Wednesday, 18 June 2008

The Sean Penn Administration, Cannes 2008

Last weekend I had a really interesting conversation with Sean Penn about his service as Jury President at the recent Cannes Film Festival. (That's him in the photo, having a smoke and looking slightly concerned - whether by the gentleman next to him or the paparazzi gang behind, we're not to know.) Anyhow, an edited account of aforementioned conversation will run in the next issue of Sight & Sound.
After Sean was announced as this year's Cannes Prez I was struck by the number of media outlets who decided to run the rule over the Festival's choice, so rehashing the legend of Penn the Dangerous Hothead of 1980s tabloid lore, as if ignorant of the fact that inter alia he had previously competed in the Official Selection at Cannes both as actor and director, and won the Acting Palme for She's So Lovely in 1997. But, such is the general standard of reporting on cinema out there, and particularly when bracketed to coverage of the Cannes Festival, where the celebration of what is very best in film is inevitably shackled to a realisation that movies are consumed far more widely and profitably by devotees of Spiderman and Batman, be they young or old.
Sean has been on the record umpteen times in the past about his particular problems with the Hollywood mainstream, and the outriding assumptions about the audience. And this subject naturally arose in the course of our Cannes discussion: 'As an audience member', he remarked, "I always feel frustrated by the monoculturalism of American cinema, and in so many places it’s American monoculturalism that people buy." (Yes, 'Hollywood Movie Actor' is still his own main occupation, but the closest he's ever got to the Hollywood mainstream is working for Clint Eastwood, whose creative control over his own work is the envy of film artists everywhere.)
There is a certain caste of film critics for broadsheet newspapers, in the UK as well as the US, who see themselves as the scourges of that 'American monoculturalism', but very often I think they're kidding themselves, if not their readers: their own finicky sense of personal discernment is what comes top of their agendas. The thought reoccured to me when Sean described how he and his jury ignored all the daily critical chatter about the films they were adjudicating upon: a discipline that resulted in his feeling aggrieved on the part of certain films and filmmakers once he reviewed the press coverage in the aftermath of the Festival and saw how movies he admired unreservedly had been instantly weighed in the balance by The Critics and found wanting.
At Cannes the deadline-driven comprehensive-coverage rush to judgement can be very injurious to a movie. Of course, judgement is always waiting round the corner for any creative undertaking and cannot be hidden from. But I know how Cannes works, and what is the daily routine for most film journalists out there (it's long, but not arduous, not by any reasonable standard, other than on the liver...) And it's a matter of fact that Cannes is not the ideal place for arriving quickly at a considered view of a picture, much less for conveying that to readers. Hence Sean's lament, particularly on the part of Steven Soderbergh's Che, on which his jury bestowed the Best Actor prize for Benicio Del Toro, but which had a rough ride in a lot of print outlets. "The diminishment", Sean told me, "is reminiscent of the bad reviews Bonnie and Clyde got, or Apocalypse Now, or the 'failure' Wizard of Oz was or It’s A Wonderful Life was." This remark I think is particularly useful, because the critical tendency is very often to make the best the enemy of the good. But with a lot of critics who regularly refer to the masters and masterpieces of the past, all you have to do is imagine what they would have said of those great originals had they been reviewing at the time: most likely, "Not without interest, but with (sighs) a lot of problems..."

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Richard T Kelly at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, August 16 2008

The programme for this year's Edinburgh Book Festival is now published and online. I'll be there, I'm pleased to say, and my joint event is billed as follows:

Nick Harkaway & Richard T Kelly
Saturday August 16 7:30 PM - 8:30 PM
Two of the most talked about debuts of the year. Nick Harkaway, son of John Le Carré, pours massive exuberance into his giddying fantasy of a post-apocalyptic Britain, The Gone-Away World. Richard T Kelly's equally ambitious Crusaders is a socio-political epic, people struggling to survive in the run-down, swift-changing North of England."

So. Maybe I'll see you there...

I've not been in Edinburgh at Festival time since 2001 - the last of four years I did as consultant to the Film Festival, also Lizzie Francke's last as Artistic Director, and the year when Sean Penn came to town - that was certainly the start of something... Previous to that, I tried out the whole Edinburgh thing in a few different categories. I was part of the Young Programme-Makers sidebar of the Television Festival in 1996. Further back, in 1993, I directed a stage production of David Mamet's Edmond on the Fringe, with a team of young performers from Bristol University far more talented in that field than myself (among them Neil Cole, Claire Wille and Samantha LeMole, to speak only of those whom I know to have carried on performing.)

So, looking back, I have to say I gave it a go.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Euro 2008: Not a Full-Back's Tournament...

How's it been for you so far? I must say I think some of the games have been bloody good. All the obvious things have been said correctly about Holland, Spain, and Portugal. What of the Germans, the pre-tournament faves who started so nicely? Here I should interject that:
a) I hold no brief whatsoever for the England team, and am relieved by their absence from this tournament, since the side is largely compromised of players I hate from club sides I hate; so I have no problem taking a friendly interest in the Germans (though I did hate them back in 1990 and 1996, when England sides more properly composed of the staunch likes of Beardsley, Gascoigne and Shearer were cruelly robbed.) And,
b) Following on from the above, though I can get interested in teams that don't feature players I know of and/or like, I'm instinctively more interested in teams who can claim some relationship, however tenuous, to Newcastle United. Turkey vs Czech Republic was a funny one last night, since Emre Belozoglu and David Rozehal lined up on opposed sides but both are headed out of St James's Park. But frankly you rarely get to see too many Toon players at the highest international level. What you do tend to see a lot of are the conspicuously over-priced duffers whom Newcastle are likely to offer for once their post-tournament price has sky-rocketed. Most such players go to Man United or Real Madrid, or even Spurs, or these days probably Portsmouth. But if they're really crap they may just end up being paraded in front of a dubious Gallowgate End. For instance Kenny Dalglish in his ill-fated 18 months at Newcastle made a strange and spectacular hash of buying players who would fail miserably at the 1998 World Cup.
I return to this sore subject with a bit less regret, because a month ago I learned Newcastle were keenly tracking Mario Gomez of Stuttgart and Germany, a shooting-boots sensation who clearly had no interest in coming up the Barrack Road to play for the Geordies against Wigan next season. Still, I've watched Gomez closely in this tournament, and so far the alice-band-wearing charlie hasn't managed to hit a cow's arse with a banjo. 10 minutes ago he achieved the Miss of the Tournament against Austria. Maybe he'll fill his boots in the second half. But for the moment Newcastle are looking lucky...