The wild ideas of Birmingham film-maker Ian Emes
Aug 6 2010 By Lorne Jackson
The prize-winning director was flown to LA for the ceremony and courted by the heads of all the major studios. Emes touched down in a world of success, excess and the nip and tuck ageless.
Quite a journey from that kitchen sink in Handsworth.
He was taken to a fancy hotel, where he was confronted by more bottles of free champagne than it was possible to swig in a debouched decade.
“These magnums of champagne were three foot high and I didn’t know what to do with them,” he says. “So I poured them in the bath, then bathed in champagne, which I thought was going to be incredibly nice, but it was actually really horrible. It was sticky and nasty.
“I did manage to drink a couple of glasses of the champagne before going to the pre-Oscars party. So I was a bloke from Birmingham who was a little bit tipsy.”
The invitation for the party said it was going to be an intimate, informal gathering. Which it probably was – by Hollywood standards.
“There was a two lane motorway going down to the house, lined with Mexicans on horseback, playing guitars,” recalls Emes.
Every major Hollywood star of the era was there.
“It was like Madame Tussauds come alive. There was Warren Beatty, Dolly Parton, Cher, Shirley MacLaine, Jack Nicholson, Michael Caine...”
Shirley MacLaine had been nominated that year for Terms Of Endearment, and Emes – still half-cut – staggered up to her while she was telling her friends that she was feeling rather nervous.
Slurring his words, the boozed-up Brummie burbled: “Well Shirley, whatever happens, you’ve made some wonderful films!”
The group didn’t take kindly to such chumminess. All the faces fell and they drifted off, leaving Ian on his own.
Luckily Michael Caine came over and was very friendly. Caine pointed to a fireplace and admitted that it was bigger than his mother’s house. Then the star of The Italian Job introduced Emes to an actor standing nearby.
It was Jack Nicholson. At which point Ian put his foot in it once more.
“I said, ‘The thing is, Jack, I don’t know what they’re all getting so excited about – it’s only an award!’
“It was such a Birmingham thing to say. The Birmingham was really coming out in me that night. Jack said: ‘Well, Ian, you kind of get caught up in it. You know what I mean?’ Then, obviously, he vaporized into the group.”
Emes certainly didn’t manipulate the party to the advantage of his career. He was a loser of a schmoozer on that occasion.
However, in the long run, it didn’t prove to be detrimental. He still had that canoe cruising mentality to fall back on, plus a bunch of ideas.
Over the years he has worked in America, Europe and the UK. After a period working on feature films, he is currently focusing his energy on TV.
He recently won another British Academy Award for co-directing the children’s TV series, Bookaboo ... about a talking dog who plays the drums and interviews celebs. Yep, those Pink Floyd trippy trappings have never really left Ian’s itchy imagination.
Even after many decades in the film and TV industry, Emes still believes that French Windows, the work that set his career in motion, is the work that stretched his talent the most.
He is delighted that it is once again being shown in the Ikon, its original home.
“Looking at it again is incredible,” he says. “In my life, I’ve made a lot of films that I’m proud of. But that piece is still the best thing I’ve done. Which must be the freshness and ambition of youth.”
That isn’t to say the 61-year-old has dried up in any way.
“My limbs are a bit more creaky and tired,” he admits. “But inside this robot piece of machinery called the body is a floating ‘me’.
“And that ‘me’ is still a child in the playroom.
“These days I’m a father, I’ve been married for over 30 years, and I pay a mortgage and I pay my taxes, and all that stuff.
“But my place is in the play room. That’s where I’m happy, and that’s where I want to stay.”
* This Could Happen To You, also featuring the work of many other seminal artists of the 70s, is at the Ikon until September 5. For more information: www.ikon-gallery.co.uk