Screen legend James Earl Jones master of good conversation
Glasgow Film Festival blog
Sunday 21 February
The festival buzz has definitely been building over the weekend, and on Sunday I felt its full effect as I walked, a few minutes late (for shame!), into a jam-packed GFT Cinema 1 for the sold-out In Coversation with James Earl Jones event. The place was so full that people had given up hope of finding seats and were lining the stairs, necks craned for a better view. I don’t give up so easily though, and once I realised that it was Allan Hunter down the front giving an introduction, and the voice of Darth Vader himself wasn’t yet in the room, I took the plunge, successfully claiming the solitary seat left at the back just as the lights went down and we were treated to a selection of classic James Earl Jones screen moments. Score!
Clips from The Great White Hope (for which he received an Oscar nomination), Field of Dreams, The Hunt for Red October and yes, Conan The Barbarian reminded us of the presence and power of this great man, and in person he was everything you would hope of a screen legend. Witty and self-deprecating, honest and humble, with a great appreciation for certain fellow actors, he was only too happy to tell his stories from a life lived on stage and on camera. Earl Jones is in the UK playing Big Daddy in a new West End production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof and, when asked if he would call the theatre his first love he replied – without missing a beat: “No. First marriage. It’s worked out; I’m still married right now down in London. [Pause] But I have many lovers!” He went on to explain that he’s never had any great plan to be only a movie actor, or carve some kind of clear career – “I couldn’t begin to know how someone like Tom Cruise or Denzel Washington gets to where they are” – but simply to work wherever they’d have him.
Of course, Star Wars came up in conversation when questions were opened to the crowd, and in a quite fantastic moment Legacy director Thomas Akimi raised his hand and asked if he could offer his own version of Earl Jones’s iconic Darth Vader voice. Akimi proceeded to entertain the crowd with a word perfect – and pitch-perfect – version of Vader’s “I am your father” speech, which seemed to leave Mr Earl Jones speechless in admiration. I spoke to Akimi afterwards and he said “I couldn’t miss that opportunity!” It was just one memorable moment of many in an event that will be hard to top as the high point of the Festival.
The reason I was late arriving, by the way, was that I had been interviewing Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas immediately before, who are the co-directors responsible for the excellent documentary American: The Bill Hicks Story which premiered at the GFF on Saturday night. They were only too happy to talk (and talk) about the long process of creating the film, which tells the story of the life and tragically early death of the iconic and greatly influential stand-up comic Bill Hicks. They are in the middle of touring the film around various festivals, but were happy to proclaim Glasgow as the absolute best, thanks to the GFT’s perfect venue conditions: “We played at Sheffield Doc Fest and the room was a converted lecture theatre that was quite echo-ey, but when we glanced in that main auditorium yesterday it was just stunning – we knew this was gonna be good”. Harlock, the venue geek of the pair, added “we played NFT in London, and it’s got great sound and projection, but there is something colder about the room – it’s to do with the curve and the walls, but Glasgow is a perfect environment”. There you go GFF, you’re better than the rest!
One of the key factors in shaping this documentary, Thomas told me, is that it is made to be seen with an audience, so it is currently in an evolving state - they are going through re-cuts and shuffles in response to different festival audiences. “We’ve got to stop doing it soon though”, Harlock added with a nervous grin, as the May UK cinema release is fast approaching.
My day ended with a brief look into the CCA for the announcement of Johanna Wagner’s film Peter in Radioland as the winner of the weekend’s Short Film competition. I spoke to Louise Welsh, the Glasgow author who had been part of the jury, who was super-friendly and very enthusiastic about the whole experience, and I also bumped into Ray Tintori again, who told me that the UK film industry has him puzzled. For one thing, he asked, why were so many American movies nominated in the Baftas, which he thought were British film awards? What he finds even more curious though, is the attitude of British filmmakers towards funding, and how they are always moaning about who gets it and who doesn’t. “There’s no arts funding at all in the States”, he said, “we just go and make stuff with what we’ve got”. So there you go – Ray Tintori says 'Just Do It'.
Also, congratulations to Fish Tank on its well-deserved Bafta!
The next GFF blog will be on Tuesday 22 February