Hampstead's 'London Film' club puts focus on local episodes of cinematic glory

PUBLISHED: 11:10 10 April 2014 | UPDATED: 11:10 10 April 2014

Conrad Veidt inside his home in Platt's Lane

Conrad Veidt inside his home in Platt's Lane

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For 18 months, Ian Long has been running a popular Friday cinema club at West Hampstead Community Centre in Dornfell Street. Here he writes about the club which usually adds interest by inviting directors, writers or actors involved in the film along to talk to the audience.

Conrad Veidt in a poster advertising The Thief of BagdadConrad Veidt in a poster advertising The Thief of Bagdad

The German soldier who interrupted Peter O’Toole as he was about to assassinate Adolf Hitler (and shortly afterwards threw him off a cliff), stands beaming before an audience at West Hampstead community centre, which tonight is doing service as a surprisingly comfortable cinema.

“We were out in the woods, and a few of us were sitting by the catering van,” he tells us. “I came up with a cup of tea and took off my SS hat, revealing my newly shaven head. Peter looked at me and with an extravagant wave of his hand, said in a very camp voice, ‘Ah, there you are, my beautiful eggshell blonde…’”

John Repsch was the oddly attractive SS operative. An amiable man, he’s the last person you would imagine to shove a much-loved actor to almost certain death.

The incident happened during the filming of Rogue Male, the midsummer attraction at West Hampstead Cinema Club, which has just received a grant from Film London’s Community Screenings fund. Clive Donner, who directed the film, grew up a few streets from where we were sitting.

The Collector, starring Terence Stamp, was filmed in HampsteadThe Collector, starring Terence Stamp, was filmed in Hampstead

When I was asked to put on some films at the Community Centre, I immediately thought, rather than making a random selection of blockbusters, why not concentrate on films made in the area – or with the significant participation of local people?

It would bring cinema back to earth. People could see familiar places transformed through the magic of the camera – how they’d changed, or stayed the same, or disappeared completely. I’d try to get someone involved in each film to come and tell us about the experience of making it. I’d design a special poster for each screening. And I’d make sure all the films were really good – or, at the very least, really interesting.

Slight problem

For our first screening, I remembered a schoolfriend who’d shoehorned an entire film career into the couple of years when the rest of us were doing O-levels. Jonathan Kahn’s movie stint culminated with a juvenile lead in a major feature, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, with Kris Kristofferson and Sarah Miles. Jonathan was visiting from the US, and was happy to talk to us.

But there was a slight problem. The Sailor is the kind of bizarre sexual psychodrama which could only come from the mid-Seventies. At times it makes Twin Peaks look like Emmerdale. Would it be too strong for our audience – whoever they turned out to be?

So it was with some trepidation that I unleashed the film on a packed house. But in the event, I needn’t have worried. It went down well; people enjoyed Jonathan’s revelations, and a good-natured discussion ensued. We were off and running.

Reel back to 1965. While Terence Stamp lurks morosely in a van near the Holly Bush, waiting to abduct the gorgeous Samantha Eggars, a suave Laurence Olivier investigates the disappearance of a child from a private school in Netherhall Gardens. Meanwhile, Carol Lynley and Keir Dullea pursue a very peculiar sibling relationship in the luxurious setting of Squire’s Mount.

Hampstead must have been an interesting place that year, with Otto Preminger and William Wyler bustling about, trailing camera crews around streets and into Tube stations. The resulting dark thrillers, Bunny Lake is Missing and The Collector, were both popular screenings.

The great German actor Conrad Veidt fled the Nazis to live in Platt’s Lane. When we screened his Thief of Bagdad, our guest was Vivienne Philips, who fell for “Connie” in the 1940s with a passion which shows no sign of diminishing. She told us how, 50 years later, she was instrumental in bringing his ashes back to his beloved north London from Hollywood. His urn made a brief stop on her sideboard, en route to its last resting place at Golders Green Crematorium.

Alternative history

For our screening of the brilliant alternative history It Happened Here, partly shot in Belsize Park, co-director Kevin Brownlow asked for a chapter from his memoir to be read out, illustrating his feelings about the film.

People often ask if I’ll run out of material, but the truth is the deeper I dig, the more I find. The Film London grant will help us improve our projection equipment and widen our scope, bringing films to more people who might not otherwise see them.

Our next screening is If…, whose director, Lindsay Anderson, lived in West Hampstead for decades. We’d love to hear from anyone involved in making it. And if you have any information about Bartleby, directed by Anthony Friedman, please get in touch. This intriguing film comes to its climax at a well-known local landmark – but so far we haven’t been able to find out anything about it!

Anyone wishing to get in touch can contact Ian at lipstrob@yahoo.com.

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