"It's easier to bone the President's wife than to get a movie made." Ray Charles.

How a cult music book became a cult music documentary, and it only took ten years.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Only just over a month to go. Now hard questions turn up like, from our small pot of development funding, what do we actually spend the money on? We seemingly need a ‘business plan’ to show to potential investors – something outlining projected profits, revenue streams, marketing ideas and so on. And for some reason we’re being told that this type of thing could cost us in the region of two grand. That would be fine in some situations, but that two grand could equally be spent on shooting another night at the Barbican – we’re prioritising the Ardent night because that’s where most of the cast of characters from ICFM will end up playing, and because it’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime event. But, hell, so are the Stax and Hi nights...

Anyway, it’s an ongoing discussion and one that I find makes me queasy – the idea of giving money to an accountant that could be spent on going out and shooting, that goes against my grain.

Speaking of shooting, as if there wasn’t enough going on, I’ve found myself making a no-budget short weekend after next. I mentioned way back that I’m working with Sebastian Horsley on making a film based on his excessive and disturbing life story. The first part of the plan is to see how well we can work together, and to that end I’m organising a very small shoot, sort of a semi-documentary but featuring some actors. It’s largely improvised, which is a way of working I’ve never tried before, but I have a feeling it will suit the material. It’s a tightrope walking exercise, filmmaking without a script – but over the last few years I’ve found myself completely bored by most fictional enterprises, except those that manage to make me laugh. It’s like the dead hand of the script editor hovers over practically everything, neatening things and making everything echo or foreshadow everything else.

A good example is Million Dollar Baby, which I saw last night and which is excellent film-making, but God damn – every single shoe that’s lifted in Act One gets dropped with monotonous, almost hypnotic regularity in Act Three. Life isn’t like that. This film survives because Eastwood is a masterful director and has attained an iconic stature unlike that of any other living actor, and – what’s more – he’s aware of it and knows what to do with it. But the template is tired – which is why documentaries and reality TV, with a few apparent rough edges left intact, are what’s making the grade now. That and semi-improvised drama, like Pawel Pawlikowski’s two stunning features, The Last Resort and My Summer of Love. I don’t pretend to know exactly what I’m doing with this short film but I intend to find out along the way. I might just find out that I would be better off working to a script, but even that would be useful to know.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Okay, so my post about Bobby G was written in a state of some dudgeon, not high dudgeon exactly but there was dudgeon in the area. I felt (and feel) let down on Jim's behalf that they aren't going to be on the bill, as it would help sell tickets for what is, let's face it, a pretty offbeat show. I've had an email from a mate of the band and a man with a great love of the music, pointing out that "Primal Scream were the first band ever to give Jim a gold disc for his services - something which astounded me. The second (and last) was Spiritualized." This was news to me, though I've seen the disc on Jim's wall - you'd imagine Dylan, or Aretha, or the Stones, or one of those living legend types, would have had the good manners to offer the man a shiny circular wall decoration somewhere along the way, but no. So, for that, respect to the Primals and all who sail in them.

We're currently putting together our crew and our gear for our planned Barbican shoot, which is likely to be a guerilla-style operation. A great friend of mine, Nick the Doge, is helping out with this - his peculiar twin careers, as a builder and a director, have prepared him perfectly to deal with the scams and jiggery-pokery that go along with this industry, and he knows how to get stuff for free. Also, as an ex-boxer, if he's pissed off with someone, it tends to get their attention. And he has never, to my knowledge, worn a baseball cap. His mate Jim, former BBC cameraman turned highly successful soundtrack composer, has offered to crew for us, going back to his roots on Top of the Pops. And my co-producer, a former studio director, will take on running the box, using the Barbican's automated camera system, making sure we don't miss a trick. The difficult thing for me, as director, is that the cameramen on the floor won't have headsets - it's going to be a matter of going with the moment, allowing the guys to shoot from the hip. Of course, I'll have been there for rehearsals and I'll have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen and where, so we won't be flying blind - or not entirely, anyway.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Donnie Fritts. I know very little about this individual. He’s in two of my favourite films, both of which feature lead performances by one of the oddest-looking leading men to survive Hollywood, the crumpled and toothy Warren Oates. One is Monte Hellman’s highly individualistic ‘Cockfighter’; the other, Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia’, which I saw tonight at the NFT, in a badly damaged print, scratched and full of jumps, but still powerful enough that my friend Steve – who’s new to the film – could say as we left, “One of the best films ever made.” And there’s Donnie Fritts as a second banana to Kris Kristofferson’s Hell’s Angel – he turns up, gurns a bit, plays a (terrible) blues, apparently written by Peckinpah, ‘Bad Blood Baby’, gets hit in the head with a frying pan by Oates, then shot to death. I’d pretty much forgotten he was even in the film – that particular scene, one of Peckinpah’s trademark “Watch this woman collude in her own rape” type of things, is disturbingly beautiful, an eerily unfinished, semi-improvised bit of nightmare straight from the director’s own macho-infested psyche, and Fritts would probably admit that his own part in it isn’t exactly memorable, or even impressive. If you didn’t know that he was the guy who wrote ‘Breakfast in Bed’ – one of the downright dirtiest-without-being-in-any-obvious-way-vulgar songs you’re ever likely to hear, a lesbian anthem in its incarnation on ‘Dusty in Memphis’, and a special favourite of mine – you’d most likely not notice him at all. I was in Robert Gordon’s car, driving along some godforsaken motorway, when I heard Fritts’ own version of this – a duet with Lucinda Williams – and I’ve been wanting a copy for myself ever since. It’s on the ICFM compilation, and you’ll have no excuse for not knowing it in a month or so when that gets released. It’s not anything like as good as Dusty’s version, but what is?

I remember, there was a point to all this... oh yeah. Donnie Fritts plays London on Wednesday, the same night as the big launch party for the Barbican’s ICFM festival. Guess who’s going to be in Dublin that day? Yeah – me. It's what they call Sod's Law. So if you're reading this and you're in London, go and see Mr Fritts on my behalf. If not, just go to the shop and buy a copy of ‘Dusty in Memphis’ and treat yourself to something beautiful. There’s never going to be a second chance to hear it the first time so make sure you do it properly...maybe with someone you like a lot.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Regular readers, or those who've skimmed my earlier posts, may recall that I bumped into Bobby Gillespie from Primal Scream a few months back, in the bar of the RFH after an excellent Lee Hazelwood show, and that when I told him about the plans to have Jim Dickinson play the Barbican, he immediately volunteered his services, and those of Primal Scream, to back the man up if necessary. Now I have my mixed feelings, as many do, about the musical abilities of the Primals, but in terms of getting bums on seats and making sure there'd be an audience for Jim's first ever solo appearance outside the US, it was definitely going to be a stormer. Anyhow, as I was sitting in a Soho restaurant last week waiting to go into a meeting about my other project, I got a call from the Barbican asking if I could help get through to Bobby G, as the Primals' manager seemed to be having no luck getting an answer out of them. I tried the mobile number he'd given me, nearly a year ago when I interviewed him for ICFM, and amazingly enough it worked - but a very freaked out BG told me he was rehearsing. I said, no big deal, try you again tomorrow.

All I can say is, no matter how much rock managers get paid, they deserve more - after a fifteen minute conversation the next day with the G-man, I sympathise with all organisers of the rock-damaged. He was very nice and friendly and all, but the endless repititions of the same statements, and the inability to pin himself down to anything, would try the patience of a saint. At the end of it all, I began to realise it wasn't going to happen - Bobby has no real idea what he and the band would do onstage with musicians of Jim's ilk - and anyway he'd rather relax and watch the show, and I can't fault him for that. It's just a shame that he can't make a promise and stick to it, but that's rock and fuckin' roll, isn't it?

So far, though, it seems that Jason Pierce is on the bill, but it can't be officially announced for a few weeks yet.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

A brief update on the activities of my intrepid producer: this woman, who has been in broadcasting at a very high level about as long as I've been legally able to drink (a long time, that) went off after our brief celebratory drink yesterday and - on a hunch - decided to track down our finance guy, who's been a bit difficult to get hold of over the past week, in his favourite poncy private Soho watering hole, and ask him what's going on. She called me on her way home at about eleven o'clock, having managed to get an update on who he's managed to get the ICFM treatment to (some high-level record company types) and having managed to get some more very useful bits and pieces of info to help us on our quest. I for one was impressed with her - this is the kinnd of person you want working alongside you when you're trying to get a film made....

Oh, and a belated thanks to the great Brian at BigRockCandyMountain (you know who he is, you most likely found me through his link!) for sending me not one but two excellent and beautifully packaged CDs last week - I'm moving house this weekend and as soon as the dust has settled I'll be returning the compliment, but with not two but THREE discs - take that!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Good news today, as my co-producer's last documentary, a feature-length examination of 'The Third Man', has been invited to try out for the documentary section of Cannes. It deserves to get a lot of attention - I've seen plenty of films about film, and this is one of the most consistently intriguing. It helps that its subject matter is one of the greatest popular films of the twentieth century. It also helps that, as the producers - Canal Plus - own the rights to the original, we get to see enormous chunks of 'The Third Man', not only excerpted but re-projected onto the snowy streets of Vienna, slowed down, repeated and generally squeezed until every drop of mythic resonance has been extracted and placed on the screen. It's a beautiful piece of work and it's good to have such distinguished company on this long, strange trip.

I've been offered a job of work directing another documentary, an interesting but straightforward piece of telly, and it's a badly needed lifeline at a time when a year and a half of unpaid development work has left me financially high and dry. (Now there's a bit of a badly mixed metaphor). Life being what it is, of course the job would take me out of the country for a lot of April... which is going to be the month when we have to work our arses off shooting as many interviews for ICFM as we possibly can, while our interview subjects are in north London rather than deep in the Mississippi delta. I'll make it work, of course - the producer of the telly job knows I have to prioritise ICFM so with a bit of luck there won't be any major conflicts and I'll manage to earn some money and get the job done. Both jobs.

No radical news on the festival front - still awaiting confirmation on the lineup for the Sun night, Stax is almost sold out already, and I imagine when/if the Primals and Jason Spaceman get confirmed as guests for the Ardent night, it'll light a fire under those sales too. I still don't know who the representatives of the new Memphis sound are going to be, but I've just recently heard a couple of tracks by a guy called Harlan T Bobo here - he's apparently a member of American Death Ray Music, who I missed last time they played here because I was in Dublin, and based on these tracks I really missed out on something. I get the impression that those guys, along with The Reigning Sound (who also play on the Bobo stuff) will be back pretty soon, though.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Well, I'm back from the Cinemart at Rotterdam's very fine Film Festival, where I managed to get by without any accreditation or in fact any official permission to be there. It's a very filmmaker-friendly festival, and I was helped out by loads of festival staff despite the fact that I was probably the only filmmaker there who hadn't shelled out the €150 that it costs to get accredited. I did the whole thing on a shoestring, sleeping in a friend's spare room in Den Haag (about forty minutes from R'dam) and surviving off little cocktail nibbles as much as possible. It was all worth it, as I got to meet the two distributors I wanted to talk to about ICFM. One in particular seems to me to be a very good fit with the project, as they've recently acquired two somewhat similar projects. I had to stalk the guy for two days to get the meeting but when I did it seemed to go very well indeed. I'm now waiting for a follow-up email, and meanwhile we are pursuing some other options, involving very big fish indeed at three target record companies. There's now Plans A, B and C, and possibly even a Plan Z. Whatever happens, we need to be shooting in April, as the Barbican's Ardent show is something that will never be repeated. It's exciting to see it advertised on their website, a bill featuring all of the players from Robert's book, and remember that less than a year ago it was just a crazy notion cooked up by myself and Luther Dickinson as we drank a pint together in an East End boozer...

A friend has emailed me this link to a story in the Memphis Flyer about a sort of Mud Boy reunion with the great Kenny Brown filling in for the much-missed Lee Baker. I don't know whether Kenny's going to be over for the Barbican shows, but having heard his Fat Possum stuff I certainly hope they invite him.

One rumour that needs scotching is the one put about by Uncut magazine's current piece on Big Star - they definitely won't be playing, unfortunately, as they're not available. Chilton still is a possibility though, it seems.

JMM has been in touch to point out that the link I've posted to his site leads to an outdated page, so I've updated it and if you go there now you can see his recent video for Jim Dickinson's ace track, Down In Mississippi, which as far as I know isn't released anywhere else - go watch it for me and tell me what it's like, I ain't got broadband, just the old hand-cranked dialup that Grandma left me in her will. Goldurnit.
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