Moviemaker David Lean was my kind of guy. He worked constantly and deeply, and he had strong vision and focus on his projects. He also had a regular crew, people who could move between disparate topics and locations with aplomb, who could be relied on whether in Venice, the studio, or the Jordanian desert. This reminds me very much of our own team, staging shoots and capers around the planet, showing up with our MacBooks, our cameras, our ballgowns, our research.
David Lean shooting Dr. Zhivago, 1965, photo by Bradley Smith
You don’t see Lean on our interview list, but it isn’t his departure from the land of the living that holds me back. It’s more the sense that he gave himself completely to his films; he favored their exploration over that of his own interior. He didn’t seem particularly comfortable contemplating either his laurels or his navel, so I think about his work ethic and leave the man himself to rest in the peace one might imagine of an English gentleman; growing potatoes, roses.
For personal reasons, the Lean movie that affected me most strongly was Dr. Zhivago, but the one I think of first when I hear his name is Lawrence of Arabia. I might take issue with his (and/or Peter O’Toole’s) portrayal of Lawrence, who was a physically smaller and considerably less ego-driven man than seen in the film, but the cinematography is magnificent, and historical accuracy is only one way of viewing a film, a time, a mood.
I love the real T.E. Lawrence (or the Lawrence in my head) and that’s enough for me.
Lean’s position on cinematography was that any single frame from a movie ought to be able to stand alone as a photograph; that is a beautiful meta-vision and strikes me as a very good measuring stick for any whole; the parts should be individually beautiful and well-crafted. And we should always be improving our craft.
William K. Hartmann, (planetary scientist, the first Sagan medal winner, writer, painter, and one-time go-to guy for the American government on image veracity for investigations as diverse as the Condon Report on UFOs and the Kennedy assassination) absolutely resonates with David Lean movies; he loves the sense of expansion, the huge landscapes, the love stories.
You can see it in his face; he’s a natural explorer.
photo and digital painting by Kate McKinnon, 2012
Although he’s listed in Scientists, Bill crosses as many categories on our bubble chart as anyone; if I were classing him, I’d make him a Magician, but I think he’d object.
As with most of our interview subjects, I’ve known him forever- a bit over 25 years as of this writing. His paintings hang in my house; his books are on my shelf. He says to me, “I’m in my 70’s; you must learn to do without me soon” and I refuse. I say to him, “I’ve done without you since the day I met you” and I mean it and do not mean it. He is a private and intense person; I continue, like the sea, to assault his borders. He continues, like very good rock, to welcome, but withstand.
When I spoke to him about the sort of book I was working on, and asked to include him, he laughed, and said, “All right, but I want to be in category with Bryan Ferry.”
I said, “Where else?” but the truth of the matter is that I hadn’t been clever enough to see the many overlaps; their lanky blue-eyed charm, their love of David Lean movies, of movie music, sleek women, their affinity for square-jawed film heroes, their images as somewhat shy flâneurs contrasting sharply with the reality of their hardworking, somewhat obsessive natures.
Painting of Bryan Ferry (digital and acrylic) by Kate McKinnon, based on a 2002 photograph by Steve Double. Another photo from this shoot was published in the Telegraph, in 2011.
Ferry is an intelligent and educated man; I’ve always loved that about him. A favorite Roxy lyric of mine is from Street Life, about the way some people seem to collect degrees but never bother to learn anything,
“..pointless passing through Harvard or Yale, only window shopping, it’s strictly No Sale.
His lyrics in general are gorgeous; I see him in our cast of characters as our Poet; like Hartmann, his details are sharp outwardly, but inside, he’s a bit more of a swirled cone. I view him as our resident Voltaire (and there are some fascinating overlaps there as well); his pithy quotes and romantic plaints appear here and there throughout the book.
This is a Ferry performance of Chance Meeting, a Roxy Music song that was inspired by the David Lean film Brief Encounter, from 1945.
I love the classical treatment in this performance, and Joyce Rooks and I have plans to take it even further down. We hear this one in our heads done very simply, starkly, with only her deep, clear voice, cello, and a single toy piano line.
Joyce is quite glamourous; she was an original member (with my equally magnificent co-author Doriot Lair) of the ’70s punk band The Dinettes, and she is a classically trained cellist, a well-regarded glass artist, and was the director (before its recent closing) of The Crafts Center on the UCSD campus. She sometimes collaborates with David J from Bauhaus, or gigs in San Diego with the band Nicey Nice World or a local classical ensemble.
Joyce Rooks, photo by Heidi Calvert
Doriot was obviously quite her nerdy self even as a 20 year old punk rocker; this is an excerpt from an article in the San Diego Reader:
Doriot Negrette (later known as Doriot Lair) recalls, “When the Dinettes played at the Western Front (the punk festival organized by Dead Kennedys frontman Jello Biafra) in San Francisco in the fall of 1979, we didn’t get a gig at Mabuhay Gardens like the Dead Kennedys or Black Flag or the Pens. We were booked at the Deaf Club which, as a young San Diego bumpkin, I hadn’t realized was more than just a cool name for a venue with really loud music, that since the Depression it was a social club for the deaf.”
“As we waited to play, people were making a big deal out of blowing up dime store balloons. I was just hoping we weren’t going to have to duck balloons in addition to the customary bottles, but all was clear when from the stage I saw people who’d earlier been signing that were now holding the fully blown balloons between their fingertips and against their chests. The nerd in me was jumping up and down because I knew what they were doing: they were using the balloons as mini-resonance chambers to experience the music. Double-bumpkined!”
“I later learned it’d been Alexander Graham Bell who’d figured out the whole bubble-vibrational-sympathetic-frequency angle. Bell gave balloons to his deaf students in 19th century Boston as a sort of early warning system for detecting the approach of horse drawn carriages from behind.”
Doriot Lair, absolutely 100% ready to go to any location on any interesting quest; this November, we head Oxford to say hello to Ferry and to Barcelona for a plunder of Dali, Gaudi, tapas bars, and a photoshoot and interview with Andre Broessel, whose solar architecture has us all fired up.