Wednesday, 26 March 2008


John Hurt and Paul Scofield in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

One of those spooky little examples of synchronicity happened to me last week. I have been reading C.J.Sansom’s breathtakingly good series of novels about the Tudor lawyer Matthew Shardlake (possibly to be a tv series with Kenneth Branagh) and while awaiting the publication of the fourth book in the sequence I decided that I wanted to immerse myself a bit more in the detail of the period. I decided that I was going to read Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Sir Thomas More. Way back when I worked at Columbia Pictures (see elsewhere on this blog) one of the big films that the company produced and released was Fred Zinnemann’s film of Robert Bolt’s play A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS. The film was treated by Columbia as a “quality” product and all staff were expected to worship at Zinnemann’s shrine. I remember coming back to my desk after attending a compulsory staff screening of the film to be told by my boss that he had written a letter telling Zinnemann that watching the film had been one of the great emotional moments of his life. Well, I laughed out loud at this. Having sat through the movie I was a wee bit pissed off that I didn’t actually get to see Thomas More’s head role. I tried explaining to my boss that I found it a bit difficult to get worked up over the beheading of a man who had been quite happy to send people to be burned at the stake. But, of course, I was outnumbered. To be quite honest, I feel I was being a bit hard on the film. I was younger then and not only was Zinnemann not of my “approved” list at the time (his obvious reluctance to talk to me during a taxi journey I shared with him had disappointed me) I didn’t like being told what I should like or not like – ahh, the rebelliousness of youth. The film did have some terrific performances, nice photography and superb writing. Today I really think that I would like to see the film again as I’d probably enjoy it. Anyway, where was I ? oh, yes : synchronicity. Well within a hour of reading the first chapter of Peter Ackroyd’s book I heard of the death of actor Paul Scofield at the age of 86. Scofield was, of course, Sir Thomas More, both on stage and in Zinneman’s film. I can’t pretend that I know much about him or was even a particular fan – although I did meet a pretty drama student once who used to almost have an orgasm at the mention of his name. I never saw Peter Brook’s film of Scofield in KING LEAR but I did enjoy his performances in CARVE HER NAME WITH PRIDE, THE TRAIN and THE CRUCIBLE. Scofield received an Oscar for his performance as Sir Thomas More and although I’m not a big awards watcher it was probably deserved. There is no doubt that Paul Scofield was an actor of considerable talent and I mourn his passing. Like many other movie buffs I collect movies as well as just watching them. There is something very satisfying about actually possessing a favourite movie. Back in the days before video collecting films was an expensive business. I could never really see the point of those little 8mm reels and 16mm sound prints were far beyond my pocket. So one had to be content with the cinema and television. Then, of course, came VHS and everything changed. But even that was fairly expensive to start with and we had to be content with panned and scanned copies of widescreen films. Remember trying to explain to friends and relatives why it was a real breakthrough when widescreen VHS tapes began to appear ? Of course, collecting today is a completely different matter. There is just so much out there (yes, I know, there are some alarming and puzzling gaps) and even if you are on a budget and can’t afford it all at once most things are within reach if you really want them. When I look at my DVD shelves and think back to my collection of, say, ten years ago, it takes my breath away. The core of my collection has always been horror movies and I have almost the complete horror output of Universal Studios : all the FRANKENSTEIN series, likewise for the DRACULA series, THE WOLFMAN series, THE MUMMY series, INVISIBLE MAN, BLACK LAGOON, all the Val Lewton movies, all the major Hammer films virtually everything starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, all the Rathbone Sherlock Holmes series, all Fritz Lang’s films between 1919 and 1932 – plus all the fascinating documentaries and commentaries. I have copies of all my favourite Bergmans, Kurosawas, Melvilles, Fords, Hawks. The online rental services have made it possible to explore areas of film production that were previously difficult to access with ease – I’ve been particularly interested in French films 1930-60 and oriental exploitation movies. It’s a wonderland for film fans.

1 comment:

Cerpts said...

I too was never really a Paul Scofield fan but did enjoy him in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS and THE CRUCIBLE. I think that's all I've ever seen him in, unfortunately.

However, I was even more interested to read what you wrote when it morphed from Paul Scofield to a discussion of your movie collection and what a good time it is to be a movie collector. What you wrote was wonderful and really carried the feeling you were trying to express.

I too feel exactly the same way but luckily VHS became available when I was still a kid. At about the same time as VHS proliferated, I really REALLY got into movies in a big way. By the time VHS gave way to DVD, I had amassed about 1000 VHS tapes (some store bought, most taped off the TV). And now I've got about 2000 DVDs and nothing makes me happier. I am extremely proud of the film library I have amassed and, unlike certain people in my life, my movies NEVER EVER let me down. And you know what? I'm only JUST getting started collecting them. Thanks for a truly wonderful movie lovers' manifesto!