michael_gothard_archive: (wild)
The BFI brought out three films in which Michael Gothard had major roles, “Herostratus”, “The Devils” and “La Valleé.” The booklets that accompany “Herostratus” (released 24/08/2009) and “La Valleé” (released 08/06/2009) include sections about him, which - apart from some material in the “La Valleé” booklet which specifically relates to his role in that film - are basically the same.

These notes show a disappointing reliance on online sources, one of whom – Curtis Harrington – actively disliked Michael Gothard. A quotation from Harrington is even used to provide the title: “An interesting type.”

At best, this phrase, culled from a highly personal attack that Harrington launched on Gothard some years after his death, damns a very talented and unique actor – not a ‘type’ – with faint praise, and tends to discourage the reader from looking more closely at his work.

It is tempting to think that the reason this quotation was used, was that it was easy to find. It’s true that there was not much information about Michael Gothard available at the time the booklet on “Herostratus” was written, but a little research in a library reveals that John Glen, the Director of “For Your Eyes Only”, described him as “a captivating actor”1, and that Louis M. Heyward, the Executive Producer of “Scream and Scream Again” said: "I felt that Michael Gothard was going to be the biggest thing that ever happened. He had that insane look and that drive, and he was wonderful … He had a lot of class and a lot of style.”2

Either of these quotations could have more aptly supplied a title for Michael Gothard's mini-biography. Instead, Harrington’s quotation sets the tone for an article which is not only negative, but misleading.

Firstly, the statement that, “Michael Gothard’s choice of television and film roles illustrated the dark side of the 1960s and 70s” warrants scrutiny. The word “choice” assumes that at the start of his career, Michael had the pick of television and film roles - which seems unlikely – rather than having to take what was offered.

Secondly, even if he did, indeed, choose the roles he took on between 1967 and 1979, from among many, it cannot be said that all or even most of them illustrated the "darker side" of those times. An argument could be made for his roles in “Herostratus”, “Up the Junction”, “More”, “The Storyteller”, “The Excavation”, “La Vallée”, “Nine Bean Rows”, “Games People Play”, “Run for Your Money”, and “Stopover”, but even some of those are debatable, and not all of them are extant.

As for the rest: “The Machine Stops” is set in the future; “The Further Adventures of the Musketeers”, “Michael Kohlhaas”, “The Last Valley”, “The Devils”, “Arthur of the Britons”, “The Three and Four Musketeers”, and “Warrior Queen” are all set in the past. “Les Fleurs du Mal” is an escapist spy/crime drama, “Scream and Scream Again”, a horror/science fiction, “When the Spirit Moves You”, a supernatural comedy, “Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?” a thriller, and “Warlords of Atlantis” a fantasy adventure. It is hard to see how his role in any of these could illustrate the darker side of the 1960s and 70s.

The notes go on to describe Michael as having a “deep, hard voice.” In his work that post-dates “Up the Junction”, his voice was deep, but “hard” is not how most people would describe it. David Wickes, who directed him in “Jack the Ripper” and “Frankenstein”, spoke of “his soft, husky voice” which “was electrifying … he knew how to use it to maximum effect.”

The notes go further into the realms of fantasy when they state that Gothard was “usually cast in historical actioners, European arthouse or mind-bending genre movies, more often than not torn apart or committing the ‘elemental crime’ of suicide.”

It’s true that he was often cast in historical pieces: a total of twelve productions. Under the heading “European Arthouse” there seem to be only three films, “Herostratus”, “La Valleé”, and a non-speaking appearance in “More.” Mind-bending genre movies? Again, perhaps “Herostratus” is one of those, along with “Scream and Scream Again”, and “Lifeforce.”

However, this only constitutes seventeen productions: less than half of Michael Gothard’s forty-two roles. This doesn’t fulfill the description, “usually cast.”

But it is the final assertion in the sentence – that his characters are “more often than not torn apart or committing the ‘elemental crime’ of suicide’” – which is the most damaging, and the most lacking in substance. It is complete fabrication.

Even if one assumes that by “torn apart”, the writer means “conflicted”, rather than literally “torn apart” (which never happens), this statement has no basis in fact. Most of Michael’s characters show no sign of being conflicted, and certainly not to the extent of being “torn apart.” Many of them – Kuno, Mordaunt, John, Weber, Hansen, Father Barré, Albie, Volthan, Gaspard, Locque, Terry Marvin, Karl Portillo, Strett, Stefan, Xaros – are unusually single-minded.

Of his 42 known film and TV roles, only six of them, Max (“Herostratus”), Ivan (“Games People Play”), Olivier (“La Valleé”), Kai (“Arthur of the Britons”), Felton (The “Musketeers” films) Athelstane (“Ivanhoe”) and Sergei (“From Fulham With Love”) suffer significant internal conflict. Only in Max and Olivier is it a basic character trait, rather than something arising from circumstances, and Olivier’s conflict is not a bad thing, but the result of intellectual curiosity, and a refreshing capacity to step back from his sociological context.

As for the ‘elemental crime’ of suicide’: in “Herostratus”, Michael’s character, Max, intends to commit suicide, but changes his mind, then accidentally kills someone else. In “Scream and Scream Again”, as the artificially-created vampire, Keith, he jumps into a bath of acid to avoid capture, presumably because he has been programmed to do so, rather than from an actual desire to kill himself.

There is no other instance in his entire known canon of film and TV work, of a character Michael Gothard played, committing suicide.

Even if, being charitable, we count all six of the conflicted characters, and add in Keith the vampire as a suicide, this makes a total of seven roles out of forty-two: one sixth does not constitute “more often than not.”

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the writer made these claims in a misguided attempt to make things seem neat and tidy - by telling the rather tired story of an actor and his roles becoming one and the same thing - rather than making the effort to find out the truth.

Another less important inaccuracy, is the claim that Michael Gothard appeared in “Vampyre.” He did not. It was intended that he should appear, but the project fell through, and was eventually resurrected without him.

Towards the end of the article, the writer describes Michael Gothard “momentarily acting opposite Marlon Brando” as if that were his finest hour, when it was more like Brando’s worst. In fact, Gothard was brought in as a possible replacement for Brando, whom John Glen thought unreliable, and in the end, Brando got terrible notices for the film.

Finally, the article says of Michael Gothard: “Overpowered by depression, he hanged himself at home in Hampstead, aged 53 and alone.”

We know that Michael Gothard had suffered from depression for most of his life, on and off, but his suicide was unexpected. Some friends suspect that prescription medication may have precipitated his suicide, but the truth of what was going on in his mind will probably never be known, so to claim, as fact, that he was “overpowered by depression” is pure speculation.

Naturally he was “alone” at the time when he killed himself – few people take their own lives in company. But the tacit implication of “aged 53 and alone” is that he was “alone” in his life, and this is completely wrong.

A lifelong musician, he often met up with fellow musicians for jamming sessions. He dated many beautiful women, and was an avid letter-writer, keeping in touch with old friends and girlfriends. While he seems – as far as the creators of this archive have been able to discover – to have had no contact with his father, and little with his mother, he did have close friends whom he regarded as family.

The writer of the notes in the BFI booklet could not have known all this at the time they wrote the article, so - presumably because Michael Gothard’s social life was not plastered all over the tabloids every day - they have made the mistake of interpreting his whole life in the light of his final act, and suggesting that he was living a solitary and miserable existence. This is both misleading, and insulting to him and to his friends. It would have been better to be honest, and simply say, “Little is known of his private life”, but that wouldn’t have fitted in with story the writer wanted to tell.

~~

1 "For My Eyes Only: My Life with James Bond”, by John Glen. (2001)
2 Interview with Louis M. Heyward by Gary A. Smith, in “Uneasy Dreams: The Golden Age of British Horror Films, 1956-1976.” (2006)
michael_gothard_archive: (circa 1982)
N.B., a former girlfriend of Michael’s, was kind enough to talk to me, and answer some questions. Here is what she told me:

"I was amazed at hearing about your project. I am sure Michael would have been even more surprised to find people still honouring his work as an actor some twenty years later. He wouldn't feel he was worth the trouble."

Getting to know Michael

"I got to know Michael on a crisp spring Sunday morning in 1984 in the “Brasserie Dome”1 in Hampstead. He sat there having his cappuccino and reading the Sunday paper. I was having breakfast with a friend of mine. I was living in London as an au-pair, and so was my friend; we cherished our fee day away from the family where we lived and worked.

My friend knew Michael, because he had taken her out for dinner some weeks previously and she said hello to him across the tables. She pointed out who he was and I immediately recognised him thanks to his glasses. They were the ones he wore in the Bond film “For Your Eyes Only.”
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michael_gothard_archive: (London)
Michael Gothard in Paris, circa 1960

Michael in Paris, circa 1960. My friend and landlord of my first solo flat. I miss him dearly and think of him and his "Shakespearean" way every single day. Oh, how fondly I cherish the memories of our roof top cups of Earl Grey, and puffs of hash.
A magnificent man.


I first got in touch with Sean McCormick after seeing this photo, and the dedication below it, on a general memorial website. Sean very kindly shared some memories with me.

Michael Gothard was a family friend, whom Sean first met in London in June 1981, just after ‘For Your Eyes Only’ (in which Michael appeared as assassin Emile Locque) came out. They continued to meet and socialise until Sean moved back to New Mexico, late 1982, and Sean also rented a room from Michael in 1984/5, when he returned to London to work.

Sean's account: 1981-2

… my dad and I earned our living on the streets with our Punch & Judy show, and it had taken us to London where my dad landed a job working for Jim Henson on ‘The Dark Crystal.’1 My mom was hired as a buyer and I started my apprenticeship.

Dan2 once again got the bug to get out of the States, and he wanted to learn stain glass, so he decided to make his way to London.

Before his arrival he gave us the name and phone number of an old friend of his from the Paris days; he was an actor, and maybe we could get together and network a little.
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michael_gothard_archive: (wild)
This interview appeared in ‘X’-Films Vol.3 No 1. 1973.1 While it is more accurate, and contains less that is as demonstrably fake than the ‘interview’ in the German teen magazine “Bravo”, it contains some sections which are certainly made up, and others which seem to have been taken down incorrectly or misunderstood. Also, some of the words Michael is said to have used, such as “helluva”, and “movies” are not – according to A.S., who knew him well – in his idiom. He always said "film" or "picture". He would not have said "unprofessional part", but would have used the correct term of "non-professional part", and he wouldn't have said "'cause"... he would have said “because.” Sections which should definitely be treated with scepticism are annotated.

Interview with Michael Gothard

Michael, how did you become interested in acting as a career?

I went to acting school, but before that I originally became involved because a friend was making an amateur movie, auditioning a lot of professional out-of-work actors and actresses. He couldn’t find exactly what he wanted and I happened to be at the audition, so just for a laugh I auditioned with them and got the part. It was a typical ham movie – boy and girl walking in the park, etc. I think the new wave was very popular at that time – about ten years ago. [1962]

How long have you been acting professionally?

About 8½ years. I went to a place called the Actors Workshop, which in those days was at Baker Street, being run by an American. It was quite a good scene. The first unprofessional part I played was the movie I told you about, which, like most weekend movies, didn’t get finished. Nevertheless, I got some encouragement from these people while I was working with them, so I thought perhaps I should take acting a bit more seriously. At first I thought it was just an interesting thing to do.

What were you doing before that?

I was living in Paris for about a year, just bumming around if you like, just drifting about … I came back to England and met up with these people … I just did it for a laugh – as I was doing many things for a laugh. It only became serious when people started paying me money to do it. After all, I’d been broke for a long, long time.

So you’re not working for the moment?

No. I’m not really looking for work ’cause I was away for six months working on the Arthur of the Britons series. I came back to find a lot of things in a mess, so I can’t really work at the moment anyway. I’ve got a few things to sort out.

What’s acting like in this country at the moment?

The scene here at the moment is very quiet, and has been so for about three years or so.

How are you regarded in the trade?

A lot of people tend to consider me in some way – a word they’re fond of using – established – which to me is a joke. By established they mean I earn a regular living. Well let me tell you, to get yourself in a position where you can be absolutely sure that you work a certain number of months a year is really a very unique position to be in. I found that word very funny. I think you’re really not qualified to use that word unless you’re right at the top – if you’re a Burton or a Taylor or something. The whole thing is such a precarious sort of set up and even more so now than even a few years ago – in England, anyway. The Americans withdrew their finance 3 or 4 years ago and the film industry in this country really took a dive. Suddenly all those fat, well-paid technicians who always had permanent work suddenly found themselves in the same positions as the actors and actresses. The point I’m trying to make is that the situation in this country is so bad now that the technicians, who for years had a really nice piece of the cake, are now confronted with exactly the same situation as we are. That’s how bad it’s got over here.

The section above probably includes misquotations. A.S. suspects that Michael’s criticisms were actually aimed at "the fat cats", as he really respected "the workers", (carpenters, sparks, extras etc), and would never have been so derogatory about technicians, but would have happily been derogatory about “the suits”: producers and studio executives.

And yet, strangely enough, I’ve worked pretty consistently during this time. At the time of the boom – about six or seven years ago – when I was in the early stages of my career, I just couldn’t break in at all. I spent nearly two years out of work, during which time I did all sorts of insane things. I mean, the first job I ever did for money was a film, a 2½ hour colour feature. [Herostratus] I played the lead in it and I was on the screen from start to finish, so you could say it was a big part. The film didn’t have any success. It was experimental, a very strange thing. It had many qualities about it which just didn’t seem right. I spent a long period out of work after that, so I really started with a great flourish.

It was a helluva way to enter into oblivion. I couldn’t get into TV, I couldn’t even get an audition for theatre. But eventually I broke through and got into TV. From then on it was all right. I’ve hardly stopped working since.

So how did it all start?

It sounds like such a cliché. I was walking down the King’s Road on a Saturday morning with some friends, something I very rarely do. We went somewhere for a coffee. I was with a young lady actress who was doing very well at the time. I was sitting at this table and suddenly a young guy came up to me and said, “That gentleman over there wants to talk to you. He’s Philip Saville.” I didn’t know who Philip Saville was, but it turned out he was a television director.

We went for a walk down the King’s Road, chatting away all the while and he told me about a film he was making. Apparently he wasn’t looking for actors and didn’t even know I was one, but said he was looking for a young guy to play a part in a short film he was making for TV. When he realised I was an actor, we arranged an appointment for the following day.

His office was somewhere in Shepherd’s Bush. After being out of work for two years I was very edgy and easily offendable – in as much as I was quick to take insult. Somehow we got into one of those strange interviews. He was really trying to audition me via an interview, asking me very personal questions. I got progressively more annoyed and pissed-off. I thought, ‘Here we go, another little power trip. He’s enjoying himself at the expense of another out-of-work actor.’ I’d been through that scene so many times I was really ready for battle and, well, we ended up having a flaming row – and that was that! I didn’t see him again for quite a long time and I didn’t – needless to say – get the part in that film. Then a few months later I got a phone call. It was Philip Saville.

He said he could use me for something on television with Yvonne Mitchell – a superb actress – and we ended up doing a show called The Machine Stops, which went on to win a prize in the International Festivals, and that’s more or less how I got in, how I started work again.

When I was out of work we started a lunchtime theatre group in St Martin’s Lane, in the West End. There was no money in that – we just hoped these weren’t too many in the audience, so there’d be some sandwiches left! Nevertheless, I had to stick at it, because two years out of work devastates you – you’ve go to keep your hand in. It doesn’t matter really what you do, the important thing is to work. That’s why I did a few horror films. I didn’t consider it a bum part, any more than any other part of the entertainment industry. So I tried to do that as capably as I would do anything else. I sweated over that to get it right, as I did in more serious projects, like The Devils, for instance.

Which did you prefer?

Well, the horror film was more fun – great fun, in fact – but in terms of deeper satisfaction obviously The Devils was better, but it was a much harder thing to do.

I didn’t audition for Scream & Scream Again – they asked me to be in it.

Why did they choose you?

God knows –I really can’t remember how it came about. Maybe they chose me because I was considered a new approach to the problem. The first thing that Vincent Price said to me was, “Your flies are undone.” I thought, ‘Oh, man, what a corny gag!’ They pull that on every inexperienced actor. So, that was the sole extent of my relationship with Vincent Price. The way the film was scheduled, I didn’t have to work with him. It was a very physical part, running up mountains, etc. I did most of the stunts myself. On Arthur of the Britons we did all the stunts ourselves – riding horses and fighting. It was quite a rough show. We used to take turns being in hospital. Really, we tried to schedule it so we weren’t both in at the same time. Oliver ended up with a fractured skull and was in twice for x-rays.

According to A.S., Michael moaned a fair bit about being saddle-sore while filming “Arthur of the Britons”, but never injured himself.

Strange, that I get given all these wild, extrovert parts. The part in Arthur is of a crazy, wild guy – a Saxon – who’s sometimes melancholy, sometimes explosive and violent. I play quite a few parts like that. I suppose it coincides with my natural temperament. I try not to be temperamental as an actor, but it does happen. I’ve played such a wide variety of parts.

I remember Saville with affection, because it was through him I got into this work again (I was absolutely flat broke). When I completed that show I didn’t have a penny. Normally it takes quite a few weeks before you get paid. Anyway, the night we finished recording I went into my dressing room and there was an envelope with money in it. He knew I was broke and without saying anything he arranged for me to be paid that night – as soon as I was finished. But he was a fiery bastard to work with. He shouts, screams and curses, but he’s great – tremendous energy and enthusiasm. I haven’t worked with him for many years, but I remember him as I said, with great affection. It was my big break.

You were waiting for the big break?

No, I don’t think in those terms. For me, when I work, it’s just a job, and I want to be paid for it. I don’t want promises – “This is going to bring you more work; this is going to make your career” – I’m just not interested. I’m not working for that at all. I’m working to earn a living. I enjoy it, sure I do. I’m like a man who does a job and who expects to be paid a certain rate for it. I’m not interested in promises of a great future glory. I’ve hard all that crap for years. It really doesn’t impress me very much. The only thing that impresses me is when the cheque comes in.

But you enjoy acting?

It’s a helluva profession. There are lots of good moments in it. But it’s also a very savage scene. Actors are very vulnerable. They are the most vulnerable in the whole business. For a lot of people, it’s hopeless being an actor, but not really for me. I know what it’s like to feel hopeless. There’s no guarantee. When they talk about ‘being established’ – what the hell does that mean?

But you feel a bit more secure now?

At the moment. I suppose I’ve got an image for the kids. And, judging by some of the letters we get, we’ve made some impression on the emotional life of some of the young ladies of this country! I get funny letters like “You have the most ugly beautiful face I have ever seen” or “My friends think Arthur is prettier than you, but I prefer the way you walk.”

That show was the one I got the most public notice from. I also did another TV series five years ago, called “The Three Musketeers” [The Further Adventures of the Musketeers]. I was playing the villain in that, but I used to get more fan mail than the bloody hero! So, I had an image then, but I don’t know what it was. It just depends how much you’re in the public notice.

But what about “The Devils”?

Well, I get the impression that it’s helped my reputation in the business. It was, after all, a very celebrated film. For me, it was well publicised. I got 3rd or 4th billing. I did all sorts of things in the movie – tortured Oliver Reed, ended up burning him alive and chanting Latin prayer at him. It was an exhausting film – I enjoyed doing it. The Devils was more a mental pressure, by comparison.

For the last two months of Arthur we were knee-deep in snow and rain, so physically it was a much harder part. But Russell was a very exacting man to work for – everyone jumps around. It really challenges you. You’ve really got to get yourself together and concentrate. It’s good. You really feel you’ve accomplished something. That separates the amateurs from the professionals. There’s a lot of amateurs in the business who have no right to be there, but who get away with it – people who have never really studied, who approach it in a very casual sort of way, who take up space. When you work for Russell, you feel good, ’cause you know you’re being used as a professional.

At no point in “Arthur of the Britons” does a snow scene appear. Michael may have said “mud”, because there was plenty of that.

What less challenging roles have you played?

Parts in Department S, Armchair Theatre, Thirty Minute Theatre, Out of the Unknown and Fraud Squad..

Tell me more about “The Devils.”

I played a priest on the 17th century, a fanatic. I had to speak Latin as naturally as I speak English. I had to really work on that. I spent some time in a monastery with some monks to get that whole atmosphere. I studied pages on Latin and exorcism prayers – terribly difficult things to learn. It was agony – you have to learn it like a priest would. I suggested it. Russell fixed it up for me to get into this monastery. He understands how actors work, he’s so professional. He’ll give you all the help you need. I used to get prayer books in the mail, which is incredible. Any success that man has, he deserves.

A.S. is doubtful of the monastery visit, as she thought he was a not a "method" actor. His attitude was, ‘you are an actor, so ACT! You don't need to experience it.’

Do you prefer films to TV roles?

I prefer movies. I don’t like the idea of repeating performances. You can’t compare twenty takes to doing performances every night. With a take, you can alter it. As far as I’m concerned, the more takes the better. I could go on until the sun sets. I find it a really incredible luxury.

Clearly, the question Michael is answering here is, “Do you prefer film or live theatre”, not “Do you prefer films to TV roles?” He said something similar about not repeating oneself to The Runewriter.

Tell me more about your fans.

I had a letter the other day that said, “I’m giving up David Bowie for you!” I thought, well that really must be progress. That’s not bad, is it!

Tell me about your other work.

I’ve done nude scenes. I was playing my usual wild-extrovert-killer-rapist-romantic. Raping one lady with a burning brand between my legs and being quite romantic. With another, I leap after someone with a dagger.

I did a French picture last year in New Guinea – La Valleé. I’d love to go to the States to work. I’d love someone to say, “Come over and do a picture.” That would be a lovely way to go. It’s a country that seems to be slowly torn apart by its internal problems. It’s really got to change course. I don’t think it would be easy to break in there.

What do you think about agents?

My first agent was a disaster – a bad experience. That gave me such a bad feeling about them. Two years without work. I got my own work without an agent, through Philip Saville. William Morris asked me to join them. That was the happy ending. They have a big legal department, so we try to keep the endings as happy as possible.

Do you have other interests besides acting?

Music. I play flute, jam around with other guys. I enjoy good food and travelling which is mostly in my job. I’ve worked in Czechoslovakia, France, Australia, and the New Guinea jungle for a few months.

Do you answer fan mail?

I’ve only answered two fan letters over the years. Sometimes you get one that is so very original that you feel it might just be worth an answer. We don’t usually get to see them.

According to A.S., Michael got to see most, if not all, of his fan mail, and answered it. He was lovely with fans, always giving autographs. He insisted that he only had work because of the people who wanted to see him. She remembers helping by writing out the envelopes in which he would send his replies, and signed photos.

1 The exact publication date is not known.
michael_gothard_archive: (Default)
Getting a job on ‘Arthur of the Britons’

By a series of total coincidences, (mainly running low on money in Bristol, England) I heard Harlech TV was having open casting sessions for the extras for the townspeople [for “Arthur of the Britons.”]

I got it, and worked 6 days a week until the end of the series. For me it was a paid graduate school, with plenty of time to watch the different methods of the rotating directors, and some very good character actors to bolster roster.



Gerry is the extra standing in the middle of the picture, immediately below Oliver Tobias (Arthur).
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Atmosphere on set

It seemed like there was much pressure to hit the short deadlines for a quick turn-around. The filming was extremely well organized and all the crew and actors created a friendly but always moving forward atmosphere.

… I remember hearing that was sometimes a B crew shooting cutaways and other footage at different locations to help keep things moving. It seemed to me that they were trying to keep to filming one a week and having a B Unit get any extra coverage needed to keep the pace up ...
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The cast

It was openly acknowledged that Michael Gothard added quality to the series and he was hired to bring up professional acting level. The word was that the producers were worried a bit that the young star, Oliver Tobias, was too new, and not that experienced, although … Tobias did a really good job as it turned out.

On set Oliver was always the most quiet of the three main characters. As the lead, he had the biggest responsibility and he was the youngest. While waiting, he seemed to keep it very serious. He was always very courteous to everyone. It was my impression that the three lead actors liked each other very much.
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Stunts

From the parts that I observed it was always Oliver and Michael doing everything without stuntmen. When there was a group of riders I believe some of those others were stuntmen. Oliver and Michael were always doing their own riding from the parts I could observe. They both were very good at it.

I don't recall any stunt people standing in for either of them. For that matter, extras would get an extra £2 for the day if they were involved in something like that. I remember once Blessed had to rampage through the village knocking people out of his way, the director picked me to be thrown by him over his shoulder, and that take was done at least five or six times.

Getting to know Michael

Having already worked in TV in NY before I left, I already knew to never bother the actors; they need their space to think about their lines, get into the character, etc. Always wait until spoken to and stay on business unless someone else brings up another topic.

But somehow, Michael Gothard began talking with me, and found out I had just been travelling about Europe, much as he did some years earlier. During that period, we hit the pubs a few times.”
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On Michael and his girlfriend

In “Some Saxon Women” I am in quite a few shots, but more interestingly there are good shots of the young woman that Michael was seeing ... at the scene starting at 7:00 where the two men look over the Saxon women that are chained up.


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On Michael

It was a time of discovery for people willing to travel to really delve into a culture and take risks. I think "La Vallee" expresses that for Michael, and he liked that film very much.

As an example of this, Michael was different than, let’s say, Oliver Tobias or Brian Blessed. One small example would be that the latter two would never talk with extras …
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In conclusion

When I put the first DVD episode on I was very happy to see that it really was a great show. It was also sad to think that Michael Gothard left this life far too soon …

It is amazing how popular and long lasting ‘Arthur of the Britons’ has been. Many of the Brits and Aussies that I have known here in the US remember the show very fondly and vividly. It is an incredible testament to the actors, writers, producers, etc.

* with regard to Brian Blessed:

I (Joya) met Brian Blessed on 23/10/2011, talked to him about 'Arthur of the Britons', and showed him some pictures of us dedicating a tree to Michael.

Brian hadn't been aware that Michael had died: hardly surprising he missed the news, given how little coverage it got at the time. I told Brian that Michael had killed himself in 1992. He became serious, and said that he was sorry, and that Michael had been depressed when he knew him, and that Michael had confided in him over some of his problems.

It seems possible that, as someone who already knew Michael, and seems to have considered him a friend, Brian's disapproval of the extras getting a ride in the stars’ car was due to the suspicion that these extras were just taking advantage of Michael.

When I suggested this to Gerry, he agreed that it was possible.

.
michael_gothard_archive: (Default)
Alexander Stuart in Films and Filming 1975

The Valley Obscured by Clouds reaches us more than two years after it was made (and it was anachronistic then). It is a dream about a dream, and sensually it is an exquisitely beautiful dream …
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We have heard arguments both defending and attacking the dream of returning to nature in dialogue that – in the subtitles at least – frequently seems pretentious, but which is rescued by the excellent performances of the cast, especially Bulle Ogier and Michael Gothard. So we are left to make up our own minds. Do we want to find the valley? More important still … do we want to search for it?

Full review:
part 1
part 2
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part 4

John Williams in Films Illustrated

... Two men and two women … about to explore the mountainous wastes of Papua New Guinea in search of a hidden valley … are joined by the wife of the French Consul in Melbourne who for no reason than it suits the film’s pretensions, is after the tail feathers of the rare, lesser bird of paradise.

… They discover lots of things about each other on the way … they discover that they are really not very nice people at all, and that the local tribes (whose only contact with civilisation is the aeroplane and the missionary) have much more to offer.

It’s really a load of pretentious nonsense, a sort of hymn to Eastern-inspired hippy ideology about loss of innocence and the search for the final truth to end all doubts.

… Apart from its looks, "The Valley" can justly boast a very honest and sympathetic performance by Michael Gothard as the disciple who tries to persuade Mme Ogier that there’s more to living than scavenging for bird feathers. His is the act which matches the aboriginal humanity of the tribes. Mr Schroeder should be grateful to both.

Full review:
part 1
part 2


Peter Fuller in Movie Talk

Thanks to cheap air travel, an ever-shrinking world, and our spirit for adventure, many of us have the opportunity to escape our humdrum lives – either briefly or for extended periods. But, on seeing this allegorical tale about a woman’s journey of self-discovery, I got a bit of a wake-up call. The Valley may have been made 40 years ago, but its themes still resonate.
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Images Movie Journal

Vivian (Bulle Ogier) seems an unlikely candidate for a spiritual explorer on a quest for Paradise. She's a quintessential early 1970's material girl, who defines her sense of self by the things she has acquired: a diplomat husband, pressing social obligations, access to government chateaus, a dog named Nouki, and a Parisian boutique.

Her desire to acquire feathers from the Kamul, the Bird of Paradise, launches her on the journey. To Vivian the feathers represent another link in the chain of rare, beautiful things which she must possess. The desire to possess the feathers verges on the sexual, as underscored by the scene where Olivier (Michael Gothard) shows her a Kamul feather in a communal tent shared by his fellow travelers.
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Anet Maslin in The New York Times: May 17, 1981

The beginning of Barbet Schroeder's ''The Valley Obscured by Clouds'' finds Viviane (Bulle Ogier) wearing a trim little dress and high heels, traipsing elegantly through the jungle as only a chic Frenchwoman can. The bored wife of a diplomat stationed in Melbourne, she is in New Guinea to buy feathers, which she sells to a Paris boutique.

In the trading post where she is first seen, she encounters the blond, bare-chested Olivier (Michael Gothard), who claims to know where some fine feathers can be found. He seems to be making a few other claims too, but it is only the feathers that he mentions. Anyhow, Viviane soon embarks, with Olivier and several very solemn, self-important hippies who are his friends, on a journey into the wilderness. They are in search, respectively, of feathers and truth …
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Glenn Erickson on DVD Savant

At last, a vintage 'trippy' film with some guts. The entire 'head trip' subgenre of late 60s / early 70s has a real credibility problem. Most of the films that seriously invited us to consider dropping out into a more mellow plane of existence now appear exploitative, naive or laughable …
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Fernando F. Croce on Cinepassion

Half druggy road trip, half ethnographic study, Barbet Schroeder's eco-mystical adventure … traces a cultural movement's trek back to the Garden. Bulle Ogier is a French consul's wife, stranded in a New Guinea isle, looking for artifacts for her Paris boutique before hooking up with a gang of hippified travelers (led by Jean-Pierre Kalfon) on their way to find the off-limits valley, whose heavy mists have kept it a blank spot in maps -- "Paradise."
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Michael Wilmington

The Valley was shot in 1971. It had its European release in the early Seventies (the soundtrack album, composed and performed by Pink Floyd, was a huge British hit in 1972), and so this relatively delayed American release - some eight years late - makes the film seem unduly anachronistic: a naïve relic of the mystique of high hippiedom, somehow washed ashore on the strobe-lit, mercantile, Bloomingdales' beaches of 1979.
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Richard T. Jameson on Parallax View, originally published in Movietone News 51, August 1976

… The bored wife of a New Guinea–based diplomat leaves the capital long enough to scout up some exotic feathers for the world of haute couture, learns of a likelier source farther from civilization, and ends by disappearing into a white area on the map in quest of Paradise …

The first peopled shot to come onscreen—the bored wife (Bulle Ogier) and a half-loony storekeeper dickering over prices in a timbered outpost of progress—is too vast on the wide screen to justify its framing as dramatic event, but in its very ungainliness seems to promise that there are possibilities to be sensed out and tried.
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Full review

Further reviews:
Digitally Obsessed
Digital Bits – the Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke
michael_gothard_archive: (wild)
On the Road (9) On the Road (18)

They arrive at the airstrip where Viviane, once more clad in business attire, is to catch her plane back to the City.

While – true to his practical role on the expedition – Olivier works on the jeep, Gaetan admires a picture Viviane
is painting on the side, of a dragon, with the word "joie." He tries to goad her into staying with them on their
journey, expounding his opinions on dragons, demons and the life force, and telling the child he is holding that
Viviane "won't see the light." He tells Olivier that it's a shame Viviane is leaving them. Olivier's response is an
economical "Oui."

On the Road (23) On the Road (31)

Similarly, when the plane arrives, Gaetan says that Viviane is giving them good vibrations; Oliver simply says
"I'll get your things." He walks her to the plane, and kisses her goodbye.

Warning: some nudity

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michael_gothard_archive: (wild)
In the shop (3)

Bulle Ogier's Viviane haggles with the proprietor of a shop that sells local artefacts and crafts to tourists. She's
buying things to sell in her shop in Paris. What she really wants is rare feathers, but the shopkeeper says they're
very hard to get, and won't arrive for another two weeks – by which time Viviane will have had to to leave.

In the shop (16)

While Viviane examines a dagger, a handsome stranger, Michael Gothard's Olivier, appears in the shop. He wants
to earn some pocket money by selling a few things – including feathers – to the shopkeeper, so that he doesn't
use up his expedition's money. The shopkeeper quickly snaps them up at the price Oliver asks for them.

In the shop (25)

Viviane realises what's going on, and immediately tries to buy the feathers; the shopkeeper asks for double the
price he agreed to pay Olivier.

In the shop (42)

In her annoyance and confusion, Viviane drops the dagger on Olivier's foot.

Warning: some nudity
Read more... )
michael_gothard_archive: (wild)
From Emilie Bickerton's “A Short History of Cahiers de Cinema" (2009)

When a 30-year-old Schroeder and his team set off in 1971 to the south pacific island of Papua New Guinea to shoot The Valley he was still riding the wave of success and notoriety created by his first feature More (1969) … More and The Valley share striking similarities thematically and aesthetically, and are worth thinking of as a pair. ‘The brain is like a map of Africa’ the protagonist in More says, ‘still largely uncharted. It is in these blank spots that the highest functions of reason and creativity take place.’ The Valley, in response to this statement, is another manifestation of the human need to seek the undiscovered … In both films, the journeys eventually lead to death … The hippies in The Valley, having rejected their own consumer societies for what they consider a purer, more integral and natural existence, have a geographic rather than hedonistic goal …

BFI booklet

The Valley’s protagonist does not start out a hippy … Bulle Ogier’s Viviane is a woman with a big purse and dollar signs in her eyes. She communicates through acts of trade … coveting a set o ff fabulous feathers that only an adventurer, Michael Gothard’s Olivier, can obtain for her.

The Valley charts Viviane’s transformation from stuck-up bourgeoius dame to free spirit, dancing with the tribes and making love in the forest. Along the way, she abandons Apollo (Olivier) for Dionysus, incarnated by Jean-Pierre Kalfon’s Gaetan – a trajectory Schroeder drew from Neitzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy.

BFI3 edit small

Apollo tempers Viviane’s liberation however. When she is singing like a native, revelling in all the love, and declares, ‘we have found the truth’, it is Olivier, having initiated her into this world, who rejects it: we are the liars, he says, we are the tourists.

It’s easy to dance with them, but could you work with these women? They are even more exploited here than elsewhere and live in a society bound by very strict rules. It’s not like us. We’re trying to break ours. When they dance it is not simply for pleasure. It is to obey something. We seek only after pleasure and maybe peace. They couldn’t care less about that. How can you expect to have real relationships between us, who tear down our social restrictions and laws, and them, who on the contrary live in terror and respect for taboos?

This speech turns the film on its head. What had started as an observation of two groups of people – hippies and the Mapuga tribespeople – becomes a more critical exploration of the dynamic between them, and its fraught, sometimes unpleasant undertone. The white, alienated westerners are getting off on primitive tribal ways. Ambivalence towards the protagonists, eventually expressed through Olivier’s personal scepticism, is woven into Schroeder’s mise-en-scene.

BFI 4 edit

As he questions the very nature of their journey, Olivier wonders whether they shouldn’t just go home and face the lives they have rejected, because any other solution is dishonest and futile. ‘It’s not possible to decode oneself’, he tells Viviane. ‘Once it’s lost, innocence cannot be found again. Paradise is a place with many exits, but no entrance. There’s no way back from knowledge. When you fall from grace it’s over. I wonder, to find it again, whether we shouldn’t do the opposite of what we’ve done. If we should not take another bite out of the apple.’

BFI2 edit small

From Bickerton’s interview with Barbet Schroeder, 2010

… In the end, it was a film made with just over a dozen people – cast and crew! The shoot took three months. The budget was totally minimum.

The Valley has something of the road movie about it too. A non-dramatic road movie is a very strange proposition. If we had done things dramatically we would have created an opposition between Apollo (Michael Gothard’s Olivier) and Dionysus (Jean-Pierre Kalfon’s Gaetan). We would have understood better that Olivier’s reasoning was a very strong argument made by the Apolloian character. But his dialogue, which we took from Kleist’s essay on the marionettes1, comes at the end. It is magnificent, but it comes too much as a surprise.

Q: How much was The Valley a criticism of hippy culture?

A little, in so far as we had Olivier. There was something shocking about characters putting themselves as tourists in an ethnographic situation. That was troubling. But at the same time I did not want to make a film condemning them. I wanted to enter into the madness of my characters.

1 ‘On the Marionette Theatre’, Heinrich von Kleist, 1810.

~~

Interviewed by Betrand Tavernier, Schroeder said: ‘I am no longer interested in classic heroes; documentaries, reportages, whether ethnologic or not, have taught us to look at individuals in a different way; their intensity of existence and their truth have taken precedence over psychology and ‘characterisation’ … Certain roles did not develop at all. Rather than typing them with a few specific traits, I preferred that they should be like people one encounters in life, whose presence one feels without knowing anything about them, but whom one would like to know.’

~~

Jane Giles: After The Devils, Gothard appeared as the apparently free-spirited Olivier in Barbet Schroeder’s The Valley (Obscured by Clouds) (1972). Blonde, bare-chested, towering over both the New Guinea tribes and his petite, bourgeois lover, played by Bulle Ogier, and delivering mostly French-language dialogue with a crisp English accent, Gothard is both elemental and incongruous, an outsider who eventually declares himself a tourist but is also set apart from his fellow travelers.
michael_gothard_archive: (wild)
This shows a scene from the Papua New Guinea's Mapuga tribe's "sing-sing" ceremony, during which pigs are slaughtered. Michael looks on, appearing quite uncomfortable.

Cut for animal being killed.
Read more... )
michael_gothard_archive: (wild)
Lobby card a small

Olivier shows Viviane his feathers.

Lobby card c small

Olivier leads the travellers' vehicle across a river.

Lobby card f small

Before her planned return to civilisation, Viviane decorates the truck.

Lobby card b small

The travellers arrive at the Mapuga Tribe's village, and are greeted warmly.

Lobby card d small

Nearing the end of their journey, they continue on foot.
michael_gothard_archive: (wild)
This extract from the press book was also available in a French translation.

MICHAEL GOTHARD

Born 24 June, 1939 in London.
Journalist.
Course of Dramatic Arts.

Actor in the following films:

HEROSTRATUS by Don Levy
MICHAEL KOLHAAS [sic] by Volker Schlöndorff
UP THE JUNCTION by Peter Collinson
GINGER BREAD HOUSE by Curtis Harrington
THE LAST VALLEY by James Clavell
THE DEVILS by Ken Russell, with Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave

He was discovered in HEROSTRATUS, Don Levy’s very interesting film, in which he played to principal role. His spectacular performance, which alternated moments of violence with lyric sequences done in very long takes, was noticed by Volker Schlöndorff, who signed him for MICHAEL KOLHAAS.

In this intense chronicle of a peasant revolt, Michael Gothard played the part of a young soldier who joined Kolhaas’ band, but who, refusing to obey, looted for his own gain, and finally died by hanging. His truculent performance, especially in the last scenes with Anita Pallenberg, earned him a very similar role in THE LAST VALLEY, James Clavell’s ponderous allegory.

But it is in SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN that film buffs were struck by Gothard. In this fantastic modern tale, very reminiscent of Fritz Lang, Gothard plays a weird character, a vampire with fabulous power, created by Vincent Price. During the course of a long chase across the English countryside, beautifully filmed by director Gordon Hessler, he cuts [off] his hand and dies in a vat of acid.

In Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS he plays an equally monstrous character, that of a young inquisitor, dressed like a hippie, who brutally tortured Vanessa Redgrave. Gothard seemed unable to get away from violence and savagery, but, fortunately, in THE VALLEY, Barbet Schroeder gives him a new kind of part, where he is not obliged to strangle, rape, torture or disembowel a half dozen people.
michael_gothard_archive: (Keith in Scream and Scream Again)
"La vallée" was filmed in Papua New Guinea.

For an insight into the mind behind the film, see the interview with Director Barbet Schroeder on this site dedicated to "La vallée."

"The Valley ... fuses fiction and documentary with improvised dialogue. Made with just a crew of just 13, this road movie by land rover, horseback and on foot, set to Pink Floyd’s shimmering psychedelia, is very much of the period – and one in which the director gets to unleash his thoughts about ‘finding one-self’ in a post-hippy era."
Full review

Valley Obscured by Clouds cast and crew

The entire cast and crew of La vallée: Michael is on the far right.
Photo is from this site.

According to Gerry Cullen, who became friends with Michael Gothard while working as an extra on "Arthur of the Britons" in 1972:

"Michael had finished working on that when I first met him ... He talked about the film quite a bit to me as to how he felt very good about that film.

It was years later before I had had a chance to see it and once I did I could see why, I think the storyline and the character he played fit his view of life, a sense of risks and adventure, willing to do what it takes to find out what it is all about. It’s just my thought but I think that was what kept him feeling most alive.

It was a time of discovery for people willing to travel to really delve into a culture and take risks. I think "La Vallee" expresses that for Michael, and he liked that film very much."

Harold Chapman also spoke to Michael about ‘La vallée.’ He says: "In a recent film [released in July 1972 in France] which I was a bit puzzled over, and wanted him to explain, he was more or less playing himself, a man of VERY few words. He was leading a small band of hippies on a trek in a tropical landscape situation in search of something or other which I couldn't quite understand.

Mike explained this as, 'we were asking questions, seeking answers, and only found more questions'. Which I thought summed up the movie to me."

Michael’s former girlfriend N.B., who first met him in 1984, says:

'He didn’t like watching himself. I never got him to show me any movie he had worked in. From what he told me, I think he liked the film “Up the Junction” and “Arthur of the Britons.” And the French one, “La vallée.”

He wasn’t very good at learning new languages. He was o.k. with a bit of French (since he had lived in Paris for a year), but he rarely said anything in French and if so, he had a hard time to get the pronunciation right.'


IMDB entry
michael_gothard_archive: (wild)
Music was a huge and vital part of Michael’s life – both listening and playing, though as far as we know, he never performed live in public. He is seen playing a flute in “La Vallée”, but mainly he jammed with friends. Sections below contributed by A.S., the daughter of one of his close friends.

Listening

Michael liked classical music and some rock, but his first love was jazz. He loved big band music, and we often went to live performances at the Royal Albert Hall, Michael, my father and me. Particular favourites were Glen Miller, (American Patrol, In the Mood, Little Brown Jug), Benny Goodman (the eight-minute version of "Sing Sing Sing" was one of his favourites, as well as "Hey Pachuko"), and The Syd Lawrence Orchestra.

My father and Michael also loved nightclub jazz and improvised jazz, and one of their favourite haunts was Ronnie Scott’s. They often went up to London.

Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie would all be playing at our home, often seriously loud.

They also loved Astrid Gilberto’s stuff. Michael loved the saxophone bit in the middle of "Girl from Ipanema." I can just see Michael and my father playing along to this: piano, bongos.

Michael also liked “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck, and jazz such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane was often playing wherever Michael was.

A friend of Michael’s told him about this great jazz backing band, “The Blockheads”, and he took me to see Ian Dury & The Blockheads at the Hammersmith Odeon, 1978 or 1979. Michael agreed that they were amazing musicians.

Both Michael and my father liked Dudley Moore's music. He was a great pianist.

Some other vocalists and tracks he liked were Aretha Franklin (“I Say a Little Prayer”), Nina Simone, ("My Baby Just Cares For Me", and “Feelin’ Good”) Jose Feliciano (“Light My Fire”) and Marilyn Monroe (“Some Like it Hot”), and Joan Armitrading.

He loved most of Pink Floyd. "Dark Side of the Moon" – he would sometimes sit outside listening to it and enjoying a drink and a smoke.

I love Genesis. Michael viewed them with contempt, but he took me to see them at the Lyceum in the 1970s, and Wembley in 1985; I suspect he tossed a coin with my father, and lost.

He was determined to hate it, but Genesis developed a quite jazzy sound, especially in live instrumentals, and Michael really liked the live versions of “Los Endos”, the drum duets, “Mama" and "Abacab": he called it "modern improvised jazz".

Michael also took me to a 1977 Yes concert; I suspect that was another occasion when he lost a coin toss with my father. He put “Yawn” in the programme.

Both he and my father went to see The Who with me.

He didn’t generally like pop music, but he liked Elton John's very early albums: “Madman Across The Water" and "Tumbleweed Connection."

He loved Kate Bush’s work: he felt “Wuthering Heights” was so different, and ahead of its time.

He liked Supertramp’s "Even in the Quietest Moments" and “Give a Little Bit”, and “borrowed” my “Breakfast in America” LP and took it to his room in the family home. Woe betide me if I "borrowed" any of his music without asking, but he used to help himself to mine – despite moaning about what I listened to most of the time!

He loved Classical music as well. Some I remember listening to with him are Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, Saint Saens’ Symphony No 3 in C Minor, Hayden’s Zadok the Priest, Vivaldi’s Coronation Anthem, and Widor’s Toccata (allegro).

My father was ahead of his time with technology, and introduced Michael to Bang and Olufsen's amazing sound systems; together they chose a fabulous one, which had speakers in virtually every downstairs room.

Although music was very important to him, Michael could find it distracting - especially MY music - if he was trying to concentrate. There were times when he would come flying upstairs and tell me to "turn it down, or put your headphones on!" I couldn't really complain, as Michael bought me a beautiful set of Bang & Olufsen headphones.

Playing

Michael would sometimes play duets with me on the piano, to encourage me to practice. He was a good percussionist. My father had a great set of bongos, which Michael always grabbed when parties were in full swing! I think he may have played the clarinet too, and he played the saxophone later on. I remember him playing “Take Five” on the saxophone. He would get frustrated, and say he was no good, when he clearly was. I thought he was very good at all the instruments he played.

My paternal grandparents had a big old semi-detached house with huge rooms, and loads of space. Michael called them Auntie E. and Uncle G. They thought the world of Michael, and loved seeing him. They were very into music and had an old fashioned pianola which I loved. My grandmother could only play one song, and would proudly sing along to it.

Michael was very fond of Auntie E., and I remember him joining in with music sessions at their home.

My father had a group "The Rockbottomers", which – despite the name – were reportedly not bad. My father played the washboard and brushes, and later the drums; grandpa played the double bass, and someone called "Uncle Dook" the guitar: skiffle, probably. Michael totally fitted in, playing the piano. He wasn't bad with the washboard and brushes either! He sang with my father too; I don't think he could have made a career out if it, but he could hold a tune!

Auntie E. loved "Lullaby of Broadway.” We had one party where, after a few drinks, my father, Michael and other friends sang and danced along to it, which she loved. They were all really good fun, and the parties I remember were wonderful: always full of music and laughter.

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