I’ve had dinosaurs on the brain since going to see a 25th anniversary screening of Jurassic Park at the Prince Charles Cinema a few weeks ago, so was very happy to have the opportunity to check out an even earlier example of dinosaurs in cinema. The Lost World, based on the Arthur Conan Doyle novel and directed by Harry O. Hoyt, was made in 1925; once thought lost, it has now largely been recovered, and was shown at the BFI Southbank with an accompanying live piano score from Lucky Dog Picturehouse.
I absolutely loved this movie; the animation was incredibly impressive for the time and I particularly loved the section which saw the diplodocus rampaging through the streets of London. I believe it’s available on YouTube, and it’s well worth a watch.
One of my birthday presents was a ticket to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, which is all about the making of Harry Potter. I’d been wanting to go for ages, but I’m glad I waited, as it was only recently that the Hogwarts Express was installed at the attraction.
The tour site is about 20 miles north of London, near Watford, and there is a shuttle bus from Watford Junction. My friend and I travelled from west London, catching the train at Euston, and were impressed to see references to the studio tour all over the place – it’s a popular attraction! Once there, it was VERY exciting to see the bus. It’s not free, but it’s very handy – taking you straight there and back – and there’s even a little Harry Potter video to watch while you’re travelling.
The entrance to the building is exciting in itself, with a number of props dotted around, including a number of the chessmen from the first film. Elisa and I took the opportunity to get a selfie in front of the attraction!
The main lobby is huge, with a cafe, a gift shop and cloakroom (and toilets of course) – there are even some attractions here, like Ron’s car that was used in Chamber of Secrets. We had loads of time to kill before our tour, so we went for something to eat in the cafe.
Afterwards we checked out the gift shop, as you do. Everything was incredibly expensive. I did buy a little something later on, but I might have bought more if it hadn’t been so pricey.
When it was time for our tour, we got in the queue and were thrilled to notice Harry’s cupboard under the stairs as we were passing.
We were taken into a room and shown a video, with the main actors from the films – Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint – introducing the experience. Then it was into the Great Hall!
I loved the Great Hall. It was an amazing feeling to be in the space where so many things happened over the course of the eight films. There were tables laid out with food, and costumes from some of the characters, including the school uniform and the teachers’ robes. The Great Hall doesn’t have a ceiling, because it is meant to reflect the night sky, and CGI stars were added after filming.
Once out of the Great Hall, the rest of the building is full of amazing props from the Harry Potter series, complete with information boards explaining how particular tricks were done and how things worked on screen. There were so many things to see, from the Gryffindor common room to the Potions classroom, Dumbledore’s office and game props from Quidditch and the TriWizard Tournament.
I really liked the “green screen” section which explained how broomsticks, Hagrid’s bike and other objects were made to fly.
Later in the exhibition, the displays focused on sets outside of Hogwarts.
The next part was one that I was really excited about – the Hogwarts Express! You can see the train in all its glory, and even climb inside the carriages.
Following this we arrived at a cafe, which was perfectly timed – we were pretty tired by this time, having spent a good couple of hours wandering around, and wanted a sit down. You can bring your own food for a picnic if you like, or you can purchase food here. We weren’t hungry, but we did fancy trying the Butterbeer. It was very sweet: Elisa hated it, but I quite liked it!
Luckily it was a fine day, as the next bit was outside. We got to see the Knight Bus (made from two genuine double decker buses), Privet Drive, the moving corridor at Hogwarts, the cottage at Godric’s Hollow, and Ron’s car.
Back inside, there was a fascinating section on animatronics and how they were made and manipulated for the Harry Potter films. I was particularly interested in Dobby and in Hagrid’s huge head, not to mention Fawkes the phoenix.
Next we made our way into Diagon Alley, which was full of shops from the movies. I loved this section – I only wish it was really possible to go into the shops and buy wands and delicious sweets for real!
The next section was all about concept art and models for the sets, which was fascinating. Finally, we got to see the incredible model of Hogwarts which was used for overhead shots. The detail on this model is incredible and my picture really doesn’t do it justice.
I had an incredible time at the studio tour and it is a must-see for any Harry Potter fan, or even anyone who is interested in how films are made. It’s pricey, but worth it in my opinion as there is so much to see.
Timed tours are in operation and you do need to book in advance. My friend and I didn’t book far enough in advance for a Saturday in July so we ended up having to choose a later timeslot. The attraction doesn’t close until late so this wasn’t a big problem for us, but I think the earlier in the day you can go the better, as there are likely to be fewer people.
The tour was definitely a highlight for me, as a huge Harry Potter fan, and I’m so glad I went.
Okay, so I’m a lifelong fan of The Wizard of Oz. It’s one of the earliest films I remember watching – the moment when Dorothy steps out of the door of the farm into the colourful world of Oz is forever imprinted on my memory. The Eighties sequel, Return to Oz, is completely different but just as good – terrifying and disturbing but brilliant. Once I found out that the films were based on a series of books by L. Frank Baum, I got hold of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (surprised to learn that the ruby slippers were originally silver shoes) and later obtained a volume of the entire Oz collection.
Also, I own three pairs of red glitter shoes.
The Returning to Oz season at the BFI, therefore, was a dream come true for me. Incorporating a number of early black and white films and other movies inspired by the world of Oz, a documentary, and a discussion forum, I booked up for almost everything. Unfortunately Return to Oz (1985) couldn’t be shown as it is no longer available for distribution in the UK, and I didn’t get to see The Wiz (1979) as I was busy on both of the nights it was showing. However, I made the most of everything else.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910)
This early adaptation of the first Oz novel was the first movie version, a single-reel programme that compresses the story into a short film. It came about when Baum, trying to settle his debts, sold the rights to his story. Directed by Otis Turner, the film was produced by William Selig and the Selig Polyscope Company. This version departs in several ways from the original story: for instance, Dorothy meets the Scarecrow when she is still in Kansas and the two of them along with Toto the dog and a couple of farm animals (a cow and a horse, played by actors in costume) are blown to Oz. I did like the scene in which Dorothy rescues the Scarecrow from his perch, and the swirling haystack effect is a lot of fun. However, the moment of Dorothy’s melting of the Witch Momba is rushed through and although the Wizard’s escape from Oz in a balloon is shown, Dorothy’s return isn’t portrayed, although she doesn’t seem too worried about this. This film doesn’t strike me as a classic, but it is an entertaining first glimpse at Oz on film.
The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914)
This feature-length Oz story was produced by L. Frank Baum himself, and the Oz Film Company. Directed by J. Farrell MacDonald, it incorporates elements from several different Oz stories. The basic plot involves a young boy and his uncle journeying to the Emerald City in search of food; on the way they meet a wizard who has been brewing a magic potion for six years designed to bring things to life. The wizard’s wife sews a doll and uses the potion on her. In the ensuing chaos, several individuals are turned to stone and the rest of the characters set off on a quest to gather the ingredients for the potion that will restore them to life.
This film is confusing in parts, and isn’t always coherent or understandable. It didn’t do particularly well at the time, possibly because of the reliance on stage conventions, such as the troupe of dancing girls who accompany the characters for no reason at all. It also cost a lot of money to recruit Pierre Couderc, the French acrobat who played Scraps, the Patchwork Girl of the title. However, some of the special effects are pretty impressive, such as the doll assembling itself, the cast members disappearing into a magic wall, and the set of furniture assembling itself. I also loved the character of the Woozy, which was like a cat constructed with numerous cardboard boxes.
The Wizard of Oz (1925) This Twenties version of the Oz story was adapted by L. Frank Baum Jr. (the author’s son) and produced by Chadwick Pictures Corporation. It was directed by Larry Semon, who also took on the role of the toymaker which bookends the film, and that of the Scarecrow, while his wife Dorothy Dwan plays a young adult Dorothy. This adaptation differs significantly from the original book: in it, Dorothy is a princess from Oz who was left on Uncle Henry and Auntie Em’s doorstep as a baby. She is due to find out the truth about who she is on her eighteenth birthday, which proves the catalyst for her return to Oz along with Uncle Henry, a corpulent grump, and three farmhands, with two of whom she is embroiled in a love triangle. The rest of the tale relates how Prime Minister Kruel, aided by Lady Vishus, attempt to stop her taking the throne alongside her true love Prince Kynd. In this version, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion are the disguises of the three farmhands who travel to Oz, and the Tin Man is notably played by Oliver Hardy in his pre-Laurel & Hardy days.
This film was entertaining with quite a lot of slapstick, although I felt too much time was spent in Kansas before the group actually got to Oz. I also would have liked to see more of Oz, rather than just the palace and the basement. I wasn’t impressed with the way Dorothy treated the Scarecrow, who went out of his way to help her and didn’t come to the best end! However, I thought the bookend story of the toymaker and his granddaughter was clever and well done.
The Wizard of Oz (1933)
This eight-minute animation, directed by Ted Eshbaugh, wasn’t particularly memorable but is notable for being the first film to portray Kansas in black and white and Oz in colour. I thought the style of characters bore quite a lot of resemblance to Mickey Mouse.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
What can I say about the most famous Oz movie? This is my favourite film of all time; it’s just wonderful. However, The Wizard of Oz as we know it nearly didn’t happen. The role of Dorothy almost went to Shirley Temple; luckily, she couldn’t sing well enough and Judy Garland got the part. The original director Richard Thorpe was temporarily replaced by George Cukor, who got rid of the blonde wig and false nose Garland had been encumbered with in order to make her look more like the Dorothy of the books. The role of the Tin Woodsman was originally played by Ray Bolger, who felt he was miscast and swopped with Buddy Ebsen to take on the role of the Scarecrow, whose acrobatics were more suited to Bolger’s talents. However, Ebsen came down with aluminium poisoning owing to the makeup used to costume him for the role, and while he was recovering he was replaced by Jack Haley. The film’s chief director was Victor Fleming, but he was replaced towards the end by King Vidor, whose direction of the black and white scenes at the beginning of the movie – including the iconic ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ section – made a lasting impact on the film.
This catalogue of near-disasters and major changes makes me wonder if it was fate that the film turned out so brilliant as it did. Would it have been anything like as good as it was under different circumstances? I can’t help thinking that it wouldn’t.
Oz: The Tin Woodman’s Dream (1967)
This short segment is what remains of an unfinished movie co-animated, during the psychedelic Sixties, by Joanne Ziprin and Harry Smith, who also directed. Produced by The Film-Makers’ Cooperative, the movie was abandoned on the death of major backer Arthur Young. This bizarre film drew on a wide range of sources including the drawings of Hieronymous Bosch, Tibetan mandalas and sketchings of microscopic life by biologist Ernst Haeckel.
The beginning of this short film was intriguing, with the Tin Woodman and Toto the dog moving through a bizarre, ever-changing landscape. However, this soon changed into kaleidoscopic images whirling and repeating themselves, and while this was interesting at first, it soon grew tedious. Perhaps it looked better if you were on drugs.
In Search of Oz (1994)
This documentary, directed by Brian Skeet, was shown on the BBC in the early 1990s. It featured writers such as Salman Rushdie, Gore Vidal, Martha Coolidge, Ray Bradbury and Geoff Ryman, as well as others associated with Oz including relatives of Baum. The documentary featured clips of several Oz films and atmospheric shots of the Kansas skyline; it put forward some interesting theories about the significance of different aspects of the story – Rushdie maintains that the Wizard represents the disappointing parent who is all show and bluster.
The documentary paved the way for the panel discussion The Radical Land of Oz, which took place later that same evening. It was chaired by season curator Rhidian Davis – this man makes some excellent choices, he curated the Hitchcock season last year and is responsible for the forthcoming Gothic season. Guests included the novelist Geoff Ryman, who wrote Was (1992), a book based on the Oz myth; Matthew Beaumont, a senior lecturer at UCL; and Sophie Mayer, an author and contributor to Sight & Sound.
The discussion was really interesting and enlightening, with each of the contributors bringing a different perspective to the Oz world. I particularly liked Sophie Mayer’s insight into Return to Oz, which is one of my favourite Oz films. I have to say that the concept of a lesbian subtext in this film had never crossed my mind!
I thoroughly enjoyed the season, which seemed to coincide with resurgence in interest in the Oz world – just before, a production called Dorothy in Oz opened at the Waterloo East Theatre which I attended (and reviewed here). The production transported Dorothy and her friends to a mental health institution, and bore something of a resemblance to Return to Oz, in which Dorothy is committed to an asylum. Also, the new Disney film Oz: The Great and Powerful has just been released – I saw this on Sunday night and, while it lacked the magic of earlier Oz films, it had several brilliant touches including a great performance from James Franco as the title character, a travelling ‘magician’ who is blown into Oz and hailed as the Wizard who will save the inhabitants from the Wicked Witch. I also loved that they stuck to the black and white=Kansas and colour=Oz formula. I was less impressed by the idea that Glinda needed a man to come and rescue the inhabitants of Oz at all, and Mila Kunis’ character was unfortunately underdeveloped. The film as a whole looked beautiful, though.
On Sunday I went to see Skyfall at the BFI IMAX, near Waterloo station. I couldn’t believe how expensive it was. There’s a reason I don’t go to the cinema very much anymore. Still, it was JAMES BOND.
One of the friends who came to see the film with me commented that one of her friends had seen it, and that that their verdict was that it was good, but Daniel Craig kept taking his top off. I have no idea why this is considered a bad thing.
I did think the film was excellent, a fitting marker of the fiftieth anniversary of the 007 franchise. I’ve been a fan since my childhood; I love the old sixties films with Sean Connery, but the films need to adapt and change in order to stay fresh and relevant, and I thought Sam Mendes did a brilliant job at bringing the series up to date while still remaining true to the spirit of the originals. Continuing the rejuvenation of the series, which began with the superb Casino Royale and continued with the less impressive Quantum of Solace, we find out more about Bond’s troubled background, are reacquainted with Judi Dench’s M – determined to prove that MI6 is as relevant as ever in the modern age – and are introduced to Q, no longer the white haired and white coated eccentric of the old days, but an incredibly youthful computer geek, played by Ben Whishaw. “Were you expecting an exploding pen?” he says to Bond when they meet for the first time in the National Gallery. “We don’t really go in for that any more”. We also meet another character familiar to fans of the series – I won’t say any more for fear of spoilers.
Javier Bardem’s villain is chilling and camp, and in a modern twist is a whiz at technology, sabotaging computer systems from the safety of his private island. The locations in this film are stunning, from Turkey to Shanghai and Macau, though my favourite parts were those set in London: as a bit of a London Underground geek, I was excited to see Bond weaving his way through the subterranean tunnels of London and amused to watch him try to navigate the tube at rush hour: though as my friend pointed out, it was wrong that he was travelling on a Jubilee Line train on a District Line track. I doubt that many people would notice this, though!
The ending of the film made me sad as I hadn’t seen it coming. I was pleased once I realised what the title of the film was referring to, as this had me puzzled for a while.
I loved Skyfall and can’t wait for the next instalment of Bond in a few years’ time. I understand that Daniel Craig will be returning, which makes me extremely happy.
Another Friday night, another exhibition after work. This time I went to see the Hollywood Costume exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington. I’d booked my ticket in advance, which was just as well as my chosen date was sold out well before the day itself.
Hollywood Costume brings together iconic, special and unusual costumes from the history of cinema, exploring the important role costume plays in storytelling. The exhibition was divided into three sections. The first explored the role of costume in film, using examples to demonstrate the importance of what the actors wear. I found this really interesting, giving a context to the exhibition rather than just displaying lots of pretty costumes. Among those costumes exhibited was the iconic outfit of Indiana Jones, with a detailed exploration of each item. The ‘curtain dress’ worn by Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind was also on show. Outfits from The Adams Family were also displayed, and there was a whole section on costume drama, highlights of which were dresses worn by a number of actresses, including Judi Dench, playing Elizabeth I.
In this section I learned that it is actually more difficult to clothe actors in modern films, as audiences are much more familiar with modern styles of dress. The idea is that you don’t really notice the clothes, yet each item is chosen with thought and care. Though I’m not a particular fan of the film Ocean’s Eleven, I enjoyed the display of mannequins around a table each dressed in a different character’s outfit. The display showed how each outfit reflected the individual’s personality. On a similar note, the outfits worn by Jake Gyllenhal and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain appeared fairly similar on the surface, but contained subtle differences which reflected the history of each character.
The exhibition showed how Matt Damon’s outfit as the spy Matthew Bourne was designed to blend into the background. I was less impressed with the displays relating to Fight Club, a film I haven’t seen, as the plot was basically given away. I don’t really think this was necessary: they could at least have given a spoiler warning!
Something I liked about this section was the clips of ordinary people talking about their clothes and accessories. This was interesting and made the point that even the simplest outfits have a history of their own, and this needs to be reflected in film, with characters needing a believable existence outside the movie.
The second section also divided the costumes up into themes. The first part examined collaborations between directors and designers. Edith Head, possibly the most famous costume designer of all time, designed for many of Alfred Hitchcock’s films including The Birds; one of Tippi Hedren’s outfits – a green skirt suit – is displayed here. The designer on Sweeney Todd worked closely with director Tim Burton, and the suit worn by Johnny Depp as the ‘Demon Barber of Fleet Street’ is displayed.
Another section compared outfits worn by the same character in different films, such as two costumes for Cleopatra worn by Elizabeth Taylor and another actress whose name I can’t remember. The difference between clothes designed for black and white films and for colour was also explored: in black and white films colour didn’t show so it was necessary to make outfits stand out in other ways. This part also looked at clothes designed for animated characters such as Jessica Rabbit and Shrek, and displayed a motion capture suit such as the one worn by Andy Serkis who played Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the forthcoming Hobbit films. The original Darth Vader costume was here too, looking particularly imposing as it loomed over the spectators.
This part ended with a look at some particular actors and their relationship with their character’s clothes. Acclaimed actress Meryl Streep has portrayed a number of different characters, such as the title character in The French Lieutenant’s Woman and former British Prime Minister Maggie Thatcher, and her outfits have helped her to get into and stay in character. The Victorian-style grey cloak and smart blue suit are very different! Robert De Niro is another actor who has portrayed wildly varying characters, and a number of his costumes are here, such as his outfit from Taxi Driver, which he reportedly wore before filming to get into character.
The final part of the exhibition dispensed with theories and themes and simply displayed iconic costumes from the history of cinema. There was a veritable wealth of costumes, many of which I recognised instantly. Among my favourites were the corseted, feathered outfit in which Nicole Kidman makes her entrance in Moulin Rouge, Audrey Hepburn’s black Givenchy dress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the outfits in which we are introduced to Jack and Rose’s characters in Titanic, and two dresses worn by Keira Knightley: the flowing green dress she wore in Atonement and the stunning nineteenth-century style deep red gown she had on in Anna Karenina. Superheroes were not forgotten: Batman and Spiderman were both represented, not to mention schoolboy wizard Harry Potter, and anti-heroes were present too: I was delighted to see Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow costume from Pirates of the Caribbean.
Right at the end of the exhibition there were two iconic dresses: one the white frock famously worn by Marilyn Monroe, the other the gingham pinafore worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. The pinafore – which naturally enough looks rather faded now – is distinctly recognisable and is displayed with a pair of reproduction ruby slippers made to the original pattern, sparkling as brightly as the originals would have done when they were first made.
This brings me to the final exhibit: the highlight of the whole thing as far as I am concerned. In a glass case, on loan from the Museum of American History in the USA for the first time, until the 19th of November only, are the original ruby slippers. One of the pairs at least: five pairs have survived of the several made, though one of them was stolen in 2005. They have faded over the years, but the sequins are still in place and the shoes are still in one piece. They look to be about size 5 or 6. Possibly the most iconic piece of cinema merchandise in history, they came about because red was thought to offer the strongest contrast against the yellow of the brick road. In L Frank Baum’s original story, the shoes were silver. I admit I got quite emotional when I saw these slippers – The Wizard of Oz is my favourite film of all time and I felt so privileged to be able to see first-hand this piece of history.
This is a fantastic exhibition that contains a veritable wealth of costumes and artefacts. It has been thoughtfully put together and I feel as though I learned something about the nature of costume in cinema. I strongly recommend this exhibition, and would urge everyone to see it in the next couple of weeks before the ruby slippers are sent back to America!