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The Ghost Of Peter Sellers

Year: 2018
Production Co: Vegas Media
Director: Peter Medak
Writer: Peter Medak
Cast: Peter Medak

The world remembers Peter Sellers as a troubled genius, a sad clown archetype like Robin Williams, filling the world around him with laughter while always chasing away loneliness and other demons inside himself. It translated to some extremely diva-like behaviour on film sets once he became a star in America, and one of the people who saw and lived it up close was director Peter Medak, who went on to make The Changeling in 1980.

Medak himself, now in his 70s or thereabouts, has directed this documentary not just about Sellers but about the project that nearly bought Medak himself undone, Ghost in the Noonday Sun. It was a pirate comedy set in the 17th Century with Sellers as the cook on a pirate ship who declares himself captain when the real captain (Peter Boyle) dies, setting about returning the crew to the location of buried treasure.

As Medak tells it, Sellers lost confidence in the movie immediately, and the production suffered one setback after another thanks to him not showing up on set, refusing to film with certain actors, and generally throwing everything into chaos. Medak paints him as a monster in the vein of Klaus Kinski, a former friend who turned not just on Medak but everyone else. When he talks about how Spike Milligan was bought out to work on the script, he refused to cross the star lest he end up bearing the brunt of Sellers' temper and infamous silent treatments.

Medak travels around Europe talking to former collaborators from the finance and production executives to the talent agents who put the whole project together, and it's obvious he's still hurt by the experience. But most revealing of all perhaps is a moment near the end that might reveal what Sellers was really like.

He tells a story of filming a subsequent project on a studio lot, with Sellers working on another movie on the sound stage next door. He summons Medak to visit, who ignores the request, and when Sellers approaches him directly, he apparently has no idea that Medak would feel such animosity towards him.

It's long been established that acting attracts insecure and immature people, and this movie unwittingly confirms the danger to so many jobs and so much money when so much power and investment is made in one person and they seem to get off on the power of ruining it for everyone by just not playing their part, sociopaths who then can't understand why people end up so hurt by their behaviour.

As well as being a horror show about the project itself (which was never completed properly and has never been released), it's also a story about how filmmaking works (and occasionally doesn't), and if you're interested in what goes on behind the scenes in any movie, it's pretty essential viewing.

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