In the early days of the National Theatre a young Michael Gambon was sitting in the canteen and was joined by the institution's chief, Sir Laurence Olivier. A nervous Gambon spied the word Norge emblazoned on Olivier's case. The young man stammered: "That's Norwegian for Norway, isn't it? Did they give you that in Elsinore, Sir Laurence, for playing Hamlet?" There was a deathly pause before Olivier stood, gathered up his cup and intoned witheringly: "Elsinore is in Denmark. Hamlet was Danish. And you are a cunt."
Gambon has often told the story against himself. And now he is in a position to resume the conversation with someone who can't answer back. Bizarrely the pair will appear in a retro-science-fiction film, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, which will also star Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow. A combination of computer graphics and old film footage is being used by first time director Kerry Conran to bring Olivier to life as the evil Dr Totenkopf. Permission has been given by the agency representing Olivier's estate. Jude Law, with a quote too ludicrous even to be ridiculed by the word luvvyish, says that Olivier's presence will give the film "authority".
Why not go the whole hog? Marilyn Monroe would lend the film "romance". She and Jude could fill up the gossip columns for the entire shoot. Laurel and Hardy could inject some comedy and Alfred Hitchcock could give one of his "blink and you'll miss him" cameos.
This isn't the first time that a dead actor has been resurrected to appear on screen. But, as Olivier was the greatest actor of the past 100 years, it could be the start of a ghoulish trend. The concept is wrong, and Jude Law is wrong. The disembodied images of Olivier do not lend the film authority. They insult someone Law professes to admire. Olivier, like most great actors and directors, was a control freak. He would be horrified to be appearing in a movie which he had not personally approved, and moreover giving a performance he had not personally approved.
To say that taking selected images, expressions and speeches and putting them together amounts to a performance does a disservice not just to Olivier but to the whole technique of acting and the planning of a role. Jude Law can applaud this only if he is prepared to undergo the same experience himself. A few heroic flashes from Cold Mountain, a couple of death pangs from The Talented Mr Ripley, a seductive smile from Wilde. Put them all together and we have a new Jude Law movie.
I suspect he wouldn't like it, just as I suspect that Sir Laurence is turning in his grave.
What a long, strange trip it's been...
The pictures this week of Ewan McGregor, bearded and sporting dark glasses, and fellow actor Charley Boorman arriving in New York after a 20,000-mile, round-the-world motorcycle ride put me in mind of the classic hippie movie Easy Rider. But there were marked differences between McGregor and Boorman's charity ride and the drug-addled screen odyssey of Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda.
McGregor and Boorman said at the end of their ride that the experience had brought them as close as brothers. Hopper and Fonda were barely speaking at the end of their screen journey, which at one stage saw Hopper, not his character, brandish a knife. Also, McGregor and chum were presumably not on drugs. And Ewan admits to nearly losing his bike when he crashed into a river. Neither Hopper nor Fonda would have crashed into a river, high as their screen characters often were. Rivers are not normally hazards for motorcyclists. Rivers are generally clearly visible. Perhaps McGregor was living the Easy Rider lifestyle more than we think.
¿ One of the more intriguing shows on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year is billed as Ofsted the Musical. Bringing song not just into the classroom but into the schools' inspectorate is something that not even the Fringe has attempted before.
In the spirit of the title and theme of the show, critics should write lengthy, "helpful" and studiedly opaque reviews, which will not be read at all by the public.
On press night, the producers should be sure to send "on holiday" any unruly members of the cast. And the head of the Critics' Circle should write such a savage, publicity-grabbing review of the show that he or she is rewarded with a high-paying job as a newspaper columnist - for at least several weeks.