Princess Leia. More of a victim than an Icon

I’ve been thinking about Carrie Fisher. Thinking about her a lot, lately. But my thinking isn’t in a way that I might have expected.

Yes. I was shocked by her death. So were a lot of people. It made me sad. She was still comparatively young. It is always kind of sad to lose someone like Carrie Fisher, who was highly intelligent, very talented, possessing a great sense of humor and clever at mocking others as well as herself. Read one of her books if you get the chance.

The thing is I had a mild epiphany when I saw a headline describing Fisher as an icon and a role model and a trailblazer for women. The story went on to say that the “ iconic actress paved the way for girls to take over their own galaxies, and she did so while battling her own personal demons. Her ‘Star Wars’ role, and her strength and humour in real life inspired a generation of women who are now deeply mourning her loss. She empowered them to be their own heroes!”

Normally I would totally agree with all of that. But In Carrie Fisher’s case I am not so sure. I think she was more of a victim than an icon. A victim of a Hollywood system, that continues to regard a woman as second class. Certainly treated as worth much less than any man.

In 2005, The American Film Institute awarded the Life Achievement Award to Star Wars creator George Lucas. But it was Fisher’s speech to roast him that stole the show. In just over four minutes, Fisher practices gender equality. She flagellates Lucas as equally as she honours him. She was fearless in sharing her story, while also taking pot shots at herself, and the franchise and the industry that made her famous.

“Hi, I’m Mrs. Han Solo and I’m an alcoholic,” Fisher begins. “I’m an alcoholic because George Lucas ruined my life.” She goes on to call Lucas a sadist, but adds that “like any abused child wearing a metal bikini, chained to a giant slug about to die, I keep coming back for more.”

Fisher praises Lucas while also reminding everyone of his shortcomings, and with it, the sexism of Hollywood. She points to “Queen Amadillo, or whatever her name is” in the prequel series, who changed hairstyles and outfits “practically every time she walks through a door.”

“I bet she even got to wear a bra, even though you (Lucas) told me I couldn’t, because there was no underwear in space!”

Fisher was especially aggrieved at how Hollywood and Lucas ‘stole’ her identity. How millions of dollars were made selling her Princess Leia likeness. Fisher did not receive a cent. This is what she had to say in an interview with Newsweek : ” The mistake was I signed away my likeness for free. In those days, there was no such thing as a “likeness,” which is a funny thing to say coming from the family that I came from. There was no merchandising tied to movies. No one could have known the extent of the franchise. Not that I don’t think I’m cute or anything, but when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t think I was signing away anything of value.

“Lately I feel like I’m Minnie Mouse—the identity of Princess Leia so eclipses any other identity that I’ve ever had. How much money could I have made from all this stuff? I don’t want to know. It’s too upsetting. Yet funny. For example, I found out recently that I am a type of marijuana. A friend of my daughter’s actually went to one of those medical places, and she told me there was a type of marijuana named Princess Leia. I never liked marijuana, so the fact that I’m a type of marijuana is ironic.

“I’ve teased George Lucas about this over the years, but he’s never been apologetic.

“When you’re 19 you don’t even think about these things. I don’t know what everyone else’s excuse was. Harrison Ford was 33! He should have known better! Here’s where I’m dumb. I assume if there’s an argument to be made, Harrison would have made it, and if he made it, I would have heard about it, because we had the same deal. But Harrison hasn’t fixed his deal. So this is an ongoing mistake.

“Mistakes are a drag, because you get in the area of regret and self-pity. I don’t like to linger in this zone.

“Me, having a tantrum in the corner for my cut of Star Wars toothpaste? I don’t want to get into it. Every so often, I wonder if Natalie Portman is getting more money than the none I’m getting. If she’s holding a check for Princess Amidala’s likeness in one hand and her Oscar in the other, that would piss me off. “

Ironically, Portman is a classic case in point at how everything and nothing has changed for women actors in Hollywood. In a very recent interview with the British magazine Marie Claire, Portman revealed that Ashton Kutcher was paid three times her salary when they both made the rom com movie No Strings Attached. Portman said that while the pay disparity was ‘crazy’ she was not complaining because her salary was still more than what it would take for the average person to earn in a lifetime of work.

“Compared to men, in most professions, women make 80 cents to the dollar, “ Portman said. “ In Hollywood, we are making 30 cents to the dollar.”

The gender pay gap is now a hot topic in Hollywood especially since Patricia Arquette made an impassioned speech about the issue when accepting the Oscar for best supporting actress for Boyhood in 2015.

Later that year, Jennifer Lawrence also bought into the issue after the Sony hacks revealed she had been paid far less for American Hustle than her male colleagues.

“I didn’t want to seem ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled,'” Lawrence would later write in an essay for Lena Dunham’s Lenny newsletter. “At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the internet and realized every man I was working with, definitely didn’t worry about being ‘difficult’ or ‘spoiled’.”

Most recently actor Felicity Jones who starred in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story told Glamour magazine: “I want to be paid fairly for the work that I’m doing. That’s what every single woman around the world wants. We want to be paid on parity with a man in a similar position. And I think it’s important to talk about it.”

Portman, who is widely tipped to score an Oscar nomination for her role in the Jackie Kennedy biopic, Jackie, also told Marie Claire that she intends to make sure that her next film is directed by a woman.

Will all of this make a difference? Maybe. In time. In the meantime, let’s keep having the conversation.

Good Night Sweet Prince

Good night sweet prince and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. It’s a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet Act 5 Scene 2. But the bard could easily be talking about the other Prince. The music world’s purple Prince. The one found dead just the other day in an elevator at his recording studio and home in Minneapolis. That Prince also happened to be very intriguing, enigmatic, supremely talented but incredibly private. An air of mystery now hanging over him in death as it did in life.

And following his death the worldwide well of public grief has been tapped and turned on. Gushing is a better description. There are tributes everywhere you look. Video clips of him playing. People speaking in hushed tones about their experiences of working with him, playing with him. But even if you didn’t know him personally you couldn’t help but admire Prince. He could play any musical instrument you care to name. Not just well but with sublime perfection. There was a staged arrogance about him but it was never obnoxious. There are plenty of good stories doing the rounds to illustrate the point. The one I like was when Rolling Stone magazine took him off the list of the world’s top 100 guitarists. Prince took it very badly. He wanted to make a point in public so he managed to wiggle his way on stage during a music award tribute to the late George Harrison. He was one among a posse of musical royalty. Just the audience he wanted. And the tune, ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ became the perfect vehicle for a perfectionist. Prince fittingly played the final solo. He made his point.

No one was like him. No one will ever be like him. He played being the individual extremely well. His cockiness was just self-confidence. He knew he was good and what bits that weren’t he simply worked on until they were. You have to admire people with that strength of character.

There is no doubt he was eccentric. Publicist Alan Edwards recalls the first time he did business with Prince in 1991 with bemused clarity. “I got a call from Rogers & Cowan in America, the PR firm, asking if I would like to work with him,” says the veteran publicist, whose clients included David Bowie, the Who and Michael Jackson.

“I was flown out to Minneapolis and picked up by a chauffeur. It was flat and cold and it was the middle of winter. We drove for miles and miles through the snow, then suddenly Paisley Park [Prince’s recording studio and headquarters] pops up. I was shown up to a suspended room – just hanging in the air, with a glass floor and everything – in the middle. I sit there. No one even offers me a cup of coffee. A button is pushed and an album starts playing. It was Diamonds and Pearls, and I had a sense I was being watched. So I put on a lot of foot-tapping.

“At the end, the receptionist comes and gets me and says the car’s outside. I’d come halfway around the world and no one had spoken to me. I get in the car, and we’re driving along. The driver, this cool African American guy, says to me: ‘What did you think of the album? What about this track?’ I was being questioned forensically, so I guessed it was being taped, or played back to his highness. I got back to London, and three days later I was hired to work on Prince.”

From all accounts he was a lover of life and loved his own which only makes his death all the more mysterious. There is talk of drugs and a possible overdose. But those closest to him say he wasn’t a recreational drug user and he took a dim view of people who were. But he did have medical problems. He needed a hip operation and his religious beliefs only presented an added complication. Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness, a religion opposed to blood transfusions. If the reports are true, Prince was in a lot of pain and a lot of discomfort.

Again, unconfirmed reports suggest he was taking the narcotic painkiller Percocet. He had to be hospitalised only days before he died after taking an overdose. It has been widely reported that Prince’s private jet made an emergency landing so he could seek medical assistance for “flu” or “flu-like” symptoms. At the time Prince’s publicist said the singer was suffering from the flu, but details have surfaced in US media that the catalyst for that emergency was actually concern for Prince’s condition after taking a dose of Percocet on his way home from a recent concert in Atlanta.

This is a drug which has a very bad reputation for misuse. Percocet, has several other trade names including Endocet. It’s a combination of paracetamol and the semi-synthetic opioid, oxycodone. Percocet’s generic name is ‘acetaminophen and oxycodone’. In 2009, a US federal advisory panel voted to recommend a ban on Percocet because of its damaging impact on the liver, and the high incidence of accidental overdoses involving the drug. The panel reported that “more than 400 people die and 42,000 are hospitalised every year” in the United States from overdoses of Percocet.

Authorities have all but ruled out suicide and say there were no “obvious signs of trauma” to his body. A post mortem examination has already been conducted. Authorities said all information regarding Prince’s “medical and social history” will be gathered and that anything considered relevant will be “taken into consideration”.

The autopsy and toxicology results will take weeks to finalise but the sheriff’s office could release preliminary results much sooner. It would be extraordinary but, given the character of the man, not all that surprising if his religious beliefs were somehow indirectly linked to his premature death at the age of 57. He was and is and will always be an enigma. When asked as a black man did he think that white people understood his music he replied: “ No, of course they don’t. White people are very good at categorising things – and if you tell them anything they’ll remember it, write books about it. But understand? You have to live a life to understand it. Tourists just pass through.”

He certainly lived a life but it was all too brief. He once said this about himself: “I’m no different to anyone. Yes, I have fame and wealth and talent, but I certainly don’t consider myself any better than anyone who has no fame, wealth or talent. People fascinate me. They’re amazing! Life fascinates me! And I’m no more fascinated by my own life than by anyone else’s.”

Of course he was different. Of course we will miss him. He was a rare jewel and one that truly sparkled. And now that bright light has been extinguished and the world seems a slightly duller place. Unfortunately people like him don’t come along often enough. His passing is very sad. Personally I don’t think it overly sentimental to repurpose Bill Shakespeare’s words:

Good night Sweet Prince.

 

 

 

The Controversial Michael Moore Is At It Again. Taking Aim At Clint Eastwood’s New Movie: American Sniper

I confess to having a soft spot for controversial, American filmmaker, Michael Moore. I am saying this upfront because I am painfully aware of the polarising effect he has on most people.  You either love Michael Moore, or you hate him. I neither love nor loathe him. I have a grudging admiration for him, even though he I believe he has a propensity for bending the truth to suit his agenda. But let’s face it, plenty of people have been known to do that, such as 99.9 percent of our political leaders. Moore is a bright guy. A self made man who dropped out of University but relied on his writing and documentary film making talent to take him ultimately to Hollywood and Academy Award success. You have to admire the fact that he takes on causes that most shy away from. Moore grew up in Flint, Michigan and saw first hand how the General Motors plant closures ravaged his local community. GM was closing its factories and opening new ones in Mexico where workers were paid less. Moore decided to make a film about it called Roger and Me. It documented his personal journey and glorious failure to confront Roger B. Smith the former CEO and President of General Motors. To be fair, Moore has his critics and his flaws. For example, Harlan Jacobsen, editor of Film Comment magazine, rightly accused Moore of deliberately mixing up the chronology of events relating to the General Motors plant closures to suit his political narrative. In the film, Roger and Me, Moore makes the events that took place well before the GM  redundancies, look like they were a direct consequence of laying off workers, which is not accurate. Film critic Roger Ebert later defended Moore’s reinvention of the GM timeline, as an artistic and stylistic choice, that had less to do with his credibility as a filmmaker, and more to do with the flexibility of film as a medium, that allows the truth to be bent for the noble cause of satire. I personally tend to side with Jacobsen rather than Ebert, on this issue, because to me credibility is everything.

Moore was the producer and director of Fahrenheit 9/11, which took a critical look at the Presidency of George W. Bush and the American War on Terror. It became the highest grossing documentary of all time and won a Palm D’Or award for Moore. He also won an Academy Award for the best documentary, Bowling for Columbine, which examined the causes of the Columbine High School massacre. Moore is a strident critic of America’s liberal gun laws. He once controversially said America’s national symbol should be the gun and not the bald eagle. It was said deliberately to create shock and outrage. And it did. Similarly in responding to the American gun lobby’s claim that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, Moore said: “they’ve got it half right. Except I would amend it to this, guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Enjoy the rest of your day and rest assured this will all happen again very soon.”

Moore has a happy knack for getting himself into trouble or maybe trouble has an even happier knack of finding him. His latest foray into controversy is over the release of the Clint Eastwood movie, American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper. The film has so far been a huge box office hit, grossing $US 90 million at its opening. I haven’t seen the movie and even if I had I would not want to be the spoiler who gives away the plot. So I am not going to talk about what happens in the movie. But, American Sniper is based on an autobiography written by real life, American Sniper and Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle, who was credited with saving hundreds of American lives by making 160 confirmed kills, which is the most in American military history. He claimed to have shot 255 people. Kyle’s autobiography not only reveals how he became so good at his job, but also how the trauma of fighting in Iraq never left him.

Raised in rural Texas, Kyle started out as a cowboy and his initial application to join the Navy SEALs was turned down because a rodeo accident left him with metal pins in his arms. However, in the late nineties, the SEALS relaxed their entrance policy and Kyle was put through the tough selection and training regime, and he was good enough to become a Navy SEAL. In 2003, Kyle was deployed to Iraq, where he made his first, long distance sniper kill, even though he had not been trained as a sniper. Showing obvious talent, he was sent to the SEAL sniper school, where he was taught warfare’s loneliest and most controversial job. In 2004, Kyle was posted to Fallujah, west of Baghdad and a major battleground of Iraqi insurgency. It was during the battle for that city that he made his reputation. However, it was in 2006 in Ramadi, a city in central Iraq, that Kyle earned his nickname, ‘The Legend,’ from his fellow SEALs. One day, while positioned on a roof-top, Kyle watched a moped being ridden by two men heading down a street. One of the men dropped a backpack into a pothole. Realising it contained an improvised explosive device, Kyle fired a single shot at the speeding moped from a range of 150 yards, killing both riders at the same time. In 2009, after four tours of Iraq, Kyle retired. Not only had he shot more enemy than any other American sniper in history, he had also been awarded a chest full of medals, including three Silver Stars for gallantry. Ironically, Kyle found peacetime back in the United States far more dangerous than his tours of duty in Iraq. In February 2013 he was shot dead by a fellow American soldier, he was trying to help, who was suffering from severe post traumatic stress disorder.

American Sniper is the hot tip to win Oscar glory, nominated for six awards including Best Actor and Best Picture. It has also been tipped for the best adapted screenplay, sound mixing, film editing and sound editing. But the release of the movie and the publicity surrounding it, was a temptation Michael Moore found too hard to resist. Moore, who famously criticized the Iraq War in his 2003 Oscar acceptance speech, fired off a tweet calling snipers ‘cowards.’

This is the actual transcript of his tweet:

“My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shoot uin the back. Snipers aren’t heroes. And invaders r worse” — Michael Moore (@MMFlint)

As he should have expected, or might have even known it was coming, Moore was roundly criticised for his Twitter remarks. Both controversial American politician Newt Gingrich and actor Rob Lowe waded in to attack Moore:

“Michael Moore should spend a few weeks with ISIS and Boko Haram. Then he might appreciate@AmericanSniper. I am proud of our defenders.” — Newt Gingrich(@newtgingrich) ”

“Michael Moore Blasts #AmericanSniper Hero: Gunmen Are “Cowards”He’s kidding, right? — Rob Lowe (@RobLowe)

“Who’s taking more shit today, Michael Moore or the Packers coach? — Rob Lowe (@RobLowe)

Plenty of other Twitter and social media users were equally outspoken or more strident. That prompted Moore to adopt a more conciliatory posture claiming that he had never referred to the movie or Chris Kyle. Moore then tweeted a link to a lengthy Facebook page entry where he explained why he was tweeting about snipers in the first place, accusing the American press of drawing a mythical connection between his remarks and the Clint Eastwood film.

Moore later tweeted:

“Hmm. I never tweeted 1word bout AmericanSniper/ChrisKyle. I said my uncle killed by sniper in WWII; only cowards would do that 2 him, others “ — Michael Moore(@MMFlint)

That tweet was followed by this:

“So ppl want me 2tweet something bout American Sniper? Great acting! Powerful message. There “— Michael Moore(@MMFlint)

“Oh, and Iraqis are called “savages” throughout the film.” — Michael Moore (@MMFlint)

Moore wasn’t going to let the argument rest without having yet  another swipe at America’s involvement in the Iraq War.

“Sorry to have to state the obvious again: Invading a country that hasn’t attacked you is illegal & immoral. History will judge us harshly.” — Michael Moore (@MMFlint)

It was classic Moorespeak. Creating controversy and then bending the narrative to suit his political agenda and draw attention to his anti war message. He may not have expressly referred to the Clint Eastwood’s movie but make no mistake that was his implicit rather than explicit intention. He doth protest too much and the ends justify the means is pretty much the way I would sum up Michael Moore here. Yet again he polarises people but then again it would be a surprise if he didn’t.

And while we are on the topic of the latest Clint Eastwood epic, American Sniper has attracted criticism on a couple of fronts quite separate of anything to do with Michael Moore. Apparently author Chris Kyle made a number of claims in his book that were patently false. Rather than deal with them, Eastwood chose to pretend they never existed which prompted this outburst from film critic Amy Nicholson: “ The falsehoods in American Sniper are so dangerous because a lot of the audience (will) leave the theatre thinking that Chris Kyle was a role model.”

But the bit I find the most fascinating is the fact that the film has come under fire over what has been described as the ‘stilted’ and ‘awkward’ scene in which actor Bradley Cooper, playing Kyle, holds a fake baby with his wife portrayed by Sienna Miller. Yep. No fooling. A fake baby. The Twittersphere has been full of it:

“Can everyone stop arguing about the politics/religion in #AmericanSniper, and focus on why warner bros can’t afford a less creepy fake baby? “ — Jillian Acreman (@jillianamelie)

“ That $90 million opening for American Sniper is 100% due to audience curiosity about the hilariously fake rubber baby in the second act “ — Zac Bertschy (@ANNZac)

Longtime film critic Anne Thompson wrote: “ Basically film professionals know that Eastwood likes to move fast on movie sets and recognise that he took the easy and less expensive route of using a fake baby – not even animatronic – that Cooper had to move himself to make it look lifelike.”

So if you ever needed a reason to go and see this movie, ironically Michael Moore has given you plenty, even if he might not think so. Forget about the Moore controversy I want to see this movie just for the scene with the fake baby. It sounds like a laugh riot.

The Not So Happy Kingdom

When I was a kid, growing up, there was one place in the world where I wanted to go. It was called Disneyland. Most kids do. It’s a place built for kids and named after a man who probably remained a kid all his life or had the imagination of one. Of course I didn’t get to go there until I was an adult but what’s a few decades between friends?

The sign at the front entrance said it all for me: welcome to the happiest place on earth. No harm in that. We all need to dream. But you know what? I kind of believed it and have done every since, until I read something the other day. The kind of something called a big, fat reality check that takes hold of your naivety and tosses it back in your face. The kind of reality check that makes you feel as sad as the kid who hears the shattering news that there’s no such thing as Santa Claus.

The story was called the shocking facts about the happiest place on earth. Talk about shattering. Behind the smiles and screams of joy at Disneyland a truly darker side might be lurking that most of us, apparently didn’t know about. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, the story went on to list the most surprising and horrifying things that have occurred at Disney theme parks. These incidents could in no way be described as Mickey Mouse. I’m talking deaths and serious injuries. But be warned. Your perception of a Disneyland ride might be changed forever.

In July 2014 a British tourist lost two fingertips after dangling his hand outside the boat on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney World in Florida. Three months earlier, a 12-year-old boy badly lacerated four fingers on the same ride.

In 2103, a woman died from complications after fracturing her leg while trying to board the Jungle Cruise in Orlando. Her family has filed a lawsuit against Disney claiming her death could have been avoided if staff had attempted to help her to board.

There have been other deaths. A cleaner was killed while working on a boat in the It’s A Small World attraction at Disneyland Paris, a stunt performer was killed while practicing a tumble roll for the Indian Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular in Florida, a Disney worker dressed as Pluto was run over and killed during a Disney parade would you believe? There was even a fatal incident involving my favorite ride the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster. A wheel assembly fell off, landing on top of another car, killing one person and injuring ten others.

There was the case of a man dressed like Donald Duck who is alleged to have sexually assaulted a woman at Disneyland. And the Splash Mountain ride should actually be renamed Flash Mountain because of the numbers of young women who bare their breasts to the cameras that are supposed to snap the frightened expressions of ride patrons. The list goes on. I am certainly not trying to point the finger of blame in any way at anyone. I am just truly sad.

I also learned that Disneyland’s Haunted House might very well be truly haunted. Park patrons are in the habit of scattering the ashes of loved ones during the ride. Former Disney employee David Koenig wrote about in his book, Mouse Tales. A tourist group was thrown out of the park after they were caught sprinkling the ashes of a seven-year-old boy. You might be pleased to know the ride was quickly shut down for cleaning.

And once the sun goes down, California’s Disneyland, becomes overrun by feral cats. Park officials encourage them because it keeps the rodent population under control.

Actor Tom Hanks tells a great story about his Disneyland experience when he was playing the role of the great man himself in the movie, Saving Mr Banks. There used to be sky buckets that park patrons caught in Tomorrowland that travelled to Fantasyland through the heart of the Matterhorn. The trip only took four a half minutes but it had to be shut down because people were trying to join the Sky High Club shall we say.

Now some of you might also have inside knowledge that questions the existence of the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. And I must admit I’ve heard rumors too. But I would ask that you keep it to yourself for now. Quite frankly, after all of this business with Disneyland, I’m just not ready to deal with it.

Shawshank’s Very Redeeming Features

From time to time, I come across small nuggets of information. Gossip is probably a better description. Trivia, I can live with. But is it interesting? Definitely.

Today’s small goldmine of information concerns a movie rated as one of the best ever. I’m talking about The Shawshank Redemption. Chances are you will have seen it on video or TV rather than the big screen. When the film was first released it would be fair to say box office records were left undisturbed. It was one of those conundrum movies. It really came into its own when other formats got hold of it. Life can be like that.

I love the famous line from that movie, when Andy played by Tim Robbins tells Red played by Morgan Freeman. ” Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies.” So true.

But here’s some stuff I bet you never knew about Shawshank.

The movie is actually based on a Stephen King short story called Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption. King sold the movie rights to his 96 page story to Frank Darabont, for the princely sum of $5,651. Darabont adapted the book into a screenplay and directed the movie. But clearly, King didn’t need the money because he never cashed the cheque. According to that font of all wisdom, The Wall Street Journal, King framed the cheque and sent it back to Darabont years after the movie was released with a note which read: ” In case you ever need bail money, Love Steve.”

Not only does Stephen King possess an overactive imagination, he also has a sense of humor.

First time feature Director, Darabont, having secured the rights and the funding, began the task of assembling the right cast of actors to play the leading roles. He approached Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt and Kevin Costner but all of them said no, which was kind of surprising to me. Tom Cruise was very keen but didn’t think Darabont could pull it off because of his lack of Director credentials. Cruise wanted the more experienced Rob Reiner to be given creative control of the project. Reiner directed Cruise in A Few Good Men and was Darabont’s mentor. But Reiner said to Cruise if you want to do this movie you have to do it with Darabont and follow the Darabont vision. It was all too much for Cruise and he withdrew. Darabont finally settled on Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman to play the two central characters in the film.

But according to Morgan Freeman, there was always an extraordinary amount of tension between the cast and crew on set because of Darabont, who Freeman claimed lacked confidence in his own abilities. As a typical first time Director, Darabont constantly insisted on re-shooting scenes countless times even if he already had the perfect take. Freeman would invariably say no which resulted in an argument. Freeman later explained it this way to justify his rebellion: I don’t want to be chewing the scenery. Acting itself isn’t difficult but having to do something again and again for no discernible reason tends to be debilitating to the energy levels. He’s got a point.

Morgan Freeman wasn’t exaggerating about doing things again and again. Remember the scene where Andy chats to Red as he throws a baseball in the prison yard? It represented a very small amount of screen time in the movie but it took 9 hours to shoot. And for the entire time Morgan Freeman had to keep throwing the baseball back and forth. Surprisingly, on this occasion, Freeman kept the complaints to a minimum but did arrive on set the next day with his arm in a sling. It was Freeman’s less than subtle message of protest to the Director.

Here’s another slice of interesting trivia. In another scene, there is a shot of Red’s parole papers that include a photograph of Red as a young man. But who was the actual person depicted in the photograph? Was it Freeman as a young man or just a random extra? The answer to that question is neither. The young man in the photo was Morgan Freeman’s son, Alphonso, who liked spending time on set and ended up being co-opted into having a cameo role in the movie.

One of the more dramatic moments in Shawshank was when Andy Dufresne played by Tim Robbins tries to escape from prison. The scene called for Robbins to crawl through a sewer pipe but there was also the strong possibility that it could be dangerous or, at the very least,a health hazard. So a local chemist was called in to test the quality of the water to make sure there was no health risk. But the chemist discovered the water was not only toxic, it was lethal. A courageous or foolhardy Tim Robbins, I am not sure which, agreed to film the scene in the dangerous water so long as there was a hot shower nearby to clean himself.

As I mentioned earlier, many film-goers regard Shawshank as one of the pinnacles of modern American cinema. It was greatly admired by a man who would know. A man who was probably the most famous prisoner in the world and whose life was not unlike Andy and Red. His name was Nelson Mandela and he went on to become the President of South Africa. Robbins met Mandela who told the actor how much he had loved the movie.

Director Frank Darabont wanted the Shawshank Redemption to be authentic as possible so he chose to film in a real prison, the Ohio State Reformatory. The prison was built in 1886 but closed in 1990, three years before Shawshank was made. The prison was, at one time, earmarked for demolition but a group of people went about trying to restore it. The reformatory is now a major tourist attraction as you might expect. It attracts more than 80 thousand visitors every year. There is a 14 stop self guided tour you can take called the Shawshank Redemption tour which includes several sites of major significance from the movie. If you are into Shawshank, its characters, its interesting backstory and how the movie got to be made, then the tour is going to be money well spent.

Star Wars-The Real Back Story

When someone writes a hit movie or a best seller, it’s easy to think it all resulted from a stroke of creative genius and it just happened organically. But in almost every case nothing could be further from the truth.

Take the Stars Wars movie franchise for instance. A number of intriguing back- stories exist about how things got to be as they were in the Star Wars movies. Here I should give a plug to a writer called Chris Taylor who discovered them and wrote a book suitably titled: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present and Future of a Multi-billion Dollar Franchise.

For example, Taylor tells the story of when Star Wars creator George Lucas showed a rough cut of the movie to his mates Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palmer, Spielberg thought it was going to be a huge hit but De Palmer mocked it mercilessly. He told Lucas what is all this “ Force shit? Where’s all the blood when they shoot people.” But sarcasm aside, De Palmer was a talent. Lucas knew it. And De Palmer wanted to help his friend. So he and Jay Cocks, another screenwriter and critic for Time magazine, agreed to re-write the opening crawler. You remember. The big words in yellow at the start of the movie, which disappear into outer space. The words give the back-story of the Empire and the rebel alliance.

And there are plenty of other intriguing and tasty morsels to be had.

How about the origin of the Han Solo Wookie? That came about after the sound editor on one of George Lucas’s other projects hired a voice actor called Terry McGovern. And McGovern just happened to bring along an old army buddy called Bill Wookey.

You might be starting to get where this is going.

At some stage marijuana must have been smoked because a very stoned McGovern adlibbed during a voice-over recording “I think I just ran over a Wookey back there.” Lucas who might have been equally stoned, who knows, thought what McGovern had said was hilarious and he wrote down the line in his notebook but changed the spelling of Wookey so that it ended in the letters ‘i’ and ‘e’. Incidentally McGovern was also hired to be a voice actor on Star Wars. Remember the scene where Obi-Wan-Kenobi hypnotises one of Darth Vader’s Storm Troopers into saying: “These aren’t the droids we are looking for?” Well that was Terry McGovern’s voice saying it. McGovern was paid the princely sum of $200 for his token bit of screen immortality. Bill Wookey, McGovern’s friend never met George Lucas and had no idea his name would inspire film history. That was until Bill Wookey happened to see the movie and other people who also saw it said he must have inspired the character Chewbacca. Bill Wookey is a hairy, bearded man who is 6 foot 3 inches.

There is one back-story that Taylor tells that I particularly like. It concerns the origin of the name of the little droid R2 D2.

George Lucas was also responsible for the movie American Graffiti. He and a man called Walter Murch did the sound mix. But in order to do the job properly they needed to match the dialogue to the right reel of film. So they would write on cans of film the letters R for reel and D for dialogue. Of course each can was numbered so there would be no confusion. Apparently, one day (this is a true story) Murch yelled out: “I need R 2 D 2” and everyone on set laughed their heads off. Lucas laughed as well but he also wrote the line down in his notebook.

The Vietnam War played a major role in shaping the Star Wars trilogy. Lucas was rejected for the draft because of his diabetes. But even before he made Star Wars, Lucas wanted to create a documentary style anti-war film on Vietnam. It was to be called Apocalypse Now, a title devised by one of Lucas’s friends. Instead the project was passed on to Francis Ford Coppola, who gave Lucas his first movie job working on the musical Finian’s Rainbow. Taylor says in his book that in 1973, Lucas wrote a note on Star Wars: ‘A large technological empire going after a small group of freedom fighters.’ In some ways that was how Lucas saw the Vietnam War. The Empire being the United States and the freedom fighters the Viet Cong. Star Wars apparently had a rough time getting the required backing from a studio. It was pitched to United Artists but they rejected it. Universal had an option on the production but never bothered giving Lucas an answer. He took the project to Disney but they also said no. Finally Fox said yes and the rest is history.

In case you are interested, Fox permanently owns the rights but Disney will get a piece of the action. They bought LucasFilm for $4 billion two years ago.

But I’ve saved the absolute best anecdote until last. Taylor’s book talks about how Han Solo got to be cast. Lucas considered Harrison Ford but initially ruled him out because he thought a potential Star Wars audience might be distracted if a cast member from American Graffiti (Ford had a small part) suddenly turned up in his next movie.

Harrison Ford, was unemployed at the time and had returned to his original job, as a carpenter. Would you believe one of his carpentry jobs just happened to be at the American Zoetrope offices where Lucas was casting for Star Wars. Ford was installing a new door. Lucas saw Ford working and decided he would, after all, invite him to cast for the role of Han Solo and Ford got the gig. It just goes to show everything happens for a reason. Imagine how different it all might have been had Lucas gone with his other choice, Christopher Walken instead of Harrison Ford? Would Star Wars still be the box office blockbuster with a very different Han Solo? I doubt it.