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Burt Reynolds as Lewis in Deliverance (c) Warner Bros

“Sometimes you have to lose yourself before you can find anything” – Lewis, Deliverance 

Burt Reynolds (who for quite some time I mistook for my Dad on account of their similarly then-impressive side burns) stars together with Jon Voight, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox in John Boorman’s multi-award nominated Deliverance based on the 1970 novel by James Dickey who also wrote the screenplay (and appears in the film as the Sheriff)).

This is a raw and brutal story about the delicacy of the male – particularly the white male – psyche and the seething discord between liberal suburbia and redneck ‘merica.

Four well-heeled men leave Atlanta on a canoeing trip down the Cahulawassee River before the surrounding countryside is flooded as a dam is built – as Lewis (Reynolds’ character) says “… to push a little more power into Atlanta, a little more air-conditioners for your smug little suburb and you know what’s gonna happen? We’re gonna rape this whole god-damned landscape. We’re gonna rape it.”

Lewis, together with his fellow self-styled woodsman Ed (Voight) and two novices Bobby (Beatty) and Drew (Cox) encounter the locals at their first stop on their way to the river. As Cox tunes his guitar, we hear the same chords being strummed on a nearby banjo: is this a duet between a polished guitar playing suburbanite and a country boy with dirty feet and a talent for the banjo, or is it a challenge? As they continue to perform what will become known as the eerie bluegrass instrumental Dueling Banjos that reached No. 2 on the Billboard pop charts in 1972, we suspect that our protagonists have likely misread this encounter. The increasingly frenzied playing eventually defeats Cox who declares “I’m lost” and smiling, the boy continues to a triumphant finale and afterwards refuses to shake Cox’s outstretched hand, turning his head away from it.

Duelin’ Banjos meanders like the river throughout Deliverance, its underlying menace clear as riffs from Yankee Doodle meander through the track and eventually fade to a slow staccato at various key points throughout the film. Interestingly, the off-screen story behind this track is similarly confrontational as Arthur Smith who originated the track Feudin’ Banjos upon which Duelin’ Banjos was based, successfully sued Warners for the latter’s use without permission or a credit in the film. Smith later received a film credit and a share of the film’s royalties in settlement.

The night before the canoeing trip, tensions between the men surface and we see four stereotypical male traits emerge in each of them. Lewis declares to the group that “that’s the game: to survive”. However when the remaining three gossip behind his back: “does he think he’s Tarzan, or what?” doubting that Lewis can “hack it”, we’re left wondering whether the game that is being played is back in the city or here in the wilderness. Ed competes hotly with his friend Lewis for the ultimate survivalist mantle. Bobby shows entitlement and superiority, referring to the locals encountered earlier that day as “genetic deficiencies” and later that night, to his air mattress as an “instant broad…and if you fellas will excuse me, I’m gonna go be mean to my air mattress”.   And finally we have Cox, the most reserved and sensitive who his friends agree, is “the best” of them. When the four (two to a canoe) are separated as they take on the rapids down the river, Bobby and Ed encounter two locals in a wood in a brutal and violent exchange that changes the course of the film and their journey. At that point, Cox serves as the moral compass as his friends shed their city trappings and descend in to a more feral state of being in order to survive Lewis’ game.

The parallels between America then and now are striking, particularly given that Deliverance was released in the same year that five “plumbers” broke in to the DNC’s HQ at Watergate during Nixon’s presidency: an event that would lead to Nixon’s resignation to avoid almost certain impeachment and likely imprisonment.

Things weren’t much better politically or socially across the pond.

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Bloody Sunday rang in my second year and saw Northern Ireland’s “descent in to terror” making 1972, with 479 deaths, best known locally as the year that recorded the highest ever number of casualties during the Troubles. It also served to widen the divide between communities as Edward Daly, a retired priest and featured in the above image says in his autobiography, Mister, are You a Priest?

“Countless young people were motivated by the events of that day to become actively involved in armed struggle and, as a direct result, joined the Provisional IRA,”

Ironic then and now, that such division and violence occurred in the same year that the UK embraced globalisation, with Parliament voting to join the EU (then, the European Common Market) with Edward Heath then Prime Minister declaring in Brussels just days before Bloody Sunday:

“I am not thinking today of the Age of Imperialism, now past: but of the lasting and creative effects of the spread of language and of culture, of commerce and of administration by people from Europe across land and sea to the other continents of the world.

These are the essential ties which today bind Europe in friendship with the rest of mankind.

What design should we seek for the New Europe?

A Europe in which we shall be working for the progressive relaxation and elimination of east/west tensions.

A Europe conscious of the interests of its friends and partners.

A Europe alive to its great responsibilities in the common struggle of humanity for a better life.

Thus this ceremony marks an end and a beginning.

An end to divisions which have stricken Europe for centuries.

A beginning of another stage in the construction of a new and greater Europe.

This is the task for our generation in Europe.”

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My Mum and Dad, the latter evidencing “those” side burns in and around 1972

Featured Blog image: “Scorpios at the Helm” (c) Emma Topping
(c) Warner Bros

The first and arguably the best of a five-film franchise spanning some seventeen years, Clint Eastwood reunites with director Don Siegel in Dirty Harry (1971), their fifth film together. The success of this pairing and the mutual respect between Eastwood and Siegel is clear to see – including the tongue in cheek Easter Eggs: Siegel as a pedestrian in Dirty Harry and also as a bartender in Eastwood’s equally good Play Misty For Me, out earlier that year. Extra points for those who spot a reference to Play Misty in Dirty Harry.

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Eastwood and Siegel on set

Eastwood plays Inspector Harry Callahan who is, in the villain Scorpio’s words: a “big cop, works homicide” for San Francisco Police Department. This description barely scratches the surface to define who Harry Callahan is, but when Eastwood, all Ray-Ban Baloramas and nonchalantly chewing gum, saunters coolly over to Scorpio’s first victim at a roof top pool bathed in the heat of the late afternoon San Francisco sun, my immediate impression echoed Dirty Harry’s opening word: “Jesus!”

It’s been said that Dirty Harry was loosely based on the true crime and still open 1960s case of the US serial killer Zodiac. If this is true, then Eastwood’s Dirty Harry likely referenced that investigation’s lead detective Dave Toschi who died earlier this year, also portrayed by Mark Ruffalo in the 2007 film Zodiac and by Steve McQueen as the titular cop in his 1968 Bullitt.

Toschi has been described as “a colorful San Francisco police detective” and that certainly describes Inspector Callahan whose sheer stature and blatant disdain for authority dominates from his first frame. Dirty Harry is an authority figure with no respect for authority, a rule breaker with no time for those who break rules. A sure-footed, Magnum 44-wielding contradiction, until he encounters Scorpio, the latter brilliantly played by Andy Robinson. Of his experience on set, Robinson says: “A collaboration began…It was probably the most important and the most complete collaboration that I have ever had as an actor in film”[1]

Before Scorpio, Inspector Callahan is entirely confident of his righteousness and it’s initially compelling. When challenged by the Mayor and his superiors about how he can establish a rapist’s intent, for instance, Inspector Callahan’s casually blunt explanation remains one of my favourite deliveries of all time: “When a naked man is chasing a woman through an alley with a butcher knife and a hard-on, I figure he isn’t out collecting for the Red Cross”.

But Inspector Callahan also cuts a self-isolating figure, devoid of empathy and attachment after a string of failed work partnerships and the death of his wife, killed by a drunk driver. As one of Inspector Callahan’s cheery cohorts (that he unkindly nicknames “Fatso”) says: “That’s one thing about our Harry, he doesn’t play any favourites. Harry hates everybody”. When Scorpio, a serial killer who on the face of it shares our inspector’s disdain for the underbelly of San Francisco, directly challenges Inspector Callahan to a game of cat and mouse, the line between the protector and sociopath, hunted and hunter starts to blur. What results is a deliciously pacey and searing drama, punctuated superbly by composer Lalo Schifrin’s thumpingly bassy Scorpio’s View and Scorpio Takes the Bait and the oh-so-70s siren wailing in Prologue, all coming together in the climactic The School Bus. After you watch the film, you’ll want to get the soundtrack. Do it. You won’t regret it.

Dirty Harry ignited my love affair for the franchise, Clint Eastwood and the cop/serial killer genre. Years after its release, in our early teens my sister and I would sit for hours, watching this franchise open mouthed with pencils poised, whilst balancing wooden boards on our knees upon which sat our A3 sketch books: art class homework neglected as we watched transfixed until the VHS tape crackled in protest, or Mom summoned us for supper.

Dirty Harry showed us a visceral, dangerous, seedy, intolerant and divided America that sharply contrasted with those saccharine PG versions that Dynasty, Dallas and Knot’s Landing served us. The man didn’t even eat a hot dog with his mouth closed and spoke with his mouth full, for goodness’ sake!

Of the franchise, Robert Urich says[2]: “These weren’t fairy tales, these were depictions of gritty, ugly reality…In truth, Harry spoke to a rising anger out there.”

Dirty Harry exploded on to the big screen in December 1971, just eight days after I was born. Of course, although I would only come to understand this later, the country where I lived was also no stranger to violence. Internment was introduced in Northern Ireland just four months prior to Dirty Harry’s release with Brian Faulkner, then Prime Minister of Northern Ireland, stating in so doing that we were: “quite simply, at war with the terrorist”. Operation Demetrius as it was known, involved in its first phase the arrest and imprisonment without trial of 342 detainees. The fact that internment was implemented by a government sympathetic to its Protestant majority and only two Protestants were detained in that first sweep did little to counter claims of arbitrariness. Division, resentment and anger intensified and atrocities were committed on all sides that year, including the Ballymurphy Massacre and the Balmoral Showroom Bombing.

And so in 1971 I set sail and the Baby Daze began. Lolloping and lurching with the sheer weight of attacks and counter attacks, my ship Belfast would carry me for the next eighteen years, with various deranged Scorpios at the helm maniacally singing “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream!”

It was inevitable, then, that I would dream of new unconquered shores and each weekend I would rush to our local cinema or switch on the VCR and TV at home (having collected my new release tapes from Xtra-Vision) and lose myself for hours in the countless possibilities.

 

 

 

[1] Jerry Hogrewe’s 2001 retrospective documentary on the Dirty Harry franchise: Dirty Harry: The Original hosted by Robert Urich, a bad cop in the second Dirty Harry film: Magnum Force (and remember detective TV series, Vega$?)

[2] Dirty Harry: The Original (2001) (see above for more detail)

For this month’s blog and inspired by a home interiors project that I’m working on over the Easter Break, I bring to you something a little different: a pictorial blog.

The images in this slideshow show filmmakers, films, television shows and actors, all of whom have played a significant part in igniting, shaping and sustaining my passion for film and television.

Can you identify them all?

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment (clip from 75th Anniversary edition)

Remember this, when childhood’s far away;
The sunlight of a showery first spring day;
You from your house-top window laughing down,
And I, returned with whip-cracks from a ride,
On the great lawn below you, playing the clown.
Time blots our gladness out. Let this with love abide . . .

The brave March day; and you, not four years old,
Up in your nursery world — all heaven for me.
Remember this — the happiness I hold —
In far off springs I shall not live to see;
The world one map of wastening war unrolled,
And you, unconscious of it, setting my spirit free.

For you must learn, beyond bewildering years,
How little things beloved and held are best.
The windows of the world are blurred with tears,
And troubles come like cloud-banks from the west.
Remember this, some afternoon in spring,
When your own child looks down and makes your sad heart sing.

Siegfried Sassoon “The Child at the Window”

There was something magical about returning to my childhood home for Christmas and new year: treading the same boards as my younger self, flicking through faded handwritten diary entries and trying on long abandoned but so undeniably now fashions (a teenager of the 1980s, finally bearing fruits).  Bathed in memories, even the difficult ones, this holiday in Ireland brought comfort and joy as reassuring as that fluffy Pikachu onesie on a cold winter’s night.

They say new years are about moving forward and not looking back, particularly if the outgoing year was one you would rather forget.  With the ever-shifting Brexit sands, the revolving White House doors, institutionalised sexism, who should “stay woke” (or be able to say it) and who should be entitled to share a #metoo story:  2017 packed a powerful and divisive punch. At times the noise was deafening. The inevitable backlash and subsequent ennui as the latest political, celebrity or industry scandal broke was equally loud and maybe we all ended 2017 filled to bursting on the sofa, wondering with bulging eyes, minds and bellies just how we got here.  With so much to devour daily and publicly, have we even had enough time to process our own personal circumstances and contextualise our own experiences with what we see and read? I wonder.

Normally, I relish the long return journey to my Brighton home as it affords me the opportunity to reflect on the trip just taken.  However, this time my sadistic satnav took me up and over the Kirkstone Pass at night, in the dark and on icy roads.  Gripping the wheel grimly as I peered out unseeingly in to the darkness, I was struck by how this particular pose: teeth clenched and eyes wide with panic, was the same that I adopted many years before on the starting grid with Dad at Nutts Corner during our Caterham 7 and Westfield racing days.  Initially terrified, then fearless and focused once the lights changed from red to green. Frequently crashing, once winning, always determined.

Once back in Brighton a few weeks ago, I began to unpack. I pulled out my old Paddington box-set of books that I brought back with me and inspired, I put on the 2014 Paddington movie. As new CGI Paddington was introduced, I was immediately transported back in time. A time when I would sit happily and greedily consuming that box-set and all of the early television series for hours, plush bear always by my side, with a zest just like Paddington himself finishing off his marmalade sandwiches.   Any fears I may have had that this new Paddington would somehow sully the memories of what went before were banished and as the end credits rolled I was so pleased to have opened my mind and embraced evolution.

On Monday I attended a performance of the touring production of the National Theatre’s “War Horse” in Brighton. I had berated myself for missing the West-end run as it reminded me not only of my sixth form history lessons, but also of my time at university where a non-law option on The Great War Poets was a welcome respite from an otherwise incredibly dull law degree. The show came at the start of a long week, as the industry is moving at breakneck speed to close deals and release new shows and all of my matters are vying for first place in a list as intimidating at Kirkstone Pass itself.

Ordinarily, this would compel me to bed within an hour of returning home from London, fast asleep before the opening sequence of Silent Witness begins at 9pm. Breaking with this Monday-night tradition, off I trotted to the Brighton Centre. With tears streaming down my face (much to the amusement of my friends) three hours later, I felt grateful to have put aside the to do list that night, as I have never experienced a stage production like it. I left overwhelmed, but also inspired and reinvigorated.

They say new years are for moving forward and that is true. Just one month in to 2018, there are already some new exciting projects in the pipeline that I hope to share with you in the coming weeks. But as I continue this year’s story, I’m packing my racing helmet, my Paddington book box-set and my fond memories of studying Brooke and Sassoon, for these are my childhood experiences that will add colour and depth to this year’s new ventures.

“Stranger Things Than a Tree Eating a Bear” (c) Emma Topping

Just in time following the exertions of our Christmas Day cook-a-thon then eat-a-thon, I bring to you my final blog of 2017.

First and foremost, I hope that you have managed to find the time during this crazy period not only to catch up with friends and family, but also to find a quiet corner of calm to mind yourself.

My corner of calm dwells in the heart of our family homestead in Ireland: the living room. Uniquely resplendent in my Christmas pudding socks and Pikachu onesie gifts, here I sit with family in front of the fire on comfortingly familiar sofas. Cosy we may be, but we find ourselves involuntarily shivering at the ice and snow hitting the headlines on the “mainland” roads today. I am so grateful to remain in Ireland until next week when Bear and I will return to Brighton via Scotland and the Lakes following that very trail that I wrote about in my first blog here.

Appropriately entitled “Reset” that blog featured the following quote by Beatrix Potter: “There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never know where they’ll take you.”

2017 has been a watershed year personally, politically and in the industry.

This year I expanded Emma Topping Entertainment to include not only specialist industry business affairs advice and support, but also a new film agency and I am privileged to have taken on two fantastic authors: Dr Ahron Bregman and S G Parker.

Just before Christmas Dr Bregman’s “The Spy Who Fell to Earth” was optioned for a feature documentary and we look forward to working with Salon Pictures in 2018. The time is right for “The Spy…” and I will be exploring new opportunities for this fantastic story next year on both sides of the pond following up on interest received in the context of dramatisations across feature, series and stage.

S G Parker’s gritty crime thriller series opens with “The Sky is Crying”: a serial killer case introducing English Detective Superintendent Ray Paterson and Detective Sergeant Johnny Clocks. His sequel “Voodoo Child” evolves the relationship between these two central characters as they find themselves facing another gruesome case. All rights are available for this series and I will be taking it to market in 2018.

I look forward to continuing existing discussions and seeking out new opportunities with authors (published, self-published or yet to be published) in the New Year. Be it a concept, manuscript, screenplay or publication, why not get in touch? I’d be delighted to hear from you.

2017 has been a momentous year for the industry and particularly for the women – and men – in it. Much has been written about Weinstein, Spacey, #metoo and those aptly named “The Silence Breakers”, collectively Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2017. In fact, so much has been written about this subject and will and should continue to be written about it,  that on this occasion and for this blog, I am not going to go down that rabbit hole here. Suffice it to say, given Time Magazine’s rightly controversial selection for Person of the Year 2016, as trailblazer Dinah Washington sang: “What a Difference a Year Makes”.

I wish you all a fulfilling, successful and collaborative 2018.

 

Chef (2014) Open Road Films, Fairview Entertainment & Aldamisa Entertainment

Christmas is fast approaching and as my mind turns to where I will be spending it, inevitably I start eyeing up various pieces of tech, clothing, accessories and homewares that I have my eye on both to give and receive. As I move around the stores (party food, yay!) mindful not to send the delicate glass Frida Kahlo baubles crashing to the shop floor, I also start to think about the Christmas menu from breakfast to supper.

I started this list over the weekend to take my mind off a couple of book to film negotiations playing on my mind.  In fact, it had the opposite effect as it occurred to me that the art of negotiation is not unlike food shopping.

Bear with me.

If you think about it, as you pour over the latest juicy recipe by Nigella, Nigel or your favourite go-to chef, you make a note of the ingredients, seasoning and garnish.

In negotiation terms I would describe these respectively as “essential”, “preferential, depending on your palate” and “frou frou flourish”.

Everyone has a negotiation style and I like to think on a good day mine is straight talking and firm but also friendly, justifiable and solution-based. If I can’t justify something, I won’t push it which means breaking the news to your clients and taking the time to explain to them why in the context of the overall deal, this point sits somewhere between seasoning and garnish (as ingredients ought always be identified and communicated when the dish was first contemplated).

The best negotiations I find, are when your opposite number shops in the same food store as you and you occasionally bump trolleys as you trade up and down the aisles. Things become tricky when you encounter someone on the other side of the table who plays a game of chicken at the other end of the aisle and you both spy that last remaining bottle of truffle olive oil (a current obsession with everything and remarkably few outlets offering it).

Dealing with someone that views every item on their shopping list as an ingredient from the outset or swaps seasoning and garnish to an ingredient mid-way through a negotiation, is tricky, unless you think you can achieve the same dish with alternatives.

“But, why should I?” you wail, with the faint thud of a foot stamp.

This is a good question to ask and to answer it fully is a two-step process. First, you have to look at the intention behind your opposite number’s assertion: is this truly a fundamental item to the dish or is it simply the way that they have always made it? Just because their previous guests loved the meal prepared a certain way, does the seasoning suit your taste and isn’t that garnish a little de trop?

You also have to ask and answer that question yourself. Particularly if you’ve not communicated your ingredient in advance to the other side.

When you reach an impasse, especially where a demand is driven by stubbornness or familiarity, I find it helpful to remind myself (as demandor and demandee) why the dialogue started in the first place. Genuine collaboration emerges from a common aim to bring two or more parties’ expertise together to create a new opportunity. Ideally, that opportunity is not like any other offering out there, or if it is, the parties desire to either improve it or take it to a fresh and exciting place together.

Negotiation sets the tone of parties’ relationship to each other: the chef de partie to the main event. It identifies the skills and plays a role in delivering the dish to the pass, but it is not the main event nor should it overpower it.

Image © Emma Topping.  All rights reserved.

It’s usually at this time of year as I pack away my summer wardrobe: cool sport-luxe as I like to call it, or rather “trainers with everything” and dust off and shake out my winter version (with jumper), that I start to think about how the year has been going and what I can start doing now to set the tone for next year.

Typically, I’ll have just returned from a glorious round trip adventure: Brighton – Lakes – Belfast and this year was no exception.   The image above was captured at the tip of Lake Windermere just as the sun was setting, bathing Koni (aka Bear) and I in a surreal glow that felt more like an studio set than Beatrix Potter’s rugged land.

Safely ensconced in my childhood Belfast bedroom with dear family, friends and Bear by my side and without the relentless familiarity of the noise and bustle of my commuting week to London, a plan took hold:  simplify, de-clutter, shut out the noise.  Reset.

I heard someone shout “Reset!” for the first time earlier this year when I was lucky enough to attend a night shoot on a feature currently in production.  Nodding knowingly (but knowing nothing), I looked about and shuffled a little in line with what those around me were doing in response.  Ridiculously, really, since as it turns out this is a term that the 1st AD (Assistant Director, don’t you know) calls out to actors and actresses, telling them to go back to where they were at the start of the scene to do it again.

I may have returned to Brighton and the weekly commute to London, but this year my annual pilgrimage to Belfast via the Lakes and that inspiring night shoot have galvanised me towards a reset.

And so, with my first monthly blog I launch (rather grandly) my new logo and website, blending business and creative, reflecting my commitment and enjoyment to the business of making films, television shows and stage shows, almost as much as watching them and showcasing two authors that I am excited to represent in respect of book to film, television and stage adaptations.

In the words of Beatrix Potter:  “There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they’ll take you.”

Quite.