High Tide – DOP Announced! plus a Top 5 of beautiful cinematography

I was poised, ready to begin this blog entry, poised like a cheetah crouched and coiled in amongst a few baked tufts of grass on the African plains, or like a white, hairy Usain Bolt, nestling in the starting blocks of language, waiting for the starting pistol of inspiration to crack into the night sky before setting off at startling speed along the running track of overly-verbose prose. (Sometimes, metaphors are best abandoned at the first sign of nonsense – a rule that, if I adhered to it, would reduce most of these blog posts by about fifty percent). In other, less absurd, words, I was ready to begin writing, my plan sketched out (in my head at least), my subject researched when I saw this headline on the Guardian website (other left-leaning, liberal and overly-urban newspaper websites are available):

KILLER ROBOTS ‘MUST BE STOPPED’.

Yes, it is a little startling isn’t it? Let me repeat it.

KILLER ROBOTS ‘MUST BE STOPPED’.

I’m not making it up, honestly. Look:

Damn those killer robots

I particularly enjoy the inverted commas suggesting that this statement is not one of fact but merely one of a range of possible opinions.  Clearly the sensible first reaction to such a headline would be – HMMM. YES IN A GENERAL SENSE KILLER ROBOTS ARE A CONCEPT THAT I WOULD MOST LIKELY DISAGREE WITH TO SOME EXTENT.

But maybe I should not assume that I know what my fellow homo-sapiens think about the concept of killer robots. Perhaps readers of the Daily Mail (blog readers in other countries please insert your own example of a right-wing shit-sheet in order to fully enjoy the clumsy sarcasm forthcoming) may perhaps disagree. Maybe, the ranks of racists and homophobes would welcome killer robots, presumably as long as they were manufactured in the UK, were programmed to understand only one computer language (er, struggling a bit here – is C+ a computer language? I think so. Please help me out here by imagining that this joke is working out better than it actually is) and ensured that they only plugged their leads usb cables into robots of the opposite gender and if that weren’t possible then for the love of all that’s right in the world, they should never, ever be allowed to marry.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to write about killer robots. And I kind of wish I hadn’t. I bet you do too. Probably best that we hurry on and try to forget that any of this happened. Care to join me in a new paragraph, in which the grass will be greener, the prose tighter and all participants just a little bit sexier with better teeth? Of course you do.

I want to spend a few minutes of your time today writing about beautiful cinematography and in doing so make another announcement about our forthcoming feature film “High Tide”. One of my biggest faults as a screenwriter (and I have many believe me) is that I am overly-fond of the written word. You will of course be UTTERLY SHOCKED by this revelation given that I have reached 517 words in this blog and said almost nothing. But it is true. I like words. I like the sound of words, the fun you can have teasing them, twisting them, breaking them and sticking them back together in new ways (and English is particularly pliable as a language; like a string of pizza dough you can stretch it a very long way before it breaks) and then putting them into the mouths of characters. As I have said before, I just want to be Aaron Sorkin.

I’m not Aaron Sorkin.

And too frequently my characters say too much. Way too much. And then Jimmy has to go through a scene and remove at least fifty percent of the words. And then I complain that he’s taken out the “best bits” and then he says that I am wrong and that “no one speaks like that” and then I say that he is a philistine and that he doesn’t understand about art and then we fight, literally, for hours, knocking seven shades of shit out of each other.

And then eventually I agree with Jimmy.

What I forget of course, because I am stupid, is that cinema is a visual medium. Image is king. What you show is a billion times more important than what is said and for all my polishing of commas, daubing of imagery and “clever” allusions to obscure texts, most film dialogue is really no more than background noise, to quote Thom Yorke, it is “buzzing like a fridge . . . a detuned ray-dee-oh“. And for all the deification (careful!) of directors – and there is a little doubt that the greatest directors have a profound, visionary influence over their work – we really should also celebrate the people behind the camera actually capturing the images. I say “should”, I know we do. Like at the Oscars happening tonight where someone will be given a golden man for cinematography, that’s a pretty huge celebration Gillingham you dick. Yes I know. But my point is that these people are far LESS celebrated, less known than they should be. Can you name a Director of Photography? No, you’ve just made that one up haven’t you? You have. Simone Trousers is definitely a made-up name.

I mention this because we have another exciting announcement to make about “High Tide’. We have a Director of Photography! – or in filmtalk a “DOP”. This means that Jimmy and I won’t utterly cock things up and waste other people’s money by forgetting to take the lens cap off or shooting an entire scene with the camera switched off. Both of which have happened on Long Arm productions in the past.

The Director of Photography for High Tide will be Chris Lang. And we could not be happier about it. Chris is a professional cameraman of many year’s experience and what is more he is a thoroughly decent chap. Last week Jimmy and I were filming some stuff on a beach in south Wales (more of which in a upcoming post) and rather than our usual method or faffing and fiddling and getting things wrong, we had Chris behind the camera and everything went very smoothly indeed. (Well, smoothly apart from the fact that our vital organs nearly snapped off due to the perishing, unremitting cold. It was horrible. I actually don’t think I have ever been as cold. That’s not hyperbole. That’s a stone-cold, very damn cold, fact).

You can see a short showreel of some of Chris’s work here:

And here is a link to a short film that he wrote, filmed and directed. I can’t embed it because the code won’t work and I am tired and irritable and I’m fed up of trying.

We are delighted that the team for High Tide continues to expand and we are certain that Chris will do an amazing job.

To celebrate this new appointment and the fact that it seemed like a good idea at the time to do this, I am going to curate another of the now much-celebrated (by me) Long Arm Lists. Last time, I had complaints from my otherwise wonderful sister that the list was a Top 6. She said that there is no such thing as a Top 6. There are Top 5s and Top 10s. But TOP 6s DO NOT EXIST. She was very certain on this point.

So Lisa G, this is for you:

THE LONG ARM LIST OF FIVE (NOT SIX) FILMS OR MOMENTS IN FILMS THAT HAVE REALLY REALLY GREAT CINEMATOGRAPHY PICKED BY JIMMY WHO KNOWS ABOUT THESE THINGS AND NOT JIM WHO REALLY DOESN’T.

Un – The Shanghai skyscraper scene in SKYFALL (2012), DOP – Roger Deakins.

This will probably be off Youtube in an instant but whilst it is there, enjoy the stunning use of colour and contrast. This is an action sequence taken to the level of high art. All of Skyfall is brilliantly shot.

Deux – The death scene in BLACK NARCISSUS (1947), DOP – Jack Cardiff

The three-strip technicolor technique used in this film was close to revolutionary (three film strips ran through the camera simultaneously) but regardless of geekery just marvel at the atmosphere created. Stunning.

Trois – The steps scene in IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000) DOP – Christopher Doyle, Pung-Leung Kwan, Ping Bin Lee

Sexy, slow-motion (or is that just my rubbish broadband connection?). I haven’t seen this. Jimmy has so you can ask him about it. I’ll give you his number so you can call him. Don’t text him though. He hates texting. He won’t reply. All of this is true. Aren’t we such difficult, highly-eccentric and complex artists? (No.)

Quatre – THE THIRD MAN (1949) DOP – Robert Krasker

(please note how many times they get the name of the film into this trailer – I counted over a thousand).

The use of light and shadow in THE THIRD MAN is fantastic. Krasker (DOP ON THE THIRD MAN) was also DOP on Brief Encounter (AND THE THIRD MAN) which, as any sentient being knows, is one of the GREATEST FILMS EVER MADE. (and better than THE THIRD MAN) And it is really verbose (more so than THE THIRD MAN). Still, THE THIRD MAN is still very much worth watching. That’s THE THIRD MAN.

Cinq – All of THE TREE OF LIFE (2011) DOP –  Emmanuel Lubezki

According to Jimmy this film “evokes memory through its aesthetic”. And he’s probably right. In the clip above lots of Americans tell you the same thing but they lack Jimmy’s wit and boyish good-looks.

And there we go. Five films that look amazing thanks to some stunning cinematography. As we get closer to the High Tide shoot we are going to have some interesting discussions working out just what how we want it to look. I’ll probably lobby to add more dialogue. But I will, quite rightly, be ignored.

Welcome aboard Chris. Let’s hope you haven’t made a catastrophic mistake in saying yes.

(You haven’t).

(I hope).

P.S. MATT HARDING DOWNLOAD STILL AVAILABLE. SEE PREVIOUS POST FOR DETAILS BUT YOU CAN GET THE TRACK BY PRESSING ON THE BUTTON BELOW. (I am tiring of capitals). (And parentheses).

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Matt Harding announced as composer for “High Tide” – free MP3 download

We at Long Arm towers are delighted to bring you some ACTUAL NEWS about “High Tide”, our forthcoming feature film. So, for the moment at least, I can put aside anecdotes, whimsy and the misplaced hagiography of 90s indie music and reveal that the soundtrack for our film is going to be written by the supremely brilliant (and really quite attractive) Matt Harding.

If you search on Google for “Matt Harding” you will find lots about an American chap who dances badly around the world (and seems to be doing it for rather lovely reasons so good luck to him). This is not OUR Matt Harding. Our Matt Harding is a London-based musician who has released four albums, three of which with Moshi Moshi records, and just makes gorgeous music.

We love him. We have a bit of a man-crush.

What does he sound like? It’s probably safe to say that it is NOT Country and Western. Nor R and B. And he doesn’t really make pop music. Is that helpful? No? Well, I suppose you could describe his work as a blend of low-fi electro and folk (in that he often uses a guitar) but even this doesn’t really capture a sense of his work. You are just going to have to listen.

Matt’s reaction to our script was really pleasing in that he seemed to understand the type of story we are trying to tell and it is great to be collaborating with an artist of rare skill, integrity and talent. We can’t wait to hear what he comes up with for the film.

Now this is going to sound like one of those God-awful PR-driven adverts with which we are increasingly bombarded but we do have a little present for you. Here’s what the set-up would read like it we were paying a PR company:

CELEBRATE THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF MATT HARDING AS COMPOSER FOR LONG ARM’S MUCH-ANTICPATED DEBUT FEATURE “HIGH TIDE” BY DOWNLOADING AN EXCLUSIVE UNRELEASED TRACK!

I hate that use of the verb “to celebrate”. When Skyfall came out we were invited to “celebrate” the film’s release with a whole series of over-priced purchases. “Celebrate Skyfall by drinking pissy Dutch lager that most Dutch people wouldn’t drink even if you paid them and empty cans of which can be found stuffed with fag ends and gob on the stained carpets the morning after a million student parties”.

So in more prosaic and hopefully more tasteful terms, please feel free to click on the track by Matt below. It is called “Silver” and is an unfinished demo version of a song that will appear on his forthcoming album. Please note that thanks to Matt’s generosity and general all-over splendour you can actually download the track to keep for yourself and future generations to enjoy.

Now don’t say we don’t give you anything. I know you haven’t said this but if you were thinking about it saying it then please think about saying something else because quite blatantly this is us giving you something. For free. Because we’re nice like that. Or Jimmy is at least. I’m a right old sod.

This is not a blog post

Somewhere amongst the dense and often brilliant prose of Stephen Fry’s “Paperweight“, he refers to an unwritten rule generally accepted amongst newspaper columnists. He states that every journalist is allowed only one column during their career in which they write about having nothing to write about. Except he said it significantly more elegantly than that previous sentence, which may well rank amongst the ugliest examples of English prose since Katie Tits, or whatever she’s called, subjected the world to her views on parenting and celebrity and breasts. Which is what I’m assuming her book was about. I don’t know this. I never will. I will not sully myself further by even looking for a summary on Amazon.

It is in this spirit that I would like to add another “unwritten” rule to Fry’s list (unwritten in the entirely opposite and therefore preposterous sense of “written” having done just that), to whit:

NEVER ATTEMPT TO WRITE AN ENTRY IN YOUR MEANDERING AND OFTEN LARGELY ARCANE FILMMAKING BLOG WHEN FEELING A LITTLE BIT DICKY AND ABSENT AFTER DRINKING TOO MUCH STRONG LOCAL ALE AT A BIRTHDAY PARTY IN HEBDEN BRIDGE LAST NIGHT

Now admittedly the times where one need invoke this rule are going to be pretty thin on the ground. However, it will be no surprise to you that I am invoking it now.

So this is not a blog.

This is a mess.

Of my own making.

Have you ever been to Hebden Bridge? It’s a bit like a Yorkshire version of Totnes. Of course you may not have heard of Totnes. In which case, WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU DOING WITH YOUR LIFE? Hebden Bridge is great. Set amongst the Yorkshire Dales, scattered with the disused mills that made the town rich and now home to a thriving alternative culture that succeeds in being genuine and inspiring rather than grating and tacky. I urge you to visit.

And they make very, very strong beer.

Things in blog-land will perk up this coming week. Jimmy and I have a whole raft (made by me with just my penknife, some modest logs and baler twine – so please don’t set off across the Channel on it) of High Tide announcements heading for your nearest screen in the next week or so. In fact Jimmy and I are going to spend several days in the same room before the week is out so you can expect great things. Or we might just play Risk. In which case I will be sure to tell you how marvellously I whipped his a-belted ass with a daring and brilliant military campaign based on amassing ALL my armies on Australasia before unleashing the dogs of war (called “Fido” and “Bouncer from Neighbours” if you’re interested) and sweeping across the world like a hairy Atilla the Hun. Who probably was quite hairy. So THE SAME as Atilla the Hun. Except one from Devon who made films. And couldn’t take his ale . . . . .

Enough. Enough. I need to crawl away and shrivel.

Remember, this is NOT a blog post.

Not to be confused with This is Not a Song by the largely forgotten early 90s Irish indie band The Frank and Walters.

Why “great” is good for all of us

Friday night comes dressed in black and ready to party. He stands around waiting for you to finish work, kicking his heels and nodding his head to the skittery electronica that echoes around the chambers of his vivid mind. He’s wearing a flouncy white shirt like Percy Shelley and a red cravat is wound like a sexy noose around his neck. His black velvet trousers cling tightly to his legs so we see clearly the outline of a box of marlboro lights, a lighter and a roll of crisp banknotes squeezed into the length of his none-too-capcacious pockets. These trousers were not tailored for idiotic things like comfort or practicality; these trousers were tailored to kill, to slay the admiring dance-floor audiences rammed like protons into the atomic centre of the dingiest, sexiest bars that Soho can muster.

Friday night greets you with a handshake, smiles like a young Humphrey Bogart before leading you to the nearest pub for a couple of swift gins as prelude to a night of glory and wonder as you and the city smash into each other with the intensity of sub-atomic particles fired from the Large Hadon collider. You will burn phosphorous and ephemeral, perfect and fleeting; a night in which the hinterland between pleasure and pain becomes as irrelevant as that between day and night, good and bad. And then somewhere in an imagined realm, in the flat white light of a winter Saturday, Friday night will give you a wink, light a thousandth cigarette and step into the distance and be gone. Not to be seen again for another six days . . . . . . . .

Either that or you buy some chocolate, sit on the sofa and watch documentaries on BBC4.

You can probably guess which direction my Friday night took. And I don’t regret it for a moment. After all domestic duties had been successfully discharged, the pull of the television became too great and given that we are waiting for a friend to HURRY UP with Series 3 of Mad Men (which might just be the greatest television series since the West Wing) we were forced to contemplate the increasingly rare spectacle of live, scheduled television. And what a depressingly sparse spectacle it was: the televisual equivalent of a Eastern-block skyline in the early 70s; pillars of Soviet concrete against a smog of environmental chaos. We are always pretty smug in the UK about the quality of our television (and there is no doubt that the publicly-funded, advert-free BBC remains one of the cultural wonders of the world) but for every “Doctor Who” there is a “One Show”; for every “Sherlock” there is “ROOM FUCKING 101”. I feel dirty just thinking about it. So after a week of long, busy days it took a bit of searching to find something to soothe, to embrace, to whisper sweet-nothings in my ear rather than driving me to rage around the sitting room and hurl furniture through the nearest window, which being a flat in London is pretty near indeed.

Thank goodness for BBC4. If you don’t live in the UK, just imagine a firm, be-towled masseur of your preferred gender running his or her hands across your weary shoulders, easing tension from your joints with majestic ease, all the while singing you versions of your favourite songs that actually improve upon the originals. Think of all that in a television channel and that’s BBC4.

Friday 9.00pm. Stuart Maconie explores how the Beatles changed from leather and slicked back hair to suits and Beatle mops, and how their fashion set the pace for the sixties to follow. Pop artist Sir Peter Blake, Bob Harris and former Beatles drummer Pete Best join friends to reflect on how the Beatles evolved into John, Paul, George and Ringo – the most famous band in the world . . .

Oh god, yes please. Yes PLEASE.

But I arrived at the sofa about twenty minutes early and BBC4 was already doing what it does so effortlessly well. I sometimes think that arriving midway through a television programme is a social faux-pas and that the people on the screen are going to stop, stare at me and gently shake their heads at my lamentable tardiness (I clearly have some mental issues that need addressing) but barging into this particular moment of this particular programme was more like walking in on a friend as they were in the latter stages of lovemaking with a soft and sensitive partner.

The screen was filled with a bearded man in profile, clearly in a state of emotional agitation. Initially I thought he was in pain but as the scene continued it became clear that he was actually in a near-euphoric state of pleasure. You could almost see his soul swelling as he sat. He was listening to a piece of music by the composer Delius (this one, if you are interested in some soul-swelling of your own) and the effect it was having on him was moving even to watch. And because this was BBC4 we were allowed to do just that: watch, with no cuts or crossfades or adverts.

Delius reverie 2

As the piece reached a climax and the tears welled in his eyes, he falteringly spoke:

you can feel yourself looking up, in ecstasy really . . .and the overwhelming beauty and grandeur and glory of the high hills . . . . I just find it completely overwhelming . . . 

This was a man in love. A love that had grown and matured over a lifetime and one that moved him to his very core. And this is what great art does. It moves us. It sends us spinning to places of wonder and awe; it consols us, upsets us, challenges us and rewards us. Great art reminds us that we are inescapably human but with qualities and abilities that are approaching the divine.

(Either that or consciousness is just a series of chemical reactions and electrical signals that we have learnt to interpret as meaningful but are actually random and  vacant.

That’s a happy thought. If it is a thought. Which it might not be.)

And “great” art can be Delius or Rembrant, it can be Goddard or Truffaut but it can also be Speilberg and Michael Bay (actually it can never be Michael Bay). There is no such this as high and low culture, there is only good and bad. And we are all arbiters of our own tastes and we’re never all going to agree and that’s just how it should be. Whether you would fight with bare-fisted violence to support The Seventh Seal as an example of cinematic mastery or whether you think there has been no more poetic rendering of the moving image than the scene in Zoolander when they cover each other with petrol (and I would support you wholeheartedly in this argument) then the fact that you care enough to have an opinion, the fact that it has been made in the first place means that the world is a slightly better place as a result.

(But I am right about Michael Bay).

In a clunky, pretentious way I tried to make this point in the screenplay for Sliced, mine and Jimmy’s first film as “Long Arm“. The main character in the story is a painter, a very unhappy, screwed up painter and so it seemed logical that the woman who he meets in the film should make a point about “art”.

And this is what she said:

Great art, no, all art is transformative. But the best stuff takes you somewhere else entirely. Somewhere better. You’re making the tiniest mark in the record of human life. So small usually that no one ever notices. But it’s there. And it’s permanent. And we’re all made better as a result.

Except she didn’t say it at all because my astute and incisive collaborator said that “it was a bit too much”. What he actually meant to say was that “it was a bit shit” and clearly he was right. However, I stand by the sentiment if not the somewhat glutenous rendering of it that I achieved in the actual speech.

For the film fan, greatness is also about the experience as much as it’s about the text. There is something magical about the combination of light and sound, something unmatchable about sitting in a dark room and being led through a million different lives and wonders. And it really is not about theories it is just about the pleasure. However, art does have a habit of synchronicity, of coincidence and inadvertent significance. I have been reading a book recently on the history of film and there is much praise for the achievements of Georges Méliès (as played recently by Ben Kingsley in Scorcese’s admirable but ultimately disappointing film “Hugo”). And really nothing does suggest the wonder of moving imagery as naively and movingly as this famous film:

And now jump forward over a hundred years and a photographer in New Zealand spends an enormous amount of money on equipment (including a MASSIVE lens) beyond even Méliès’ imagination and films the moon rising across a valley near Wellington. He captures in real time both the ascent of the moon and the silhouettes of those who’ve gathered to watch. It is not spontaneous, it has all been planned and layered with lilting piano music to bring the whole thing together as a text – we are of course being manipulated – but the results are absolutely stunning and it makes you fall in love with the whole crazy business of pointing a camera towards a subject all over again. 

Great art. Showing now on a sofa near you.