It's lucky I haven't been invited to the Oscars this year, I'm busy that night. Funnily enough I'm going to see a film, which is odd because I rarely go to films unless they're at the cinema across the road, and this one isn't.
If my local cinema were one of those multiscreen jobs I'd go every afternoon, like my friend Pauline, who has just been through an acrimonious divorce (they both wanted custody of the cat) and says she needs to escape. I said it must cost her a fortune, London cinemas aren't cheap, but Pauline said she gets the same discount as OAPs and students as long as she goes in the afternoon.
How come, I said, since she isn't old or studying. Because Paco the good-looking Spaniard in the box office on the afternoon shift gives her one, she said. I bet he does.
The cinema opposite has one screen and a penchant for arty foreign films, which explains why I go so rarely. Even if I sit in the front row I can't read the subtitles. Sometimes it doesn't matter. If there's enough to look at, stunning scenery, beautiful people (directors these days go in for close-ups that are sometimes so close you're practically up their nostrils) and great music, I'm happy to dispense with dialogue and plot. I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon twice, and although I couldn't for the life of me tell you why all those people were flying around in trees, I still hanker after a package holiday in Manchuria.
On Oscar night, Sunday 24 March, I'll be at the Curzon in Shaftesbury Avenue, central London, listening to rather than watching a special screening of Nosferatu, the original vampire movie starring the hideous Max Schreck as Dracula. Oh, well-spotted, sir. Nosferatu, you tell me, came out in 1922 long before the talkies so what exactly will I be listening to?
I'll come to that, but first since you're so damned clever and clued up about vintage films here's a question about Greta Garbo, queen of the silent screen. What were Garbo's first words in talking pictures? I'll give you a clue. The film was Anna Christie, whose posters carried the publicity strapline "GARBO TALKS"! Here's another clue. She was nominated for an Oscar for two films in that year, 1930: Romance and Anna Christie. Whoever gets the right answer can come to Nosferatu with me.
Give up? I'll tell you. Garbo's first words in the talking pictures were: "Give me a whisky with a ginger ale on the side and don't be stingy baby.'' They don't write movies like that anymore.
So what's the big deal with Nosferatu? Throw another log on the fire and I'll tell you. Seven years ago we had a lodger in the spare room. They'd just put our rent up, and it was either that or taking in washing. She was a beautiful blonde Danish student called Helle, who studied composition at the Royal College of Music, and her rent included giving us all piano lessons.
Helle's present to my daughter Helen for her 21st birthday was to set to music that speech from Marlowe's Faust beginning: "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium...''
I'll never forget it. Halfway through the party in the back room of an Edinburgh pub, Helle got all the wisecracking, hard-drinking rugger-playing students and guests to shut up, summoned the birthday girl's nervous 12-year-old brother to the piano and started to play. It was when he got to "sweet Helen make me immortal with a kiss'' that I saw big men with beer glasses gulp and surreptitiously wipe their eyes. It brought the house down. He did two encores.
Fortunately, it isn't only me who thinks Helle Solberg writes terrific music. Since then she has written scores for films, television, documentaries and, most recently – you guessed – an 87-minute original score for cello and accordion to accompany Nosferatu.
I went to Copenhagen last week for the première, it was a sell-out. It was also sensational. She's not my daughter, but I feel just as Beethoven's mum must have when she first heard The Emperor Concerto. Next stop Hollywood, well why not?Reuse content