The Ingrid Pitt column: the Festival of Fantastic Films

Ingrid heads to Manchester to see one of her new films, Sea Of Dust, for the very first time...

It’s becoming harder and harder to leave my comfort zone. When I’m asked to do something which means packing a bag and leaving home for a few days it always sounds like a good thing. Inevitably, when the day arrives, I get stage fright and would love to stay at home chewing my comfort blanket. But the show must go on, as some creep once said and I’ve been repeating ever since.

So on Friday I girded up my loins and headed north. Virgin Trains was my method of transportation. I wasn’t too happy about that. I have had some nasty experiences aboard its trains. Twelve hours to reach Glasgow with a bus journey in the middle and an over crowded coach with no seats available. Another eight hour trip, that should have taken about two, to Wolverhampton. But I am happy to report that the company seems to have sorted out its timetable woes, at least. Now all it needs to do is get a grip on the refreshments side of the business.

I arrived at Manchester Piccadilly dead on time. Gil Lane-Young, the man putting on the Festival of Fantastic Films, who had sent me the invitation, was there to meet me and whisk me off to the hotel.

The reason I was there was to introduce Sea of Dust. I made the film in America about two years ago and hadn’t seen a frame of it since. I’d heard good things about it and was looking forward to seeing it. I didn’t have anything to do until I was due on stage for an interview at 10 o’clock that was to be followed swiftly by the film. So I pigged out in the restaurant. The interview went well and there was a good turn out for the film. Among the audience were a couple of Fan Club members, Bob Lee and Jason Brawn, as well of a lot of people I have met at festivals and conventions over the years. I was happy that I had made the effort and, as they say, got out more.

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I’m not quite sure what to say about the film. First it was beautifully photographed. In fact some of the scenes were quite stunning and memorable. Having said that I don’t know where to go. When I first read the script it all seemed to fit together. It wasn’t a stereotype story – that’s for sure. Complicated stories are great if you grasp the theme early on. If it’s a Dracula you know that whatever twists and turns the tale is going to explore, at some time Count Drac is going to get his canines into a bulging jugular or heaving breast and come to a sticky end. If it’s Tarzan he will yodel a lot, swing through trees, ride an elephant and have an intimate relationship with a chimpanzee. Sea of Dust isn’t like that. Maybe it is just me. Locked in the time-set of the Seventies. I find it have to find the theme.

Briefly the story is about Prester John, a mythical Eastern Christian prince who has returned to put the world back on the course of goodness and light. His methods are a bit suspect. He has decided that Jesus had got it all wrong. Instead of Love Thy Neighbour it should be Torture Thy Neighbour. Prester, played by villainous Tom Savini, intends to do just that. I thought my role was to be the finger pointer. A woman in thrall to the master but struggling with her humanity. Now I’m totally confused. A not totally unknown condition but one I think also shared by the audience.

The problem is the film is over-edited. Scott Bunt, the director and producer, has worked on it non-stop for over two years. Taken frame by frame it probably looks good but the spine has somehow got lost and, to try and clarify what is happening, there are draggy scenes of exposition with which even the actors seem bored. I found myself wishing I were in the projection room with a pair of sharp scissors making a small celluloid mountain on the floor. But I’m not sure what would be left. Although there are a load of talking heads there is no explanation. Savini has been practically cut out of the film and the scenes that remain don’t tell us much. On the flip side Troy Holland, the putative hero, has plenty to say that shouldn’t need saying in a modern film.

Audiences are now so sophisticated that they catch on quickly to where a scene is heading so don’t need to be taken by the hand and led through the door. But if they do – not more than once. There is still a good film in there struggling to get out but I think there is a need to go back to basics. Perhaps it would be a good idea to get someone like Roger Corman to have a look at it. His comments went a long way in turning a low budget, B movie called The Wicker Man, into the cult classic it is today.

Don’t you just love actors who fancy themselves as film critics?

The rest of the weekend went by swiftly meeting old friends and exploring the restaurant’s menu. Jess Conrad turned up. I hadn’t seen him since my days on the Sparks Celebrity Golf Team. His painting in the attic is taking one hell of a bashing. He doesn’t look a day older. And I look on him as an older brother. He did a ‘spot’ which had the rather sober audience lightening up a bit and then gave us a rundown on his career which started in 1961 when he made the transition from extra to Pop Star. It was a bit unconventional. His agent rang him and asked him if he wanted to play third spear on the left in a play or become a Pop Star. I guess that would now be called a ‘no-brainer’. He went on to appear in dozens of films, usually as a Teddy Boy or a jerk and kept his pop-star image alive with a string of chart hits. He’s still going. In fact he had just arrived back in England from a cabaret gig in Cyprus. His latest film, Telstar – The Joe Meek Story, a sort of Biopic, is set to debut in the West End sometime this week. He hopes to walk up the cinema aisle with Joan Collins on his arm.

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I didn’t recognise Damien Thomas until he came and shook hands. He has had all his hair shaved off. And he didn’t have a Collinson Twin on either arm. But he is a lovely man and a great favourite with the fans.

Deeds done I headed for the railway station and home. The trip was immaculate – almost. Train pulled out of the station on the minute. Then I found out that instead of it being the express trip I expected it ticked off every station between Manchester and Euston in London. Four excruciating hours, unrelieved by even a cup of tea. For some reason the kitchen was shut down ‘due to over crowding’. Some joker managed to get hold of the communications centre and announce, ‘On behalf of Virgin Management every passenger will receive a free bottle of beer if they make their way to the bar’. It raised a wry grin but didn’t do anything for the thirst. It seems that Virgin have a problem with the tea maker. On the way up the kitchen had run out of milk. But the train did do a Mussolini and arrive right on time.

It was good to snuggle up in my own duvet but the trip had been quite enjoyable and I might just venture out again sometime in the future

Read Ingrid’s column every Tuesday at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.