Sunday, 18 December 2016

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: HALLIWELL'S FILM GUIDE


16. “Deliberately scarifying and highly commercial shocker with little but its art direction to commend it to connoisseurs.”



18/12/2016




We are coming up to that time to be thankful again, and for lovers of films, Christmas will root you to your sofa with the biggest TV premières saved for the festive period. You may also be given a book or two as a present, with many “definitive” film guides on offer from the “Radio Times,” “Time Out,” and “Empire” magazines, or from professional film critics like Leonard Maltin.

However, you may not agree with all they say. The above quote, for Ridley Scott’s original “Alien” (1979), came from “Halliwell’s Film Guide.” Originally published in 1964, the last edition came in 2008, long after Leslie Halliwell death in 1989, and after other authors took over to rewrite his original opinions – my copy of the 2008 edition kept the first half of the original review but, diplomatically, stated the art direction was “on its own terms,” before deeming it a “classic,” which had already been decided elsewhere by then.

Leslie Halliwell was not a film critic, and his verdicts came from a viewpoint entirely alien to most, but more people depended on them than those of critics. By 1964, Halliwell was in charge of buying foreign programmes (read: United States) for Granada, the ITV company – he had arrived there via Southern Television, which was partly owned by The Rank Organisation, for which he was a publicist.


In 1968, Halliwell became the “Head Buyer” for the ITV network, making deals on behalf of the network – he is the reason you have really only seen the James Bond and Star Wars films on ITV, along with classic TV series like “Murder, She Wrote,” “The A-Team,” “The Incredible Hulk,” and “The Six Million Dollar Man,” cementing the good reputation of US TV by keeping the crap away.

When Channel 4 began in 1982, he also started buying up films and TV shows for them, helping to establish the channel as the place to go for more off-beat stuff, like “Raging Bull,” “Last Tango in Paris,” and “Hill Street Blues,” which were never likely to be shown in ITV – in fact, the growth of TV movies and mini-series in the 1970s, like “Columbo,” was Hollywood’s answer to needing product that people like Halliwell could actually show to families in the early evening.

Read this way, Leslie Halliwell appears to be the Father Christmas of British television, influencing the choices that are still made today, but some of his reviews in his guides, like his summary of “Alien,” are indicative of a snobbery that don’t work as helpful criticism – “abysmal apologia for loutish teenage behaviour” does not help you to decide whether “The Breakfast Club” or not, as it does not tell you enough what the film itself is like, while “a feast of hardware and noisy music; not much story,” does not tell you why people still watch “Top Gun.” In fact, my copy of the 2008 guide was solely to check cast and crew details, and awards won – the reviews were the least of it. Perhaps, the rewriting was to help make it more, well, helpful.

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