Gavin Millar obituary: Distinguished director, presenter, and film and television critic

Dream Child (1985)

Gavin Millar, film director, critic and TV presenter, who was a frequent contributor to Sight and Sound, died in London of a brain tumor on April 20, 2022. He was a man of great intelligence, educated, intelligent and generous spirit, who came from a working-class background in Glasgow to achieve a prominent place in the cultural world of London, but always maintained a democratic aversion to power and intense sympathy for the underdog.

Gavin Millar
© Catherine Shakespeare Lynn

He is best remembered for his 1985 film Dreamchild, about Alice Liddell, the original inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s 1865 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but he was an outstanding critic for many years, and his career had an extraordinary range. employment TV, interviewed personalities including Jane Kelly, Jacques Tate, Jean Renoir, Luis Buñuel, Howard Hawkes, Federico Fellini, Powell and Pressburger, and François Truffaut. As a director, he has worked with writers such as Alan Bennett, Dennis Potter and Victoria Wood, and an extraordinary roster of actors including Julie Walters, Judi Dench, Jeremy Irons, Glenda Jackson, Brian Cox, Kristen Scott Thomas, Peter Capaldi, Peggy Ashcroft, Claire Bloom and Ian Holm, Jane Morrow, Von French and Stockard Channing. He got an amazingly great performance from young Christian Bale.

He was born on January 11, 1938 in Clydebank, Scotland, to Rita (née Osborne) and Tom Millar, workers at the local Singer sewing machine factory, who had moved south to the Midlands when he was nine. He went to King Edward School, Birmingham, and performed national service at british air forcethen read English at Christ Church, Oxford, from 1958 to 1961, where Stefano was known for what he called a “fairly neglected” version of The Tempest along with Melvyn Bragg.

Then he went to the Slade School of Fine Art in UCL Where he studied cinema under Thorold Dickinson, Director of Gaslight (1940) and The Queen of Spades (1949), the other student on the course that year was Charles Barr, who later became a pioneer in film studies and the great Hitchcockian. (I first met Gavin when she co-edited a book on Dickinson, Thorold Dickinson: a world of film (2008), to which he contributed poignant memories.) After Slade became a critic not only of film but also of books and general culture, among other papers, listener , Sight, Sound and (later) London Review of Books. In 1966 he married Sylvia Lin, whom he met in 1962. She died in 2012.

Gavin, as a critic, was amusing, sarcastic, questioning, sensitive, perceptive. Lindsay Anderson’s If…. In the 1968 film Sight and Sound, despite his friendship with the director, he saw that it was not a masterpiece because it was uncertain about its goals: “So…. a film concerned with revolution but with anger.” He appreciated François Truffaut’s more stolen kisses the following year, in a way that anticipates his later strengths as a director: “By dozens of small clues, the larger theme emerges: the circle of life involves death, just as the tragedy of the night can turn into the farce of the morning.”

Similarly, in the same year in “The Listener”, he praised Claude Chabrol’s unobtrusive accuracy in La Femme infidèle: “These and a thousand similar details are subtle and expressive.” He liked the complexity of Chabrol’s double stance on the bourgeoisie: “This firm, accurately represented, and brilliant film does not bother, but deepens, because of this contradiction.” Back in the listener in 1973, incidentally touched, in Minnie and Moskovitz, “Cassavetes finds a place for misfits, describes ineffableness.”

In 1965 he was an assistant to Ken Russell TV a film about Henri Rousseau; Then, while he was still reviewing, he made a huge number of art documentaries in BBC, as a writer, director, and producer as well as presenter of such programs as New Release, (later) Release, Omnibus, Talking Pictures and Arena Cinema. Documentary filmmaking was an extension or a natural part of his activism as a film critic and lover. He has always been interested in knowing and understanding practitioners. This now seems like a golden age for arts programming – although he was already writing in February 1969 about a campaign apparently to remove clever coverage of culture from the airwaves. for him BBC The work presented him to another giant author, Federico Fellini, for whom he made the release film for BBC in 1969.

Millar also wrote the final section of the revised edition of The Technique of Film Editing in 1968, which has covered developments – mainly wide screen and modern obscurity – since the first edition by Karel Reisz in 1953. On film ever published” – and he was a daughter The ideas of Thorold Dickinson, who assisted and supervised him. Millar’s writings in them are subtle and subtle, but far from dry: in his account of ‘personal cinema in the 1960s,’ he connects the new wave admirably with existentialism. He says that Truffaut films escape from pigeon rocks as they “go around From a mood of despondency to euphoria and contain scenes of black comedy alternating with scenes of true tragedy or simply unaffected joy.” Gavin’s films would also – quietly – be “character.”

Danny World Champion (1989)

In 1980, he directed A TV Drama Dennis Potter’s Cream in My Coffee vs. LWT, which won the Prix Italia. After that he directed only one documentary on Powell and Pressburger, which he lauded with wit and tenderness in 1981, A Beautiful British Affair. He stayed afloat, even prolific, in the difficult world of British filmmaking in the 1980s, mostly by working in television. His accomplishments are too many to list, but one can single out the 1982 Intensive Care by and with Alan Bennett; The beloved world champion Danny with Jeremy Irons in 1989; Warm Pat and Margaret with Victoria Wood, who got BAFTA nominated in 1994; and the influential and humanistic French drama of the turn of the century Belle Epoque (1995), from a script by Truffaut and Jean Gruault, with Christine Scott Thomas in shimmering form. Iain Banks praised Millar’s 1996 adaptation of The Crow Road as better than his novel, while Housewife, 49, Again with Victoria Wood, is a heartwarming, heart-wrenching comedy about a middle-aged, wartime wife and mother, Barrow. -in-Furness, who won a BAFTA in 2007.

It was in the cinema that his completely inconspicuous talents did not blossom. The Crow Road was followed by a good movie about Banks’ complicity in 2000, but it didn’t reach the larger audiences it deserved; As Gavin once said, “The best movie in the world survives only if someone is willing to put money into it – to sell it.”

He beat the odds to take on Albert Schweitzer in 2009, along with Jeroen Krabi and Barbara Hershey. She was charismatic, honorable, intelligent and politically astute about Schweitzer’s anti-nuclear campaign, but she had no distribution to speak of. The last credit was to him as a manager.

It seems fitting that we conclude by turning back to the wizard’s Dreamchild, his most notable achievement. When I interviewed him about it in 2014, he recalled 15 months of post-production (“struggle”), in which producer Ferretti Lambert cut many carefully layered elements and touches that Millar loved. It made him painfully aware of unfulfilled intentions: “These things bleed your soul,” he said. (Producer Kenneth Trudd has since found the missing items, so a restored copy should now be possible.)

Dream Child (1985)

He was drawn to Dennis Potter’s Septuagint Scenario Alice Liddell screenplay by her “weird originality” and “by her tenderness, complex range of emotions and motives, and their ambiguity”. “I loved the idea of ​​fantasy and reality, not quite knowing where one ended and the other began, giving weight to the place of nightmare and dream in people’s lives,” he commented in production notes. In Elderly Alice’s hallucinations, the Mad Hatter, March Hare et al, created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, are cruel, evil beings—”as fierce as we felt an old lady’s nightmares would have made.”

Millar cherished moments of touchiness and ambivalence. When I spoke to him in 2004 for The Telegraph about Fellini’s Amarcord (1973), which he chose to discuss, he stated, “I like him because he made you laugh and I want you all to cry at the same time. Some of the sequences in this make me do both and I don’t know which way to go. …I know of no other filmmaker – not even Renoir – who could do this to such a degree within a sequence, and to such extremes.”

Ten years later, thinking about this, I ask him about the wonderfully touching Dreamchild ending, where after he laughs at Dodgson for his stuttering, young Alice goes and kisses him: “Yeah, that seems to affect people very badly. I mean, partly because there are moments when things come together.” And you think, “Yeah, we got that right, the light is right, the angle is right, the lens is right. They look right, the actors are doing the right thing, I found the right gesture for them, and they followed suit. But these things rarely happen, and you’re in luck when you get them. Everything should be fine 147 at the same time.”

On this occasion, they were – and earned the moving commendation of the great critic Andrew Sarris in the Village Voice. Sarris came late to the movie but made up for his negligence by stirring up emotions. He captured Millar’s soul when he wrote that in his brave candor, “ascending relentlessly toward a wealthy epiphany,” the Dreamchild did what cinema can sometimes: “What makes the film exciting and inspiring is its evocation of love and art as redemptive forces instigated by dark spirits.”

At the time of Millar’s death he was surrounded by their five children (James, Tommy, Duncan, Kirsty and Isabel). He left six grandchildren (Florence, Martha, Louis, Iris, Arwen and Gavin).

  • Gavin Millar, January 11, 1938 to April 20, 2022

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