Words & Portraits Kirk Truman
“You know, when you have these extreme situations working with people, it sticks with you forever…”
The first time I met Jack, I wanted to be him. In his late 70s, whereas many people might opt for a slower pace of life, Jack still continues to pursue his undying passion for filmmaking – an extensive career which has spanned six decades – along with other favoured pursuits, including drinking and smoking. He’s charming, handsome, oozing with wit, sophistication and an infectious energy – everything I’d hope to be in my later years! Film director Jack Bond remains one of Bloomsbury’s most creative residents – and one of its best storytellers.
A Londoner through and through, Jack was born, quite literally, at Hyde Park corner, in what was then St. George’s Hospital, and was raised in East Sheen, Richmond. His youth was spent observing the sights and sounds of a wartime city regularly bombed by Nazi Germany. “I was fully conscious of the war as a child,” he says. “My Dad was away fighting in it, and my mother and I elected to stay in London and not to evacuate. Every night, you’d hear the sirens going, and then the sirens would be followed by the droning of the bombs. We just sat there underneath an iron bed for protection. The windows came in, but we weren’t ever actually hit, except for one incendiary bomb, which didn’t go off. I pleaded with the air raid wardens to let me have it, but they wouldn’t give it to me. Bastards!” he laughs. “I spent the war talking to German officers through the fence at the prisoner of war camp in Richmond Park and dismantling bombs with my friends in my father’s shed. Now I look back, none of this did me any harm. These were life-forming experiences for me.”
Leaving school at 18, Jack found himself doing the then two years of compulsory National Service, something he didn’t much take to. “The Army loomed… In those days, the way it worked was if you didn’t want to go in the army, they’d throw you in prison. So, I opted for two years of obligatory military service. I thought: “Oh Christ almighty, this is going to be terrible. The first three months were pretty rugged. That was an ordeal, particularly if you weren’t inclined to be so obedient. One icy morning I slipped in my boots and made a mess of a turn. A very brutal Sergeant came up to me, stuck his stick in my gut and said: ‘I’ve got a fool on the end of my stick’. I replied ‘Oh really, which end?’ Straight in the slammer for a week I got for that,” Jack remembers. During his years in the military, he was offered the chance to go to Beaconsfield to train as a schoolteacher. On completing the training, he was based in Hong Kong, where he remained for the rest of his military service, later becoming headmaster at the school.
At the end of his time with the Army, Jack made the decision to refocus his energies in a new direction. “I got back to England, and that was it, I was out,” he says, “I thought, ‘I know what it’ll do, I’ll go and join the BBC and become a filmmaker.’ The only way to get in at that level was to have a university degree. Although I didn’t have one, they let my service as a teacher count as if I did.” With his foot in the door, Jack started off not making films but trailers, the first being for director Philip Savile. “It was for a television play called Mad House on Castle Street. My habit was to go and sit in the control room whilst they were rehearsing and take notes about what aspects would make for the best trailer,” he explains. “I was sitting up in the control room, and suddenly I heard a voice. It was American – a man singing and playing the guitar. I said to the PA, ‘Who’s the guy with the guitar?’ because I couldn’t make out from where I was sitting. She said to me, ‘I don’t really know, Jack, I think his name’s Bob Dylan, and Philip has put him in the play.’ Bob and I afterwards did some separate recordings in a different studio, and these were the makings of my first trailer. You know, when you have these extreme situations working with people, it sticks with you forever. If you remember a great experience working with somebody, it means you’re benefiting from the talent they bring to the process.” After just four months, Jack moved on towards making full-length television films.
Directing The Pity of War (1964) and George Orwell 1903-1950 (1965), Jack next latched on to a dream project; making a film about Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali. “They’d already been trying to get him for 15 years. Everybody at the BBC told me to forget it – nobody thought I’d get him,” he says. “I contacted Dali’s manager, who told me, ‘Its nothing personal, he just wont make a film with anybody.’ So I kept ringing him over and over and annoying him, until one day Dali came back to him and asked to meet me for tea, making it clear that there’d be no film.” Accepting the offer, Jack set off to meet Dali for tea in Paris. En route, he kept turning over in his mind a speech that might persuade Dali to work with him on a film about his career. “Tea arrived, and I was a bit awed by this startling figure of Dali sat in front of me. He was sitting in this high-backed chair with a cane in his hand. Nothing could prepare you for the shock of actually meeting him – he had such a powerful presence, and it was seriously unnerving. He caught me off guard, and said to me: ‘If we were to make a film together, which we never will do, what would have been your intention?’ And so I sat in a frozen position trying to remember the speech. Nothing came out – silence. I forgot everything I wanted to say. I said to him: ‘My intention would have been… my intention… err… to drill a hole in your head to destroy and penetrate your unconscious once and forever from the inside out! Where these words came from, I do not know” he laughs. “Dali went silent, and I was thinking about how I’d fucked it up. We sat for about three or four minutes and not a word was spoken… and then suddenly he pointed at me and said: ‘I will make a film with you.’” Jack and Dali’s collaboration, Dali in New York, was released in 1966, and remains one of the most notable films in Jack’s filmography.
Jack’s career went on to see him work on the South Bank Show, contributing films about figures ranging from Werner Herzog to Patricia Highsmith, directing a number of feature films, and not least making a number of documentaries about artists. Most recently, Jack completed a documentary about Essex-based Chris Moon, a self-taught artist who was formally a painter and decorator, with no prior training or experience in fine art. An Artist’s Eyes (2016) received a warm reception when it premiered privately at the Charlotte Street Hotel late last year. The film focuses on the creative process behind Moon’s work, tracking him from his studio in Essex to a London exhibition and another in the Chelsea district of New York, concluding with a road trip across Spain in Moon’s vintage Mercedes Benz. “There’s no talking to camera in this film. I really hate that as a technique. There’s no interviews, only talking and sound,” says Jack, “Chris is now a highly priced artist who discovered that he had the knack for art. I was particularly happy with the finish of this new film. As an artist, there is no greater critic than yourself, and watching the immense pressure and depression that an artist like Chris has to overcome to enable him to work was something I could relate to and admire.” Today, Jack resides in Bloomsbury’s Brunswick Centre, which he describes as like living in the sky. Jack’s energy and humour show no sign of dimming any time soon, and neither does his career, with a new film project already on the horizon.