The Royal Screen


There is a real delight in a cinema in the afternoon on a weekday.  Unless it’s the Swiss Cottage Odeon, of course, where they had the air conditionning whacked up to full level and most of us sat there watching The Kings Sp-sp-sp-sp-eech wearing balaclavas and scarves.  When I say most of us, I mean 3 of us.  There was only 4 of us in there.  The screen sat approximately 400.  It was also not a real pleasure to turn up and find the box office open only “on weekends and Wednesdays” and subsequently I was expected to use an automated machine.  The machine was told I wanted to buy a ticket for The Kings Sp-sp-sp-sp-eech, which I bought a ticket for from it, only to find it vomited out a ticket for a 6pm screening of The Social Network

In Screen One there was me, a middle aged man with a big rucksack, and two elderly women who insisted in speaking in German throughout all the trailers.  One more woman arrived at the end of the trailers, who looked old enough to have actually been in the film playing Edward VII’s under housemaid.  We heard her before we saw her, bashing her walking stick through the door and moving slowly up the stairs to the auditorium.  “Hello?  HELLO? Ooh”  she said, expecting somebody to answer her.  She got to the front of the auditorium where she stood, infront of a massive screen filled with snippets of the over-anticipated Sky Atlantic channel and said “Ooh – it’s on in here is it?  Oh right.  Not very full is it?”

“No,” we all said.

She took advantage of the fact she would probably be thought of as too old to be really “with it” and launched herself into a Premium priced seat which she clearly hadn’t paid for.

The Kings Sp-sp-sp-sp-eech  is deliriously marvellous, and you all know that unless you’ve been living in a rabbit hole for the last four weeks, so I don’t need to bang on about it here.  If you haven’t seen it, you should see it, but beware, it will turn the most recalcitrant republican into a bewildered monarchist.   “Go on!”  you feel yourself egging on his Majesty King whatsit, as he prepares to address the nation on the eve of war.  “Go on, Georgey, Bertie, whoever you are!”  you want to shout, as pseudo-Rule Britannia music threatens to break the Dolby stereo.  I cried three times. I don’t even like the royal family.  I think there are –  in the main – vastly unattractive.  But hello, when did Colin Firth get so sexy all of a sudden, with his sexy little speech impediment?  And why do I find a stutter slightly adorable?  And doesn’t he look lovely when he’s got his official outfits of state on (Hello, Your Majesty!) with all those lovely bits of braid and awards and bells and tight trousers?   It’s a clever move before a royal wedding.;  get the citizens onside by emotionally manipulating women of a certain age into thinking Colin Firth is actually part of the royal family.  Don’t believe me?  Go on, see it.  You’ll be weeping in the aisles with the rest of them.

If Colin Firth started wearing tight trousers on television and ended up wearing tight trousers on film, almost every advert we saw was for actors reversing this process.  Film has come to television.  Sky Atlantic is basking delightfully in the acquisition of Martin Scorsese for Empire Boardwalk and wiping their hands with glee at grabbing Kate Winslet for Mildred Pierce.  I know this because the Sky Atlantic advert on the screen mentioned these two programmes four times.  Television provides some of the highest calibre entertainment American has produced.  Who’d have thunk it?  All the actors of my youth, The Brat Pack, now known as the Hip Replacement Pack, have survived only on television; if Kiefer Sutherland isn’t being arrested whilst driving drunk with a cow in his car on the way back from a poker game (or similar), he’s working one of the television hits of the century with 24.  Charlie Sheen, if they can find him from where he lives in his mansion under a pile of naked Hollywood hustlers, pimps and strumpets amid a mountain of Columbia’s finest, is getting by with Two and a Half Men.  If his probation officer lets him.  Rob Lowe finally crawled out of the mucky, Dukakis “whoops I’m in bed with mother and daughter in Idaho!” scandal by proving himself on West Wing.  James Spader is suited and booted on Boston Legal.   Not one of them dreamed of stepping off the John Hughes / Joel Schumacher gravy train in the mid-late 80s and finding themselves on television 20 years later.  You can imagine their disgust:

Malibu, California.  The late 1980s.  Sometime after lunch in Jon Cryer’s colonial-style ranch.

Emilio Estevez :  Yeah, get this, man – apparently when we’re really old – like 40 and stuff – we will only get jobs on TV!

Charlie Sheen: {hoovers up some white powder, which he “found in the cupboard”, which later turns out to be Waitrose’s bicarbonate of soda} No way, bro.  I was in, like, Wall Street.  It was a movie and stuff and we had cameras – BIG ones – and I got to swear and had, like, a really really nice suit.  I got to use Michael Douglas’s jacuzzi.  So, no.  I am NOT TV guy.

Andrew McCarthy: {adjusts mullet, swears – but only a PG-rated word}  Goddamn motherfudger!  I’m far too short for TV.  My career is over.  I heard about this.  Kiefer Sutherland is gonna be in a show and save the world or something.  Lou – sorry – you’re gonna do poker on the poker channel.

No one knows quite what to say.

Lou Diamond Phillips : Are you crazy? Kiefer saving the world?  He keeps a goat in his living room.  No one is gonna believe a Canadian can save the world.  What’s the poker channel?

Emilio Estevez : You will not always be on the poker channel, Mr Diamond. Sometimes directors will hire you when they are casting for terrorists.  You will make a comfortable living from this.  So, Kiefer gets to save the world and you get to play the guy trying to blow it up.  Oh, and my Dad is the President. Or something.

Charlie Sheen : I’m the President, man.  I’m gonna save the world, man.  I got the chicks, I got the HAIR. I am deeply DELUDED and incomprehensively vain.  I’m gonna save the world and you losers are gonna be my secretaries.  I just gotta find those shoes.  Anyone seen my shoes?  They are small and green and made of something and they came from the lady who had the thing……any more bicarb?

Judd Nelson:  So, the world is changing.  What is going to happen to me? {A sinister chuckle is heard from the room overhead.  They dismiss this as Val Kilmer doing a vocal warm-up and carry on the conversation}.  Are movie actors like us going to become obsolete?

Emilio Estevez: Well not entirely, but television is gonna be where it’s at, on Sky Atlantic.  If you want to get by on films in the future you’ll just have to work for the Coen brothers or playing a saturnine gay cowboy or do a musical. 

Lou Diamond Philips:  Is Sky Atlantic an airline?  Who are the Colin brothers?

Andrew McCarthy : Oh well, I guess time will tell. Personally I don’t believe a word of it.  It’s like trying to make me believe that Guy Pearce from Neighbours is a proper actor.  Or that the lovely Madonna and Sean Penn will ever divorce.  Jeez, they’re such a great couple.  I’m going to the health club to play squash with Matthew Broderick…

Yes, dear Brat Packers, the times have changed.  A rolled-up jacket sleeve and a toothy grin wouldn’t hack it on HBO.  Although Bruce Springsteen may have been right when he sung that there were “57 channels and nothing on…” on US television, the small amount of output that contitutes the 58th channel of HBO has done more than anyone ever predicted.  Perhaps the most astonishing thing wasn’t that every advert at the cinema on Friday was for television but that people still turn out in their thousands to go to the cinema, a habit that many in the 1970s believed would die out.  There is nothing like watching a film on the big screen.  One in fifteen people in the UK and Ireland have now seen The Kings Speech, a fact I find very encouraging for the UK film industry.  Before the main feature, an advert came on to encourage us to visit the cinema more often.  By Simon Pegg, who is famous on television.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

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