ITALIAN WESTERNS IN TUCSON, ARIZONA

If you find yourself in the American Southwest during the month of August, please feel free to visit The Loft Cinema in Tucson, any Sunday. You’ll find me there, deosa volenti, introducing four of what I think are the best of these films, and hawking copies of my book, 10,000 Ways To Die – about Italian Westerns.

The films are FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, screening on Sunday 5 August; Lizzani’s REQUIESCANT, screening the following Sunday; Questi’s SE SEI VIVO SPARA / DJANGO KILL! on 19 August, and Corbucci’s IL GRANDE SILENZIO / THE BIG SILENCE on the 26th.

IL GRANDE SILENZIO is a new HD transfer and looks very nice: it’s Corbucci’s masterpiece, and one of a bleak handful of Westerns-in-the-Snow. You’ve perhaps seen DJANGO KILL! on DVD or even VHS, but the experience of watching this insane and brilliant picture in the theatre cannot be beat. REQUIESCANT is almost as demented, with a fabulous cast of villains and a Pier Paolo Pasolini in a supporting role, as a revolutionary priest.

If you’re in Tucson, come on by!

Cox and Lizzani, 1984(The illustrative image, by the way, is of my younger self shaking hands with Carlo Lizzani, director of REQUIESCANT. He was directing a play in Rome. I had just made REPO MAN, my first film. Perhaps you can see my Jesse Jackson for President badge… Lizzani was a very gracious man to waste time shaking hands with such a bozo when he had his play to attend.)

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A GREAT VICTORY … AND TWO GOODBYES

A wonderful thing has happened in Europe. The European Parliament has voted to reject a draconian extension of copyright law, favoured by big content owners and the European Commission. The EFF reports:

“… with the support of nearly a million Europeans, MEPs voted earlier this month to reject the EU’s proposed copyright reform—including controversial proposals to create a new “snippet” right for news publishers, and mandatory copyright filters for sites that published user-uploaded content.”

Sometimes people are surprised when I say that I am against any extension of copyright law, and think that copyright and patent periods should be rolled back, not extended. After all, I am a ‘creative’ and must therefore benefit when the Hollywood studios and music industry get longer rights ownership/more power and money, right?

Not really. One thing the last ten years have shown us is that while the mega-rich get richer and richer, the rest of us do not. Copyright law extensions (via the Sonny Bono Act, the Berne Convention, the TTP and other scams) benefit multinational rights-holding  corporations and their owners. Criterion may bring out a beautiful blu-ray edition of SID & NANCY but neither I nor my co-author Abbe Wool will see a penny from it. Nor will Peter McCarthy, the producer. We all made SID & NANCY for a proper, ethical British company, Zenith. But Zenith is no more, and in the US our film is now owned by MGM, and sub-distributed by Fox, Murdoch’s company. Too bad for us…

A decade or two ago, Margaret Matheson and I tried to get a British TV series of H.G. Wells’ WAR OF THE WORLDS off the ground. We approached Ardman Animation about doing the special effects. We were counting on the book entering the public domain that same year (it was already out of copyright in the US, but still in copyright in England). Then the Berne Converntion was ammended to extend copyright periods by fifteen more years. We couldn’t convince the British “rights holder” to let us go ahead. So our project didn’t get made.

I don’t mean to complain – only to point out that anecdotes like these are the tip of a very large iceberg in which ‘creatives’ are frozen out of profit-sharing and the right to adapt other creative works. Copyright law – and extensions thereof – don’t benefit most creators in any meaningful way. Whereas creators would benefit if Copyright periods were much shorter and all creative works entered the public domain sooner. Then I could make my long-planned epic, GODZILLA VERSUS MARS ATTACKS MEETS CITIZEN KANE.

Meanwhile, sad news from the diaspora of REPO MAN. Robby Muller, the cinematographer, and Martin Turner, the stills photographer, both died last week. Robby’s passing was noted by the MSM, and he was rightly celebrated for some of the wonderful work he did. Our hiring him for REPO MAN was strictly fortuitous: Michael Nesmith, our executive producer, had rejected my first choice of cameraperson. Peter McCarthy told me, “Take this as an opportunity. Now you can ask for anyone you want!” Having been awestruck by his work on THE AMERICAN FRIEND, I asked for Robby Muller. Nesmith was all in favour, and we got him. It was his second American film.

Robby was a genius of lighting, and of composition. He didn’t like closeups, preferring wider shots which celebrated the performances of all the actors in the frame. He wasn’t much interested in camera movement when we worked together. On his other American film he’d been given a Steadicam. He and his crew took it out of the boxes, marvelled at how heavy it was, put it back in the boxes, and used them to sit on.

Robby was a great artist – as was Martin Turner, though he’s perhaps known to fewer people. “Stills photographer” doesn’t do justice to his work on REPO MAN, as he was also a supporting actor and – together with Jonathan Wacks – came up with the concept for the film’s finale. I met Martin at film school – what was then the Radio, Film and TV Studies course at Bristol. He and David Hutt made a highly ambitious student film called NEARLY WIDE AWAKE, based on Knut Hamsen’s “Hunger.” (We paid no attention to things like Copyright! We were students!) I acted in it.

Martin worked for Lindsay Anderson in the art department on THE OLD CROWD and BRITANNIA HOSPITAL. He was responsible for the slide show which the guests in THE OLD CROWD enjoy, and which causes the death of “Tottie.” THE OLD CROWD greatly offended the London critical fraternity, and is rarely seen. I don’t know if a DVD exists. [Update — THE OLD CROWD does exist on DVD! A friend has found it in a set of TV Dramas by Alan Bennett, available on the Network label: Network clearly have good taste since they also distribute THE PRISONER.] But it is a wonderful film – perhaps Anderson’s best work of all, part Buñuel, part Brecht – and Martin had a lot to do with its insane inventiveness.

Back in the days of a government quango called “British Screen” Martin wrote two very good feature screenplays: THE BATTLE OF TORREMOLINOS and INTO A DESERT PLACE (the latter was an adaptation of Graham Mackintosh’s book about travelling Baja California on foot; I was to direct it). I thought them great scripts. But times were increasingly conservative, money was said to be scarce, and if you didn’t have a TV personality from The Young Ones or The Comic Strip pre-cast, it was hard to get a British film going. Too bad! Because they were great stories – especially TORREMOLINOS, an original script in which Martin pitted the English hooligan class against itself, and everything else, in a Spanish seaside tower block.

Martin was also a painter and sculptor. He painted a number of canvases depicting dreadful scenes from THE BATTLE OF TORREMOLINOS, and received a commission to display them at the Torremolinos Festival of Comedy, some years later. Martin and our mutual friend Karl Braun hung all the artwork, and went around the corner for a beer. In their absence the President of the Festival arrived, saw Martin’s art works, and ordered the building locked until the offending paintings could be removed.

Somehow Martin’s stories seemed to end that way: a great idea, a great piece of creative art somehow uncreated, or unseen, or banned, or – in the case of THE OLD CROWD – completed then mercilessly disparaged by clowns. No matter! Martin did his work. in the footsteps of Derek Jarman he moved to Dungeness, where he bought a lighthouse and renovated it, with his own hands. His wonderful partner, Brenda Morris, died a few years ago. Martin died at the lighthouse, at the end of last week. He’s survived by an ace daughter, Kathryn.