Thursday, 9 July 2009

Eminent Anglicans on Crusaders...

Toward the end of 2008 I was naturally pleased that one or two scribes in reputable print outlets (notably Robert Collins in the Observer and Boyd Tonkin in the Independent) recommended Crusaders to their readers as a Christmas gift-purchase. But, since my reading is only so wide, I wasn't to know that at the same time the Durham-educated retired clergyman Frank Sargeant (Bishop both of Stockport and of Lambeth in his day) had taken the time to write in the Retired Clergy Association Newsletter of Christmas 2008 that "If you have a Christmas book token, you may like to investigate 'How others see us' by reading Crusaders by Richard T Kelly..."
This I learn via the blog Dulverton Ramblings, which also reproduces Joel Rickett's January 2008 Crusaders interview with me from the Independent on Sunday. Ah, happy memories... and how time flies, for the estimable Mr Rickett, at that time deputy editor of the Bookseller, is now an editorial director at Viking Penguin, actively bringing books into the world rather than heralding their arrivals.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Esquire (August 2009) now on stands: Harry Potter assaulted

Per my previous Wimbledon-inspired comments on the slow ebbing-away of summer once the Longest Day has gone by - there's something additionally dispiriting on that score about the standard one-month-on cover-dating of monthly magazines. So (wistfully) here we now have the August Esquire, just in time before we're all back to school... On the upside, the as-ever excellent content includes tips on how best we should kit ourselves out in all this blazing weather...
The cover star is Daniel Radcliffe. The special subscriber's cover (above) has a 50s-era Hollywood head-shot feel to it, but for the cover that's actually on the newsstands Radcliffe has been made up with blackened eye and bloodied nose, as if some wizard-hater had just knocked seven bells out of him on the street.
Elsewhere, my column is given over to the 2-part French film Mesrine: to be precise, Mesrine: Killer Instinct & Mesrine: Public Enemy No.1, both due for UK release in August. "Both films were big hits on French soil", I write, "and Mesrine is surely the most boldly and peculiarly French anti-hero the cinema has shown us in recent years."
Vincent Cassel plays the eponymous anti-hero, and it's a genuine balls-out big-movie-star performance from him, though I was just as interested in Cecile De France as his female doppelganger Jeanne, whom I decided to call "a kick-ass, gap-toothed bombshell who spurs [Mesrine] to new heights of infamy. De France, one of those mutable beauties who never looks the same in any two photos, is perfectly suited to the shady glamour of this project..."

Monday, 6 July 2009

Robert McNamara: Long Time Going

The great American playwright David Rabe once protested the labelling of his magisterial Vietnam Plays (Streamers, Sticks and Bones, The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel) as ‘anti-war’, arguing that plays about unruly youth, for instance, were not considered ‘anti-youth’; and that war, like youth, was ‘permanently a part of the eternal human pageant.’ A medical corpsman in Vietnam, Rabe knew of what he spoke, albeit not so comprehensively as Robert McNamara, who has died at the age of 93. ‘I’m not so naive or simplistic to believe we can eliminate war’, McNamara told the filmmaker Errol Morris a few years ago. ‘We’re not going to change human nature anytime soon.’
McNamara lived long enough to revisit the byways of his awful career for a new generation perhaps less familiar with the name and face of the notorious cerebrate/’wonk’ who prosecuted the Vietnam War under Lyndon Johnson, thus developing the intentions of John F. Kennedy. But once propelled to the zenith of the Pentagon, McNamara’s celebrated intellect crashed, as anybody’s would in the face of a mission so wrong-headed as Vietnam.
Nearly 40 years later he would insist that he came to see that war as a hopeless endeavour before his Pentagon peers, but still insisted upon the seriousness of the high Cold War stakes of the age. The McNamara of the 21st century also showed an interest in counterfactual history that befitted both a scholar and a man with compendious causes for regret. (Naturally, he suggested that had Kennedy lived, the US would have smartly extricated itself from Vietnam.)
McNamara’s attempted rehabilitation also received a certain late-life boost from the Coalition occupation of Iraq, as he developed a critique of US unilateralism that was highly palatable to the critics of Bush’s war. ‘If we can’t persuade nations of comparable values of the merit of our cause’, he told Errol Morris, ‘then we’d better re-examine our reasons.’ McNamara himself, though, seemed to have done only a certain amount of self-re-examination and no more. In his 90s he was not, one sensed, a broken man, but rather someone who still believed that ‘tough choices’ – the tough consequences of which are felt by other people – are the unhappy lot of truly substantive individuals.