Tag Archives: John Hughes

The day I met Kris Kringle – remembering Richard Attenborough

I’d always loved the original Miracle on 34th Street, starring Edmund Gwenn, the only actor to ever receive an Oscar for playing Santa, and a young Natalie Wood.

In 1994 I was thrilled then to discover that it was getting the remake treatment for a whole new generation, this time with the loveable Lord Attenborough in the red suit and in the dock, little did I know that only a few years later I would get to meet and chat to Kris Kringle in person…

It’s more than fair to say that I was in awe of Lord Attenborough when I was lucky enough to meet and chat to him for ten minutes almost 15 years ago.

It was the year 2000 and by then, to most of the students he was there to see, he was either John Hammond, the eccentric gent behind Jurassic Park (1993) or Kris Kringle in the John Hughes penned remake of Miracle on 34th Street (1994).

I knew more, knew of the huge breadth of roles, the impressive body of directorial work and was genuinely thrilled to be able to have an audience with this great man whose sprightliness defied his then 75 years, who was warm and happy to listen to my appreciation of his work, mentioning how much I had enjoyed both Chaplin (which I was pleased about as it didn’t do very well at the box office), A Bridge Too Far (one of my favourite war films) and his delightful performance in Miracle on 34th Street.

Dickie_CMYK_print_300dpi (1)It turns out that he is pretty much Kris Kringle, that was certainly my lasting impression when I met him, not just in look (sporting white beard of course) but also in his calming and caring manner where, when he spoke to you it was as if you were at the very centre of his universe and he hung on every word that you said. To him it was almost as if you were the important part of the conversation.

Outside of family pictures the photo of me and ‘Dickie’ is probably one of my most treasured and although that brief encounter happened over 15 years ago it is still as clear as if it only happened yesterday.

Throughout all his personas, whether that be on screen or behind the lens, I practically grew up with Attenborough, whether that be his still mesmerising and iconic turn in Brighton Rock, his supporting roles in The Great Escape (1963) – and I really did think he had gotten away with it, back alongside Steve McQueen in The Sand Pebbles (1967) and in best supporting actor oscar nominated mode in Dr Dolittle (1968).

He stepped behind the camera the following year for ‘Oh, What a Lovely War’, in what you could say was the start of his love to explore what you could call the ‘modern historical’. Arguably this covers everything from ‘Young Winston’, ‘A Bridge Too Far’, ‘Cry Freedom’, ‘Chaplin’, ‘Shadowlands’ and ‘In Love and War’.

His cinematic pinnacle came with Gandhi, which won eight Academy Awards, storming the box office and was 20 years in the making for Attenborough.

You could almost argue that everything else that he directed was a practice run, from the historical figure biopic of Young Winston, to the epicness of A Bridge Too Far to the social commentary of Oh, What A Lovely War.

Even the off the beaten track Magic, the tale of a possessed ventriloquist’s doll, was done to help raise funds for bankrolling Gandhi, the same reason Attenborough cropped up in John Wayne’s Dirty Harry-lite London set Brannigan.

Clearly, and why not, he was taking a leaf from fellow luvvie and Oh, What a Lovely War actor, Laurence Olivier, and taking some jobs just for the money. The hard work and effort obviously paid off, on both a professional and personal level, bagging two of Gandhi’s eight Oscars for his producing and directing duties.

Attenborough was held in such high regard by fellow filmmakers and directors, he has long been a lynchpin of the British film industry and is credited with introducing independent in the UK and has been a passionate supporter of the next generation, both behind and in front of the screen. And that was the reason I met him at Ravensbourne, he was there supporting the next gen of people in television.

It was Steven Spielberg that managed to coax Attenborough out of acting retirement for Jurassic Park, the director said: “He was the perfect ringmaster to bring dinosaurs back to life.” All of which just shows in what high regard he was held by everybody that he met and that he had a positive impact on.

Fittingly his roles in both Jurassic Park and Miracle on 34th Street capture the essence of the man I was lucky enough to meet on that sunny June day, his sense of wonder and magical glint in his eye. Even today I can still feel the moment he put his arm on my shoulder, he could have just simply shook my hand and stood next to me, but that small and simple action seems to just sum him up so much and all that he stood for and I’ll never forget it.

The Exorcist to hit the small screen: The power of TV compels you

What with the success of such horror fare as The Walking Dead and American Horror Story in our living rooms it’s perhaps not unsurprising to hear the announcement that The Exorcist is to make the leap to the small screen in the form of a 10-part series.

Other horror franchises have hit the small screen in the past but these have just been in name only and effectively being loose reworkings of The Twilight Zone, step forward Freddy’s Nightmares, Friday the 13th (Voorhees free) and Poltergeist: The Legacy.

We of course hear lots about TV programmes being turned into films, some are good, such as The Fugitive ,The Naked Gun and Mission Impossible, some are bad, step up Wild Wild West and I Spy, whilst others are just plain ugly, Car 54, Where Are You? but less like this The Exorcist move.

Let’s have a flick through the TV Guide of yesteryear to celebrate and shake our heads at some of those franchises that made the leap, or in some case fatal stumbles, from our cinemas to the small screen.

Blue Thunder

I’ve always been a big fan of the Roy Scheider film on which this was based. I never realised it until yesterday but the main character, here played by James Farentino, isn’t even the same character as Scheider, he just has an equally big pair of shades. Daniel Stern couldn’t return due to him getting killed in the film (or really that doesn’t mean a thing, see what I mean later) so we had a similar sidekick in the form of Dana Carvey (yes, Garth from a future Wayne’s World) with support from two American Football legends, the fantastically named Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith, that’s right Hightower from Police Academy (and here I was under the impression he worked in a florists). Turns out that the sky wasn’t big enough for two helicopters and Airwolf – with its funkier titles, theme tune and flying machine) metaphorically shot it out of the sky after only 13 episodes. Still love Blue Thunder the movie though.

Alien Nation

Ah, the late 80s.After the success of Lethal Weapon we pretty much exhausted every mis-matched cop variation that we could (cop and dog – K(, American cop and Russian cop – Red Heat, cop and kid – Cop and a Half, cop and zombie ex partner – Dead Heat and cop and alien partner – Alien Nation.

The film starred James Caan and Mandy Patinkin and explored issues of race regarding a new alien species who were facing the same struggles that say black people were facing 15-20 years earlier when it was released in 1988. The TV series explored that theme a lot deeper and TV was the perfect place for it to draw out such issues. Even when the series ended it returned for several TV movies.

Stargate SG-1

At the current time of writing this is the longest constantly running Sci-Fi show (no, Doctor Who doesn’t count due to his long break). Spinning off from the hit film of the same title we have Richard Dean Anderson – almost shugging off all previous memory of MacGyver – bet he could have made his own Stargate – instead of Kurt Russell in the same role and crucially acknowledges, respects and significantly builds upon that original film world and did so for 10 seasons, its own spin off TV movie and two of its own spin of series, making it the most successful  Sci-Fi property since Star Trek.

Ferris Bueller

It could have only been more bungled if Principal Rooney had tried to make this himself. Sometimes a property works because of the writer and the actors involved, this had neither so was more a case of Ferris Bueller Bog Off rather than his still never bettered Day Off. It always seemed like Parker Lewis Can’t Lose tone and had Charlie Schlatter (liked him in 18 Again, hope he fired his agent after Police Academy 7 replacing Matt McCoy replacing Steve Guttenberg and perhaps most widely known for Diagnosis Murder) and an early turn from Jennifer Aniston and her pre operation nose. Talking of John Hughes properties, somehow, somehow Uncle Buck also made it to a series.

Working Girl

The film was Oscar-nominated, had a career best performance from Melanie Griffith who turned into Sandra Bullock for the short-lived TV version.

Tremors

After four films (don’t worry only two of them made them into cinemas) the Syfy Channel thought they’d Graboid some extra green stuff from the franchise and spin it out as a TV series, featuring Michael Gross, who has been a mainstay of all of the films (and played Michael J Fox’s dad in Family Ties). The Channel mucked about with the order so it made no sense, which meant sloppy re-editing and an audience that nose-divided sending the Graboids back into hiding never to be seen again.

Madigan

Richard Widmark lasted for six 90 minutes episodes of this TV series named after the 1968 film of the same name, which to be honest was some going as he got shot dead at the end of the film. The original film was directed by Don Siegel who would go onto make Dirty Harry.  In the same year as directing Madigan, Siegel also directed Coogan’s Bluff with a fish out of water cop played by Clint Eastwood. This also turned up on TV, this time as McCloud with Dennis Weaver in the role.

Casablanca

When Humphrey Bogart said “Play it again, Sam” I don’t think he meant the whole scenario, well amazingly that is what happened and more amazingly still it was with David Soul in the Bogart role in 1983, which also featured an early Ray Liotta and Scatman ‘Hong Kong Phooey” Crothers. Was also made for TV in 1955, the latter only lasted two episodes with the former shutting up shop after 6.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

It’s often forgotten that Buffy started out as something of a so-so movie with a good idea with the lovely but oh so different to Gellar, Kristy Swanson in the role.

Robocop

Think it over creep. I really wish they had. One of those really odd things that happened (a similar think happened with a  Rambo kids cartoon) were an ultra violent film and is slowly eroded away over sequels (flying Robocop in part 3 folks), then a TV series – which still looked like that same world but just something of a cuddlier version and even a cartoon.