Tuesday 9 February 2010


Yes! It's that time of the week again when -- yawn, yawn! -- I invite you to tune into David Puttnam's Century of Cinema, the fourth episode of which airs on BBC Radio 2 this evening.

When Lord Puttnam and I made this series, back 1999, it was broadcast as celebration of the first century of cinema and this installment finds us discussing some of the tried and tested popular film genres that were the life-blood of the movie industry over those years.

We look at westerns, musicals, comedies, epics, sci-fi films and war movies, with Fred Zinnerman talking to me about High Noon and why he cast Gary Cooper in the role of the beleagured sheriff and Robert Wise telling me why he didn't cast Claude Raines as Klaatu the alien in The Day the Earth Stood Still -- hands up anyone who can remember Klaatu's three-word message! -- and why The Sound of Music is the perfect musical. Ken Annakin recalls working on The Longest Day and Richard (Notting Hill) Curtis pays tribute to the comedy of the Marx Brothers.

Other movies that get a viewing include Apocalypse Now, Saving Private Ryan, Lawrence of Arabia and Some Like It Hot while David himself recalls the triumph that was Chariots of Fire.

You can hear David Puttnam's Century of Cinema - 'Reel 4: Something for Everyone' - on BBC Radio 2 at 10:30, and, if you miss the transmission this evening, it can be heard again for seven days via the BBC iPlayer.

And, until the transmission of tonight's episode, you've still a few hours left to catch 'Reel 3: Hollywood Incorporated', which looks at the great studios, their history and their movies.


Sheila said...

"Yawn, yawn" indeed! I'm already worrying about how I'm going to stay awake on the road back from Oxford after the end of this rivetting series.

(On the way there I'm listening to Martin Jarvis reading PG Wodehouse' Summer Lightning, but having someone reading to you is very soporific, so I don't think I'll risk it on the return journey ...)

Brian Sibley said...

Martin Jarvis - soporific? He won't like that! :) Actually, I think an even greater danger from listening to the great Wodehouse would be loosing control of the car through laughter!

Seriously, Sheila, thanks for the delightful (and unsought!) compliment - much appreciated.

And a new line in self-promotion has just come to me: SIBLEY RIVETS!

Trouble is, I'd probably have to deal with a lot of extraneous correspondence from plane-manufacturers, bridge-builders and boiler-makers!

SharonM said...

It's obvious that you are totally at home on the radio and your enthusiasm really comes over.

It's also apparent that you must have done a vast amount of work putting the series together.

Brian Sibley said...

Thank you, Sharon!

Of course that series was made back in the days when one didn't have to be a 'celebrity' to be on Radio 2. Although, I guess things were already changing, which is why it was DP's Century of Cinema rather than BS' Ditto... The best I can hope for nowadays is to write scripts for Star Names to read.

But, yes, it did involve a LOT of work and I'm really glad my (quite genuine) enthusiasm came over: I've never thought of myself as being especially talented but, to parody The Master, I believe I do have "A Talent to Enthuse"...

Come to think of it, if I ever write my autobiography (slim chance) that would make rather a good title!

Sheila said...

Another cracking programme. I particularly enjoyed hearing Fred Zinnermann and the section on Chariots of Fire.

I think one of the reasons it works so well is the way you and DP are both enthusiastic experts who complement each other: you make a good team.

(I'm beginning to lose the thread in the Wodehouse - trying to remember who has hidden which pig where. And in case Martin Jarvis is one of your regular bloggees, I must add that he is in the top 3 audio book readers - brilliant delivery and highly recommended)

Brian Sibley said...

Fred Zimmerman was a fascinating man and I wish I had had longer to talk with him. He had died before the Puttnam series was broadcast and those clips are part of a half-hour profile I made off him for the BBC World Service.

I asked him, obviously, about filming one of the most famous love scenes on film - Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in that clinch on the beach (and in the surf) in From Here to Eternity. "How was it done?" I asked. He paused, thought and said, very dryly, "Let me see, I think we had Burt and Deborah lay on the sand and then we waited for the tide to come in!"

Arts and Crafts said...

Brian Fred Zinnnemann, Zimmermann was a musician... but don't worry is a usual mistake...oh, I had asked him a thousand questions about A man for all seasons....

Brian Sibley said...

Yep! Slip of the keys (or the brain!); we talked quite a bit about A Man For All Seasons, which is a quite brilliant film filled with outstanding performances. Zinnerman was drawn to the subject matter of Robert Bolt's play, I believe, because of its moral dilemma and the ambiguities of human nature which it explore and which was, of course, also what attracted him to the stories of High Noon and From Here to Eternity.

Good Dog said...

I’m afraid I only got to listen to last week’s edition just the once. With content this entertaining and informative it absolutely requires repeat listening but the time just ran out on me.

A shame really because I find the old studio system utterly intriguing. People since have said that Jack Warner or Sam Goldwyn or Zanuck was a right so and so but by God, they made great pictures and made good suggestions to their filmmakers.

When the young turks eventually came in, thinking they could take over Hollywood and do better without that caste system, almost all of them made a right pig’s ear of it.

And it’s interesting that this “reel” was about genres because when I’d start to see the classics on television – whether it was the weekend movie matinees on BBC2 or the early evening film seasons, it didn’t take long to twig that the private eye and gangster movies came from Warner Bros, the 1930s horror films from Universal and the comedies from Paramount.

Nowadays they’re just known for their franchises like Harry Potter and Batman or Indiana Jones and Mission: Impossible or that horrible stage when it was more about making the deal rather than the movie. Is that progress?

It’s amazing to think of the indulgence of Cleopatra that almost bankrupted Fox when the big movies now are all about indulgence – usually at the expense of the story.

There are so many directors now who think they are the big cheese but as Lord Puttnam points outs, Billy Wilder made Some Like it Hot and The Apartment back to back. That should be put on a memo and regularly sent around to various current directors who get far too big for their boots.

It’s still astonishing that Enio Morricone’s wonderful score for The Mission was beaten by the ’Round Midnight soundtrack, but it’s interesting what Lord Puttnam says about the need for the Academy Awards. Yes, the voters may get it wrong sometimes but without that cachet to reach for... my goodness, the cinema would just be full of braindead Ben Stiller movies. What a nightmare!

I’ve been trying to think what The Day the Earth Stood Still would have been like with Claude Rains as Klaatu. And it’s still too odd a concept to actually get my head around....

Oh, wait a minute, I was thinking of Keanu Reeves. Sorry.

(And I'm still laughing at those wonderfully chosen one-liners from Groucho, thanks for that).

Brian Sibley said...

Claude Raines as Klaatu? Well, maybe not, but of course if that had been the version we saw, who knows how we would have reacted. It might have been terrible or briliant, we'll never know...

After all, Ronald Reagan was nearly in Casablanca and, if he had been, that might have changed the whole course of 20th century history!

Thanks, as always, for your perceptive comments.