Monday, 18 March 2013

David Bailey

Was just researching something on photographers when I came across this piece I wrote for The Guardian in February, 1999. A very entertaining conversation (for me, anyway)...

So this fat little bloke from the East End is directing a film. Who does he think he is?

There are two apocryphal stories about David Bailey that say a lot about the celebrated snapper. The first has him on a flight to Dublin, striking up a conversation with the woman next to him. Completely oblivious as to the identity of the man beside her, the lady reveals that her husband is a photographer.
"He's what you might call the David Bailey of Ireland," she explains, before enquiring as to the nature of her travel companion's line of work. "I'm what you might call the David Bailey of England," retorts the garrulous Cockney.
The second story has Bailey, in a restaurant, noticing the coy glances of a radiant beauty across the room. On finishing his meal, he strides over to introduce himself. "Don't you remember me, Bailey?" ventures the woman. "No." "I'm your first wife."
David Bailey is almost more famous for the string of glamorous women hanging off his arm - his first and second wives, Catherine Deneuve and Marie Helvin, Jean Shrimpton and Penelope Tree - as for the era-defining photography hanging on the walls of the National Portrait Gallery. He may be in his 60th year, but in spirit he's still the bright young Cockney who helped make London swing in the sixties, bringing a breath of fresh air to the hitherto crusty world of formal studio portraiture.
"I walk down the street and people say, 'Who do you think you are - David Bailey?' " he laughs, living up to the legacy of those now famous Olympus TV commercials. "What they don't know is that you've heard it three times that day already. Every taxi driver. Good for Olympus but not good for me..."
David Bailey's credentials are without question - "Arguably the finest English photographer since Cecil Beaton," pronounced American Photographer magazine - his reputation having been built in the sixties on his stark black and white portraits of the likes of Michael Caine, Lennon and McCartney and Marianne Faithfull, his fashion work, painting, and commercials (most famously the Volkswagen ad in which Paula Hamilton ditches her engagement ring and fur coat but stops short of chucking the car keys). Now he's directing The Intruder, a supernatural thriller he describes as having "a Hitchcock old-fashioned type of thriller thing about it. And it's a bit like Noel Coward's Blythe Spirit - one of my favourite movies."
It's surprising that he has only now turned his hand to film-making when, by his own estimate, he has directed "between 400-500 commercials, shorts and documentaries - including last year's Channel 4 documentary, Models Close-Up - with a handful of Emmys, Cleos and Golden Lions to show for it. "Probably in terms of film, I've shot more than most directors," he chirps.
It's not that film offers haven't been forthcoming. His name was connected, somewhere along the production line, to A Clockwork Orange, Being There and Out Of Africa. For the last, he even spent three pre-production months in Kenya. "People don't understand," he explains. "It's not a career move. I've just as much respect for Richard Avedon as I have for Stanley Kubrick. It's not that one's better than the other. They do different things. Photography's different to movie-making, not less. In fact, movie-making's probably less artistic than photography. In photographs and painting, you've got total control..."
Bailey has chosen to make his low-budget entree away from British prying eyes in Montreal - a cost-effective, film-friendly city that churns out 80-odd films a year. "It went down to 50 degrees below one night," he shudders, in his cosy production office, fugging up the windows with expensive cigar smoke. "Believe it or not, we had fake snow." Today, thankfully, the filming is indoors and, on a soundstage rigged as a spacious loft apartment somewhere in a non-specific North American city, Bailey is walking two of his leading ladies, Nastassja Kinski and Charlotte Gainsbourg through a scene in which their characters discuss the spectral vision that seems to be haunting their building.
There's something incongruous about Bailey directing these sophisticated Continental actresses with jovial effing and blinding, and his use of the C-word (occasionally switched to "James Hunt" when decorum dictates). But no one seems to care.
"Do you like my face?" asks Kinski, concerned about the light. "Nah, it's fine," Bailey replies, before diving into a monitor, as Kinski sits down on the edge of a bed against the fairly spartan interior.
"In all modesty, it's got a Bailey look about it," Bailey explains. "It's like my stills, it has that look that's slightly off-centre and not fashionable. I've never been fashionable in spite of what people think."
Being Bailey, the look naturally entails Gainsbourg rolling on a pair of stockings (several times) but it's briskly done and soon in the bag, in accordance with the director's reputation as something of a speed merchant. "Yeah, I'm fast," he laughs. "Sometimes two clicks, but I'd rather be quick. It either works or it doesn't, because what I do, it's about emotion. I don't like to see photography in photography and I don't like to see photography in movies. I like it to be fairly subtle. Great photography is when you don't see it."
There's something endearing about Bailey. Though he has avoided the ageing love-god image of the likes of Peter Stringfellow (he's been happily married for 13 years to wife number four, Catherine - the subject of his racy coffee-table book The Lady Is A Tramp), you sense that his fascination with women is unabated. Suspicious that his image might be tarnished by recent reports that his waistline is on an outward march ("They always write about my weight, which has nothing to do with anything"), he fears the "little fat feminists" who have it in for him.
"This fat little bloke from the East End managed to sleep with all the most beautiful girls in the world, hahahahaha. Must annoy the shit out of them." But then, "I like women," he stresses. "If I was gay, I'd probably have slept with a lot of men. Like Herb Ritts. I'd be doing pictures of boys rather than girls."
His Cockney background marked him out from an early age as something of a yobby upstart. Leaving his East Ham school at 15, he worked as a tailor's assistant and a Fleet Street messenger before doing two years' National Service in the Far East. He wanted to become the new Chet Baker, until someone nicked his trumpet. Unable to find a replacement, he bought a second-hand Canon instead ("cameras were so cheap then"). The rest, as they say, is history.
"I didn't really think about it as art. It just seemed a nice thing to do. I've never really been clear what art is," he muses. Demobbed back to Blighty in 1959, he got a job with photographer John French and fell into glossy magazine work. "I couldn't believe it when Vogue gave me a contract to photograph women and get paid for it."
By the end of the decade he had a two-tone Rolls Royce, a £100,000 salary (previously unthinkable for a smudge) and had become not only a fully-paid-up member of London's hippest clique, but also its underworld. In fact it was his portrait of his pals the Krays in an East End pub that spawned the Olympus catchphrase. When a fight broke out, he was accosted by a goon demanding: "Who the fuck do you think you are - David Bailey?" ("Then Ronnie hit him," adds Bailey.)
Ironically, his best-known portraits are of men - "You can be crueller with men. I find it harder to be cruel with women. That's not chavinistic" - though he loathes lad culture: "Most disgusting thing in the world? Four smelly blokes in a car talking about football."
But those sixties connections just won't go away. If you look at the cast of his film, the link with Kinski comes from their mutual friend Roman Polanski: "Polanski introduced me to Deneuve and I think I introduced him to Sharon [Tate]". And Charlotte Gainsbourg's mother is Jane Birkin, whose first real portrait was done by Bailey.
There is another link with Birkin, of course. She appeared in Antonioni's cult 1966 film Blow Up - the surreal story of a libidinous sixties snapper, based partly on the Bailey myth. Bailey still has mixed feelings about Blow-Up, having thought he had killed off the project when spurning producer Carlo Ponti's overtures. "I thought they wanted me to direct," he says. "Then they started talking about the way I dressed. I said, 'What's that got to do with it?' They were asking me if I was interested in being in it. Then I wouldn't talk to Antonioni because he thought I was trying to shag Monica Vitti. It wasn't me, it was Terence Stamp."
Stamp was offered the part, but pulled out two weeks before shooting to be replaced by the unknown David Hemmings. But though Bailey gamely admits that Hemmings captured the attitude, and that the film revealed some obscure real-life detail ("I never understood how they knew that I'd paid £8 for that propeller"), the film did him no favours.
He tells how an old lady, coming out of a cinema, told him, "I think you're disgusting." Bailey laughs, "Hahahahahaha." The sixties, he maintains, was a horrible, superficial decade. "It was great for 2,000 people living in London, a very elitist thing, a naive kind of attitude before the accountants took over. Now the accountants have taken over and the world is dull..."
With bean-counting at the core of modern film-making, it's unlikely that Bailey will pursue movies full-time. Though he has plans for a feature about Gulf war syndrome, the immediate future sees him planning a retrospective at the Barbican in April, followed by the first of a series of five books, Archival 1, documenting his career to date.
"There are less good photographers than anything else," he declares. "You'd be hard pushed to name 20 great photographers, but you could certainly name 200 great directors. More. Photography's kind of difficult because it's so easy. Anything that's that easy to do is really difficult to excel at."
Nonetheless, he has no intention of sitting back while technological advances complicate it - something that led to the disillusionment and ultimate suicide of his good friend Terence Donovan. "It proves that I've never been fashionable because I've managed to stay around. Most of the people I started with are gone. The only one left is Helmut Newton. All the others are either dead or selling antiques somewhere. That's what failed photographers do, isn't it? Set up antique shops in Wiltshire."
Bailey, however, has no such intentions: "I hate that Puttnam thing of moving over for the young," he chuckles. "Fuck the young, I'm not finished yet."

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Kelly Reilly: The Sky's The Limit

My piece from The Sunday Times, Jan 27 2013

Kelly Reilly has made her Hollywood breakthrough in Flight, opposite Denzel Washington. She tells our writer why, at 35, she’s ready for the big time

A world away: Reilly plays an American heroin addict in the aircraft drama Flight (Francesco Guidicini)

Is there a more cautionary new-year tale than the film Flight? There’s something chastening about the sight of a bloated Denzel Washington hauling bin bags full of empties, accompanied by tepid resolutions about laying off the sauce. “I had friends come to see the film last night,” says Kelly Reilly, his co-star, the morning after the British premiere. “We were in the bar afterwards — I’d put on a little drinks thing for my family — and everyone was like, ‘Should we be drinking? I feel guilty. Why am I wanting this glass of wine?’”
Ostensibly a film about a plane crash, Flight’s touchdown here seems poignant in the wake of the recent Vauxhall helicopter accident, though the film is less about an aviation disaster than human wreckage — namely the plane’s pilot, “Whip” Whitaker (Washington), world champion soak, and a heroin addict called Nicole (Reilly), his unlikely bed­fellow. Inspired by true events, Flight is based on the tragedy of Alaskan Airlines flight 261, lost with all hands off the California coast in 2000 after the plane flipped upside down following mechanical failure. Here, Washington’s cocksure captain successfully crash-lands SouthJet 227 smack in the Bible Belt between Orlando and Atlanta. So far, so heroic, so act of God — until a toxicology screen reveals that our saviour’s blood was more wine than water (well, Smirnoff) at the time.
A hit in America, Flight has garnered Oscar nods for Washington, going the full Ray Milland in Lost Weekend, and for the screenwriter John Gatins. No less impressive is Reilly, who crops up un­heralded as a Georgia druggie, just a few soggy bills ahead of her next speedball. It’s a little bit of Ken Loach realism, as one American commentator noted, parachuted into a Hollywood drama. “How lovely,” Reilly trills. “I love that. I take that as a huge compliment.”
Nicole is an unusual role for Reilly. For one, the $31m film presents the British actress with her first lead American role. “It’s like, ‘If you had any idea how many films I’ve done for a million.’” And if the trailer is to be believed, she is not in the movie at all, its marketers preferring to pitch Flight as a thriller/courtroom drama, focusing on the spectacular crash sequence at the start.
“I thought I’d been cut out,” she admits. “When I saw ‘trailer release’, I was all excited. I went on iTunes, then it was, like, ‘Oh, I’m not in it. I didn’t make it.’ But I think it’s quite a clever marketing ploy, because more people will go to see a film about a plane crash than one about an alcoholic trying to find redemption.”
An absolute delight of an interviewee, Reilly has a sweet smile, luminous blue-green eyes and hair at the honey-blonde end of the auburn spectrum. Sipping breakfast coffee at a chichi London hotel, she’s dressed in a rather unseasonal cotton frock. Then again, after marching down assorted snowblasted red carpets in strappy dresses of late, it’s all relative.
I met Reilly some years ago, before her rise as a screen actress, and little, thankfully, seems to have changed. She remains good company, chatty, quite playful. Croissants arrive accompanied by a gondola of exotic preserves. “You see, these are things that just go into your bag, aren’t they?” she says. “Or are you not a thief of jams in hotels?”
The only differences seem to be that she has since given up smoking roll-ups and undertaken a not insignificant living rearrangement by relocating to New York, or rather the Hamptons, a shift that has imbued her speech with the occasional transatlantic inflection. She got married last year to a local chap who “owns a fishing station out there”, she explains, and of whom she is rather protective. They do have access to some nice seafood, though. “Yeah,” she grins. “We eat well.”
“So I needed to work there,” she adds. “It felt almost like I had to start again. I didn’t know anybody, so I had to get an agent there and figure all that out.” Reilly loved Flight’s screenplay, she says, describing it — rather appositely, in the middle of the Lance Armstrong/Oprah face-off — as a story about “running out of lies and facing your own personal truth”.
She spent countless hours deconstructing a Georgia accent and put herself on tape for the director, Robert Zemeckis. “He really liked it and homed in on me. I’m sure those a little higher up at the studio were surprised, because they wanted to fill that part with a box-office name [Angelina Jolie had been mentioned].” Or a native? “I don’t think Bob knew I wasn’t American.”
A stamp-of-approval read-through with Washington at the Chateau Marmont hotel, in LA, was “all quite glamorous and odd. It was like, ‘I just wish I could take the mystique out of it and be in some London basement with a casting director.’ But it was clear in the room that it was a great meeting.”
Reilly isn’t the only Brit in the film. Her winsome features are offset by the smug visage of Piers Morgan, who crops up in a TV news show. She rolls her eyes. “It’s hilarious, because for a while he was taken very seriously, and I was, like, ‘No, you don’t understand who he is.’” No less amusing is the American media’s “discovery” of Reilly, the “newcomer”. She’s 35, she points out. She’s been acting for 17 years and was the youngest recipient of an Olivier award nomination, in 2003. “An old ­rising star,” she chuckles. “It’s brilliant.”
Reilly, of course, is best known here as DC Anna Travis, from three outings of the ITV cop drama Above Suspicion, and as the other half of Jude Law’s Dr Watson in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock ­Holmes films. Aficionados will know her as a star of the stage — she made her ­professional debut at the National Theatre and is a two-time Olivier nominee (for After Miss Julie and Othello — and as a stalwart of indie films such as the Asbo slasher flick Eden Lake.
She got her television acting break in 1995, when she bagged a one-off part in Prime Suspect. On stage, she played opposite Kathleen Turner in The Graduate and Matt “Chandler” Perry in Sexual Perversity in Chicago. Then, in 2005, she featured in a triple whammy of Brit flicks — Mrs Henderson Presents, Pride & ­Prejudice and The Libertine. The attention, she admits, was discombobulating: “There were a lot of opportunities that I didn’t take. I didn’t go and do all the magazine covers, or be seen out at the parties, or take the roles that may not have been, for me, satisfying, but would have got me more exposure. I wasn’t ready for it, I wasn’t able to handle it.”
Unfortunately, Reilly couldn’t dodge the tabloid bullet. In 2008, to her dismay, she found herself cited as a romantic interloper, the reason behind Ritchie’s split from Madonna (a story for which she successfully secured retractions). “It was a complete fabrication. Honestly, I had never seen Guy Ritchie off set, and suddenly there were, I’m not joking, 100 press outside my mum and dad’s house. I was so affronted.”
She might want to assume the brace position with Flight, certainly now the American press has a new star to flog. That, she says, is where life experience comes in. “I’m much more comfortable in my own skin now, so that world doesn’t scare me as much as it did. All that circus, I can go in and out of it, and it doesn’t faze me as much.”
Reilly has several films circling, including John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary, a dark comedy starring Brendan Gleeson — “one of the best filming experiences of my life”. Longtime fans will be pleased to hear of her reunion with Romain Duris in Chinese Puzzle, the third part of C├ędric Klapisch’s cult series, which began with Pot Luck (2002) and Russian Dolls (2005).
After a three-year hiatus, she’s also thrilled about a return to the stage. Recent readings include a Broadway production of Lanford ­Wilson’s Burn This. “I was thinking, ‘I forgot how much I love this.’ It was like pulling on a pair of old boots.”
Perhaps it will be a little more edifying than her last outing on the boards, turning up to accept a Hollywood Breakout Performance award. “I won it with three others — and they were all under 25. I was this old woman on the stage.” She laughs. “But I like it that something can be new and regarded as new. It’s new to me.” 
Flight opens on Friday

Chris Hemblade

I was very sorry to hear of the death of Chris Hemblade. I hadn't seen him in some years but he was the nicest of chaps, irrepressibly chipper and always fun to work with/for. I knew him best when he was the Assistant Editor at Empire, while I was doing my stint in LA as its US Editor. I remember an entertaining night out in Hollywood when the Empire gang came over and then, a few years later, a great lunch with him in New York. He was the first person I ever knew to wear a pinstriped suit jacket with jeans. One of life's good guys.