Words Kirk Lake
Photography Marie Rose-Storey
“Jane told me she wanted a bear. So I rang Harrods and arranged to have it delivered to us in Wales.”
Jack Bond is telling me about a time back in the early 1970s, when a phone call to Harrods could probably get you anything you wanted. At the time Bond was producing Jane Arden’s directorial debut, The Other Side of the Underneath (1972). He had previously worked with Arden on his first feature, Separation (1967), and on his documentary, Dali in New York, released in 1965. This screen version of Arden’s radical feminist stage production, A New Communion for Freaks, Prophets and Witches, was being filmed in the small Welsh town of Nantyglo in 1970 – not the usual habitat for a bear of any kind.
“Well I had imagined a bear like something out of a nursery rhyme,” laughs Jack. “But this one was a sloth bear and had a long pale snout and huge claws. And it wasn’t happy.” The bear was a late addition to the cast of a wild party scene that was to be filmed in the grounds of a ruined castle. Bond had booked some travellers to take part, as well as a band of itinerant musicians and as many local villagers who could be persuaded to turn up on the promise of free food and barrels of beer. To complement Arden’s desire to create an atmosphere of potential chaos and disorder, Bond had also arranged for a coach load of patients from the local psychiatric hospital to join the shoot: as it turned out, the bear was the least of his problems.
“By the time we were ready to wrap for the day it was outright mutiny,” remembers Jack, “The bear had wandered off towards the village and we couldn’t get him back, and the inmates from the hospital were drunk and refused to go home. One of them had run away in a gypsy caravan. After an hour, we managed to cajole them back on to the bus.” All’s well that ends well. Except that wasn’t the end of it: “I followed the coach back towards the hospital, but the van we were travelling in had a flat tyre and, by the time we’d fixed it and caught up with the coach, it had pulled over so that somebody could go for a pee and most of the patients had taken the opportunity to run off into the woods. So we’d filmed the scene, but I’d lost a bear and a busload of psychiatric patients!”
Little wonder that when Bond turned up at the hospital, minus most of the people he’d pledged to take care of, the matron dubbed him the “most irresponsible man on the face of God’s earth.” Irresponsible or not, now in his mid-70s, Jack Bond is one of the last remaining true mavericks of British cinema. His career began at the BBC – where he was swiftly fired for making up the viewers’ letters on Points of View, only to be rehired to make a documentary on the poetry of World War I – and encompasses television programmes, feature films and eccentric documentaries on the likes of Salvador Dali, Patricia Highsmith, the Pet Shop Boys and, most recently, Adam Ant. Add into this a few years spent as a Hollywood script-doctor, another few spent nefariously on the Swiss/Italian border, and still more as a self-confessed “playboy”, and you end up with a life lived to the full. Even now, Bond has more energy than many men a quarter of his age.
I was originally introduced to Jack by a mutual friend on the suggestion we work together on a book of his life. Now, a few years on, we’re no closer to getting the words down on the page, but we have spent many hours in the pubs and bars near to the Fitzrovia apartment he’s called home for more than a decade. The book still floats above us, but, for Jack, looking back is not as exhilarating as looking forward. His most recent feature length documentary, The Blue Black Hussar (2013), was released late last year and we’ve been working together on a script for his next feature film, Oceanpoint. I’ve even managed to convince him to take his first acting role since the 1960s in the short existential gangster film Over & Over, produced by Powis Square Pictures.
Discussion of his next feature leads Jack to bemoan the state of a British film industry in which anybody who wants to make films that don’t tick the right bureaucratically controlled boxes finds it hard to get funding. “The director, Louis Malle, once told me that, if I’d been born in France, I would’ve been making film after film,” he says ruefully. “But here, it’s fucked. I made a film called Anti-Clock in the 1970s. It won awards in the USA and Andy Warhol called it his film of the year, but when I brought it here, I was offered a pittance for the distribution rights, so I thought, ‘Fuck you, I won’t show it at all.’ And I didn’t. That was a sign of the way things were going.”
Commerciality has never been a prime concern of Jack’s and after Arden’s death in 1982 he had forbidden the screening of any of the films they had made together, and Anti-Clock (1979), a prescient thriller about surveillance society, had been shown only twice in the UK before the BFI embarked on a series of archival Blu-Ray/DVD releases of his films in 2012. And whilst the approbation of being part of the BFI catalogue is all well and good, Jack’s still keen to keep adding to his filmography. His current project, a typically idiosyncratic film portrait of the artist Chris Moon, has seen him filming in New York and Essex, amongst other locations.
“One day,” he says to me, as he pours out another glass of wine, “we’ll get around to writing that book. But for the moment, I’ve still got films to make.” The Blue Black Hussar is available now on DVD from Sunrise Pictures. Over & Over will screen at various festivals through 2015.