Mendes war epic of grandfather’s heroics shakes Hollywood

Cast and crew of ‘1917’, Sam Mendes, second from left, with the award for best motion picture drama at the 77th annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. (AP Photo)
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Updated 10 January 2020

Mendes war epic of grandfather’s heroics shakes Hollywood

  • Film documents story of two British soldiers who must cross no-man’s land to deliver a vital message to abort a planned attack on German lines
  • Director’s grandfather, Trinidad-born writer Alfred Mendes, was given a similar almost suicidal mission when he served as a rifleman in Flanders

PARIS: Sam Mendes says that “1917” is his “most personal” film, and it could yet be his most praised after it ripped up the form books to win him best film and best director at the Golden Globes earlier this week.
His adrenalin-filled World War I epic, which the British director shot as if it was one continuous take, could yet match the five Oscars his debut feature “American Beauty” picked up in 2000.
“It was clearly a technical challenge,” Mendes told AFP before his unexpected triumph, with Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” seemingly the clear favorite to clean up at the Globes, which open the Hollywood awards season.
In a radical filmmaking experiment, Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins shot footage that glides from trenches to crater-filled battlefields and through a devastated French town.
The story for the film, which follows two British soldiers who must cross no-man’s land to deliver a vital message to abort a planned attack on German lines, comes directly from Mendes’ own family history.
His grandfather, the Trinidad-born writer Alfred Mendes, was given a similar almost suicidal mission when he served as a rifleman in Flanders, where he won a Military Medal.
Mendes’ idea for the film came from “listening to my grandfather (as a child) tell stories of his experiences.
“He told one particular story of carrying a message” across the battlefield, and “that became the basis for this,” he added.
“But then everything after that was invented or based on real accounts of the war, first person accounts, letters, and diaries of other people.
“I suppose it is my most personal (film) because it comes directly from me. I’d never written a script for a film before,” said the maker of the last two “Bond” sagas, “Skyfall” and “Spectre.”
But even compared to those enormous minutely-planned blockbuster productions, the making of “1917” was a Herculean feat for Mendes and cinematographer Deakin, who won an Oscar for “Blade Runner 2049” two years ago.
Shooting all over Britain and in Shepperton Studios near London, the two men had to make sure the action looked like it happened in one two-hour take — a technical nightmare which demanded that everything from weather right down to continuity had to be perfect.
The camera follows the two soldiers and we see everything from their point of view without recourse to all the usual editing tricks and narrative jumps that go into conventional film-making.
“I wanted the audience to connect emotionally with the central characters and never leave their side,” Mendes said.
“It was very long process because we had to walk every bit of the journey with the actors before we designed the set,” he added.
“We had to understand how long every set needed to be. So if you wrote, ‘They walked down a hillside through an orchard to a farmhouse,’ you had to walk that journey and design the orchard just for the length of the conversation, and design the distance between the orchard and the farmhouse, the farmhouse and the barn, the barn and the road, the road and the canal. Everything had to be interlinked.”
But the sets could not be built until “we had rehearsed it fully with the actors. So we were rehearsing for months and months. And then building, rehearsing again, then building again. We built over a mile of trenches,” he revealed.
Mendes said he wanted to make his two messengers, played by George MacKay and Dean Charles Chapman (Tommen Baratheon in “Game of Thrones“), “to feel like two men among two million. They’re not heroes, they’re just men.
“And for the audience, I wanted them to know that maybe they won’t survive. Maybe both of them will be killed.”
For Mendes, an acclaimed theater director who still loves the pull of the live, his movie works best on the big screen rather than streamed.
“I think it’s up to filmmakers to make films that need to be seen on the big screen, and make an audience feel like if they don’t see it on a big screen, they are going to miss out.”


Saudi music producer fuses Arabic melodies with hip-hop

Updated 16 January 2020

Saudi music producer fuses Arabic melodies with hip-hop

  • Saud Al-Turki: My parents played a major role in shaping my musical taste which encouraged me to discover different genres from different parts of the world
  • Saud Al-Turki: Growing up in Saudi and watching the news with my father, people like Baker Bakhaider and other legendary news anchors were a big part of my upbringing

JEDDAH: Khobar-based producer Saud Al-Turki had been making music since 2010, but never had the confidence to turn his beats into songs. “Then fate happens when you least expect it,” he told Arab News.

He stepped into a store in Newport Beach, California, in 2017 and struck up a conversation with a Detroit native who went by the name of PLUS and was working in the store at the time. 

“We spoke about life and music and he mentioned that he was an artist, but never mentioned how good of an artist he was. One thing led to the other and we met up about a week later and made ‘Feeling High,’ which was my first official single released on SoundCloud.”

Al-Turki blended his parents’ taste in music into his work. His father had a love for jazz and golden oldies, while his mother appreciated Arabic music.

“My parents played a major role in shaping my musical taste which encouraged me to discover different genres from different parts of the world. At that time, my love for hip-hop and urban music grew. I connected with it. I connected with the culture, the music and the honesty behind the messages conveyed. My process really depends on the atmosphere that I am in, the artists I’m surrounded by and even my geographical location. But what does not change is my approach. I go into the studio with the confidence that I will create something unique and at the same time relatable,” he said.

Two distinct and wildly different genres can be heard in Al-Turki’s music: Arab Tarab music and hip-hop.

“I am definitely not the first or last producer to tap into sampling Arabic sounds. Many international greats have also sampled Arabic music and made hit records. But, in my opinion, the context was missing. So it is crucial that someone from the region is able to make that voice heard while representing the culture in a way that will resonate with a global audience.”

He uses the voice of Saudi news presenter Baker Bakhaider — whose career took off in the early 1970s — as a beat tag to let his audience know who is responsible for the music.

“Growing up in Saudi and watching the news with my father, people like Baker Bakhaider and other legendary news anchors were a big part of my upbringing. In our religion, we use ‘Assalamu Alaykum Wa Rahmat Allah Wa Barakatu’ as a form of greeting. And what better message would I present to the world than wishing peace to be bestowed upon my audience? It is a global message that is relatable and significant.”

He released his latest single “Want Me” on Dec. 25, 2019 featuring Egyptian sensation pre kai ro and Atlanta’s Quentin Miller.

“The true message behind this record is to showcase real independent talent from this part of the world together with a recognizable name in the music industry. Moreover, I wanted to highlight that the level of independent talent in our region is at an all-time high.”