Contains: Sepp Blatter The Movie, Jake D’Arcy, film experts, talented dogs, Jack Vettriano
Daily Mail June 2 2015
A few years ago, I was invited on a radio show where Tommy Sheridan proposed that a film should be made about the life and times of socialist activist John Maclean. Tommy argued that MacLean’s life was worth remembering: I suggested that turning the Red Clydesider’s life into a Hollywood biopic was a bad idea — for the same reason.
Tommy wasn't amused. Perhaps he never caught The Comic Strip’s swipe at Hollywood revisionism, The Strike, where an idealistic screenwriter, played by Alexei Sayle, pens a screenplay about the 1984 coal miners’ strike, which a big film studio turns into a vehicle for Al Pacino as a barechested Arthur Scargill on a motorbike, and a dewy Meryl Streep as his wife.
More recently, virtually every fact-based best picture Oscar nominee faced accusations of inaccuracy last year. Crew members came forward to say the real Captain Phillips was no hero; questions arose over whether Ron Woodruff, hero of Dallas Buyers Club, really was as bigoted as the movie portrayed him; and the eventual winner 12 Years a Slave was subjected to a forensic investigation of the literal truth of Solomon Northup’s story.
I was reminded of this when watching United Passions this weekend. Yes, it may sound like something you might find in the adult wing of the dvd section, but United Passions is far more exotic than that. It’s a cinematic journey through the history of FIFA, made in France for £20m and bankrolled by FIFA. It screened at the Cannes Film Festival, France, Russia and handful of countries lays year, and is due to open in America this month. There are no plans to screen it here, but thanks to French Amazon, I obtained a copy so that you don’t have to.
Almost immediately, it’s obvious why the UK would not fall in love with United Passions. If there’s a villain in the FIFA story, it’s not a Bisto-stained Sam Neill as Brazilian FIFA chairman Joao Havelange, who leaves his job in this movie after making an oblique request that Sepp Blatter guard the Havelange legacy, rather than dwell on the possibility that he resigned to avoid being penalised for taking million dollar kickbacks. And it’s certainly not Sepp Blatter. To the English speaking world, the Sepp Blatter story is a bit like The Godfather. To developing countries who have had pitches and other facilities funded by FIFA, he’s more like Robin Hood. But it appears that to Sepp Blatter himself he’s…. Tim Roth. In this 100 year slog through FIFA history, Roth pops up around 1975, working for a Swiss watch brand. “I’m taking up football. No more watches,” he declares, possibly echoing the real Sepp, who still hasn’t explained what he did with the £16,000 gold watch given to him by the Brazilian federation as a FIFA official during the last World Cup.
No, the villains here are the British — or rather, the brusque Englishmen who keep popping up and sneeringly remind Jules Rimet (Gerard Depardieu), the rest of the world, and FIFA that they invented football, actually. Amongst all this Anglophobia, you’d never know that England joined FIFA in 1905. Even Havelange is vaguely glossed as a good guy because he beats a snooty English knight (Martin Jarvis) to the presidency
However no amount of boo-hiss Brits can liven up what is, essentially, a series of rose-tinted council meeting, with background snippets of world cup games, and all the scandal and corruption given a good airbrushing. When the camera rests on a woman footballer, you wait in vain for Sepp to suggest that female soccer could be improved by tighter shorts, as he did in reality.
Suddenly Escape to Victory feels as gritty as The Damned United
After dislocating his shoulder Jack Vettriano, the Da Vinci of Blurry-Featured Posh Totty has been forced to give up painting for the time being. This is of course terrible news for the greetings card and biscuit tin industries.
Sad to hear that the reliably great character actor Jake D’Arcy passed away at the weekend: Jake appeared in some of the best Scottish films and TV of the last 40 years, and his work always made them a wee bit better. You’ll have seen him in Taggart, Still Game, Tutti Frutti, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, but most memorably as Phil Menzies, the hapless football coach trying train a football team and grow a moustache in Gregory’s Girl.
Despite a CV that took in Scottish film TV, and theatre appearances alongside Rachel Weisz, Billy Connolly, and David Tennant, Jake was a modest man, who never volunteered to strangers that he was an actor. Instead, he’d tell them he was a plumber. He certainly made me laugh like a drain. Jake had the air of a distracted ferret but the timing of an atomic clock: even now, the scene In Gregory’s Girl where a pupil slides away from the school dinner queue warning “don’t touch the ravioli, it’s garbage”, immediately followed by D’Arcy cheerfully requesting “Ravioli please” still gets a laugh in Synnot Towers.
5 50 For the second year running, a dog has won the vote on Britain’s Got Talent. Labour and the Lib Dems are now encouraging leadership nominations for Buster and Bouncer
So nae film studio, nae chance of upping the tiny £4m of film funding allocated by the Scottish government despite the industry generating £40m of business last year ( compared to the £50m that Denmark gives its industry), and nae sign of any major production companies opting for a Scottish postcode
However it’s not all bad news for the Scottish film industry this month. Apparently there’s a task force of advisory experts on the way; in other words, another layer of bureaucracy that will get between wanting Scottish films made, and getting them made.
Officially, these experts will provide authoritative advice on the needs and direction of Scottish film. Unofficially, cynics suspect they will also divert criticism away from an inert Scottish government that seems to treat spending money on Scottish film like the last cold Brussels sprout on the dinner plate. Maybe if you push the thing around for long enough, someone give up and clear it from the table.
Do we need any more authoritative advice? For years we have had reports, committees, presentations and conversations. The American writer John Steinbeck observed that the thing about advice is that you only want it if it agrees with what you wanted to do anyway. And it’s interesting that when Fiona Hyslop toured Los Angeles recently, she did not feel the need to seek out the no-cost authoritative expertise and considerable contacts of the British Film Commission. I asked the BFC if she’d been in touch. They said no.
Perhaps the British Film Commission had little to offer Ms Hyslop, apart from offices both here and in the US, and top level experience of international film production. But when the Culture Secretary posed with Scottish short filmmakers at the Cannes Film Festival last month, surely someone could have advised her that, er, none of them appear to be based in Scotland…
I don’t want to carp on about this but I can’t help but notice that all the celebrities who haddock the time to be photographed naked in order to raise awareness for a marine conservation campaign this week were women. Helena Bonham-Carter, Judi Dench, Julie Christie and Fiona Shaw all gamely posed for the campaign with strategically-plaiced fish. So much for the gils — but where were the buoys in this pool? Get your skates on.
Crumbs: Marks and Spencers are to add vitamin D to bread, amidst concerns that 20% of us are low on the vitamin. But doesn’t it sound daft to impose a dose on the rest of us when 15 minutes in the sun, or a pot of yogurt might do the job more naturally?
Nor should we be encouraging people to view British supermarket bread as some kind of health food. More often it is a waste of your face, with “processing aids” that include unwholesome hardened fats that keep factory-baked bread deceptively soft and weirdly humid for days before suddenly going green. Don’t we deserve a better slice of life than that?
The Edinburgh Film Festival is only a few weeks away, and amongst it’s highlights is a chance to hear Malcolm McDowell talking about a long career that includes Clockwork Orange, Caligula, Gangster No1, If…, and killing off Captain Kirk. I’ll be hosting the evening: come along and viddy a remarkable Chelloveck