Shadows on the Wall is the story of how a promising fringe play becomes a careering fiasco of a multi-million-dollar Hollywood movie with a dead director, a dead male star, a dead female star, a missing producer whose fading French star wife couldn't even be bothered not to understand him, and a slight, promising scriptwriter who has compromised and conceded in most ways conceiveable. It moves at that sort of pace, too, which is no bad thing when you've got 541 pages.
Ray concedes that the plot has some similarities to Trick or Treat, the careering fiasco on a slightly smaller scale written by Ray that starred Bianca and scarred him. Ray still doesn't like to talk about it too much, but he does confide that when Bianca was ill in her Rome hotel - the Hassler, once SS headquarters, Ray points out - 'the crew wanted to send her up a length of camera track so that she could rehearse falling over it'. Bianca objected to most things, but Ray's script in particular. Eventually, Ray was sent home, the script rewritten and the film scrapped. Bianca never made another film; Ray's hair began to grow again.
That's why he prefers novels: 'You can get so much more into a novel, you can make all the points you want to make.' In contrast, he quotes the anonymous Hollywood scriptwriter: 'They ruin your stories. They massacre your ideas. They prostitute your art. They trample on your pride. And what do you get for it? A fortune.' Well, relatively, says Ray. Even a top scriptwriter's dollars 1m is nothing to the dollars 25m or so a big movie will cost; so the scriptwriter has to give in. And as for the importance of the director, the awe of the auteur: 'total nonsense,' says Ray. 'Most directors are just jobbing builders.'
He is equally anxious to dispel some preconceptions about big books. A critic called his last one, Sunday Morning, 'one of those enormously fat books which is only slumming it in hardback before arriving at its final resting place, the W H Smith emporium at Gatwick airport.' Ray thinks this unfair; you will look in vain for orgies in his books, he says. His target audience is 16-24 year-olds, Independent on Sunday readers (a shrewd man, Ray), rather like his three children. He likes the scale, admires big Victorian novels.
Ask him about the Sixties, treat him as some sort of vicarious icon because he has touched Presley and Lennon, and he starts issuing nostalgia disclaimers: 'I very rarely play Beatles records. I do sing them to myself . . . but I've been playing Crowded House all week.' Ray says he was lucky; the Sixties was a small cottage industry happening 'while most people were at home doing the lawn'. Ray was from close enough to Liverpool to get to write about the Beatles. And, as a Lennon biographer, he doesn't like all the deification: 'What doesn't often come across is how funny he was. Once, down at his house at Ascot, there were a crowd of Hare Krishna people, painting steps, mending fences. The next time I went, they were all gone. I asked him what had happened. He said 'I couldn't get any f****** peace' '.
Ray talks some more about some actors he has worked with who proved, how shall we say, not easy, including Cher and a large American called Joe Don Baker, the scale of whose awfulness Ray still recalls with wonder. At the moment he is working on a radio play about Raymond Chandler and the making of The Blue Dahlia. Everyone was desperate for Chandler to finish his script because Alan Ladd, the star, was going into the army. But Chandler developed a block which could only be cured by getting copiously drunk. And so everything depended on a drunken scriptwriter. Power and control
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