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Anatomy of a Song - beginning

The story of ... the film of ... the song of ... the book ...by Philip Bridge
Anatomy of a Song is the story behind the song A Vulnerable Man based in part on the book Hostage in Iraq by Norman Kember.


The film won 5-Stars and a Sponsors Award from AKM Music at BIAFF 2011. We asked Philip to write about the film. His first article was good but dealt with just one aspect of the film. So we asked for more; got more. Still not satisfied, we asked for more; got more. Sensing there was even more to hear, we pestered him again ...
What has emerged is a picture of a film maker's life, which may ring bells with many people in a similar position. No matter how dedicated you are to a project, life keeps getting in the way.
Thanks for your patience and frankness, Philip.   - Jan & Dave Watterson

Beginning

I had been invited by a former work colleague, Tony Kempster, to make a record of a group of peace activists as they rehearsed and recorded their second CD.
"As long as there's a film in it for me and it won't cost a fortune in petrol I'll do it." was my response.

Fortunately the recording studio chosen was just a ten minute walk from my Buckingham home. The recording sessions were a joy to behold. A group of varyingly talented part-time musicians, mainly with full time jobs and so available in various combinations at various times.
"What are we recording today?"
"Depends who's here!"

I had decided to shoot in HDV, downscaling could be left till later.

One of the songs was inspired by the misadventures of Norman Kember in Iraq and this always seemed the most likely candidate for general consumption especially as its composer, Sue Gilmurray was one of the leading lights in the whole project.

Norman Frank Kember (born 1931) is an Emeritus Professor of biophysics at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry and a Christian pacifist active in campaigning on issues of war and peace. As a Baptist, a long-standing member of the Baptist Peace Fellowship and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. As a conscientious objector to military service, he worked in a hospital in the early 1950s, which stimulated his interest in medical physics.

He has been involved with the "Peace Zone" at the annual Greenbelt Festival. He became internationally known, when he - as a senior volunteer of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in Iraq - was taken as hostage with three other CPT members, leading to a widely publicised hostage crisis. He stated his reasons for going to Iraq were to demonstrate his opposition to the invasion of the country by the United States-led coalition and to show solidarity with the Iraqi people. - Information from Wikipedia - read the whole article here.

The First Interview

It had always been planned to interview Norman as part of the CD project. As I had the equipment and came cheap (well free actually) I was invited to be the technician. Norman and his wife Pat were staying at the Randolph in Oxford at a convenient date so a meeting had been arranged. I arrived a few minutes early.

"Where should I park my car?"
"Just give us the keys and we'll take care of it for you sir."
"Hang on I've got to unload my filming gear first."

THINKS: "Hotel which parks your car for you ... I'm out of my comfort zone here!"

The Randolph Hotel, Oxford.
The Randolph Hotel, looking south from Giles Street by Ozeye from Wikimedia Commons.

Norman and Pat had gone out for a walk but when they returned I was introduced to them by Tony. Why was Norman wearing dark glasses? His story was that he'd had an argument with a paving slab and lost by two black eyes to nil.

My speculation is that MI5 had heard that he was about to appear in one of my films and had done their best to scupper the whole enterprise.

Norman was in Oxford to address a group at the Student's Union.

Portrait of Norman Kember wearing dark glasses.

"If that was me," I said, "I would have been sorely tempted to declare, 'Half way up I met the barrel coming down!'"

"Well," said Norman, "When I apologised for my appearance I did say 'I received a severe injury' but they didn't get the reference."

So much for the youth of today, completely unaware of the history of places they inhabit. For those of a younger generation or those who suffer memory lapse I refer you to the BBC sound recording of Gerrard Hoffnung's address to the Oxford Union.*

Visually then the exercise was a waste of time, but we did get a "just adequate" sound recording despite the constant background noise of the hotel's air conditioning unit and the Oxford traffic. One thing Norman mentioned was that it would have been much easier with "an idiot board". I pointed out that while I might be near the genius level when it comes to filming even I couldn't prepare an idiot board with words only he had a copy of.
We all chuckled. (Nobody mentioned totalitarian regimes.)

Anatomy of a Song continues... 2 - making plans3 - diversions | 4 - more diversions | 5 - editing | 6 - editing again

* Gerard Hoffnung was a cartoonist, tuba player, humorist and remarkable public speaker. His musical festivals were witty pastiches supported and played by distinguished musicians. His cartoon books were made into short films. His comic talks were frequently broadcast by the BBC.

The words in bold are quotations from a comic story he related to the Oxford Union in 1958. He was 33 at the time and died of a brain haemorrhage the following year. This recording was frequently played on British radio in the early 1960's.

Details of Hoffnung's life and work, books and recordings available from here.


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