Friday, 7 September 2007

O Lucky Man!

To celebrate the arrival on DVD of what I think is the best British film ever made, here is a previously unpublished photograph of its star, Malcolm McDowell. The disc contains a couple of documentary features (one vintage and one new) and commentaries by Malcolm McDowell, Alan Price and the utterly great writer David Sherwin. Keen observers of the film will recognise Vivian Pickles, in a priceless cameo as 'The Good Woman' doling out food for London's down and outs.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Michael Powell's Grave, Avening, Gloucestershire

Here rests one of British cinema's true masters. The inscription says 'Film Director and Optimist'.

To Cheltenham

I was asked to photograph this year’s Greenbelt festival at Cheltenham, which you may know is a sort of Christian Woodstock but with plenty for the mind and lots of things to do for the kids. Of course I agreed.

Then I did something really stupid.

A problem with being a writer is that you often spend much too much of the day and night sitting at a desk. I’d spent months at my writing desk and was feeling very unfit so I decided to kill many birds with one stone by cycling to Cheltenham from the New Forest on the English South Coast. This would not only help to get me fit again but, on the way, I could take in Charlton Heston’s favourite building in England — Salisbury Cathedral — and I could visit Stonehenge (which I had never seen before). On the way I could also make my annual pilgrimage to Michael Powell’s grave. He is buried in the churchyard in the Gloucestershire village of Avening. I visit each year to say a polite ‘thank you’ and to clean up his grave. From there I could cycle the remaining 20 miles or so to Cheltenham and make an evening stop at ‘’ — Cheltenham College, the main location of Lindsay Anderson’s glorious film.

Avoiding all main roads as best as I could, the whole journey would be about 125 miles which, ordinarily, would have been easily within my day-trip cycling range but I had neglected to factor in several points:

1. I had never cycled 125 miles.

2. I have lived the last five years in flat fen lands of Cambridge, which meant I had forgotten what a hill looked and felt like.

3. I was starting at sea-level. I would be cycling through the Cotswold Hills of Gloucestershire which, frankly, are in the clouds.

4. My bicycle was weighted down with enough clothes and clutter to last a week of festivaling and visits (and my precious Leica camera equipment), so that, in effect, I had another person sitting on the back of my bike.

5. The weather gods, noting that I was cycling in a North Easterly direction, thought it would be a good laugh to whip up a head wind that blew into me all day long.

6. I’m from the North, which means that I am too stubborn ever to accept defeat.

I made it, of course, and in one day too, but it took almost fifteen hours! and I arrived much more dead than alive. Which is the excuse I’m giving for slightly mis-framing the photograph I took on arrival at Cheltenham College chapel.

The host for my stay was the marvelous Maureen Thulin, who many years ago inspired my play, The Guests, which I will film when financing and scheduling permits. Here are photographs I took of Maureen. The chapel. A festival scene. Tomorrow I’ll post a couple of photographs of Michael Powell’s grave.