Thursday, January 20, 2011

The genius and misplaced glamour of celluloid

Firstly, should like to say, just what a genius Tim Burton is.

Watched Alice in Wonderland last night (on dvd, yes, yes, I know, yawn, I finally got round to it a year after everyone else, whatever). I was gobsmacked! The animation, the CG, the glorious intense colour palette that made each and every still a visual masterpiece, the film was pure magical escapism which did justice to any child's wildest imagination, and certainly reignited mine. It took my breath away. And this was on the small screen. I can only imagine the adrenalin rush I'd have got in the cinema.

It demonstrated just what an art form film can be - the way in which each scene is staged, set, acted and illuminated. The pace, the colour, the costume, the drama, the infinite attention to detail. For anyone looking for great examples of direction this is it. Can't quite understand why Burton wasn't universally revered for it.

I'm usually the first out the cinema when the credits roll but curious to see just who, what and how many were responsible for this marathan feat, I stayed slumped on the sofa squinting as the names came up one after another, faster and faster. Five minutes later they were still rolling, the cast and crew now running to thousands.

Struck me just what's involved in putting a film together these days and how the vast majority of contributors get little, indeed minute, credit that flashes by at such a rate you miss it. Seems to me that the acting - the big slow names at the top, those we all bow down to, glorify and throw awards at - is the easy bit.

It is also, and I know from experience, death-defyingly dull. As an extra, you show up at 6am on a film set, get made up and wardrobed, then sit around all day waiting for a scene or scenes, in which you are required to act as wallpaper. In my case walk along a 20 yard stretch of high street pavement.
"Is that it?" I exclaimed, obviously only there because I was a wannabe thesp and thought it could be my chance to be discovered. "Should i erm, do anything, like pause, look hurried, or harried maybe? Perhaps glance in a shop window? Would you like me to express in any way?"
"No, just walk along the pavement," said busy production assistant, barely looking at me.
We did three takes, each of which took about 30 seconds, and for the rest of a day were all holed up in a bare miserable make shift room with access to teas and coffees, waiting to be called again. We weren't. 6am-8pm sitting around doing nothing in silly unseasonal costumes for £60. There is NOTHING glamourous about film-making.

Which brings me full circle, because in this makeshift caf, sitting for a while at the next table was Mrs Burton, la Bonham Carter herself along with Catherine Tate, and I, bored insane from staring at the table, could hear every word of her conversation, the only mildly interesting part of the day. She chattered away in her plummy, spirited screen manner about subjects relating to sleep, insomnia and snoring - the details of which I couldn't possibly reveal - until she too was called to do her 30 second take, several times, under a handheld shower, until dusk and crap weather meant filming had to cease.

Even your a-list film stars aren't spared the tedium. They just get paid better for it.

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