Monty Python’s Dark Side

On Friday I’m going to the BFI Southbank to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which I produced in 1974. I had to buy my own tickets because the BFI never bothered to inform me of the screening. I assume the reason they have left me in the cold is that the Pythons asked them not to invite me. This is quite a long story, but the short version is that after Spamalot came out, the Pythons decided that the royalties they had been paying me for 30 years was wrong and they slashed my royalties by 50%. I tried to negotiate and mediate my way out of this white collar theft but they were adamant that I had been cheating them for 30 years. After 7 years of haggling and getting nowhere I had no alternative but to take them to court, and I won the case, but at a terrible cost to my health and finances. The trial cost the Pythons £ 1.3m and they put on their 02 reunion to recoup that loss. Ever since then, they have done their best to erase me from their history. If you want to read more about the dark side of Python read my book The 7th Python which tells the sorry tale ( The worst part of the experience for me was the fact that neither Terry Gilliam, a fellow film student when we shared a flat in NYC or National Treasure Michael Palin were willing to say to Eric Idle – let’s not do this. Why do I single out Eric? He revealed his hatred of me at the trial and called me ungrateful for trying to defend myself. Eric once put on a one man show called The Greedy Bastard Tour – this really says it all. In the book I include parts of Eric and Michael’s cross examination which is revealing of another side to them. I’m going to the screening because I’d like to view the film on a big screen again and to see Neil Innes, who is a friend. What bothers me the most is how petty this is of the Pythons, and how the BFI, our guardians of film culture, went along with this insult. After the trial I received this anonymous poem:

With a little grudge, with a little grudge
Open your purse ‘cause you’ve been defeated
With a little nudge from the trial judge
You’re worth’s slightly worse but not depleted

Sorry if it’s dumb to say
You’ve done all right in your lives
Really, is the sum you’ll pay
Worth such a fight in your lives

And though you feel rotten that he has won
Still I say don’t appeal, say that the deal is done
Is it just a grudge, just a little grudge
Hope the little nudge from the judge
Helps erase the grudge

With a little grudge, with a little grudge
Open your purse ‘cause you’ve been defeated
With a little nudge from the trial judge
You’re worth’s slightly worse but not depleted

Sorry if it’s dumb to say
You’ve done all right in your lives
Really, is the sum you’ll pay
Worth such a fight in your lives

And though you feel rotten that he has won
Still I say don’t appeal, say that the deal is done
Is it just a grudge, just a little grudge
Hope the little nudge from the judge
Helps erase the grudge

September 17, 2019 at 1:35 pm Leave a comment

A Spiritual Almanack

A few years ago Jo Manuel and I wrote a monthly spiritual Almanack for Yoga And Health magazine. I had a look at what we wrote for April recently and since it’s the last day of April I thought it would be apt to include it as the 10th post.I’ve a few alterations to bring it up to date. I’ll add them monthly from now on.

A Spiritual Almanack

April : Blossom

I Ching – Hexagram 1: Heaven (The Creative Principle)

A flower opens to the sun; our hearts open to the universe.

The rising sun radiates energy throughout the sky, filling the space below the heavens and covering the earth, its heat penetrating all things, quickening them into life and nourishing their development. Whatever the light touches it illuminates and clarifies, exposing hidden shadows, just as the energy of our consciousness – our awareness, thoughts and feelings – illuminate and clarify everything within and without.

Commentary On The Symbol (Heaven):

The creative principle acts with vitality and persistence.

In correspondence with this

The cultivated person stays vital without ceasing.

Heaven covers everything on earth, and originates all creatures. It is a single flow of energy, continuously circulating, never ceasing, moving forward endlessly and inexhaustibly. The way of the creative is constant change and transformation, allowing each being to evolve into its own nature and opening a path to its true destiny.

The creative, Heaven, is the ultimate of health, vitality and strength, and is the source of our own health and soundness. If we follow the Way of Heaven, we are in harmony with nature, and can adapt to the changes we face, knowing when to move forward and when to stop, when to seize the moment and when to let the moment pass by. Adapting correctly to all change, we find a way that is prosperous and smooth, the obstacles we encounter do not block us, and our path reveals itself in time, each footstep and each decision opening new vistas, new possibilities.

A lily produced in spring is a marvel of creativity. It embodies the ultimate unfolding of yang, the true positive energy of creation. When positive energy is born, all things cannot help but blossom. They are all in process, are transforming and happening, are flowing events rather than fixed and solid objects.

Someone asked Chan Master Wen-Yen,

“What is the fundamental idea of Buddhism?

The Master answered,

“When Spring comes, the grass turns green of itself.”

The rain falls, clouds disperse, the sun emerges, and all forms develop of themselves. To follow the way of Heaven is to actualise Tao in your daily life, to interfuse the sacred and mundane in your own body, mind and spirit. This opens the doors of perception, as it did for William Blake:

To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wild flower

The energy that opens the flower wakes you in the morning. The quality of strength in people is this same primal creative energy of heaven. This energy comes spontaneously to everything from nature, is strong but has no need of force. It is bright and lucid, illuminating everything like the sun at midday. When it appears the earth is covered with growth, the world is filled with golden flowers.

They gave her the name Shi Die Lin. She was twenty months old and at one month her mother had abandoned her at the steps of an orphanage. The passport picture they sent us showed a sad, perplexed little girl. Did we want to adopt her? Having waited for six frustrating years, there was no hesitation, no matter how deep her sadness. She was healthy and needed a home, no more to be said. They delivered her to our hotel room, a scrawny, tight-jawed, bowl-legged tyke with dozens of ugly mosquito bites on her legs, and a strangely-shaped head. What had we taken on? Six years later, she has blossomed into a smiling, bonny, slim, straight-legged 8 year old who loves life. Love, human warmth, food and security have made her bloom. We call her Lily.

Vanda Scaravelli writes,

As the sun opens the flowers delicately, unfolding them little by little, so the yoga exercises  and breathing open the body during a slow and careful training. When the body is open, the heart is open.

Yoga gives us openness and flexibility of mind and body, and opens our spirit, so that we feel the relationship between heaven, earth and all sentient beings. This feeling of one-ness and unity gives us a sense of connectedness to all creation, so that we never feel alone.  The asanas help develop a core strength that gives us an inner confidence and centeredness that allows us to blossom into our true self without fear and doubt.

The Brihad Devata says: ‘All that exists is born from the sun’.  The ancient yoga exercise, Salute To The Sun (surya namaskar) puts us in touch with the universal energy of the cosmos.  The harmonious pattern of postures united in circular movements flowing into each other are part of a whole, just as a petal is part of a flower.  Traditionally  the sequence is performed at dawn facing east towards the rising sun so that in raising our hands upwards we offer the sun and the universe a respectful salute.  The golden warmth of the sun is received by our hearts and welcomed with great love and thanks.

We need to open ourselves to the light so that we can learn to trust ourselves and the universe.   As the Mundaka Upanishad says:

The Lord of Love shines in everyone’s heart. When we are wise and see the Lord of Love in all living things, we lose ourselves in the service of all and find ultimate peace and joy. With truth, meditation, self-control and discipline, we can find ourselves in this state of joy and see the inner spirit, our real essence, shining in our hearts.

Every day the sun rises to say “You are alive – enjoy it!” and every night when you go to bed, reflect on how wonderful it is just to be alive, to breathe and feel the joy of existence itself.

© 2003/ 2009 Mark Forstater and Jo Manuel

April 12, 2023 at 3:37 pm Leave a comment

The Future Of Film

This is a talk that I gave at The Temple of Art and Music, Smithfield, on Thursday April 6th, 2023

I’m going to tell you about Dreambird, our revolutionary new online platform for film production. But first I’d like to give you a potted history of the film business to show you how we got here today.

Around the year 1900 films began to be made in Britain, France and the US. In the states, penny arcades or nickelodeons were stores where customers paid a penny or a nickel to look into a peep machine that showed them a short piece of moving pictures.

These store front sites later began to project 10 and 20 minute black and white silent shorts, and this became a thriving business.

1n 1912 a decisive moment came when Adolf Zukor, who co-owned a few of these store front cinemas, decided that the future of film lay in what he called features- 60-90 minute films -to be shown in theatres. Everyone thought this was foolish and wouldn’t work. To test his theory, Zukor bought the US rights to a long French film starring the famous actress Sarah Bernhardt and put it in a theatre on Broadway to fantastic results – it was a huge hit.

Now everyone jumped on the feature bandwagon, and Zukor set up Paramount Pictures, which became a studio to make films, had a distribution arm to send them around the world and theatres to show them in. This was the vertically organised structure that all the famous Hollywood studios copied- MGM, Universal, Warner Brothers, Columbia and Fox. These major companies dominated the industry and they staffed their companies with actors, writers directors and producers to make a slate of films to play every week in cinemas. Film became the 5th largest industry in the US.

The first World War destroyed European production so US made films dominated the world.

In 1927 sound was introduced and in 1939 colour made its debut. Except for a slight dip during the depression, the film industry in America was on an up ward curve.

Problems for the industry started 1n 1948 when the government forced the studios to divest themselves of their cinemas and in the 1950s Television began to take away their audience. The studios fought back with 3D, wide screen displays, epic productions and stereo sound but the end of the studio system was permanent.

Now independent companies, funded by the major distributors, who retained the sales rights, became more important.

Marshall McLuhan, a famous critic of media, made the point that it was the decline of the studio system and the advent of television, that created the art film. Television gave the audiences westerns, family drama and comedies, forcing the studios to make different productions. Gaining inspiration from European directors in the 1960s, American filmmakers like George Lucas and Francis Coppolla made better films in the last quarter of the 20th century.  

Studios also expanded into home viewing, with VHS and DVD, leading to Blockbuster stores, and a small DVD mail order service called Netflix.

The Covid lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 closed down cinemas and production and gave Netflix the chance to grow. These two years were financially the worst in cinema history – production shut down and distributors had no cinemas to supply so they had no income. This has had a strong knock-on effect to independent producers.

Almost all the majors now followed the Netflix model and set up streaming services of their own, fighting against themselves and television for paying audiences.

Cinemas have not yet returned to their pre-pandemic level, so there is a funding gap in film production. This has made it very hard for independent producers to fund their films, and once funded it is even harder to distribute them. If producers place their films on a streaming service, how will audiences even know they exist without promotion and marketing. Making a 2nd film becomes nearly impossible.

This is the serious problem Dreambird set out to solve.

So now we are in an age of streaming. Here is my view of what this means:

Most producers are now seeking funding from the streamers, but their economic model does not give producers any profit share. Producers have become hired guns, collecting handsome production fees but no profits.

Streamers also use algorithms to calculate which films have done well on their platforms, and they then make more of the same. This leads in my view to very unoriginal and poorer quality films and series. If producers know that they will be paid no matter how good the quality there is little incentive to create better productions.

The streamers gatekeepers also have a woke agenda, where the definition of a good film is a good issue. In these circumstances, entertaining films are not the norm, and audiences who are generally not woke, feel badly served by the streamers, searching for up to 30 minutes to find something they want to watch, and often not feeling satisfied.  

Someone said that the streamers seem to have a death wish. Can they survive making films that the majority of the audience don’t want to watch? We believe that the current state of cinema is slowly crumbling away.

So Dreambird has re-imagined the film industry and is going to build a new eco-system. In our system, creators such as writers, directors and producers are put in touch with fans, fansumers and prosumers. Together, they can communicate, collaborate, fund, create, market and distribute films they all want to make and view. Dreambird will have its own streaming service, open to all producers without gatekeepers.

This is a combination of a social media site, a streaming platform and a marketplace all in one location. Engagement and interactivity will be easy. In fact, we intend to make the first completely interactive film ever made.

We believe that Dreambird can rejuvenate the independent film sector. There will be a virtual film studio on the platform and films made and streamed on the platform can be sold to cinemas, TV, and other streamers.

New entrants to the film industry, who find it so difficult to get skills and employment, will be able to join the platform and find collaborators and mentors. Investors will be able to join the platform to get an early look at projects that are gaining traction with audiences.

Smart contracts via blockchain will protect peoples investments and producers are able to keep a large share of the profits of their films, in some cases up to 85%.

Dreambird aims to create trust in the platform and will not sell data or allow targeted advertising. Instead we plan to build a unique community that will en gender a tsunami of creativity.  

Dreambird is the future of cinema.

April 11, 2023 at 8:05 am 2 comments

Every Day is April Fools Day Now

April Fools Day began in France in the middle of the 16th century when they changed from the Julian calendar – New Year’s Day April 1 – to the Gregorian calendar – New Year’s day January 1. Those who were ignorant of the change continued to celebrate New Year on April 1 and were laughed at and called fools .

But now we are all April Fools because Covid has changed everything but we are being urged to go back to ‘normal’, to life as it used to be without accepting that things are now so different that we can’t go back. People are being asked to adapt to a ‘new normal’ without really knowing what that is. To our governments the new normal looks just like the old normal because they can’t face the magnitude of the required changes.

One thing that Covid has laid bare is that our environment is so trashed that viruses can now leap from stressed animals to people. Covid is a wake-up call. The Earth is in revolt against us for having created a climate crisis which has thrown Gaia ( the Earth) out of balance. Hence wildfires, flooding , tornadoes, excess rain, excess drought, melting ice caps, rising sea levels. A real life disaster.

To avoid more pandemics and to heal the Earth are not only the same fight but also the most important fight of today. Are we really engaging in this struggle or are we, like April Fools, trying to live by the old rules when they no longer make sense.

To move forward we need leaders who understand that we need radical changes to how we live and work and who can give us a plan to make those changes. But we also need individuals who are willing to make serious life changes. Habit is a powerful inertia, holding us back from making lifestyle changes .

If we can’t find those leaders , if we fail to make these changes then we face a growing instability that will cost millions of lives and untold suffering . Gaia, the Earth, will eventually recover but we will pay a huge incalculable price if we are unable to adapt in time . End of sermon.

January 27, 2022 at 5:35 pm Leave a comment

The Virus That Ate Christmas

This is Dreambird’s Christmas film – loathed by anti-vaccers

December 18, 2021 at 9:35 pm Leave a comment

Give a Man a Fish

Maimonides wrote,

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day,

Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

This is a truth about  education and opportunity. Teaching is education, and without education you have no skills to find food for yourself. But opportunity, the freedom to use the skills you have acquired, may not be there. Unless jobs are available (not McJobs) then why bother getting an education. This is the situation in many parts of the country, and its that kind of deprivation that led many people to vote Brexit.

Will the government try to fix this? It’s doubtful they will really try, because to really try means to change utterly the way society operates at present.

How does society operate at present ? Ask our fishermen and women . Their rotting fish will tell you . And in 50 years there may not be any fish to catch . We are destroying wildlife in an unprecedented way and that destruction breeds conditions for more viruses to emerge.

Gaia, the earth, does not need us . It will recover its health if we are gone, like removing a cancer from the body. But we don’t have to go, we don’t have to disappear ( like the Neanderthals) if we decide to change . Because it does seem that the choice is self-destruct or survive. But to survive we have to change . And now, after a pandemic which has already changed many settled customs, is the right time to make these changes , to follow through on creating a kind of life that will sustain the planet and all the creatures on it , including us.

As Auden prophetically wrote “We must love one another, or die.”

August 30, 2021 at 10:27 am Leave a comment

Advice for another lockdown

July 28, 2021 at 9:17 am Leave a comment

The Virus That Ate Christmas

I’m very pleased to announce our Christmas music video. The Virus that Ate Christmas is the story of Cyrus the Virus (dancer and choreographer Brendon Hansford in a great mask and costume ) versus Santa (played by Richard Evans-Thomas) for the soul of Christmas, The music for the video is Silent Night composed by Ben Fingerhut and sung by Steph Callard. The director is my partner in Dreambird Studios Nathan Neuman.

We managed to shoot the video in the middle of December after we finished the main shoot of #valentinesday, our forthcoming feature film. We had to rush the post to get it out before Christmas which we just about managed.

I’m very happy with the final result, which I hope will bring some laughs (and perhaps a tear or two) to people who are living through the saddest Christmas in living memory. It’s almost a public service video in that Santa is clearly not an anti-vaxxer. See what you think.

December 26, 2020 at 11:34 am Leave a comment

History Explains Why The UK Was Not Prepared for Covid-19

Mark Forstater's Blog

In the last 100 years, Britain has faced 3 existential crises. The first was 1914 at the start of the 1st world war, the second 1939 at the beginning of the 2nd and the latest one – Brexit/ Covid-19 is not even a war at all (but has the potential to turn into one- a civil war). Each of these crises shows a persistent pattern to British decision making, and it’s worth remembering what they are.

In 1914 when the 1st WW started, Britain had only 4 months’ supply of acetone. Acetone is needed to make cordite, which is a missile propellant, and without a supply the war would have been over in 6 months. None could be bought because the Germans had monopolised the supply. The government turned to a chemistry lecturer in Manchester named Dr Chaim Weizmann who had synthesized acetone from grain in 1912 and asked him…

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April 29, 2020 at 9:55 am Leave a comment

A Cultivator’s Diary Pt 6 (from my journals 2007)

Mark Forstater's Blog

February 11, 2007

I read an article by Melanie McFadyean about her grandfather, Herbert Guttman from Berlin, whose father started the Dresdner Bank. Guttman went from an 80 room villa in Berlin to homelessness in London in 1939, but his attitude was “Money lost, nothing lost. Sense of humour lost, everything lost“. This is the right attitude to have in your current situation, where you are starting to worry about how you can fund everything. But this will all work out. Have faith.

February 24

I hope my energy improves soon. It’s now almost two weeks since I got ill and I hate the feeling of low energy, low enthusiasm and tiredness. It’s no good for work or life.

February 25

When you get ill, you realise how dying will feel, and you sense how old you are. What if you never recovered from this tiredness? Illness leads…

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April 5, 2020 at 11:57 am Leave a comment

After The Plague

Here’s the little I know about The Black Death in the 14th Century – it changed everything. After it had killed 30-50% of the population of Europe, the Peasants decided that life could not resume as it was before. So they revolted. Later, the Renaissance blossomed in a surge of creativity. I’m sure historians can elucidate on my ignorance.

It’s very likely that we will have the same experience: Deaths, revolution and creativity. After the Virus has died out, the Establishment will try to reinstate social and economic life as it was before. It may be broken, but it’s all they know. But we, the peasants, will want to see a drastic change. Life will have to be different.

Given that we were already under serious threat from climate disruption, and our environment was being degraded at an alarming rate, this change would have been forced on us in the very near future. But the virus is a really smart virus. It came along just in time to force us to stop, and take account of where we are going and how we live.

The loss of species, the degradation of animals and their environment is the background to this virus being able to jump from bats to pangolins and into humans. If we don’t want to replay this Viral lockdown scenario in another few years, it’s time now to think about the future.

Remember that Pharaoh had to contend with 7 plagues. We have so far had 5: HIV, Ebola, Sars, Mers and Covid-19. Do we really want to have to endure another 2? There are 5000 viruses available in the world. The odds are against us not having another outbreak. Look at Bill Gates’ Ted Talk warning in 2015. He predicted all this, as did others. We were not ready for it but can we ever really be ready for an invisible and smart killer ?

If I was Keir Starmer I would put together a virtual group of eminent experts and scientists who could begin to track for him the social, psychological, economic, technical and scientific changes that are already happening to us and which will continue to evolve through this plague year. When it all ends that should give him the information he needs to craft a new policy for Labour, one that chimes with the peasants. It will have to be green, it will have to reduce inequality, and it will have to bring more joy and satisfaction into our lives.

WH Auden’s line “We must love one another or die” was prescient. He later renounced it, but history has proven him a prophet. If we don’t care for each other and create a society that has compassion and concern for all of us, then we are likely to perish from the earth. And Gaia will just breathe a sigh of relief and say Good Riddance.

March 31, 2020 at 9:22 am Leave a comment

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The Blog That Fell From The Sky

Reflections on an age of anxiety.