Westerns, the Marx brothers, Last Year at Marienbad, Repo Man ... United News & Media chief executive Lord Hollick (right) impresses director Alex Cox with his knowledge of films.
'Repo Man, Paris Texas, Last Year at Marien-bad, Bladerunner, Duck Soup - especially Duck Soup - Modern Times, Blue Velvet ...' Lord Hollick lists his favourite films. Either politeness or deep respect for the truth leads him to put the first film I ever made at the top. So, I must like the man. '... The Conversation, The Manchurian Candidate, Belle de Jour, Easy Rider, Two Lane Blacktop ...' this is not exactly what I expected a Labour peer and businessman to describe as his preferred method of relaxation: watching Dennis Hopper act and direct with inspiring insanity, or Catherine Deneuve living out maestro Luis Bunuel's foot-fetishist fantasies. I'd expected a more, well, stately list: Merchant Ivory; Saturday Night and Sunday Morning; Bridge over the River Kwai.
'I loved Last Year at Marienbad. Don't you think this is typical?' Hollick asks amiably over a meal in one of Soho's many film-related bistros.
'Men like to make lists.' He pours us each another glass of red wine.
We've just been to see a film - one of mine - Death & the Compass shot in Mexico, based on a short story by the great Argentinian writer, Jorge Luis Borges. And we've adjourned here for a chat about it, and other things.
'Oh, I liked it very much,' he says decisively when asked his opinion of the film. Very kind of him. Politeness or truth? 'In fact,' he continues, 'do you know that I almost invested 14 years ago, in Repo Man?'
That stops me. He did? Good Lord. And now, he looks down with an expression of regret at his first course. Sorrow at having missed his chance? Or at having ordered the roasted peppers? 'Wish I'd done it,' he says thoughtfully.
He eats the peppers with every sign of enjoying them. 'Almost invested in Chariots of Fire, too.' I ignore this. Concentrate on the important issues. 'So, why didn't you invest in Repo Man?' I ask in a casual tone which I hope leaves open the option of repairing a tragic mistake.
You can take a wrong turn in life, I hope to explain, and still come out all right in the end.
The problem is, Hollick shows no signs of having taken that wrong turn.
He's apparently an even-tempered type, with a happy personal life and an absorbing professional one. Damn. Among his projects is a joint venture between ITV and Warner Bros, a movie studio/theme park, to be built outside London. 'It's the first new studio built in Britain since the war,' he says, 'and it will showcase British talent.' British films in the $2.5-$3 million dollar range will be produced; the theme park will provide reliable income. (Universal makes more money from studio tours and related attractions than it does from films. Making money solely from movies is a risky business. Don't ask me how I know this.)
He returns to films as art and recreation. He has been watching them for a long time - since he was a kid in Southampton. 'There were these Western serials I used to go to see every week. And the Marx Brothers.
I always loved the Marx Brothers. Still do.' I wonder if the Westerns were of the Randolph Scott variety, where the men were men and the women shrieked picturesquely and fell down in the path of the injuns/bad men, only to be saved by ... Randolph Scott. But then the conversation turns to a proposed family vacation in southwest US, and I decide probably not. His wife is Sue Woodford, the investigative journalist and publisher of Index on Censorship.
The Hollick womenfolk - Sue and three daughters - sound more likely to saddle up the broncos and sort out the bad guys for themselves. He glows visibly when talking about these women. He says that having children is the explosion of reality into fantasy. About being father to his daughters - Caroline, Georgie and Abi - he quickly realised with astonishment, 'This isn't a dress rehearsal. This is for real.'
So, speaking of the 'for real' I say, hoping to lead the conversation back to my own film, what did he really think of Death & the Compass?
'Actually, I didn't like the jump cuts,' he confides. I decide to tell the truth - sometimes even film directors have to. The cuts to which he refers were not a choice but a necessity: a cameraman's failing eyesight having resulted in some footage unintentionally out of focus. The jump cuts were used to piece the scenes together, minus blurs ... 'Oh,' Hollick exclaims brightly, finishing his coffee. 'I can understand that. It's the same in business: you do what you can with what you have.'.