Saturday 10 September 2011

Previously, On THE WEST WING: A Collection Of Articles and Interviews

I love 'The West Wing'. Perhaps, instead of this film blog, I should have just started a 'The West Wing' fan page. In fact, that's kind of what Kid In The Front Row is. Today I decided to look back at the things I have written about the show in the past couple of years, along with the interviews I have been very lucky to do with the cast and crew of the show. 

My hope was always to interview Aaron Sorkin, the creator, but thus far he has remained elusive, apart from a few kind notes/responses. But there's still the hope that, some time in the future when his schedule allows, we will finally get that interview.

 The Articles 

"Many years ago - my Uncle said to me, "You must watch The West Wing," and I thought yeah right, whatever. No-one tells me what to watch. But he was persistent and he lent me the first season. And I began watching it. My life changed."  

Here is a note I received from the show's creator, Aaron Sorkin, after that post.

"Front Row,

Thanks so much for the amazing tribute to the show. You really made my day and I'll be sending it around to everyone on the cast and crew list.

Thanks again,


Read the full article here.


December 20th 2010 - Previously, On The West Wing

Some thoughts I had after watching the entire series of TWW for the gazillionth time.

"THE WEST WING represented an idea. It's about 5.30am wake-up calls. It's about dedicating who you are to something bigger than yourself. It's about loyalty and doing something that matters. It's about working weekends and having dinner at 11pm on a Thursday night in the office because you have to get things done, because if you don't the world isn't going to operate properly come the morning. "

Read the full article here.

I always loved John Spencer's work on the show. After seven seasons of being in the company of a character, you really feel like you know them. There was something extremely poignant about the work of John Spencer. He carried a weight, a gravitas, while also being sensitive and warm. His final episodes before his real life (and then on screen) death, feature some of his greatest work. 

I spoke to Eli Attie about John Spencer. 

"John's death left a gaping hole in the middle of the show, a cavernous vacuum, and the rest of Season Seven was largely a reaction to that--a memorial to him and to the creative world he helped to shape and lead."
-Eli Attie 

Read the full article and Eli's touching words about John here.


Eli Attie - Supervising Producer/Writer

Eli was a writer on the show from 2001 until the show ended, in 2006. In the final years he also served as a Supervising Producer.

"Because of my political background, I did contribute to lots of scripts beyond my own, during all five seasons I was on the show. Some of my favorite storylines were ones I didn't actually write."

Read the full interview here.

Josh played the role of Will Bailey. What I wrote in my intro to the interview is something I still stand by: Josh is one of the most underrated actors in the industry today.

Tommy is one of the great Producer/Directors out there, and for my money, no one writes like Aaron. But I give credit to John Wells and the writing staff for keeping TWW going as a really great, quality show for the remainder of its run."

Read the full interview here

Larry and Ed were two of the more memorable reoccuring character's from the show. But who are the actors who portrayed them? I decided to find out.

"Would I have liked a few storylines? Absolutely. But I would never trade in a moment I was on that show. For me, it was one of – if not the – best experience of my acting career so far."

Read the full interview here.

"I think, again, because of the fast turn around in television--one's best tool is oneself. Be as natural and reactive as you would be in that actual situation."

Read the full interview here.

Okay, so I didn't get to do a full interview with Aaron. But he did take the time to answer a question about writers block for the readers of KITFR.

Every time I finish something I think I'm never going to be able to write anything else. And every time I start something I think that this is the one where I'm going to get found out as a fraud."

Read the full answer here.

Care to share?


When you visit Auschwitz, you spend most of your time imagining: how the hell did this happen? What was it like? How did they feel?

"The Grey Zone" is as good an answer as we're going to get. At first the American accents are distracting-- but the reality of everything else seeps in. The film isn't always explicit in its meaning, it doesn't shove everything in your face.

A truck passes by in the background, and you realise it's carrying the ashes of the incinerated. You see a couple of hundred people forming an  orderly line and it dawns on you that they're waiting for the gas chamber. They're facing their deaths - and they know it.

Holocaust films are important -- because they show in a very clear way  how evil humanity can be. You don't need the Nazi character to say cliche evil lines. Just standing outside a gas chamber will give you the message.

'The Grey Zone', at times, is repetitive and robotic. It's on purpose.  Men are pushing fellow men into the chambers. They're telling them it'll be okay but they know they're sending them to their deaths. And they shut that giant metal door and know that countless families are about to breathe their last breath. Later that day they're pushing them into incinerators and turning them into dust. This was their daily routine. Every day, for months. The Sonderkommando were Jews who worked in the gas chambers. They told fellow Jews they're going into the showers. An hour later they were carrying their dead bodies out, ready for the next group. They got a bit more bread to eat and got to live a few months longer than the others. The film explores what it is to be one of these men. 

But what the hell do you do? How do you survive Auschwitz? What morals and values really matter when you have a gun to your head?

I feel a bit sick knowing I'm just a blogger, 70 years later, talking about movies. What the hell is that? What does the Holocaust mean now? Genocide is still happening in the world and we're as blind as ever.

'The Grey Zone' is very moving and impactful, because it doesn't judge the characters. The SS do their jobs. The Sonderkommando do theirs. What happens happens. This isn't a film that paints a pretty picture or goes for poignant poetry. It's a film about the smoke that bellowed out of the chimneys. About grass getting watered meters from a deadly chamber.

This film helps you imagine what it was like. The nuts and bolts of the demolition of a race of people. It wasn't evil movie characters that did it. It was human beings.

Who were these people whose entire families got slaughtered? Who were the guys who worked the Sonderkommando? And who were the Auschwitz guards who shot people in the back of their heads without a moment of fear or remorse? We can romanticize the victims and demonize the killers, but where does that get us?

I am constantly unravelling the Holocaust and figuring out what it means to me. It seems more important than playing on my Xbox 360 somehow.

I think 'The Grey Zone' is a must-see. It's upsetting viewing, but it's just a movie. You get to live afterwards. I guess now it's the least we can do, continue to bear witness to the past.

Care to share?

Thursday 8 September 2011

The Kid In The Front Row Film Questionnaire

If you have a blog, answer these there (doesn't matter whether you blog about movies, your stamp collection, or dragon sightings.... answer the questions!). If you don't have a blog, feel free to use the comments section here.

1. What film has been sitting on your shelf for six months waiting to be watched?

2. What is the one film you know word for word?

3. What screen character breaks your heart?

4. If you could bring an actor back from the dead, and had to pair them on screen with a current actor (who is no older than 40), what would your combo be?

5. How often do you check your phone in the cinema?

6. What film do you love which no-one else quite seems to 'get'?

7. What is your favourite Al Pacino film?

8. Why do they always manage to make us go one size bigger with the popcorn?

9. Share one memory from a cinema visit long ago.

10. Have you ever used a line from a movie, in your life, without anyone knowing you stole it? Give details.

If you answer these on your blog please link back to this article so people can find their way back home. I'll be sharing some of your answers on the Facebook Page!

Care to share?



I'm heading to Cineworld, in West India Quay, which sits in the shadow of Canary Wharf, the business hub of London. My destination is a seat, somewhere in the middle row, in what will hopefully be quite an empty cinema.

This is not a film I planned to see. These summer films come along and they never really interest me. Transformers 3? Conan? I don't really care. My friends often criticise me for not watching enough blockbusters. They're not wrong, I should. I mean, occasionally there's magic. I'm not pretentious about movies, I just hate boredom. Most summer movies seem to be about bits of metal. Metal guns, metal monster-y things, metal buildings collapsing. I prefer people.

But the word of mouth on 'Apes' has been decent. I've heard this phrase a bunch times: "It's actually pretty good." And yesterday I met a guy called Michael, who loved it. He said "You really start to care for the Apes". That interested me.

I like the promise of the big-budget. The possibilities of the Hollywood tentpoles are exciting. I love being swept away in big stories, big visuals. But most directors aren't Spielberg. Most studios don't have the patience to make greatness, adequate will do.

I'm in the right frame of mind for this movie. At my worst, I can write off films before I see them. I sit in an isle seat waiting for an excuse to leave. I love movies, but I'm demanding. I can't tolerate the terrible.

I'm expecting to enjoy this. I'm in that frame of mind. I'm having a clear day. No work problems. No personal issues nagging away at me. I'm in prime movie watching condition.


I enjoyed it. Great summer films capture the what ifs. What if New York was demolished by a big storm? What if a giant meteorite came crashing towards the Earth? What if Apes got so strong and clever, that they could team together and take over our cities?

With 'Apes', They do the groundwork. We get a human story, something we can relate to. We see Caesar (the ape) growing up. We seem him being taken away against his will. And in the end, we see him fully grown -- he finds his true home: out in the wild with the other Apes.

I nearly got lost midway through, when James Franco's boss got power hungry and evil, and also when the dude working in the Ape place was evil and mean to them just for his own amusement. You always get this with the big movies: good and evil spelled out in simplistic, hollow caricatures. It almost ruined it for me, but the film was too good.

For these absurd films to work, I need something I can believe in. That's why we all love Jurassic Park, we relate to the wonderment, the hope, the fear of large dinosaurs. The Transformers series is harder to follow, too much metal flying around -- and the girl' are too hot.

'Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes' is a solid 7 out of 10 for me. Enjoyable. And I like Freida Pinto. Here is a picture of her, for your viewing pleasure.

Care to share?

Wednesday 7 September 2011

Saving Private Ryan - Jarhead - Blackhawk Down - The Counterfeiters

Notes on a few films I've watched this week.

Saving Private Ryan

It seemed different this time. I just felt sad. Whoever is shooting whoever, it's still eighteen year old's dying, y'know?

Everything about World War 2 is poignant to me. It's a constant in my life. If there's a story in the newspaper, or an exhibition in town, or I see an old guy walking down the street who could have been there -- it just deeply impacts me. I measure so much of my life against the weight of World War 2. The impact is a direct one. The privileges I have now have a direct correlation to the sacrifices made by those seventy-odd years ago. 

The opening battle of 'Saving Private Ryan' doesn't need character introductions. It doesn't need backstory. We know it. It's our grandparents, and our friend's grandparents. It's those forgotten people sitting in old people's homes, It's those names that line the graves all around the world, many who didn't get to live out their teens.

We get to really feel into so many different perspectives with 'Saving Private Ryan'. We see leaders who are scared, we see cowards who are brave, we see pride, anger, resentment, confusion. The same shit we feel every day except what we feel is nothing in comparison. I'm brave if I phone a big scary producer, I'm angry if my email server has problems. It's different now. 

My Grandfather was fighting in Europe. He risked everything for his country. I don't think I've ever risked anything for anyone. 


Iraq, what the hell is that about? Nobody really knows. One minute, the leader of a terrorist organization somewhere inside of Afghanistan is behind the deaths of 3,000 in New York City, and the next, we've killed a million civilians in Iraq. 

And Iraq was the same the first time. Well, I mean the first time out of the recent times. Iraq has been going on for a hundred years. 

"It's the British again. They have been bombing my family for over 80 years now. Four generations have lived and died with these unwanted visitors from Britain who come to pour explosives on us from the skies. It first began in 1920." 
-Quote from 'Postcolonialism', A Very Short Introduction. (book)

Jarhead takes place in Saudi Arabia in 1989, just before the Gulf War. It's about a group of marines, a sniper unit--- who find themselves waiting around for a mission, waiting for the chance to kill. 

Of course, Jarhead came out after the Iraq War (the recent one) - and it resonates. The marines are wondering, why are we really here? And the question of oil looms. But when you're a soldier you're a soldier, you're not a politician. You don't get to weigh up the good and bad, you just have to do your job. You're trained to kill. But that's the thing with modern wars, nobody really knows what's going on or why we're there. We send our soldiers out into the world and we trust they're being sent to the right places. And we hope they'll be okay. 

Blackhawk Down 

Why Iraq? Why not Sudan? Why Libya now and not Libya twenty years ago? These are the types of questions you always come across. We're all ignorant and clueless. Even people who know a lot about the different conflicts of the world, they're pretty clueless too. We can sit around intellectualising the benefits of invading certain countries, or peacekeeping, or whatever it is; but what do any of us know? When you watch 'Saving Private Ryan' you realize, unless you were there, you have no idea what it's like. And unless you're Libyan or Somalian, you have no idea what those regions are like. 

'Blackhawk Down' really brings home the way in which soldiers risk their lives in these horrible, war-torn environments. It's scary. It used to be one crazed dictator leading the masses with a belief system. Now it's militias and poverty and various factions of gangs. 

You see Blackhawk's getting shot down in 'Blackhawk Down', which was set in 1993, and you realise it's no different to being shot down in 1944. You turn on the news and a helicopter goes down in 2011. And this shit continuously cycles. A constant storm of death which is never going to end. 

The battles differ --- fascism, terrorism, genocide, etc. We send people in, they die. We don't send people in, people die anyway. Yet every time it happens, everyone thinks they're an expert. The leaders are so certain they've made the right decisions.

Films are just films, just something we get to watch as our backs rest on comfortable cushions -- but they help keep us awake to the horrors of the world. They keep us alert and give us perspective.

The Counterfeiters 

We think of Nazi's as bad, and the Western Allies as good. Or we think of Nazi's as bad, and the Jews as good. But 'Schindler's List' showed us that to have been in the Nazi Party doesn't mean you're not human. Likewise, The Counterfeiters shows the diversity within the Jews who were held captive. The two main characters in the film -- one is counterfeiting money for the Nazi's so that they won't kill him, whereas his campmate sabotages every attempt because on principle he doesn't want to help the German war effort. Both are right. Both are wrong. What would you do in that situation? Don't even begin to answer unless you've been in a concentration camp, because you don't have a clue.

"What I'm saying to you is this: when you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?"
-Frank Costello, 'The Departed'

Why do we watch these films? I'm drawn to them, but not for the reasons I thought. Years ago, I found it heroic. The sacrifices made by greater men than me is something I found very profound. But now, it's something different. It's a window -- a window into a world that is real and prevalent, but not something I'll ever experience.

The over-riding thing for me is a sadness. War to me is insane. I feel like Yossarian in' Catch 22'. Baffled. I have friends in the forces, I have friends whose friends have died in the recent conflicts. I'm sure it's the same for you. I don't know why we have so much conflict, and I don't know why we make the films or why we're compelled to watch them. One thing I know, which we've already begun to see, is that films shouldn't just be made by the victors. They shouldn't just be products of Hollywood. That's why 'The Counterfeiters' and 'Das Boot' and 'Downfall' are so interesting. They're Germany digging into their own history. Films can help drive society forward, they can help deep, traumatic tales be told, and they can bring marginalized voices to the fore.

In 'Blackhawk Down', the story of the American forces is only one part of the story. What is the story of the Somalian Militia? What is the story of the eight year old Somalian boy who joins the conflict? What is the story of the Mother whose children are killed by the battles? Every film will be selective. Just like every individual. We see conflict from the position that suits us the most, with the certainty that we're in the right.

The world is complicated.

Care to share?