The Cinema Museum Auditorium
Well once again thanks to Paulo for flagging this up in the first place as it was a very interesting night out. I’d never even heard of the London Cinema Museum before even though it’s only about a 15 minute walk away from where I work. Trying to find it was a bit of a nightmare, and I’d have missed the start of the event if I hadn’t accidently met another punter trying to find the place too, who’d been there a couple of times before.Sir Chris takes the stage
Turns out the building is part of a Victorian workhouse where Charlie Chaplin spent some time as a child when his mother was destitute (dramatised in Richard Attenborough’s CHAPLIN, though shot on Cheney Road in King’s Cross). I’ll have to visit the venue again as it is jammed with thousands of objects related to the history of cinemas (and not Cinema), right down to old movie house carpets and fold down chairs. All these items even fill the place with a nostalgic musty scent of long gone ABC’s, Rex’s, Regal’s, Roxy’s, Palace’s or any other pre-multi-plex flea pits older board members may have known. Projectors
And onto the stage comes Sir Chris, nicely miked up for a crisp, clear sound for his presentation. His initial quotes by and about Leone are the only notes he uses all evening (mostly photo copies of pages from STDWD). For the rest he wings it, wonderfully relaxed, occasionally bubbling with excitement about his subject still, as though he’s only just seen A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS for the first time and marvelling that such a thing exists. With the bizarre exception of a moment when, invoking Leone’s fascination with Pupi Sicilliani
he used a glove puppet to imitate Leone’s directorial style, I’m pretty sure the lecture was much the same as the one I heard him give a few years ago at the Estorik, but like any great story you want to hear it again.
The clips were different too, and longer, starting with the corrida
from GBU, beautifully projected from a Blu-Ray DVD (though I heard Sir Chris later saying that the sound of the guns is all wrong in the mix on this release) and the chariot race from BEN HUR, which Leone worked on as 1st assistant director for the second unit under Andrew Marton. The only clip in the second half was the Cattle Corner scene from OUTIW almost in full which Frayling declared was Leone’s “greatest ever sequence”. Little moments from these clips prompted the observations (can’t remember if they are mentioned in STDWD and I don’t have my copy of the book to hand) that Lee Van Cleef is missing part of one of his fingers because of an accident when building a doll’s house for his daughter (an anecdote from Mrs Van Cleef) and that the squaw in the station ticket office was played by Woody Strode’s wife. Q&A
Some other interesting quotes included his description of GBU as “Surrealism rides the range” after showing a slide of the Di Chirico painting Leone owned and was influenced by, and the fact that novelist Graham Green was a huge fan of OUATIW and called it “A Dance of Death” during an interview on the stage of the NFT which caused a major stir as at the time as few, apart from our Chris, ever admitted to liking Leone’s work at all. Indeed the evening finished suitably when Frayling was himself asked why he had championed these films so much, and he invoked their fresh and hip feel when he first saw them in the 1960’s as a young man, how he felt Leone was “a prophet without honour” in his own country, how Leone was, once upon a time, cruelly neglected critically because he didn’t make films about Italy, playfully speculating on how THE LEAPORD would have turned out if Leone had made it and not Visconti. Aptly he closed with a memory of when a street was named after Sergio in Almeria and Mrs. Leone was present too to cut the ribbon (“Like a scene from a Fellini film” he recalled) and afterwards she embraced him with tears in her eyes and said “You were the first person to take my husband seriously”. In itself an almost Leoniesque anecdote? But the man was clearly moved in the telling, as I was listening and there the all too brief Q&A section ended.
As to the questions posed by the board, some of them were answered, some I’m afraid not. During his presentation Frayling made it clear he believes the sole originator of the poncho was Leone himself, who used stills of Eastwood to sketch the character outline on and later pass his ideas to Carlo Simi to polish. Nothing to do with Clint.Discussing duster tailoring
I’m afraid I wasn’t able to find out anything new about Harry Grey, and as this was a presentation about Leone’s westerns Frayling did say early on he wasn’t going to talk about OUATUA tonight (and as it turned out GUI LA TESTA was pretty much ignored too). However, having met him before I was quite happy chatting to him briefly during the interval and I asked him about the current restoration project of that film. He told me he wasn’t in any way involved it the work for the new print Leone’s children are producing but that he had seen the extra footage. He sounded enthusiastic summarising it until he described the Cleopatra sequence as “awful”. He hopes that down the line in the future he will be asked to provide a DVD commentary but then of course he’d “have to talk for even longer.” So maybe one day... I’m afraid I didn’t get the time or the opportunity to ask about Murlock, might have if the Q&A had went on for a tiny bit longer.Through the medium of puppets
All photos by me, BTW.