Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Operation South Downs - Part 6

April 11th 2001:

One of the strange contradictions in our modern world is our ambiguous and rather strange attitude to the animal kingdom and its subsequent elucidation as to the equally strange attitude we have to our fellow human beings.

To explain further:-

It was a very unfortunate occurrence, the tragic drowning of one of the film extras, one of our American cousins, while filming the crucial scene where Parsons Linklater (Hopkins) makes first contact with Jules Crabtree (Horrocks).

You may remember from my previous writings, that Parsons Linklater, ex-lifeboat captain, “retired” to the sleepy little town of Lewes these past number of years, drags a bloated “corpse” from the River Ouse, instinctively performs the kiss of life upon its cold blue lips and thereby saves the life of young Jules Crabtree. An extremely crucial scene in the development of the plot, not to mention the development of their relationship.

Anyway, it was at this time that the unfortunate ‘extra’ was to be one of many “foreign bodies” being swept downstream in the background as the kiss of life was being performed on the Horrocks character.
And swept by he did, face down in the mire!

I was watching behind camera as he swept by, just as Hoppy was blowing oxygen into Horrocks’s ample lungs. Initially I was most impressed by the extra’s improvisation and dedication to the job in hand and asked to be introduced to him afterwards by way of congratulating him on a fine piece of acting.

My fine words in his ear went unheard, as by the time I was introduced to him he’d unfortunately expired.

I had a terrible night of anguish over this unfortunate incident and wondered what I could say to the poor chap’s parents who were flying over from the U.S. the following day.

April 13th 2001:

Meeting the parents of the dead extra. Can't remember his name.
It was with great trepidation that found me expressing my great sorrow at the very great tragedy that had occurred on the death of their son and the even greater tragedy that would occur if they did not let us use the very piece of film where their son had so gallantly given his life for the sake of our great project. It’s what he would have wanted surely?!

To cut a long story short, an agreement was reached whereby the parents will be credited as executive producers on the film and their son will receive a star billing immediately after Depp but before Horrocks. A small price to pay for such glorious drama I’d say!
Anyway, the “incident” did not effect filming and indeed failed to alter or change the filming schedule. We carried on in the true British tradition!

April 20th 2001:

This following week we were filming another scene, only this time live cattle were to be swept down river as the Ouse swept over fields and carried them off and through the town of Lewes.
For authenticity, we used real cattle, taking every precaution as to their safety and wellbeing.
In fact I had even stipulated that said cattle should be supplied from those that were due for slaughter within the week. This way, should there be an unfortunate accident, then at least we could be happy in the knowledge that they were going to die soon anyway.

Sure enough, it had to happen and it did. A bloated cow (not Horrocks Ha! Ha!) was washed up outside an antique shop in Cliff and that’s when all hell broke loose. Within a few short hours we were invaded by the Animal Liberation Front and numerous other “animal lovers” carrying placards bearing rude words with inferences as to our illegitimacy.
Anyway, the police were called in and water cannon were utilised in the dispersion of the riotous mob! Serves the buggers right I thought.

Little did I realise then, that heading the mob was none other than our very own Franco/American cousin Depp.
Seemingly he’d been in floods of tears over the death of the cow and had locked himself in his winnebago, drowning his grief with bottles of Ouse booze.
By the time the liberation types had arrived, young Depp was inebriated yet again and had decided to join in with the “peaceful” protest!
He seemingly grabbed a placard, and started screaming and shouting as to the poor orphan calves left motherless by that cruel twist of fate.
He was one of the first to be knocked flying by the blast from a water cannon. Nobody recognised him as young Depp of course. One has to realise that the normal everyday appearance of Depp is one of extreme scruffiness; old filthy and torn jeans, unshaven fissog, floppy knitted hat, baggy, moth-eaten jumper et al.
In fact, even as he was being dragged screaming and kicking to the local police station, his identity was still not realised.

I, of course, would have apologised most profusely at my most feeble kick to his testicular region as he was being dragged away by the police, if I’d known then of his true identity. But as I’d kicked out without that knowledge, I felt it better left unsaid. Anyway, I had been most upset at the interruption to filming and had naturally lashed out, little realising that those very testicles belonged to the king of grunge himself.

April 28th 2001:

It was a week later before Depp returned from hospital to the film set, his left testicle having been pushed back down into its natural location.
Fortunately, due to his alcohol induced protest, his memory of the incident remained blurred. I just hope that my admission here does not in anyway effect our mutual admiration and respect for each other. An incident best forgotten. In fact, I wish him well with his continuing fertility tests. Best of luck old chap!

Anyway, to get back to my point on the human psyche:-

The “cow” incident as I shall refer to it, resulted in protests continuing on set for a number of days, which resulted in a complete disruption to filming, only ceasing after a substantial donation to some animal charity was agreed and a dedication was formalised for inclusion in the opening credits of the film. What a palaver I’ll tell you!

Anyway, if I’ve learned anything from the past few weeks it is this. If there is a death on set, just pray that it’s a human one!

After the incidents hereby referred to, it was decided to unburden ourselves of the services of that most esteemed British company “Farm Animals for Filming” (FAF) and use “human animals” instead.

My beloved Gloria from the Costume Department was persuaded back on set to rejoin the “dream team,” in order to construct buoyant cow suits for our film extras to don for those scenes requiring flailing cattle to be swept down river.
I challenge you to distinguish the real cattle from the human kind when the film is released to undoubted worldwide acclaim! Better prepare your speech now Gloria, it’s a dead cert!

It’s truly amazing the way things fall neatly into place. I’m convinced God is watching over me, fully realising himself that “Operation South Downs” will be his favourite island’s greatest film.

May 5th 2001:

Let me breach the subject of the musical score for the film.

We had pencilled in the wonderful John Barry to compose a rousing, dramatic, musical masterpiece suitable for such a brilliant and stunning British film as ours was promising to be. In doing so, I had immediately envisaged our third oscar nomination.

Unfortunately, the musical talents of Barry’s were not deemed “suitably ‘American’ enough” for our influential financiers of the that persuasion. They had instead, approached that Horner chap after his “success” with that dreadful Titanic!

I was mortified at this possibility! How could Jack Horner suitably capture the very essence of our own very British drama with his slushy, syrupy musical leanings?!
No, I would not have it! I will put my foot down!!
I do realise that Horner was born in GB but as far as I was concerned he was now a fully fledged American!
No, our composer had to be British!……or at least Welsh, as it turned out. At least Wales is not quite so far from Britain as the US of A!

To explain…..

That very evening I was in an extreme state of despair, which was not being alleviated by the quoffing of copious amounts of Harvey’s finest, at one of Lewes’s prime drinking establishments.
To make matters worse, I had young Depp as my companion for the evening and he was consuming alcohol at an unnatural rate, which was not the sensible thing, given that he was still on medication for his swollen testicle.
The combination of his medication with large amounts of beer was beginning to have a profound effect on his mind and body to an extreme degree. Luckily he lost all control and fell down on the floor unconscious.
Anyway, as the evening wore on, a drunken Hopkins turned up and I made the mistake of burdening him with my particular predicament of finding a suitable composer for the film’s score and other musical embellishments, to challenge the financiers’ proposal of James Horner as musical director.

Hopkin’s eyes lit up. He could write the score he insisted. He begged, cajoled, even got down on his knees on the floor next to the prone body of young Depp and grabbed my leg, pleading for the chance to prove himself.
He even said he’d do it for nothing!
He then stood up, swaying slightly, grabbed my arm and staggered over to the old “joanna” in the corner of the bar, dragging me over with him.
He then sat down on the piano stool and started playing.

Now for a man inebriated as he was, lacking in any apparent co-ordination of limb, his playing was a revelation. I can only assume that the beer, having found its way into his legs with such apparent ease had not yet reached his fingers. He played Chopin with such feeling that I was transfixed. Even young Depp seemed to rouse momentarily before finally succumbing to the power of an alcohol chemical cocktail.

How could I possibly refuse Hoppy’s request to write the music for the film?
Anyway, I fully realised that the decision was out of my hands, so just to appease him I said I would put it to the backers the very next morning, that Hopkins would write the score, knowing full well the derision that would greet my proposal.
Little did I realise the folly of that decision.

You have to understand that Hopkins is now a fully fledged American citizen, commonly referred to over the water as “President Hopkins.” He can in fact do no wrong in their eyes.
This I hadn’t realised when I put it to them that Hoppy had offered to do the score for free; an involuntary laugh passing my lips as I pronounced it to them.
Anyway, that is how we ended up with a Welsh American actor as musical composer on one of Britain’s all-time great movies.

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