Questionnaire for Cliff Robertson – final

As you may have seen from the comments on my original post, it looks like there is a more direct route to asking Cliff these questions that emailing the webmaster on his site http://www.cliffrobertson.info. Steve Thompson contacted me and said he would pass the questions on to Cliff. So after some consultation among us, here are our final questions and the intro that I will send in a pdf letter to Cliff.

Dear Mr Robertson,

633 Squadron is the film in which I first saw you and made me a fan of yours. Ever since then I have sought out any film with you in it and recently, at last, I managed to see Charly (which I have never seen scheduled in England on TV).

633 Squadron has always been a very popular movie in England: it was regularly shown on TV during my childhood and is my favourite film. Today I think the film has entered the national psyche and is even the subject of contemporary adverts. The theme music is one of the best-loved pieces of music here and for myself, I never tire of watching your performance as the laconic Roy Grant. I think, more than any other film (certainly on flying or war), it has come to represent best, something fundamental about the British character. Many fans would love to know more about the film and about your part: you only have to look at the posts on youtube alongside excerpts (illegal I am sure) of the movie to see how popular it is, and yet you have been almost silent on it. Please Cliff, would you be so kind as to try and find time to answer the following questions for your fans in England (I cannot speak for Wales, Ireland and Scotland but I am sure they feel the same).
A movie and aviation buff.

1. Did you get to fly in any of the Mosquitos during the filming (which incidentally was at Bovingdon, only 2 miles from my house at the time) and if so, did you manage to take the controls?
2. What was it like working with the director, Walter Grauman? I understand he is a big fan of aeroplanes too.
3. I think only a real pilot could pull off the scenes of dialogue by your character in the cockpit because of the understated movement which seems so realistic. Do you think your passion for flying and dedication to the part helped to lift the film from a B-movie to a classic?
4. I know you are a modest guy and might not find the last question so easy to answer so what are your memories of the other actors in the movie?
5. Did you ever meet Steve McQueen, another actor and pilot?
6. Incidentally he filmed The War Lover at Bovingdon too. Would you have like to fly a B-17 or are you more interested in lighter aircraft?
7. I have seen 633 squadron at least ten times as I cannot resist watching both you and the Mosquitos. I have heard that it was filmed very briskly, that the English actors were paid by the day, and the higher-paid ones, for instance, were the ones who crashed during the raid (although I have never been able to make the number of shot-down planes add up during the attack on the fjord). Do you remember it being filmed quickly (if you remember the filming at all)?
8. Somehow the tension is as tight as any film I can think of, and watching it is like being on a rack: the tension just builds and builds. Is this down to taught direction, the subject, constraints of filming on a tight budget or something else?
9. Having listened to your long (2 1/2 hours?) Archive interview on youtube, there were many questions left, hence this questionnaire. Another interviewee was Bill Shatner who, like you appeared in the The Twilight Zone, Outlaws and The United States Steel Hour. Have you ever worked with him and if not, are there any actors or parts you would love to have played with/played?
10. It seems a question of debate as to whether Roy Grant survives at the end of 633 Squadron – we would like to have your personal opinion on this?
11. One of my favourite scenes is the one where George Chakiris’ character, Erik is about to leave for Norway on the B-25 and is saying goodbye to both his sister (Maria Perschy) and Roy. He asks if Roy likes fishing and will he come with them when the war is over and Roy answers, “Yeah, I like to fish.” He sounds slightly lost, like a child which reveals Roy’s vulnerability (not that different to something in Charly). Was this something you consciously aimed for?
12. Do you remember any of the local landmarks at Bovingdon? For instance did you visit The Swan pub at Ley Hill, which Clark Gable James Stewart and Glen Miller used to cycle out to while based at Bovingdon?

If you don’t have time for these questions Cliff, perhaps they might appear in your autobiography which I know is due out soon.

As I understand it, it may take at least a few months before Cliff gets round to answering, if indeed he does decide to.

Big Boots

While on holiday in Spain I had one of those really pleasant serendipitous TV experiences that mark out my TV-watching career. My second or third post on this blog was about the films 633 Squadron and the original Wicker Man, both shown back to back just before New Year’s Day. While I didn’t anticipate these, I often do find myself wishing for films and then, sure enough, within days, they appear on TV.

I had just returned from the beach, had a sleep, had a pizza and loads of chocolate (as you do on holiday), put my feet up on the sofa and started scanning the channels for something to watch. It was about 9.55pm and Telecinco news ends then and most films start around about then. I flicked the channels and saw what looked like a parade in ancient Egypt. I thought, ‘Hmm, dodgy Spanish history programme’ because the colour was like Cinerama or something but no! It actually was the 1955 film Land of the Pharoahs. Only days before, just after I had arrived in Spain, I had laid on the bed and remembered this film. I thought, ‘What I really fancy right now is watching that old Pharoah film. Been a long time since I saw it’. And now here it was.

It has been a long time since I last saw it -probably 10 years or more, and several things struck me about it. The first thing was all these crowds of people singing joyfully as Pharoah did his annual whatevercelebration. Nobody does serene chanting like Hollywood and you have to smile, and the naivety of it is just so endearing. Its like the 60s before the 60s – perhaps a nascent sense of ‘what would it be like to be in a world of peace and love.’ Of course none of the chants mean anything and the slaves are well hidden (I am sure they weren’t chanting) but its all in good fun.

Then there are these Big Boots. Well actually they aren’t boots but coffers to be placed in sarcophagi. The first time we see them, five generals have died in battle and there is Pharoah (played brilliantly, if a little stiffly by Jack Hawkins) saying they will have nice tombs and a good afterlife. The crowd lift up the coffers and they really were so badly made – probably from papier mache, that they looked just like giant boots. The foot ends were way-too-big. It made me smile. But then later in the film, near the end actually (don’t want to give it away for anyone who hasn’t seen this marvelous film) Pharoah himself has a coffer and of course is a really BIG coffer, a F— O– coffer in fact. That made me laugh. It all looked like some strange ancient game of football, where the foot was the ball and size was everything. There is no doubt who the winner here was.

Of course the story is pure bunkum but very enjoyable bunkum, with a point. Pharoah is building his tomb inside the pyramid and really wants it to be impossible to break into. He captures an army and a guy (Played by James Roberson-Justice in one of his more fluid roles) who is a wizard architect and who designs him the ultimate unbreakinable tomb. Pharoah says ok, I will release your people a few at a time until its finished as long as you stay here and are entombed with me, because you know the secret. But then along comes steaming Joan Collins as the sultry Princess of Cyprus. She seduces Pharoah and gets her hands on his treasure. The rest is a moral play and very capably handled by all but with Jack Hawkins taking full honours for portraying a vulnerable Pharoah, trying to live up to expectations and showing a degree of shrewdness and sadness as Pharoah’s life becomes more chaotic.

Now, the film is actually a piece of history itself but I still love to watch these old films. The directors knew they were going for three things: Grandeur, fun and a good moral element and this film at least, largely pulls it off. Anthony and Cleopatra did too, although with far more complexity and a much bigger budget. Ben Hur was another one, which although it appears wooden now, as seen from a distance, nevertheless has some fantastic scenes and lines. The scene where Messala (played by Stephen Boyd), mortally wounded, grips Judah Ben-Hur’s arm from his deathbed and growls at him vitriolically, “It’s not over yet!” and gives Judah a clue as to the depths of Messala’s cruelty and spitefulness, is a classic and I have recently seen it copied in another film. The baddie, about to die, who reveals some awful fact to the winner, out of spite, has been done over and over, but never better, I think.

I miss these old films.

Questionnaire for Cliff Robertson

Having watched a long interview with Cliff Robertson – one of my favourite actors, on youtube, I find I still have a lot of questions which it would be nice to hear him answer. He has a huge interest in aircraft and blogs regularly on the subject so I have decided to email him a list of questions. Of course there is only the very slimmest chance he will ever get them as I have to email the webmaster of the site but I think it’s worth a try. If anybody wants to add a question of change one slightly let me know before next Wednesday (20 October). This is what I intend to send in an email.

633 Squadron is the film in which I first saw Cliff and made me a fan of his. Ever since then I have sought out any film with you in it and recently at last I managed to see Charly (which I have never seen scheduled in England on TV).

633 Squadron has always been a very popular movie in England – it was regularly shown on TV during my childhood and is my favourite film. Today I think the film has entered the national psyche and is even the subject of contemporary adverts. The theme music is one of the best-loved pieces of music here and for myself, I never tire of watching your performance as the laconic Roy Grant. I think, more than any other film (certainly on flying or war), it has come to represent best something fundamental about the British character. Many fans would love to know more about the film and about your part: you only have to look at the posts on youtube alongside excerpts (illegal I am sure) of the movie to see how popular it is, and yet you have been almost silent on it. Please Cliff would you be so kind as to try and find time to answer the following questions for your fans in England (I cannot speak for Wales, Ireland and Scotland but I am sure they feel the same).
A movie and aviation buff.

1. Did you get to fly in any of the Mosquitos during the filming (which incidentally was at Bovingdon, only 2 miles from my house at the time) and if so, did you manage to take the controls?
2. What was it like working with Walter Grauman? I understand he is a big fan of aeroplanes too.
3. I think only a real pilot could pull off the scenes of dialogue by your character in the cockpit, because of the understated movement which seems so realistic. Do you think your passion for flying and dedication to the part helped to lift the film from a B-movie to a classic?
4. I know you are a modest guy and might not find the last question so easy to answer so what are your memories of the other actors in the movie?
5. Did you ever meet Steve McQueen, another actor and pilot?
6. Incidentally he filmed The War Lover at Bovingdon too. Would you have like to fly a B-17 or are you more interested in lighter aircraft?
7. I have seen 633 squadron at least ten times as I cannot resist watching both you and the Mosquitos. I have heard that it was filmed very briskly and that the English actors were paid by the day and the higher-paid ones, for instance, were the ones who crashed during the raid (although I have never been able to make the numbers of shot down planes add up during the attack on the Fjord). Do you remember it being filmed quickly (if you remember the filming at all)?
8. Somehow the tension is as tight as any film I can think of and watching it is like being on a rack: the tension just builds and builds. Is this down to taught direction, the subject, constraints of filming on a tight budget or something else?
9. Having listened to the long (2 1/2 hours?) Archive interview on youtube, there were many questions left, hence this questionnaire. Another interviewee was Bill Shatner. Have you ever worked with him and if not, are there any actors or parts you would love to have played with/played?
10. Do you remember any of the local landmarks at Bovingdon? For instance did you visit The Swan pub at Ley Hill, where Clark Gable James Stewart and Glen Miller used to drink while based at Bovingdon?

If you don’t have time for these questions Cliff, perhaps they might appear in your autobiography which I know is due out soon.

High Medieval Poetry

Read two books on holiday in Spain (well actually I am still struggling through the second):
1. Strong of Body, Brave and Noble: Chivalry and Society in Medieval France
by Constance Brittain Bouchard (Paperback)

2. Out of Love for My Kin: Aristocratic Family Life in the Lands of the Loire, 1000-1200 – Hardcover (Apr. 15, 2010) by Amy Livingstone

Both are about the High Medieval (11th-12th century) period in France. The first is great: it reads like a ripping yarn and is full of quotes from the romantic poets of the time and the author’s witty and wry take on male/female relationships at the time. She takes the view (which I agree with) that although women were probably highly repressed at the time they still managed to find ways to express themselves and cope with the world leaving their sanity in tact. Of course I am not an expert about the period but her examples seem to validate her ideas.

The second book I have more problems with. ALthough Amy Livingstone is great on details and facts (she had a tricky period to quote from because the only sources for her ideas in the 11th and 12th century were basically Charters and Chronicles) but she seems to be of the opinion that it was the end of a golden age for women and that women still had a lot of power and were men’s equals. While the evidence suggests this was true in some cases (there are examples in her book of women who were Lords and of course there are Countesses who ruled in their husbands stead while they went to the crusades)I find it hard to believe this was the experience of most women. In fact I am quite sure it was a very brutal period. The evidence I have come across points to torture and death being common. While some families no doubt were very affectionate and loving, I am quite sure that many men who reached positions of power were very brutal men and would not have been that kind to their wives. I think her view is quite naive and I will give one example: she talks of one woman who married and then was asked (by her husband?) to donate her Dowry to a Monastery. Now of course that was quite common then as the nobles conducted a gift-economy whereby they gave generously, hoping for (and probably expecting) something in return but not explicitly asking for it. Anyway she refused and apparently a few years later she repented of her sins and agreed that she had been wrong and so she then donated her dowry. While it is possible she did all this freely, it is also possible (and more likely in my opinion) that her husband put pressure on her to change her mind. The author goes with the first scenario.

Also I am starting to try and write a poem. It may be the only thing I write between now and Christmas as I am finding it quite a challenge. I have always found poetry hard – the words seem to elude me like a slippery, writhing serpent.

Anyway it is in the idiom of High Medieval Romantic poetry (Cretien de Troyes and Marie de France are examples of authors of such poetry) and is a variation on the iambic pentameter: its verse construction ( line length in sylables) is 5,4,5,4,5,4,9.

I think this is quite romantic because the last line of nine syllables is like the joining together of the 5 and 4 length lines which could represent the man and woman. I have only completed a draft of one verse so far.

Here is an example in the original old French of a poem by Marie de France:

Les Deus Amanz (The Two Lovers) by Marie de France XIIe siècle