Friday, January 03, 2014


Once a long time ago my friend Biggles and I organized a weekend’s film making with super 8 cameras (it was possible to video things but we wanted to do super 8 just for the fun of it).

The film making took place on a glorious summer weekend at a friend’s farm in Hertfordshire. The idea was to do remakes of great classics: Biggles directed a remake of Gold finger, while I directed and starred in Casablanca.  The weekend was a roaring success: everyone I knew more or less took part. There were at least four James Bonds, and as many Pussy Galores (one of them me). The only way one would be able to  recognize Bond or Pussy was because of the bow-tie and smoking jacket and the sequinned gown which was handed from one actor to the next. 

People were told to arrive with props and costumes and when they arrived they were directed to the wardrobe department and then the prop department that were situated on the lawn in front of the main house to deposit their stuff, then they were given parts to play, according to what was going on at the time. There was not only these two great classics being filmed: we did commercials too.  For some reason we decided the rather unassuming London suburb of Penge would feature, and we did a commercial for the fictitious ‘Penge Tandoori,’ complete with romantic candlelit dinner and an Indian waiter in turban. There was an ad for the Penge Health Club which included people lazing around by the swimming pool smoking and drinking and eating cream cakes.   People  were also told to bring props for whatever scene in whatever film they wanted to star in, and then we shot it: these small snippets became the ‘trailers’ later when we edited the films (this was done on an antiquated cutting machine and needed cellotape!)

One girl arrived with several pillows, a motorcycle crash helmet and a hoover pipe as well as several meters of aluminium foil into which she had herself wrapped up.  She said she wanted to do the moon landing. So we filmed her as she descended the barn ladder in slow motion.

Our host, for some unfathomable reason, wanted to do a very obscure scene from ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’ which involved filming him in the kitchen cooking at the AGA, then turning around to a young ‘starlet’ and uttering the following sentence: ‘Do you like Haddock?’ (but pronounced ‘hiddock’, like in the original).

And I wanted to do my favourite scene of any film: the scene from ‘The African Queen’ when  Rosie and Charlie  have been fished out of  Lake Victoria  and are being cross examined by the German Captain of the’ Louisa’: ‘How did you get here?’  Rosie replies that they came down the Ulanga  river in the ‘African Queen’. The Captain replies: ‘but that is impossible!’ and   Rosie  tosses her lovely head and flashes her eyes and utters her immortal and inspirational : ‘Nevertheless!’

I cannot claim to have ridden down the rapids of the Ulanga but we have been through a Coup d’Etat; an Islamist occupation of the north and a war.  In my little way here in Djenné I sit at the beginning of a new year that promises to be if not quite as difficult as the last two, at least no doddle... But, we are here still: the people are working in the MaliMali studio; sometimes there are people in the hotel; the library is continuing with the new project; we are here! Nevertheless....


Blogger Susan Scheid said...

Ah, wonderful! You remind me of a young man, exceedingly smart, but shunted aside because of autism. He was in my online poetry class. We both attended its last session live. Some in the room were asked to sum up their experience in two words. The young man normally "speaks" via his computer, and his father reads what he has written out loud. In this case, though, he spoke the words himself: "Not impossible." To a brilliant New Year!

5:24 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

and wishing you too a 'not impossible'and a brilliant New Year Susan!

9:01 PM  
Blogger David said...

And you are SO the spit of Kate H in that the African Drottning, skol!

1:24 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

I would love to think it is true David, but I know better!
Anyway skol to you too and here is to a great new year!
By the way, can't help thinking of Jeremiah in the beginning of African Queen... what is the name of the actor who plays the Pastor, Rosie's brother? Isit Robert Morley? It makes me laugh, but he reminds me of J...xxSophie

3:04 PM  
Blogger Elisabeth F said...

Marvellous story and picture! Will peace come on earth to stay ... in Mali and elsewhere

3:06 PM  
Blogger David said...

Well, you now have the hair...

Rumour had it that Andrew's been staying with you. Can this be true? If it is, I expect photos soon.

I don't think J is flattered at the Robert Morley comparison. He will be thinking up poisonous 'you look like's for when we next meet...

11:39 PM  
Blogger David said...

PS - Sue's reported 'not impossible' is a wonderful rejoinder to your/Kate the Great's 'nevertheless'.

11:43 AM  
Blogger toubab said...

Oh dear, I have upset J.... But it is like this: I don't think the genuinely absolutely gorgeous J is like Robert Morley AT ALL but I can see him in this role if this makes sense? Rewatch the film and you will know what I mean and have a laugh with me!

3:41 PM  
Blogger David said...

We're having fun at your expense. But I don't suppose that will prevent him from getting a little of his own back - elephants (and Leos) never forget.

Saw The African Queen again too recently to revisit. But having emulated Meryl/Karen's symptoms halfway through Out of Africa and left to take to my bed with flu all those years ago, Out of Africa is one I ought to see through to the bitter end. xx

5:53 PM  
Blogger toubab said...

Yes you must! Keep Kleenex handy.

9:33 PM  

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