Eyes Wide Shut…

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SUPERMANIA delivers not one, but two amazing exclusives in the same post with this double whammy of unpublished photos and the site’s FIRST ever interview with a member of the Superman IV production team!!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

HI Jenny- can you first tell us what your role was and how you got the job on the movie?

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.

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 mechanisation 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 forever 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…

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SUPERMANIA 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 focusing 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 foreseen 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…