David Puttnam on his new film Memphis Belle plus The Big Man, Wild ()rchid and Milan in May. INDEX: 31 LISTINGS: WEEK ONE 37 WEEK TWO 33
After the debacle of his brieftenure as head of Hollywood major. Columbia Pictures, producer David Puttnam is bouncing back with British-made World War Two ﬂying epic Memphis Belle. Trevor Johnston meets the Oscar-winner much perturbed by the movies‘ ongoing lack of moral scruples.
Edinburgh in mid-August cultural frenzy. and David Puttnam‘s busy. busy. busy. Later today he‘ll give the Film Festival’s first celebrity lecture. loftin entitled ('inenia and the Environment oft/1e Mind; before then. he'll meet with the European Film Award steering committee to finalise arrangements for Glasgow's forthcoming Euro-trophies bash; but. first of all. there‘s a new film to promote and journalistic fat to be chewed. He may well have waved ()scars around and wielded 'I‘inseltown power from his desk at Columbia. but when he‘s got a shiny new movie out. David Puttnam is Mr Accessibility.
The project in question is Memphis Belle. which casts ten hot young American actors. headed by Matthew Modine. Eric Stoltz and debutant jazzman Harry (‘onnick Jr. in the factually-based story of the eponymous WWII B-l7 bomber‘s danger-packed 25th mission. Thus. if the boys bring the Memphis Belle and themselves back to Blighty in one piece. they'll all get to go back home to America. The only thing standing between them and freedom is a hefty 80 per cent casualty rate amongst bomber crews flying the daytime runs to Germany.
Initiated during the Columbia years. and inspired by co-producer Catherine Wyler's dad William‘s wartime documentary on the real-life
Memphis Belle (he was to make The Best Years of Our Lives only a couple of years later). Puttnam‘s
zeal for the project. he explains. came about partly from a longstanding admiration of Len Deighton‘s book Bomber. and partly from the experience ofwatching Top (Jan in a packed Champs Elysees picture palace. ‘I remember coming out of there with my wife.‘ he recalls. familiar centre parting a little greyer than I expected and the trademark 49 year-old bags under his eyes looking predictably
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well-nourished. ‘and feeling rather depressed because I felt that we‘d engineered ourselves into a tremendous level of technical expertise. but we still seemed unable to tell a story and create involving characters. It was about nothing.‘
So. not wishing to join ‘em. Puttnam‘s gut feeling was to beat ‘em. and Memphis Belle took flight with the attachment of Broxburn‘s verv own filmic wander/(ind Michael (Talon-Jones. Fresh from shooting his debut feature Scandal. the latter‘s vivacious way with a mobile camera powers along the finished product. which Puttnam ranks alongside Midnight Express as ‘the most commercial movie I‘ve done in terms of obviously playing to the audience‘s emotions‘. Indeed. rooted in the unambiguous heroism of another time. the film is a cheery celebration of waist gunners with lucky medals. stoic pilots. engines on fire. Messerschmitts at three o‘clock.
and the inevitable airbase dog waiting patiently on the tarmac for the flight to return. The best film of 1950'? Very probably.
Still. ifyou're left thinking this reeksofmere retro Top (inn mindlessness. have no fear. For David. the idea of ten young men pulling together in a bullet-riddled tin can with wings is. wait for it. ‘a marvellous metaphor for society". Alluding to the so-ealled decade of triumphant individualism we‘ve just gone through. his point is ‘that it’s never been true. that we've always been a society as strong as the weakest member. in the same way that the bomber is as secure as the least competent member of the crew.‘
Familiar words from the man w hose films like ('hariois oj‘l’ire. The Killing l-‘ielils and The Mission have blended unlikely subject matter with a fair share of moral dilemma on the way to critical and or public (Continued overleaf)
The List .‘sl August — l3 September 100029