Television documentaries are usually the stuff of nostalgia and veer towards the mundane or the sentimental. Likewise, there are a lot of excellent earnest ones – such as the World at War or Attenborough – but if the viewer is not plugged in can be dull as ditch water.
Mostly nowadays the glib documentary makers take a broad sword to a wishhy washy theme or an era, in not much detail, with too many irrelevant talking heads trying to be irreverent.
However, my dear reader, there was a documentary as fine as a film the other evening on the fourth channel: When Saddam Went to Hollywood. In 1981, when Saddam was merely a mad military leader with only pretensions of mass murder, he decided he needed to bankroll a movie staring Oliver Reed.
He employed the Iraqi oleaginous producer Lateif Jorephani, and the terrified director Mohamed Shukri Jameel, also a Countryman, to create a motion picture called the Clash of Loyalties, which the moustached loon – Hussain, not Reed in this instance – believed to be the story of the glorious birth of Iraq as they liberate themselves from the colonial British.
The budget was on a par with the Hollywood blockbuster Return of the Jedi, which was filmed at the same time. The expensive film crew and assembled extras were paid a reported £1,000 a week, in conjunction with a strong central cast and the hell raiser, himself, Oliver Reed. The barrel-chested thesp was in fine fettle having recently married his 17 year old blushing bride.
Reed arrived for the grand depart with a thick moustache and ingénue bride on his arm. The star was dressed in a safari jacket, thick leather boots, and a crumpled Stetson; moreover his parents in-law were there to see him off, donating a homemade Dundee cake to Reed.
The movie, which has been rarely seen, took more than a year to make and resembles a mishmash of the splendid colonial films of yore, Zulu and Lawrence of Arabia. Off-screen it was more akin to an episode of Top Gear in the middle of a civil war.
Filming was slow and the horses that were supposed to be on screen were instead sent to be with the military. The extras suffered the same fate – and many never returned from the front line.
Reed, by his own admission, could get easily bored. And he found his usual way of alleviate it and that, of course, was to drink the bars of Baghdad dry. And, Reed didn’t have to find a vodka filled oasis in the dessert because, unusually for a Muslim country, Iraq had its own brewery.
He would begin his day with sangria for breakfast before poolside daiquiris, then move on to sambucas, followed by champagne at midday and come the evening he was the hell raiser pas excellence.
He would turn to his companions and say: “Chaps you’re coming to my room for a soiree”. Reed’s idea of hospitality in the sweltering Baghdad heat was to take a champagne bucket and fill it with a bottle of the French stuff and then add a bot. of Rémy Martin, sharing the concoction generously.
If a colleague had the temerity to go to bed early, Reed would smash down their door and inform them: “You’re drinking tonight!”. Like Saddam Oliver didn’t take no for an answer. Furthermore, if for some unbeknown reason his hors d’oeuvres were tardy at in a restaurant he would grab the poor maItre d’ by the collar, like a pumped up Basil Fawlty, and scream blue murder.
“Oliver was a weapon of mass destruction,” a co-star said of the great man.
The film was made to the back-drop of an increasingly escalating war between Iraq and Iran, in fact there was a scene near the end where a train is blown up. This explosive nature and the proximity of the train to Iran led to Islamic republic’s missile gunners being pointed at the film set!
The star of the documentary is the eccentric anarchy and befuddled old thespians remembering the events, which is only exacerbated by the brothers from other mothers Saddam Reed and Oliver Hussain.
A must watch.