Thursday, 22 May 2008

Alan Clarke by Richard T. Kelly (Faber, 1998)

Forgive the past beckoning me in but... it was round about 10 years ago this week that I signed off on the galley pages of my first book for Faber and Faber: Alan Clarke, an oral history of the life and times and (TV) films of the great director of Scum, Made In Britain, The Firm, Contact and many more. In great but needful haste I had begun work in early December 1997, calling on Tim Roth at a production office in Soho where he was prepping his directorial debut The War Zone. I finished the manuscript in March 1998, after 3 1/2 months of crazed gumshoe work, interviewing all round the country. But it was the time of my life, at the time anyway, and an honour to do a hugely improbable book-length tribute to a man whose work I venerated and who seemed to embody most of the good things in the world, as was confirmed by my expert witnesses.
None of the press reviews of the book are online anymore so please excuse the self-absorption of my posting the choicest nuggets up here like so:
“A quite remarkable, heartbreaking book… one of those rare movie books that makes you sit up and start reading… Kelly has had the excellent idea of letting Clarke’s mates tell the story, and he has interviewed everyone he could find, from the women in and out of Clarke’s life, to co-workers like David Yallop and Roy Minton, producer Mark Shivas, cameraman John Ward, actors Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, Ray Winstone and Eleanor Bron. There are more than sixty of them in all, and they’re cut together to make up a bewitching portrait of Clarke… Alan Clarke the book is a model of how to write film history.”
David Thomson, Independent On Sunday
“A sort of oral biography of our television times.”
David Hare, Daily Telegraph
“If there is a better book about British television in the 70s and 80s, I have yet to read it. This extraordinary assemblage of interviews, put together without editorial comment like the printed equivalent of a talking-head documentary, establishes the role of Clarke as friend, mentor and unsung champion of all that is right (and enemy of all that is wrong) with image-based culture in Britain.”
Nick Roddick, Sight & Sound
“Alan Clarke was controversial all his life and yet is hardly known, which is surprising when you read what a funny, untamed, sexy, charming scruff he was. The reason he got away with it was his prolific brilliance as a director. Richard [T.] Kelly’s book is a fascinating insight into a man of difficult, testy and passionate views.”
Angus Wolfe Murray, Scotsman
“Not so much a biography of Clarke as an oral history, Richard [T.] Kelly’s absorbing book depicts an uncompromising hellraiser who tirelessly turned his unflinching gaze on the most controversial subjects. It will make you mourn the passing of a TV industry which fostered work as challenging as his.”
John Wrathall, Premiere
“This is far more than one man and his craft, as the very essence of British culture and politics seeps through the text. A vivid portrait is painted of the unemployment and depression that was to influence Clarke and drive him to leave an anger-fuelled time capsule of society’s injustices for future generations to learn from.”
Dan Rider, Total Film

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Offshore '97 by Chicane feat. Power Circle/Louise Burton

This tune came out at a point that was just past the threshold of my own interest in house music, i.e. before my tastes got exclusively focused on Richard Thompson box-sets and suchlike. But I post the promo up here by way of a small contribution to the online dance-musicological database; because, Googling around, I note that there appears to be some small historical confusion over who actually supplied the vocals to this track. Well, it's my friend Louise Burton, as seen in the clip. Doesn't she sound great?

Gordon Ramsay: So Macho...

The concept of 'machismo' gets a bad rap in the media, and sometimes in the real world too. For instance I once wrote in a book of Sean Penn's 'authentic machismo', and a (female) newspaper reviewer thought this very notion ludicrous (which made me wonder what her boyfriend/helpmeet reckoned to such views.) I guess that from its Spanish origins to its common English usage machismo just suggests too much in the way of exaggeratedly bumptious behaviour and a chauvinistic sense of entitlement. Obviously there is a portion of personal identity that may be no more than performance and/or masquerade: a fact one expects is understood by all those gay men who affect black leather jackets, and also - one hopes - by some of the rather more slight and unimposing straight guys who affect same.
Still, Norman Mailer fan that I am, I think machismo needs defending now and then, insofar as it can reasonably describe a readiness on the part of certain men to put whatever physical fortitude and strength they are blessed with to good and courageous uses. (To get in harm's way, you could say.) Women are of course entirely capable of the very same solicitude and bravery; one might only suggest that since men tend to be physically larger and more robust then maybe more of an onus falls upon them.
Anyhow... watching Gordon Ramsay's The F-Word last night on Channel 4 I was in no way surprised to see the Great Chef teaching his young son to catch and gut a rabbit, then cooking it in a ragu for the lad and his mates following a back-garden kickabout to which the ex-Ibrox trainee Ramsay contributed keenly. Many people, myself included, love Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares and Hell's Kitchen shows for the big and untrammelled manner in which the host expresses himself while urging people to do better than what they're doing. There's something improving about it. The F-Word, though, is a different beast. Watching Ramsay jet-skiing and ice-fishing for his supper, or getting his hands gory with the primary stage of food preparation, is only what we have come to expect and seems authetic to the man. But this apart, the show seems utterly dogged and weirdly compromised by the awful self-adoring celeb guests whom Ramsay is happy to air-kiss (Last night? Kate Garraway, Jesus H...); and the equally awful crowd of general-public would-be food snobs who are encouraged to sound off throughout the show. Clearly the only thing that can stop Ramsay is Ramsay, so he will go his own way; and the foodie world is inevitably bound up with rich people, however they came to be so. But it always feels odd to me that Ramsay's media persona is bound up with being simultaneously a) refreshingly bullshit-free and b) offering further needless exposure to prime bullshitters.