Unsung Auteurs: Michael Lindsay-Hogg

December 1, 2021
FilmInk salutes the work of directors who have never truly received the credit that they deserve. In this installment: essential rock music documentarian and feature film helmer Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

If you’ve watched – or are still working your way through – the utterly extraordinary achievement that is Peter Jackson’s Get Back, a nine-hour deep (deep, deep) dive into The Beatles’ creative process and ultimate end of days, then you are likely now more than familiar with Michael Lindsay-Hogg. The director of the behind-the-scenes documentary that would eventually become 1969’s Let It Be – with his sixty-plus hours of collected footage providing the grist for Peter Jackson’s mill – can be seen all through Get Back, strolling around the studio constantly smoking a cigar, getting the shots required, and continually pressing The Beatles for details on how they would like to structure the concert which has been devised as the climax of all the in-studio footage that he’s been capturing.

Ever positive and chipper, Lindsay-Hogg tosses out grand ideas like playing a concert in the Sahara and various points in The Middle East, while The Beatles um, ah, and procrastinate like only true rock figureheads could. Well dressed, entertaining and professional, Lindsay-Hogg forges ahead, always attempting to mine something useful from the chaos. Get Back wonderfully showcases many charismatic side players from the huge, near mythic Beatles narrative (keyboard playing sideman Billy Preston; avuncular road manager Mal Evans; continual tea-and-toast supplier Kevin Harrington; ever well-dressed sound man Glyn Johns), and provides well due time in the sun for unsung auteur Michael Lindsay-Hogg. Though not as revered a figure as, say, D.A Pennebaker, Lindsay-Hogg was also a key figure in documenting the enormous upheaval experienced by popular music in the 1960s, and also directed a handful of fictional feature films.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg

Michael Lindsay-Hogg has always been a fascinating figure. “I’m not good at normal things,” he once said. “I can’t drive a car. I couldn’t read till I was 10.” He was born in New York City in 1940 to actress Geraldine Fitzgerald and, it was initially believed, her husband, Sir Edward Lindsay-Hogg. It was long rumoured, however, that Michael’s father was, in fact, legendary American filmmaker Orson Welles. An eventual DNA test proved inconclusive, and conjecture has always bubbled away about the truth of the matter. In his 2011 autobiography Luck And Circumstance: A Coming of Age In Hollywood, New York, And Points Beyond, however, Lindsay-Hogg states that his mother told her close friend, famed socialite Gloria Vanderbilt, that Orson Welles was in fact Michael’s father. Either way, Lindsay-Hogg grew up (in both the US and Ireland) with American businessman Stuart Scheftel as his stepfather, with the high flyer marrying the glamorous Geraldine Fitzgerald in 1946.

Surrounded by Hollywood glamour, Lindsay-Hogg not surprisingly found his way into the world of screen entertainment, though of a far more louche variety than that enjoyed by his mother and possible father. Lindsay-Hogg’s professional career began in the mid-sixties on the seminal musical programme Ready Steady Go!. Working as a director, this is where Lindsay-Hogg would meet and forge connections with the musical superstars – most notably The Beatles and The Rolling Stones – with whom he would eventually become so inextricably linked. Lindsay-Hogg eventually became a regular director of both bands’ era-defining video clips (a form still very much in its infancy), while also successfully plying his trade as a director of episodic TV, helming instalments of shows like Blackmail, The Gambler, The Informer, A Man Of Our Times, The Ronnie Barker Playhouse and more.

Michael Lindsay-Hogg with John Lennon and Mick Jagger on the set of The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus.

Lindsay-Hogg ended the 1960s by directing The Beatles’ aforementioned Let It Be, along with the long suppressed The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus (it finally saw an official release in 1994) which featured bravura performances from The Stones, The Who, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Taj Mahal, Jethro Tull and others, and stands as a true time capsule of the dizzying, kaleidoscopic era. Lindsay-Hogg continued to make music videos for The Stones during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s (along with clips for Paul McCartney & Wings, Roxy Music, Elton John and Whitney Houston), as well as long-form concert films for the likes of Neil Young, Simon & Garfunkel, Paul Simon and Roger Daltrey.

Though best known for his work in the field of popular music and concert films, Lindsay-Hogg has perhaps received the most acclaim for his work directing for the stage, scoring acclaim and Tony Award nominations for his productions of controversial, boundary-pushing titles like Whose Life Is It Anyway?, Agnes Of God, The Boys Of Winter and Larry Kramer’s epochal AIDS drama The Normal Heart. His television films, meanwhile, have been a mixed bag, bouncing from the important (1986’s early AIDS-themed drama As Is and the excellent Farrah Fawcett starrer Nazi Hunter: The Beate Klarsfeld Story) and essential (the ground-breaking mini-series Brideshead Revisited) to the silly (Murder By Moonlight with Brigitte Nielsen and Julian Sands) and the inconsequential (the Xmas flick The Little Match Girl).

Michael Lindsay-Hogg on the set of The Rolling Stones Rock And Roll Circus.

Dotted in amongst all of this activity is a small selection of feature films. Lindsay-Hogg debuted in 1977 with Nasty Habits, an unlikely black comedy about warring nuns in Philadelphia starring Glenda Jackson, Geraldine Page and Sandy Dennis. He has returned to the big screen intermittently over the years with a collection of unusual, often difficult to classify films, including 1984’s The Sound Of Murder (a kinky thriller with Michael Moriarty and Joanna Miles), 1991’s The Object Of Beauty (an elegant romantic drama with John Malkovich and Andie McDowell, and Lindsay-Hogg’s only screenwriting effort), 1995’s Frankie Starlight (the moving Irish-set story of a boy growing up with dwarfism starring Corban Walker, Gabriel Byrne, Anne Parillaud and Matt Dillon), 1996’s Guy (an odd experimental drama with Vincent D’Onofrio and Hope Davis), and 2001’s Waiting For Godot (an adaptation of Samuel Beckett’s classic play). In 2000, Lindsay-Hogg endearingly went full circle with the TV movie Two Of Us, which entertainingly imagined what went on at a 1976 meeting between John Lennon (Jared Harris) and Paul McCartney (Aidan Quinn).

Still busy directing at the age of 81 (he has just helmed episodes of the comedy Tinsel’s Town, and is set to direct a big screen take on the material with The Lullaby League), Michael Lindsay-Hogg is quite possibly the most consistently fascinating unsung auteur, aiding essentially in creating the visual palette of The Swinging Sixties; living an unconventional life off-screen; and bouncing from his various creative pursuits with enjoyable abandon. “I’m sure there are people who think I only do music, people who think I only do theatre, and people who think I only do dramatic stuff,” the director once said. “I do things that interest me.”

If you liked this story, check out our features on other unsung auteurs Joyce Chopra, Mike NewellGina Prince-BythewoodJohn Lee HancockAllison AndersDaniel Petrie Sr.Katt SheaFrank PerryAmy Holden JonesStuart RosenbergPenelope SpheerisCharles B. PierceTamra DavisNorman TaurogJennifer LeePaul WendkosMarisa SilverJohn MackenzieIda LupinoJohn V. SotoMartha Coolidge, Peter HyamsTim Hunter, Stephanie RothmanBetty ThomasJohn FlynnLizzie BordenLionel JeffriesLexi AlexanderAlkinos TsilimidosStewart RaffillLamont JohnsonMaggie Greenwald and Tamara Jenkins.


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