Month: November 2022
MICHAEL ARMSTRONG’S ‘THE ENCHANTED ORCHESTRA.’ (1979) THE SCREENPLAY BOOK REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS.
MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.
THE ENCHANTED ORCHESTRA. (1979)
PUBLISHED IN 2021 BY PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘Michael Armstrong is creating history by being the first film-maker to publish his entire screenwriting output. With the original uncut screenplays in print for the first time ever and peppered with a mixture of wildly entertaining anecdotes, astounding behind-the-scenes revelations, creative and educational insights and brutal ‘no holds barred’ honesty, these books are guaranteed to provide a completely new kind of reading experience while offering a unique insight into the movie industry. Starting from his first professional screenplay written in 1960 when he was only fifteen and which he subsequently directed in 1968, the books will ultimately encompass a career that has spanned over fifty years. The books will include not only those screenplays which made it onto a cinema screen but, for the first time ever, all those that didn’t- and the reasons why…’
I’m delighted to be able to say that, after a brief hiatus, Michael Armstrong’s gorgeous glossy-covered screenplay books are rolling off the presses again. Just in time for Christmas, and just as you were tearing your hair out by the roots over what to buy the film buff in your life to show your love this festive season, lol.
In the unlikely event of your not recognising the name, I can tell you that Michael is a writer/actor/director who’s been working in the film industry for a very long time, knows it inside-out and upside-down, warts and all, and is famous for having written the screenplays (and, in some cases, acting in and directing) to the following films:
THE DARK- 1960.
THE IMAGE- 1964. Starring a young David Bowie in his first screen appearance.
THE HUNT- 1965.
MARK OF THE DEVIL- 1970. A gruesome but frighteningly real depiction of eighteenth century witch-burnings.
THE SEX THIEF- 1973.
ESKIMO NELL- 1974. A riotous sex comedy starring beloved English actor Roy Kinnear and a young and handsome Michael Armstrong himself.
IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU- 1975.
THREE FOR ALL- 1975.
ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER #2- 1975.
ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE- 1976.
THE BLACK PANTHER- 1976. The story of Donald Neilson, the British armed robber, kidnapper and murderer who abducted wealthy British teenager Lesley Whittle in 1975.
HOME BEFORE MIDNIGHT- 1979.
HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS- 1982. The only film in the history of cinema to star horror legends Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine all together.
‘Every year on midsummer night at the stroke of twelve, we come alive…’
THE ENCHANTED ORCHESTRA, sadly, is one of those screenplays that didn’t, for one reason and another, make it onto the big screen (See A History of the Screenplay for more detailed information), but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
It will appeal in particular to anyone with a deep passion for and knowledge of classical music (two things Michael clearly has in abundance), but also to those who like a side-order of child-like whimsy and wonder with their main course.
Intended to fuse both animated and spectacular live-action sequences, it would have translated, I think, into something truly glorious and multi-coloured on the big screen, and might even have become a perennial Christmas favourite with the nippers and adults alike. Let’s set the scene…
‘In England, King George V was on the throne, Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence ruled the popular stage and Jazz was here to stay. Poverty and unemployment may have filled the streets outside but the theatres and picture houses were packed, dance music was all the rage and the fashionable young people of London society indulged and frolicked as they always have done and probably always will…
And, in the world of classical music, a strange and mysterious legend was about to be born…’
It all sounds terribly decadent, doesn’t it? You half expect Jay Gatsby to pop up, bearing expensive gifts and yelling ‘Daisy! Hey, Daisy!’ up at Daisy Buchanan’s bedroom window in the manner of a vest-ripping Stanley Kowalski from A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE.
We’re catapulted early on into ‘a young person’s dance party, being held in the huge garden of the Granville’s Mayfair House.’ In a scene straight out of Bertie Wooster, the handsome young hunk of the house, Robert Granville, and his posh but ditzy socialite fiancée, Amanda Harcourt-Compton, catch Robert’s nine-year-old brother, Peter, under the table at the party scaring the female guests with his pet toad, King. Can’t you imagine the horror of the Bright Young Things?
‘Peter, you beastly beast, how could you do something so utterly, utterly beastly, you little beast, you?’
Peter is the youngest member of the rich and cultured Granville family, of whom Sir Arthur Granville is its paterfamilias and head. He’s not a nasty Pa, though, he’s a tolerant and kindly one who even considers his son Robert’s beloved dance and jazz music on a par with the classical music he himself favours. In fact, he’s a conductor of classical music himself, and a man of some international renown. He’s passed on his love of classical music to his youngest son, Peter.
Young Peter is the main protagonist. He probably has two or three main things going on in his little nine-year-old life at the moment. One, his kindly, much adored but sexy Nanny is leaving him to marry his Uncle Henry, the dirty devil. She was only a factory girl, anyone?
It certainly does call to mind the trend in Wodehouse for rich and titled older men to lose their aristocratic heads over shopgirls, parlourmaids and tearoom waitresses. Much to the disgust of their money-grubbing relatives, I might add.
Peter’s Nanny, judging from the description, reminds me of a certain bosomy District Nurse Gladys Emanuel from sitcom OPEN ALL HOURS. Peter will definitely miss laying his head comfortably on her generous knockers of a bedtime, added to which he also has to get used to the idea that his primary care-giver from now on will be the odious Miss Grisby, ‘the archetypal strict governess, a fearful sight for any small boy.’
The other thing occupying all Peter’s attention at the moment is a concert at the Royal Albert Hall at which his very own father is performing, but which he himself is not allowed to attend because of his tender years:
At a huge hoarding outside:
24TH JUNE 1932
MIDSUMMER’S NIGHT GALA CONCERT
UNDER THE PATRONAGE OF THEIR MAJESTIES THE KING AND QUEEN
IN AID OF THE MUSICIANS’ BENEVOLENT FUND-
Peter is devastated that he can’t go, but must stay home with the awful Miss Grisby instead. He is determined to attend this magical gala evening, however, and employs the well-known tearing-and-tying-your-sheets-together-to-make-an-escape-rope method of leaving the house at night before hurrying to where the concert is being held, the Royal Albert Hall.
‘A slight fog is starting to settle
As PETER hurries along the lamp-lit streets…
Passing glimpses of London’s nightlife:
People in evening dress-
Paupers around Hyde Park-
Carriages and automobiles…
The blinding dazzle of Harrods shop-windows,
Resplendent with tempting luxuries and fashions…
And on PETER runs…
The writing is so evocative, and the images so easy to see in our mind’s eye, that we have no difficulty in imagining ourselves right there with Peter, in that foggy, gas-lit London of nearly a century ago. In the hours that follow, the magic happens.
I can’t tell you too much for fear of spoilers, so suffice it to say that a small boy who loves music more than anything else in the world (except, maybe, for Nanny’s magnificent knockers), is introduced to a behind-the-scenes world of musical magic where instruments come alive and historical figures of immense greatness- Beethoven, Puccini, Verdi, Handel, Tchaikovsky, Wagner (Hitler’s favourite composer, lol), Strauss and Mussorgsky are only dying to come back to life and dispense their acidic wisdom.
We end up asking ourselves questions like, are musical instruments only as good as the human beings who play them, or can they, if left to it, make music on their own? Do musical instruments have feelings?
1st Violin: We feel things when humans play us.
Bass Drum: They hit me. I feel that.
Horn is clearly a bit of a sadist, lol.
The screenplay contains haunting descriptions of Stonehenge and the obliteration of Pompeii by the volcano Vesuvius. You’ll meet adorable little riverside creatures who could have hopped straight off the pages of Beatrix Potter and Kenneth Grahame, and you’ll get to watch Michael poke satirical fun at the double-barrelled nonsense of the Bright Young Things of the ‘thirties. Amanda Harcourt-Compton-Fink-Nottle, indeed.
On the back cover of this beautiful book (which, by the way, contains seventy-odd pages of fabulous illustrations) is a quote from myself, actually, saying that:‘The film fan in your life would be eternally grateful for a gift from this luxurious, glossy-covered collection.’
Well, Christmas is just around the corner, folks. You know what to do.
Ta-ta for now and kind regards,
Sandra Harris-de Cadenet-de Havilland-Little-Glossop.
You can buy this book and all of Michael’s other books as well at the following links:
OUTBREAK. (1995) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.
OUTBREAK. (1995) DIRECTED BY WOLFGANG PETERS. BASED ON RICHARD PRESTON’S 1994 NON-FICTION BOOK, ‘THE HOT ZONE.’
STARRING DUSTIN HOFFMAN, RENE RUSSO, MORGAN FREEMAN, DONALD SUTHERLAND, PATRICK DEMPSEY, KEVIN SPACEY, CUBA GOODING JR.
BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
God, I love a good plague or virus movie. CONTAGION (2011), the masterpiece that kills off the annoying Gwyneth Paltrow within the first ten minutes, is probably my favourite, although RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR (2006) is excellent too. That one’s about dirty bombs and chemical warfare, but it’s all the same thing, innit?
OUTBREAK, one of the most streamed films on Netflix during the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic (I find that hilarious), probably isn’t the most technically or scientifically accurate movie about a pandemic.
Like, how come every infected person but Rene Russo dies a horrible, disgusting death that includes bleeding from the eyes like a statue of the Virgin Mary in a haunted grotto? An obvious flaw, but it’s still a great romp and references that great American institution, the CDC, or the Centres for Disease Control. You know you’re in for a good watch when they have to call in the CDC! I think they brought ‘em in to the Stephen King six-hour mini-series THE STAND (1994) as well. A great bunch of lads, the Chinese. Erm, I mean the CDC.
The diminutive method-acting Dustin Hoffman plays army medic Colonel Sam Daniels, MD. All the main men in this film play different ranks of army personnel, and, unless you know which rank supersedes which other rank, you’re apt to become a tad confused. Here’s a simple trick to following Who’s Who: Sam ranks higher than Kevin Spacey and Cuba Gooding Jr., his old muckers and colleagues, but lower than Morgan Freeman and Donald Sutherland, the top brass. Got it…?
Sam’s ex-wife, Roberta ‘Robby’ Keough, MD, is an army medic too. They are going through a messy divorce when it’s obvious they still love each other and their two beautiful dogs. They should put the nonsense aside and have an honest conversation for once instead of all the sniping and snapping.
Anyway, the virus, right? It’s brought into America- Cedar Creek in California, to be exact- by an adorable disease monkey similar to the ones that people initially thought were responsible for the spread of AIDS.
A big dope called Jimbo steals the little critter from the animal testing laboratory where he works after it’s been smuggled into the country. He hopes to sell it to a pet shop on the black market, no questions asked, but before you can say, ‘we’d better put a call in to the CDC,’ Jimbo and the pet-shop owner are dead of the virus and the monkey is running amok in the woods after being released by a misguided Jimbo.
Dozens of Californians (not the Californians, they’re the beautiful people!) immediately catch the virus and die horribly. Sam wants to find a cure, for which he’ll need to find the monkey, but Donald Sutherland just wants to nuke the town of Cedar Creek in Operation Clean Sweep, something he did thirty years ago when the same virus showed up in a village in darkest Africa. He clearly just really loves to nuke stuff, and gets really annoyed when Sam keeps trying to stop him.
Dustin Hoffman is quite funny and endearing as Sam, the sort of loose cannon, maverick medic. He strides around the place standing up to his superiors (especially Morgan Freeman, who might know more about this virus than he’s letting on) and saying things like, ‘With all due respect, Brigadier, fuck you,’ when he’s about to contravene a direct order, which is most of the time.
The scene where Dustin Hoffman helicopters onto the exact right boat that brought the plague monkey into ‘Murica before helicoptering back off again is a little far-fetched. Sam’s speech to the soldiers who are tasked with dropping the bomb on poor old Cedar Creek is hokey in the extreme, mawkishly sentimental, but that’s the kind of fun, over-the-top disaster movie this is, lol.
I love the spooky scene where the nice, normal ordinary Cedar Creek mom has to leave her husband and kids and go somewhere unknown in order to be ‘isolated’ by the Army, who are of course working for the government. THE CDC, the CIA, the FBI, they all terrify me, even though I said earlier that the CDC were a great bunch of lads.
It’s just the thought of all the secrets they must have kept over the years, all the things they must have decided at the highest level that it wasn’t in the ‘public’s best interests’ to know.
And, if you’ve seen RIGHT AT YOUR DOOR, you too might have a fear of the Army turning up at your house one day in the middle of a terrifying public health crisis, but not to help you by bringing you bags of oranges and stores of penicillin…
It’s interesting to watch stuff like this in the context of our own recent pandemic. CONTAGION probably mirrors our COVID experiences the closest, with masks and self-isolation and vaccines and people who say the vaccines are a load of bollocks and all part of a wider government conspiracy and whatnot, but OUTBREAK is great craic too, and it vanishes from Netflix at the end of November, so chop chop! Catch it while you can, but not the virus. Definitely don’t catch that…