Posts Tagged ‘Simon Mayo’

Barry Norman’s 1977 Review of Star Wars

April 29, 2022

Here’s a blast from the past to cheer up fans of Star Wars and who miss the genial, avuncular tones of film critic Barry Norman on their TV screens. I found this little snippet from Film 1977 on YouTube, in which Norman looks at, and actually likes, Star Wars. He states that it has become the biggest grossing film in history, as it was when it first came out, although it’s since been overtaken by Titanic and Avatar. The film contained the right mixture of romantic adventure, including the knights of the round table and Science Fiction. Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi is described as a kind of elderly Sir Galahad with the film also starring Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher. But, adds Norman, the real stars are likely to be the two robots, R2D2 and C3PO. He also mentions how the film was already becoming a merchandising phenomenon. The action figures wouldn’t be out by Christmas, but a whole range of other toys, including ray guns, would. He quotes one Fox executive as saying that it’s not a film but an industry.

The film’s success took writer and director George Lucas and producer Gary Kurtz by surprise. Lucas spent years writing and re-writing the script before it was ready for shooting, and the film was initially rejected by two studios. Even more amazing is that it was shot on the low budget of £6 million – which was obviously worth a lot more in 1977 than it is now – and that the special effects and many of the live action sequences were created by British special effects technicians at Elstree. But none of the film’s massive profits will be coming back to them, unfortunately.

Before Star Wars, Lucas was best known for his film American Graffiti, but the seeds of Star Wars are in an earlier film he made as a 27 year old graduate film student, THX1138. And now, two films later, at the age of 32, Lucas is so rich he need never work again. But there’s no point being jealous, says Norman, adding ‘Damn him!’ He nevertheless concludes that Lucas is a good director who deserves his success.

The review rather surprised me, as I can remember Bazza complaining in the 1980s that there wasn’t a cinema for adults, and Star Wars, while a family flick, was aimed at children. The review surprised me even further with the statement that Lucas is a good director. I think he was, at least in the first trilogy. Unfortunately the first of the prequels, The Phantom Menace, caused some people to drastically revise their opinion of Lucas as a director. Mark Kermode, reviewing it for BBC radio, declared that Lucas ‘couldn’t direct traffic’, which is far too harsh. I’m not a fan of the The Phantom Menace, which is rather too juvenile for my tastes. But it definitely wasn’t the Nazi propaganda flick poet and critic Tom Paulin claimed it was in a bug-eyed bonkers segment for the Beeb’s Late Review. And watching the next two prequels on DVD, I found that they recaptured some of the wonder and excitement I’d had watching the original trilogy as a child in the ’70s and ’80s.

As for Bazza, his retirement from the show and death a few years ago has, in my opinion, left a hole in the Beeb’s film criticism. Yes, Kermode and Mayo are good on Radio 2, and Kermode’s series a few years ago on the essential elements and plot structures of various film genres was very good. The Beeb did try bringing in Jonathan Ross and then a couple of female presenters, one of whom I believe was Claudia Winkleman, to replace Bazza on Film –. Ross was responsible for the Incredibly Strange Film Show on Channel 4, in which he reviewed some truly bizarre and transgressive movies. At least one of these was by John Waters, the man responsible for Hairspray amongst other assaults on the cinematic sensibilities of the mainstream American public. I was afraid when Wossy took over that he’d drag the show downmarket. But he didn’t. He was knowledgeable and intelligent, offering reasoned criticism and insight. Nevertheless, neither he nor the two ladies could match Norman and his quiet, genial tones giving his opinion on that year’s films. Bazza was so popular, in fact, that 2000AD sent him up as an alien film critic, Barry Abnormal, in the story ‘DR and Quinch Go To Hollywood’. This was about a pair of alien juvenile delinquents trying to make a movie from a script they’d stolen from an alcoholic writer after he’d passed out and they thought he was dead. The film stars Marlon, a parody of a certain late Mr Brando. Marlon is illiterate, but his acting is so powerful, as well as the fact that no-one can understand a word he says, that people so far haven’t actually figured that out. Marlon dies, crushed by an enormous pile of oranges after trying to take one from the bottom of the pile. Which Dr and Quinch film and release as ‘Mind the Oranges, Marlon!’

It’s good to see Barry Norman giving his surprisingly positive views about Star Wars, 45 years, and many films, as well as countless books, comics and toys later. Star Wars is, I believe, very firmly a part of modern popular culture, as shown by the way it’s casually discussed by the characters in the film Clerks and the Channel 4 TV series, Spaced. And Norman himself, though having departed our screens years ago, is still fondly remembered by fans of his series, even if we didn’t always agree with him.

And why not?

Mark Kermode’s Review of Michael Moore’s ‘Fahrenheit 11/9’

November 4, 2018

Michael Moore is the ‘capped crusader’, the left-wing American film-maker responsible for a string of powerful documentaries, from his first film, Michael and Me, to Fahrenheit 9/11 about the War on Terror, Bowling for Columbine about the Columbine High School massacre, Sicko, on the pitfalls of America’s private healthcare system and Capitalism: A Love Story, which is very definitely not a celebration of American private enterprise. His latest film, which was released a few weeks ago, is Fahrenheit 11/9 about the rise of Donald Trump. Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo are the film critics on BBC Radio 5. Here Kermode gives his view on Moore’s movie.

He begins by explaining that the title refers to the date on which Trump won the presidential and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, conceded defeat. It’s also a reference to his earlier film, Fahrenheit 9/11, and to Ray Bradbury’s SF classic, Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which paper burns. Fahrenheit 9/11 became the highest grossing documentary film and won the Palme D’Or at Cannes. Kermode has his own reservations about Moore, in particular the grandstanding and stunts he plays in his movies. The film examines how the fruitcake, to use Kermode’s substitute term, we got to this point. Trump announced his intention to run for the Whitehouse because he was sick of Gwen Stefani earning more than him. Then his candidacy was taken seriously, and he got elected. In addition to talking about Trump himself, Moore also discusses his own peculiar relationship with Trump and his aides. He was given assistance with his earlier films by Bannon and Kushner, and met Trump himself on the Tonight Show. Trump said that he liked Michael and Me, but hoped Moore wouldn’t make a film about him. Moore actually went easy on him during that interview, because he’d been told to.

Moore also uses the film to criticize what he sees are the failings in the Democrats. They didn’t take Trump seriously. He talks specifically about the disgusting state of the water supply in Flint, Michigan, and how Obama, as he sees it, did nothing about it. This has led to the current crisis, where people are alienated from politics because they see everyone as part of the elite.

He does, however, see change coming from young people, who are refusing to put up with this. Kermode plays a clip from the film in which he talks to Michael Hepburn, a young Black Democratic candidate for Florida. Hepburn explains that the problem is the lack of will and backbone from the Democrats, and the fact that they’re taking money from the same sources as the Republicans. He states that the Democratic party should be recruiting extraordinary ordinary Americans, who get on the same bus as their constituents. Who have kids in the same public schools, and so know what it’s like when the teachers don’t get paid a real salary or lack resources.

A young woman explains that the definition of electoral insanity is electing the same guys over and over again and expecting things to be any different.

This is followed by a clip of a news programme explaining that for the first time, the Democrats in Michigan will have an all-female ticket. He talks to Rashida Talib, who is poised to become the first Muslim woman in Congress. She says ‘We are not ready to give up on the party, just ready to take it over and put some people in there that get it.’
‘Take it over?’ Moore asks.
‘Take it over, Michael. Take it over,’ she replies.

Kermode also says that the strongest voices are those of schoolchildren, including one piece where they talk about the revolution that is going on through social media. He finds it refreshing that someone is talking about social media in a positive way. He still finds Moore a problematic figure, and that the film doesn’t really ‘wrestle the problem to the ground’. However, it does offer a glimmer of hope through young people. This is what happens when people feel disenfranchised, and a younger generation who are fed up with not being represented. He goes on to say that there is a certain repetition of themes, because they’re close to Moore’s heart. He also says that he feels that Moore is sincere about this film. He says it’s impossible to say what impact the film will have. It’s nothing like the scale of Fahrenheit 9/11. He also believes the best film about Trump was You’ve Been Trumped, made long before the Orange Buffoon came to power and which was about him and the golf courses in Scotland. But it’s a sincere work, with less of the ‘stunty stuff’ which Kermode doesn’t like.