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The Blog of ALEX COX


LET US NOW PRAISE SEUMAS MILNE!

2008.7.3

To Blighty, to promote the X FILMS book at Foyles, the NFT Bookshop, and elsewhere. This means a trip to Brighton, where my old pal Harry Harrison lives. Harry, following in the footsteps of Lem and Simak, is now the Most Popular Science Fiction Author in Russia, where he is known as 'Gary Garrison.' Russian producers have optioned two of his most popular books and Harry's asked me to help adapt them for the big screen. (Years ago I optioned BILL, THE GALACTIC HERO from him, so this is an exception to the rule that No Good Deed Goes Unpunished. What a good chap HH is - and what a long memory!)

Meanwhile, The Guardian publishes not one but two articles by Seumas Milne which seem to me extremely important. Today's is a piece about how New Zealand has just renationalised its passenger railways, after a botched privatisation. Milne points out that it would be cheaper for HMG to renationalise the British Rail network than to subsidise the lousy private train operators to the tune of two billion pounds a year.

But the point isn't the make the railways safer, cheaper, or more efficient. Gordon Brown's mission, like David Cameron's and the Lib Dems', is to transfer taxpayers' money to the pockets of the rich, in the same way the London Film Council was set up to give Lottery money to the Hollywood Studios. Trebles all round!

Milne's other article - published last Thursday - is about the permanent US bases in Iraq. On this site I list fourteen of them, but Milne reckons there will ultimately be FIFTY - all to dominate the Middle East and to facilitate the theft of Iraqi oil by BP, Chevron, Exxon, Shell, and Total.

This is depressing stuff, but it's important to face up to it, and not kid ourselves that Obama's sudden shift to the extreme right is just 'strategic.' The American people want universal health care and an end to the wars of aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead they get a choice between Uncle Fester and a good-looking Black dude, both of whom support the death penalty, oppose gun control, and make plans for an immediate war on Iran.

Ain't democracy grand?

ALL QUIET ON THE ENTERTAINMENT FRONT...

2008.6.20

SEARCHERS 2.0 has opened and closed in the UK, by the time you read this. Originally the BBC had it scheduled for the end of June or early July, to coincide with the Barbican screening on 4 July, and the X FILMS book publication. But, as often happens with the Monoform and the Universal Clock, BBC4 must have had a programming gap, and so - voila! Hope you enjoyed it.

The good news is that if you missed it you can see it on the BBC's iPlayer, on the internet, immediately after its transmission. So if you were walking the dog while it was on, there's still a chance.

Took my dog out to the high desert in search of Dr. A Locksley Hall and his troupe, reported to be camped at Mickey Hot Springs. Got a flat on the edge of the Alvord Desert and like the characters in SEARCHERS 2.0 waited for several hours on a long, straight, empty road for the AAA tow truck to arrive.

Reading material en route was LOBSTER, along with THE BULLETIN OF ATOMIC SCIENTISTS and PRIVATE EYE: the finest publications discerning minds can wish to enjoy - plus a great new script by Faisal Qureshi -- THE CELL.

Music for our trip was provided by Chumbawamba, in the form of a brilliant CD - THE BOY BANDS HAVE WON. This is very important stuff. Philosophically very important indeed. So it's no surprise the so-called Working Class Music Festival, sponsored by Liverpool's ever-so-corrupt-lib-dem council and the $apital of $ultur$, has cancelled the advertised Chumba gig on 28 Sept.

Remember Brecht? Then check this major piece of work out. This is quite possibly the best Chumba album. Certainly the best album I've heard in yonks. Someone should make a film of it.

MONUMENT VALLEY... AGAIN!

2008.5.30

Another trip to Monument Valley may seem a tad obsessional. But I only get out to the Valley every couple of years - don't spend nearly enough time there, in fact. This year my excuse is shooting film introductions, with Del Zamora and a small crew, for the BBC: at the end of June they'll accompany the broadcast of four Westerns, plus SEARCHERS 2.0.

Years ago I used to do this sort of thing for obscure or foreign films - THE HONEYMOON KILLERS or YOJIMBO - on a show called Moviedrome. Now it's Westerns that I'm providing context for! Interesting, that Westerns have become something requiring context. But thus they are. Two of these pictures are in black and white, and four are in that square-box 4X3 format, rather than plasma-screen-shape. And all are well-composed, and edited at a proper pace - none were cut by a mad monkey on speed. So context is called for!



Three of the films are by John Ford - FORT APACHE, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, and WAGONMASTER. YELLOW RIBBON is a visual standout because of its extraordinary colour photography. No attempt at naturalism here! Instead interiors glow with imaginary evening light, and Ford recreates Monument Valley on a sound stage, at night, with blood-red skies for a graveside scene with John Wayne. It's so beautiful that one forgives it for being reactionary, and over-long. FORT APACHE is a different kettle of fish. The bad guy isn't Cochise (bravely played by Miguel Inclan, a great Mexican actor, in Spanish: Pedro Armendariz, Sr., translates) - it's Henry Fonda's ambitious, racist Cavalry officer. Only in Westerns was Fonda allowed to play a villain! And he always did a bang-up job. The film is wonderfully shot, in black and white, by Archie Stout.

The third Ford is my favourite: WAGONMASTER. This is a film both old-fashioned and strangely-modern. Old-fashioned in its cast of Ford favourites - Ben Johnson, Ward Bond, Harry Carey Jr, et al. Modern in its use of music (more great songs by Stan Jones) and its structure, including Ford's only pre-credit sequence. It's beautifully shot, in black and white (Archie was second-unit cameraman), and there are great performances, particularly by Johnson and the super-sexy Joanne Dru. There's a great moment where the English owner of a hoochie-coochie show is obliged by a bandit to read what's written on the side of his broken-down wagon. "And in smaller letters... films directed... hair restored." I feel strange kinship to this burned-out character, though I don't know why.

The other Western is Sam Fuller's excellent RUN OF THE ARROW - an Indians vs. Cowboys movie which gets better and better as time goes by. Another ambitious, racist US Cavalry officer is the villain - this time played by Ralph Meeker. Meeker's a more modern, mannered actor than Fonda: remember him as the 'hero' of KISS ME DEADLY? And he's an even better bad guy, if that's possible. Both meet ignominious fates, though Meeker's is arguably the more pathetic.

It's interesting that all four films - like SEARCHERS 2.0 - were independent movies. One thinks of Fuller as an independent, working outside the studio system, of course - but not Ford. Yet all three of his Westerns were made by an independent company, Argosy - run by Ford and the KING KONG producer, Merian C Cooper. Ford and Cooper set up Argosy because they were sick of being screwed around by the studio: creatively and financially. MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, with its two million dollar budget, made only $2.8 million at the box office. Ford was furious with the producer for re-editing it and shooting an additional scene.

Argosy Pictures gave Ford and Cooper creative control, and an opportunity to make quality films for lower, more reasonable budgets. In theory, both men had a chance to make some serious money, at last. In practice, the experiment almost bankrupted them. The problem was distribution. Ford and Cooper could make great, cheap, independent pictures like FORT APACHE and WAGONMASTER, but they couldn't get them shown independently. The cinemas, then as now, were controlled by the studios. Without a studio distributor, a picture didn't get seen. And a studio distributor, via the usual creative accounting, and its off-shore banks, could make sure that whatever percentage the producer was nominally owed, didn't get paid. (The situation is worse today, as the same "vertically integrated media conglomerates" which own the Hollywood studios also own the TV companies).

Ford and Cooper were forced to let RKO distribute Argosy's pictures. They didn't see a dime. Instead, each movie left them deeper in debt - even as the films themselves made money, domestically and abroad. After half a dozen productions, Ford and Cooper wound up Argosy - financially no better off, leaving behind a legacy of great Westerns and a decent giant ape picture, MIGHTY JOE YOUNG.

Such a hostile environment is likely to make people unhappy. And, while Merian Cooper was phlegmatic (he made giant ape films, after all), John Ford seems to have been a particularly unhappy man. Between projects he would become manically drunk, locking himself up and behaving like an auditionee for THE LOST WEEKEND. Ford was only happy on set where - famously - his directoral style was to abuse, belittle, and persecute certain members of the cast, and fire crew members. Ford hated Stout, despite the fact that he had hired him; yet he signed him up again, for WAGONMASTER. Most actors he abused. Reducing an actress to tears, he told her, "Good. I wanted to see you cry." The cameras weren't rolling at the time. Ward Bond he constantly insulted for being stupid; Wayne he persecuted for other reasons, which biographers don't specify.

Ford steered clear of abusing Ben Johnson, rightly suspecting that the former cowboy-become-actor wouldn't take an insult sitting down. But he lost it over dinner on RIO GRANDE, which they shot together right after WAGONMASTER. Ford misheard something Johnson said to Harry Carey, Jr., and ordered Johnson to repeat the remark. Johnson replied softly that it was a private comment, and declined to do so. Ford, used to being obeyed by all, lost it, and yelled at Johnson across the table, calling him stupid.

All went quiet. Johnson rose, walked round the table to Ford, and whispered something in the director's ear. No one knows what he said. He refused to work for Ford again for fifteen years.

I already liked Johnson a lot, as an actor. But reading that story in Scott Eymann's biography of Ford made me admire him even more. When people like Ford abuse people below them in the hierarchy, it indicates only one thing: that they are, in equal measure, abused by those they perceive as being above them. Nothing is worse than an abusive creep; nothing nicer than a man or woman who ain't cowed by money or power.

Ford was also a brilliant director - perhaps the best director of all. His brilliance shone in many directions: it's in his compositions, in his minimalist, yet perfect shooting strategy ("cutting in the camera"), in his editing, in his strory sense, and in his choice collaborators - and, I suppose, his ability to terrify crews and casts, and make people follow orders. But, as his caution with Ben Johnson proves, there are other ways to work with people, and achieve excellent results.

John Ford also demonstrates the daftness of the American "two party" charade. All his life, Ford claimed to be a card-carrying Democrat. His biographers, Eymann and Bogdanovich, make a big deal about his sticking up for blacklisted directors, when Cecil B. De Mille wanted them thrown out of the Guild. But this was an easy thing for Ford to do. Most Guild members were against De Mille. Ford was clearly on the winning side, when he made his late entry into the debate. It's easy to oppose a blacklist when it's an official one; harder to do so when the blacklist is kept in secret, and you might get on it yourself. By the end of his career, this loyal Liberal had become a drunken, delirious supporter of Nixon and the Vietnam War - disinheriting his son for opposing the War, and directing a pro-War documentary, VIETNAM! VIETNAM! funded by the US government.

So, Murdoch's declaration of support for Barak Obama is perfectly apt. All three 'candidates' and both 'parties' support the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. All three will bomb or invade Iran if pushed to do so. All three will attempt to privatize Social Security. Indeed, I had an interesting conversation with an Obama fund-raiser on the phone. Being a foreigner, I don't contribute to American elections or political parties, but just for the heck of it I told him I wouldn't support Obama unless he promised to shut down the permanent US military bases and pull all US troops out of Iraq. The fund-raiser said Barak couldn't do that; this guy knew all about the fourteen permanent US bases, and he said: "America is a big country. We have serious needs. We're not going to withdraw from the world. Our needs are too great for that."

You could regard this as a chilling conversation. But I was glad we had it. It was refreshing to hear the Obama guy talk in these terms. These things should be discussed frankly and clearly, in this manner - rather than in the obfuscatory language of WMD and humanitarian aid beloved by lower-level, woolly-headed pols like Brown and Blair.

It's our oil. It just happens to be under their desert.

OREGON DOGFIGHTS - J'ACCUSE!

2008.4.1

Our web designer was as shocked as I was to receive a DVD entitled OREGON DOGFIGHTS by Priority mail. The DVD had no printed label, just the handwritten words, OREGON DOGFIGHTS. The shock level rose to unprecedented heights, however, when Dan placed the DVD in his player.

OREGON DOGFIGHTS is a shocking video which may shock and offend the unseasoned viewer (play video); Dan and I, shocked though we are, have placed it on the site here (play video) only in the hope that the woman, briefly glimpsed in the background of these shocking images, may be brought to justice, before more Oregon canines are similarly pitted against each other in shocking contests against endangered species such as the Oregon dog-bear (watch shocking video here).

Today is also the official publication date of Rudy Wurlitzer's new novel, THE DROP EDGE OF YONDER. This is an excellent book, a Western epic spanning the continent, and I highly recommend it. More about Rudy here.

CARBON FOOTPRINTS, OR, THE RIGHT WAY TO WEAR A COWBOY HAT

2008.3.21

Three trips in three weeks, and now a rest. First was to New York, for the Film Comment Selects screenings of WALKER and SEARCHERS 2.0. Wurlitzer, Fierberg, Jonet in attendance. A good crowd.

Second was SEARCHERS at the Washington DC Independent Festival, opening night, preceded by the amazing composer of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, David Amram, performing live on a variety of extraordinary instruments. Nice people in Washington, which seems surprisingly small and architecturally somewhat similar to Bradford.


Her Majesty's Open Prison, London, Friday night

Third, last week, via San Francisco and London, to the closing night of the Bradford International Film Festival for SEARCHERS 2.0's official UK premiere. Great crowd, also very well-informed and with a moral perspective: Bradford had a very interesting line-up of directors this year; it still seems the best, most focused, film festival in England. Someone asked what SEARCHERS' carbon footprint was. I said I didn't know how to measure it, but that - as we had only five vehicles (four of them gas-guzzlers!) and two one-way aeroplane tickets from LAX to Prescott, AZ - it was probably on the low side.

Jon Davison, our producer, sends proof of this. The average cost of a 'Specialty' picture released by the studios (these are the ones which get called 'independent' features in the press) last year was $75.8 MILLION DOLLARS. That broke down as $49.2 MILLION in production, and $25.7 MILLION in marketing, versus $1.5 MILLION for REPO MAN, or $200K for SEARCHERS. This is no small carbon footprint, no matter how you try to drive a hybrid Denali though it, or to "trade" carbon.

That $75,800,000 isn't the total expenses of a studio. It's not even what a big-budget, comic-book themed film cost (that would be hundreds and hundreds of millions, sir). It's the cost of ONE, studio-produced, "independent" film.

In spite of the odds, and the money the studio cartel spends "marketing", real independent cinema persists. Anyone interested in making FOUR genuinely independent films, for just ONE of those millions of dollars, get in touch.

(All our savings in CO2 generation come to naught when you consider how much flying in aeroplanes I, Fierberg, Jonet, Zamora and Davison have since done to promote the film! Maybe Jac would have gone to Venice anyway, for her holidays, but all my manic travels, as described above, and several last year, were done to promote SEARCHERS. What is to be done? I don't know. Directors have been used as elements to promote films, whether studio features or independents, since the early 1980s. Independent films - lacking the old $25,700,000 to spend on advertising - must compete in festivals, and the directors, producers, and actors must show up to support them!)


Island West of Scotland, from the plane

Last year I failed to visit several new, exciting places. A much-anticipated trip to screen SEARCHERS 2.0 in Moscow, fell apart at Frankfurt Airport over a paperwork mistake; another - to Quito, Ecuador - went south when the American Embassy refused to provide funding for a screening and reception. I thought it was a bit cheeky to ask for this: as I'm not an American, it would be more appropriate to freeload off the British Embassy. But the email from the Assistant Cultural Attache was priceless - "Cox is not considered an appropriate person for Embassy support due to his outspoken opposition to the Bush administration!"

Excellent! But, also, what? What opposition to the Bush administration have I ever expressed? I hope my opposition is entirely bipartisan: I oppose the Republicans and the Democrats equally, since - as with 'New" Labour, Lib Dems and Tories - I can discern no real difference between them. Such a calumny. Del went to Quito and told me that in previous years the Festival there had been funded by the American Embassy, so the refusal of funds had hit them hard. He attended a DVD projection of WALKER (not the splendid DVD recently released by Criterion, either!) and the opening of SEARCHERS 2.0; his accommodations, surprisingly enough, were in a casino.

Flying on these aeroplanes gave me the opportunity to see some new American films, all of which had interesting aspects, and none of which I would have paid for. THE KINGDOM has a great opening title sequence: a cartoon history of US and Saudi relations which is genuinetly impressive. It degenerates pretty quickly into the usual cop-worshiping flim-flam, but there's one good Saudi character. IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH seemed thoughtful but a bit slow (the plane landed before we got to the end!). NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN stayed with me, even though I saw it on a three-by-two inch screen. I guess it's about the corrupting effect of drug money on the Republic, which is a story worth repeating. It's well-directed, well-shot, well-acted (especially by Bardem), let down by a weak ending. Presumably it's the ending of the book, but McCarthy's books usually have a problem with their endings: it's the filmmaker's job to fix this, not repeat the novelist's error.


Odometer of Doom, last week.

Only one criticism of the acting. Why don't any of these cowboy types put their hats on properly? All three of the hat-wearing leads - Woody Harleson, Tommy Lee Jones (cropping up everywhere, perhaps because of his resemblance to Uncle Fester McCain), and the other guy - put 'em on as if they were pork-pie hats, or fezzes! Go into a Western supply store anywhere in the real West (this does not include Los Angeles). Act seriously like you're going to buy a good cowboy hat - a Stetson, or a Resistol - costing above a hundred dollars. Put it on your head, and the salesperson will sidle up and say, "Sir, if you're plannin' on buyin' that hat, you might want to learn to put it on right."

The cowboy, he or she explains, takes the front of the brim in his or her right had and tips it back across the head. Then, with the left hand, he or she grips the back of the brim and pulls it down, till the hat is snug, and level.

At no time does either hand touch the crown of the hat (the sticking-up bit). This is because real cowboys' hands are dirty, and - especially if they have a white or straw cowboy hat - cowboys want to keep the brim of that hat clean.

Look at older Westerns and you'll see this. Those films were made back when actors were sometimes former cowboys (Ben Johnson!) and they bought their own hats, rather than received them from the wardrobe department, in plastic bags.

 

THIRD COCAINE PLANE TIED TO US GOVERNMENT... WHY ARE WE IN AFGHANISTAN, AGAIN?

2008.2.10

The NARCO NEWS continues to pursue the story of drug-smuggling planes seized by Latin American authorities - the latest one in Nicaragua - which turn out to have connections to the US government, to shell companies run by DEA or Homeland Security (!) employees, and - most sickening of all - to CIA 'extraordinary rendition' torture flights.

It's like the glory days of heroin smuggling from South East Asia by the CIA, the margins of which were shown in that fine film WHO'LL STOP THE RAIN / DOG SOLDIERS - only without the moral perspective of Nick Nolte's character.

Time to stop pretending we're against the drug trade, no? The US government and its employees clearly make a packet from running it out of Latin America. There was ZERO opium production in Afghanistan before NATO invaded that unfortunate place. Now, bumper harvests. An excellent story in Counterpunch points to the DEA's inflitration by CIA and US military drug dealers, and the inevitable result.

OUR ADVENT CALENDAR

2007.12.16

My mother in law has given us an Advent Calendar. This was extremely thoughtful of Violetta - I haven't had one since I was a kid. What memories. Though an atheistic child, I loved the two stapled-together pieces of coloured cardboard with the pre-cut doors: appreciated those doors' placement and variety, opening them on a daily basis throughout December; remarked on the angel or sheep or wise man revealed within; till on 25th December we opened the door of Baby Jesus, and tore the thing apart, to reveal the Nativity Scene.

The Advent Calendar is one of my favourite bits of Christian paraphernalia; like the black and gold Spanish Inquisition outfits worn by Andalucians at Easter, and the tree god to whom S. Sebastian is sacrificed. I'd make my own Anti-Advent Caldendars back then, cutting out doors which opened to reveal the Frankenstein Monster, dinosaurs, Martian invaders and other rival deities. But I'm a little disturbed by the current incarnation. So far we've opened sixteen doors, and, dude, all we're finding behind them is stuff. Candles. Christmas trees. Silver bells. Mr Punch. There's one sketch of a building with a bell, which I suppose could be a church - or a fire station. But there's no angels, no lambs, no shepherds. On the front is a picture of Santa at work. It's an entirely secular Advent Calendar, something I'd have thought impossible - but this is America, land of seasonal greetings cards, where they say "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Xmas" in order not to offend druids or celebrators of Kwanza.

Not that it's any of my business, but I'm puzzled by our secular Advent Calendar. What's it for? What does it mean? What are we going to see when we open the last door, on Dec 25th: a cash register?

I've been reading a book called THE REAL TOY STORY by Eric Clark (Free Press, 2007 - about the toy industry in America. The parallels with the film business are unreal. Production and distribution are dominated by a few conglomerates, for whom a successful toy must make at least a quarter of a billion dollars. The industry is risk-averse, preferring bolt-on additions to previous season's lines. Originality is entirely discouraged; marketing consultants, not toymakers, design the big companies' toys. Cross-collateralisation (as where a Murdoch film like ARMAGEDDON plugs other Murdoch interests, such as the Fox Network and Sky TV, and Murdoch papers like The Sun and The Times plug ARMAGEDDON) is the name of the corporate toy game. The most valuable sales tools are programme-length commercials (TRANSFORMERS, G.I. JOE) and old TV series which can be remade as films, then re-sold. And for both businesses the most valued tie-in is the Obesity Industry. McDonalds and Burger King promote movies and give away "free" toys; cinema owners operate - like toy sellers - on minimal margins, and so rely on fast food sales to make a buck.

Clark reckons there are about 1,500 independent toy shops left in the USA, and between 100-500 actual toy inventors. Probably this is the same as the number of independent filmmakers: I don't know how many independent cinemas are left.

Observing the two industries, one sees how very important, primal things - storytelling and play - are seized and commodified by the market system. A few people become very, very rich; dreams are stolen, minds impoverished. Merry Xmas!

And, as a little Xmas gift, Dan and I are pleased to offer most of the screenplays that were previously available here - plus some new ones - as free downloads. The reader is welcome to use them for all personal or academic purposes known or to be devised. If you want to make them into films or comic books or radio plays or stage musicals or "free" toys to be given away with "happy" meals, do get in touch.

SECOND UNIT, MEXICO CITY

2007.10.20

My friend Lorenzo O'Brien hires me as a second unit director in Mexico City. He's producing a high-end episodic drama / soap opera loosely based on the true-life romance of Jennifer Lopez, Ben Afflick and Marc Anthony. This is the work I was meant to do, and the project I was born to do it on.

Being second unit director (or working on the second unit, in general) is a wonderful thing. If someone from the art department comes up and asks me, 'Which of these six options for the Weird Birthday Card do you like, and which car does it go in?' I reply, 'I've no idea. I'm just the second unit director. You must ask the real director; only he knows." In this case the real director is Antonio Serrano, a proper director with features (SEXO, PUDOR Y LAGRIMAS) and hundreds of hours of television to his credit. Antonio is also an executive producer, as is J-Lo. This is his project, and so it is to him that all questions relating to creativity/continuity must be addressed.

It's an ambitious project. They're aiming to shoot eight pages a day, every day, six days a week for five weeks. Not surprisingly, scenes or parts of scenes get missed. And then there are the product placement shots, which must include soap, computers, and cars. Now you begin to see the need for a good second unit director, who will accord the cars and soap the same deference and respect he/she shows the actors. It's fun to do something like this, in which one doesn't have a crucial, heartfelt stake, with a small, tight team on the periphery of a much bigger unit. When the actors get upset, or mad, a first unit director must take it seriously. But when one of the actors complains bitterly to me that she's waited two hours for them to light this stupid shot of her getting out of a car and why has it taken so long? I can just bow and say, "I don't know, I'm really sorry, all I can say is we'll go as quickly as we can from this moment on."

And we do, and everyone leaves happily - apart from those crew members waiting for taxis which are in short supply, this being the Noche of the Grito de la Independencia...

But hey ho, being abandoned on a remote location is part of the fun and richness of the movie-making experience, right? If Lorenzo's on the set, I stay close to him at wrap time, so as to catch a ride with him and his chofer.


Seen here are said wonderful second unit crew: Alan Contreras (Asst. Camera), Miguel Angel Chavez (Producer), me, Jaime Reynoso (Camera), el Buen Suaste (Gaffer), Brandon Van Der Witt (Sound), Yvette Gurza (Asst. 2nd Unit Director), Lloret Gonzales (2nd Asst. Camera), unk. member of 1st Unit, and Edgar Matus (Transpo).

Kind Lorenzo put me in a fine hotel on the Reforma, and one Sunday a procession of solders marched past, saluting the alleged President of the Republic beneath the Angel de la Independencia. There is, of course, serious doubt as to whether Felipe Calderon really is the President. Like George, he didn't really get enough votes, but fortunately the local electoral commission decided against opening up the ballot boxes or anything else bothersome. FeCal has been creeping about for most of the year, avoiding places (such as the Senate, or the Zocalo) where he'll get shouted at.

He made his presence felt at the military march, though. Already in trouble for cozying up to the Generals and dressing in a military greatcoat, FeCal on this occasion brought his adolescent sons - both dressed in full military uniforms. Little Juan Pablo, who had to go lie down, wore a major's outfit. Luis Felipe, who stayed to the end, saluting like his dad, was dressed as a colonel.


Unfortunately, as La Jornada pointed out, the Mexican Code of Military Justice forbids civilians of any age from wearing military uniforms. The prescribed penalty is four months imprisonment. It's a shame to think of FeCal's little lads being banged up in a maximum security carcel so early in their previously-fortunate lives. Pero la ley es la ley!

One day we shoot outside the DF, in Ajusco, then return to film in a village, swallowed by the city, Tepepan... amazingly, it still has all the character of a small town. The people dress that way; guys ride horses through the streets. We're filming outside the church when the latest downpour begins. Driving back, we find Tlalpan flooded. Miguel Angel drops me at Ermita station, whose entrance isn't yet awash.

There's a big crowd on the platform. Trains are few and the first one's crowded. I wait for the second. Getting on, I'm blasted by noise - on my left, a blind man is selling rock & roll CDs and playing loud samples from a speaker strapped to his chest; on my right a madman, unable to speak, moans, rubbing a drumstick up and down a hollow, native instrument, which sounds like a washboard. At first it's horrible, Buñuelian, and then I'm fascinated, especially by the madman, and put a contribution in his instrument.


Plan Mexico: Our Tax Dollars At Work.

This is not one of our product placement shots, nor is it the SEARCHERS 2.0 Suburban. It's a real car, in which some cops were travelling when the narcos attacked. Mexican Newsweek has full-page ads for bulletproof BMWs - with three different levels of bulletproofing - but policemen don't qualify for such a service. (Seven high-level cops involved in busting the Chinese-Mexican speed supremo have been killed since he was arrested. Someone on their own side is selling them out. Something to do with the $207 million in cash Mr Zhenli Yi Gon had stashed at his home? The Mexican press repored him as saying it wasn't his money; he was 'holding it for the PAN' - i.e. FeCal's political party. Did this story make it into the US or the European press?

And how about those loveable Chiquita Brands, fined $25 million by a US court for giving money to death squads in Colombia? Now a Colombian prosecutor wants to extradite the chairman of the US company to stand trial. Think he'll succeed? The story was in every newspaper in Mexico, with follow-ups for several days. Anyone read it or see it on TV in the US?

 

SEARCHERS & SPAGHETTIS

2007.9.7

To Venice, for the world premiere of SEARCHERS 2.0. Del Zamora, Jaclyn Jonet, Steve Fierberg, and a number of other celebrities attend - including maestri of the Italian Western.


Roberto Silvestri, me, Giulio Questi, Marco Giusti, SE SEI VIVO SPARA screening

In the Sala Perla, the projectionist accidentally pushes the pause button during a crucial SEARCHERS scene. He has presumably fallen asleep with his head on the button, as only stamping and whistling get the film moving again. But the next screening - in a huge tent called the PalaBiennale - is wonderful. The screen is huge, and our film - shot on my funky Z-1 video camera - is in perfect focus, and the film sounds ten times better in the larger space. This is the first public showing: more than a thousand people have paid for tickets, and they stay to the end.

Enzo Castellari comes to our screening. Enzo is a venerable Western director: he made the only Russian/Italian Western, JONATHAN OF THE BEARS. He's in Venice for a screening of his film KEOMA - part of a retrospective of Italian Westerns organised by Marco Giusti and the staff of the magazine Nocturno. Some thirty films are being shown; and Marco presents his new book, the DIZIONARIO DEL WESTERN ALL'ITALIA , which contains reviews and production details of all 800 European Westerns, including (to my delight) STRAIGHT TO HELL.

Giusti is a great guy, hugely knowledgeable. Now that his beard is turning white, he looks like the great Spaghetti Western heavy, Mario Brega. I met him and the festival director, multilingual Marco Muller, at the Torino Festival when it played REPO MAN. Quentin Tarantino is supposed to show up and curate the Spaghetti Western screenings. But there are perhaps suspcious that he isn't coming, and Marco generously invites me to stay on for a few more days, to attend the Spaghetti Westerns.

There's a screening of DJANGO, introduced by Franco Nero and Corbucci's widow, Nori. It's a new 35mm print, playing to a full house in the Sala Volpi. One of the only standard widescreen Italian Westerns, it's a tremendous film. It hasn't dated, and is every bit as transgressive and impressive as it was in 1966 (Corbucci directed four features that year!). When the lights come up, there is Django/Nero, in the middle of the audience, with his wife, Vanessa Redgrave. How often does one see that at the pictures?

Most of the other screenings are video projections, but decent ones. Giulio Petroni attends the showing of his excellent Mexican Revolution film TEPEPA -- the original two-hour version of this splendidly-constructed film. Many other directors and actors appear, including Giuliano Gemma, Gianni Garko, Carlo Lizzani, Robert Woods, Pasquale Squitteri, Tinto Brass, Fabio Testi, Nick Roman, the stunt man, Lars Bloch, the actor and producer, and the splendid Marc Fiorini, a Hopper-esque actor whose gay cowboy kiss in EL PURO anticipates BREAKBACK MOUNTAIN by some forty years. Composers are alson present: not Morricone, of course (he's a 'proper' musician now), but Alessandro Alessandroni (who did the whistling and guitar-playing for Ennio, and wrote the music for EL PURO) and Luis Enrique Bacalov (DJANGO, THE PRICE OF POWER). Both give concerts.

At midnight, Giulio Questi appars. Questi is a mysterious director, whose short list of credits include A CURIOUS WAY TO LOVE a.k.a. DEATH LAID AN EGG, and the most violent of all Italian Westerns, SE SEI VIVO SPARA/DJANGO KILL. For a maker of such surreal and savage films, Questi seems a very sweet man - inevitable, no? A couple of years ago, Questi discovered digital video and is making films again: shorts, in which he also acts (He started his career as an actor, for Fellini, in LA DOLCE VITA): several of these are to be screened later in the festival.

Steve Fierberg remarks how young all these veterans look, and it's true. Leone and Corbucci died relatively early, but the rest of the maestri seem to be in great shape. Tarantino doesn't show: the premiere of Takashi Miike's SUKIYAKI WESTERN DJANGO (a long, heavily-colour-corrected remake of YOJIMBO, in which Quent has a small, expository role) perhaps explains why he stayed away.

After a few days on the Lido, I take the vaporetti over to the island of Venice proper. This must be the most beautiful city in the world. My dear friend Hercules Bellville is staying in a grand pad overlooking a giant silver skull made of tin cans, and the Grand Canal. We take a vaparetto down the Canal, at night before the crassinos and the nightclubs open. Impossible to describe. Snaps don't do it justice, but here's one anyway:


Approach to the Rialto Bridge, Venice, CA

At night, the veterans hang around the Lido, and attend the Alessandroni concert. I doubt that such a crew will ever get together again, and it would have been nice if someone had organised a big official dinner for them all. There are so many unnecessary parties and dinners at film festivals, and it would have been great to give the maestri a similar do. But Westerns all'Italia have always been a marginal form - cheaply and quickly made, packed with politics and originality - and their makers, like your correspondant, are marginals, too.

So I sit on a park bench with Castellari and his son, Andrea, watching the boulevardiers. We discuss resurrecting Tod's bio-pic about Luis Buñuel. Enzo teaches film in Alicante, and thinks he might know the right Spanish producer for the script. Don Luis Enrique Bacalov walks past, taking the night air, and I ask him if he'll write the music for BUGS ARE MY BUSINESS, the Buñuel film.

With pleasure, he replies

 

THE PRICE OF BEER.

2007.8.1

Last summer, out for a country stroll, I stopped at a pub called the White Horse, in a town called Forest Hill. You'll not be astonished to learn I had a pint of beer while resting there. It was Morell's Old Empire, and was quite nice. The pint cost £2.90.

This means that - if anyone can still reach Forest Hill, via helicopter or boat - the Old Empire now costs at least three quid, if not £3.20. The three pound pint is upon us. Now, friends who go to the disco - or clubbing, as it's now called - tell me the three pound pint has been around for a long time. But I'm not talking about fizzy lager of the Stella or Bud variety, consumed in large quantities at two a.m., while clubbing. I'm discussing real ale: genuine beer. The kind that beer aesthetes drink. These are parsimonious types. They don't shave, so as not to waste money on razorblades. They have holes in their sweaters, unless they have a kind girlfriend, or still live with their mum. Beer aesthetes conserve their money - so as to spend it on beer.

And for beer aesthetes, the three quid pint is something of a landmark. I was going to write "high water mark" but there's no reason to believe the rise in the price of beer will suddenly cease.

I know beer is sinful, and must thus be taxed. This is correct. Other sinful things, like cigarettes and gas, are also taxed. One day, a sane government will tax so-called "illegal" drugs as well, because they too are sinful and always with us, and thus a good source of governmental revenue.

But, even accepting the need for taxes (how else to fund War and make the payments on Gordon's Private Finance Initiatives?), I think the rise in the price of beer excessive. In fact, I can't think of anything which has seen a steeper price rise in my lifetime.

When I first bought a beer, I was 15. Being a tall infant, I sidled up to the bar and said, "Gimme a pint." "A pint of what?" the barman asked. I had no idea. "What have you got?" I stammered. "Bitter," he said, and instead of throwing me out, he sold me a pint of bitter. It was either Watneys Red Barrel or Double Diamond - one of those horrible "keg" beers the big breweries were foisting on people back in the 60s, early 70s.

It tasted awful. And it cost 2/6.

2/6 - "half a crown" - was one-eighth of a pound, pre-decimalisation. 12.5 pence, or New P. With beer at this price, you could buy a round of drinks for well under a pound. It tasted vile, but you could get lathered for a quid.

So in less than 40 years we've gone from the 12.5p pint to the 300p pint. This is far in excess of the rate of inflation, or, I suspect, the general rate of "stealth" taxation. It's a 24X increase.

Of course, decent beer is at least available in many pubs now: it wasn't in 1970. And who says a pint of Fernandez' Coffee Porter or Three Rivers' Dark Moon isn't worth three quid? Not I. But who among us doesn't tremble before pulling out yet another twenty to buy a round which once cost 75p?

Compare the rate of beer inflation in the last 40 years with the price increase over the previous three hundred and sixty. Thanks to various Elizabethan and Jacobean authors, we know that a quart of beer in those days cost two old pence - 2d. These were two-fisted beer aesthetes: pints were for the children. In 1607, a quid would have bought 120 quarts, or 240 pints of beer. In 1970 a quid bought eight pints.

So, in the 363 years between 1607 and 1970 the price of beer went up by 30X.
And in the 37 years from 1970 to 2007 it went up by 24X, or more.

Shorely shome mishtake! If this revelation doesn't start a Revolution, well, I don't know what will.

PERMANENT US BASES IN IRAQ? CLICK HERE

SEARCHERS 2.0 READING LIST

2007.7.15

For those interested in taking the Searchers 2.0 Study Course (course outline and number of academic points per semester details at Searchers U Online), the book list for the autumn termis now ready.

Unfortunately, not all books on the reading list are currently in print. Ed Abbey's The Brave Cowboy appears on Amazon.com as first printings and limited editions costing scores if not hundreds of dollars. But search for it elsewhere and you can find used copies for a modest sum.

The recommended reading list is:

AAA MAP, "INDIAN COUNTRY"
Auto Club of Southern California

HIGH & MIGHTY
SUVs - The World's Most Dangerous Vehicles & How They Got That Way
Keith Bradsher, Perseus Books, 2002

THE LIFE OF THE AUTOMOBILE
Ilya Ehrenburg (first pub. 1929; Serpent's Tail, 1999)

OPERATION HOLLYWOOD
How The Pentagon Shapes & Censors The Movies
David L Robb, Prometheus Books, 2004

JOHN FORD
Peter Bogdanovich

PRINT THE LEGEND
The Life of John Ford
Scott Eyman

THE BRAVE COWBOY
Edward Abbey (first pub. 1956; out of print)

DESERT SOLITAIRE
A Season in the Wilderness
Edward Abbey (first pub. 1968; various editions)

... and one of the Jim Chee books by Tony Hillerman!


PERMANENT US BASES IN IRAQ? CLICK HERE.


TRAPPED IN A BOX: ON ACTING

2007.5.20


Kim Ryan and congregation, Bold St.

In the post arrive two lovely games. One is a board game, charmingly old-fashioned (I had assumed all games were computer games by now, but this is not the case), in a tin box: it's called WAR PLAN CRIMSON, and it's based on the US military's plans - hatched in the 1920s and 30s, and approved by President Roosevelt - to invade Canada. It's a game for two players: you're either the Americans, or the Canadians.

The other is a card game, designed by the English film director, Paul Hills. It has fiendishly complicated rules (as does WAR PLAN CRIMSON): each of the cards represents an actor or crew member of THE OXFORD MURDERS,

I have a small role in THE OXFORD MURDERS, which is directed by my old friend Alex de la Iglesia. I play Kalman, an Oxford mathematician driven mad by being unable to solve a particularly complex mathematical quandry. Kalman is a pretty good part, especially for a Coarse actor. In addition to going mad, Kalman develops cancer: both legs and one arm fall off. He gets to buzz around in an electric wheelchair, carrying a skull. I won't tell you all the weird and horrible things he does, but the best of it all was this: most of his stuff was contained within a flashback, so there was no dialogue!

Coarse actors, as you know, don't like to have too much dialogue. "Rather a lot of lines, isn't it?" they ask the director. "What if we cut it down a bit, to a nod and a bit of a grunt... It would be much more powerful, etc. etc." In reality the Coarse actor wants to learn as few lines as possible, so as to maximise time spent sleeping, or in the pub.

Having no lines to learn was great. The downside was playing fully-dismembered Kalman. This meant being squeezed into a wooden box the size of a small gurney. My head and arm stuck out of it. Behind them, a rubberized cast of my naked back and severed limbs was placed. My "good" arm was placed in a metal frame festooned with screws and spikes. Makeup was applied to the cast so as to make it appear more lifelike. "Stay in there as long as you can," the special effects guys told me. "It takes a while to put you back together, so we'll lose about half an hour every time you get out."

Make the production lose half an hour? Never! No matter how much I might want to get out of this immediately-uncomfortable, clammy box, there was no way I would waste half a shooting hour, or compromise the director's unique vision...

I'd worked for Alex de la I once before, on a film he shot in Mexico and Las Vegas, PERDITA DURANGO. At the outset he'd wanted me to play some despicable gringo bum but I'd managed instead to snag the role of a Mormon FBI agent, sideckick to James Gandolfini. I had a good time, always wore a suit and tie, and never removed my shades. Alex had had so much else to deal with that he let me get away with this. THE OXFORD MURDERS was his revenge.

Hours I lay in that box. Hours the metal screws dug into my effing arm. But I did not complain. It was pretty funny, actually. In one scene, another brilliant academic, played by John Hurt, is supposed to come into Kalman's hospital room, and look down pityingly upon his former friend.

Kalman, by now, is entirely mad: grinding his teeth and writing, with his left hand, over and over again, a woman's name. In the first take, John spoke to me, and I looked up at him, grinding my teeth, a pitiable figure. John burst out laughing. Take two. We made eye contact. He burst out laughing again. We only got through the scene by not looking at each other. It was all so ridiculous, though I'm sure in the hands of the master director, my tocayo, THE OXFORD MURDERS will prove to be a chilling tale of horror, mathematics, and suspense.

By chance, in San Francisco for SEARCHERS audio purposes, I went to the pictures and saw THE NUMBER 23 - a not-very-chilling tale of horror, numerology, and supsense. It must be in the gestalt, in the air at the moment. In this film, Jim Carrey's character, like Kalman, goes nuts alone, writing on walls, obsessed with numbers, mathematics, numerology. SEVEN and DEATH & THE COMPASS are other examples of the sub-genre. What other dramas are there in which the bold detective, seeking to solve a geometry- or maths-based series of murders, is drawn to the very spot where, blah blah blah?

The crew - a mix of Spanish and Brits - were fast and professional (weird to see such big cameras, with thousand-foot magazines, after shooting a picture with the Z-1), and the art and costume departments were superb.

When I was let out of the box, Rosa, the very kind producer, presented me with a traditional glass of English beer. This is a wonderful beverage, and I hope to sample it again. And on the next day of shooting, Kalman threw a television out of his office window. Alex asked me to do this three times, which was very generous of him.

Last week, to Liverpool, where Kim Ryan has hired me and Chris Bernard as actors in her project BOLDEE STREET PRIESTS... As far as I can tell, this is a pilot for an enormously-popular TV series in which Chris and I dress as clergymen and roam the streets, shopping and chatting to people. Father Chris and Father Al went looking for The Harder They Come in the record shop, and got into a conversation with Harry, of the fruit and veg, about FACT and about business.

When you walk around dressed as priests, people do respond differently to you. Drunks are more likely to be attracted to you. A middle-eastern man shouted at Father Chris for setting a bad example by smoking. Another guy confessed something that was on his mind (it isn't in the film); suddenly the piss-take aspect fell away and Chris, replying, displayed such boundless affinity and humanity that I was... well, moved. Dressed as a priest'n'all. What a loss to the Vatican when my fellow actor gave up his vocation, and joined the circus.

Everything that Kim directs seems to generate these amazing spontaneous, unpredictable moments. Her Futurist project was almost as exciting. And, if you haven't seen it, check out the quite brilliant PEACE TRAIN.

THE NUMBER THE MPAA TRIED TO BAN.

2007.5.4

09 f9 11 02 9d 74 e3 5b d8 41 56 c5 63 56 88 c0 is the number the Motion Picture Association of America is trying to erase from the internet.

Find out what it means and why it matters at The Enquirer

And if that site's been taken down, google the number - just the first four digits will do.

Probably you're not daft enough to own a Blu-Ray or HD-DVD player. HD and HDV look horrible - just like bright, crackly, shiny video, which is all they are - and it's a filmmaker's nightmare trying to knock the new formats down to something reasonably easy on the eye.

The whole HD thing is, I believe, a scam to sell a new generation of electronic junk which will itself soon be replaced by something else.

No sensible consumer (is there such a thing?) would buy one, which is probably why there's been so little takeup for either format. Unfortunately, we filmmakers are the first to get snared in the upgrade trap, and we're supposed to pass the techno-addict craving on to you. Don't fall for it. Standard DVDs are of excellent quality, last a good few years,
and (to most pairs of human eyes) look damn fine. How many hours of extra elements (probably not shot in HD anyway) do most people honestly want?

But if you've bought a HD-DVD player, you owe it to yourself and your freedom to check out The Number They Tried To Ban. Don't let the MPAA take away your right to study, investigate, and copy your own damn property!

Jack Valenti may be dead but his rotting corpse lurches on...

The SEARCHERS 2.0 rough cut is complete.

2007.3.2

Last week it was 98 minutes long. Then Jon Davison braved the snowstorm to visit the editing hut, and now the picture is 94 minutes.

I locked it yesterday, rendered all the effects, made a reference version, and started running off the DVDs - for Roger C has yet to see the whole thing, and to demand changes. Unable to get out anyway (four feet of snow surround the hut, and my truck is under a snowdrift) I play back one of the DVDs. It seems fine. So I decide to listen to it on my headphones - and discover that the stereo speakers on my editing system have been switched. Listening thus, I have laid all the stereo effects - and rare bits of stereo dialogue - bass-ackwards.

Davison pays peanuts, so he gets monkeys. And it's back to work to re-place the tracks, re-export, and re-make the DVDs. (Of course it isn't really me that does this back-breaking grunt stuff. I have elves to deal with that, while I sit at the big desk in the workshop, designing next Xmas's toys, and reading The Fountainhead.)

Chris Bernard emails me the following:

> I had a funny thing happen to me today at our local discount
> store 'Home & Bargain' There was an old guy stacking shelves who was
> scrutinising me - I thought he was watching me in case I nicked anything
> then he asked me if I was a film director to which I replied "Well yes,
> once upon a time - I'm sort of in forced retirement." He then went on to
> explain that when he was in Venezuela a while back he had seen me in a
> documentary, giving a masterclass to filmmakers. I thought about it and couldn't
> remember actually being filmed in a teaching scenario. He then commented on how
> exellent my Spanish was - at this point I realised it couldn't be me. He
> then described your film 'Walker' - I explained that it was you and he
> realised his mistake adding that the guy on the programme was younger
> than me!

In fact Chris is younger, sprightlier and better-looking than I. Prior to this only Tod said we look alike. Our eyes are different colours, we have different heights, and slightly different hair do-s. I play protestant clergymen in films; Chris plays catholic priests. But, essentially, we are the same. Scouse film directors, whose forebears crawled from the primeval mud of Toxteth and the Wirral. And what bears dose were!

Jon sends me a bizarre CD of Morricone remixes. He has great taste in film music, and wants Dan Wool to give us a RETURN OF RINGO thing. But these are so bad - as if some kid had got a synthesizer for Xmas and was learning to operate the thing by playing along with his Good, Bad and Ugly record - that they must be the work of the Master, Morricone himself. No one else would have the lack of respect to attempt this. By comparison, George Martin's remixes of the Beatles stuff are genius.

I'm writing this while Roger and the Corman company watch the screening of SEARCHERS 2.0. If they like it, and if the maestro's notes aren't too numerous, I should be able to lock the picture early next week (we're still missing one shot, of the Suburban trundling down Venice Blvd. in heavy traffic - but that's an easy one to grab, and if we keep the camera low enough we won't need actors). This means that I can spot the picture with Dan and the sound designer, Richard Beggs, in San Francisco, and start gathering material for my next project, TRIDENT.

But I wanted to comment on something that appeared on the Exterminating Angel website. Since Tod's re-jigged the site there isn't a space to append comments any more (this is a good thing since it keeps timewasters like Tuxton at bay), but I'd like to respond to her piece about the Failure of Revolutions.

The example of the Sandinistas is indeed instructive, and very sad. The deal Ortega made with the catholic church - banning abortion in all circumstances - is a sordid piece of political betrayal; as bad as Blair's cow-towing to Bush and Murdoch, or Brown's vow to spend twenty five million pounds on renting a new nuclear missile from the Americans. Its consequences were immediate and deadly, as a young woman was denied a theraputic abortion and allowed to die in a Managua hospital the weekend before Ortega's election victory.

This disgraces Ortega, and Borges, and their political allies. It also disgraces Obando y Bravo, and Ratzinger, and the US embassy. But does it discredit the Sandinista Revolution itself? I don't think so. The FSLN, which overthrew Somoza in 1979, and which won a general election in 1984, did more good - in the sense of providing more for those who had the least - than any previous government in Nicaragua. It had flaws. Women were told to wait, not to advance a feminist agenda, not to demand reform of the abortion laws, by a bunch of macho guys who didn't acknowledge the debt the revolution owed to women. Gays (Sandinista gays, who had fought for the Revolution!) were treated with apalling disrespect. And the FSLN were voted out of office in 1989, by an electorate tired of war, in the shadow of the US invasion of Panama. Does this make the Revolution worthless? It depends how much one values literacy, or free health care. Before the Revolution Nicaragua was the least-educated, least-literate nation in Latin America. Within a few years the country was 100% literate, thanks to Sandinista educators, who set up schools where there had never been schools before.

Literacy, good health - these are things that remain, even after the Revolution gets voted out of office. Like many Americans, Tod tends not to think of health care as a fundamental human right; she seems to think the Cuban Revolution has failed, on a human rights basis. As an artist, she values freedom of expression more than anything, perhaps more than free education or free health care. I'm an artist too, sort of, and perhaps if I lived in Cuba I'd hate the restrictions which exist on free expression. There are no limits to freedom of expression in Hollywood or London, as we all know.

Dare I observe that Revolutions aren't primarily for artists? Revolutions are social movements in the spirit of Vatican Two: they chose the preferential option for the poor. Artists, the rich, the haute bourgeoise, all are welcome to participate, maybe, but the purpose of a Revolution is to benefit those who have the least. It is to improve the lot of very poor, exploited, marginalised people. Street vendors in Leon, Nicaraga. Women in Havana. Workers in maquilladoras in Juarez, or in the Colombian flower industry, or on America's farms. These are poor, sometimes desperately poor people. The Revolution - under attack immediately by powerful neighbours - must prioritize. Food, clothing, work, education, free health care: these are priorities, too.

Revolutionary states are invariably warred upon by their "democratic" neighbours, who don't hesitate to assassinate politicians, fund death squads, and make economies scream. Inevitably, the Revolution-under-siege takes a keen interest in foreign affairs. After Olaf Palme was murdered, the Nicaraguans dedicated a convention centre in Managua to him. Cuba, as far as I know, is currently at war with no other nation. Its troops occupy no other nation state. Ditto for Revolutionary Venezuela: the Bolivarian republic occupies nobody else's territory, and is at war with no one. Britain and the US have in one decade fought wars of aggression against Serbia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, in every case with tragic and increasingly disastrous results. The US crudely controls the electoral process in several Latin American countries, including Mexico and Peru. It runs a torture colony on sovereign Cuban territory, in Guantanamo Bay. The London government still claims imperial dominion over parts of Spain, and Ireland. One of the pressing tasks of any Revolutionary government is to eschew such imperial wickedness.

Liberal and right-wing critics complain that the elections in Cuba are fake/don't offer a real alternative. But what of the Americans, who voted to end the Iraq War, and got a Democratic majority which now bankrolls it? Is there a difference between Tony Blair and David Cameron? I would be proud to be a citizen of any country which acknowledges that war is a War crime. I'm less proud to be a subject of a country which makes war, causes untold environmental damage and human suffering, and steals oil.

My point is that not all Revolutions fail: the FSLN achieved much good, despite its leaders' recent capitulation to the Vatican. The Cuban Revolution, and the Revolutionary processes in Venezuela and Bolivia, are still in train, as is the Zapatista Revolution in Mexico. As anti-capitalists, anti-globalists, other-world-is-possiblists, we should support 'em all.

I promised The Antagonist I'd hike the conspiracy trail, again, and write a bit about three recent pieces in Counterpunch, all dealing with 9-11. The first two are mainstream anti-conspiracy-theorist-nut articles, following an editorial in which Alex Cockburn sets out his objections to the 9-11 truth movement. Alex, it seems, attended an anti-war demonstration, where he was to be one of the principal speakers. Can you imagine his chagrin when the preceding speakers spoke not against the war, but against Dick Cheney, secret architect of the 9-11 atrocities? By the time Alex's turn to speak came, the meeting had degenerated into a gaggle of conspiracy nuts, swapping lunatic stories about "virtual" planes.

In my experience, the anti-war and the truth movements are far from being opposed. At the start of the Iraq War I went to various rallies in London and Liverpoool. A priori, most people there were against the war. A large number of those people simultaneously believed that 9-11 was some form of self-inflicted provocation; like the Pueblo incident, or the Gulf of Tonkin incident, or the other occasions when the American military manufactured an incident to as to start or escalate a war. Outside Britain and the US, pretty much everyone seems to assume the US government had a hand in 9-11, as a pretext to steal the Middle East's oil, or build a pipeline through Afghanistan, or restore the heroin trade. Whatever the pretext, US government complicity in these atrocities is routinely assumed.

(I actually have interviewed almost everyone in the world regarding this, and will be publishing my findings when the interviews are complete.)

The first of the Counterpunch articles was a debunking of those who claim WTC1 and 2 were brought down by a controlled demolition. It's by an architect, and it isn't a very good piece: he writes things like, "I haven't done the math, but if I did..." One wonders, if you can't be bothered to do the math, why write the piece? LOOSE CHANGE makes a case for the controlled demoliton theory (and makes clear the parallels between the Pentagon's Northwoods Project and the execution of the 9-11 plan); it isn't essential to believe it or disbelieve it to doubt the Kean/Warren Commission version of events.

But it is part of the historical record that, in 1993, Arab terrorists were able to plant and explode massive quantities explosives in the parking lot of the World Trade Centre, killing six people. The FBI had prior knowledge of that operation via an undercover agent, Emad Salem, but they let the bombing go ahead. So there's certainly a precedent for the demolition claims.

In the next Counterpunch, architect Manuel Garcia Jr, returned with a piece about the collapse of WTC7. WTC7 was curiously missing from his previous article, and it might have been interesting had Garcia addressed the story seriously. Instead he lurches into a lurid mix of "artistic" writing and impenetrable tech-speak. "The lightning clarity of the moment blinks... thinking stops" is followed by a different kind of gibberish, so intense and sententious that it fails to connect with the non-technical reader. "If the WTC1 fire was concentrated in six stories, with a total volume of 96,480 m>3, then the volume of ironcrete would be 5210 m>3, and its average temperature rise would be 549C." Did that convince you, or what? There's plenty more where that came from. But it means nothing.

On the other hand, just the list of tenants of WTC7 raises questions Cockburn and Garcia don't seem able to ask. Top-floor tenants were the CIA, and the Department of Defense. Occupying two floors was the IRS Regional Council. The Mayor's Office of Emergency Management was on the floor below. Three floors were occupied by the SEC, and two by the US Secret Service.

Conspiracy theorists (or truth-out-ists) who have investigated the JFK assassination will raise their eyebrows at the above list. The fingerprints of CIA and other intelligence agencies are all over Lee Harvey Oswald; and the Secret Service was clearly complicit in allowing the election-by-crossfire to occur. The New York Times, no less, reported that the CIA's New York station "is believed to have been the largest and most important CIA domestic station outside the Washington area."

People who use cars to commit crimes routinely douse them with petrol and set them alight, so as to destroy all traces of their DNA. If a US intelligence agency, say the CIA or the DIA, or the Secret Service, were tasked to perform a top-secret, dangerous, illegal intelligence action - such as one of the Northwood provocations - it would make sense to do it via the closed network of a secure, top-secret agency base... and, like the car thief, to destroy that base of operations once the operation was complete.

Those who enjoy Jacobean revenge dramas or Mafia movies will observe that, for maximum secrecy, the lower-echelon operatives, the Pedringanos and the David Ferries, should all still be in the building when it collapses.

I don't expect Cockburn to go along with a mass bump-off of CIA gunsels in WTC7 (not until Oliver Stone makes the movie, anyway). But I do expect him, as a proper writer and editor, at least to mention that CIA was an anchor tenant of WTC7, along with DOD and the Secret Service. Previous to this, Cockburn has always been so quick to point out a CIA presence in other international crimes.

The third Counterpunch article was, in some ways, a repudiation of the two previous ones: a re-visiting of the Israeli Art Students story, beginning with the arrest of the Israeli agents who were apparently celebrating the WTC atrocities from the New Jersey shore. Unlike the previous two articles, this one suggests that there was a conspiracy to keep the 9-11 operation secret: either between US intelligence and Mossad, or on the part of Mossad, in the hope that a ghastly act of terrorism would drive the US and Israel into a closer military embrace.

Another snippet of information in this vein, unmentioned by Counterpunch, is that the first person murdered by the Flight 11 hijackers was Daniel Lewin, a "former member" of Sayeret Hatkal, the top secret Israeli counter-terrorist unit (ABC News, Washington Post and UP all reported this). Was Lewin travelling with the terrorists? Was he shadowing them? It seems the hijackers knew who he was, when they killed him.

This is where Cockburn should get over it, and make peace with the truth movement. Not only are they all against the war, but they take opposition to it as a given. They don't need a fiery speech from Uncle Al to get their dander up. They know more than he does. All the info in Counterpunch's "Israeli agents" story is old knews, shared by the truth movement years ago, thanks to web-sites like AntiWar.com, and in particular the Centre for Cooperative Research, with their invaluable Terror Timeline.

But I was probably wrong, too, and pretentious too, to throw down the guantlet and insist Cockburn and Chomsky debate the issue. Chomsky is another domestic assassination denier, with a bitter animus towards the Kennedys: who has been crowned by the New York Times - as Exterminating Angel Press observed - "the king of the left".

The Left doesn't need Kings. Revolutions don't need Kings, either. But we do need to look at these things rationally, to collaborate, share info, and not get caught in knee-jerk denials. "My kind of serious journalist doesn't hob nob with conspiracy nuts" - that kind of thing. It's out-dated, and it doesn't hold water any more. Almost all the available evidence shows JFK was killed by multiple gunmen. All the available evidence shows how the Warren Commission - desperate to conceal the coup d'etat that had just taken place - covered the truth of the assassination up. A handful of people benefited remarkably from the cover-up, in the years that followed: Nixon and LBJ, of course, but also Gerald Ford, the Warren Commissioner who became president; Nelson Rockefeller, the Kennedy enemy who became the brainless one's VP; J. Edgar Hoover, who kept his job; Arlen Specter, a government lawyer who invented the "single bullet" fantasy and became a Senator; Jack Valenti, LBJ's political crony, who became the Hollywood studios' principal hit-man and enforcer...

Likewise, the evidence - just the evidience of mainstream media, and newspapers, collected and arranged chronologically - shows the Kean Commission report to be an equal pack of horse manure. Doesn't matter how many heroic Hollywood movies get made based on its writ... The Kean Report is a pack of lies, errors and omissions, and the Democrats are the most low-down, squirreliest bunch of no-good war-mongerin' electorate-deceivers that ever bellied up to the trough.

The Nuremburg Trials established that the worst crime, on an international scale, is waging a war of aggression. The Nazis at Nuremburg were hanged for this.

I'm not proposing Cheney, Bush, Blair and their tame Attorneys General be hanged. A long jail sentence, preferably in Guantanamo-style conditions, is right for them. But if - as is possible - they are also guilty of plausibly-deniable, Northwoods-style provocations, or if they "looked the other way" while these occurred, then the criminals should be banged up for this as well.

Despite his nay-saying, Cockburn is getting closer (thanks to the Israeli angle) to becoming a conspiracy nut himself. He should stay at it! Indeed, he might like to have his crack investigative team consider whether the 9-11 and 7-7 outrages were made possible by simultaneous, state-run "terrorist attack exercises" which - though secret - were known to the terrorists well in advance, and used to their advantage. What? Can such things be? Get down to the Petrolia library, Al, fire up the internet, search for Vigilant Guardian and Visor Security and check 'em out!


THE FORUM IS NO MORE, BUT IF YOU HAVE ANY COMMENTS FEEL FREE TO CONTACT ME DIRECTLY VIA THIS SITE.

SEARCHERS 2.0 is shot.

2006.12.24

It took 15 days on the road between LA and Monument Valley, with a crew of eleven and a cast of five. We took three Sony Z-1 cameras (usually shooting with only one camera, operated by Steve Fierberg - occasionally two, with me as second cameraman) - all in 1080i HDV mode.

Damage was limited to a bruise to actor JJ (caused by the rapid trunk opening of a Chevy Suburban) and the destruction of a small video camera (used for cloning tapes) when my camera bag was run over by another Suburban.

The bag was one of those Petrol wheely-bags designed for the Z-1. A testiment to Israeli survivability! Though the little cam was crushed, the Z-1's wide angle lens survived, as did the bag, minus a wheel. (German technology didn't fare as well: a leg broke off my Cullman tripod the first time I used it in sub-zero weather. Steve's tripod, a Gitzo, survived intact.)

One of the Z-1s gave up the ghost on the road (losing its back focus) but the other two survived admirably (they were also used to clone tapes every evening). Steve loathed the cameras at first: like any professional, he would have preferred a higher-end, better HD camera, recording onto flash drives or Blu-Ray disks. But our producer, Jon Davison (who channeled Albert Dekker's character from THE WILD BUNCH for the duration of the shoot), eschewed higher tech gear. Jon and I wanted to shoot on tape because it's old technology which we know works, it's easy to clone, and easy for me to input into the Avid in my hut.

By day 15, Steve had come to appreciate, if not love, the Z-1s: in a fit of kindness he even declared they were probably the best camera for our $200,000 picture. Despite focus issues, these cameras are workhorses based on the venerable VX-1000: perhaps the most useful video camera ever made. They have annoying quirks and stupid features (who on earth uses 'cinema effect' or the 'transition' mode?) but - until they break - they're reliable and solid. Even the zoom lens (whose speed and sensitivity differed from camera to camera) turned out to be suitable for the majority of our shots, without resorting to wide or telephoto adapters.

I particularly like that this camera is switchable between PAL and NTSC: we shot in PAL. This is a great benefit to the independent filmmaker, since LA rental houses don't usually stock PAL equipment. If you own a Z-1 you can shoot for clients in Europe (where mine has just worked for New College and the Green Party) and the US (REPO MAN DVD elements for Universal) just by rebooting the machine. Notably, PAL/NTSC switchability is a feature which Sony have dropped from the Z-1's replacement! By ditching this very useful feature, the greedheads at Sony hope to sell more cameras, and limit the possibilities for thrifty independent filmmakers.

Fuck 'em! And fuck Canon, too, who charge you an extra $500 if you want one of their new HDV cameras to shoot both NTSC and PAL (it's just a software tweak, and could/should be universally available on ALL new cameras). If you're looking to buy something, my advice is to avoid all the new gear from Sony, Panasonic, et al, and all weirdo new untried formats like Blu-Ray. Seek out a used Z-1 instead. Now that they're superannuated, you might find one for around three grand.

The shoot went miraculously well. The actors drove their own vechicles without disastrous incident, and the weather was always kind. The crew opted to work on our final Sunday (spent at Gouldings Trading Post) so as to wrap a day early. The next day, as we were halfway through our final sequence, a massive storm blew through, depositing three inches of snow. This meant some rescheduling, and shooting a funeral scene which looked like something from Corbucci's BIG SILENCE. Not a bad thing at all.

It had seemed like a potential nightmare to film our road movie - almost all daylight scenes - in the winter. By the end of the shoot, we were down to about 9 hours of usable daylight. But what daylight! In the summer the sun is overhead most of the time. This gives you lots of light, but of an ugly, harsh kind. The December sun was low on the horizon, and the build up of stormclouds when we shot in Monument Valley and the Valley of the Gods gave us some magnificent skies.

Recording directly on tape meant several positive differences: there were no slates, and - as the DP had no assistant - no tape measures or light meters thrust into the actors' faces. This was something the cast liked a lot: it hadn't occurred to me before just how intrusive and performance-undercutting the paraphernalia of conventional 35mm filmmaking could be. Shooting on tape is in itself less intrusive, as you change tapes every 60 minutes, instead of every 10 minutes with a magazine of 35mm film.

What a pleasure to shoot so quickly (6-8 pages every day) with so many old friends - Jon, Steve, Cecilia and Diego in the art department, Dan our visiting composer, and Del and Sy among the cast.

The demons of film were on our side. We finished every day on schedule. The weather blessed us. The staff of Gouldings and the people of the Navajo nation were welcoming. None of us was killed. The drive home took me two days, through Utah, Nevada and Northern California. Christmas was looming, and the Highway Patrol were out in force. Crossing into California on a two-lane backroad, I encountered the aftermath of a single-car accident. An old pickup truck had spun off the icy road and hit some trees. The back door of the ambulance was open, with a figure on the gurney. But the medics were doing paperwork, in no hurry to load their patient up.

As I passed the spun-out truck, I wondered what could have made two such neat, rounded holes in the windscreen. Then it struck me. Teenagers - their friends still standing at the roadside - without seatbelts, out for a Christmas spin. No airbags. Like the other drivers passing the roadside hecatomb, I drove more slowly for a while.

(Apologies meanwhile for two things on the adjoining Forum - the plethora of robo-generated porn messages, which we seem unable to filter out, and the absence of politics: I've promised the Antagonist that my next post will be about the weird attempts by Alexander Cockburn - among other 'straight' leftists - to denigrate the 9-11 truth movement. This may prove more interesting than my adventures as a filmmaker or the chance to see Shakira, whoever she is, nekkid. Merry Xmas, Atheists Everywhere!)

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ON THE ROAD

2006.12.4

So November has come and gone, and no word from the Liverpool Culture
Company regarding 8408. Well, not to worry. Perhaps the consultants they've
hired have hired another set of consultants to decide how to respond.

As the 45 Liverpool-based filmmakers who've submitted proposals will
recall, 8408 was greenlit by Robyn Archer (then artistic director of the
Culture Company) with a budget of 200K back in May. The BBC have offered
75K, JMU have offered another 75K, and private investors in Leeds have
offered 75-150K towards it. Instead of seizing upon what seems a positive,
funded, filmmaker-based initiative, the Culture Company have un-greenlit
the project, and it remains in limbo. Two deadlines which they set
themselves - September and November - have passed without a decision being
made.

Very promising! The success of Liverpool, European Capital of Culture in
2008, is undoubtedly in safe, decisive hands.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to put theory into practice by directing a
'microfeature' of my own. It's SEARCHERS 2.0, a story of gasoline, justice
and revenge, on the road from LA to Monument Valley. The producer is Jon
Davison, and the executive producer is the legendary Roger Corman. Shooting
begins tomorrow, and the film (barring surprises) wraps just before
Christmas.

Jon is one of the great producers (among his works are ROBOCOP, AIRPLANE,
and STARSHIP TROOPERS), with whom I tried to make the original MARS ATTACKS
picture, back in Tri-Star days. The cast is a mix of old, dear friends (Del
Zamora, Ed Pansullo, Sy Richardson) and new, dear friends (Jaclyn Jonet and
Zahn McClaron). Production designer is Cecilia Montiel (best in the
business!) and the cinematographer is Steve Fierberg (who I originally
wanted to shoot REPO MAN). With a bunch as good as this, the film might
turn out to be okay, but if there's a way to ruin it I'm sure I'll find it.

I came down from Oregon in one of the production vehicles, a giant SUV.
These huge, expensive trucks are marvellous things. Mine runs out of gas
every twenty miles or so, but one feels tremendously safe in it, even
though, statistically, it's more likely than any standard car to flip over,
catch fire, and burn its occupants to death.

Since the actors have to drive as well as act, Jon's subjected all of them
to a rigorous driving test. This is just as well, as the first actor we
considered for the role of Del's daughter was a New Yorker. She was
fantastically talented, but it turned out she couldn't drive at all. I was
reminded of taking Fox Harris for a spin in the Chevy Malibu, more than
twenty years ago, pre-REPO MAN. Fox was a New Yorker, too, and - as we
sailed through a series of stop signs - he mentioned that he'd never sat in
the driver's seat before. That driving test was in the relatively calm
streets of Venice, CA; this one was on Sunset and La Cienega, two
horrendously busy streets in Hollywood.

I felt terrible for our valiant and splendid actor as she veered from lane
to lane and almost sideswiped rows of parked cars. Poor actors! They all
tell you they can swim, and fence, ride motorcycles and horses, read music,
and drive fast cars. How else can they get work? But I was shaking when I
returned to the office, and told the venerable Corman what had just
occurred.

"This reminds me of filming BLOODY MAMA," Roger replied. "Shelly Winters
was in the passenger seat, firing a gun at her pursuers. In the driver's
seat I had put a young actor from New York, named Robert DeNiro. I was tied
to one side of the car with a rope, the cinematographer to the other. The
scene called for Robert to drive at top speed down a mountain road. He did
it very well, but at one point, almost lost control of the car. After we
cut, I said I'd like to do it again, and asked DeNiro to be more careful on
the corners, so as not to go off the cliff. Robert replied, 'I don't know
how to drive.' 'That's a print!' I said."

Nothing much has changed, then, in the exciting world of independent film:
except that when I lived in Los Angeles, two centuries ago, you could get
anywhere in town in less than half an hour. Now it takes at least an hour
to reach the first stoplight. Last Friday I spent seven hours sitting in that car. Traffic at least keeps moving if you avoid the freeways, but it doesn't move fast.

Mysteriously, LA is suddenly full of billboards advertising a TV series
called OPERACION REPO. This appears to be a Latino version of my own film:
same license-plate graphic, same gang of would-be tough guys standing with
their arms folded, in front of it. I don't know if it features Neutro Bombs or flying cars, but it's fine with me if it does. I'm just tickled
that the repo saga continues to unfold.

Evenings, I've been watching old flicks from Jon's collection: the last two
were SEVEN MEN FROM NOW and THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE. SEVEN MEN is a Boetticher film, with all the sexism, and dopiness, and occasional flashes of inspiration which one expects from Bud. VALANCE (viewed as 'old fashioned' by the critics when it appeared in 1962) has turned out to be a classic, sad, inspiring, almost a perfect film. What they have in common is
Lee Marvin, who has replaced Warren Oates as my favourite American actor.
Marvin out-acted Brando in THE WILD ONE (he was a better, more charismatic
actor than Marlon, never taking himself seriously in the least), and in
these films, too, he outshines all the leads. Marvin stands there with his
mouth hanging open, catching flies, compelling one's attention. I can't
imagine a better actor, or - from what I know of his life - a more moral
one.

Something to think about, as we hit the road.

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BRITAIN'S FUTURE LEADERS

2006.11.05

Apologies for blogging delays. I've been working on SEARCHERS 2.0, and finishing a project for New College, Oxford: a DVD, to induce teenagers from British state schools to apply to the said institution. New College is not only very high-end academicwise, but it's almost-impossibly beautiful. It has gardens, ancient walls, cloisters where they shot HARRY POTTER... the works. So now Lynn Featherstone, New College's valiant access officer, can venture forth to my old school on the Wirral, and even less-likely academies, and when the sixth-formers ask, "Aren't youse all toffs?" she can fire up the DVD and select menu option nine, "Are you all posh?" where such fears are allayed by current undergraduates, most of them from state schools, maybe.

(In fact, the "Are you all posh?" menu option was dropped. It's fairly obvious from the DVD that the students aren't, and the question "How much does it cost?" was thought of greater interest.)

I hadn't grasped the importance of a project like this until, in a US airport a few weeks ago, I encountered a copy of Time, or Newsweek, with the headline, "Britain's Future Leaders." Imagining it to be a story about The Green Party, I picked it up. The cover picture was of three white-skinned, floppy-haired public schoolboys. A six-page article revealed how these young Etonians would soon be crackin' the whip over the rest of us - based on the past performances of other rich, public school boys such as Tony Blair.

This is deliberate decison-making, by the media, to enforce a status quo which benefits the rich. HARRY POTTER is the same. The books and the films don't have to be set at a Bunterish private school. They could take place at a comprehensive school in Toxteth, Blackbird Leas. But they don't. Both Time (or Newsweek, whatever rubbish mag it was) and Rowling made a conscious choice to pursue - and to reinforce - the Bunterish, Tom-Brown fantasy of a rich elite. Elitist notions, not surprisingly, work to the advantage of those already in the elite.

It doesn't have to be this way. The best way for the non-rich to gain their privileges, and some of their power, is academically: we're cleverer than they are, and there are more of us. Timeweek and Rowling and Universal Pictures want us to know our place: our traditional one, based on our money, our sex, our birthplace, and the colour of our skin. But we don't have to. If you're a young person thinking of going to university, if you're interested in one of the less-subscribed subjects - languages, history, sciences - check out New College, or one of the other Oxford colleges, or one of the Cambridge ones, or other "elite" joints. Don't assume you'll be dissed, or rejected. Many of these places are actively looking to increase their intake of minorities, people from working class backgrounds, people from state schools. And it doesn't cost any more! (Evil forces are always seeking to raise the fees but right now, including living expenses, it costs the same to go to Oxford as an undergraduate as to any other British unversity).

Check out the website. See how fuggin' beautiful it is! Imagine hanging out in such a place for three or four years, with ancient libraries, free ethernet, surrounded by bright young people like yourself, your subject taught not by harrassed, disciplinarian all-rounders, but by experts. By the people who wrote the book! This is my pitch. Apply. Since everybody gets ten As at AS level, they'll likely ask you to come down for an interview. What have you got to lose by that? It's a couple of free nights away from home, in an unusual and trippy place. What harm can it do?

One thing you learn, if you go to Oxford from a state school, is that the kids of the elite aren't very clever. Some of them are quite stupid, in fact, especially the boys. But they've been schooled, at great expense of money and time, to get into Oxford or Cambridge. Part of the interview process has to be to weed these buggers out, and to make the student body more representative of the real world. Upset the applecart! Apply to New College! Defy Newsweek!

(All of the above assumes you are of the age-range in question, part of the smallish band of state school students who might consider this option. The purpose of the DVD - and this rant - is to broaden this band a little. Next blog I'll get back to Conpsiracy Theories, and the Foolishness of Schism.)

REGARDING MICROFEATURES

The Liverpool Culture Company have sent us a statement regarding 8408, which you can read on the website. There are, it seems, two feature film slates competing for Capital of Culture funding: 8408, and North West Vision's "Digital Dimensions" project. The Culture Company have hired a firm of consultants to advise them which project they should support.

Seventeen 8408 submissions went in; from a total of 40-45 locally-based producers, writers, and directors. The BBC have said they will fund three 8408 features, though they would prefer that there not be two competing Capital of Culture projects. (Why it's necessary for North West Vision to compete with the private sector as a producer of feature films, I'm not sure. They have no experience as feature producers, and forcing 8408 into a run-off against a state-funded company's project distorts the market, and, I think, wastes valuable filmmaking time.)

The CC urgently needs a new Artistic Director. Someone who can make decisions, and make sure they get carried out, without hiring consultants to report on other consultants' work. What are Phil and Alexis Redmond doing for the next couple of years? Or, what about Gemma Bodinetz?

SEARCHERS 2.0 (actually SEARCHERS 2.9 Revised) rolls towards the runway and a 5 December start-date. More of that anon.

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RETURN TO MONUMENT VALLEY

2006.9.2

14 AUG

Since I need footage of the big screen in Monument Valley, the easiest way to get it seems to be to drive there. Tod doubts that my truck, a twenty-year old Isuzu with a missing bumper, will make it there, so I go to the airport and rent a car. Described as a "full size" it's one of those weird-looking Al Capone vehicles like the PT Cruiser. It's called a Chevy HHR LT, and despite its gangster looks it has the virtue that you can put the back seat and the front passenger seat down, and sleep in it.

15 AUG

Leave Ashland and head east towards Klamath Falls. The first hour or so is forest - the road crosses the Pacific Crest Trail - but just before K Falls the Great Basin Desert, or the Great Desert Basin, or whatever it's called, begins.

Go through creepy, near-abandoned towns like Bly and Beatty. Worse is to come when Malheur Lake surrounds the road: flat, bleached-out plains of water stretching towards unappealing hills. A local advises me not to attempt the 15 mile drive to Malheur Hot Springs. He doesn't think the HHR LT will make it.

Cross a vast plain and climb a long steep ridge called Doherty Bluff, with the huge, blank desert below. Enter Nevada at Antelope Butte; buy ice at Denio. Denio is a weird little place with a closed gas station and motel. A woman is sitting in the dust, babbling - can't tell if she's got a cell phone or not. The woman, the abandoned but inhabited motel, the bar where every seat is occupied: it's a scene directed by Giulio Questi.

16 AUG

Sleep in the desert and wake up with a scorpion nestled on my rolled-up jeans. Shake him off and proceed to Winnemucca, for espresso and gas. South to Austin, a very cute and once-large mining town. In the 19th century central Nevada had a population of hundreds of thousands. Then the gold, or the nickel, or whatever it was they were mining ran out; the miners left, the farmers who fed the miners left, the stores closed, and the population dropped to about six thousand. It hasn't got much bigger since. 18 miles east of Austin I turn onto a southbound, horribly-straight, gravel road to nothing, then onto a dirt road which leads me to Spencer Hot Spring. The resort - popular with those miners - has long since been bulldozed, but two pools with an amazing view remain.

I'm taking in the sights with an old desert rat when eight firemen arrive and walk around. They drive off without taking a dip. Neither of us can figure out what they wanted.

Camp (in the car this time) at beautiful Illipah Reservoir, east of Eureka.

17 AUG

In the ugly town of Ely I buy a pair of deerskin gloves. Remark to the lady in the shop that they, like everything else there, were made in China. "Well, at least it's better than Mexico," she replies.

East of Ely, visit the ghost town of Osceola. On the radio, an NPR interviwee talks about her business: "Fear and Loaded Tours" of Las Vegas. This lady helps people inspired by the movie visit the locations. She and the interviewer skirt tidily around the DRUG ISSUE: "they'll be drinking... and imbibing... we provide guns and safe transport..." Most of her tourists haven't read the book, but they have seen the film and show up wearing green eyeshades. A large percentage of her clients, she says, are English.

Entering Utah, I pause to take a shot of Frisco Peak - site of a huge, entirely-vanished mining town. 4,000 people lived here, producing 60 million dollars' worth of silver, at 8,000 feet. All their traces are gone: only the mine workings remain. Backing out of the spacious parking lot, I collide with the historical marker, putting a substantial dent in the HHR ST.

Camp on Route 12, north of Boulder, at a view point, 9,000 feet above the badlands. A guy on a motorbike pulls up to watch the sunset with me. As the light fades, he makes a long, business-related cell phone call.

AUG 18

Buy stamps in Cainville, where there's a little shrine in the post office - not a shrine really, for these are protestants - but a large hand-written notice, telling those who wish to read it about a young man from Cainville, who was in the National Guard, and was recently killed in Iraq. His picture and various notes are attached. I see several memorials like these on my trip: they're almost as common as the Western section in the video store, with its copy of THE SEARCHERS on DVD...

At Natural Bridges Monument are... three natural bridges. Hike down the trail to one of them - Sipapu Bridge. Thence, via a steep dirt switchback, Moki Dugway, to Medicine Hat.

I reach Gouldings Trading Post, on the edge of Monument Valley, at 1500 hrs. The Rolling Roadshow's trailer, with its inflatable screen still packed, is parked outside. Gouldings is full, so I drive to the Overlook and buy a camping permit ($10) and a shower token ($1).

It's taken three-and-a-half days to get here, almost entirely via backroads, not going fast. I've travelled 1,298 miles.

Last year's inflatable screen movie tour was organised by a Texas cinema called the Alamo Drafhouse. The same guys are doing it again this year (these are crazy people who REALLY love films, who have collections of 35mm TRAILERS!) but this year they have sponsorship. So, when I go to shoot the raising of the screen, I'm confronted with a giant 'Netflix' logo. This is not exactly what I had in mind. I compromise by filming the side of the screen, and the back of it, which gives me some good shots of the audience arriving.

So I get the footage I need, plus some shots of one of John Wayne's daughters, a woman my age, welcoming the assembled throng.

It's a good turnout: two hundred people, or more, including most of the Germans, British, French, and Japanese from Gouldings. The print is new and (apart from the last reel) flawless. It's dark now, and we can't see the famous buttes - but just to watch Ford's film on this big screen, under the stars, instead of on a telly, is remarkable. Wayne, in his character's worst moments, looks like a monster: Ford films him in shadow, with a worn-out face and one staring eye. Yet he's a multi-faceted racist: the only white character who speaks Commanche.

Before the show I had a chat with a Hopi tourist from Gallup, NM. He and his wife drive up to Monument Valley now and then, he told me, to play golf. And sure enough, out came half a dozen golf balls and two irons, and the pair of them started golfing around the dust bowl of the unimproved campground, with the red Mitten Buttes and the Three Sisters in the background. I didn't see them at the screening of THE SEARCHERS, which was a pity. I wonder what the Hopi golfers would have made of it.

Things are complex, like Wayne's character. The Navajo nation makes money off Wayne, selling his likeness on posters, mugs and lunchboxes. Navajo soldiers are dying in Iraq, and killing Iraqis, just as poor white ones do. Guardsmen are coming back from Iraq, shocked and predisposed to violence and full of racial hate, just like Ethan Edwards - Wayne - after his war.

Is there a place for them? The soldiers the country singers celebrate, the ones that don't need memorials? How many survivors feel like Wayne, at the end of THE SEARCHERS? The family, reunited, race into the house to gather around the table. Wayne waits, kicking the dirt, to be invited in. But nobody thinks to invite him. The door closes.

19 AUG

Walk around one of the Mittens on the 'Wildcat' trail - it's heating up, after several days' cool. Head back the faster route. Still avoiding the freeways, via Kayenta, Page, and Hurricane. Reach Caliente, Nevada just after sunset. A room at the Hot Springs Hotel - very bright and Noir at the same time - with hot springs adjacent.

20 AUG

After eggs at the Branding Iron, I hit Ash Springs, where the hot pools are packed with families from Southern Mexico: it's Saturday. From there, via Warm Springs, and north on a side road to Belmont, a charming ghost town whose two saloons are unfortunately closed. The next forty miles is gravel road, up into the Monitor Valley where Spencer Springs are. The gravel road leads to two very different springs: Diana's Punchbowl, a rock dome which once contained a geyser and is now a deep crater of hot water, and Potts, where you can fill a big tub and soak.

The creek behind Diana's is divinely hot, but the place is too exposed for my taste. Potts is higher, on the site of another vanished town (called Potts). After dark, headlights appear: something noboby likes when they're camped up for the night. But it's a local rancher, Gerry, in his pickup with two frisky old dogs. He tells me about Potts and the dude ranch he's building, and gives me a beer.

(The Moon comes up very late throughout the trip, so every evening features the great band of the Milky Way, and several shooting stars.)

21 AUG

Two more hours of gravel road, followed by Route 50 and breakfast in Austin (the only town I travel through in both directions: good breakfasts!). In the cafe four of the hot-spring-fancying firemen come in. I tell them about another one I've found, called 3-Bar. They're not really interested in hot springs: one of them asks me, "Do you ever see any women out at those places?" Only rarely, I reckon: why would any decent, good-looking women venture out to a hole in the ground inhabited by old desert rats? The firemen nod, sadly. They've reached the same conclusion.

Hwy 50 has been branded, by some advertising agency and the local chambers of commerce, "The Loneliest Road In America." It's also one of the most beautiful, but, as the desert rat in Spencer said, "I haven't seen anything I don't like, yet."

On Hwy 50, an hour from Harman Junction, I call Tod from the Loneliest Phone In America, signposted as such.

At Eagleville, CA, there are some very nice hot springs - two warm pools - right beside the road, with a fine view of Middle Alkali Lake. But it's 1730 and the mosquitoes are fierce. I plan to camp at one of three "primitive" hot springs in the Surprise Valley. The surprise is that they are all horrible. Either exposed or bulldozed, they have bad vibes and the pools are far too hot to soak in. There are dead cats and rats.

But the AA guide saves me! I spend the night at the Surprise Valley Hot Springs Hotel, which in addition to hot water baths has 'themed' rooms. I'm fortunate to get the Buckaroo Room, which has a saddle over the telly. Spend a few hours in the hot water, watching the stars, reading The Glass Key.

21 AUG

Return to the forest, and to base. Total return trip mileage: 1,355. Total mileage overall, 2,684 (includes some pottering about between Gouldings and Monument Valley). Gas for the trip cost 250 bucks: £130. If you didn't do any pottering about you could make the one-way journey in a couple of days. But what would be the fun in that?

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WHY I OPPOSE FREEDOM

2006.8.12

Every one of the 22-odd guys arrested in Birmingham last week is innocent. I don't know any of them personally; nor do I know the facts of their case. For all I know they're Brazilian electricians; I don't even know how many of them there really are, and how many have been secretly "rendered" to one of Mr Bush's snazzy new torture camps.

The guys are innocent because the law says they are. British law (and American law... at least as far as American citizens are concerned) says everyone is presumed to be innocent until they are given a trial and the jury decides the matter. This is what protects you, and me, and American citizens from injustice. It is an unalterable principle, which has been forgotten not only by Sky and the dirty digger's syphlitic red-tops, but by The Guardian and the BBC.

They are innocent until they get a trial and the jury, having heard the evidence, makes a decision. Bearing in mind that none of the arrested men had purchased an airline ticket, I wonder - assuming their case ever comes to trial - what the jury's decsion will be.

It used to be said, in legal circles (forgive me! I have an undergradute law degree and can't forget this stuff!) that it is better that 100 criminals escape punishment, than one innocent person be jailed. Being a relatively innocent person, I am all in favour of this. But clearly Mr Blair, and Mr Reid, and Mr Clarke, and the parade of gangsters that passes for a government in the US, believe the opposite: better 100 innocents be tortured at Guantanamo than that one brown-skinned idealogue escape the cattle-prod, the attack dog, and the old Koran-down-the-toilet trick.

We're told repeatedly, by Bush, Blair and similar creeps, that our adversaries in the War on Terror "hate our freedoms." What freedoms are these? The freedom of the accused to have a jury trial? Gone, thanks to Blair, always a mediocre law student. Freedom of communication, by phone or e-mail? Gone, thanks to Clinton as much as Bush. Freedom to have dissenting or anti-war voices heard, on the public airwaves? Gone, ages back. Freedom in the sense of a free university education? Gone, in England, thanks to New Labour. Freedom as in the right to join a union, or the right to speak out against religious bullshit? Gone, buddy. Freedom to stroll out to the pub without an ID Card? Wave bye-bye to that one.

So what freedoms are left?

We have the right to vote, of course. But not to have our vote counted. Shall we list the places where the vote was recently stolen? Peru. Mexico. The United States. Birmingham, England. Hull. Leeds. Bradford. What about the places where the vote was stolen a few years back? Russia, where the West applauded as Yeltsin shelled his own democratically-elected parliament. Mexico, again. The United States, again. Algeria, where the election was cancelled when it the Islamist 'Justice' Party won it: 100,000 have died there, since the army cracked down on the democratic victors, while the EU, satisfied with the bloody outcome, looks the other way. May I return to the Irish referendum on EU expansion? The Irish voted against expansion. But, since this wasn't what their masters wanted, they were forced to have the vote again! And EU expansion passed, by the narrowest of majorities.

Francis Wheen suggested, in a couple of articles years ago, that the general election which John Major won was stolen in a handful of constituences, via postal vote fraud and "ghost voters" in old people's homes: in other words, the Tories stole a national election in the same way New Labour steals the vote in Birmingham. It was a very interesting thesis, and - if Wheen had been lying, or seriously misinformed - the Tories would have made a dreadful stink. Yet they said nothing. And no other British reporter picked the story up.

What were those freedoms once again?

We still have the freedom to shop, of course. And the freedom to go on a ludicrously-cheap piss-up weekend in Florida or the New Europe, as long as we don't mind sundry humiliations en route. But this latest provocation - which reminds me of the time Mr Blair sent the tanks to Heathrow, on an entirely-bogus pretext - may backfire in a big way.

Flying in aeroplanes stopped being fun long before Dick Cheney activated Plan Pearl Harbor. It is a boring, crowded, unhealthy affair, made worse than it needs to be by excess of shopping opportunities and jobsworths with questions and an attitude. I have pity for poor working families who feel obliged go on an annual holiday to somewhere even hotter than here. But, as a business traveller, I now think twice, and shall hence think thrice, before calling the airline. If there is any way I can do business via phone, or the internet (surveilled or not), I will. I'm not afraid of flying, nor particularly of dying. But I have certain freedoms of my own. They are important to me. If I can't get on a plane with my computer and a book to read, most likely I won't go at all.

This reponse is not unique. Almost everyone hates air travel. And so, Mr Tony's latest airport panic scare (coming the same day as British commanders in Afghanistan - in open rebellion against Blair's government - withdrew all their troops to Kabul) may backfire in a big way. If enough middle-aged, white businessmen like me choose not to fly, it will bankrupt several airlines and shut down a host of sock emporia and handbag shops. The Spanish purchase of Britain's airports will seem a very poor deal indeed. We won't need extra runways at Heathrow and Stansted after all. Our frequent flier miles may expire, but we'll breathe more easily, and we won't fry so quickly as a result of climate change.

So: what's the betting Blair's emergency regulations will quickly be rescinded, just as his instructions to the British troops to "get out there and fight the Taliban" have been? And what odds that the "Birmingham Al Qaeda" story slips from the front pages, that the government keeps its new prisoners interned as long as possible, and then starts letting them out, by ones and twos, because - surprise! - there isn't sufficient evidence to convince a jury?

No wonder Blair and and his freedom-gang hate juries. Twelve honest people can be awfully inconvenient sometimes. A jury heard the evidence in the O.J. Simpson case, and decided that - despite O.J.'s extreme dodginess and propensity for violence - there wasn't enough to convict him of a double murder. This upset a lot of commentators, particularly white ones, but I'm down with that jury. They heard the LAPD's evidence, realised the cops had botched it, and didn't convict.

Bush, Blair, and the rest of these anti-democratic rascals would like to keep us in a permanent frenzy of fear, punctuated by shopping. Freedom to shop, freedom to fear. I don't like those freedoms. I don't support, and don't want to live in, a society which the rest of the world hates, not for its freedoms, but because of its selfishness and its bullying cowardice.

These little politicians with their security guards and their private jet aircraft offer the rest of us a choice no thinking peron wants: freedom versus security. As one of the Founding Fathers (probably Benjamin Franklin) said, anyone stupid enough to think there can be a choice between freedom and security ends up with neither.

I've been reading Paul Fussell's book WARTIME, about how behaviour and art were influenced by World War Two propaganda. It's a very intelligent book which will never be serialised by Channel 4 or the BBC. In it, Fussell quotes from a poem by an Australian, John Manifold. Called "A Satire on Liberty," it deals with the freedoms Bush and Blair have chosen for us. Here it is:

Freedom for all! For bankers in their slums
And for the pampered poor of Bethnal Green!
Freedom from any distant threat there comes
To keep the racket tolerably clean!
Freedom to make a keep gigantic sums
By cornering markets as a go-between!
Freedom from any form of social plan
For Beaverbrook's delight, the Little Man!

Blest Little Man! Four Freedoms are your lot -
Freedom from thought which makes one reasons's slave;
Freedom from change in your obedient trot
From house to office, cradle to the grave;
Freedom from information so you'll not
Mind how your representatives behave;
Travail, Patrie, Famille - for more facility
Freedom from freedom and responsibility.

(Meanwhile, on the film finance front... Another modest offer of funds comes in via the internet, and I have the oddest conversation with Michael Nesmith, who was the exec on REPO MAN. Today, the Nez proposes that we release SEARCHERS 2.0 as a video podcast, in five-minute instalments. Now Michael is a clever chap, always thinking about new media, and this seems a good way of drawing attention to the picture. Who knows - segmentary pod-casts, five minutes long, may even be an anciliary market for microfeatures, just as video was in the long-ago days of REPO MAN.

But I have misunderstood Michael. He is actually proposing that we actually make SEARCHERS in five-minute chunks. Right now I'm in Oregon, and Michael is in Carmel. The actors are in LA. And the story takes place on the road to Monument Valley. The sheer cost of travel back-and-forth to the location on twenty different occasions will more than double our microbudget (I'm assuming road and rail costs here, no planes involved if we can't carry-on the camera). What is Michael thinking of? Well, he's thinking people will pay for these podcasts, and so each one will subsidise the shooting of the next.

From a financial point of view, assuming there were sufficient take-up, this might work. But where would be the fun in it? The main reason I make films is the sheer pleasure of creating a fully-formed piece of art. Break that down into twenty tiny segments, and what's left is a huge mass of logistics but not much pleasure or fullfilment. For the financier there's little to lose: if the podcasts don't pay, you just pull the plug. But from a producer's viewpoint it's a fun-free nightmare - though quite profitable for the cast, as, even on a low-budget Screen Actors Guild film you pay the actors from the day they start work until the day they wrap.

Sando, meanwhile, claims to have read an article in the paper which says there's been no real take-up for video pod-casts: people apparently still prefer watching films and TV shows on TV and at the cinema, rather than on the inch-wide screens of iPods and mobile phones.

Still, it's good that people are thinking up innovative ways of making SEARCHERS 2.0, no matter how mad. This film may happen yet.)

Please sign the petition requesting the release of evidence in the 7/7 bombing atrocities at http://www.petitiononline.com/j7truth/petition-sign.html

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A REPO MAN MOMENT

2006.7.31

Some developments on the microfeature front.

In the last week, two potential producers have stepped forward - with offers of £5,000 and £1,500 towards the total budget of 75K.

And a possible executive producer has appeared, who wants to take the script to the studios, to make as their idea of a low-budget feature, for around $2,000,000.

This is Michael Nesmith - who was executive producer of REPO MAN - originally intended, by me and the producers, to be a $100,000 feature, funded by ten imaginary Marina del Rey dentists. But Michael took the script to the studios, instead - and REPO MAN ended up being made as a Universal negative pick-up, for $1,500,000 or thereabouts.

So SEARCHERS 2.0 is at the point that REPO MAN was in 1983 - just before we made the deal with Universal.

It could go either way.

Would REPO MAN have been very different, if it had been made more cheaply? The cast would have been slightly different: Biff Yeager or Richard Masur would have played Bud, instead of Harry Dean Stanton. Emilio Estevez might have been in it anyway: if not, the part of Otto would have been Dick Rude's.

Otherwise, the cast - Sy, Miguel, Tracey, Jennifer, Del, Ed, et al - would have been pretty much the same. The locations - the streets south of downtown Los Angeles - would have been identical. The cinematographer would have been my pal, Tom Richmond, rather than the illustrious Robby Muller, but the film would have looked every bit as good.

How many crew people do you need to shoot two guys sitting in a car? On REPO MAN the crew was around seventy. One day Robby Muller, our cinematographer, mentioned that he and Wim Wenders had shot features out of a Volkswagen camper, with no cops or Teamsters or honey wagons or production vehicles at all. I agreed - Peter McCarthy, Jonathan Wacks and I had all shot our films out of station wagons and VW campers when we were at UCLA.

Yet here we all were, making our first Hollywood-financed "indy" feature, waiting for a huge convoy of tow trucks, and lighting vehicles, and camera cars, and police motorcycle escorts, to turn around and come slowly back down the street so they could turn around a second time and we could do the shot again.

Another world is possible.

Michael's right in that if SEARCHERS 2.0 were picked up by a studio we'd have more money for it (and ourselves) and the film would enter a vertically-integrated worldwide distribution network. But it would be a long time before we ever saw any more money (it was almost twenty years before Universal told us REPO MAN had broken even!) - and if we can raise the money for the microfeature we'll have less trucks, which equals more fun.

For a few days it seemed that Miguel Sandoval was about to step in and finance SEARCHERS 2.0 himself. But sanity must have returned to casa Sando, because that plan has receded. A pity: Sando could probably fund ten low budget features with what he earns in thirty seconds on the set of MEDIUM.

And my dear old chum Jon Davison (producer of WHITE DOG, ROBOCOP, and other masterpieces) has offered his services as my Personal Assistant to get the thing set up in! (This means he'll wash my car when I'm next in LA, and make phone calls for me... but whom should I ask him to call? He's the only producer I know down there.)

In spite of Jon's and Nes's enthusiasm, this is exactly the wrong time to be trying to raise independent finance for a feature: July and August being the time venture capitalists tend to spend either basking aboard their yachts or partying with Tony Blair at the Dirty Digger's mansion. But we shall see.

Incidentally, dear readers, though we should be more properly concerned with voter fraud in Mexico and the horrible events in Lebanon, my conversation with Jon D makes me speculate... what was Paul Verhoven's best film during his time in Hollywood?

Many might vote for the Sharon Stone one, or ROBOCOP. But I have a soft spot for STARSHIP TROOPERS: the man tells it like it is about American militaro-media-fascism, and makes the studio pay for it! Now that's something to aspire to.

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SEARCHERS 2.0

2006.7.19

All the submissions for the 8408.co.uk Liverpool feature project have gone to the Culture Company. There were seventeen high definition, digital features: among them, some really excellent proposals. I didn't submit one - it seemed a bit odd, as I was also setting the project up.

But, hey! I'm a feature director, too, and fancy a crack at making a micro-oeuvre..

So I've written a script for one, called SEARCHERS 2.0 (it has no significant connection to the John Ford film: instead it's about two actors on a vengeance trail, from LA to Monument Valley, Arizona).

I'd like to make it with some of the LA cast I've worked with before - from REPO MAN, and STRAIGHT TO HELL and WALKER. Good, funny, talented actors whom audiences already know, and possibly like.

So the purpose of this site has switched again: from communication, to sales, to production (or, a pitch for production, as you will see).


Miguel Sandoval, Ed Pansullo, Zander Schloss, Xander Berkley,
Sy Richardson in a missing scene from STRAIGHT TO HELL

The production:

If you have £75,000, or part of it, this is your chance to participate in the wonderful world of film production - and, we hope, distribution, too!

SEARCHERS 2.0, like the 8408 films, will be shot in two weeks by a small crew. Since it is made by a British company, with a British crew, and will be finished in Liverpool, it may qualify - for tax purposes - as a British film. But that is a matter for those more expert in tax issues to advise upon.

£75,000 buys 50 producer's points - half of the equity in the film. The total budget - excluding distribution and sales costs - will be between £75,000 and £100,000. The film breaks even - and pays out to the producers - when it has recouped all out-of-pocket expenses (including reasonable costs incurred in marketing it, and finding distributors or sales agents).

These expenses will not be excessive. All costs on a microfeature must be minimal: otherwise we defeat the purpose of it. At the same time, there are no financial certainties in filmmaking! Some films don't make money, and you should only invest in one if you can afford to lose the money: it's venture capital, not a pension fund.

But a high-definition, digital feature with a recognisable American cast is likely to play at film festivals, and, if fate is kind, to make TV and DVD sales in the US, the UK, and elsewhere (I've sold individual films to Channel 4, and US cable rights to three of my features to HBO/Sundance Channel; and DVD rights to four of them in the UK, the US, Japan, and elsewhere - the international sales agent for STRAIGHT TO HELL, 3 BUSINESSMEN, EL PATRULLERO, and DEATH & THE COMPASS is the BFI.)

Several films are better than one, of course: if you make eight your costs are further reduced and there is a bigger 'spread' of films, one or more of which may succeed. If you'd like to several features for £300,000 up, we can do that, too.

But for SEARCHERS 2.0, here is --

The pitch:

Send no money now! Just send me a private message via the Forum, or contact me via the 8408.co.uk site.

I'll get back in touch with you, let you see a copy of the script, and we can proceed from there.

A modest investment of £1,500 gains you one producer's point,
an Associate Producer credit, and two tickets behind the red rope at the London or Los Angeles premiere.

£15,000 gets you ten producer's points, a Co-Producer credit, and four tickets behind that rope at either of the above soirees.

£50,000 earns you 33.3 producer's points, the coveted Executive Producer credit, and your own reserved table behind that rope, in London or LA.

£75,000 earns you all 50 producer's points, the super-coveted Executive in Charge of Production credit, and two tables, at both bashes. (No replacing me with Terry Gilliam, okay?)

International investors are also welcome, assuming this proposal is legal in their state and we can ride the exchange fluctuations: today, in US dollars, 50 producer's points are worth $137,122; one producer's point would run you 2,742 bucks.

The schedule:

This film is ready to go as soon as you kick in the dough!

As this is a road movie, to be shot in sequence. After a short prep - one week - and a day's shoot in LA, the unit travels via Glendale, Indio and Earp, crosses the Colorado River, and thence, via Bagdad, Holbrook, and Kayenta to Monument Valley.


Giant screen in Monument Valley, August 2005

A shoot starting on Thursday 10 August could - filming in sequence - take advantage of the Rolling Roadshow's inflatable screen in Monument Valley on Friday 18 August; and wrap on Wednesday 23 August. (If we shoot later, we must rent one)

Post production - ten weeks, including sound design and musical score.

Online - Fubar, Dale St, Liverpool.

What about the premieres, the profits, all that good stuff?

We'll screen SEARCHERS 2.0 in the two cities mentioned, and submit it to festivals. As a producer you will also be able to attend festivals on behalf of the film, should you so wish (you may soon become sick of this). Given the low cost, and that we don't need to recoup the original budget before breaking even, the first payout could be within a year or eighteen months. It depends on the market, and the reaction to the film.

Though a crazed director, I'm used to this stuff, having made payouts from STRAIGHT TO HELL to thirty-odd profit participants for the last ten years. I look forward to doing likewise in the case of SEARCHERS 2.0!

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KING KONG IN CARACAS

2006.6.2

To Venezuela, to discuss a feature project.

This takes me through Atlanta airport. The difference between American and British airports is noteworthy - and sad, if you're British. When you arrive in Atlanta (or Chicago, or San Francisco), airside you're greeted with displays of art. They're trying to create a good impression, and there's no advertising until you leave the customs zone. British airports, by contrast, are commercial knocking-shops where even the exteriors of the jetways (plus all available space within) are shrines to the obnoxious HSBC.

American airports are also well-supplied with water fountains, providing (astonishingly enough) free drinking water. Try finding a water fountain in a British airport, or railway station, or any public place. There are a few in the old Terminal 3 at Heathrow (where the American planes land, because Americans expect them!), but in the new part of Terminal 3 there are none at all. Nor are there any in Stansted or Gatwick, as far as I can see. Instead, you can spend a quid and buy tap-water, bottled by Coca-Cola, from a machine.

In this way England becomes not like America, but a crasser, imitation version of the United States, where people are viewed solely as idiot consuming machines. If you're thirsty, you pay. If you look about you, all you see is ads.

(If you believe - like the rebellious people of Cochabamba, Bolivia - that water is a human right, you might wish to consult cleanwateraction.org)

I won't bang on about this. Who cares? We get the culture we deserve. And clearly, at the moment, what we deserve is crap.

In Venezuela "El pueblo es la cultura!" It's an interesting philosophy. You also see the most amazing things on the Vive TV channel: last night there were shots of Israeli soldiers deliberately breaking Palestinian civilians' arms and legs. The BBC and Channel 4 have access to this footage, too - just as they have footage of our atrocities in Afghanistan and Iraq. But they don't broadcast it. I wonder why that is?

Meanwhile, Ratzinger visits Auschwitz and declares that "as a Christian and a German" he feels especially moved by his obligatory visit. He could have added "as a former member of the Hilter Youth I feel especially penitent and guilty." But he didn't. I wonder why that is?

Caracas makes an interesting break, and - when I'm not in meetings, screening WALKER, or giving classes in 'plano secuencia' - it gives me a chance to think a bit about this web-based thing.

The first version of this website was put together by Katsumi Ishikuma - Stonebear - in Tokyo, ten years ago. Dan Wool and I took it over, gave it the repo-generic look, and then revamped it with the corporate-friendly style you see today.

Now we have to decide what to do with it. It's still fairly primitive, by the standards of the Zapatista Enlace site, say. Of course, there are many Zapatistas, and a lot more people working on that site, with more to say. But the technology they're using is better - the forum and the site integrate seamlessly - and, if we continued with it, pretty soon we'd need to change ours again.

Better, I think, to shut most of it down. This modest project has become a lot of work. Selling stuff involves the corporate universe (in this case, Yahoo, Visa and MasterCard). And this involves doing business with companies who are quite happy to send human rights activists to Chinese torture chambers. We can't avoid credit cards, but we can avoid Yahoo. So at the end of June (we're on a monthly contract with Yahoo and their bank, Paymentech) it'll be shopping, adios.

Ditto, the forum, I suspect. The most popular blog has been the one about the 7/7 bombings: it's generated thousands of hits, whereas pieces about films or copyright issues generate hundreds, or dozens, or none.

But every day a couple of new people sign up for the forum so as to offer access to kiddie porn or the Nigerian bank scam. Somebody has to delete their account and erase their posts. Sometimes it's me, but usually it's Dan, and he's tired of doing it. He doesn't want to spend the rest of his days playing internet policeman.

On the way back, we're shown the latest KING KONG remake. It's strangely slow-moving, and far more racist than the original, a film I love (there were no disposable Black men in Willis O'Brien's film). And the CGI is weirdly clunky: they haven't managed to erase the visible matte line which divides the actors from the animation, and Fay Wray's replacement, in Kong's hand, still looks like a doll.

The worst thing about the new KONG is its product placement. Either the film's talented director, or his superiors in the marketing dept., have invented an entirely new scene, in which Jack Black discovers a settlement of Black hobbits, and tries to win them over with a candy bar. It's a pointless, unnecessary scene - but the chocolate bar is made by Nestle, one of the evillest corporations in the world. The boycott against Nestle still continues, in case the studio has forgotten: it's now coordinated by a British group, babymilkaction.org. There's also a product placement plug for Maxwell House coffee (also owned by Nestle, by any chance?) and one for Universal Pictures. The original film was made by RKO.

The US terminal where I change planes is packed with troops, waiting for their flight aboard the Air Mobility Command: in spite of 9/11, the Pentagon continues to use ordinary airports, and to blur the difference between combatant and civilian. The soldiers, in uniform, aren't allowed to drink, so they're all hanging out staring at their laptops - big, 17-inch screen affairs, the most expensive gear you can buy. In the bar I'm surrounded by a group of American civvies: in their late twenties but acting like teenagers, all overweight, all white, all talking loudly about ass-fucking, and similarly unkool things.

It's a disgusting experience, and it almost makes me pity the sad, bored-looking jarheads whose job, in theory, is to protect these fat leeches. Caracas is a tough city, a risky place, perhaps. But the people there are beautiful, and I'm already feeling homesick.

But where is home?

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WOMEN BEWARE WOMEN

2006.4.7

To Stratford-on-Avon, via Birmingham. I have 40 minutes to kill and so visit the new Bullring Centre. This is perhaps the most rubbish place I have visited in the British Isles (I have yet to visit the Dome, the Trafford Centre, or Cheshire Oaks): thousands of blank-featured 'shoppers' milling back and forth between Selfridges, Zara, and FCUK in a 'pedestrian precinct' dominated by unfinished skyscrapers. The place looks like a fifth-rate dufus city planner's imitation of Texas.

Why does such a place exist? Why do people go there? What on earth do they buy?

One could ask the same questions about Stratford-on-Avon, a not-very-charming tourist town whose streets are crowded with people and tea shops because a bloke called Shakespeare once lived there. Possibly this person, a bag manufacturer, was the same Shakespeare as the London actor. And maybe the London actor wrote all those plays. But both these possibilities are far from being proved. Among all the arguments and evidence as to who the author of the plays was, the way the Stratford Shakespeare treated his kids seems a strong one.

The writer Shakespeare was a genius (perhaps a collection of geniuses) with immense respect for women (the computer writer Robin Williams thinks Shakespeare was a woman; her book is due out soon). The Stratford one lived in a house without books and allowed his daughters to grow up illiterate. The same feller? How likely is that?

But if the Stratford Shakespeare were proved not to be the Bard, then the tourist trade in this none-too-picturesque backwater would all be over. Who would come here when they could visit the Bullring instead? And what would happen to the RSC?

I've come to see the matinee of WOMEN BEWARE WOMEN, at the Swan. The play's by Thomas Middleton, author of REVENGERS TRAGEDY, and it features some acerbic social commentary, four great female characters (no Shakespeare play features so many, or such complex women), and a famously-difficult ending. The end of the play - relying on poisoned arrows, trapdoors, and a shower of molten gold - relies on stage effects which post-modern productions can only guess at. So I'm particularly interested in seeing how the end is staged.

The show is both an incredible bargain - only five pounds to stand at the back of one of the galleries - and a disappointment. The acting is great, of course: this is the RSC! But everything else - in particular the direction - is tentative and strangely uncommited. The set is dull, and the casting has that boring racial stereotyping which the theatre should have given up on long ago - why, in a play as weird and out there as this one, are all the lead actors white, and the only black actor reduced to playing a maid?

The best actor in the piece is the one with the hardest part: Elliot Cowan portrays the miserable accountant, Leantio, with great style and feeling. Penelope Wilton plays Livia, the designing widow and the play's most important character. She's very good, but doesn't convincingly pull off the scene when the cynical Livia gets all googly-woogly at the sight of Leantio.

From a narrative point of view, this is the most difficult moment in WOMEN BEWARE WOMEN. I asked Tod to read the play and she gave up at that point: I was prepared to accept it as a dramatic necessity (like the wrap-up marriages at the ends of Shakespeare's comedies; or Robert Mitchum's love-at-first-sight in OUT OF THE PAST) but she wasn't having it. Livia's lack of motivation made her lose interest. It would be hard to make that scene convincing, and the actors didn't pull it off.

The weakest aspect of the production was the ending. The audience laughed at it, and some of the actors played it for laughs, as well.

This is completely wrong. There are many good jokes in WOMEN BEWARE WOMEN, as there are in THE CHANGELING and REVENGERS. But the ending is not a joke. It's very difficult, but that is no excuse for turning into a sub-pantomime farce. The purpose of these Jacobean revenge dramas is two-fold: to entertain, and to horrify us. Just as we laugh at the idiocy of the Ward, or at the rapist Duke's command that Bianca "take hold of glory!" (a line the actors strangely didn't get) we must be shaken and astonished by the violence that befalls the characters at the end. Otherwise, the play doesn't work.

Personally, I blame the directors - of which there were no less than four: an acting director, a movement director, a fight director, and an 'illusions and magic' director (said effects were particularly mediocre). I think that, knowing how difficult the ending was, each director passed the job on to his/her colleagues. The actors' director thought the fight director would take care of it; the fight director assumed the 'magic' guy would make the ending work.

The RSC production makes a good case for getting rid of this shared directoral role, and making one person responsible for everything. I don't care about dancing or period-authentic masques; I just want the ending to stand up, and to terrify, as Middleton intended. Four directors is too many: it leads to a shared failure, like the seventeen producers on a Hollywood film. One director, alone and on the spot, must do his/her absolute best to make the thing work.

Maybe Howard Barker was right and the play no longer works on stage: his solution was to condense it and write an entire new final act. Or maybe it just needs a more individual vision and a cast who get it and don't turn it into farce. Or maybe - given the ease with which special effects and horror play therein - it should be a film...

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GO FOR THE GREENS!

2006.3.29

To Scarborough, for the Green Party conference. I'm directing the election broadcast again, with the same team as last year - Jah Jussah and Kim Ryan on the road, and a host of creatives back at Toxteth TV in Liverpool. This year our budget's tighter but the Greens are optimistic. 4 May sees the local government elections, and the party expects to build on its substantial base: 100 councilors or more, as opposed to the 70 we've got at the moment.

As before, the national election broadcast is being done by a Liverpool-based team. Usually something like this - a national commission for a local company - would cause some column inches in the Liverpool Echo or the Daily Post. But as Mike Chapple, ace reporter from the Echo, told me this time last year, they're not allowed to mention it: apparently, this might make them appear partial. Somehow, 'New' Labour's press rleases are recycled into 'news stories' despite this.

Why are the media so afraid of the Greens? When the Lib Dems disgraced themselves a few months back, The Guardian and several other papers referred to Peter Tatchell. But they didn't mention - while trawling through an old story about anti-gay Lib-Dem smears - that Tatchell has left the Labour Party and joined the Greens.

Today's paper is full of disastrous eco-news. Britain's going to miss its modest targets under the Kyoto agreement; the cost of cleaning up of the nuclear power-and-weapons mess has risen to one hundred and sixty billion pounds; of 18 wind-farms announced with great fanfare years ago, only three have been built.

In the circumstances, The Guardian might ask the Green Party for a comment. But no. Instead, they opted for Greenpeace, and Friends of the Earth.

Why this media blackout? I think it's fear. With all the other parties, media bosses can rely on business as usual. No limits to growth or to profits; their journalists can drive little Brainella and Inteligencia in the Chelsea Tractor across town to the Murdoch Media Academy; cheap tickets forever on Ryanair to Tuscany.

But, yesterday a million people went on strike in Britain. How old-fashioned of them! Didn't they have anything better to do?

The same day - I think this is important - Gordon Brown and Bill Clinton crossed a picket line outside The Guildhall. The English papers treated Clinton leniently because they love the sold-out bastard. They told us he spoke to the picketers, while Gordy just marched grimly past. What of the picketers? Did they like Bill better than Brown, because he muttered to them before violating the picket line? Or did they think him a wanker, too? We weren't told.

Some years back I had a meeting scheduled at the BBC, at White City in London. I'd come a long way for it, because they'd just announced at Cannes that they might make a feature film of DR WHO. I wanted to be considered as the director.

But when I showed up, there was a picket outside BBC FIlms' office at Centre House. It was my own union, BECTU, that was on strike. "And we're particularly asking BECTU members" the guy told me, "not to cross the picket line." I slouched back to White City tube station, and called David Thompson - head of BBC Films, whom I was supposed to meet. I asked if we could reschedule, perhaps to the cafe down the street?

Thompson refused to reschedule, or to meet elsewhere. So I gave up, and went back home, resigned not to be the director of the film of DR WHO. On the way back it occurred to me that the reason David Thompson wouldn't reschedule our meeting was becuase he'd already crossed the picket line - and he was a member of BECTU, too.

Thompson had made his decision. Just as Clinton and Brown made theirs, a long, long time ago. He's been well paid for it, just as they have.

But the system that's bought them stinks. No one should be obliged to cross a picket line. Expecting them to do so stinks. Political parties "borrowing" money in return for peerages stinks. Three million children still in poverty stinks. Young people saddled with massive debts for the 'privilege' of going to university stinks. And the war in Iraq stinks, most odiferously of all.

All three big parties, Labour, Tories and the Lib Dems, are thoroughly discredited. They all supported the war in Iraq, and the war the war against Aghanistan, and the war against Serbia. They have all passed their sell-by dates.

In Liverpool, this old-style politics reaches its nadir this week, when the city's great and the good line up to kiss the hand of Jack Straw and Condaleeza Rice. Both are war criminals, beyond the pale. Their presence is a disgrace.

For humans who oppose New Labour, Bush, Clinton,Straw, Rice, and the whole planet-killing neoliberal gang, I believe the Greens are the only option.

Because the big secret about the Greens (and another reason they're feared by the corporate papers and TV) is that they aren't just environmentalists, they're ANTI-CAPITALISTS as well. People are well tired of business-as-usual politics: they don't want Blair's mad 'choice' of ten different hospitals or schools. They want one. But it has to be local, accessible, and decent. And they don't want to have to pay, to go there 'on the private.'

The Greens are the one English political party not disgraced, by war, by neoliberal politics, by grandiose and distant soi-disant leaders. The Greens are the only party left with any core principals. When people have Green councilors, and Green MEPs, they like what they get, and they want more.

Can any political party address make a difference? Certainly not New Labour. Can anyone turn the PFI and pensions rip-offs around? Certainly not Gordon Brown. Is anyone prepared to say no to the Americans' next war in Iran, or to Blair's big push for nuclear power? Not the Tories or the Lib-Dems. Only the Greens have 1) the code of ethics and 2) the moral daring to attempt something so revolutionary.

Vote Green on 4 May! Thank you very much.

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