Extracts from: Behind a Velvet Light Trap
- a filmmakers journey from Cinesound to Cannes
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The following sxtracts are taken from Anthony Buckley's Autobiography, now available in print as a deluxe hardcover and first published by Hardie Grant Publishing.
- from Chapter 15, “Wake in Fright” about editing Wake in Fright (1971) for director Ted Kotcheff.
- from Chapter 11, “Michael Powell & S.Y.M.”, as producer of Caddie (1976) with mention of Michael Powell.
- from Chapter 16, “Ballet in the Bedroom” as editor on Nureyev's Don Quixote (1973), with references to Robert Helpmann & Rudolf Nureyev.
From Chapter 15, “Wake in Fright”
What I wasn’t prepared for were some of Ted’s foibles. The cutting of both the two-up game and the kangaroo hunt were exhausting, but rewarding. It was the editing of Doc Tydon’s scenes that turned Ted on. There is a scene in the hut where Tydon is playing an aria from La Traviata from an old 78rpm 12” record on a wind-up gramophone. The next thing I knew was that hi fi speakers appeared in the cutting room, a bench was cleared for Ted to lie down on, whereby he then proceeded to play opera loudly whilst I attempted to edit the picture. I thought this contrivance was initially to annoy me to get my fire and energy up or whatever going. But I was wrong. The playing of opera was to get Ted inspired as to how to cut the scene. It was to be ongoing until one day I exploded and said I had had enough and the bloody thing was to be turned off and stay off.
You could always expect the unexpected with Ted. Editing the swinging light shade homoerotic sequence between Pleasance and Bond, the subject of perversion came up. I looked at Ted over the Westrex Editer: ‘Well, go on then, tell me what perversion is.’
‘Well Tony,’ he stated, with his infectious giggle gathering momentum, ‘Imagine two people in a vat of honey having sex wearing only their Wellington boots.’ It was something even my vivid imagination had not contemplated. Looking sternly at him, “Well go on then – ‘
Ted, with relish, then explained that if one of the couple was not enjoying the experience of having sex in a vat of honey, then it was perversion. I was beginning to think having the hi fi on whilst cutting was somewhat akin to being perverse. After this interesting aside I continued working on the film whilst we had another burst of opera from the wretched hi fi.
Chapter 11, “Michael Powell & S.Y.M.”
I stood at the Pinewood roundabout that Friday afternoon when at great speed a Land Rover hurtled around the corner and screeched to a halt. It was the maestro. ‘We’re off to Avening and Pamela will look after you.’
It was at Avening in Gloucestershire that I was to get to know the real Michael Powell. A man at peace with the world, surrounded by his marvellous collection of books and his screenplays waiting to be produced, and Pamela Brown, his companion, partner, lover, of many years. Michael was never an easy person to get to know, or to manage at times, but here at Avening, in an environment in which he felt secure, he became a different person. I know it’s a cliché to say behind every good man there is a great woman. Well, here at Avening it was proven true, and the woman was Pamela Brown. Before dinner, Pamela and I were told to put our walking boots on for we were about to go for the first of our three walks that weekend. It was a weekend full of talking, listening to his ideas, visions and plans, not to mention enjoying his culinary surprises. Pamela was clearly his backstop and didn’t discourage him from talking about his next production-to-be. I didn’t raise the subject of The Tempest for fear of opening old wounds and in any case I knew Michael didn’t live in or dwell on the past. But he was keen to talk about Taj Mahal and how to work with Nureyev. There was much to talk about, and Pamela and Michael roared their heads off at some of the anecdotes I had to relate.
The next time we would see each other would be on the set of Caddie (Chapter 18), a sad period for Michael as Pamela by this time had contracted cancer and he was called back to London. I was to learn of her death not long after.
Oct 5, Lee Cottages, Avening
‘Dear Tony – thank you for your sympathy and for going with me to Beach Road that night. Pamela died peacefully and almost unknowingly just after midnight of Thursday of that week. She had a long and gallant struggle. We knew, I suppose, that all the year she had been slowly fading away but week after week went by with no special crisis and even the doctors were talking of another minor op. in November and planning how long she would need the nurse. Within a week of coming home – and how glad she was to be home – she was dead. She’s buried in Avening churchyard not 300 yards from the cottage, which she loved. I was very sorry not to see more of you and your production. I shall get the book from the library. There was a good feel about your unit at work. You can’t mistake it when it’s there… Dear Tony, I’ll send you something to remember Pamela by, as soon as I can think and sleep again. My love, Micky.’ It was to be the first time he had signed himself ‘Micky’, which is how he was known to all his peers and his family. Three weeks later another letter arrived. ‘The autumn was always Pamela’s favourite time of year and this year the leaves are wonderful. I have just put a huge bunch of every colour on her grave. It’s a comfort that she is buried here and I don’t find it morbid to go down with Johnnie & have little talks. Particularly as Johnson always interrupts them. Yesterday he sat on the piece of heather I had planted and flattened it. But every so often it comes over you and then there’s nothing to do, but think of her lovely, funny, kind way of living with a very difficult man. My love and the best of luck with the fine cut – Micky.’
And finally – Feb 2, Lee Cottages, Avening
‘Dear Tony – Thank you for your lovely letter and news of your lovely lady 107 minutes old. Ladies can kill but it’s more permanent when they have charm & a sense of humour, vide Greta Garbo. She lasts! And so I hope with Caddie…’
Chapter 16, “Ballet in the Bedroom”
The relationship between Robert Helpmann and Rudolf was cordial but cool. Bobbie only ever came to one screening of the assembled footage at the house. He sat on a stool near the editing machine whilst Rudolf sat on another stool in the far corner of the room. Every time I glanced over at him he would throw his eyes skywards at the commentary coming from Helpmann.
The film was very close to its final fine-tuning. Helpmann announced that Peter Bahen, the administrator of the Australian Ballet, was arriving from Melbourne. It was thought best to present the film to him on the big screen at Pinewood’s main mixing theatre. Bahen arrived at the appointed time after the long flight from Australia. I like watching the body language of someone who hasn’t seen the film one is working on, to observe where they become restless when a scene isn’t working, or to watch their reaction where a scene is working but more work should be done with it.
The screen at Pinewood is HUGE. I seated myself in the row behind Bahen about two seats to his right. Helpmann and Nureyev were seated separately several rows behind. Ten minutes into the screening Bahen promptly went to sleep and remained so till about fifteen minutes from the end, when he suddenly stirred himself, sat up and watched the finale. The lights were still coming up when he hauled himself out of the seat, turned round to everyone and declared, ‘It’s a bloody disaster!’ – and stormed out of the theatre. Hargreaves was quite shaken, as was Helpmann. Nureyev looked determined.
Next morning I was still in my room when I heard a car arrive on the gravel drive. Before long I could hear much shouting. Curious, I cautiously opened my door, which faced the staircase leading to the front door. There was Rudolf, shouting at the top of his voice, holding Peter Bahen by the scruff of his overcoat and hurling him out the door, followed by Bobbie rushing past Rudolf before he was to suffer the same fate. This was an amazing sight, one I have never forgotten. Bahen was a solid, big man but Rudolf certainly had the strength to lift and propel him out onto the gravel driveway. I was so mesmerised I wasn’t thinking quickly enough to get back into the room. As he slammed the door, Rudolf looked up, saw me, smiled that wicked smile and enquired if I was ready to start work.