Originally appeared, in edited form, in The Cambridge Student
Such a lovely man, that Neil Gaiman. Calm, charming, his hair looking completely chaotic as well as varying in shades of metallic grey depending on the light, he enchanted his audience within minutes as he pensively answered the somewhat inane questions of the evening’s interviewer.
After a warm drinks reception at Cripps Court, Magdalene, we made our way downstairs, where the man of the moment met the first question (something along the lines of, “How did you end up where you are now?”) with the response: “Mostly by accident.” The talk was characterised by such modesty. We learned about his fruitful relationship with Terry Pratchett, which begat 1990’s Good Omens; his mistrust of Hollywood, and the darkly amusing impunity with which execs fabricate and mislead; and about his happy experience with Russell T. Davies on his first episode (‘The Doctor’s Wife’) of the revived Doctor Who.
I’ll confess that I’ve read none of Gaiman’s books or comics, and have only seen a couple of adaptations of his work, but still found him wonderfully relatable, interesting, and funny. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, his new book for 1-5 year-olds, is next on my reading list – right after I’m done with A Political Economy of the Middle East.
Watersprite got off to a great start. Predictably, for a prestigious international film festival, the short films – none exceeding 20 minutes – were generally of a very high standard. The British Dancing in the Ashes kicked off proceedings; its only remarkable asset was its incredible production design, which belied the tight budget on which the film was made. It was otherwise a fairly ‘standard’ Holocaust film, with some arresting imagery and solid performances. Dancing took home awards for acting, production design and Film of the Year. I did not get to see the other Holocaust film of the ceremony, the Israeli Claymation film Nyosha, which looked more original and effective, and won the award for Best Cinematography.
While some of the films seemed a tad pretentious (The Naked Leading the Blind, a recognisably French film, had moments of uncertainty, as well as a mysterious but unfulfilling ending – and this is coming from a fan of ambiguous endings), most were enhanced rather than hindered by their quirks. Tired of Swimming, a surreal Dutch Claymation short, dealt movingly with themes of alienation, dislocation and loss, and offered some fascinating imagery, while the monochrome German film Sensed was another film to explore blindness, with its climactic shot being the most beautiful I had seen in any of the films.
There were several animations: as well as the Claymations, Iria López’s Jamón was a charming hand-drawn animation about a pig in a family of humans, while a 150-second Spanish film about a tango maestro on a busy train was aurally and visually delightful.
The film that I thought was most unfairly overlooked was a compelling Belgian dramatic short, about the tension between two best friends when they are forced to compete against each other to retain their jobs. L’incertitude d’Heisenberg was riveting from the start, and, although nominated for acting and cinematography gongs, went home empty-handed. Its wonderful ending, relevance to the modern career-motivated world of business, and understatement made it the best of the seven films that I had seen.
Gaiman and John Logan have both written films that run on budgets exceeding $150 million, but while Gaiman exudes small-scale charm and a love for personal, quirky projects, it’s clear that Logan loves to swim with the big fish: Ridley Scott, Leo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese. He named his experience on Skyfall, which he co-wrote with Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, as the most rewarding of his career, largely because of the freedom afforded him by producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. They let him imbue the film with notable shades of homoeroticism (Logan himself is openly gay); they let him apparently ‘kill off’ Bond and resurrect him shortly afterwards; and, ultimately, they let him and his co-writers take the franchise in a new direction.
I got a chance to interview Logan after the Q&A session, and found him loquacious, polite, and funny. He singled out Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out (set in Belfast) as the film that first inspired him as a screenwriter, also voicing adulation for Lawrence of Arabia and Olivier’s Hamlet: “they were the two films that rocked my world completely.”
On his personal connection to the new Bond film, he commented: “I just turned 50, so of course I’m reappraising my life: my past, my present, my future. That’s one of the reasons I did Skyfall: it was going to be a story about that.”
Logan credits his Irish roots, and “the lilt of the language”, for inspiring him to make his writing poetic and eloquent, while remaining concise and cogent. TCS asked Logan, given his love for poetry, if he’d ever consider writing a screenplay without dialogue, relying purely on visual poetry. “A screenplay without dialogue,” drawled Logan, “would be like sex without the orgasm.” Where could the interview go after that?
I will always love Olivia Colman. Three reasons include, but are not limited to: a) In front of a sizeable audience, she admitted to David Mitchell’s autobiography being so funny that she (literally) pissed herself laughing in front of a bunch of kids, hilariously miming the horrified reactions of the schoolchildren as they tried to escape the oncoming and unstemmable flood; b) She couldn’t even remember the character she played in hit TV show Green Wing, and had to be reminded by an audience member; and c) She actively encouraged Cantabrigians to prioritise having a great time here above all else: “It doesn’t matter, as long as you had a good time, and got in!” Colman self-effacingly claims that she never did any work at Cambridge, and spent all her time cycling to auditions and rehearsals. She met Mitchell & Webb at Cambridge, and told me (when I asked) that Mitchell’s Football Rant is her favourite M&W sketch: “it’s pure David”.
Although I was infuriated that they decided to show one of the most devastating scenes in modern cinema (from Paddy Considine’s masterpiece Tyrannosaur – very few other films have made me cry) to the audience, utterly decontextualizing it and therefore stripping it of much of its power, the audience got an appreciation of her immense skill at handling non-comedic roles. I got to speak to her for a bit at the end, in an informal chat with her fans. To my personal surprise, I was the first person to ever ask her: “Jez or Mark?” “Long-term, or one-night stand?” she asked. Peep Show fans: Olivia Colman would rather have Jez than Mark as a long-term lover. “Good choice,” I replied spinelessly, knowing full well that I’d have probably gone for Mark.
Her other reflections included her love for Considine, her favourite director to have worked with: he expertly provides a “safe environment”, treats his actors with respect but not obsequience, and his nod of approval “is worth ten Oscars”. Oh, and her final piece of advice: “If you ever get to dance with Nick Frost – do it.”