Humanistic disciplines: Filming Spike Milligan ’ s Puckoon Essay, Research Paper
‘ It ’ s fantastical, charming material ’ ‘ I don ’ t mind death, I merely wear ’ t want to be at that place at the time. ” As Richard Attenborough recalls Spike Milligan ’ s celebrated quotation mark, he roars with laughter, swaying back in his chair. Milligan died in February this twelvemonth and the street arab gag has now become the great absurdist ’ s cinematic epitaph, scrawled in bold Gaelic copperplate across the gap rubrics of the movie version of his first novel, Puckoon, published in 1964.
By now, Attenborough is about in cryings, but allow ’ s non advert crying. Not yet anyhow. Talking merely before the premiere of Puckoon at the Galway movie fleadh earlier this month, he is pink-faced, burbling and riotously white-bearded, staggering off lines from writer-director Terence Ryan ’ s version of Milligan ’ s satirical narrative of the fabricated small town of Puckoon which, one twenty-four hours during the breakdown of the state in 1924, is randomly split between Northern and southern Ireland.
“ When I foremost read it, I was express joying so much I was near to acquiring arrested – or making myself, ” Attenborough says. “ I ever loved Spike and what he did for British comedy. He moved it into another kingdom with the Goons. I knew them all, particularly Peter Sellers, but Spike was the true original, the cardinal mastermind. I couldn ’ t wait to acquire involved in the movie. ” As the movie ’ s ubiquitous writer-narrator, Attenborough cajoles and commands characters played by Sean Hughes ( miserable Dan Madigan ) , Elliot Gould ( village physician ) , and an array of veteran Irish histrions, along with Milligan ’ s daughter Jane as Madigan ’ s fierce married woman. Milligan claimed that his introduction novel about drove him mad. Yet, despite the confused narrative, unashamed Paddywhackery and a construction in the manner of a Joycean medley, Puckoon became a publication phenomenon, ne’er out of print and selling more than 6m transcripts. Attenborough, usually associated with grandiose heroic poems, hasn ’ t acted for four old ages and is still aching after the failure of his last directorial excursion, Grey Owl. One gets the feeling that the disarmingly passionate actor-director has had enough of mega-buck blockbusters. Puckoon was filmed in Ireland on a budget that wouldn ’ t cover the catering costs on a typical Attenborough film. It ’ s surely a long manner from A Bridge Too Far. Has he stopped trailing Oscars? Attenborough leans frontward and bang the tabular array so hard the teacups rattling. “ Before we begin, I ne’er sleep togethering cried at the Oscars – that ’ s myth, ” he says, mentioning to his emotional address when accepting eight Academy awards for Gandhi in 1982. “ In fact, I don ’ t truly like the Oscars ; it ’ s a commercial promotional event. It helps immeasurably to sell movies, but it ’ s barely the Nobel prize. ” It is all acquiring a small bizarre, even Milliganesque, when Attenborough sits back and laughs. The last of the old-school English movie showmans and president of countless humanistic disciplines administrations is loosen uping into Galway ’ s unpretentious ambiance. The scene could non be more appropriate for the unveiling of a degree Fahrenheit
ilm inspired by Milligan, the troubled comedian who carried an Irish passport and whose coffin was draped in the Irish flag. “Spike’s humour was all about irreverence, and I like that,” says Attenborough. “I know I’m regarded as an establishment figure, but I was crucified by the establishment for Oh! What a Lovely War, Gandhi and Cry Freedom. So I relate to Spike. Irreverence is an essential part of our culture. I admire that enormously.” Attenborough is 80 next year and does admit to having trouble remembering names, but remains “consumed by the movies. I don’t take up many acting jobs these days, but this was irresistible. I liked the fact it was being made in Ireland and there was no big-budget hoopla involved. It was very invigorating and refreshing for me. And there were some old pals involved.” The old pals are Gould, a lifelong Milligan fan who appeared briefly in Attenborough’s overstuffed, star-studded A Bridge Too Far, and Milo O’Shea, Attenborough’s co-star in the 1970 film of Joe Orton’s play Loot. All of them, says Attenborough, did Puckoon out of “an overwhelming adoration of Spike. Money was the least consideration. I’d have done it for a pint of Guinness. In fact, I think I did.” With this, he gets up and starts pacing the room, hands clasped behind his back, as if delivering a final briefing before the next escape attempt. “I’m beginning to think that we must get back to making movies like Puckoon, which are essentially indigenous, rather than trying to take on Hollywood at its own game. Look what happened to FilmFour. We keep making the same mistake, trying to invade America by sailing halfway across the Atlantic. You just sink without a trace.” Puckoon itself was partly filmed in Hollywood – Hollywood, Belfast, that is, the working-village folk-museum doubling as Milligan’s divided town, where beer is cheaper in the northern half of the pub and corpses have to have newly issued passports to cross the customs post erected across the newly partitioned graveyard. The ultimate irony is that Puckoon is the first ever co-production between Northern and southern Ireland. “It’s fantastical, magical, mad stuff ,” says Attenborough, “but, deep down, Spike was dealing with the division of a people for political ends.” Ten years ago, when Spike was 73, director Terence Ryan recorded the author’s reading of the novel. Milligan was well aware that the recording was being made in case he died before the film was financed. It was partially true. By the time production began, a decade later, Milligan was in poor health. “He was meant to be in the film but was too ill,” says Attenborough. “He never made it to the set but would call and say, ‘Get a bloody move on – I’ve not long to go.’” Yet Milligan saw the finished film before he died, with his daughter Jane by his side. He laughed all the way through. “Spike’s humour is a very fragile thing on screen,” says Attenborough. “You’ve got be careful not to damage the wonderful madness. But now that he’s gone, as he would say, ‘What are we gonna do now?’ ” · Puckoon is released in the UK in October.
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