Parky At the Pictures (31/1/2020)
(Reviews of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote; Talking About Trees; Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall; and Everything: The Real Thing Story)
THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE.
Terry Gilliam first hatched the idea for The Man Who Killed Don Quixote shortly after completing The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988). It says much for the onetime Monty Python animator's tenacity that he finally realised his vision in 2017 and that he remains enthusiastic on the promotion trail three years later. Gilliam's efforts to make the picture with Jean Rochefort and Johnny Depp were recorded in Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe's revealing documentary, Lost in La Mancha (2002), and, fittingly, the pair were on hand to witness the end of the 30-year odyssey in He Dreams of Giants (2019). But it's hard to see this gloriously muddled summation of the themes and tropes of Gilliam's career attracting many fellow travellers outside the Python fan base,
Toby (Adam Driver) is in Spain shooting a commercial for The Boss (Stellan Skarsgård). The scenario involves Don Quixote getting caught on the sails of a windmill, but all is not going well and Toby's producer (Will Kean) and his agent, Rupert (Jason Watkins), are concerned that he has lost his inspiration. During supper at a local restaurant, a Gypsy (Óscar Jaenada) sells Toby a pirated copy of his student graduation film, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which he watches on the DVD player in The Boss's hotel room while seducing his wife, Jacqui (Olga Kurylenko).
Having narrowly evaded the returning Boss, Toby spends a sleepless night reminiscing about the shoot in the picturesque hillside village of Los Sueños, which had starred Javier the cobbler (Jonathan Pryce) as Quixote and Angelica (Joana Ribeiro), the teenage daughter of Raul (Hovik Keuchkerian) the bartender, as Dulcinea. Slipping away from the commercial set. Toby rides a borrowed motorcycle in to the countryside, only to discover that Pedro (Jorge Calvo), who had played Sancho Panza, had drunk himself to death, while Angelica had run away to Madrid to become a star and had wound up working as a prostitute. Moreover, Javier had come to identify so closely with his part that he is still convinced he is Don Quixote and, when Toby visits his abode, he is mistaken for the returning Sancho and has to beat a hasty retreat after accidentally starting a fire.
Arriving back on the set to find the police arresting the Gypsy for breaking into The Boss's suite, Toby is taken for questioning in relation to the fire in Los Sueños. However, Javier appears in his Quixote guise atop his horse, Rocinante, and attacks the car with his lance. In the ensuing chaos, one of the cops is shot by his partner and Javier helps Toby escape into the hills. He presents him with Sancho's clothes and finds him a donkey to ride as squire to his knight errant.
Having cut his head in trying to protect a girl on a bicycle (Laura Galán) from a windmill giant, Javier is taken to a ruined castle for treatment. Despite being welcomed by a farmer (Sergi López) and his wife (Rossy de Palma), Toby finds an Arabic newspaper and becomes convinced that he has stumbled upon a terrorist cell. On hearing pounding at the door, he is perplexed to see a 16th-century Inquisitor ride into the compound and accuse the residents of being Infidels. Amidst more mayhem, as Javier draws his sword to attack some bacon flitches that have sprouted leering eyes and gurning mouths, Toby emerges as an unlikely hero - but it has all been a dream and he wakes to discover that the farmer is merely providing shelter for some migrants from North Africa.
As the police raid the camp, Toby and Javier ride away. In the hills, the former stumbles upon a stash of Spanish gold in a rotting donkey's corpse and, in trying to find a hiding place, he falls into a mine shaft. Fortunately, he discovers an exit beside a waterfall, where he sees Angelica bathing in the sunshine. She reveals that she has returned home after having a tough time modelling and escorting in Madrid and Barcelona and tells Toby to ignore the bruises on her back. When Javier comes across them, he questions Toby's identity and he has to pretend to be doing an impression of Eddie Cantor when Angelica accuses him of being an enchanter.
She rides off with a besuited man who has been photographing the encounter and Toby insists they follow because he fears that Angelica is in trouble. Javier concurs, as he believes she has fallen in love with him because no woman can resist Quixote. But their quest is waylaid when Javier mistakes a ruin for the Moorish citadel of Azahara and claims that some sheep are Muslim scholars in white robes. Inside, Javier is confronted by the Knight of the Mirrors, who challenges him to a joust and Toby is bemused to discover that the man in the elaborate armour is Raul, who has adopted a disguise to capture Javier and return him to the village and keep him out of any more trouble.
Convinced he has defeated an implacable foe, Javier rides away to avoid being forced to face up to reality. However, Raul knocks Toby cold for leading Angelica astray and he dreams of how she had danced for his camera a decade earlier. He feels her lips on his cheek, but comes round to find himself being licked by a sheep. Staggering into the wilderness, he falls into a pit and covers his eyes with two gold coins.
Jolted into consciousness by the sound of Javier's voice, Toby finds him flagellating himself with thorn branches for having failed to prove his devotion to Dulcinea. While tending to the old man's wounds beside a river, Toby is astonished to see a mounted procession in period garb and is relieved to discover it is Jacqui on her way to a costume party being thrown by the local Russian oligarch, Alexei Miiskin (Jordi Mollà). She persuades him to bring Javier along and Toby is appalled to see Angelica being pawed by Miiskin on the balcony, as he welcomes his guests to his castle.
The Boss is livid with Toby for having gone AWOL and orders him to behave himself so that they can land a lucrative vodka contract. Dressed in suitable attire, Toby joins the assembly in time to see Miiskin humiliate Anjelica by making him lick a dropped canapé off his shoe. On the terrace, Toby begs Angelica to let him rescue her from an intolerable situation, but she insists she is content to swallow her pride in order to enjoy such luxury.
Back in the great hall, Miiskin's minions present Javier with a veiled woman who has been given a beard by a vile enchanter. He believes he is being set a chivalric challenge, but the entire charade has been stage-managed by the film crew to entertain the Russian. A stilted messenger enters with a mechanical horse and the princess begs Javier to ride the infernal machine to the Moon to lift the curse from herself and her handmaidens. As soon as Javier is blindfolded, the crew wheel in a wind machine and other props to convince the old man that he is sailing through the stratosphere, while Rupert wields a megaphone in posing as the lunar enchanter who concedes he has been defeated by the better man.
Thrown from the horse on his descent back to Earth, Javier is pleased to have been of service to the fresh-faced princess. But one of the servants fails to remove her beard in time and he realises that he has been duped and he sidles out of the hall into an antechamber to repair a rip in his hose. He tells Toby that Quixote should listen to Sancho more often and seems resigned to his defeat. Frustrated by Javier's moroseness, Toby punches Rupert for his part in the conceit, which seems set to continue, as Miiskin's staff build an enormous bonfire in the courtyard.
Finding Angelica, Toby pleads with her to abandon Miiskin and they kiss while dancing. However, the oligarch sees them and order his thugs to catch them. Angelica and Toby are set to ride free from the stables, but he feels guilty at the sight of Javier scrubbing a step and doubles back to collect him. But the cobbler seems to have been delivered of his delusions and he insists he will stay to serve a new master. Turning to see Angelica running away in her red dress, Toby follows her to an upper room, only to discover he has been fooled by Jacqui in a mask. She tries to pin him to the bed, as Miiskin has Angelica tied to a wooden cross so that she can be placed at the top of the pyre.
Hearing pounding on the door, Toby thinks Miiskin has sent some henchmen to capture him and he strikes out. However, he succeeds only in knocking Javier out of the window and he plummets to the ground below. As he rushes to his side, Toby realises that Angelica's plight was part of the masquerade and he has nothing but contempt for Miiskin and The Boss, as they regard Javier's demise as an unfortunate inevitability. The shoemaker recognises Toby as the director who had given him the chance to fulfil a dream by playing his hero and he dies content. But Toby takes his avowal that he was always more than Sancho Panza to heart and the film ends with Angelica riding into the sunset in search of new adventures, as the squire to the new Don Quixote.
This ending makes it tempting to suggest that Terry Gilliam sees himself as Sancho Panza to the Don Quixote of Orson Welles, another maverick whose attempt to adapt Miguel de Cervantes's masterpiece similarly ran into insurmountable difficulties. As one who avoided falling under the spell cast by such cine-enchanters as George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, it's also possible to imagine Gilliam as the Quixote of the blockbuster age defying the corporate Inquisitors by tilting at the big studio windmills. How many of them would recognise the visual allusions to Pieter Bruegel, Hieronymous Bosch and Gustave Doré, realise the debt owed to Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, understand the gag about Eddie Cantor or spot the self-reflexive nods towards Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí's Un Chien andalou (1929), Michael Curtiz's Casablanca (1942) and Gilliam and Terry Jones's Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), as well as, perhaps, to Roger Corman's The Masque of the Red Death (1964), Franco Zeffirelli's The Taming of the Shrew (1967) and Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut (1999)?
There's a good chance Gilliam didn't intend to reference the latter three in his grand finale, but it has always been easy to read too much into his previous treatises on chivalric values, old-fashioned romance, delusions of grandeur, the clash between individuality and conformism, and the slow death of dreams. Indeed, there are echoes here of everything from Jabberwocky (1977) and Time Bandits (1981) to The Fisher King (1991) and Twelve Monkeys (1996), while the presence of Jonathan Pryce prompts recollections of Brazil (1985). While there are throwaway gags about the modern world (such as the comparison between Donald Trump and a kid with a sugar rush), this feels closer in tone to The Brothers Grimm (2005) than Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), as Gilliam recasts Cervantes as an adult fairytale whose sunset ending suggests the passing of a particular kind of storytelling on both the page and the screen.
These almost certainly weren't the sentiments that Gilliam had in mind when he and Tony Grisoni produced the first draft of the screenplay in the late 1990s. But, then, this wasn't Gilliam's initial starting point, either, as he had originally envisaged a story about a righter of wrongs named Alonso Quixano. The producers had wanted Sean Connery for the role, but Gilliam was thinking more along the lines of Nigel Hawthorne, with Danny DeVito as Sancho when he left to make The Defective Detective (another abandoned project) and was replaced by Fred Schepisi, who wanted John Cleese and Robin Williams for the leads.
Schepisi's departure led to Gilliam and Grisoni coming up with the current concept and shooting commenced in 2000. But a combination of calamities prevented Jean Rochefort and Johnny Depp from co-starring and Gérard Depardieu. Michael Palin, Robert Duvall and John Hurt were subsequently linked with the title role. Ewan McGregor and Jack O'Connell were also mentioned as possible Tobys before Adam Driver signed up to partner Jonathan Pryce. Given the countless diversions on this long and winding road, it's a miracle that the picture is as intriguing and coherent as it is. That said, it's still something of a magnificent muddle.
Part of the problem is the tone, which is pitched at a Brian Blessed level that often leaves proceedings feeling bombastic when the intended note was merely rambunctious. However, it doesn't help that Toby has too far to travel back from the boorishness shared with The Boss, Rupert and Miiskin and that he remains something of an asshole right up until the moment Javier takes his terminal tumble. Angelica is also a rather resistible damsel in distress, although this may be Gilliam and Grisoni's comment on the difficulty facing latterday fabulists. Yet, by drafting Angelica as the new Sancho, the pair manage to impart an afterthoughtful #MeToo twist on a tale that doesn't always seem to know precisely what it's trying to say.
Gilliam has claimed that Pryce and Driver are better in his picture than they are in their respective Oscar-nominated outings, Fernando Meirelles's The Two Popes and Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story. He's wrong, as while Pryce is suitably shambolic, Driver spends the entire running time trying to prove he's more than an `if wet' Johnny Depp (whom he is unwisely made to resemble). Stellan Skarsgård, Jordi Mollà and Olga Kurylenko aren't given enough to do to break free of their caricatures, while Joana Ribeiro struggles to free Angelica from the sketchy clichés with which she's encumbered.
On the technical side, Benjamin Fernández's production design is exceptional, while Nicola Sancho Pecorini's views of the landscape and landmarks of rural Spain are epically evocative. By contrast, Leslie Walker and Teresa Font's editing is as incoherently busy as Roque Baños's bustling score, which both serve to remind viewers that they are not having as much fun as the film-makers clearly were. This is a shame, as Gilliam's enthusiasm is usually infectious. But maybe the weight of expectation he imposed upon himself and the poignancy of the realisation that this may well be his last hurrah seem to have had an enervating effect on an artist whose striving for creative freedom has always been hampered by a ruinously eccentric approach to discipline. Or maybe it just dawned on Gilliam after 45 years of directing that he has been right all along and that the marginalised and the mad really are the only ones who see the world for what it is. If he fancies a swan song, maybe he could take a millennial crack at King Lear?
TALKING ABOUT TREES.
It never ceases to amuse how the weekly release schedule keeps throwing up fascinating juxtapositions. In the week that everyone is talking about the problems that Terry Gilliam had to overcome in order to complete The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, New Wave has the nous to issue Suhaib Gasmelbari's Talking About Trees, which shows pampered auteurs and their adoring acolytes what a real 30-year struggle to make a film looks like, as the year that Gilliam first came up with his Cervantes concept witnessed a coup in Sudan that led to cinema being all but outlawed by successive democratic and dictatorial regimes.
Taking its title from `To Those Born Later', Bertolt Brecht's 1940 poem about the way in which governments use everyday mundanities to create smokescreens to distract citizens from the unspeakable horrors being perpetrated in their name, this is the latest documentary to consider the state of cinema in the Islamic world after Marcus Vetter's Cinema Jenin (2011) and Pietra Brettkelly's A Flickering Truth (2015), which focused on the Afghan Film archives in Kabul. But it's not just film-making that is frowned upon by the Sudanese authorities, as they are so aware of the power of the moving image that they also keep a close eye on what can be screened.
Back in 1989, Ibrahim Shadad, Manar Al Hilo, Suliman Mohamed Ibrahim and Eltayeb Mahdi were all active film-makers. Three decades on, they meet up during a power cut to do a non-camera re-enactment of Gloria Swanson's famous `ready for my close-up' scene from Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950). The key lines in the speech delivered in halting English by Ibrahim, however, relate to cinema being a way of life, as this is highly pertinent for this venerable quartet.
Ibrahim and Eltayeb appear on the Front Page radio show to discuss the decline of Sudanese cinema in the days since Eltayeb's short, The Grave (1973), Suliman's And the Earth Still Turns (1979) and Ibrahim's The Rope (1987) respectively took prizes at prestigious festivals in Cairo, Moscow and Damascus. As we see a clip from Ibrahmi's Hunting Party (1964) - which bears the influence of both Soviet montage and the nouvelle vague on its editorial style - he suggests that a traitor was responsible for the death of the nascent industry, He delves into his store of memorabilia and unearths a 16mm camera, some old videos and the script for a feature entitled, Crocodile, as well as the notes that he was taught to make by his film school tutor in East Germany.
The project was abandoned following fundamentalist Omar Al-Bashir's military coup on 1 July 1989, but the dream didn't die. Indeed, the four friends are so dedicated to the cause of reviving film culture in Sudan that they drive to outlying villages to show classics like Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936), which gets consistent giggles, even when the portable screen starts to furl back up. They are even undaunted by the fact that they run out of petrol and have to push their white VW van home.
A clip follows from Eltayeb's The Station (1988), as the foursome gathers inside the large open air cinema, where they hope to put on a free show to entice a new generation into getting the movie-going habit. However, the owner refuses to grant them permission, as he doesn't want to risk the ire of the president. While Ibrahim acts out scenes from one of his scenarios in the washroom at the offices of the Sudan Film Group, Suliman tries to track down Africa, Jungle, Drum and Revolution, the graduation film he made while studying under Roman Karmen at Moscow's VGIK school between 1973-78.
Gathering during another power cut, the friends read from letters that Eltayeb and Ibrahim had sent from exile Cairo and Canada in 1989 and 1998. The latter recalls being interrogated and jokes that he told his jailers that Suliman was a Communist because he didn't feel like playing the hero to protect a friend whose affiliations were already common knowledge. He invites Manar to the cramped toilet cubicle to pose for some stills for the film he is working on, but he is also committed to finding a venue for their grand cinema show.
They alight upon Cinema The Revolution in Omdurman and watch the lads playing football outside. It seems the perfect venue, but it has lain dormant for so long that they find reels of unspooled film behind the whitewashed wall that had served as the screen. The owner reveals that a Chinese company had sought to turn it into a wedding venue and he agrees to talk to the culture ministry to check on the validity of the cinema's exhibition licence.
Suliman and Manar compose a letter to request permission for the screening and ask Hana Abdelrahman Suliman to deliver it to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. They also take their projector for a trial screening of Hunting Party and decide they need to clean the wall and find some more powerful audiovisual equipment. However, a quick check online and a call to a specialist rental company makes them realise how meagre their resources are and they decide to clean and repaint the screen themselves. In tottering at the top of a step ladder, however, Ibrahim aggravates an old back injury.
Spotting a camel passing the cinema, Ibrahim brings it inside for a guided tour. He poses for a selfie with its lead tied around his head and the animal ducks into shot out in its curious eagerness to sniff the phone. Meanwhile, the quartet devise a questionnaire to ascertain what the footballers outside the cinema might light to see. The younger boys are divided between Hollywood and Bollywood, while the older ones demand something new and action-packed. An old man declares that the cinema closed down because it always showed the same films and Suliman tries to explain that exhibitors had to resort to showing pirated titles after the government closed down the National Film Institute as an act of political oppression.
Ibrahim notes that there are eight minarets in the neighbourhood of the cinema and worries that the various calls to evening prayers will drown out the soundtrack. He and Manar pine for simpler times, as they try to sleep outdoors, but they also hope that progress will finally bring some improvements to life in Sudan. Next morning, as they repair the banner to hang over the cinema entrance, Ibrahim wonders what will happen if the muezzin's loudspeakered cry coincides with a passionate kiss in the film and jokes that the projectionist will have to cover the lens with his hand until the announcement ends. Ironically, when he tries to introduce a special screening of Modern Times to thank the volunteers, the mu'azzin does blare out and, having tried to lip sync along with it, he sidles off the stage.
The potential pundits voted unanimously for a blockbuster and the group decide to show Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained (2012). They post flyers around the district and put the finishing touches to the cinema, which is now filled with 300 hired chairs. However, the National Security department queries the suitability of the picture and orders Hana to provide a plot summary and details of any scenes that could be considered morally objectionable. Having come this far, the four friends are determined to bash on, but they are wary of incurring the wrath of the secret police. As they aver, they may be smarter, but the state is undeniably stronger.
News comes that Al-Bashir has taken 94.5% of the vote in the presidential election of April 2015 and Manar jokes that he is seeking ways to retain power after he dies. We see a clip of the water dripping scene from Ibrahim's Rot (2013-15) and its sense of relentless ennui is reinforced when Hana brings news that the authorities have refused to grant permission for the screening. But Ibrahim feels vindicated when she reports that one of the National Security officers admits that cinemas were closed for political rather than administrative reasons. He also suggests they get on with their lives and they head into the suburbs to present Abderrahmane Sissako's Waiting For Happiness (2002) to a small, but appreciative audience.
Shortly afterwards, they gather to celebrate Manar's 67th birthday. They eat cake and reminisce about the three periods each of dictatorship and democracy that Sudan has experienced since 1989. When Ibrahim mentions the Second World War and the end of colonisation, they tease him for being so old that he was taught cinema by Lenin with Sergei Eisenstein as a classmate. Russia does come through, though, as Suliman (billed as Suleiman El Nour) gets to see his graduation film again. As the film ends, Ibrahim stands on the roof of Cinema The Revolution and announces the screening into an unactivated megaphone. In kinship with Django, he slings the device over his shoulder so that it hangs on his hip before facing the camera and dipping a knee to perform a gunslinging quick draw.
A closing caption suggests that the Sudanese Film Group remain the best kind of optimists because they have lived through the toughest sort of despair. On the basis of this delightful profile, they have certainly been tempered in the furnace. But they have emerged unbowed and their wry good spirits in the face of indifference, interference and incessant setbacks prove highly inspirational and infectious. Arthouse aficionados might bellyache in this country about the blockbuster's multiplex monopoly and the dwindling opportunities to see foreign and independent features outside streaming platforms. But they are utterly spoilt for choice compared to their counterparts in certain parts of the world.
Acting as his own cameraman, Gasmelbari makes this point without labouring it, while his willingness to trust his subjects to deliver choice moments and quotable quips (whether they have been pre-planned or not) gives the Sisyphean proceedings a shufflingly amiable feel. It might have been nice to see a few more clips of the quartet's films, while also reflecting more on the calibre and extent of cine-culture before Al-Bashir clamped down on it. But this should serve as a timely reminder to those who take their creative and consumer freedoms for granted that they should be grateful that they don't live under a regime that considers it dangerous for like-minded people together in one place.
SHOW ME THE PICTURE: THE STORY OF JIM MARSHALL.
There have been numerous documentaries about photographers since the turn of the millennium, with many centring on war correspondents and fashionistas. However, Barnaby Clay's SHOT! The Psycho-Spiritual Mantra of Rock (2016) turned the focus on to those shutterbugs who specialised in rock`n'roll and this profile of Mick Rock has now been followed by Alfred George Bailey's Show Me the Picture: The Story of Jim Marshall. Given the guaranteed glamour and nostalgia that such projects generate, few would be surprised if the lens was eventually turned on the likes of Jerry Schatzberg, Henry Diltz, Bob Gruen and Brad Elterman, as well as such female counterparts as Linda McCartney, Jenny Lens and Pennie Smith.
Somewhat unusually, Bailey begins with former assistant Amelia Davis recalling how Jim Marshall had fought a four-decade drug addiction before he died in a New York hotel room at the age of 74 in 2010. But fellow photographer Bruce Talamon whisks us back to the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco in 1965, when he captured the first stirrings of the hippie movement and the rise of such bands as The Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane. Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen joins in the chorus of approval with Katherine Poppy and Jim Stern, as they recall how Marshall became part of the happening family and took both the work and his subjects seriously.
Davis started working for Marshall in 1998 and her recollection of first meeting him leads into ex-girlfriend Michelle Margetts remembering her first encounter with a man she calls `a malevolent gnome' in 1984, when he had just come out of prison and she was doing a college assignment on someone who used to be famous. We cut to a 2006 interview with Marshall, in which he reflects on his childhood fascination with cameras and he admits that they have got him into less trouble than his other passions, cars and guns.
Former judge Joanne Parrilli and photographer friend Michael Zagaris recall the tensions between Marshall and his mother, who raised him in the frequent absence of his Syrian immigrant father. After USAF service, he tried his hand at drag racing before latching on to the Beat scene around Jack Kerouac. As Michael Douglas reveals, he also got in with jazz legend John Coltrane after producing a series of iconic images for a magazine interview. Musician Kemau Kenyatta and academic Jeff Rosenheim note how this loner, survivor and ultimate outsider earned the trust of artists like Coltrane and Miles Davis, who gave him the freedom to capture them unawares backstage. Marshall was also adept at recording audience reaction at such key gigs as the Monterey Jazz Festival, which was one of the few places in America where whites and blacks mixed without tension.
Arriving in New York in 1962, Marshall forever had a Leica slung over his shoulder and he invariably used the cameras as a diaristic tool. Over a sequence of celebrated shots of Bob Dylan, Anton Corbijn lauds his ability to catch life in the raw, while Talamon and musician Graham Nash comment on Marshall's genius for obtaining and exploiting access, while making a subject feel as though they were in safe hands. On the distaff side, Amelia Davis, Michael Douglas and music critic Joel Selvin agree that he could be hard work and suggest that he was often his own worst enemy. But he carried a lot of insecurity and angst from his immigrant childhood and, while he rarely allowed his personality to intrude into his images, it sometimes led to confrontations on a personal and a professional level.
Back in 1963, Marshall found himself at the centre of the Civil Rights movement and went to Mississippi to photograph the Freedom Riders signing up African-Americans to vote in mock elections. He was also present the following year when Student Non-Violent Co-ordinating Committee members James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were shot by the Ku Klux Klan in what became known as the Freedom Summer Murders. Heading to Hazard, Kentucky, he photographed miners for a `Poverty in America' article for Jubilee Magazine
His métier, however, remained the music scene and The Beatles asked him to chronicle their last live show at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on 29 August 1966. Author Jon Savage reveals how the primitive equipment and the band's remoteness from a screaming crowd broke the camel's back, although Marshall avers that nobody knew at the time that it would be the last hurrah. But a new wave came to replace them, with Graham Nash leaving The Hollies to form Crosby, Stills and Nash and Cream coming to play the famous Fillmore theatre. Marshall was there to snap them, along with The Who, The Rolling Stones, John Mayall, Traffic and Jimi Hendrix, who was returning Stateside after having transformed himself in the UK.
At the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, Marshall took some seminal pictures of Hendrix during a soundcheck. He also caught Janis Joplin at the height of her powers, although Zagaris prefers a group shot of Judy Collins, Nico, Brian Jones and Dennis Hopper, who modelled his space cadet photojournalist in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979) on Marshall. He first met Marshall at the Folk and Rock Festival in Northern California in 1968, by which time the Summer of Love had morphed into an anti-war movement and Davis and Margetts note how Marshall was always intrigued by the uses to which the Peace Symbol was put and created an unofficial history across the decade. But he also had a dark side and Zagaris recalls him pulling a knife and a gun at him at the festival (during which he took some great pictures of Jim Morrison).
Later that year, Marshall was charged with the attempted murder of his wife's male friend. Captions reveal that he went to see her about some IRS documents and pulled a gun on the man, who was hit in the stomach when the bullet ricocheted off the pavement. As the victim didn't press charges, Marshall was released with a suspended sentence and a $1600 fine. He did spend time behind bars around this period, however, as he photographed Johnny Cash during his Folsom and San Quentin shows in 1968 and 1969. John Carter Cash extols the energy and immediacy of Marshall's Folsom pictures, but is most fond of the iconic middle finger shot at San Quentin, which he feels shows the kindred spirit between the pair, as well as his father's rebellious streak.
Continuing a banner year, Marshall rocked up to the free Rolling Stones gig at the Altamont Speedway. However, he was so shocked by the attendant violence that he feared for his safety and it was around this period that he started doing drugs. Davis shows some of the notes he used to stick on the door during his cocaine binges and she opines that he was grateful for her accepting him, even though she quit twice and had to be coaxed into returning. This tendency to drive wedges cost him his second marriage, after his wife grew close to his mother and relations became strained. Marshall was also crushed when Hendrix, Joplin and Duane Allman died and daughter Galadrielle Allman avers that they were like brothers. He also confided that he was very protective of the pictures he took of people he had lost, as he treasured the time he spent with them - a sentiment made manifest by his shot through a hotel bathroom doorway of Allman lost in the moment while playing his guitar.
Corbijn also highlights a shot of Miles Davis on a ring seat in boxing gear and Michael Douglas recalls the friendship they forged while was making The Streets of San Francisco (1972-77). His propensity for partying also earned him the respect of the Stones, who took him on their 1972 tour and a montage of amazing stage and dressing-room shots ensues, with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards very much to the fore. However, as we see concert shots of Led Zeppelin, Douglas reveals that Marshall grew increasingly frustrated by acts wanting to control their image and he had ceased having fun on tour when he was thrown out of Day on the Green in 1977, with Peter Frampton and Fleetwood Mac, for larking about with a champagne table at the back of the stage.
His slide into despair was hastened by wife Rebecca absconding with $20,000 in October 1981 and it was around this time that he formed a relationship with Margetts. He also became more belligerent about protecting his copyright and detested the era of corporate control over image rights. In 1983, he was jailed for a year for multiple gun charges and a threat to shoot his neighbours. Friends Adam Block and Ken Valente recall him living off back catalogue sales during this dark, drug-addled period and Amelia Davis admits he didn't work much between 1984-95. Revealing that she never published her article because of an argument with Marshall over the photos she could use, Margetts gets tearful over the last image he took, while Davis is glad she was able to help him in his later years.
Douglas suggests that lighting and composition mattered less to Marshall than spontaneity and passion and he believes no one better captured music on film. Marshall himself knew he was good, but admitted to also being lucky, as he got to attend some of the most famous events of the age, including Woodstock in 1969, A closing caption discloses that he is the first and only photographer to receive the Grammy Trustees Award for chronicling music history.
Blessed with a magnificent soundtrack - the use of Dylan's `Subterranean Homesick Blues' for a 60s momentous change montage is particularly astute - this is more of a snapshot than a portrait of a photographer whose looks and temperament bear a passing resemblance to those of Phil Spector. The problem with a maverick genius is that they alienate as many people as they enchant. Yet Bailey seems reluctant to delve into Marshall's wild side and skates by on having loyal friends make excuses on his behalf. Clearly, childhood scars never healed, but the avoidance of in-depth analysis of the traits that made Marshall so recklessly combustible makes it more difficult to identify with the man holding the camera that took so many indelible images.
Despite the widening of the cracks, the Swinging Sixties retains a romantic veneer that will eventually be corroded as the toxicity seeps out of the oft-told tales of carpe diem machismo. Consequently, Marshall's friends and admirers are able to wax lyrical about his artistry without having to examine the flaws of a a self-loathing, chip-shouldered megalomaniac that would no longer be tolerated within the music industry or the mass media. More frustratingly, nobody seems willing to discuss his technique or his aesthetic, with the result that the audience is left to conclude that he was merely a natural eye who had the knack of being in the right place at the right time.
Of course, there's much more to it than that, as is made plain by the fascinating segments on Marshall's undervalued excursions into reportage and social documentation. But Bailey seems disinterested in what motivated Marshall to take his pictures and is content with editor Adam Biskupski to curate the feature equivalent of a portrait gallery. Such is Marshall's intuitive brilliance that it's easy to be distracted by seeing the human side of a famous face in an unguarded or unfamiliar pose. That said, the viewer needs an encyclopaedic knowledge of the music scene in its heyday to recognise everyone, as few of the pictures are captioned beside those from an `at home' shoot with Thelonius Monk.
EVERYTHING: THE REAL THING STORY.
It's often forgotten that `You to Me Are Everything' was the first song by a homegrown all-black vocal group to top the UK charts and, what's more, it achieved the feat in the middle of the long, hot summer of 1976 that was dominated by the rise of punk. Simon Sheridan's documentary, Everything: The Real Thing Story, profiles the combo who bucked the trend and, in the process, it examines how difficult it proved for the four lads from Liverpool to move away from bubblegum soul into something more musically and socio-politically challenging. Moreover, this conventional, but considered picture also ponders the extent to which Britain has tackled the issues of race and integration that provided the backdrop to The Real Thing's career.
As narrator Jacob Anderson and music curator Yaw Owusu reveal, the story began in May 1962 in a port city whose connections to slavery had made it one of the most racially diverse and divisive in Britain. It was here at Stanley House at 73 Anfield Road that Toxteth-born Eddie Amoo formed The Chants with Joey Ankrah, Nat Smeda and Alan Harding. But it was Ankrah's chance meeting with Paul McCartney at a Little Richard gig in September 1962 that changed their fortunes, as he invited them to The Cavern in Mathew Street and The Beatles stood in as their backing group for their first performance.
As Owusu and music journalist Kevin Le Gendre suggest, the quintet's doo-wop style rubbed off on the Fab Four, who were just about to release their first single, `Love Me Do'. But, despite Brian Epstein keeping an eye on The Chants, they never broke out of the Liverpool scene, despite local MP Bessie Braddock inviting them to a civic reception alongside The Beatles in 1964. With McCartney's encouragement, however, Amoo developed his songwriting skills and `A Man Without a Face' became the first British pop song to address racism. Despite the significance of the single, it made little impact on the charts and Amoo and his bandmates admit that no one knew how to market an all-black group in the mid-1960s.
Meanwhile, Eddie's younger brother, Chris (who had grown up outside of Liverpool 8), was also beginning to find his musical voice. He joined forces with Dave Smith and Kenny Davis to form a Temptations sound-alike trio called The Sophisticated Soul Brothers. They changed their name to Vocal Perfection and added Ray Lake to their number. Actor Paul Barber remembers meeting him in an Allerton care home and he suspects his rebellious streak had something to do with the abuse he suffered within the system. Chris Amoo compares his voice to that of Smokey Robinson. But, while Vocal Perfection were beginning to develop a following, ex-partner Gail Lake recalls the racism that she had to endure while dating.
In November 1971, the group was signed by Tony Hall, who decided to change their name to The Real Thing after seeing the neon Coca-Cola sign in Piccadilly Circus. He also got them on the ITV talent show, Opportunity Knocks, although they fell foul of famously unpleasant host Hughie Green by announcing the name change after initially appearing as Vocal Perfection. One can only presume that the tapes have been wiped or the usage rights were too high, as Sheridan includes no footage of the combo's triumph on the show. But singer Leee John does suggest that Green was a bigot, who wasn't best pleased by their Scouse cockiness.
Following their win, The Real Thing released `Plastic Man' as their first single. But their debut performance on Top of the Pops fell flat when Jimmy Savile jokingly called them The Plastic Men singing `The Real Thing'. However, DJ Trevor Nelson, radio presenter and singer Billy Ocean claim that British soul acts struggled to emerge from the shadow being cast by their American counterparts. Indeed, despite soul having a large white following in the UK, it was usually assumed that black bands came from the USA and Eddie Amoo admits people were surprised when they heard him speaking with a Liverpudlian accent after singing in a smooth Stateside manner.
As The Real Thing began to find their style, they replaced the more R&B-oriented Davis with Eddie Amoo. Tragically, he would drown in the River Mersey at the age of 44, while Ray Lake also felt slighted by the power balance within the band shifting towards the Amoo brothers. This new direction coincided with a move into recording advertising jingles and Chris and producer Jeff Wayne recalls them doing commercials for Cadbury's Dairy Milk, Wrigley's Spearmint Gum, Lloyd's Bank and Carlsberg Lager. Indeed, Wayne was so impressed that he invited The Real Thing to sing on his fabled 1978 concept album, The War of the Worlds. He still coos about Chris's version of `Forever Autumn', but he decided the voices weren't working and opted for an all-star cast.
Wayne did, however, introduce the band to David Essex, who was at the height of his pop fame. Smith and the Amoos acknowledge the debt The Real Thing owed to Essex after he took them on tour as his backing group after they had worked on a couple of studio albums. It was while they were in New York in October 1975 that they had a musical epiphany at The Bottomline, where Miles Davis's band advised them to ditch the American kitsch and be themselves. However, the tour pushed Lake further along the road to the drink and drug excess that would exacerbate his mental health problems. As Barber says, he didn't have an off switch and his bandmates were coming to the realisation that he maybe wasn't one of them.
Back in Britain, the music magazine Black Echoes started promoting The Real Thing. But, as actor Louis Emerick points out, black faces were still rare on television outside infamous sitcoms like Love Thy Neighbour (1972-76) and, of course, Top of the Pops. Radio presenter Angie Greaves and singer Janet Kay remember the thrill of seeing role models on the show. But The Real Thing barely got near it, as they endured a string of flop singles. In March 1976, however, they met songwriters Ken Gold and Mick Denne, who transformed their fortunes with `You to Me Are Everything', which was released on the Pye label on 14 May.
Kim Wilde, Billy Ocean and Gwen Dickey all agree that the lyrics are inspired and that Gold's production of Chris Amoo's voice sends shivers. Hitting the Top 40 in the first week, the single shot up from No.22 to No.5 before going to No.1 a fortnight later. It remained there for three weeks and, ironically, kept `Silly Love Songs' by Paul McCartney and Wings off the top spot. Singer Denise Pearson reveals that it's also still in the Top 10 most popular wedding songs in the UK, but the Amoos curse Frankie Valli for a mediocre cover version that spiked their chances.
Gold and Denne rifled through their back catalogue for the follow-up, `Can't Get By Without You', which was only prevented from reaching No.1 by Abba's `Dancing Queen'. Kim Wilde reveals that she got a backstage autograph at a gig and Smith and the Amoos confess their surprise at becoming icons for teenage girls. But Nelson and Le Gendre highlight the significance of four black men being pin-ups and appearing shirtless in magazines. Smith jokes that Lake was promoted as the baby of the band, but there was nothing innocent about him in the slightest and Gail Lake concedes that the wealth and fame may have gone to his head.
Despite ending the year by winning Best New Group at the inaugural British Rock & Pop Awards and being hailed as the `Black Beatles', The Real Thing missed having a third major hit after they rejected Gold and Denne's `Somebody Oughta' Write a Song About You Baby' and recorded the Amoo-penned `You'll Never Know What You're Missing', which stalled at No.18. Nevertheless, their success prompted the siblings to start writing songs that reflected the realities of being black in 70s Britain, for which they are commended by singer Kof Owusu. Both Smith and the Amoos recall the humiliation of being pulled over for driving swish cars, with Eddie (who became Eddy at some undetermined point) revealing that it still happens to him in the 2010s.
So, in August 1977, The Real Thing released the 4 From 8 album, which they hoped would be the British equivalent of Marvin Gaye's What's Goin' On. Despite, the backing of the record company, the tracks got little airplay and all agree it was too raw for the times and for the teeny-bop audience. Yet `Children of the Ghetto', with Lake's falsetto prominent, has become an anthem and Le Gendre notes how courageous it was to use such an evocative word at a time when `ghetto' was associated with American inner-cities. Gail Lake recalls the ovation they received from a mostly black male audience when they played the Liverpool Philharmonic and Chris Amoo remains proud that they made such a crucial statement, albeit that has lost little of its relevance 33 years later.
While happy to let The Real Thing explore other avenues, Pye also wanted hit records and Gold and Denne were recruited for `Whenever You Want My Love' in order to get them back on the charts. The songwriting would be much more collaborative from then on in, but the band were also keen to move into cinema and Anthony Simmons's Black Joy (1977) broke new (albeit problematic) ground as an example of British Blaxploitation. Despite the claims made here, however, it wasn't the first black British feature, as Horace Ové's Pressure had been made in 1975, even though its release was delayed.
The band also co-starred with Joan Collins in Quentin Masters's The Stud (1978), although they were dismayed when the song `Let's Go Disco' was released as a single. However, film also influenced `Can You Feel the Force', as Eddie had been inspired by George Lucas's Star Wars (1977). This was considered more funk than disco and Kim Wilde whoops about the track, while the Amoos were grateful that it charted around the time they got to work with The Jackson 5, as it gave them some credibility. According to Gail, however, Lake was unhappy with the choice of songs and would sing `Can You Feel Divorce' during live shows.
A few fallow years followed their break with Gold and Denne and they made a major miscalculation in going to Sun City in South Africa with David Essex in March 1983. Ashamed at being granted honorary white status, they realised the error they had made when Essex was pressured by the promoters into asking them to stop performing `Children of the Ghetto'. It wasn't until a remix of `You to Me' charted in February 1986 that they arrested the decline and further reboots brought put The Real Thing back in the spotlight. But Lake was finding the adjustment difficult and his drug use became more obvious after their last appearance as a four piece doing `Hard Times' in 1987.
Gail reveals that they were both addicted to heroin and committed credit card fraud to pay for their fixes. Yet, Lake felt betrayed when he was sacked for being a liability on stage in Germany in October 1991 and jailed for burgling a friend's house in Sefton Park. In a bid to kick the habit, the Lakes moved to Brighton with their young daughter, but the marriage collapsed. A second also failed after Lake did more prison time. Eventually, he took a heroin overdose in 2000 and Gail has no doubt that he intended to end it all, as he left a farewell message for his child. Eddie wishes he had known more about mental health so that he could have helped, but Smith reckons Lake had a self-destructive streak and that tragedy was almost inevitable.
The documentary closes with The Real Thing still performing in London in the summer of 2017. However, Eddie died in Australia at the age of 73 in February 2018 and Chris and Dave appear in a coda to confirm that they will continue to perform as a duo (which is how they had started out) and will always feel his force on stage. This a sad way to sign off, but Sheridan's film stands as a worthy tribute.
Indeed, this is a fine introduction to a band whose importance to British soul and beyond has been overlooked for too long. The diligent Sheridan speaks to most of the right people, although it's a shame that Macca couldn't have been coaxed into appearing (especially as he receives special thanks), as he's usually so ready to reflect upon the Merseybeat era and Liverpool's contribution to the music scene. Editors Lee Stephens and Monika Witkowska make solid use of the available archive material, but the fillers depicting models striking cool poses miss the mark. Moreover, as is the case with so many rockumentaries, the reluctance to provide a wider musical context in order to leave space for the singing of praises is hugely frustrating, as it would only have taken a few minutes to mention the likes of Ambrose Adekoya Campbell and the West African Rhythm Brothers and The Southlanders, as well as such mixed-race combos as The Equals and Hot Chocolate.