Friday, 17 October 2008

Colombiage: Celebrating Contemporary Colombian Arts

I can warmly recommend that culture-seekers get themselves along to the second annual Colombiage Festival in London this weekend, where new Colombian film, literature, music and culture in general are curated and celebrated in super-lively fashion. Last night I chaired a discussion with the novelist Mario Mendoza at the Odeon Covent Garden about the film version of his much-admired novel Satanas, a work that was inspired by a terrible killing spree in Bogota c. 1986, the murderer (a 52 year-old enthusiast of Stevenson's Jekyll & Hyde who had served with the US army in Vietnam) having been a fellow literature student with the much younger Mendoza at Bogota's Jesuit University. I found Mario's views on the darkness of current Colombian narrative art, and on the immanence of evil in the world generally, to be highly fascinating, while also being delighted by the size of the largely Spanish-speaking audience, who also made their way in numbers to an excellent launch party thereafter at the Soho Revue.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Hitchens: the kind of endorsement of which Obama will see more

Round about this time four years ago, with America poised once again to Decide, Christopher Hitchens bade a decisive farewell to one more segment of his former fan club when he declared that he 'slightly preferred' the idea of the re-election of the incumbent, and on an essentially single-issue stand, which was the prosecution of the war in Iraq in particular, and on what had come to be known as Islamofascism in general.
This year he's for Obama, albeit in about the most lukewarm tones one could imagine. I know of this because I read Hitchens' stuff now with more or less the same keenness I've always felt, tempered only by the appreciation that we all get older and more disappointed as the world seems forever to get worse.
Hitchens, who evidently admires McCain in several important ways, nevertheless speaks now in pitying fashion of a man 'suffering from an increasingly obvious and embarrassing deficit, both cognitive and physical... the train-wreck sentences, the whistlings in the pipes, the alarming and bewildered handhold phrases—"My friends"—to get him through the next 10 seconds.' And Hitchens is utterly scathing of the Republican VP candidate as someone propelled far beyond her abilities for 'the nasty and lowly task of stirring up the whack-job fringe of the party's right wing.'
What, then, of the Democrat hope? 'Overrated' is probably Hitchens' most felt adjective. And yet, his revisiting of the Iraq war vote notwithstanding, Obama has passed Hitchens' single-issue test, and that should give pause to those who are on the side of Change because it suits their self-image and they believe Change to mean whatever they fancy it means, rather than something related to anything Obama has actually said on the stump.
As Hitchens puts it, 'The Obama-Biden ticket is not a capitulationist one, even if it does accept the support of the surrender faction, and it does show some signs of being able and willing to profit from experience.' I take 'experience' to mean Obama's wish to take the War into Pakistan and to continue to hunt and kill The Terrorists, a cause to which John Kerry cottoned rather too late in 2004. Kerry must be wishing he'd had a chunk of Obama's luck.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Mark Shivas 1938-2008

This morning I just happened to be re-reading the wise and witty contributions given to my book about Alan Clarke by the greatly-esteemed film and TV producer Mark Shivas. And I was thinking of how really good it had been to see Mark again for the first time in some years when we were both attendees of a really enjoyable BBC Films function back on the last day of July.
Moments ago I learned that it has just been announced that Mark died from cancer last Saturday night, aged 70.
The obituaries will no doubt testify that he was someone with a refined understanding of drama and the moving image, an Oxford graduate and precocious cinephile who was rightly recruited into the great flourishing of British television in the 1960s, and immediately got down to work with some of the foremost talents of that moment, at Granada and then the BBC.
Apart from Alan Clarke (with whom he made Horace, To Encourage The Others and Funny Farm among others) his major associations, one supposes, were with Frederic Raphael, Alan Bennett, Stephen Frears, and Anthony Minghella, though there were many more, and probably others just as significant. He was the ideal Head of Drama for the BBC from 1988, and similarly the very man to initiate the project of BBC Films in the early 1990s.
In more recent years he was the chief of the production outfit Headline Pictures, at whose offices I had a very congenial and interesting meeting back in early 2008 when the prospect of a Crusaders TV adaptation was being mooted by one or two parties. Mark had had to send his apologies that day; I hadn’t seen him since he graciously attended a Clarke tribute I organised at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Hence the pleasure of his company this July, when he spoke with characteristically mild modesty of several fascinating and hugely ambitious projects he had afoot. He remained graciously interested in how Crusaders was going, and over dinner was generally full of astute and completely considered observations about film and life in general.
In my few dealings with him he always struck me as formidably serious while managing the enviably trick of wearing it all rather lightly. I remember when I first talked to him about his work with Alan Clarke, and began to unpack my excited theory about the Golden Age of the BBC’s Play for Today. ‘Well, it depends on what you consider to be golden’, he replied with a small smile, several steps ahead of me. ‘A lot of terrible stuff was done in the sixties and seventies too, bad studio plays – I know, I did some of them myself. The golden age is always the one before last. And I don’t remember who said this, but in any golden age there’s always somebody sitting around saying, ‘Don’t you think it’s a bit too yellow…?’
The day of that interview when I called on him at his mews house in London I happened to be more or less crippled by a lower back injury, albeit trying vainly to mask it, and his solicitude and all-round concern for my comfort that day was downright affecting. I will be glad to remember moments such as this as readily as all those brilliant films and dramas the making of which he boldly enabled.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Crusaders review on ReadItInBooks

I am guessing that has some Echo and the Bunnymen enthusiast among its founding members. It's a new site to me but I'm pleased to see they've recently run a useful review of Crusaders, wherein they describe the novel as 'timely', 'ambitious', 'enthralling', 'gripping', and 'recommended'. That said, the reviewer thinks that it 'doesn’t (quite) work', having been confused by the gangland plot and not fully convinced by Gore as a priest or his relationship with Lindy. But these two, certainly the latter, have been talk-about issues from the get-go.
I suppose the author's dream would be to one day do an edition of Crusaders with page-by-page readers' notes that would give the backdrop to my rationale for every element of the story, its themes and characterisations. Of course, there will never ever be any market demand for any such edition, I hasten to add, so what I'm dreaming of is probably some fanciful post-copyright piece of e-publishing. Or, alternatively, one could just clam up and let people read a book the way they want to...

Monday, 13 October 2008

November Esquire now on stands. Contains James Bond.

Yes, a rather especially lush-looking and compendious issue of Esquire this month. Several contributions from me therein. I write about the movie Burn After Reading, or more specifically the contribution made to it by John Malkovich, of whom I say, "... maybe above all else Malkovich is ‘The Mouth’: strangely sensuous, with that long thin upper lip, the lifting of which has tended to semaphore that his characters are about to turn predatory (be it sexual or homicidal.)"
Then I also provide a pair of pieces to the issue's extensive special-section coverage of Bond#22, Quantum of Solace: an interview with director Marc Forster, who said to me, "I approached Quantum of Solace more like a small art film than the twenty-second part of a franchise"; and a piece about the marketing and product placement dimensions of the Bond franchise, based on an interview I did with co-producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, in the course of which Ms Broccoli put it to me very reasonably in respect of Daniel Craig that ‘you couldn’t find a more perfect man.’ Which is why he's on the cover of Esquire, among other things.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Dave & the sound of the crowd

Another curious week for the main party leaders: The Brow-Furrowed Son of the Manse (who has appeared relatively gay at times over these terrible last seven days); and the man whom most young Tory PPCs think of as Jesus but to whom Simon Heffer near-religiously and sneeringly refers to as 'Dave'.
Cameron has capped it by going on Adam Boulton's Sky show and saying: yes, he would support the government taking a majority shareholding in RBS; yes, Brown did ‘the right thing in announcing the pan to recapitalize the banking system’; and yes, he accepted that accordingly ‘borrowing is gong to increase.’ He further declared that ‘it would be completely wrong for senior executives in those banks to get a bonus this year’ and, when asked about whether some ought to get the sack, remarked that he ‘would be very surprised if they all kept their jobs.’
So another robustly bipartisan show from DC, the stuff about bankers very much contra to Boris Johnson’s would-be stirring statements at Tory party conference the other week; and the stuff about state intervention in banks clearly not the message George Osborne would have liked to convey at conference either, at least before the initial collapse of the US bail-out caught that conference squarely on the hop.
It looks like in the main the Tories are going to sit this ruckus out politely, trust that in other respects Cameron’s strident efforts to make the party look a little more clean-limbed and cuddly will be judged effective, and that in the long run the electorate will end up blaming the Government for The Crisis. John Rentoul in today’s Independent certainly thinks they surely will: ‘We can argue about whether they are half-right or half-wrong to blame Brown for the economic difficulties that now loom before us, but there is no doubting what the majority opinion is. I expect that the Tories' focus groups reflect the views of the members of the public buttonholed by TV cameras on the street last week: they blame the Government and are especially furious that they, as taxpayers, should be asked to bail out the greedy bankers who were allowed to break the economy.’