P.C. Spiller: I've had the police after me.

     Passport to Pimlico (1949)
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October Issue

Classic Film

A Funny thing happened...

It's the opening line to some of the worst jokes ever told, and it's a great way to open this month's eZine. In this edition we'll be taking a look at on-screen laughs, both intentional and unintentional.

October is the month when the man widely acknowledged as the worst director of all time... Edward D Wood Jr (better known as Ed Wood) was born. We'll be taking a look back at his dubious achievements. And Ealing Studios was where some of the great British comedies were made, especially during the 1940's and 1950's - we'll also take a look at the activities of the studio.

We hope you enjoy a good read, and be sure to check out our screenings for this month at the bottom.
Film Legends
Edward D. Wood Jr.
Ed Wood set the low water mark for American cinema and became famous for making some of the worst films of all time. There have been many really bad filmmakers (some are currently grinding out a living in Hollywood) but Ed was something else, so cringeingly bad that Tim Burton made a very good film about him, starring Johnny Depp.

Ed has something of a modern day following, as a result of the combination of the popularity of Burton's film, and the unintentional laughs his films elicit.

While we'll never screen an Ed Wood film at Classic Films, we still think it's worth chronicling some of Ed's exploits in our magazine in October... the month he was born
It would be an understatement to label Wood as exceedingly complex. He was born on October 10, 1924 in Poughkeepsie, New York, where he lived most of his childhood. Following an exemplary period of military service in WWII he found his way to  the far edges of the Hollywood fringe where he bonded with a small clique of outcasts who in many ways were like him.

After settling in Los Angeles in the late 1940s, Wood attempted to break into the film industry, initially without success. At first he wrote scripts and directed television pilots, commercials and several forgotten micro-budget westerns with names such as Crossroads of Laredo and Crossroad Avenger: The Legend of the Tucson Kid. In 1948, Wood wrote, produced, directed, and starred in Casual Company, a play derived from his unpublished novel, which was based on his service in the United States Marine Corps. It opened at the Village Playhouse to negative reviews on October 25

In 1952 he finally landed the chance to direct a feature film based on the real-life Christine Jorgensen sex-change story, then a hot topic. The result, Glen or Glenda (1953), didn't please his producers but gave a fascinating insight into Wood's own personality and shed light on his transvestism. The film initially disappeared almost without trace, but has since found a contemporary audience and is celebrated by lovers of trashy low grade films.

Wood's debut feature revealed a number of things which would characterise his future efforts in filmmaking -  his fondness for angora, an almost complete lack of talent, his tendency to use a lot of stock footage, laughable set design, and regular bizarre appearances by Bela Lugosi.

While Wood saw himself as a producer-writer-director (like his idol Orson Welles) those who knew him described him as an oddball hack who was far more interested in the work required to cobble a project together than the craft of filmmaking or creating any type of realism.

All of his films exhibit illogical continuity, bizarre narratives and give the distinct impression that a director's job was simply to expose the least amount of film stock possible in order  to stay within serious budgetary constraints.
Although Ed's second film with Lugosi, Bride of the Monster (1955) was no better it somehow managed to earn a small profit during it's original release, perhaps more due to how cheaply it was produced than to its appeal to a wide or even a large audience.

Wood began making his best known film in 1956 but had only shot a few seconds of silent footage of Lugosi (doped and dazed, wandering around the front yard of his house) for his next film, Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) before the actor died in 1956. Always the optimist, Ed ploughed on backed by the finances of a local Baptist congregation.

The film is awful, but still represents the peak of Ed's talents. It bombed when it was released and has since earned the semi-official status of the 'Worst Film Ever Made', which ironically has led to it's more recent commercial success. The success of the film occurred after Wood's death and the rights to the film were retained by the church so even Wood's estate was never a beneficiary. Given the nature of Wood's work up until 1959, he would have been somewhat pleased to think he could be a strangely popular and commercial success after his death.

Wood had always had issues with alcohol but these worsened in the 1960's as a result of his depression due to not achieving the world-wide fame he always wanted. Wood directed undistinguished soft and later hardcore pornography under the name "Akdov Telmig" and wrote a number of transvestite-themed pornographic paperbacks into the 1970's. His final years were spent largely drunk in his apartment. Wood and his wife, Kathy, were evicted from their Hollywood apartment due to failing to pay rent and moved into a friend's apartment shortly before his premature death on the afternoon of December 10, 1978 at 54. He had a heart attack and died while drinking in bed.

Due to his recent resurgence in popularity, many of his equally bizarre transvestite-themed sex novels have been republished.

If you have the stomach for it you can watch some of Ed's early work by clicking on the image below (WARNING: it is really, really, really..... bad)
Early Ed Wood commercials which showcased his (lack of ) talent
Ealing Studios

Ealing Studios has been at the centre of the British film industry for more than a century. They are the oldest working film studios in the world, have been the home of many legendary films of all genres and have produced some of Britain’s greatest performers.

In 1902, British cinema pioneer Will Barker bought 4 acres of land containing the West Lodge and the White House and began filming outdoors on the site with a hand held camera. In 1907 Barker invested in the first stage, which was a glass structure resembling a greenhouse. An additional 2 glass stages were built and Barker produced a number of films that established Britain’s voice in filmmaking. Some of Barker’s films included Sixty Years a Queen, a groundbreaking film on Queen Victoria, and also in 1915, Jane Shore, Britain’s first epic and the largest film to that date employing over 1,000 extras. The studios persevered through the Depression, continuing to produce films and experiment with new groundbreaking filmmaking technologies such as the introduction of sound.

In 1929, shortly after sound arrived, theatre director Basil Dean formed a prodution company called Associated Talking Pictures (ATP). Dean raised the money to build a studio on a site at Ealing Green. He began expanding based on the model that US studios used. By 1935 the major sound stages were complete and Ealing Studios as we know it was born. Stages 2, 3A, 3B and 5 have stood the test of time and are still in use today. Sixty feature films were made at Ealing, half of them by Dean’s company, ATP. In publicity, films weren't associated with the name Ealing,  they were given the label of the producing company,

During Basil Dean‘s era, Ealing launched the careers of actors Gracie Fields, George Formby, Margaret Lockwood and Madeleine Carroll and directors such as Carol Reed. By the late ‘thirties, ATP’s fortunes had declined, Dean left to return to the theatre and Ealing was in a precarious financial position.

Michael Balcon, was at a difficult point in his career. After several productive years running both Gainsborough and Gaumont British, with directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Victor Saville working for him, he had been signed up by the American Louis B. Mayer to run the British end of his production. While he had a considerable success, he hated the experience, left as soon as he could, and set up a programme of independent productions at Ealing. This is when the golden era of Ealing Studios truly began.

With the start of the Second World War Balcon hastened the conversion of the majority of the studios’ output to films based on original screenplays. As a result new opportunities arose for people such as such as Pen Tennyson, Basil Dearden and Charles Frend. At the same time the comic films of George Formby and his successor, Will Hay, ensured an Ealing pull at the box office. Balcon  was a great believer in the cross-fertilisation of ideas, and very little of Ealing’s creation took place behind closed doors. Rushes, or ‘dailies’, were not private affairs, but open to anyone in the studios’ employ, and everyone there was encouraged to keep an eye on each other’s work and to discuss it freely.

It was a place in which the editor was highly regarded, and nearly all Ealing’s directors had served earlier in the cutting-rooms – Charles Crichton, Charles Frend, Henry Cornelius, Thorold Dickinson, Robert Hamer, Leslie Norman, Michael Truman and Seth Holt. A much smaller number had graduated from screenwriting – this group included Basil Dearden, Harry Watt and Alexander Mackendrick. But significantly no actors were ever elevated to a directorial role. Ealing operated almost on a repertory basis, with a number of reliable performers appearing again and again, no doubt attracted as much by the idea of regular work as of contributing to the product of a much-favoured British studio. But Ealing, good as it was for reputations, was no place in which to get rich.

One of Balcon’s shrewdest moves during this period was to bring in Alberto Cavalcanti, who exacted a creative influence on Ealing output as massive as his own. It was Cavalcanti who pioneered the use of documentary techniques in the making of fiction features, stamping them with the mark of authenticity. Ealing continued to flourish during WW II and even escaped near destruction after an incendiary bomb crashed through the roof of Stage 2 but miraculously did not ignite. The studios’ generator was also used as a back up for a local hospital in times of power shortages. 

By the end of the war Ealing had found and developed a recognisable style which it was then able to apply to an eclectic range of subject matter. One of the persistent Ealing myths is that only two kinds of film were made there – comedies and war films. But almost every film genre was tackled, with the exception of the musical (Champagne Charlie was the closest approach to that area) and the Western, although many familiar ingredients of the latter could be found in the films Balcon made in Australia.

A popular myth is that Ealing never took any chances and always played safe. The record shows that Ealing often exposed itself to the risk of failure, and when it occurred Balcon wasted little time on recriminations. Under his firm grip such things were not allowed to get out of hand. Proof of the success with which Michael Balcon kept things together lay in the consistency and loyalty of the Ealing team.

The last film bearing the discreet Ealing logo was released in 1959. But unlike many other old British film studios, the buildings on Ealing's compact site between Walpole Park and Ealing Green became the property of the BBC in 1955 for £350,000. During the BBC’s ownership from 1956 until 1992, they created some of television’s finest productions including ‘Colditz’, ‘The Singing Detective’ and ‘Fortunes of War’.

The 1990′s were a time of transition for the studios. It was acquired by BBRK in 1992 and by the National Film and Television School in 1994. Throughout this time the studios continued to be a base for film and television production. The studios were bought in 2000 by Barnaby Thompson and Uri Fruchtmann (Fragile Films), property developer Harry Handelsman (Manhattan Loft Corporation) and author/producer John Kao. In June 2001, permission was granted to develop the 3.8 acre site into a next generation studio for television, digital and traditional filmmaking companies. The redevelopment proposal retains and upgrades the original 1930′s sound stages complex as the core facility, around which additional new facilities will be built including stunning office space, underground parking, screening rooms and a café, as well as performance and production space.

As well as a thriving studio facility, Ealing Studios is once again becoming an integrated film and television production house as it was during the 1950′s.

Screening at Now Office Furniture

Saturday, TBA

7.00pm start

It Happened One Night (1934)

A spoiled heiress, running away from her family, is helped by a man who is actually a reporter in need of a story.

Comedy/Romance     Rated:G      105 min
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Screening at Cafe Nova

Sunday, 23rd of October

7.00pm start

Passport to Pimlico (1949)

Residents of a part of London declare independence, when they discover an old treaty. This leads to the need for a 'Passport to Pimlico'.

Comedy     Rated:G    84 min
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