ATTITUDE

 

I was at Granada studios to discuss a drama-doc on the new military-style regime for youth offenders, known then as, A Short Sharp Shock. But that day the tabloids were all a buzz with the emergence of a new youth movement that promised to be more extreme than any that had come before it, a spawn who made themselves up to like aliens and wanted nothing to do with society, and, in particular, nothing to do with the peace-and-love, flower-power old hippies who were now running TV. They wouldn’t even wear blue jeans! Who were these kids? I was sent to investigate.

I had first encountered prototype punks a year or so before. One night I was driving up The King’s Road, stopped at a traffic light, and there they were. They were standing in a little knot, some of them wearing black bin-liners held together with nappy pins, others bowler hats and white long-johns, clearly aping The Droogs from A Clockwork Orange. So Stanley Kubrick, who had banned the film from showing in the UK, was certainly right in thinking that his film had been a direct influence on the new movement; where he was wrong was in thinking that these kids relished inflicting violence like those he had portrayed. Quite to the contrary, the emergence of the Punks seemed to herald a mass outbreak of youth masochism.

I was soon found a fifteen-year-old “punk advisor” who was prepared be my guide. She had just been interned in a mental hospital as being under-age and out-of-control; however, we could still meet during the times when she was allowed out. I arranged to pick her up outside a tube station; if she was late, she warned me, it would be because the police or London Transport guards had stopped her. When I arrived, she was already standing there waiting; there was certainly no mistaking her. Aside from the ripped black jeans and leather jacket, there was the hair. The sides of her head were shaved and from the centre sprang, a foot or more into the air, a brilliant flame-coloured coxcomb.

At the time, I was driving a Lancia coupe, a car with a notoriously low roof-line, and the only way I could get her in was to open the sunroof so that her hair projected above, like a banner in the wind. She nodded when I asked her if she was hungry, so I decided to take her to a hamburger place on the Fulham Road. As we walked in the door there was a total silence and every head turned, staff and customers alike, to stare open-mouthed in disbelief. I soon learnt that it was moments like this that made being a punk worthwhile. I sat her down at a free table; after a long moment of indecision a waiter come forward to serve us and conversation resumed.

I noticed that over the back of her jacket was etched and painted a strange symbol This was a mash up of the cross, the swastika and the union jack. In recent months it had started to appear all over London, sometimes accompanied by the provocative slogan, “Why not?” But no-one I had previously asked had an answer to that, or a clue as to what the symbol meant. Now I learnt that it was the insignia of a punk band called Crass. Unlike the Sex Pistols, who were into publicity stunts, these guys were the real deal. They were so underground that their records could not be bought in shops — possibly, as I later discovered, because the sleeves invariably bore instructions like, “Steal this Record” or printed price-tags way below any normal recommended sales price.

At our next meeting she brought me her copy of one of their albums, the cover of which still bore stains of splashed blood. I was nervous about touching it, but was, nevertheless, impressed. Soon my ears were being bombarded by the aural anarchy of Shaved Women, Crutch of Society, and, I Ain’t Thick It’s Just a Trick. Like the majority of guys entering middle-age my interest in exploring new music and dropped off considerably and I had fallen into the groove of playing old favorites from the sixties, Bob Dylan, Charlie Mingus, Sly Stone. Now my borrowed copy of Crass was supplemented by a pile a foot high sent from Granada of just about every punk LP on the market. My neighbours were none too pleased; and neither was my girlfriend — particularly, as I recall, when I acquired a habit of unexpectedly chanting “Fun, Fun, Fun, Fun While You’re Young!”

The more I learnt about the punks the more dumbfounded I became. In a very real sense these kids were martyrs to their cause. Everyday they would spend hours grooming their hair with K-Y gel and day-glo colours, perfecting their make-up, on which they spent more than they spent on food, just to go out and, inevitably, be beaten up by skinheads and rude boys, harassed by the police, and abused by old military types and marxists alike. My adviser told me that occasionally she would sneak back to her (nice middle-class) home just to have a bath and grab something decent to eat. Each time she had to steal herself again to go back out, but she was resolute in her determination not to be seduced by comfort and had a line of razor scars up her arm to prove it. I was reminded of the bohemians of the early part of the century, living in cold-water garrets and having to decide whether to spend money on pigment or food. I doubt that many of the punks had much talent, but they certainly had guts.

Not surprisingly, when Granada learnt what punk life was really about — the bunk-ups and glue sniffing, the self-mutilation and mental breakdowns, the strange ethos of refusing ever to pay tube fares or answer police questions, the barely getting by on a diet of bags of chips with the occasional luxury of canned Ambrosia creamed rice pilfered from the supermarket — the uncompromising rejection of all bourgeois values, they decided that the program would not make prime-time viewing or justify the production cost. Sadly the projected film was cancelled, and the actor, already assigned to the lead, had to be pulled out from the squat where, in the name of research, he had taken to living the life.

I don’t know what became of my advisor, but occasionally I pass a woman nearing fifty, both sides of her head shaven, her face marked with black and white warpaint, still walking the old route down the King’s Road, past the Chelsea Potter, past where BOY once caused outrage by using hypodermics for window dressing, down to World’s End, where Vivian Westwood and Malcolm McLaren sold bondage trousers at their shop, SEX. Passers by tend to give her a wide berth in case she might attack them or suddenly have a psychotic fit. I wander if her identity has just been lost in the past or whether she still gets her kicks from these visible reactions to her alien presence.

 

 

SHORT-CIRCUIT

 

It was one of those rare moments where one wonders if one is awake or dreaming. I had just come in from an evening out. I turned on the TV and went into the kitchen to make coffee. When I returned I almost dropped my cup.

On the TV screen were quick flash shots from a B&W short I had made while still at school. And then the picture suddenly changed to a heavy-weight political discussion. It was, in fact, the BBC2 current affairs programme, Newsnight. I sank into the seat wondering what on earth could be going on. Had it just been an hallucination or were my brainwaves interfering with television transmissions? I listened to the ensuing discussion in complete bewilderment, without gaining any insight — not a clue — and then the subject changed.

Several phone calls later, I started to piece together what had happened. This was the time of the Falklands War and a political storm of major proportions had just broken over revelations made by a civil servant, named Clive Ponting. This would soon became known as The Belgrano Affair, and the subject of a trial, a book, and many newspaper columns, but prior to this no-one in the world of journalism or public affairs knew anything about Clive Ponting — and, similarly, it was not a name that meant anything to me.

Researchers had been sent to investigate, but in the days before Facebook, and Linkedin, that took time and generally involved legwork. No-one knew much or would say much, but they did trace him back to a school in Bristol, Bristol Grammar School, the same school that I had attended. The masters there obviously did not know much about him either, because the only thing of note that they could turn up was that he had been involved with an amateur film, a short that I had written and directed, that had won a BFI Young film-maker’s Award.

In fact, this was news to me; his name was certainly not on the credits. Eventually I found the programme that had been issued when the film was first shown, and there, listed among the xtras as “dancers at barbeque” was the name — Clive Ponting. It seemed bizarre that the BBC flagship current affairs programme should have shown clips from my film to provide psychological insight into the dancing civil servant. The importance of the news item had clearly demanded content; I guess they were desperate! In fact this was the second time that the film, Karst, had been shown on BBC2. The first time it had featured in a discussion with Joan Bakewell and Michael Billington on Late Night Line-up. That had come as quite a surprise; that it should appear on the same channel, over a decade later, in the middle of Newsnight, was totally mind-blowing.

P.S. Twenty-six years later the researcher who had put together my Wikipedia page unexpectedly came across the programme to which I refer and confirmed that it was not my imagination, but happened just this way in the edition of Newsnight for October 4, 1984.

Watch KARST on-line.

 

 

 

IT'S NOT COUNTRY DANCING

 

For over 25 years I’ve study aikido at the London Budokwai, for most of that time, under Sensei John Cornish, eighth dan, who is one of the last remaining direct pupils of the founder, O Sensei Morihei Usheba. Perhaps it is because it is an art that is so elusive, so difficult to grasp, that it has fascinated me for so long. One could say that aikido is ultimately a form of combat that arises from a state of meditation: that would appear to be a contradiction in terms, but aikido proves otherwise. It is a spiritual discipline that is entirely practical. It’s techniques are so powerful that, in modified form, they are taught to the Tokyo police. But it’s power ultimately comes not from technique, but from the union of mind and body. And that’s what gives it it’s lasting fascination.

John Cornish retired in March 2010 at the age of 81. He did not really believe in gradings, and, as time went by, awarded them less and less. He thought that students should concentrate on how little they knew, not how much. When asked, he would often say, "Belts are for keeping your trousers up." It was only after his place as senior instructor was taken by Sensei Justin Christou, fifth dan, that I was finally awarded my black belt.

 

 

ALOHA BFI

 

Thanks to the initiative of Hawaii-based Wikipedia editor, Aanel Victoria, my early plays for Granada — recorded on giant “quad” video tapes and long thought to have been wiped — were relocated just before Christmas 2009 in the BFI National Archive.

Aanel was compiling the complete credits of Ian Charleson when she came across the listing for A PRIVATE MATTER in my credits file. Made in 1974, the TV play was Ian's first major screen role, and also starred Rachel Kempson, Stephen Murray, and Barry Justice. Ian went on to international stardom in Chariots of Fire, and, after an early death from AIDS, is now commemorated by an annual award in his name for the best classical stage performance by a young actor.

On investigation by Kathleen Luckey at the BFI, it was discovered that The National Archive had aquired a the master-tape in the early nineties, along with three other plays that I had directed for Granada. However, due to a cataloguing error, these had not been entered into the database. The policy of The Internet Movie Database (IMDb), the main authority to which others turn, is to allow the inclusion only of credits that can be verified by an official source or elsewhere on the internet. So this meant, in effect, that the plays disappeared.

What I remember most vividly is the rehearsals being interupted by a furious catfight when the actress, Kika Markham, walked in distributing news sheets from the far left, Workers Revolutionary Party. Rachel, otherwise known as Lady Redgrave, flew at her screaming that Kika’s activist chums had broken up her family and ruined her life. Both of her children, Vanessa and Corin, had been deeply involved with the group some of whose activities had under police scrutiny. After a brief exchange Kika turned on her heel and fled in tears; and Rachel, with a feint smile of satisfaction, returned to blocking the scene.

From a production point-of-view the play was of interest because large sections of it had been shot on the three-man-operated Mole-Richardson studio crane. This is now an almost forgotten piece of equipment: one man rode on the end of the crane arm to operate the studio camera, while another travelled on the base in order to swing the beam, and a third rode on the back to drive the rubber wheeled crane which was powered by an electric motor. With the possibility of panning through nearly three-quarters of the circle, craning from about four to eight feet, and freely tracking any steered course, forward or back, over the studio floor, very complex shots were possible. However it did mean that the camera team had to work in complete unision with absolute precision and, of course, trust in each other.

Whilst still a trainee I had watched, veteran director, Derek Bennet, use it on the Granada series, The Caesars. I now had my own opportunity, working with some of the same crew. The results were noted by Frank Hatherley, then a BBC producer, (later media professor), who said that he had never seen a TV play shot like it. Some years later I attempted to use the same techniques at Thames Studios in Teddington, but with miserable results. Although they had the equipment, they no longer had a team who could use it. The skills had gone forever.

 

 

MY ONE SHOT AT BEING PHIL SPECTOR

 

We were working on the soundtrack music for Winners & Losers, and because, the composer, Craig Armstrong, had an open deal with the studio the session was going on and on. In the early hours a guy came and stood in the open doorway listening to what we were laying down. A while later he came back and asked us if we wanted to make a record. He had a proposition; he would put out a single on the back of the series, if we could get a tape together in the next couple of weeks. And one other thing: it had to feature Leslie Grantham, who was the star of the show and, at that time, making headlines in the tabloids.

We agreed to give it a shot. Why not? Leslie was ready to play along, but there was one problem. At the time he was in Australia and there was no way he could get back to record in the short interval we had been given. The only way around it was to raid tapes of the show and pull out a few key phrases which we could lay over the pulsing rhythms. I started to rummage through the scripts. This was my one chance to live out the fantasy of being a record producer. I even had a contract with a promise of royalties.

First the show, and then ... With the soundtrack recording in the bag, we went on, without pause, to make the single. We started with the obvious; joining the opening music to the closing music. Then some cutting, polishing, mixing in phrases from Grantham, extra solos; near the opening I recorded some guttural grunts to urge things along, and I think Craig played some nice piano.

We delivered, and then, and then ... there were hiccups with the distributors and the record never reached the shops until the series was already into it’s second episode. Too late by half. There were no promos on air, and few even knew of the record’s existence. But ... wow! It had been an opportunity out of the blue, a dream, arising in the middle of the night, an improbable fantasy made real, before it all slipped away in the cold morning light.

listen to record

 

 

THE FEAR OF NO BATHROOM BREAKS

 

At the end of the seventies I was persuaded by a bunch of actors to do EST — a workshop that had become notorious for one over-riding reason: once inside, no-one was allowed out to go to the lavatory except at prescribed breaks. This immediately reactivated everyone’s childhood fear of toilet embarrassment at birthday parties and the like. However, once the idea was accepted it no longer seemed a problem for anyone — at least, in my group.

Of more concern was the fact that everyone had to sit on hard upright chairs in straight lines packed tight to each other, for hour upon hour, while being harangued by a “trainer”, in my case a fearsome looking fellow with a scar across one cheek, called Randy. “You don’t know your own ass from hole in the ground!” he would shout, and periodically tap the sole of his shoe to remind anyone in danger of dozing off to keep their “soul in the room”.

This proved to be one of the most enthralling weekends of my life. An early version of the training is recorded in The Book of Est by “diceman” Luke Rheinhart. Through the hours I gradually went from mild irritation, to bored exasperation, to the realization that this was something very bold, and very special. You could call it participatory theatre designed to take you over the course of a weekend through the experience of enlightenment. Like most everyone-else I ended up feeling quite euphoric late on the Sunday night; but, of course, short cuts offer just a glimpse, not a long-lasting state.

Within the time-limit of the weekend the schedule for the training was open-ended, lasting as long as it took. My training went from nine in the morning until after midnight on the Saturday, and almost as long on the Sunday. However, I subsequently heard that the trainings were finishing earlier and ealier. This was not by design but because there was less resistance from paricipants; it seemed that everyone was “getting it” in a progressively easier fashion. The premise was gradually being absorbed into the culture. That was the way it seemed to me. In the eighties the trainings were abandoned.

 

 

THIS THING CALLED ROCK'N'ROLL

 

The first record I ever owned was a prize given me for having a letter published in Disc magazine. It was Elvis’s Golden Records Vol.1. At the time I did not even have a record player on which I could play it. The letter was a protest against the premature death of rock’n’roll. Elvis had been conscripted into the army, Little Richard had joined a monastry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry had both been embroiled in sex scandals, Buddy Holly had been killed in a plane crash, and, soon after, Eddie Cochrane followed in a car crash.

On the home front, Cliff Richard, who had made an inspirational debut with Move It, had been hijacked by the movie, Summer Holiday, and was singing wet ballads like Bachelor Boy, and Marty Wilde who had a US hit with Bad Boy, was roped into the West End musical, Bye Bye Birdie. At concerts the old numbers were still played and inevitably met with response as wildly enthusiastic as ever before, but the only things released on record were anodine ballads and novelty songs.

For sure, rock ‘n’ roll was being killed by the men in mohair suits. They had all hated it from the beginning and at the first opportunity set out to replace it with something they understood, and could control. This was my insight as a twelve-year-old hep-cat, expressed in my letter to Disc. In retrospect it is clear that it was spot on. Deprived of a supply of new rock’n’roll the die-hard British fans started searching out the roots of the music and discovered the blues. That’s why the first authentic blues to top the charts was sung by The Rolling Stones, Little Red Rooster, followed shortly after by House of the Rising Sun by The Animals. Rock’n’Roll, or simply,”rock”, as it was now called, was back.

 

 

MELODIOUS THUNK

 

My ringtone is from Little Rootie Tootie by Thelonious Monk. More than any other music man, Thelonious has accompanied me through the years. I heard the maestro play in the film Jazz On A Summer’s Day, and at the first opportunity went out to buy the album, Brilliant Corners, which had then just been released. The guy in the record shop told me it was a very good choice. He was right. From that day on I become a follower of modern jazz and immediately set about selling my collection of rock’n’roll records. When, the socialite, Panonica Rothschild first heard Thelonious play she gave up her entire way of life; I just gave up a pile of records.

[I have since reassembled that entire collection of early rock’n’roll records on mp3 files. Well, almost all of them ... Just Jimmy McCracklin’s The Walk, and one or two other hard-to-get items still to go.]

 

 

EVERYDAY WAKE-UP CALL

 

On location I am woken each morning by Charlie Mingus playing Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting from the Blues & Roots album. This has got to be the best wake-up music of all time. It begins with a solo bass, rapidly builds through low brass, to hand clapping and joyous yelps. That’s just got to get you out of bed!

 

 

L. RON IN THE WEST

 

As a cub reporter on Bristol Evening Post I wrote some of the first articles to appear in the British press on Scientology. The way it came about was that, while researching another topic, I came across a lot of weird books in the city library. These made no sense at all. Were they philosophy, religion, science, or science fiction? The librarian seemed as bemused as I was, and could tell me nothing about them. Then I noticed that in the back of each was a little sticker with an emblem and a Bristol contact number. I gave it a ring. After a lot of circular questioning, I was granted an interview or so I thought.

I made my way to an unprepossessing house in the suburbs with the same emblem, of the letter “S” entwined in two triangles, in painted wood relief beside the door. Inside, I took out my notebook ready to begin, and was somewhat taken aback to be told that before I could conduct the interview I would have to take a Comms Course (short for communications), to make sure that I could faithfully duplicate what was said, and undergo some basic levels of Scientology processing to make sure that I did not have aberrant intent. Well, what the hell? I needed a story. And this was my chance to make a splash.

For the following several weeks I then went through strange rituals, like “spotting spots in space, and answering endlessly repetitive questions while holding two tin cans wired up to a wooden box with dials. This was the Hubbard E-meter, a rather more homely looking affair then than the futuristically styled instrument that it has now been morphed into. At the end of the course I did some tests and they proclaimed that my IQ had significantly increased. It seemed unlikely, but who was I to argue? I certainly felt none the worse for the experience. But then, it had not costed me a penny. It was only later that I discovered others were paying thousands of pounds for sessions like these; indeed, there were some handwriting endless letters in an effort to raise the money to pay for them.

The Post published three full-page articles which set me on the road to being a features writer. I was already moving onto the next topic, and despite all the follow-up phone-calls from “The Org” I was certainly not going to be sucked into a cult. At the time I was still living with my parents and, despite my efforts and all their protestations, they were remorselessly bombarded by mail from all the various Scientology off-shoots and outposts, often several times a week, for the rest of their lives. When the house was sold, some thirty years later, I sent an apologetic note to the new owners telling them not to send them on, there was nothing I could do to stop the flow, the best course was simply to bin them.

 

 

STRUTTING THE BOARDS

 

My one appearance as actor, while a student at Sussex, is commemorated in a book of plays published by Calder, Anna-Luse & Other Plays by David Mowat. I played a character called Jens The part was written for me. He was a kool guy, until, the crucial moment came, then he just froze up and couldn’t act. I spent a long time wondering about that.

The first theatre play I directed was Trevor Griffiths’s debut, The Wages of Thin, and starred Richard Wilson. My second production was, the off-Broadway play, It’s Called The Sugarplum by Israel Horovitz, and starred Maureen Lipman. Both were staged at The Stables Theatre Club in Manchester.

 

 

DOMESTIC LIFE

 

Everyone should get married once — but once is enough. My one and only marriage was to the late, Susi Hush, who produced Coronation Street and Grange Hill and a bunch of other series. We met at Sussex University and both went to Manchester to work for Granada TV. (We even had a country cottage where we lived together on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, just a stone’s throw from the site of the notorious “Moors Murders’. There we had a son, Simon, who is now CEO of The Young Foundation helping to develop new social initiatives in health, education, and who knows what?.

 

 

AT THE HOP!

 

As an English Speaking Union exchange student I briefly attended a highschool in Louisville Kentucky where Bo Diddley played at the school hop. I even became an honourary member of the Chevalier Fraternity, went riding in classic cars and had fun on the "come-over corners". It was a fantastic opportunity to catch the Great American Dream before it started to curdle. In those days it was another world from our pinched existence in post-war Britain.

 

 

LETA REDARE

 

I was mildly dyslexic when I was a child, but these things were not well understood in those days. The headmaster of my junior school told my parents that he was sure that one day "the penny would drop". In fact, I never read a complete book cover-to-cover until I was fourteen. The first book I got through right to the end was an Agatha Christie — I had to find out who dun it. Quite soon after that I finished another book: it was Zen Buddhism by Christmas Humphreys. And that one completely blew my mind. I still have that book, it’s paper-back covers stiffened with cardboard. It sits on a shelf now with thousands of others. I’ve since talked to other late-readers, and have come to believe that this delay allows you to develop a visual way of thinking that may be lost forever if you enter the alphabetic world too soon.

 

 

MY LIFE WITH THE MEKON

 

My father would collect a copy of The Eagle comic from the news stand, and read me the cartoon bubbles as I sat on his knee staring at the picture strips. I was fascinated by the graphic rendition of spaceman, Dan Dare, who was portayed with a curious tick at the extent of his eyebrows; and by, the cowboy, Jeff Arnold, who had solid bone in his mouth without the division of separate teeth. In the Godfather when Brando puts the reversed orange peel in his mouth and so frightens his little grandson, it sent my mind reeling back to those times with my father and the Eagle. Most curious of all, however, was Dan Dare’s ultimate enemy, The Mekon, lord of the green Treens whose gigantic head and withered body was kept in motion on a flying “sauceboat” as Dan described it.

Many years later I was working in a Soho cutting room and went out for a break. In Broadwick street I suddenly came across a shop which had been taken over and turned into a temporary gallery. To my astonishment the entire inside of the shop was filled with ceramic replicas of The Mekon. There he was hovering on his sauceboat over the basement stairs, the walls lined with big versions, little versions, full figures, and repeating busts. Nothing else was in the shop; just the Mekon. What kind of person would get so obsessed with The Mekon, I asked myself? There was none of the pop art frisson associated with this character that one might have got from Mickey Mouse, or Popeye.

I was pretty much broke at the time, but decided that I could not let this opportunity pass by. I bought myself a bust that one might say was “life-sized”. There were no other customers in the shop at the time. And I never did find out anything about their creator. When I next passed by, the gallery was no more. Other than the one I have, I wonder how many of this astonishing production were ever sold? There is no trace of them to be found on the web; they have all disappeared, who knows where? Nowadays The Mekon is all but forgotten so no-one can understand why I should have this ugly green bust set on a pedestal in my home.

[The Mekon was damaged during renovations in 2009 and lovingly restored by Vicky Hobbs.]

 

 

THE AROMA OF RED, THE TASTE OF BLUE

 

In my final year at university I saw notice of a competition for new ideas on commercials. I decided that this was something I could win and should win. And I did. It was fun to meet all the top ad men in London the British versions of characters from TV series, Mad Men. It was a time when advertising was at the fashion forefront of culture. These were also the days of Marshall MacLuhan issuing “early warnings” to business, and all the Mr. Joneses were looking to youth to tell them what was happening. So they asked me if I could expand the essay I had written into an hour-long illustrated talk for the London Advertising Creative Circle. I replied, “Why not?” And so I found myself in an oak panelled lecture theatre at the Royal Society of Arts with a carousel of slides flashing on and off. The talk was on Syncretic Perception in Commercials: about how in everyday life we perceive the world around us in a quite non-analytical way. We tend to grasp things as a whole so may well jump to the conclusion that coffee in a red tin tastes richer than the identical coffee in a blue tin. Commercials offer the possibility of intensifying the product image by controlling the sensory qualities associated with it.

Many years later I discovered that similar ideas were being explored and exploited in NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programing) under the name of “sub-modalities”.

 

 

TWO-PACK DAYS

 

I finally kicked a two-pack a day smoking habit by going on a pilgrimage to Kyoto with my son. It began by a 14 hour non-smoking flight, and then my attention was so contantly diverted into a thousand channels that I managed to pull through the next few days. By the time I got back I was home and dry. But it took me another two years to kick the nicotine gum habit. I think everyone has a certain drug to which they are particularly susceptible. Mine was nicotine. For quite a while I’ve had a book on my shelf, titled: Smoking is Sublime. But I’ve never dared to open it.

 

 

 

GUILTY PLEASURES

 

The only movie not among my top 20 masterpieces (and, maybe, a few close contenders) that I have watched over and over, time after times, is Basic Instinct. It’s hard to argue against those who would write it off as pure exploitation, but there is no denying it’s pull. There is Jerry Goldsmth’s wonderfully insidious music, the breath-taking beauty of the beach house, and above all, there is the glory of Sharon. The presence and chaputza to carry off this performance, with and without knickers, are, perhaps, not qualities deemed necessary for great acting, but very few other women in the world could have matched it.

It is widely known that the part was first offered to Greta Scacchi, but, even though Sharon was two years older than Greta, for her it was already too late. Her screen presence had reached it’s height with White Mischief, and A Man In Love, and, by this time she was pregnant and wrangling with Altman over taking off her clothes for The Player. For Sharon, however, it was still to come.

She had worked her way up from being “Pretty Girl on Train” in Stardust Memories, to a supporting role in Terminator. I had first taken note after seeing her in, the low-budget movie, Scissors. Already, in that movie, there were shy flickerings of the stellar presence that would light up the screen in Basic Instinct. It seems that was another case of the greatest moments in film happening when a director is in love with his leading lady; there was Sternberg and Dietrich, Antonioni and Vitti, Godard and Karenina ... and, for one movie only, there was Verhoeven and Stone.

Sadly, Sharon could never do it again. It was really no great surprise to me that, given a part of breadth and depth by Scorsese she was nominated for an Oscar. But the light of her presence was already beginning to dim. When she returned for Basic Instinct 2 the magic was entirely gone.

 

To be continued ...

 

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