Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The life and death of a film magazine

Issue 3: December 1954
My early cinema-going years seem to have coincided with the run of that British film magazine "Films and Filming" which I have written about here a lot, and used lots of covers from its glory years. It began in October 1954 – the year I began seeing movies, aged 8 in Ireland (JOHNNY GUITAR being the first film I saw – what a vivid introduction to movie! – followed by A STAR IS BORN and going with my father to see those 1954 westerns like DRUM BEAT, THE COMMAND, SITTING BULL …. ). I did not catch up with "F&F" though until the Sixties ...
The recent job lot of 40  1950s issues
I got  (for a very good price) on eBay. 

I caught up with “Films and Filming” (after growing out of “Picture Show”, “Fans Star Library” and “Photoplay” and Hollywood magazines like “Screen Album” or “Movieland and TV Time”) about 1962, when I was 16 and eagerly devoured each issue - it was a new way of looking at movies and their makers and that expanding European cinema. The look of the magazine had a makeover then – for the new happening decade. It also had a lot of contact advertisements and a certain gay vibe, as per those ads for Vince’s Man Shop (see Fashon label). I put an ad in myself when I was 17 ("Boy 17 seeks penfriends, male/female, under 21" – what is amusing now is that a 17 year old would find over 21’s too old …) and got replies from all over the world: England, Malta, USA and Australia, and am still in touch with one of them, Mike now in San Francisco, a Worthing boy, who became a good friend.  I moved to London in 1964 when 18 so "F&F" became my monthly bible for movies. (Penfriends - writing each other letters - was what people did then, before Facebook, cellphones and the internet). 
200th issue, May 1971
100th issue, Jan 1963
I worked for the magazine for a year, when between careers, in 1975-76, doing subscriptions, writing some reviews etc. and got to know the friendly crowd there then: the reclusive owner, Philip Dosse, and his distribution manger, Tony Fleck, and Olive who did the accounts, and the guys working with me, Brian, Jim, Roy, Baxter, and Pamela whom I went to various shows with. We never saw the editor, Robin Bean, who it seems only emerged at night and did all the work on the magazine from his apartment at Earls Terrace, off Kensington High Street. 
The magazines were published on a shoe-string, from a basement flat in Artillery Mansions in Victoria Street. These were quality magazines on fine art paper, “Films and Filming” was one of a stable of seven, all published by Dosse’s Hansom Books – there were “Arts and Artists”, “Books and Bookmen”, “Music and Musicians”. “Films and Filming” was their big seller, as was the authorative “Plays and Players” – a great record of London theatre during those years.

The subscriptions were all done by hand, in that pre-computer era, written on cards, and subscriber’ names and addresses were stamped on tin plates for the machine to print them out on envelopes. Of course it would all be computerised now. 
Instead of being out on the London arts scene as a major arts magazines publisher, Dosse - a genuine eccentric - would sit and stuff magazines into envelopes and answer the switchboard, we had several interesting conversations about the history of the magazine. Unfortunately it did not pay very well, so after a year I left for “pastures new”. There were some binders and back issues available too.

I later got to know the F&F editor Robin Bean when the magazine was in decline by the late Seventies – but it had a good run since 1954, for a private publisher. “Sight and Sound” by contrast was funded by the BFI, practically their house magazine. “Films and Filming” was the only quality British film monthly then, as “S & S" was a quarterly, published four times a year, until it went monthly in the '90s. (I liked the ‘60s and ‘70s “Sight and Sound” – it had a nice style and was a contrast to “F&F”, but I did not care for its monthly rebirth). “Films and Filming” by then had departed the scene. Philip Dosse could not keep it going and in 1980 the magazine folded after his suicide.

I exchanged lots of ideas with Robin Bean, its editor, and still have his letters. He was very bitter about the way the magazine folded leaving them all unpaid. I did some reviews for him, and started a video column for that new sensation: the emergence of VHS and how it revolutionised our film-viewing. Now one could own and collect films, as we spent the ‘80s scouring “Radio Times” for movies to record, as one’s collection of video-cassettes grew, and then pre-recorded movies to buy!

1965 pop movies issue
Bean tried to keep the magazine going, but did not succeed (he died in 1992, aged 53, of asthma and bronchitis, according to "Variety", whose obituary said: "After studying at the London School of Economics, Bean joined the magazine in 1961 and edited it from 1968 to 1980, attracting notoriety with his sexually explicit picture spreads. He later launched the monthly clone, “Films,” which ran until 1985, and “Movie Scene” (1985-86). He subsequently worked as a free-lance assistant to director Michael Winner, a neighbour"), The magazine was revived and had a new look, for a few years, under the editorship of well-known film writers and critics Allen Eyles and then John Russell Taylor. I still bought a lot of issues, but it was not the same. Belows right: the revamped 1980s style.
Nice to see the old “Films & Filming” issues command a market on eBay, where I have now purchased all those 1950s issues from before my time, so I have the complete run from Oct 54 to Dec 1959 and into the '60s and '70s. 
All magazines have their great era and "F&F" was great in the '50s and '60s, and up to about the mid-'70s (1974 being particularly good). But looking at a 1960 issue and a 1980 one the decline is sadly evident. It was certainly an achievement to have kept the magazine going during those great decades for movies charting the changing movie scene. They are still very readable and collectable. I trust my posts on it help keep the memory of the magazine alive. 

As I said here back in 2010: it introduced so many of us to the potential of cinema as just more than mere entertainment - it covered the best of world cinema with interviews and features on and by all the leading players and directors. That 1961 Italian cinema issue is priceless now with its features by Antonioni, Visconti, Fellini, Pasolini etc. Interesting too seeing how the magazine changed from the staid '50s through the liberated '60s (when being the zeitgeist that it was, it became THE magazine for gay cineastes) to the mature '70s. I could spend hours going through those bound copies...

There are several histories of "Films and Filming" including at this link: 
www.academia.edu/2023952/_A_sensible_magazine_for_intelligent_film-goers._Notes_for_a_History_of_Films_and_Filming_1954-1990 
and a shorter,witty feature in Number Two of the gay (or queer as they call it) magazine LITTLE JOE in 2011 by Justin Bengry, whom I corresponded with about the magazine and my memories of it, which he incorporated in his feature. 
Below: the magazine's 30th anniversary tribute, an issue from each year from October 1954 to October 1984. (click images to enlarge...)

No comments:

Post a Comment