Vertigo Café

Is this why Eric Blair had to change his name?

Rumour has it that fax lines between Walworth Road and Shepherd’s Bush are about to glow red hot again. Apparently the Labour leader’s gone ‘ballistic’ after someone whispered in his ear that BBC Enterprises has plans to market a replica of Armando Iannucci’s lovable Saturday night companion ‘Mister Tony Blair’. Labour officials have been told to insist that the Party holds copyright on the commercial exploitation of the words ‘Mr.’, ‘Tony’, ‘Blair’, and, for good measure, ‘New’. Asked to comment Armando Iannucci is rumoured to have said: ‘I don’t see what all the fuss is about... After all, he’s only a doll!’ All this reminds older surfers of the legendary confrontation between Jack Warner and Groucho Marx. When the Marx Brothers released A Night In Casablanca Jack Warner wrote to Groucho threatening to file a suit claiming that Warner Brothers had exclusive and world-wide rights to the commercial exploitation of the title Casablanca. Groucho wrote back, threatening a counter suit, in which it would be argued that the Marxes had exclusive rights to the commercial exploitation of the word ‘Brothers’!

How did they play in Peoria?

Earlier this decade, reports emerged from Hollywood that those responsible for marketing Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V had run into a problem. Rural exhibition chains would not buy the film until they’d been shown the box office figures of Henrys I, II, III and IV! The fact that, in the process of filming, Alan Bennet’s play The Madness Of George III was transformed into The Madness Of King George suggests that it’s a case of stix nix dynasty pix. Ironically, George III is the one English king whose name American audiences might be expected to remember, on account of 1776 and all that!

Is there a Future for 16mm?

Following the furore which greeted policies earlier in the year which seemed to indicate that the BFI was in the process of phasing out 16mm distribution, the Institute circulated in July a six-page discussion paper which, so Christopher Williams writes from the University of Westminster, all ‘interested parties should see and respond to as soon as possible... If educationists and others want film to be available in 16... probably going to have to say so loud and often and not use other formats when 16 is the appropriate one.’

The Market Moves in Mysterious Ways, its Wonders to Perform

A few months ago the ITC fined Granada for illicit advertising on their breakfast show This Morning. Just whose finances, do you think, suffered as a result? The budget for This Morning? Of course not, that would have been simplistic. The salary cheques of presenters Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan? You must be kidding... That would have been vindictive! The profit margins of the shareholders? How dare you... There’s no place for the politics of envy in the new Britain! Give up? I don’t blame you! According to a letter which Vertigo has seen, from a Granada executive to a producer, the ITC fine has meant that regional budgets have been hit ‘particularly hard’ with the result that the company is to commission no more documentaries from regional independents!

Black Light in the Mountains

This spring, whilst most of his colleagues were surfing in the Café, one member of the Vertigo Board spent a month in Paris, working on a script with Med Hondo. This involved several days at Prapoutel, a ski-resort in the Alps, where Med was presenting his new film, the thriller Lumière noire/Black Light. The venue was a kind of snowy holiday camp for workers, partly financed by employers, partly by trade unions and other organisation. A week of panels on Série noir thrillers had been organised for any workers who wanted to have some literary and political debate après-ski. At least forty or fifty did, every evening of the week! Med and his collaborators have been presenting the film in this way throughout France, ever since it opened in November, in a Paris cinema where it enjoyed a six-month run. Although most critics were unable to come to terms with the implications of its narrative (imagine a version of The Big Heat where the Glenn Ford character is killed half way through, and is replaced by an investigator of equal integrity, who is killed at the end!) the audience at Prapoutel felt the film was telling it like it is, particularly in its account of police violence, institutional racism, neo-colonial repression and governmental cover-up. So, too, did the various student, political, trade union and cultural groups with whom the filmmakers have debated their work. Channel 4 put money in the film upfront, which is one reason why it is unlikely to be seen in s cinema here. Distributors are unwilling to gamble on a film which has no chance of a sale to British television. Still, without the Channel’s money the film might never have been made. And it will eventually be seen on our TV.

With Friends Like These...!

The Café is buzzing with reports of the success of September’s ‘Screen Griots’ conference at the NFT. One Irish academic commented she was surprised that so good a conference was still possible in London! Something else noticeable about the event was the fact that the press virtually ignored it. The Guardian did run a full-page feature on Africa 95, in which the NFT season which preceded the conference was discussed, and succeeded in telling its readership that the great Senegalese novelist and filmmaker Sembène Ousmane, most of whose books have been translated into English, and who is on reading lists in universities throughout the world, was Egyptian! Of course, despite a letter pointing out their error, no correction was published. For reasons best known to the NFT management, the film season was in August, when the student and academic audience most likely to appreciate it was also most likely to be out of town!

Saved from Error?

All us surfers in the Vertigo Café welcome news that a second edition of The Dream That Kicks, colleague Michael Chanan’s study of the technical and cultural origins of cinema, particularly in Britain, is imminent from Routledge. It is completely revised and updated, taking into account recently published work. Apparently, the first edition has become one of the authorities now being consulted by the New Encyclopaedia Britannica, and it seems to have saved recent editions of the Macropaedia from error, as no longer does the latter contain inaccurate references to the motion picture illusion. However, this influence hasn’t yet spread to the Micropaedia, which still blithely informs us that the motion picture is: ‘a series of still photographs on film, projected in rapid succession onto a screen by means of light, that, because of an optical phenomenon known as persistence of vision, gives an illusion of actual, smooth, and continuous movement.

In fact, persistence of vision, as the Oxford Companion to the Mind states authoritatively: ‘although real enough... simply cannot explain apparent movement. At best, it names the fact that we do not detect the brief periods (c. 1/80 sec.) during which the screen is dark. At worst, persistence of vision would result in the supervision of the successive views’. Scholars have known this since 1912, when Wertheimer published his first account of experiments on apparent motion, but so far it seems not to have penetrated the consciousness of most people writing about the cinema!