Tag Archives: Oscars

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 Snowman and the Snowdog

The-Snowman-and-The-Snowdog[1]It took over a year to make and included over 200,000 sheets of paper, with each cel painstakingly hand drawn, and is the sequel to a Christmas favourite, but does The Snowman and the Snowdog bark up the right tree?

The short answer is happily a yes. The original version of The Snowman, based on the Raymond Briggs classic book, is part of our Christmas DNA. It’s up there with Bond, Eric and Ernie and Del Boy as a Christmas perennial.

We know each beat, each pencil stroke almost, and still take that small leap with the boy and the Snowman when they leave the confines of the garden to those, quite literally, soaring chords.

The Snowman and the SnowdogIt’s a relationship we’ve had for 30 years so to return to something so well-known and so beloved was always going to be a challenge, at least you can’t call it a quick cash-in! Now, there is a new Snowman on the block…one Snowman and his Snowdog to be precise.

As much as The Snowman was part of my childhood, I was seven when it was first broadcast, I’m hoping this new Snowman will be as much a part of Isabelle’s.

Like most sequels it is bigger in scope, rather than flying over Brighton and the surrounding area, this time we have London and the OXO Tower, Big Ben and the London Eye.

pagebanner_dog[1]The moving sketchy pencil drawn backgrounds had an air of welcome familiarity about them as soon as it started, almost as if CGI had never happened. It was almost like a time machine and it was nice to have that look and retro feel of the original that allowed us to believe that the tale unfolding before us inhabited the same universe as the original.

Like the original it wasn’t without its heartache. I knew as soon as I saw the old dog lifted from the moving lorry coupled with lingering shots that we would soon be saying farewell to it in the back garden. I’m not sure what young kids made of this but being a dog owner this was harrowing enough for me on Christmas Eve (it was also repeated on Christmas Day).

After having moved into the house a young boy finds the original Snowman’s hat and scarf under the floorboards, passing on the baton to the next generation. Soon enough it is snowing and we find ourselves at the snowman building scene where we first meet the two characters of the title.

snowman[1]2012 may have been the Chinese year of the Dragon but when it came to film and TV it was certainly the year of the dog with Uggie at the Oscars and BAFTAs after his star turn in The Artist, Pudsey on Britain’s Got Talent and now, the Snowdog, prestigious cover star of the Christmas Radio Times no less (AKA the Christmas Bible).

Who could not help but fall in love with him and his ears made of socks. Nevermind flying through the air, he’ll be flying off shelves when his soft toy version arrives (and yes, I have been looking). It isn’t here yet but the question ‘where can I buy a Snowdog’ was ranking high on a Google search.

And, yes, as in the original it was exhilarating to see all three characters take flight. For me this is the stand out moment of the film and the animation is perfect, it gets me everytime. You can see the ‘take off’ moment here in the trailer.

Of course ‘Walking in the Air’ has become synonymous with the original flight sequence, it almost a character in its own right. The original was recorded by St Paul’s Cathedral choirboy Peter Auty and not Aled Jones, that was later for a Gas advert.

To try and emulate it (as they did of sorts with a young Charlotte Church with the animation of another Raymond Briggs piece, The Bear) would be wrong but they had to get it right as in the original that is the signature moment of the whole film.

For me, what accompanied The Snowman and the Snowdog taking flight captured the whole sequence perfectly. ‘Light the Night’ by former Razorlight drummer Andy Burrows is an instant classic and I don’t quite know what it is but I have to compose myself when hearing it or seeing that sequence to hold my emotions in check. I’ve found myself taking in a sharp breath several times when it starts, with its tinkling introduction, as it’s just so full of a whole myriad of feeling and rather melancholy. It just all  fits and captures the moment wonderfully with an ever-building crescendo and leaves it, deservedly, racing round your head.

Bringing back some traditional Christmas spirit in the music, to both ‘Light the Night’ and the rest of the film’s music is composer Ilan Eshkeri, who did an equally amazing string-heavy score for Stardust, both fantasies of course, and the score for this very much emulates that in its epic and soaring feel.

The original was nominated for an Oscar, the sequel may have been too light to gain anomination this year, but Academy Award nod or not it is already a winner in the eyes of my two-year old daughter. She must have seen it about ten times already and it was the very first thing she asked for after being away for New Year, the first think we did was ‘K’ it on our Sky +, deleting it in error at our peril!

The Snowman and the Snowdog has certainly melted this little girl’s heart, and her mum and dad’s along with it too. I think secretly we are quite pleased when she says she wants to watch it again.

Of course, like the original, there has to be a somewhat downbeat ending (I won’t give it away for anyone that hasn’t seen it yet) but perhaps the saddest ending of all is the dedication in the credits to Producer, John Coates. He Produced the original and was instrumental in getting The Snowman and the Snowdog (quite literally) off the ground but sadly passed away before completion.

His legacy will live on each and every Christmas though…or throughout the whole year in our house if Isabelle continues watching it at her current rate of knots..

xmas12640[1]For me The Snowman and the Snowdog echoes the original whilst leaving its own set of paw prints to produce a successful and pleasing continuation of a classic. Isabelle was transfixed by it and it really filled her with a sense of awe and wonder. It was nice to have something new yet felt traditional at the same time. It’s an instant Christmas classic.