I first met Paul in January 1976 and I last heard from him 2 weeks before he passed away. That’s 43 years.
I met him because he responded to a piece I’d put in the gay press about making a new film called NIGHTHAWKS. The editor, hoping to boost the article, added that the film was fully financed. In fact there wasn’t a penny in the bank.
So Paul arrived offering to write an account of a production he thought was about to begin shooting, but instead found himself fully engaged with me in the effort to raise the money, which took two years. He also co-wrote the script with me (there wasn’t yet a proper script either), worked on the shooting, found a composer when the first musician had a kind of nervous breakdown, participated in the editing, negotiated with exhibitors and distributors and spent another year going out with the film to festivals and openings. He was also dealing with lawyers and contracts, accountants and budgets, millionaire investors, actors with tantrums but, for the first two years, like everyone else involved, earning virtually nothing.
It was a baptism of fire but it didn’t deter him from collaborating on many more films after that. He became, early on, part of Four Corner Films, the group behind NIGHTHAWKS, and collaborated on A KIND OF ENGLISH (with Ruhul Amin & Richard Taylor), BRED & BORN (with Jo Davis & Mary Pat Leece), and CINEMA IN EAST LONDON (which involved everyone at Four Corners). He also worked outside on YOUNG SOUL REBELS (with Isaac Julien), CAUGHT LOOKING (with Constantine Giannaris) and others.
We tried ourselves to make two more feature films together after NIGHTHAWKS, this time with Paul as sole scriptwriter. One was about actors and theatre, which he set in Nottingham, and a film about the 1889 Cleveland Street scandal. These alas were never made. But we did work together again, years later, on STRIP JACK NAKED and SOHO and these were both completed and shown.
Throughout the post-NIGHTHAWKS period Paul was also running an acting workshop for young people with Wilfried Thust, which was very important to him indeed and this was also producing films.
Much of all this early work was generated through the Four Corners building in Bethnal Green, East London. Many of us also lived there at the time, including Paul. It was a lively, creative, open atmosphere, full of exchange, generating its own identity as it went along, through the making and showing of things. Paul worked with all of us there at one time or another.
Because he was a terrific collaborator, never afraid to be critical when it seemed important, but intense and personal in his reactions. Everything with Paul was personal.
‘Paul Hallam, Writer’, it says on his website, but writing for films is not the same as being a literary author, it means being part of a team. The film’s the thing, not the script, and Paul did very much want to achieve on his own too, as a writer.
He wrote a successful play for the theatre and radio, THE DISH, critical reviews for City Limits & other publications, and turned increasingly to pursuing in writing his own interests, in essays and anthologies, starting in 1993 with THE BOOK OF SODOM, about the myths of the wicked city, which included a long personal essay, A CIRCUIT WALK.
There were endless projects for books, plays and films, including one about the actor Charles Laughton, based, if I remember, on letters he found in a secondhand bookshop, from Laughton’s housekeeper. I can’t remember all of the projects. There were so many.
It was nonetheless hard to make a living, so he also taught, including an evening class (which he hated) for aspirant writers who drove him a bit crazy, and later at St. Martin’s School of Art where he was ‘Writer in Residence’ for a year. None of it paid well or was secure and sheer survival was always difficult. He moved homes endlessly but had emotional support from family and from his very many friends, especially Keith Cavanagh and Bernard Walsh.
Then there came a kind of big break, about twelve years ago, a chance to go to Istanbul for a literary conference. He went, decided this was where he wanted to stay and upped sticks and lived there for ten years. They were his happiest years I think. Once there, initially teaching English at the university, he got again involved with films, this time with Abbas Nokashteh… The project he most wanted to make was THE TURKISH DORMITORY, a work in progress for years. Finally, 2-3 years ago, he showed some of us his first draft. It was vivid, mysterious, contemporary, personal, opened up whole districts of Istanbul to me, and was, I thought – and I told him so – the best writing he had ever done. It was intended as a film script but it was writing that didn’t, to me, need a film. It was a literary piece, what I always hoped he would one day write. I hope it will now be published.
From Istanbul he returned to England once a year. He had this endless problem of storing and disposing of his thousands of books and papers. There are at least two films, wonderful films, about this, which he made with Andrea Luka Zimmerman and Lasse Johansson, two more very important collaborators and friends. He couldn’t help making friends.
So Paul did a lot, achieved a lot. Departing far too early, he has left a lot of friends, collaborators and his family with a real gap.
In the NIGHTHAWKS years he and I had forged a relationship of trust. Right up until the end we exchanged drafts of scripts and projects we were individually working on. We highly valued each other’s opinions. I showed him roughcuts of film and video pieces I was working on and his responses were always engaged, emotional, appreciative, helpful. I remember showing him some acting workshop material, unedited rushes, shot in Russia with some young non-professionals which moved him very much. To tears in fact. He said it didn’t need more work. It was already a film. Every scrap of creative effort seemed to interest him and he was exceptionally perceptive.
Paul, you brought something very special to everyone’s lives… everyone is saying that. And not least your wry sense of humour.
Before you left you deposited your library, your letters, and papers, with the Bishopsgate Institute in the City of London. You liked it, you said, because it was so very open to everybody. I followed your example and am now depositing all my own project materials there, including everything on our collaborations, and Four Corners is doing likewise. So anyone with the stamina and curiosity can retread our efforts and wander through all the worlds we visited or imagined.
Your latest dream was to move to Sofia, in Bulgaria. ‘Still plan to travel’ you said in your last message. I like to imagine you’re somehow there. Wherever you are, you’ll be writing of course, buzzing with impressions, your head filled with new ideas for projects.
‘Paul Hallam, Writer’, but much more than that, I was lucky to know you, lucky to work with you and lucky to be a friend.