Love trivia? Love six degrees of Kevin Bacon? Then you’ve come to the right place. Ten Degrees of Trivia combines the two to take you on a journey through the world of loosely connected facts, beginning and ending with the same film. This week, I’m starting with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and serving up trivia from codenames and PCP to Samuel L. Jackson and Grease.
P.S. I’m going to give you plenty of notice here with a massive Winter Soldier SPOILER WARNING for number 10 on this list.
1. Captain America: The Winter Soldier may have a plot and a title that hark back to the world of ’70s Cold War political thrillers, but its working title was much more humdrum. In a bid to avoid unwanted publicity during production and filming, Marvel’s latest was originally called Freezer Burn. Am I the only one who thinks they missed a trick by not using that for Iron Man?
2. The practice of using fake titles during production is a tried and tested industry trick older than the average member of the Academy. Changing Seasons? The codename for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Incident on 57th Street? That became Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Sometimes, working titles are so catchy they end up being used on the actual film. Snakes on a Plane, I’m looking at you.
But, the real winner here is The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian with its working title of… Toastie. And yes, it’s genuinely because the cast and crew ate so many toasted sandwiches during production on the previous film.
3. Just like an army, a film crew marches on it stomach, but sometimes the on-set cuisine isn’t as pleasant as a loaf of toasties. One day on the set of Titanic around 80 members of the crew fell sick after eating lobster chowder. Bizarrely, the illness wasn’t due to food poisoning, but because someone spiked the dish with PCP, causing hallucinations in the crew. When James Cameron realised what he had eaten he forced himself to throw up to avoid any ill effects.
4. Some small liberties may have been taken with the historical accuracy of Titanic, but the running time isn’t one of them. If you ignore the scenes set in the present and the opening and closing credits – leaving only the 1912 scenes – then the film lasts two hours and forty minutes, the exact length of time it took for Titanic to sink.
5. Alexander Sokurov’s 2002 masterpiece Russian Ark took this idea even further, lasting 96 minutes in one unbroken steadicam shot. Narrated by Sokurov himself, the shot takes the point of view of a ghost drifting around the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg.
6. Alfred Hitchock attempted a very similar feat back in 1948 with Rope, but he was hampered by the technological limitations of the day, with film magazines only able to hold just over ten minutes of footage at a time. Instead he created the illusion of a continuous take by zooming into black surfaces for the transitions.
7. With each take in Rope lasting such a long time the pressure was huge for the cast and crew to get everything right first time. In fact, everyone was so committed that when a dolly ran over and broke the cameraman’s foot he was gagged and dragged off set rather than spoil the take.
8. On-set injuries are always a risk when you’re making films, but there’s not normally such a contrast between the tone of the film and the nature of the injury as there was in Grease. While recording the mechanics’ anthem ‘Greased Lightning’, Jeff Conaway was dropped by his fellow T-Birds, injuring his back and leading him to become addicted to prescription painkillers. A happy ending for the feel-good musical then…
9. Grease marked a high point in John Travolta’s career, which slumped into the doldrums until he got the call from Quentin Tarantino to star in Pulp Fiction. He played Vincent Vega alongside Samuel L. Jackson as Jules, whose wallet is briefly stolen from him in the café scene, revealing its logo of “Bad Mother Fucker”. This wallet actually belongs to Quentin Tarantino himself and is a reference to the Shaft theme song (a character that Samuel L. Jackson would later go on to play).
10. The role of Jules Winnfield is of course played by Samuel L. Jackson, who also stars as Nick Fury in The Winter Soldier. The connection doesn’t end there though. After Fury’s “death”, we see his gravestone with the inscription “The path of the righteous man. Ezekiel 25:17”, the bible quote made famous by Jules in Pulp Fiction.