Jon Finch, 1941–2012

finch1.jpg

Macbeth (1971).

There are few actors I’ve ever felt sufficiently cultish about who could make me watch films or TV dramas I wouldn’t otherwise be interested in. Orson Welles would be one (up to a point, he was in a lot of crap in later years), Patrick McGoohan another and Jon Finch most definitely a third. Having watched Finch just over a week ago in Roman Polanski’s superb adaptation of Macbeth it’s been a shock to discover that he’d died shortly after Christmas, the news of his funeral only being announced this week.

finch4.jpg

Frenzy (1972).

The cult status stems from the remarkable run of lead roles he was offered in the early 1970s: playing Macbeth for Polanski, the “wrong man” role in Hitchcock’s last great film, Frenzy, and a perfect Jerry Cornelius in Robert Fuest’s adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s The Final Programme. There were plenty of other roles, of course, but those three are standouts which also show something of his range: suitably brooding, weak and malevolent in Macbeth, in Frenzy a hounded man who seems disreputable enough for his friends to suspect he may be a murderer, in The Final Programme as smart and insouciant as Moorcock’s Cornelius ought to be.

finch2.jpg

The Final Programme (1973): Finch with Jenny Runacre (Miss Brunner).

I’m happier that Finch played Cornelius instead of James Bond, a role he was offered after Sean Connery quit. Jerry Cornelius, “the English Assassin”, in the first novel in Moorcock’s Cornelius quartet is a kind of anti-Bond, and there were few actors around in 1973 who would have possessed the necessary charisma and intelligence for the part. Mike Moorcock was friends with Finch around the time the film was being made so when I was visiting the Moorcocks in Paris a few years ago I asked him why Finch hadn’t done more with his career after such an impressive start. Mike says he was one of those actors who often preferred to be doing something else with his time.

finch3.jpg

Finch and Ronald Lacey (Shades) in The Final Programme.

finch5.jpg

On the set of Alien (1978).

Obituaries will no doubt regard Finch’s rejection of the Bond role as a missed opportunity but I wish we could have seen him as intended in Ridley Scott’s Alien where he’d been cast as Kane but had to drop out after contracting a severe case of bronchitis once shooting was underway. The photo and screen grab below are seldom-seen images from the Alien DVD extras. I’ve nothing against John Hurt in the role but with Finch playing the part it would have made a cult film a little more special. He did get to act for Ridley Scott eventually with a small role in Kingdom of Heaven in 2005.

finch6.jpg

An outtake from Alien.

finch7.jpg

As Count Sylvius in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1994).

finch8.jpg

Update: Found on an archive disc, this rare photo from the set of The Final Programme showing Finch as Jerry Cornelius facing off with his creator, Michael Moorcock. (Click for a larger copy.) That’s the Space Ritual line-up of Hawkwind in the background. Band and author appear for a fraction of a second in a shot during the film’s arcade scene. Considering how common it was to have rock bands in feature films during this time it still surprises me that Fuest and co. went to all this trouble then left them on the cutting-room floor. The photo was Moorcock’s own, as I recall, something we ran in one of the Savoy books.

Guardian obituary
Independent obituary
Telegraph obituary
Macbeth trailer
Frenzy trailer
The Final Programme trailer

Previously on { feuilleton }
Dan O’Bannon, 1946–2009
Patrick McGoohan and The Prisoner

Mister Jarman, Mister Moore and Doctor Dee

tempest.jpg

Prospero (Heathcote Williams) and Miranda (Toyah Willcox), The Tempest (1979).

The Shakespeare who spun The Tempest must have known John Dee; and perhaps through Philip Sidney he met Giordano Bruno in the year when he was writing the Cena di Ceneri—the Ash Wednesday supper in the French Ambassador’s house in the Strand. Prospero’s character and predicament certainly reflect these figures, each of whom in his own way fell victim to reaction. John Dee, with the greatest library in England, skrying for the angels Madimi and Uriel (so nearly Ariel)—all of which is recorded in the Angelic Conversations—ended up, in his old age, penniless in Manchester. Bruno was burnt for heresy.

Ten years of reading in these forgotten writers, together with a study of Jung and his disciples proved vital in my approach to both Jubilee and The Tempest. As for the black magic which David Bowie thought I dabbled in like Kenneth Anger, I’ve never been interested in it. I find Crowley’s work dull and rather tedious. Alchemy, the approach of Marcel Duchamp, interests me much more.

Derek Jarman, Dancing Ledge (1991).

Damon Albarn’s opera Doctor Dee has been all over the news this week following its premier as part of the Manchester International Festival. Last weekend one of the press ads was announcing this as an “untold story”, as though no one had given much thought to the Elizabethan magus prior to Mr Albarn’s arrival. Neither the ads nor anyone associated with the production will be in a hurry to tell you that the idea for the opera came from Alan Moore who’s had a fascination with John Dee’s life and work for many years. Albarn and fellow Gorillaz cohort Jamie Hewlett approached Alan about a collaboration a couple of years ago; Alan agreed to write something on the condition that Gorillaz provide a contribution to Alan’s magazine, Dodgem Logic. They agreed, Alan set to work, having suggested John Dee as a good subject then the whole thing fell apart: Gorillaz said they were too busy to accommodate themselves to the magazine’s generous deadlines so Alan told the pair that he was now too busy to have anything further to do with their opera. This is all old news (and being a Dodgem Logic contributor I have a partisan interest in the story) but it’s worth noting since the opera will be playing elsewhere once it’s finished its Manchester run so we’ll continue to hear about it. The point is that the subject matter was Alan Moore’s choice, not Damon Albarn’s; if Alan had decided to write something about Madame Blavatsky (say) we’d now be reading reviews of Blavatsky: The Opera. Albarn can at least be commended for staying with the subject. Despite John Dee’s exile in Manchester being part of the city’s history (among other things he helped organise the first survey of the streets) you can bet the apes from Oasis have never heard of him.

jubilee.jpg

Richard O’Brien as John Dee in Jubilee (1978).

All of which had me thinking how John Dee, a maverick intelligence of the Elizabethan era, has a tendency to attract equally maverick intelligences in later eras. Derek Jarman’s work returns to John Dee often enough to make the magus a recurrent theme in his films, from the scenes in Jubilee (1978) (part of an earlier script) where he’s portrayed by Richard O’Brien showing Elizabeth I the future of her kingdom, to The Tempest (1979) where Prospero’s wand is modelled on Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica, to The Angelic Conversation (1987) which borrows its title from Dee’s scrying experiments and finds via the sonnets another connection between John Dee and Shakespeare (Ariel being the contrary spirit whose magic allows a vision of the future in Jubilee). By one of those coincidences which make you think there must have been something in the air during the mid-70s, Michael Moorcock’s novel Gloriana, or The Unfulfill’d Queen was published the year Jubilee premiered, a fantasy in which the Elizabethan court is blended with its fictional counterpart from Spenser’s The Faerie Queen, and which features a Doctor John Dee as the queen’s Councillor of Philosophy. (If you want to stretch the connections further, Jenny Runacre who plays Elizabeth in Jubilee had earlier portrayed Miss Brunner in the film of Moorcock’s The Final Programme.)

mindscape_dee.jpg

My 2009 poster design for The Mindscape of Alan Moore, a documentary by Dez Vylenz. John Dee’s Sigillum Dei Aemeth appears in the film so I used this as the principal motif for the packaging design and DVD interface.

Reading the reviews it’s impossible to tell how Alan’s libretto might have fared on stage compared to the work which is now showing, the content of which draws on Benjamin Woolley’s excellent biography, The Queen’s Conjuror. Alan and Benjamin Woolley can both be found among the interviewees in a Channel 4 documentary about John Dee broadcast in the Masters of Darkness (sic) series in 2001. For those keen to delve beyond the stage show, Derek Jarman’s films are all on DVD, of course, while fragments of Alan’s libretto can be found in the fourth edition of Strange Attractor along with his notes for the rest of the opera. Charlotte Fell Smith’s life of Dee from 1909, for many years the standard study of the man, can be found online here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Tempest illustrated
Robert Anning Bell’s Tempest
In the Shadow of the Sun by Derek Jarman
Designs on Doctor Dee
Derek Jarman at the Serpentine
The Angelic Conversation
The life and work of Derek Jarman

Michelangelo Antonioni, 1912–2007

passenger.jpg

Another one bites the dust… What are the odds against two of the last surviving big names of cinema expiring in the same week? I could never get fully behind Antonioni the way I could with Bergman, I didn’t think much of the Neo-Realist school that Antonioni began as a part of and his later Italian films such as La Notte (1961) and L’Eclisse (1962) seemed like vacuous stylistic exercises. He divided opinion even among his peers—Orson Welles couldn’t bear his work whereas Stanley Kubrick put La Notte in a “ten best” list in 1963. I always enjoyed Blow Up (1966) even though it seems fatuous next to Performance while Zabriskie Point (1970) is a joke. But I like The Passenger (aka Professione: Reporter, 1975) very much.

A simple story—reporter in the Sahara swaps identities with a dead arms dealer then goes on the run—featured Jack Nicholson giving one of his last good performances before his descent into gurning self-parody. Also Ian Hendry, Steven Berkoff (between Kubrick films) and Jenny Runacre shortly before she was in Jubilee for Derek Jarman. The film works as an extended travelogue, ranging from Africa to England then into Spain as Nicholson’s character picks up student Maria Schneider on his travels and is pursued by his wife (who doesn’t believe he’s dead) and men intent on killing him. Events are resolved during a celebrated seven-minute single take where the camera passes miraculously through the iron bars of a hotel window. One of Antonioni’s finest qualities was his appreciation of architectural and cinematic space and the final shot of the film is a perfect example of this. The Passenger was out of circulation for years but is now available on DVD.

Guardian obituary | David Thomson appreciation

Previously on { feuilleton }
Further Back and Faster