Yul Brynner and I - a 30-year quest for the deep boredom of film- making

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The Independent Online
HAVE YOU ever seen a film called The File on the Golden Goose? Have you ever heard of a film called The File on the Golden Goose?

You are not alone. I have never met anyone who has heard of this film or seen it, and until the other day I had never seen it either, but although it was made thirty years ago I have been longing to see it for thirty years, just to see Yul Brynner outside my house.

Let me explain. Thirty years ago I lived in London, in Notting Hill, at 74 Kensington Park Road. This was a flat on the ground floor, on the street corner, from where, as I sat at my desk working, I could see everyone coming and going. The most coming and going took place on Saturday, because the Portobello Road is just around the corner, and Saturday is the big day for antiques at the top end and vegetables elsewhere.

But on one particular Saturday there was even more coming and going than usual, because they were filming on the street corner opposite. The usual fuss - cameras, cranes, canteens and cartloads of lights. There were some important people doing not very much and some not very important people rushing around trying to look important. And there was me, trying to do some work. But curiosity got the better of me and I wandered across the road to find out what was happening.

Everyone was grouped round one doorway, leading to the flat belonging to a neighbour called Faynia Williams (now a distinguished theatre director) and, as is usual in filming, nothing was happening. I asked someone what it was all about.

"Oh," he said, "it's a sequence from a film starring Yul Brynner called The File of the Golden Goose."

"What's the sequence about?"

"Oh, one of the actors walks across the road and into the house."

"And ... ?"

"Nothing. That's it."

I watched for a few minutes, but nothing happened so I went back to my work. I came to the conclusion that filming must be 20 per cent action and 80 per cent inactivity, though when I later came to do some TV filming in my own right, I found I was wrong. It's more like 95 per cent boredom, 5 per cent activity. It must have taken them nearly two hours to do the one shot.

The only thing that happened was that one time when I glanced up I realised that someone was leaning on the garden wall outside the window staring in at me. I recognised him. It was Yul Brynner. For a moment I was baffled rigid, but then in a flash I realised the truth. Yul Brynner was so bored by the whole proceedings that he had nothing better to do than stare at me working at my typewriter. I felt he had better have something to look at, so, somewhat embarrassed, I bent to my work. Next time I looked up he had gone.

I didn't catch the film when it came out, much though I wanted to see my street corner. Later, it was hardly worth buying on video just to see my street corner. So I never saw it. Not, that is, until it was broadcast on TV a few weeks ago, when I taped it on video, and I have been idly spooling through it ever since, a few minutes at a time, while I shave in the mornings. I now realise why nobody talks about it much. It is probably the most boring thriller ever made.

The film is so bad that all the TV film video guides I know ignore it, except Halliwell, who summarises it thus: "Incredibly predictable spy thriller which almost makes an eccentricity out of collecting so many cliches and so many tourist views of London. Like ten TV episodes cut together ...." That seems fair to me. It is certainly true about the tourist scenes of London. One bit I viewed last week took the characters to a Turkish Bath, presumably the old Baths in Jermyn Street. A few minutes later - or nearly a week later, the way I've been watching it - Yul Brynner is trailing Charles Gray down the Portobello Road. And then - miracle of miracles! - Yul Brynner follows him round the corner (there's my house, with me in it, invisibly typing!) and Charles Gray goes into Faynia Williams's house....

That's it. That's all that happens. I don't know what happens after that because I don't have to watch any more of this awful film, and I don't care, but at least I have achieved a thirty-year-old ambition and seen on film what I never saw at the time: Charles Gray crossing the road and going into a house opposite me at a typewriter.

Looking back I think perhaps I might have entertained some more lofty ambition for thirty years, but it's too late now.

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