Back Add a Comment Share:
Facebook Button
Sheldon HallOne of this years most highly anticipated titles is the classic Zulu starring Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins and Michael Caine. Recently we were lucky enough to interview both Dr. Sheldon Hall and Lancelot Narayan who were both heavily involved in the making of the disc. Sheldon Hall used his immense knowledge of the film to great effect with the commentaries and documentaries. He first saw Zulu on its 1972 reissue, at which time he was just eight years old and it has been his favourite film ever since! He became a newspaper film critic in his native North East after leaving Warwick University and since 1997 has been teaching Film Studies at Sheffield Hallam University. Lancelot on the other hand has been the DVD producer of Zulu, following on of course from his great work on The Italian Job DVD. He also worked as a journalist where his work has appeared in such publications as The Times, The Daily Telegraph, Heat, Total Film and 007 Magazine.  Here's what they both had to say when we caught up with them:

DVDActive: Is it true that Zulu has been the victim of some rights disputes and this is one of the reasons it has taken so long for it to be released on DVD?

Sheldon: Not as far as I know. The situation in the UK is different from that in the States. The film was originally released in the US by Embassy, an independent company which subsequently went through several changes of hands, resulting in the rights to ZULU (and many other films) being passed on to other owners and eventually falling into the public domain. You may be aware that there have been a number of reportedly poor-quality Region 1 DVD releases of ZULU by small companies with no apparent claim to the film's official US distribution rights, which currently reside with MGM. In the UK (and most of the rest of the world markets) the film is and has always been the property of Paramount. I imagine the delay in doing a Region 2 DVD was due to finding time in the release schedule and the right people to put together the extras!

DVDActive: I believe that Cy Endfield and Stanley Baker put much of their own money into the project. Why did they find it so difficult to raise the funds? Was this due to Cy Endfield being blacklisted?

Sheldon: I've found no evidence to suggest that either Baker or Endfield invested in the film personally before finding a home for the project with Joseph E Levine's Embassy, which financed the film through its production and distribution deal with Paramount. The difficulty with raising the funds was the usual one in the film industry: the other companies they approached thought it too expensive and/or not sufficiently commercial. Endfield's former blacklisting was unlikely to have been a factor, as he had been working steadily in the British film industry since the early fifties, albeit pseudonymously, and was eventually able to use his own name on another American-financed picture, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961). The political situation had eased sufficiently by the mid-60s for Endfield's past not to be a major issue.

Sheldon Hall

DVDActive: Did they ultimately see a return for their investment?

Sheldon: The film was very successful at the box-office, but whether Baker and Endfield enjoyed actual profit participation, and if so how much, was for them to know!

DVDActive: Zulu was filmed in apartheid Natal province. Did this cause any problems whilst filming?

Sheldon: The crew had to abide by South African laws governing race relations (sexual and social) and the production was closely inspected by government officials. Restrictions on the movement of Zulu personnel, such as public places where they were not permitted and the ban on social interaction with whites, caused some difficulty.

DVDActive: It is said that the Zulu extras were paid with watches and in several scenes some Zulu warriors can be seen wearing them. Is this true or just a myth?

Sheldon:  The Zulus were paid regular government-approved wages. Over countless viewings I've never spotted a wristwatch on any warrior or soldier, and if anyone can find one I'd be grateful if they could tell me the exact point on the new DVD so I can see it for myself. I'll believe this myth when I do.

DVDActive: There were also rumoured to have been problems with the Zulu women during filming. Can you elaborate?

Sheldon: The problem was not with the women, but with one member of the crew who was caught sexually fraternising with them, and was quickly sent back home rather than being flogged and imprisoned.

DVDActive: This was Michael Caine's first starring role although he had in fact appeared in several movies beforehand. It is said that Michael Caine had in fact gone for the role of Private Hook. How did he end up playing the role of Lieut. Gonville Bromhead?

Sheldon: Caine went to audition for the part of Hook only to be told that it had already been promised to James Booth. As Caine tells it (in his autobiography and elsewhere), he turned to leave the theatre bar where the auditions were being held and was almost out the door when Cy Endfield called him back and asked him if he could do an upper-class accent. Endfield thought his blond hair and tall stature were more appropriate to the officer class than a Cockney private, and arranged a screen test as Bromhead. The test was apparently dreadful but he got the part anyway!

Sheldon Hall

DVDActive: How accurate do you think that the movie is to the historical facts?

Sheldon: Aside from the fictionalised characters (see below) and the inevitable omissions and compressions of incident for a 12-hour battle to be depicted in a two-hour movie, the film adheres to the general outlines of the battle, albeit with a number of changes made to the action for dramatic and logistical reasons. For example, most of the real battle took place at night and in darkness, which would have been difficult and expensive to replicate and pretty dull to watch. There are also numerous minor "errors" of detail (eg in the uniforms and weaponry used) which are of more interest to military buffs than to general viewers. Other incidents, e.g. the Zulus' final salute to the defenders, are legitimate embellishments or inventions for dramatic effect. None of these, and many other, similar departures from fact, is a "flaw" in and of itself - the film, after all, is a drama, not a documentary.

DVDActive: Do you think that movies have a responsibility to portray people correctly? From all accounts Private Hook was anything but the malingerer that he was portrayed as in the movie. Can the same be said for several of the other key characters?

Sheldon: This is a difficult one, but my short answer to the first part of the question is: no. Works of drama have always reinvented historical characters for their own purposes (see Shakespeare's history plays, for a start). All the characters in ZULU, whether or not they have the names of the actual defenders, were effectively created from scratch to serve the story Endfield, Baker and screenwriter John Prebble wanted to tell. I sympathise with people who feel their, or their relatives', actual character and reputation, in this and other films, have been traduced, but I still believe that writers, filmmakers and other artists should follow their own paths. Living personages who object to their representation can always sue...

Sheldon Hall

DVDActive: Every Christmas without fail Zulu is shown on British TV. What do you think makes the film so popular?

Sheldon: Many reasons! One is the sheer quality of the film as filmmaking, in all departments. Another is the timeless appeal of the story, and the honour the film pays to both sides in the battle. It's a tribute to courage which doesn't glorify war, but recognises the nobility of heroism for its own sake. The fact that it's a specifically British epic helps, of course!

Lance: It's classic textbook film making. Zulu by it's very nature is a learning curve. The characters start off as one thing and end up as new people. They learn - and take us with them. Themes of courage and staring the down the enemy always makes for good cinema.

DVDActive: Lance, Last time we spoke to you, you were working on the Italian Job DVD. How did that compare to your current experiences working on the Zulu DVD. Were the projects similar?

Lance: Well, for The Italian Job, our expert on the subject was Matthew Field. This time round, Sheldon served as our consultant. He was a huge help in getting the talent to appear. The projects were similar, but different!! We had a little less time on Zulu, but again, LipSync Ltd's Post Production team turned up trumps. Our editor this time round was Helen Lindley. Helen was magnificent in cutting the documentary and making it work. We had to find different locations to shoot the documentary, that took some time and a couple of sleepless nights. Some days, we didn't know where we would be shooting the next day. It all worked out in the end.

DVDActive: The Italian Job DVD received huge praise for having an excellent transfer and soundtrack. Can we expect the same high standards from the Zulu DVD?

Lance: Just a bit. I was astounded by the quality of this transfer. The 5.1 mix is unreal. Quite frankly, Paramount's Zulu pisses on all these other region 1 pirates in terms of sheer class.

DVDActive: You have also been involved with the commentary for the DVD release. What was it like making a commentary and did it just seem like a general chat?

Sheldon: A very enjoyable experience, which I'd like to repeat for DVDs of other films! The commentary is shared with 2nd-unit director Robert Porter, so it was halfway between a chat and an interview: very relaxed and informal, completely unscripted, but with the odd direct question to draw out anecdotes and information.

Sheldon Hall

DVDActive: Did you have any input into the documentaries on the DVD? What can we expect from the documentaries?

Sheldon: I was consultant on the documentaries, which meant suggesting interview questions, correcting mistakes when possible, being on hand to answer queries of a factual or historical nature, and so forth. I've only seen an early rough cut of the documentaries, so I'm as keen as you are to see the final result!

Lance: I, again, along with Matthew Field, wrote and directed the documentary. And like the Italian Job documentary, I also narrated it. Matthew Field again conducted the interviews and once more proved himself an outstanding interviewer. His sensitivity is overwhelming and his ability to get the best out of the subjects is astounding. Again, Philip Moores produced. It just makes me want to work with him all the time. We have similar ideas on what looks and feels right. I'm learning a lot from him. There isn't as much narration on this one as there was on The Making Of The Italian Job. What can you expect? Beautiful London locations. Again, you have to be true to the subject matter. The look of The Making Of Zulu is still comfortable, but slightly more austere. It has a Gentleman's Club feel to it. We shot in Les Ambassadeurs Club in Mayfair, The Dorchester Club, where Sir Stanley Baker used to drink with Richard Burton, The Grovsner House Hotel, The Berners Hotel and The Mecca Of My Dreams, the ever faithful Odeon Leicester Square. We were fortunate enough to interview Lady Ellen Baker, Sir Stanley's widow; Stuntman, Joe Powell; Glynn Edwards, James Booth (hoorah!) Jan Prebble, the widow of screenwriter John Prebble and 2nd Unit Director, Robert Porter.

DVDActive: Given the massive fan base Zulu has, did you feel under any extra pressure when preparing this release?

Lance: I grew up in Fandom. I was exposed to maniacal fan fever from an early age. I must say, it's made me very exacting about detail. We've got to make as informative a show as possible, whilst still remembering that, some people's girlfriends are going to be watching too. You have to make it accessable and entertaining also. I knew we were in good hands with Sheldon. His commentary with Robert Porter in insightful and beautifully performed. He certainly delivered the goods. Great fun.

Sheldon Hall

DVDActive: The Italian Job is currently being remade. Have there been any plans in the past to remake Zulu? Are you a fan of remakes and do you think a Zulu remake would be worthwhile?

Sheldon: The ITALIAN JOB remake is a sore point, as was that of PLANET OF THE APES, and I gather Mr Wahlberg's dubious talents may also now be thrust upon a remake of THE OMEGA MAN. God help us: is he going to screw up all my favourite movies? Still, I suppose I should withhold judgement till I've seen them. There's nothing inherently wrong with the idea of remakes - there have been some great ones, including a few which surpassed the originals, e.g. OCEAN'S ELEVEN - but most of those which fail (and that's most of them) do so because the filmmakers responsible seem to have no understanding of what made the original good in the first place (e.g. APES, THE HAUNTING), or even why they might be worth remaking (see the recent ROLLERBALL or BEDAZZLED, if you can bear to). I wouldn't look forward to a remake of ZULU if it meant mimicking the original but "improving" it with modern techniques: I can well do without thousands of digitally created, cartoon-like Zulus, "realistically" spilled entrails, MTV cutting, slow-mo violence and soundbite dialogue (don't even mention the possibility of Wahlberg as Hook or Bromhead...). On the other hand, if someone wants to make a film with a fresh angle on the material, e.g. showing the battle from the Zulus' side, I would be keen to have it as a complement to, not a replacement for, the original. (There are rumours of a small-scale South African film being planned along these lines, but I await further details.) The ideal situation, of course, would be a proper theatrical reissue of ZULU in new 70mm, Dolby Stereo prints!

DVDActive: Sheldon, I understand that you are currently researching and writing a book on the making of the film. What information can we expect from the book and when is it due to be released?

Sheldon: The book will contain a detailed account of the production of the film, from the writing of the screenplay to final release, using as many primary sources and interviews with as many of the surviving participants as I can track down. It will also provide a close analysis of the film itself, its relationship to the real battle of Rorke's Drift, its historical significance in the context of the 1960s, and a discussion of its impact on critics, the public and posterity. It will be extensively illustrated with behind-the-scenes and publicity photos and other rare visual material. I've been working on it for over a year and I hope to have it in the shops by next Christmas, in time for the 40th anniversary of the film's release in January 2004. Anyone who can offer additional relevant information, anecdotes, contacts or access to illustrative or research materials is welcome to contact me via email or at my university address: School of Cultural Studies, Sheffield Hallam University, Psalter Lane Campus, Sheffield, S11 8UZ, UK.

 DVDActive: Lance, Whats next for you, have you got any plans to work on other DVD releases?

Lance: I've just finished working with Dave Smithers over at LipSync Post on editing the Audio Commentary for Lindsay Anderson's If.... I recorded that in Los Angeles with Malcolm McDowell. It's coming out in June 2003. Look out for it, it's one of the best commentary tracks you'll ever hear.

Sheldon Hall


Thankyou to both Sheldon and Lancelot for agreeing to the interview. If you would like to know more about the upcoming DVD release of Zulu (region 2) then you can read some of our past coverage of the disc by clicking here. You will be able to own Zulu on DVD from the 18th November this year with the disc setting you back around £19.99. The region 1 disc will be released the day after on the 19th with the region 4 release following on the 6th December. You can expect to see our review of the region 2 disc in the not too distant future.

Editorial by