*Editor's Note: The screening of this film, as well as Malcolm McDowell's appearance, has been cancelled due to scheduling conflicts.
Were British filmmaker Lindsay Anderson to be in this Saturday's audience for the Boise screening of Never Apologize, he'd need to have a healthy sense of humor about himself.
Created from Malcolm McDowell's staged one-man show, the film serves as a belated, jocular eulogy to the British filmmaker who passed away in 1994, and it's as honest as it is endearing regarding Anderson and his work.
McDowell, who was discovered by Anderson for the 1968 film If... and who later went on to star in A Clockwork Orange, describes his friend and mentor as "a little rotund with piercing eyes and a rather sardonic mouth." McDowell says Anderson had a habit of looking down that long, "senatorial nose" and had a fondness for the frequent use of a fully pronounced "awful."
"He loved to use that word. Awful," pokes McDowell.
The performance that follows is McDowell, on stage solo, conversationally regaling the audience with anecdotes, reading from Anderson's writings as well as those of several of his colleagues, including writer David Sherwin. McDowell navigates several separate tributaries, recounting his first meeting with Anderson, digressing into a segment about Anderson's respect for actress Rachel Roberts, and detailing the filmmaker's verbal attack on Alan Bates during an infamous luncheon after which he obstinately refused to apologize.
Originally produced as an addendum to a retrospective of Anderson's work for the 2004 Edinburgh Film Festival, the barbs-and-all theatrical tribute began from a pile of notes, memories and Anderson's posthumously published journal writings. Together McDowell and director Michael Kaplan, who met Anderson in 1973, reassembled an oral narration of the man and the artist.
"It really happened over Malcolm's dining room table," Kaplan says. "We went over certain things we felt had to be in there, but he had a much more visible relationship with Lindsay because of who he is." Therefore, much of what the audience gets is Anderson as remembered by an admiring McDowell.
Shortly after its inaugural showing in Edinburgh, McDowell staged the show in London and then reprised it in the spring of 2006 for the Ojai Film Festival in California, where five cameras captured McDowell on stage in front of a live audience.
"Honestly, I didn't know what I was going to get," says Kaplan. "I wanted to capture the dynamic of Malcolm's performance as if you were there in the theater getting the live impact of his talent, but also make it as cinematic as possible within that structure." The final film version incorporates more than 200 visuals—still photos, film clips and written definitions—into McDowell's stage time.
"I hate to call it a one-man show because it minimizes interest in it. It's so much more than that," says Kaplan.
Indeed, most simply stated, the film boils down to McDowell on Anderson. However, it's also a peephole into the microcosm of British art film and Anderson's visionary—and perhaps rebellious—role in pushing the boundaries of cinematic responsibility for not only filmmakers, but the audience as well.
As for Kaplan's audience, a working knowledge of Anderson's repertoire and '70s-era British cinema doesn't hurt. Nor is it necessary. Kaplan says his audience has been consistently taken with McDowell's charismatic performance—even if they've never heard of McDowell or Anderson.
"I think it's fair to say there isn't anything quite like it," he says. "It works regardless of what your references are because there's a lot in there that does resonate."
When Never Apologize premiered as an official selection at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, Kaplan says the response was overwhelming.
"It was amazing. You couldn't even hear the end music they were clapping so hard." Since then, the film has had several screenings in select cities—including a screening at the Chicago Film Festival—and has made several of the most esoteric short lists for best in film in 2007.
Although it takes McDowell nearly two hours to meander into the headwaters, he does so by delivering up a brilliantly written letter Anderson sent to Alan Bates some time after the offending luncheon. In what is thinly disguised as a rather unapologetic apology, Anderson attacks conformity, British culture and defends his own position in the film world against his more commercial competition. It's a look at an Anderson who emits just a hint of vulnerability that's overshadowed by defiance. In closing, McDowell reinforces that image with a final story during which Anderson acerbically declared to a circle of friends that his tombstone should read: "Surrounded by f***ing idiots."
The film has yet to be released in theaters, but because Kaplan now lives in Caldwell, Boise is one of the first cities to have the privilege of screening the film. In addition, both Kaplan and McDowell will attend the screening and host a post-film Q and A. Eventually, Kaplan says he'd like to open the film theatrically just to see what it can do.
"It may be a sleeper because there's nothing like it," he says. "It doesn't have to light the world on fire instantly; it just has to be there in some kind of presence." Much like Anderson himself.
Never Apologize with Kaplan and McDowell, Sat., Jan. 12, 7 p.m., $15. Egyptian Theatre, 700 W. Main St., 208-345-0454. For more information, visit EgyptianTheatre.net.