Reviewed today: Filmworker, Opening Gala Live Stream.
You've probably noticed that I don't do Opening Galas these days. The last one I attended myself was in 2002: the last time this site was represented at one was when a bunch of my lady friends dressed up to see Fantastic Mr Fox in 2009. Since then, if I'm honest, there hasn't been an Opening Gala film that I've considered worth the price of a standard ticket, let alone the forty quid that a Gala seat costs now.
Having said that, the hoopla outside the Odeon Leicester Square on the night of the Gala is free, and quite fun whether you're going into the cinema afterwards or not. And these days, you don't even have to stand out in the cold to experience it, as the BFI kindly live-stream the whole thing over their Facebook page. So, technically, this year my LFF starts in the living room of Château Belated-Monkey, with my laptop connected to the telly for maximum impact.
Initially, it's a bit of a mess: a series of random shots from outside the cinema, suddenly interrupted by an introduction from host Lauren Laverne which pretends to be live, but includes an early flub and a request for a retake. To be fair, though, for the first twenty minutes or so there isn't much happening: there's a single crane camera parked at the TGI Fridays end of the red carpet, and we get to watch it just swooping in every direction while we wait for the action to start. Gratifyingly, somewhere in the hubbub you can hear chants of "What do we want? A living wage" from a group of striking Picturehouse staff in the crowd. For the most part they're kept out of shot, apart from one glorious moment where the camera pulls back from Hugh Bonneville signing autographs to reveal banners saying things like LFF OFF, before a very sudden cutaway to something else.
Eventually, the three main stars of the evening arrive, and it strikes me that I still haven't told you what the Opening Gala film is this year. Well, it's Breathe, the true story of Robin Cavendish and his battle against polio. Yeah, my forty quid's staying safely in my pocket, although your personal mileage may vary. Still, the crowds behind the crash barriers also get to save their money, and get up close to Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy, who spend a good half hour or so shaking hands, signing autographs and posing for pictures. From the closeup shots we get from a roving handheld camera, Foy has a constant smile of barely suppressed terror, while Garfield is ridiculously relaxed throughout the whole meet and greet, even when encountering a sign someone's drawn depicting him as the cartoon cat Garfield as if it's some sort of compliment. The big surprise for me is that the director gets just as much attention from the fans: it's Andy Serkis, working behind the camera for the first time, and having a ball signing endless Hobbit DVD covers as they're passed to him.
As we get closer to the 7pm start of the movie, the scene on the red carpet gets more chaotic, as the number of people on it increases. It strikes me that back in the old days, an event like this would have included a high number of celebrity attendees who weren't anything to do with the film (like, say, Michael Winner back in 1997): but they either don't get invited any more, or the live coverage didn't bother noticing them. Still, that doesn't detract from the usual fun of watching people ponce around on a red carpet. I don't do frocks, leaving that sort of thing to my more experienced colleagues at Europe's Best Website, but I have to say that Clare Stewart's is an absolute showstopper, taking the programme's triangle motif and turning it into a diamond-shaped skirt that's about as wide as she is tall.
The live stream does a good job of recreating the real-life experience of being at one of these things - not much happens for long periods of time, and when it does you can't always see it - although the roving handheld cameras give you an advantage over the people who've been trapped behind a crash barrier since five this afternoon. We also get to see Lauren Laverne interviewing the key players in the relative quiet of the Odeon foyer, and for the most part it's fairly bland electronic press kit stuff - apart from Andrew Garfield, who starts his interview by giving his support to the Picturehouse strikers, drawing a connection between Robin Cavendish's battle for disability rights and their protest about "wanting life to have value... I want to be out there with them, but I have to be on this red carpet." I've had a soft spot for Garfield since first seeing him at this festival in Boy A, and I like him even more now.
Laverne gives us a quick plug for endpolio.org, and then the screen goes blank: no more content for us freeloaders. An hour or so later, I'm in Leicester Square myself, and it's all clear again - the barriers have been taken away, the crowds have dispersed, the forty quid ticket holders are watching their movie. Time for me to watch a cheaper one, I think.
8.40pm: Filmworker [official site]
We've all had that moment watching 2001 or Barry Lyndon, where Leonard Rossiter suddenly pops up in a dramatic role and we all start giggling, wondering why Rigsby is now pretending to be a Russian scientist. But, to be fair, it happens a lot in Stanley Kubrick's films: he seemed to treat the scruffier end of British telly as his own personal talent pool. For example, even though I saw the restoration of his 1975 classic Barry Lyndon only last year, I couldn't have told you that the foppish character of Lord Bullingdon was played by Leon Vitali, whom I would have recognised in my childhood as Peter Craven in The Fenn Street Gang. (Looking at an old episode now, he curiously seems to be the least memorable of the six lead characters.)
But as Tony Zierra's documentary reveals, Vitali's connection with Kubrick goes way beyond that. He'd acted in movies before, but he'd never been in the presence of what he thought of as a filmmaker, and he approached Kubrick at the end of the shoot saying he'd like to learn more. For the next quarter of a century, Vitali became Kubrick's right hand man, assisting him in every aspect of the moviemaking process - running enormous casting sessions, coaching less experienced actors through their lines, and tracking the prints of all Kubrick's movies as they made their way around the world. It became an all-consuming role that took its toll on Vitali, and even Kubrick's death in 1999 did little to decrease his workload.
Ryan O'Neal, who played Barry Lyndon, reveals here that as soon as his shooting on the film was over he got the hell out of the country. In a way, that reveals what Vitali's mistake was: he stayed. The longer he spent in Kubrick's orbit, the more Kubrick felt at liberty to drain him. Vitali insists it wasn't an abusive relationship, because that's what the director did with everybody: suck their collective energy out and focus it onto the screen. He just took more out of Vitali than most because he was available, and willing.
There are some oddities in the way Zierra chooses to tell his story, notably his indecision over whether he wants his interviewees talking directly into the camera or not. But that story is strong enough to get over those occasional distractions. There are plenty of splendid anecdotes about the lengths Kubrick went to in order to obtain a shot, but for once they're underscored with a continual reminder that people get damaged by that approach. Towards the end, an interesting subtext becomes apparent: Vitali was a special case because he was working in unique circumstances, but the industry is, as one interviewee puts it, "full of Leons" - the countless, nameless people who labour behind the scenes so that the famous people can do what they do. Zierra thinks we should be treating them better. I'm sure the staff at Picturehouse Cinemas would agree.