You know those actors who say: “I can’t bear to watch myself. I notice all my mistakes”? I finally have an inkling of what they mean.
In the likely event that you haven’t been following my blog, I’ll recap. Last September, my book George Orwell on Screen was published in the US. In March, the Criterion Collection interviewed me in London for a special edition DVD/Blu-ray of Nineteen Eighty-Four (the John Hurt movie, made in 1984). To put it another way, I’ve achieved two of my life’s ambitions in the space of a year. I’m not only an author, I’m a DVD extra.
Two days ago, I received my complimentary discs of what Criterion is calling 1984 (let’s be honest, it’s snappier). They’re region-coded for the US and Canada, but after a little jiggery-pokery, I found a way to watch them. My first instinct was to check out the 21 minutes and 41 seconds devoted to me. That’s more or less a TV show, with a professional sheen you’re not going to find on the average YouTube video; I was amazed how many people were in the end credits, actually.
I steeled myself to watch it, mainly because DVD Beaver had published a review with screen grabs and I didn’t much like the photograph of myself. Sure, I’ve peered into a camcorder before, many times. I know what I look and sound like. But this was an edited interview, with the hi-def camera to one side of me and inadvertent facial expressions included. I’d be seeing myself as others see me, pretty much.
After about 30 seconds, I relaxed and settled back to enjoy the featurette. Once it had finished, I watched it all over again. I can tell they’ve chopped up my sentences and rearranged them, but it’s so seamless and clever, even I can barely see (or hear) the join. In any event, my face doesn’t appear that much: the vast majority of the time, I’m a voiceover for film clips and still photos.
I watched the movie again, for the umpteenth time – it’s a favourite of mine – only with Dominic Muldowney’s original soundtrack, rather than the Eurythmics’ controversial replacement (both are included on the disc). This is the definitive transfer, as it happens, approved by the director Michael Radford and his cinematographer, Roger Deakins. To appreciate just how drained of colour the picture is – how it’s been pushed halfway towards a black-and-white look, on purpose – you ought to watch the trailer as well, which is garishly realistic. The difference is genuinely startling.
Radford and Deakins are interviewed separately and seem much more relaxed in front of a camera than I am. The director is ebullient, talking ten to the dozen and chuckling a lot; while the equally affable, Oscar-winning director of photography talks fondly of what was an early opportunity for him – a young man breaking into movies, in awe of Richard Burton (who wound up thanking the crew for invigorating him).
Though I’m a little self-conscious about my stumbles, slip-ups, pauses for thought and strange pronunciation of the word ‘moustache’, I guess I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I gave my sister a DVD and she watched it on her computer, which didn’t object to it being Region 1. “You were very impressive,” she told me today, when we spotted each other outside a supermarket. “Like you really knew what you were talking about.”