Not many people seem to have seen Michael Mann’s early film ‘The Keep’, one of those movies from your childhood that you enjoyed but no one else has even heard off, or can even buy even if they wanted to watch it (as far as I can tell you can only get it on VHS tape from Amazon!). It was made in 1983, before Mann became famous for Miami Vice, and went on to direct films like Manhunter (the prequel to Silence of the Lambs - and another great film no one has seen), Heat and The Insider. What I always loved about Mann’s films is the way he uses music (often pop) to create a strong emotional highpoint to a scene. Often the music is something you wouldn’t dream of listening too, but when it becomes part of the image, you just can’t help yourself feeling connected to it forever (who could ever forget Phil Collin’s ‘In the Air Tonight’ in Miami Vice as a kid - a song by an artist you knew was naff even then - but who’s song was made cool - even though Miami Vice now looks just as uncool as Phil!) You see this in many of his films, such as the final showdown in Heat (Mobi’s God moving over the face of the waters) or the final scene in Manhunter (Iron Butterfly’s In a gadda da vida) using music by artists you’d never admit to liking, but become indelibly linked to that movie.
The soundtrack for The Keep was by Tangerine Dream - a group that was uber cool back then (they did many soundtracks - including another ‘never seen classic’ Sorcerer) but seems to almost forgotten now - even though their syth sound was way beyond it’s time (John Peel once told me about going to see them with the Beatles!).
Maybe the use of Tangerine Dream in the film is one of the reason’s why I like the film, as this state of the art sound (well it was) creates another unexpected element to a film that is far from a normal horror movie.
Not wanting to spoil the plot, the film is set in World War 2 and revolves around a unit of German troops who are charged with holding a castle in a remote part of Transylvania. So straight off we expect them to be picked off one by one by a vampire - and in a way they are, but this is much more than a bloke with a cape and pointy teeth, with the ‘creature’ in question being far more terrifying than than you’re standard monster fare. Added to this are Jew’s who are fighting to stay out of the concentration camp, leather coated SS thugs, a hero who may not be from this planet, and most of all the music.
The Keep was filmed in North Wales in the Slate Quarries (like Dragonslayer that came out a few years before) and this adds a real darkness to the film that all climbers will recognize, and ignoring the story, the visual impact of the stones, the castle, and the spaces within it really stay with you. After watching The Keep the slate quarries never feel quite the same.
Why am I rabbiting on about a film you you can’t even see? Well I keep thinking about a line in The Keep.
For saying how poor my education was, and the fact I never went to uni, my life seems to be full of the bloody stuff. I talk to a lot of teachers, far more kids, and quite a few heads (I once did a talk for a headmasters conference - which really did feel a bit odd/scary). Added to this I’ve got two kids who’s educational needs have always seemed challenging, as well as sister who’s a teacher in Hull (the equivalent of a bomb disposal expert in Bagdad). And so education seems to be a big part of my normal and working life (I still don’t know what an adverb is though).
Luckily for me my daughter seems to be a maths genius, and the other day I said “right - if you do well in the A level’s you need to go to Oxford or Cambridge”.
This may seem a bit of an odd thing to say (when I was at school I genuinely thought there was a university called Oxbridge), especially as I’m the worst kind of inverse snob you could ever hope to meet, your classic working class hero (who’s actually middle class), who hates all posh people (apart from any I actually know), who want’s to bring down the ‘class system’ (while still working for private schools and blue chip companies) and generally rage about the unfairness of life (even though life’s been very kind). But one lesson I’ve learnt on my travels through the halls of power (top schools, the media, politics) is that the people who control much of the country didn’t go to Loughborough, Aberdeen or Lancaster university, but Oxford and Cambridge, and further still many there didn’t go to state schools either
When you read that Eton, Westminster, St Paul’s Boys and St Paul’s Girls - and Hills Road Sixth Form College (state-funded) send more kids to oxbridge than to Oxbridge than 2,000 other schools it makes your working class blood boil. When you know the two highest jobs in the land (no not judging X factor) are held by men who were privately educated and went to Oxford you want to start filling up the Molotov’s. And when you go to broadcasting house and everyone is talking in latin you just want to doff your cap and shimmy up the nearest chimney (that last one’s a bit of an exaggeration, and was probably only induced by meeting Libby Purves.)
As I said I used to hate posh people (everyone is posh when you come from Hull - even Gordies), but one day it hit me, that instead of hating the posh, I should be hating my feckless parents (sorry mum and dad) for not working hard and sending me to Eton! Didn’t they care about my education!!!
Maybe we’ve only got ourselves to blame (not that I’m a ‘we’ anymore - being more of a ‘them’).
The problem is the last labour government poured billions into education, and we now have amazing schools (you could do a new series of Grande Designs just on schools) and great teachers (don’t believe what you read in the papers - I go to a lot of schools, and we should be proud of what we’ve spent out money on) yet we still have a real problem with breaking up a class system held together by attainment, opportunity and education. The rich get clever and the poor stay stupid.
Hull is a great example of this, in that every effort has been put into getting the city’s kids off the bottom of the tables (I think Hull is 149th out of 151 authorities), but with very only limited success.
The reason’s for this are many, although one of the biggest is a general malaise amongst the working class (and not-working class) when it comes to education, something missing from poor families in places like India and China, where education is the only path to happiness. Want to change things? Well get little Timmy to Oxford reading classics!
Of course I’m as thick as pig shit (did I mention I didn’t go to uni?), and can add ‘class traitor’ to my list of honors, but one line from my own education sums up much of the problem, and that was being told not to do A level’s as I’d end up ‘overqualified’ (seeing as I didn’t get any A levels I guess I proved them wrong on both counts!).
Anyway I know lots of people who got into Oxford and Cambridge - and all from state schools (they always tell you they ‘got in’ don’t they - all smug like) - only none of them bloody went did they (like oh I got an audition on The Voice - but didn’t go), going to Leeds or Edinburgh instead (better climbing).
I don’t know much, but I know I really know nothing about such things (I think I know), but never the less I said to Ella “You need to go to Oxford or Cambridge university”, because I want to be a pushy parent - I want to be that dad out of Shine who beats his son because he want’s him to be the best piano player in Australia (couldn’t be that hard really?). I don’t want my daughter to be the ‘best she can be’ - as that won’t be that good (who would leave such things up to a teenager!?), I want her to be better than my feckless parents made me (sorry again mum and dad).
Do you know what she said about her going to either of the worlds greatest university’s? - “No way - they’re full of snobs”.
There’s a line in that film The Keep that’s been stuck in my head for a while and keeps coming back to me when my head starts to hurt, when I try and work out just what is the problem with this country and education and class.
When the german soldiers enter the castle one of them mentions how strange it is that all the small stones are on the outside and all the big stones on the inside. As if the castle wasn’t designed to keep anything out, but to keep something in.
A Snickers bar costs 60p. Were these words worth as much?
This is a reader supported site, so every micro payment (the cost of chocolate bar) helps pay for cups of tea, cake and general web pimpery. Support via Paypal, buy a book or just a coffee.
Andrew Kirkpatrick is a British mountaineer, author, motivational speaker and monologist. He is best known as a big wall climber, having scaled Yosemite's El Capitan 30+ times, including five solo ascents, and two one day ascents, as well as climbing in Patagonia, Africa, Alaska, Antarctica and the Alps.Follow @ Instagram