Further cuts to UK film bodies amidst growing protest

The BFI continues to pursue its cuts program.

Twenty five leading film academics, including Professor Pam Cook who runs the anti-cuts bfiwatch blog, have written to the British Film Institute (BFI) to protest against the proposed move of the BFI library from its current site just off Tottenham Court Road, one of the latest moves in the series of potential cuts measures to be enforced at the BFI, as a result of a 15% budget cut over the next four years. The BFI has suggested moving the collection in part to its Southbank building and in part to the National Archive Facility in Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire.

The letter offers vehement opposition to the move:

It's as if the British Library were to move to Hertfordshire. The BFI National Library has underpinned the growth of UK film and moving image scholarship, which has in turn supported the UK's thriving cultural and creative industries. We are not aware of any consultation with library users, who, incidentally, pay an annual fee for the service, still less with donors to the collection - some of whom made gifts because the BFI offered central London access.

It also became clear today that Screen Yorkshire, the body which was responsible for much of the location scouting for the Bafta nominated film The King's Speech could potentially lose up to 15 out of its current 19 employees, because of the abolition of the regional development agency for Yorkshire, Yorkshire Forward, which had previously provided the film funding body with finance from a £10.2 million contract for the promotion of film in the area.

The cuts program has already taken effect in some areas of the BFI with the closure of the gallery at BFI Southbank, the announcement of a " editorial and production review" in March for the BFI's magazine Sight and Sound, a proposed pay freeze for all staff until April 2012 and some 37 reduncies at the organisation acknoweldged to be almost certain.

When announcing the cuts in December last year, the director of the BFI Amanda Nevill, said:

It is imperative the BFI builds on its successes and remains commercially astute in this tough new environment. We have an incredible opportunity in the months and years ahead to create something very special for film in the UK and these proposals are both bold and necessary.

The recent abolition of the UK Film Council has also led to the BFI being compelled to take on the former body's funding and distribution responsibilities.

When Culture Minister Ed Vaizey gave a speech outlining his department's vision for the future of the UK film industry last November, he talked about a "more open" and "more engaged" BFI and concluded that his proposals offered "an exciting new vision for the British film industry". From the detail of the cuts that are beginning to emerge, it seems that in fact these changes risk creating a more parochial, target-driven and less creative British film industry.

GETTY
Show Hide image

Conjuring the ghost: the "shape-shifting, queer, violent, hippie genuis" of David Litvinoff

A new biography tracks down the elusive Kray confidant who became a friend of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

David Litvinoff is a mythic character to anyone with an interest in London during the Sixties. An intimate of the Krays, he was a tough and violent Jew from the East End. He was also a musical genius with an unrivalled knowledge of jazz, the blues and rock that made him a valued friend of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. It was his ability to move from the East End to Chelsea, from the dives of Soho to Notting Hill, that was the critical factor in the extraordinary vision of London that Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg conjured into the film Performance, for which Litvinoff is credited as dialogue coach. And yet, even though all this is known and recorded, he remains a ghost, a figure who wrote nothing and who systematically destroyed all the records of his life he could lay his hands on. Even his exact role in Performance is shrouded in mystery. He is said to have dictated much of the script to Cammell. This biography claims that Jagger’s mesmerising song on the soundtrack, “Memo from Turner”, was in fact a memo from Litvinoff.

Multiple reports describe him as the most brilliant talker London had known since Coleridge, but although there are rumours of tapes they have always been just rumours. I’d have thought he was a figure who would defeat any biographer – a shape-shifting, queer, violent, hippie genius lost in a mist of hallucinogens – but Keiron Pim’s account of this extraordinary character is a magisterial work of scholarship. He tracks down all the living witnesses; he has also unearthed letters, and even some of those long-lost tapes.

The story that emerges is even harder to believe than the legend. Litvinoff came out of the Jewish East End but he was from one of its most talented families. His name was not even Litvinoff: his mother’s first husband went by that name but David was the son of her second, Solomon Levy. Long before he met the Krays or the Stones, he was a gossip columnist on the Daily Express, practically inventing the Chelsea set that shocked the prim Fifties. By that time he had met Lucian Freud, who painted him in an astonishing study, the working title of which was Portrait of a Jew. Litvinoff was furious when Freud exhibited it with the new description of The Procurer, and the bad blood between these two men, both of whom inhabited the drinking clubs of Soho and the Krays’ gambling joints, remained for the rest of their lives. In fact, it is Freud who comes over as the villain of the book, fingered by Pim as the man behind the most violent assault on Litvinoff: he was knocked unconscious at the door to his own flat, on the top floor, and awoke to find himself naked and tied to a chair suspended from the balcony, nose broken and head shaved bald.

I learned much from this book: a period working for Peter Rachman before he became involved with the Krays; sojourns in Wales and Australia when he was fleeing threats of violence. The big discovery for me, however, was Litvinoff’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the jazz and blues traditions that gave birth to rock’n’roll. He taught the Stones a lot but he taught Eric Clapton even more – they were both living at the Pheasantry building on the King’s Road, and Litvinoff seems to have had unlimited access to the most recherché back catalogues and the most recent unreleased recordings. The book traces, but does not comment on, a transformation from an amphetamine-fuelled hard man in the Fifties and early Sixties to the oddest of hallucinogen hippies by the Summer of Love in 1967.

But, for all Litvinoff’s knowledge, wit and gift for friendship, his tale is a tragedy. A man who could talk but couldn’t write; an out gay man long before it was acceptable, who seems never to have been at ease with his sexuality; a proud Jew without any tradition of Judaism to which he could affiliate. Above all, this was a man who lived to the full the extraordinary moment when London dreamed, in Harold Wilson’s Sixties, that class was a thing of the past. Back from Australia in the early Seventies, Litvinoff awoke again to find that it had indeed been a dream. His suicide in 1975 was cold and deliberate. He had outlived his time. 

Colin MacCabe edits Critical Quarterly

Jumpin’ Jack Flash: David Litvinoff and the Rock’n’Roll Underworld by Keiron Pim is publisyhed by Jonathan Cape (416pp, £16.99)

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser