golden period 1977- 81).  Looking back at that period of British comics reveals a lot of impressive cover art, much of which remains vivid in my mind.

Since my previous posts (in 2018, 2019 and 2020) I've collected a few more issues and I'm still struck by the high quality of the artwork, both for the strips themselves and the covers and it's a real shame you don't see this kind of thing any more.

So, to once again make up for the lack of hand-drawn colour on comic shelves these days, here's another selection of covers from the 1970s (and sneaking into the 80s).

My favourite childhood comic, I wrote an appreciation of Bullet which you can read here
I wrote an appreciation of Starlord, which you can read here
I wrote an appreciation of Tornado, which you can read here
I wrote an appreciation of The Crunch, which you can read here
Misty gets absorbed...
"Exciting news for all girls who like a good read", code for "your favourite comic is about to disappear".  In this case, this was the last issue of Jinty before it was absorbed into Tammy

If you enjoyed this, I'd highly recommend Great News For All Readers and A Resource On Jinty, two excellent comic blogs

Monday 7 June 2021

Novelisation Review 5: Dead & Buried, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

The fifth in an occasional thread celebrating old-school paperback novelisations from the 70s and 80s, which are now mostly forgotten.  We're not talking great art but these books have their place - they were a fantastic resource from a time when you couldn't watch your favourite film or TV show whenever you felt like it - and I think they deserve to be remembered.

This time, I'm looking at Dead & Buried, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, adapted from one of my favourite horror films of the 80s, which was released 40 years ago.

front and back cover of the Warner Books paperback, 1980 (cover scan of my copy)

The coastal town of Potter’s Bluff is small, insular and friendly, where everyone knows everyone else’s business and outsiders are easy to spot.  So when dead bodies start to turn up - burned beyond recognition - Sheriff Dan Gillis doesn’t have a great deal to go on, except that his wife seems to be tied up in it.  As the threads of his investigation start to come together, he realises his neighbours might not be everything he’d thought they were…

Based on the screenplay to the excellent film - though not, it appears, the shooting script - this is a decent attempt to create a suspenseful novel from a story that, I think, works best visually.  In the film, we see the characters and get a sense of the almost surreal nature of what’s happening, while Yarbro is forced to explain bits and pieces that don’t really work once they’re laid out.  Having said that, she writes well and the pace clatters along, with Dan taking the lion’s share of the POV - Janet, his wife, gets short-changed the most unfortunately, while others characters seem there purely to serve the plot.  The suspense set-pieces - such as the out-of-town family pursued through a deserted house - are very well done and there’s a nice creepy sense over the piece, that lingers well into the last quarter where everything appears to turn on its head (no spoilers here).  With a great eye for location - a small town with lots of sea mist - and atmosphere to spare, this is a worthy companion to the film (different enough to make it an interesting and intriguing read in its own right) and if you liked the movie, I’d very much recommend this.

* * *
Dead & Buried was released in 1981 (shown uncut, it received an X-certificate at the cinema but somehow ended up caught in the initial sweep of Video Nasties in 1983, the EMI video only being dropped from the list in January 1985), though I didn’t catch it until 1985, when I watched it with friends on Betamax.

At the time, I was intrigued by the cover art (the same as the poster and book), the taglines - “The writers of Alien bring a new terror to earth” and “A new dimension in horror” - and the link with Alien as well as the actors (I knew Melody Anderson from Flash Gordon and James Farentino from Blue Thunder).

Directed by Gary Sherman (it would be some years before I got to see his Deathline, which I also loved - “Mind the doors!”), the screenplay was written by Ron Shusett and Dan O’Bannon, based on one by Jeff Millar & Alex Stern but changed enough the original writers only got a ‘story by’ credit.

Lisa Blount in the middle of the ocular mayhem scene...
The film works very well, though it was beset by behind-the-scenes problems with the production company from the start and Sherman’s directors cut - he was  aiming for a more black comedy type feel - was apparently destroyed.  Interestingly, the problems with the production company led to a wait for the films distribution which meant the novelisation was released first.  A 'surprising success'*, its popularity meant 'many people presumably thought the film was actually based on the novel, rather than vice versa'.

Aside from the excellent set direction and strong acting, the excellent make-up effects from Stan Winston were a major draw for me, especially in the hitchhiker sequence where Winston performed the hands close-ups in place of the actor.  He utilised a lot of puppet work to up the gruesome factor and one scene in particular, featuring a nurse and patient, had us teens howling as we watched it (ocular trauma with a needle) and years later, even after the effect had been explained to me, I couldn’t watch it without wincing.  In fact, Winston’s excellent work only serves to highlight the problems, where the production company brought in a less competent team to create an acid effect that’s so bad you want the camera to cut away out of embarrassment, rather than fright.

It does have its downsides, of course but it remains creepy and effective, a genuinely good horror film that really does make you wish they still made them like this today. If you get a chance to see it, I would urge you to do so.

* quotes taken from the liner notes of the Anchor Bay DVD

* * *
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro was born on 15th September 1942) in Berkeley, California and attended San Francisco State College (now University).  She began writing professionally in 1961 as a playwright for a children's theatre company and switched to writing stories in the mid-60s.  Perhaps best known for the Count Saint-Germain novels, she has worked in a wide range of genres, from science fiction to westerns, young adult adventure to historical horror.

A ‘skeptical occultist’ for more than forty years, she’s been honoured by the Transylvanian Society of Dracula (the 1997 literary knighthood), the World Horror Association (2003 Grand Master), as a ‘Living Legend’ by the International Horror Guild and won Life Achievement Awards from the Horror Writers Association (in 2009) and the World Fantasy Convention (in 2014).

More details can be found at her website here

For a few years now, after finding out charity shops sometimes pulp old books because the market for them is so small, I've been collecting 70s and 80s paperbacks through secondhand bookshops, car boot sales and ebay.  I set up a thread for the horror titles (which you can see here) but novelisations were a rich vein in those decades, before the advent of home video, when viewers wanted to revisit the adventures of their favourite TV show or film.  I realise we might not be talking great art here but, on the whole, I think these books deserve to be remembered.

To that end, on an irregular basis, I'm going to review these "old-school" tie-ins with, hopefully, some background material on each one.