Who was Ronald Lewis?

Ronald_LewisWatching old movies, it’s like looking through the lens of a time machine, and can become a rather sobering experience at times. I’ve written about this before- watching an old film, being curious about an actor that I’ve just seen, looking them up on the internet, suddenly reading of an entire life and career summed up in a paragraph. How can an entire life be summed up within a few lines? Of course it can’t, it just leaves us with a tantalizing glimpse, and its human nature to just try fill in those gaps, haunted by those images from films, of lives frozen at that moment, actors/actresses unaware of the futures ahead of them that we can read now, looking back. In some ways it offers a horrifying perspective. Not every story ends well.

Last night I watched The Full Treatment (review coming later), another Hammer film from the recent Indicator Hammer boxset, and I was fascinated, somehow, by the performance of Ronald Lewis in the lead role. To a degree it was one of those have I/where have I seen him before? moments, but I must say I was very impressed by him in The Full Treatment, hamstrung slightly by an awkward script, and thought he looked a good leading man for the time. In looks he reminded me a little of the great Jack Lemmon. I suppose I was just curious why I hadn’t seen him in any other Hammer films, as Hammer seemed to have a group of actors that it used in so many films (Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing perhaps the most famous, but many other actors continually resurfaced in minor roles), and it seemed odd that Lewis didn’t  get used by them in other films (as it turned out, I learned that he turned up in another two Hammer films, The Taste of Fear, which I haven’t seen and is apparently superior to The Full Treatment and was much more successful. So Hammer did use him again, Lewis later appearing in 1965’s The Brigand of Kandahar, another Hammer I have not seen).

There was something, though, seeing The Full Treatment, and Ronald Lewis in his presumed prime, frozen in time over fifty years ago. So here again, obituaries offer glimpses of entire lives: Ronald Lewis, born 11 December 1928 in Port Talbot, Glamorgan (which would make him about 31 when he was filming The Full Treatment) died 11th January 1982, aged just 53, having committed suicide-  a drugs overdose, likely connected to having been declared bankrupt the year before. His life summed up as being a Welsh actor most famous for his work in the 1950s and 1960s, his films and television appearances listed. Its inferred he suffered from a drinking problem, with bad press from having allegedly assaulted his wife in 1965, and his career suffered a decline arising either from his bad image or his drinking affecting his work. IMDb alleges that  ‘he was known as an aggressive and perhaps unstable man, with a history of violence towards others, including women’. Two marriages, one child.

So who was Ronald Lewis? Of course, I have no real idea, and after so many years most of those who knew him are likely gone, too. Just the clues left, his life beyond those images from The Full Treatment summed up by a few scant lines. With The Full Treatment his career was still on the rise, a leading man in British film, a career soon to take a bad turn into slow decline, bankruptcy and suicide. But somehow he lives forever in film, frozen in time- in The Full Treatment, it will always be 1960.

In 1962, Lewis appeared in Twice Around the Daffodils, with Kenneth Williams, who in his diary dated 12th January 1982 reflected on the news of Lewis’ passing: “The paper says Ronald Lewis has taken an overdose! He was declared bankrupt last year! Obviously nobody offered him work & he was driven to despair. I remember Ronnie… and that drinking session at the White Horse all those years ago… he was a kind boy & people used him. He was 53.”

Watching old movies, it’s like looking through the lens of a time machine, and yes, it can be a sobering experience, measuring those years, catching glimpses of the lives on that screen.


The Netflix Conundrum


The Cloverfield Paradox: clearly pretty bad but it’s got a great Bear McCreary score that I would love to hear in context.

Altered Carbon: if ever a tv show was made for me, this one sounds like it- a great premise, good lead actor and solid production values.

Stranger Things: I still haven’t seen anything of it, which makes me feel like a social outcast in geekdom as everyone tells me its great (and then look at me rather strangely as if I’m one of those ‘Strange Things’ for having not seen it).

The Crown season two: wouldn’t say it was exciting me before, but having seen season one on disc, I’m more than curious to see what happens next. She ditches the corgis and raises some dragons instead, yeah? What, it’s not like GOT afterall?

Mute: Hey, bit of a mess from what I’m told but like the best of misfires, an intriguing one.

Annihilation: Alex Garland’s latest opus won’t be hitting cinemas afterall? What?

I think we’ve just hit Critical Mass folks. It goes against the grain, frankly, paying anything more to watch an increasingly fractured landscape of television programming (I swear, Sky Atlantic will never sully my tv ever…) but I finally may have met my match. I give up, I’m raising the white flag, I’m beat. They’ve even got The Expanse, that great sci-fi show I’ve had to import discs over from America in order to watch. Netflix may finally be coming to Ghost Hall in March…

Ghosts in the corners, and well done, Ridley!

roomThe building where I have worked for the past 25, going on 26, years is being demolished, to be replaced by something newer/cheaper/more impermanent, which has necessitated in being temporarily relocated to a building towards the city centre and trips up and down busy motorway at an ungodly hour. Unfortunately this has impacted on the frequency of my posting here, and I suspect will continue to do so, which is why I’m writing this post. Hopefully things will return to normal in a few months.

I feel a bit like Noodles in Sergio Leone’s masterpiece Once Upon A Time In America; I’m spending my days going to bed early. Five am is a lousy time to be getting up, and cold dark February mornings trying to beat the peak motorway traffic (and usually failing, as like the eponymous city, the motorway never sleeps, and that traffic just keeps on rolling) is a depressing way to start any day. Back end of the week, thirteen to fourteen-hour days have a way of wearing you out. Oh well, as the song goes, a change is gonna come, but I’m sure these long days were rather easier years ago. None of us are getting any younger, and neither are our movies- did someone mention that Blade Runner is 36 years old this year?

Changes. They have a way of sneaking up on you. Where do 25 years go? That last Friday evening, when I walked the empty corridors and rooms of that old building, alone in the shell of what was once a bustling, vibrant building full of people (in truth, it’s been a long slow decline towards this inevitable end, but when I started there back in 1992, it was something else entirely. It was like every corner, every room, was full of ghosts. I could almost hear them in the suddenly echoey, empty rooms; old voices and laugher, lurking like ghosts in the corners.

The majority of the building had been emptied in preparation of the demolition teams and asbestos removal experts (the building dates from the 1950s/1960s and the building practices of unwiser times), so most of it was already a dim shadow of its former self of decades ago. In the early nineties, the canteen/mess room on a Friday evening such as this would be bustling, like a working men’s social club minus the booze- smoke hanging the air, men playing cards, shooting their mouths off, watching the television bolted high in a corner… voices long gone, now. And soon the building with them.

riddersI mentioned that Blade Runner is 36 years old this year. Last night at this years BAFTA, Ridley Scott -sorry, Sir Ridley Scott- was given a BAFTA Fellowship award, marking his 40 years in the film business. Well surely it’s longer than that, when did The Duellists come out, 1977 wasn’t it?  Well, whats a year or two? Nice to see Ridley up there taking an BAFTA award for once -the first time, in fact, according to him, and he was certainly visibly moved by the occasion.  A video segment with clips from many of his films demonstrated two things – one: that they may not all have been brilliant, but it’s one hell of a body of work for any director to have behind him, and two: bloody hell I’m getting old, I’ve seen most of them at cinemas over the years, many of them at cinemas that no longer even exist. Here we go again, demolished buildings.

At least in LA 2019 they had the good sense to retrofit them rather than demolish them.

It was nice, too, to see Blade Runner 2049 pick up two awards at least. Roger Deakins award for cinematography was no great surprise (although the huge injustice if he had failed to win might have broken the internet for a few hours “suddenly a great wail was heard, as if a million film geeks had cried out and were suddenly silenced…”) but the visual effects award was a pleasant surprise. Its fully deserved, but I rather feared the more ‘showy’ spectacles of  films like The Last Jedi might have trumped it. I do feel rather aggrieved that it didn’t win for Best Sound though. I think the sound design in BR2049 is just sublime, its gorgeous, like an aural painting, a sound canvas if you will that’s equal to the rightly-lauded Deakins cinematography.

Well, two awards isn’t bad. Blade Runner won three, mind, back in 1983…(it didn’t win for sound back then, either, which is a similar grand injustice- they gave that one to the team behind the Pink Floyd movie The Wall, go figure…).

Moreover, it didn’t win for Best Visual Effects either- they gave that one to Poltergeist.

I know. Poltergeist. I mean, sure, its a good film and the effects were nice for the time… still are, I guess, but come on, Blade Runner‘s effects are in a whole different league.

Awards never get it right, every film geek knows that, just wait for Oscars to upset everyone. The Oscars REALLY know how to not get it right. They gave the Best Visual Effects that year to E.T. for goodness sake. Bloody E.T. I’ll never make my peace with that film.


Forum Horrors

brbhsThis weekend I’ve been reading American forums regarding BR2049, as the disc came out over there last week and I was curious about what people were saying about it, particularly as so many of them failed to see the film at the cinema. Some people loved it, some people didn’t, some people actually preferred it over the original, some didn’t- so the usual stuff you’d expect to see. Overall I was pleased to see many more positive comments than negative, and quite a few regretting not seeing the film theatrically.

BUT… then I read this one.: My God… I’ve watched the first hour of BR2049 and it’s a mind-f–er!! I think it’s wonderful!! I don’t want it to be any shorter!

He then adds: I felt lots of tension all the way through the first hour. I’ll watch the rest tomorrow night…

Whoa. I nearly choked with laugher (somehow it struck me as being deliberately funny). THIS is the kind of stuff that really winds me up, and makes me question people’s modern viewing habits, their attention spans, how they watch films, and maybe explains all those assertions that the film failed in America partly because of the running time. This guy buys the film, puts it on, watches just an hour, then switches it off to resume a day later. What crazy shit is that? How do you watch a film in pieces like that? Can’t people schedule their lives, leave sufficient time to watch a film throughout, or refrain from watching it until they do have enough time?

But anyway, it just struck me as rather funny, praising a film that he clearly enjoyed and then almost offhandedly adding that he’ll watch the rest tomorrow.  Imagine watching Psycho for the first time, getting up to the shower scene and then deciding to stop it and resume it a day or so later. I can imagine Hitch being well impressed by that.

Is this how the new generation digest films now? No wonder studios think they have to chuck explosions and shit it every twenty minutes to maintain people’s attention. Bit like my recent review of Cinderella, and how I was a bit annoyed by the frequent cuts to big flashy (and rather fake-looking) cgi shots to establish locations. Its a crazy world out there.

I should avoid forums. They can be a bit scary.

Happy New Year & some 2017 Stats

Well, a very happy 2018 to everyone. Before we start 2018’s blogging duties proper, a momentary time-out to review some stats from 2017 now that it has shuffled off into the past, if only to chart some intentions for this coming year.

2017 was my most prolific year yet. Quantity is no indicator of quality, to be sure, though I’ve always done my best to make my posts entertaining and possibly informative. In 2017 I managed to write and publish 190 posts. This compares with 159 posts in 2016 and 68 posts in 2015, so you can see its going in the right direction at least. The hardest part isn’t so much finding something to write, but rather finding the time to write it. I expect this will continue (married life and a job and all that, and oh, finding time to even watch anything, let alone write about it).

In any case, I’m pleased to have managed that many posts. It took some time and effort but clearly it’s my best output yet. I was rewarded with the most views yet, too (and it doesn’t necessarily follow that the more you post, the more views you get). My blog managed 6,103 views in 2017.  In the grand schemes of the internet, such a number is so low it’s pretty much a big fat zero, but its my highest annual figure ever so thanks to all of you who have visited this blog- particularly those of you who took the time to comment, which is where the real reward from blogging comes into it- the social aspect. We may never meet but I consider you all freinds and feel lucky to have met, online, people from all over the world. It’s a crazy and sobering thing to someone like me who remembers the pre-internet world.

So anyway, that was 2017. As far as 2018 goes, I am obviously intending to try pass that 190 posts figure, and to that end, I thought I’d try make this blog more of a journal this year. Whilst I’ll still be writing ‘proper’ reviews etc as usual, I thought I’d also try posting more commentary and reflections/notes about what I’ve been watching/reading. So there will hopefully be more entries, even if they are shorter, but hopefully they may well chart the year as it passes and its twists and turns, and be a fun read for me someday. Well, we’ll see how that goes (you may recall 2017 started with the intent of daily posts and that got beaten out of me by February). But New Year, New Intentions and all that.

In any case, I wonder what lies ahead for 2018? Thinking back to this time last year, I could not have ever imagined BR2049 turning out as well as it did, or me not rushing to the cinema to see the latest Star Wars movie (maybe next week). If nothing else, 2018 has one particular credential- it is going to slowly and inexorably take us to the year 2019, a very special year for a very particular geek such as I. For obvious reasons, I’m sure- and it’s not the final season of GOT either.

What? You’re more excited that 2018 is going to bring us a Han Solo movie?


May the Toys Be With Us: Plastic Story

plastic2017.77: Plastic Story: The Story of Star Wars Toys (2014)

When Star Wars finally came across to our UK shore in Christmas 1977, it rolled out across the regions in early 1978- so by the time it came to my local Odeon in town I was twelve years old. So really any possible interest in the Star Wars figures and toys by Kenner (Palitoy I think over here) was nixed by me being just too old and sophisticated. Although I loved Star Wars, I was more interested in the Marvel comics, the model-kits and the soundtrack and ‘story-of’ albums, and all the kiddies toy stuff passed me by. So I have always been a little ambivalent to the long-running geek culture surrounding those Kenner toys of the original trilogy run.

The chief pleasure for me watching this documentary then, was just the sheer nostalgia for that period, those old point-of-sale items, the old tv ads, the kitsch aspects of the plastic toys and the slightly uncomfortable mania of the collectors interviewed in the film who have back rooms and basements clearly set up like shrines to the original trilogy toys and their own lost  childhoods. It’s a little sad, a little bit like a religious mania unique to our commercial age. But I’m certainly not one to criticize- different strokes for different folks, after all, and it’s all a matter of degree and I’m sure largely painless. These guys loved Star Wars as kids and that connection with a film is something I have shared over the years, God knows, and the culture of collecting something connected to that is something that differs clearly by degree. It’s quite fascinating, that whole thing of buying/collecting physical objects that offer some way of re-connecting with a time and a place and a particular pleasure long gone. Afterall, I still have my Star Wars OST cassette from 1978, and my original Blade Runner VHS tape.

It’s interesting really just how much of an impact Star Wars had back then, something that continues to this day, although it has long since lost any of the innocence it might have once laid claim to.

This is one of the doc’s most fascinating points- that nothing like Star Wars had happened before, on a merchandising and cultural level, and that Kenner, who almost reluctantly stumbled on the licensing deal after bigger toy companies had passed on it, suddenly found itself in a No Mans Land and with a huge money-maker (the figures are gobsmacking). There is a very real case of it being uncharted territory and the toy designers, several of which are candidly interviewed here, learning as they went along and being a part of something much bigger than they could know.

So it’s a fun documentary and well worth a watch for Star Wars fans even if you were, like me, simply too old and sophisticated at the grand old age of twelve to be seen playing with those strange little plastic figures. I mean, what would girls say?

(The bitter irony being, I never really had much ensuing success with the girls back then, a geek is a geek and easily caught out by feminine appraisal, so I might as well bought/collected those toys anyway. If I’d been incredibly smart and kept them in the  blister packs unplayed with, I’d possibly even be a rich man now. That’s life I guess. Someone find me a time machine… A Delorean will do….).

Sunset, walking the dog

IMG_20171227_155104168_HDR (3)Sometimes the sky suddenly lights up just for a few minutes, and things go a little Bespin all of a sudden, and you don’t mind shivering in the cold while the dog decides to take his time sniffing the nearest lamp-post. Then as soon as it appeared the sun is gone, the clouds grow dull, dusk falls and you’re still standing there, cold. And the dog stares up at you as if you’ve just done something odd.