Adapted from a novella by Daphne Du Maurier, in Don’t Look Now Nicolas Roeg, who sadly died in November last year, delivers the first of two 1970s films that use a travelling red and white ball as an omen of dread so convincingly, that I shudder even now when they appear on screen.
Apparently, a remake of this classic has been in the works since 2015. When Donald Sutherland, who stars in the original was asked about it, his response was forthright: “Don’t embarrass yourselves by making it. Don’t embarrass yourselves by participating in it. It’s bullshit … Why do they do it? It’s just people wanting profit, trying to profit off the back of Nicolas Roeg, and something that’s very beautiful. It’s shameful. They should be ashamed of themselves.”
I too, am strenuously opposed to remake of this film and in fact of remakes in general (as opposed to adaptations such as Bradley Cooper’s fourth derivation of A Star is Born (2018)). To me, remakes epitomise all that is lazy and greedy about filmmaking: Poltergeist (2015), Fright Night (2011), The Fog (2005), are just three examples of seminal horror films of the 1970s and 1980s, ruined by such avarice and inauthenticity.
Studio Canal confirmed on their Facebook page last November that a 4K version of Don’t Look Now will be released this year. Finger’s crossed given Roeg’s passing, that integrity will prevail and like John, attention is paid to the restoration and protection of the original rather than than the desecration of it.
And – breathe.
I shall now leave you with this picture taken of me when I first heard about a possible remake, park the issue and return to the matter at hand.
Part horror, part thriller and part love story, Don’t Look Now follows Sutherland and Julie Christie as John and Laura Baxter: a couple very much in love, but also in despair as they try to move forward following a fatal accident involving their daughter, Christine. The Baxters’ path takes them from a Hertfordshire pond to the damp catacombs of Venice. In Du Maurier’s story, the Baxters holiday in Venice: an odd choice given the manner of Christine’s death. In Roeg’s version, the setting is explained by John’s engagement to restore a decaying Venetian church, aptly called St Nicholas, the patron saint of children. In the City of Masks, John and Laura seek solace and distractions through work, medication and therapy as they try to navigate their way rough the pain of surviving their daughter. When by chance they encounter two unconventional sisters (one a blind clairvoyant), John and Laura’s paths to recovery diverge and their bond fractures.
Don’t Look Now is beautifully shot by cinematographer Tony Richmond who Roeg took with him on set as Roeg’s AD initially for Dr Zhivago (1965) before Roeg was fired. Despite this, the partnership continued for a number of films including another of my favourites: Far From the Madding Crowd coincidentally, also starring Christie
Don’t Look Now is at its core a haunting film about grief, coming to terms with loss and two people trying to find their way back to each other in tragic circumstances. As Sutherland says: “it was a piece of work indelibly written by Nicolas Roeg. It’s about a family. It’s about death; about having a child pre-decease you. It’s about love. It’s about extra-sensory perception.”
It also contains one of the most famous – or as some would say, infamous – love scenes in cinema. In fact, when Don’t Look Now was first released theatrically in Ireland the love scene was cut altogether.Embed from Getty Images
But in 1973, this was the least of the island of Ireland’s relationship issues.
In March, of the 58.7% Northern Irish that voted, 99% determined to remain part of the UK in the first UK referendum about sovereignty and independence. Less than 1% Catholics voted in that Border Poll which might explain why, possibly in an attempt to demonstrate inclusion, some nine months later, the Sunningdale Agreement was signed by the British and Irish Governments as well as local unionist and nationalist representatives. The Sunningdale Agreement established devolution and local power sharing in Northern Ireland and cross-border cooperation with Ireland. But unionist and nationalist irreconcilable differences predictably emerged more entrenched than ever soon after – and the imitative was abandoned within six months.
Meanwhile over in the United States, although Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon would be having a tumultuous time with the release of his illegal telephone recordings that evidenced his attempts to cover up the Watergate Scandal, things were otherwise improving in 1973 as the last US soldier left Vietnam and the Supreme Court in Roe vs Wade overturned all States’ bans on abortion.
Given the dark and at times graphic content of Don’t Look Now and the release of The Exorcist also that year, it must appear strange to generations after X what the furore about that love scene in Don’t Look Know was all about.
Here’s my take on it.
By 1973, second wave feminism had hit its stride. Successes included in addition to Roe vs Wade, the formation of Olivia Records (a women-only independent record label) and Billie Jean King not only wining the Triple Crown at Wimbledon but also beating the self proclaimed chauvinist Bobby Riggs in a fight for equality on and off the tennis courts superbly dramatised by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ Battle of the Sexes (2017). This was a time when male dominated and implemented societal and economic norms were being successfully challenged.
Perhaps then, a love scene portraying a man and woman equal in their nakedness and vulnerability, with John as the main pleasure giver, was a step too far in women’s liberation and the real reason for the controversy. Explanations that the scene offended a then more conservative society fail to acknowledge that this was after all, the Golden Age of Porn when the Supreme Court in 1973, much to the delight of Hollywood generally and the porn industry particularly, narrowed the definition of obscenity in Miller vs California resulting in fewer prosecutions.
We are now in the fourth wave of feminism and the 2016 surge against inequality, division and intolerance gathers momentum. Inclusion riders, equal pay amongst actors and actresses, anti-bullying and harassment policies implemented by “woke” studios and production companies are all steps in the right direction, but the entertainment industry and society as a whole still has a long way to go. Whilst Ireland’s referendum in May repealed its strict anti-abortion laws, Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial appointment in the US in October as an Associate Justice risks Roe v Wade being overturned by a conservative majority now sitting on the Supreme Court
As King tweeted last year in response to Forbes’ recent publication that there were no women in the 2018 top 100 highest paid athletes:
Sutherland said that “Don’t Look Now, was a depiction of married intimacy. There’s a scene where they make love in the movie, and it’s not voyeuristic. You don’t watch people making love. What happens when you watch it is you remember having made love, having been in love yourself.”
As I unpack my red duffle coat in Brighton and reflect on the recent trip home to Belfast and 2018 more generally, although not without its challenges I do feel energised and optimistic about 2019. In fact, reflecting on Sutherland’s words about love, it occurs to me that focusing on optimism, love and loved ones is rather a nice way to ring in the new year.
Just not in Venice.
A funny kind of feeling set in after that wedding. Being neither fervently pro or anti-Royalist, I was surprised at the level of my emotional reaction to it – and the ugly tears that I cried thankfully and deliberately at home in private whilst watching it.
Seeing adult Harry all grown up took me back to little Harry behind Diana’s coffin back in 1997 and reminded me that a year after that, I walked up the aisle. Fast forwarding past my divorce some years later and now firmly and comfortably in my present, I sat watching Meghan’s unaccompanied journey to the quire and a whole new salty waterfall tumbled forth.
What a year it has been for women and – with the joyous result of the Irish referendum on abortion – change continues at a relentless pace.
I find myself constantly recalibrating, adjusting and recalibrating as each step is taken to improve our position and reaffirm our worth. Encountering the “old guard” and its huffing and puffing sense of entitlement is so unsettling in its juxtaposition against this new dawn of hope.
Save one deal that is now an all-women affair (unprecedented and fabulous), as I’ve said before, I am sadly and all too often the sole female representative at the pointy end of my film and TV negotiations. It’s a lonely place and one that requires an armoured suit of superhero proportions to navigate at times.
But this is changing.
I was recently at a meeting of many that was remarkable not only by virtue of my being the eldest (by a country mile) but also because there was just one Knight at this round table of Ladies. The meeting was lively: filled with passion, creativity and a desire not only to work together on this project, but also to connect those that weren’t present on new opportunities.
All of the participants at that meeting freely offered their thoughts confidently with knowledge and wit. More than that, we all listened to and absorbed each other’s points of view. This was particularly noteworthy and refreshing given the bold subject matter that would have had many a man (but not this one) reaching for the smelling salts. I left that meeting feeling elated and invigorated by its collaborative style, the project’s potential – and the laughter that we shared throughout.
When I look at Meghan and all of that meeting’s attendees, I feel a swell of pride for the passion, creativity, fearlessness and above all, the openness to express and exchange ideas as equals. And I felt privileged to be invited to contribute to and be a part of it, rather than be consigned to a footnote as one “past [its] peak and no longer as potent” (shame on you, Ben Broadway) Gen X cautionary tale.
This is the new order: an order where collaborators don’t diminish.
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.
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.
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.
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.”