Eyes Wide Shut…

SIV ASIV DSIV BSIV CSUPERMANIA delivers not one, but two amazing exclusives in the same post with this double whammy of unpublished photos and the site’s FIRST ever interview with a member of the Superman IV production team!!

These incredible premiere location shots come courtesy of longtime Superfan and valued associate Alexei Lambley-Steel, (of A Tribute To Christopher Reeve) who obtained these from an anonymous press photographer whose only recollection of shooting them was being reprimanded for distracting Christopher Reeve (even though the star was happy to pose for him, top) during rehearsals for flying scenes (second pic) and horsing around with fellow cast members (third pic with Margot Kidder and Marc McClure).

These portraits are the perfect accompaniment to the recollections of Superman IV’s Production Accountant Jenny Robson, who was kind enough to answer some of SUPERMANIA’s questions recently below in this short interview…

So Jenny can you tell us how you got the job on the movie and what exactly your role was?

I was offered the job as Assistant Production Accountant after working on ‘Aliens’ at  Pinewood Studios the previous year. It was the same Production Controller and Accountant for both movies and they asked me to come and work for them again. The Assistant Accountant does all the ‘boring’ work such as being sent to the set when required by the cast & crew so I hated every minute!!

Had you worked on any other films at Elstree before Superman IV?

This was the first film & unfortunately the last film I did at Elstree.

What are your recollections of the time of shooting?  Are there any scenes in the movie you remember watching being filmed?

I remember more than anything being totally overawed by the whole production. I hadn’t worked on many large movies and whilst everyone else seemed to be very ‘cool’ and not at all impressed by what was going on, I would walk around absolutely thrilled and impressed by the whole thing. I think the ‘flying’ scenes, shot against the blue screen, where the most impressive and of course watching the stunt team at work.

And did you have any interaction with the cast?  Are there any insights you can share about the actors?

I met Gene Hackman, very charming but we didn’t really have a conversation as such, he always spoke to the Production Controller rather than me. I also met Margot Kidder who I must say I found rather aloof and not very friendly. She acted like a ‘star’! The one person I found very friendly and kind was Superman’s Stunt Double, but I cannot remember his name (Mark Stewart).  He would come over to our office and sit opposite me, usually when I had loads to do and chat away. He looked so similar to Chris Reeve it was uncanny.

What were your memories of Christopher Reeve and what interaction did you have with him?

Yes, I was sent to the set to give him some money. In those days the cast were paid a daily allowance for everyday expenses and it was always paid in cash. So, off I went to see Mr. Reeve (so excited!). When I got on to the set I was told to go right over and speak to him.  He was sitting away off from everyone else on a high stool and seemed to be asleep. I found out later that he always rested between takes with his eyes shut.  He was dressed ready for action in his fantastic Superman costume, make up done, the works. He looked amazing but, I thought, definitely asleep. So, I stood in front and said, very politely “excuse me, Mr. Reeve”. On that, he opened his eyes, smiled widely and said “Oh, just call me Christopher”.

Well, I was in the presence of this great man, I could hardly speak! Eventually, I told him that I had some money for him, so he kindly signed for it and then we both laughed when he realised that he had no pockets! At that time his personal assistant wasn’t around but she arrived soon after and took the cash from him.  What a moment – me & Christopher Reeve laughing on set together. I will never forget how charming he was to a lowly crew member and how blue his eyes were!!

Were you aware of the budgetary/production problems faced during shooting?  Were people noticeably concerned?

To be honest, No, I wasn’t aware of any problems but the Finance Team were always very conscientious and thorough about all of the accounting.

Did you see any of the flying scenes/special effects taking place and were they interesting to watch?

As I mentioned I saw Chris Reeve in one flying scene. It was almost impossible to know which one it was as it was all set against a blue screen. When I saw the finished movie I had no idea which scene I had watched being made.

Did you keep anything from the set and were you studio based or on location?

I was studio based and didn’t go on any location unfortunately.

What did you think of the finished film?  Did it reflect your experiences or did it live up to your expectations? 

At the time I thought it was a marvellous film, though how this would stand up to modern movie making is a difficult question to answer…

SUPERMANIA thanks both Jenny and Alexei for their time and incredible contributions…

Astronautics…

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Though the cinematic conception of Planet Krypton as a world founded on crystal technology may be credited to Star Wars designer John Barry, it may come as a surprise that the final designs for Superman’s alien mechanizations were rendered by the man most famous for the iconic look of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Despite their infamy, producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind insisted on hiring the best of the best across the industry for their productions and the late Harry Lange, now known as ‘the man who saw the future’ was no exception.

Credited as an ‘Astronautics Consultant’ for Richard Lester’s Superman II, German born Hans Kurt Lange (bottom pic, holding the astronaut helmet he designed for 2001) was solely responsible for the interior/exterior work on the Artemis II space capsule set (third pic) realised with such authenticity it could’ve passed as a real spacecraft –  

“I’d seen real hardware at Cape Canaveral and in NASA’s research laboratories and hangars, so I knew what the equipment had to look like. A piece of board with blue squares stuck on it may do for TV, but not when you want to do something on a Cinerama screen. It had to be absolutely perfect. I kept that idea in my following films: Star Wars, Superman, James Bond…”

While comparisons between the earth-based hardware in II, Kubrick’s classic and Moonraker evidently bear Lange distinctive style, it is the Kryptonian computers/memory banks (first & second pic) that are standout examples of fantasy art elegantly realised.  While the console (second pic) could easily be the basis of Superman’s computer in the Fortress Of Solitude revised for Superman II, one wonders if he was involved uncredited as early as Donner’s original movie as this lot of illustrations from his estate (in auction this month by Propstore) clearly show a bank of computers mounted in the arch of Lex Luthor’s underground hideaway…

Read Harry’s obituary from the UK Independent here

Flying Tonight…

LM_Cover-001Pictures17Pictures19Harrison Ellenshaw-SigPicSUPERMANIA is proud to present yet another rare vintage find with this excellent article from the short-lived LM magazine.  This first of only four issues ever to hit shelves was a complimentary first edition and despite its sharp presentation (featuring art by Oliver Rey, top, under a plain black cover) and variety of pop-culture topics failed to find an audience.

While publisher Newsfield had already secured its demographic through monthlies devoted to computer gaming (Crash!, Zzap64) this obscure title (to date it is unknown what LM actually stood for though it does state ‘Leisure magazine’ on the first page) is still probably the last place you would expect to find a feature on the special effects of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace.

Indeed, Curtis Huchinson’s set visit (second and third pic, click for larger) is peppered with great little revelations, firstly from star Christopher Reeve but focussing mainly on the career and contribution of special effects supervisor Harrison Ellenshaw, (bottom pic) whose excellent pedigree was great assurance that the tradition of ground-breaking visuals set by the Superman series would continue.

For all the optimism expressed by Ellenshaw above at having been involved in the shoot from the outset, however, at the time of writing no-one could’ve forseen the budget for the picture would be slashed considerably leaving Ellenshaw and his in-house team (OLW – Olsen, Lane & White) to make the best of what they had, which, as we all know, fell tragically short of the quality of previous works (Tron, Captain Eo) and was ultimately judged by many to be the worst of the series…

“A Bad Start…”

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michael_j_kaganHead of Production for Cannon Films between 1982 and 1988, the late Michael J. Kagan – Executive producer of Superman IV: The Quest For Peace – gave his final thoughts on the movie in an interview with SFX magazine last year…

“We got off to a bad start on Superman IV.  First of all we were meant to film at Pinewood Studios, which is where the previous three movies had been done.  But Cannon had just bought EMI at that point.  Elstree Studios was a part of EMI so we had to move the whole production there.  Pinewood, however, were very upset about this.  We had begun building a stage especially for Superman IV at Pinewood and that had to be cancelled.  And they called me and gave me hell for it.  They said ‘you will have to do all sorts of special effects on this movie which we are prepared for because we have done it three times already.  But at Elstree you will not have that.’

Now I was a foreigner in London and I did not know what some of the things they were talking about even were.  All I could do was say ‘We can get that done at Elstree’ but this was my first time dealing with any of this. Special effects were much more difficult to create back then…” 

 “The problems began with the script.  The director, Sidney J. Furie, was a good choice and we had a great cast – I mean we even got Gene Hackman back – but the script was lacklustre.  Anything you read about the shoot being tense or full of fighting or anything – none of that is true.  There were some conflicts on Superman IV, sure, but nothing major.  Sidney Furie could sometimes get a little overheated, and he would get into arguments with the actors, but otherwise the film was a friendly affair.  Despite the problems with the budget and the effects everyone wanted Superman IV to work.”

“Christopher Reeve was quite a nice guy- he wanted to pilot his own plane over to London but the insurance company wouldn’t allow it – I remember that being quite a funny discussion.  He was quite a modest celebrity – he was not into extravagance or anything. He believed in Superman IV and worked very hard on it.  This is the problem – if it had been shot today it would’ve been a better movie.  Today we could have made Superman fly, believably with blue screen and computers.  But back then it took forever to do these visual effects and it did not look very good.  Cannon was used to doing their lower budgeted movies and they simply took on more than they could handle.  We set up a company in America for post-production effects where they were going to take out wires and everything.  Well, right away that cost $3 million to do and Cannon was not prepared for these costs – which were essential for making it look good – so we could not do a lot of flying sequences.  Then, most famously we had to make Milton Keynes look like New York, and I don’t think we convinced that many people. If I were to do it again, I would have insisted we at least had more time to develop the script.”

“Superman IV was a huge commitment for Cannon –I had done some other projects for Golan and Globus by that time and the intention was always to move on to bigger and better things.  Unfortunately we took on too many other movies at that time and Superman got rushed along and lost in the pack.  It deserved a lot more time and care.  No-one wanted to make a bad movie – I look at the sequel, and many other Cannon productions and wish we could have slowed down and spent more time getting things right.  Golan was a good man, and he remains my friend, but he had no control over himself.  He loved the cinema and he would green-light movie after movie – giving work to a lot of people in the process – but the flip-side of it is that there was never enough money or time for things to be done properly.  That was what hurt Superman IV…”

From the top – Excerpt from the UK TV show ‘Think it…Do it!’ (aired on BBC1 13/3/87) Hosted by Johnny Ball as he tours the Metropolis Street set at Elstree Studios before talking to storyboard artist Martin Asbury, Aerial shots of Elstree Studios of the site circa 1986 (illustrating where various scenes in the movie were staged) and bottom, the late Michael J. Kagan.  Thanks to Superfan Tim Partridge for the vintage Elstree shots – For more on these sets go here and see them under construction here