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Goodbye, Richard
An Appreciation of the life of Richard Franklin, Hollywood director, Aussie mentor, one time DVD Outsider contributor and close friend, by Camus
"No more Hitchcock." "Worse than that - no more Hitchcock films."
Paraphrasing a comment made by William Wyler upon the death of Ernst Lubitch.
Dear Richard,  
Worse than that – no more Franklin films and even worse, no more Franklin e-mails.  
This is our 13th year of twice weekly e-mailing (sometimes more when the arguments had flames beneath them) and my final communiqué, one you will not get to read - unless, of course, we were both wildly wrong and you're strumming a harp reading over my shoulder chuckling to yourself. Say hullo to Hitch, Orson, Papa Ford and Frank Capra for me. Thank them and thank you for being my mentor and my friend.  
All great things, (in this life and the next),  
"If you will take me as your teacher,
you will not kick against the pricks."
Aeschylus (525-456 B.C.), Greek tragedian.
Also featured in The Bible, Acts, 26:14


I know, 'prick' sounds rude. A 'prick', in this context, is a small wooden, sharpened pole with which men controlled animals. Kick against them and you hurt yourself much more than the targets you strike out against. A 'prick' in terms of this obituary (it's heartbreaking just to type that word) is a be-suited executive (a 'suit') in the 20th to 21st century's film industry whose errant and childish whims control and despoil lives and careers as guilt free and as utterly assuredly as a chainsaw slices through stubborn bark. Kick against them (despite one's on-board weapons of intelligence, craftsmanship, artistry, charm, a sense of fair play or even physical might) and you end up bloodied. These pseudo-powerfully perceived peacocks with the film-making talent of squashed fruit didn't kill Richard (that was 'Jack The Dancer', as he called his own internal nemesis), but certain corporate buffoons made his final decade into one semi-paralysing round of head to wall-banging after another.

Here was a talented film-maker buffered and pin-balled by power players with a level of cinematic passion at an inverse ratio to their power over him. In a nod to cliché, "He who pays the piper calls the tune": That, I can live with. What I can't abide is "He who pays the piper, calls the tune, assumes moral and creative authority over the piper, reminds the piper of his own superior but scant knowledge of said tune, gets the tune market tested, preview listened, excised of any and every idiosyncrasy and homogenises the 'product' to anodynasty - and then kicks the piper in the balls just simply because he/she can. 'Anodynasty' is not a real word but the fanciful creation of a dynasty of anodyne was too tempting to resist.

The young Richard Franklin meets two of his cinematic heroes.

My valued and dear friend, Richard Franklin, who died last month, was a true friend to myself (despite the 10,500 miles between us and that is as the crow flies, some fit crow) and also to cinema through his work, historical knowledge and appreciation (I mean, he got to meet Hitchcock and John Ford through his own enterprise). He just happened to be born into an uncivilised movie-making era. He was an intellectual director (aieee!) with the smarts to put most to shame and had the political cunning of a cornered fox. The problem here is with having to use the word 'cornered'. The industry Richard once revered - in whose hallowed soundstages toiled the greats of old, the afore mentioned Hitchcocks, the Fords and the Welleses - changed radically throughout Richard's career. Via an accelerated-time metaphor, Richard was a master craftsman who made beautiful saddles but all the horses were put out to graze while cars took their place. This isn't to say that Richard's craft was old fashioned; his oeuvre is multi-layered and rewards multiple viewings. Richard could never be Michael Bay and no higher blessing can I bestow on a man who spent an entire summer's day telling me in precise and glorious detail how each special effect of The Birds was done. I was utterly spellbound (pun intended, Hitchcock aficionados).

Richard's stylistic film grammar was often ahead of its time but this and he were continually stymied by the small mindedness of those who deigned to allow him to practise his craft. It's no wonder when Richard's heroes were all giants in their field (Richard's film-making ethos was inspired by these greats, as it should've been), giants whom in our 2007 field, would be brought to their knees by the shameless commercial crassness that is Hollywood. The last American 'great' died eight years ago (Hollywood-speaking of course; as I write it's the day after Ingmar Bergman passed on and the day on which Michaelangelo Antonioni joined him). To have creative and financial autonomy, this last (outsider) Hollywood great relied upon his oeuvre (the brilliance of Stanley Kubrick's movies earned him the right to control his own work) and let's not forget it didn't hurt that he enjoyed a unique relationship with a few key personnel in the higher echelons of Warner Brothers.

In the mid-80s Richard arrived in the UK after having harboured an ambition to work in London for some time (in many ways he fitted certain cultural stereotypes of the Australian - his middle name was Bruce for god's sake!). Verity Lambert at the once huge Thorn EMI had given the go to a curious script about an idiosyncratic chimpanzee called Link. It was to be the defining project that taught me all I wanted/needed to know about human behaviour. Let's say cautiously, it was a tumultuous shoot with egos smashing into each other like dodgem cars. Richard's co-producer Rick McCallum had introduced me to Richard - is that first name one that's familiar in another context?

In 1984 I was lucky enough to secure employment as a director's assistant on a UK based feature produced by none other than Mr. McCallum (of latter-day Star Wars prequels fame). Known now more as a party-faithful Lucasfilm mouthpiece (Rick is the boisterous yin to Lucas's dour yang), Rick was a force of nature in his early days, effortlessly charming, utterly ruthless and to me, especially funny. There are three incidents, only one of which I can re-tell without blushing, that define a certain era of my life. One involved a tear-inducing outcome which director and friend Gavin Millar described as "Only Rick could disgust himself that badly," The other involved a joke about a frog which may bring tears to your eyes (but you're not going to hear it here).

The only clean McCallum story I can tell is when Richard, together with his studio driver, challenged Rick (and his driver) to a snooker match on location in Scotland. This was the 80s. Men challenged each other and Cockney drivers and US and Aussie Hollywood 'players' were anxious to strut their stuff. Terry, Richard's driver, (bless you Tel, if you are reading, unlikely but bless you anyway) pulled off a shot of such stunning accuracy and aplomb that left every one else slack jawed with awed appreciation. But not Rick. Rick just chalked up his cue and, sneering Snape-like, simply announced "That doesn't mean Jack Shit to me..." It was all Richard could do to stay standing up. In many ways, Rick is the film industry's Jeffery Archer; so easy to dislike because of rank, behaviour and circumstance but in a nagging way, the world would be poorer without him. McCallum's IMDB message board seems full of disgruntled Star Wars fans who see him as the man who screwed up their beloved franchise. I see him as the man who introduced me to my longstanding friend Richard. After Link, Rick and Richard's paths would never cross again but to go back to those first meetings...

The chances of my becoming Richard's assistant were slim because (and note this was 1985 if that makes any difference) Richard plainly told me "My assistants are usually girls..." Well, it's still like that. But I was tenacious and proved myself a willing student if not that able at first. If you allow me a short stroll down memory lane, I will try to determine how Richard became a beacon of sense in a world of nonsense and how that nonsense eventually took arms against him (and continues to overwhelm us all too).

The Odeon Cinema, Cardiff - mid-1980s:

Assembled hacks are ready to sneer at and critically crucify a sequel to one of the most famous and influential movies of all time, Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. But at Richard's Psycho 2, we gaped and went "Aargh!" and thought a lot of the experience and when the ending arrived ("Don't ever hit your mother with a shovel, it leaves a dull impression on her mind...") we cheered. Press hacks do not, on the whole, cheer anything. The name 'Richard Franklin' was marked out for critical attention. I went back and viewed his earlier work and found it stimulating and fun (Road Games stood out, a Hitchcockian thriller with a modern sensibility). Richard's name made it on my 'Directors to watch out for' list. Serendipity placed him in an adjoining office to McCallum's during Richard's hunt for a budget to his English anthropological thriller. Once Rick told me who it was, it was all I could do not to break down the door. I admire film-makers, sometimes more for the effort of will, these days, it takes to make the damn things. I say this with some experience in the industry but on a far lower shelf than Richard.

Richard Franklin (left) with his very happy assistant,
circa 1985

I got the job (and Richard's ankles probably still have the teeth marks). Six months followed (a prospective novel full of drama and incident, all of which could land me in court if I 'released the hounds' so to speak). But throughout, Richard was gracious, disbelieving at my naiveté ("Don't come the raw prawn with me," was one of his favourites and I still don't know what it means) somewhat frustrated by the British crew (far more bullish and significantly less subservient than their American counterparts). He'd spotted a budding film student in his midst. He shared the entire film making process with me and to say I learned a lot is a bottomless pit of understatement.

It was the last day of shooting. The daughter of Richard's agent's partner (stay with me) had got me tickets for Springsteen's 'Born in the USA' tour. We wrapped quietly on a back projection stage at Shepperton and Richard passed me a letter - a thick envelope which I was gearing up to read on the train to Wembley, Walkman on, the Euryhthmics' "There Must Be An Angel" rocketing into my head. Richard and I had planned to meet up again for the mix and the music record but for this month or so it was au revoir. I wondered what wit and wisdom was contained in the envelope - musings on life, the universe and everything or a general stunned barrel of prose on how different crews were in L.A. I opened it up.

There was a single sheet of his own personalised notepaper. The thickness was due to the ten fifty pound notes tucked inside. On the note it said:

  "Dear Alan,
  To a true friend and valued confidant, and the best assistant I ever had.
  Find yourself,

I found myself and now the man who did more to help me do just that is gone. He will be sorely missed.


P.S. Richard's editor and friend in Australia, David Pulbrook, made a short movie celebrating Richard's life. Have a look.

Richard Franklin

Filmography as director
Homicide (episodes of TV series, 1964)
Belinda (1972)
Loveland (1973)
The True Story of Eskimo Nell (1975)
Patrick (1978)
Road Games (1981)
Psycho II (1983)
Cloak & Dagger (1984)
Link (1986)
Beauty and the Beast (TV - 3 episodes, 1987)
A Fine Romance (TV - 1 episode, 1989)
F/X2: The Deadly Art of Illusion (1991)
Running Delilah (TV, 1994)
Hotel Sorrento (1995)
Brilliant Lies (1996)
One Way Ticket (TV, 1997)
The Lost World (TV, 1999)
Flatland (TV - 1 episode, 2002)
Vistors (2003)

Richard's article for DVD Outsider defeding Polar Express can be found here.

article posted
5 August 2007

See all of camus' reviews