Book review: Very Naughty Boys, By Robert Sellers
The highs of 'Life of Brian'; the lows of 'Cold Dog Soup'
If you wish to dissuade offspring with a burning ambition to enter the movie business, get them to read this startling account of Handmade Films. Funded by George Harrison and ruled by his American manager, the universally excoriated Denis O'Brien, the outfit was born in 1978 when Lord Delfont pulled the plug on Monty Python's Life of Brian during filming in Tunisia. Eric Idle went to his chum Harrison, who simply said, "Don't worry. I'll get it."
Following the unexpected success of Brian, Handmade made 22 features, including two works of genius (Withnail and I, The Long Good Friday), several enjoyable efforts (Time Bandits, Mona Lisa, A Private Function) and many less distinguished creations. In his introduction, Michael Palin's reference to "a few flops" is excessively generous. They included Cold Dog Soup ("one of the least edifying movies in cinema history"), Water, described by the wonderfully outspoken Richard Griffith as "just a crap, self-indulgent, fuck-all-going-on type of movie", and the Madonna vehicle Shanghai Surprise, which, in Griffith's pithy analysis, was "shafted by that cunt Sean Penn".
The most astounding revelations are financial. We learn that "due to the ownership of the film changing hands so many times", Withnail writer/director Bruce Robinson "hasn't received a penny of the not inconsiderable profits", while Eric Idle and Robbie Coltrane deferred their fees on Nuns on the Run (a big if inexplicable hit) only to be "financially shafted". Discovering the parlous state of Handmade's finances, Harrison belatedly leapt into action and sacked all the employees whose names he could remember.
After the company folded, Harrison's liability amounted to $25 million. Idle recalls, "He wrote a song called 'Lying O'Brien'… It took him a long time to get over that. Then he lost half a lung to cancer and then half a lung to some fucking loony stabbing him." The book should prove an effective antidote for any putative director though the entertaining sections on making Withnail and Private Function may have the opposite effect.
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 North Korean prison officers 'cooked prisoner's baby and fed it to their dogs', more horrific accounts from UN report reveal
- 2 Antonio Martin shooting: Mayor says there should be 'no comparison' to Ferguson
- 3 Antonio Martin shooting: Police and protesters clash over teenager's death just five miles from Ferguson, Missouri
- 4 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 5 Isis 'did not shoot down coalition-led warplane' before capturing Jordanian pilot, says US
Secret Cinema showed The Great Dictator at protest secret screening, following Sony's The Interview cancellation
Best underrated Christmas movies: From Trading Places to While You Were Sleeping
Cruel Woman in Black prank sees cinema-goers terrified by movie poster - watch their reactions
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
Christmas TV guide 2014: The best shows to watch from Doctor Who to Downton Abbey
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga