Thursday, 23 December 2010

My brother took this too... Magic! Happy Xmas, see you in 2011

The Rubberbandits: #1 in our hearts, no messin'...


This blog is a longstanding subscriber to Viz comic, believes that a little coarseness in humour can go a long way - can even be morally necessary - and so it has keenly supported the efforts of Limerick's Rubberbandits to beat the victorious X-Factor candidate to Christmas #1 in Ireland, courtesy of their quite delightful 'Horse Outside' record. Alas, today's Irish Independent brought grim news:
"It was always going to be a David and Goliath struggle and it seems the dark horses have lost. With this year's Christmas Number One to be announced tomorrow, it looks as if 'X Factor' winner Matt Cardle will take the top spot ahead of Limerick Youtube stars Rubberbandits. Latest figures reveal that Cardle has sold 33,281 copies of his debut single 'When We Collide' ahead of Rubberbandits' 'Horse Outside' with 13,533 purchases, both physical and download. Last night the gap of almost 20,000 units was described as "insurmountable" by one industry expert, but a spokesman for Rubberbandits claimed there was still everything to play for until shops closed this evening..."
It looks bad. But sure the battle's not done 'til it's done, right fellas? Or how else would the Irish Republic have been won...?

Friday, 17 December 2010

The elusive essence of 'Conradian'


Over there on Faber Finds I've written a post on Joseph Conrad, whose marvellous A Personal Record (1912) Finds has made available between covers. I didn't mention Conrad's political disposition, which I usually never fail to point out in a writer, whether or not I care. (But Conrad was, of course, a pillar of reaction, with a bleak view of general humanity. Still, to his great credit he didn't - much - let that get in the way of his stories or deface his characters.)
I do say that there aren't any good film versions of his novels, and I daresay that remains the case: I never saw Mark Peploe's Victory despite wishing to, but then the whole venture was widely reckoned to be waterlogged from an early stage. Anyway, it's better, I think, that great novelists be undefiled by hopeless films; and Conrad's artful, atmospheric prose has often left admirers with cameras quite at sea over how to replicate that quality in images. Even one so gifted as Christopher Hampton, who has spent a fair bit of time engaged with this very difficulty, hasn't been able to crack it, as you may surmise from the trailer for his version of The Secret Agent (below).

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Momus: This charming man...


1988 probably isn’t rated a banner year in the history of culture but I don’t think I’ve ever since read as many challenging books, seen as many slightly risque foreign-language movies, listened to as many Central European string quartets as I did over those twelve months. It was all to do with being 17, and the early stirrings of avidity for all things arty, the slight vertigo you get in starting to understand the real depth and breadth of what’s already out there in the world.
When you’re that age, though, you need encouragement, someone to give you a lead to follow. In this way I’m reminded of Nicholas Currie, the Scottish-born singer-songwriter who has for 25 years now written and recorded and engaged in all manner of superior cultural production under the name of Momus. In 1988 I discovered his early albums Circus Maximus, The Poison Boyfriend and Tender Pervert; and for a boy who was studying Ancient History, imagining what Japan was really like, and beginning to alphabetise his Penguin Modern Classics... well, it was a revelation to discover a songwriter who knew how to mix high culture, esoterica/erotica and intimate personal confession with such well-turned scurrility.
I wrote Currie a number of fan letters to an address printed on the back-sleeve of Tender Pervert, all of which he replied to very patiently and amiably, and the effect of all my gauche questions for him was that he pointed me in the direction of an awful lot of good reading and looking and listening that was hitherto alien to me. Certainly it was at his suggestion that I read Gide and Bataille, looked at Picabia and Dix, heard Schoenberg and Jacques Brel and The Threepenny Opera.
In the summer of 1990 I made a pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Festival to see a rare production of one of Mishima’s modern Noh plays, directed, if I remember rightly, by the great Yukio Ninagawa. I remember how not particularly surprised – though very pleased – I was when I clocked that Momus was sitting in the row in front of me. (Even in the dark his profile was very distinctive.) I went up to him afterwards and said hello – something of a miracle, as all through my adolescence you could hardly get a word out of me without using pliers – and he was very pleasant, as you want people to be when you’ve admired them from afar.
Momus has kept on writing and recording and getting up to all sorts. He blogs at iMomus. In this interview on YouTube he gives an interesting account of his career against the shifting backdrop of independent music labels over the last three decades. The promo clip below is a rather Neil Tennant-ish number that was probably the closest Momus came to a hit record in the UK.


NUFC: Loveless Marriage, Divorce Too Expensive


Admirable professionalism from the Newcastle United team this weekend, carefully worded responses to media from Captain Nolan, and exactly the right response from the fans at the game – all the way to the final whistle and the segueing effortlessly from cheers for a top performance/three points to renewed jeers for that minty pair of toe-rags still squatting in the board-room of this club. The Match of the Day cameras kept looking for Ashley’s pie-eater grins, but the microphones must have been pointing the wrong way, i.e. not at the Leazes End. Memo to Ashley & Llambias: we wish most earnestly and urgently that you could live your dream, get shot of us and go catch your effing taxi. Yet you persist (like morons, really) in going quite the wrong way about making NUFC appear an attractive saleable entity. Thankfully there are some footballers at this club, many of them improved immeasurably under the management of Chris Hughton, and yesterday it was clear they were still playing for him. Moreover we were lucky it was Liverpool visiting: a club clearly in an awful lot of bother. Had it been Blackpool or Blackburn or Wigan, strangely enough, I expect we’d have lost. The next four games are looking tough, though, with Spurs and Citeh in the middle of the sandwich. Over to you then, Alan Pardew. Or ‘Sort it out, Curbishley’, as I believe some comic genius sat near the NUFC dug-out addressed the new ‘gaffer’ on Saturday...

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Dovegreyreader, too, tips Doctor Forrest...


The estimable dovegreyreader wrote a very kind and considered notice on my Crusaders back in February 2008, and I'm pleased to (belatedly) catch up with the news that she's keeping the faith in my stuff, by way of her preview of a few 2011 fiction lists (amusingly headlined 'Reasons to be Cheerful about Publishing'...) in which she highlights The Possessions of Doctor Forrest (scroll down) amid the Faber schedule.
Picture above is, of course, of a forest - or a dark wood - or selva oscura, if you will...

Sunday, 5 December 2010

High Passions at the Place for Lost Books...


I've been serially unfaithful to this blog over the last few weeks: it's the charm of novelty, I regret to say. The thing with Twitter has been cheap and easy and, in my defence, everybody's doing it... But closer to the Things We Do for Love has been my developing commitment to The Place for Lost Books, the Faber Finds blog. It's certainly more than a one-time thing as far as I'm concerned. That's why I've posted lately on subjects as varied as Tolstoy's eminence, Enoch Powell's 'rivers of blood', the eerie appeal of J.Sheridan Le Fanu, and F.R. Leavis's place amid the intellectual feuds of Cambridge English. I consider all this to be meaningful labour, moreover it's an outright pleasure to have a remit to write about such subjects, with the Faber Finds list offering all the riches it does. And I could affirm all of this by appending a picture of George Eliot, say, to this post - bearing in mind that Eliot is one of the few English novelists who might be compared to Tolstoy, and that Leavis wrote with particular distinction on Middlemarch. But instead, I'm going with this pic (above) of the recently deceased and sadly missed Ingrid Pitt, one of whose finest hours came in an otherwise disreputable Hammer Films version of Le Fanu's 'Carmilla', of which more in the Le Fanu post above. I'm all for the high road, you understand, but sometimes the low one also gets you there, or thereabouts...

My brother took this...


Splendid, isn't it? Feels like it could be Moscow or Helsinki or Stockholm, right? In fact it's the Market Road estate in Holloway, London. Full story here.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Bookmunch tips Doctor Forrest...


"After blowing us all away a couple of years back with his David Peace-esque political novel, Crusaders, Richard T Kelly is changing his game with The Possessions of Dr Forrest which promises to be a spine-tingling modern Gothic fable that mashes up two of our favourite doctors, Jekyll and Faustus. Am giddy about this one…"
Thanks very much, I'm giddy and all, not least on getting a mention in the company of Foster Wallace, Mistry and others.
(The image herewith is Egon Schiele's Semi-Nude Girl, Reclining, a print of which hangs on the wall of Dr. Forrest's octagonal bedchamber... It's that sort of novel...)

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Blair/Hitchens & 'the heart of a heartless world...'


The public debate staged in Toronto last night between Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens on the issue of whether religion is 'a force for good in the world' appears to have been won quite decisively by Hitchens. The New Statesman kindly offers a transcript in 3 parts. I consider these to be The Best Bits:
BLAIR:
- "What I say to you is at least, look, what we shouldn't do is end up in a situation where we say, we've got six hospices here, one suicide bomber there - how does it all equalise out? That's not a very productive way of arguing this..."
- [On what is 'the point' of religion] "Stimulating the impulse to do good, disciplining the propensity to be selfish and bad."
- "...if you are a person of faith, it's part of your character, it defines you in many ways as a human being. It doesn't do the policy answers, I am afraid. So as I used to say to people, you don't go into church and look heavenward and say to God, 'Right, next year, the minimum wage, is it £6.50 or £7...?' Unfortunately, he doesn't tell you the answer. And even on the major decisions that are to do with war and peace that I've taken, they were decisions based on policy, and so they should be, and you may disagree with those decisions, but they were taken because I genuinely believed them to be right."

HITCHENS
- "Religion forces nice people to do unkind things, and also makes intelligent people say stupid things."
- "The cure for poverty has a name, in fact. It's called the empowerment of women…Name me one religion that stands for that, or ever has."
- "...there's a sense of pleasure to be had in helping your fellow creature. I think that should be enough, thank you."

And gentlemen, thank you.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Faber Finds: Robert Aickman

In my new day-job as overseer at the print-on-demand/ebook reviver of 'lost'/classic books known as Faber Finds, I've begun blogging on some of the treasures Finds has been restoring to readers, and today I addressed an author who's dear to me: Robert Aickman. If you don't know his work, and you're ready to be greatly unnerved, then all I can say is that a luxurious darkness awaits you...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Eurozone: "Struggling a bit, aren't they...?"

The two-handed satire of John Clarke and Bryan Dawe is new to me, but on this evidence - a skit on Eurozone debt in the style of Mastermind - I'll be looking out for it from now. (The Oz accents, I admit, add greatly to the pawkiness of the humour.)

Sunday, 21 November 2010

The other Lost Leader...


With Labour seemingly mired in one of its periodic phases of being led by windbags, hypocrites and small-scale connivers (it’s been that way for several years now...) it’s hard to think about ‘moving forward’, not with so much rebarbative recent history still to be digested… David Laws’ recent sour remarks about Ed Miliband (amid his hasty reminiscence of the ConDem shotgun wedding) should be set in context of Laws’ obvious Toryism and attendant hatred for Labourism. But the Mail's serialisation of Brown at 10 by Anthony Seldon and Guy Lodge made for more disconcerting reading. Let’s set aside the risible spectacle of the Mail arrogating to itself the right to determine, Socialist Worker -style, exactly who is a traitor to the cause of Labour. The rest of us just need to read between the lines and marvel anew at how such a sanctimonious and scarily self-obsessed pair as Gordon Brown and Harriet Harman wound up at the very pinnacle of the Labour Party, prior to blessing Ed Miliband as their rightful inheritor.
John Rentoul’s revival of 'AJ4PM' is tongue-in-cheek, surely, for the moment has passed, just as so many other promising Labour ‘moments’ have crashed into the rocks over recent years. I haven’t been wowed by Johnson’s despatch box performances as shadow chancellor. But, rare in a politician, he remains a recognisible human being, one with just the right mix of frankness and canniness, and unlike his Leader he's not about to bang on about the defeatingly populist notion that people ought forever to hand back more than half their income once they've made their way to £150K.
Johnson's recent tribute to his Leader has a nicely minimal feel: 'Everyone’s got their views about how we get back into government and there’s a variety of views in the Shadow Cabinet… … we have to discuss those differences of opinion like mature people which is really a mindset that I think Ed has brought into the party that is I think commendable...'
No, I don't wish to re-run redundant quarrels so even I balked a little at Rentoul's observations in his print column today: "There were disloyal whispers at Westminster last week. Anonymous speculation about Brownites organising for Yvette Cooper to succeed [EdMili]. Sarcasm about when he was going to start in his new job. Grumbles about his breaking his paternity leave on Friday to provide a soundbite for TV news on Lord Young's resignation – a Tory bad news story that needed no help from him – instead of to surprise us with his plans, say, to be tough on immigration..."
But, y'know, if the cap fits... Or as the bracingly rude Daily Mash satirises it, 'Despite assurances from David Miliband that there would no repeat of the Blair-Brown 'soap opera', his supporters said that would be f**king right...'

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Plant/Page: Wanton...

I fully approved of the Plant/Page 'unplugged' revival c. 1994-5, in particular the strange, compelling Arabic/Celtic strains loaned to versions of 'Gallows Pole', 'Kashmir', 'No Quarter' and 'Nobody's Fault But Mine.' Still - and as I tweeted in response to Chris Rodley's excellent Plant doc for the BBC a fortnight back - whatever musical highways Plant or Page have honourably gone hitching down post-Zeppelin, there's unlikely to be anything there that could wholly compare to the glory of Gettin' the Led out. To wit: I missed the Plant/Page revival of 1998 and so was hugely tickled by the Rodley doc's digging out of their Later rendition of The Wanton Song off Physical Graffiti. Fifty-something geezers here, remember. Kids, you might want to duck...

Monday, 15 November 2010

Singing live, for your vote, Robert Allen Zimmerman...

This year’s X Factor competition? I'm wishing success on the young black woman with the Liverpool accent, who has a very good voice – but more importantly because a fortnight back, if I heard rightly, she sang a Dylan song. It’s possible she knew it by way of its more popular covers, but I’d rather believe she was displaying a spark of musical intelligence and feeling hitherto unseen among X Factor wannabes and their ludicrous panel of 'mentors'/'judges'.
Granted, it’s a ridiculous notion, Bob-does-The-X. If by some magic the young Greenwich Village Dylan were a candidate for the c. 2010 show he’d be ridiculed and kicked out at audition - partly for the voice, which Larkin (who liked it!) thought ‘cawing’ and ‘derisive’, but mainly for writing his own songs, being an artist, his own man, etc etc...
Still, I’ve begun to amuse myself by imagining an entire X-evening devoted to Bob’s songs… just as I understand there have been tributes to such heavyweights as Elton, Queen, Take That, George Michael… Most likely the biggest scrap among contestants would be had over ‘Knocking On Heaven’s Door’, with the winner probably deciding to knock off the Guns N’ Roses version – whereupon one can picture Simon Cowell doing 'that pause' and pulling 'that face' (by which he tries to pretend that he is thinking impossibly complicated thoughts, thoughts for which language, even by his high standards, is inadequate) before saying that the performance was quite unprecedented in its brilliance and the X Factor just so great because it’s so much more than karaoke, blah blah etc.
It could be done, though: a whole night of X-Goes-Bob. One of the older contestants would do ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ with a choir and get those arms a-waving in the crowd. One of the young lads could sing a new sort of number for the laydeez - maybe ‘Visions of Johanna’, or a quirkier choice, ‘Sweetheart Like You’ off Infidels? I’d expect one of the ‘girls’ who specialize in that vibrato thing they all do these days could bring a new stretched-out-ness to one of the ballads of the Christian phase – ‘I Believe in You’ perhaps. And there’d be a special prize for the claiming by any candidate who took on ‘Idiot Wind’ and strolled boldly right up to the judges’ table, spitting each syllable into their awful freeze-dried life-denying faces:
‘Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your mouth,
Blowing down the backroads headin' south.
Idiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth,
You're an idiot, babe.
It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe…’

Sunday, 14 November 2010

666: The realm of nasty numbers


At one point in his recent (rather interesting, distinctly personal) documentary study of horror films for the BBC Mark Gatiss sat down with David Seltzer, author of The Omen (hit novel and film), and put to him the big question: does he believe in the Devil? Seltzer wryly replied to the effect that if he did, then he wouldn’t for one moment have messed about writing books that presumed to speak of Him and His powers.
That’s funny, and fair enough. As Gatiss noted, Satan was a hot thing in 1970s Hollywood after the success of Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. And Seltzer had a good nose for how to do something new and commercial with the Evil One. Of course there have been repeated and not wholly unfounded attempts to argue that various cast/crew members on The Exorcist were afflicted by a sort of curse in subsequent years. But it doesn’t seem that David Seltzer’s had to worry – has suffered no freak impalements or decapitations, rather, enjoyed the fruits of his labour, his imagination.
The Omen was on telly again the other night and I made the mistake of watching bits of it. God but it’s a thoroughly professional, expertly-managed, big-budget piece of depressing nastiness. (Seltzer was quick to tell Gatiss he felt Gregory Peck loaned a weight to the project that Charles Bronson - the original casting as the US Ambassador to the Court of St James - couldn’t have.) Actually I remember the film’s network TV premiere on ITV at some point in the very early 1980s. I’m sure I wasn’t allowed to watch it all but I saw enough to be feel a kind of outrage over a picture in which the baddies were so clearly being allowed to win.
Still, I must admire the gruesome effectiveness in places, and the power of the imaginative concept. I was talking to a filmmaker friend the other day about the Gothic-supernatural-steampunk trends in film, and apropos Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes (which we both admired hugely) he mentioned how much he prefers the sort of 'mystery & imagination' movie wherein events of a seemingly supernatural origin are later revealed to be in fact the cunning/fiendish works of man. With The Omen, you could choose to look at the narrative from a remote vantage and say that all those killings are just a chain of freak accidents and fatal misunderstandings, wrapped around a fat-cheeked piggy-eyed little 5-year-old boy... (That said, in the yet more laboriously nasty sequels Damian and The Final Conflict the maturing Anti-Christ took an active hand in murder, using sorcery to do so, so the game was up by then.) Still, such room for ambiguity may explain why the Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman once put his name to a paper entitled ‘The Exorcist and The Omen, or Modern and Postmodern Limits to Knowledge.’
Movies speak of their times and The Omen is unmistakeably the drear England of the mid-1970s, the sort of place where Satan might well seek admission to the affairs of men. (Just as The Exorcist is well located amid OPEC crisis/Watergate-era Georgetown.) Having stage-trained Brits such as Billie Whitelaw and David Warner and Patrick Troughton in the cast gives The Omen the faint air of a BBC 'Play for Today' or some gritty Royal Court production, though here the smart actors are employed only in order to be killed off in horrible ways. (The 2006 remake of The Omen was also on telly last week, and I couldn’t face it, assuming it was done purely to cast younger leads and find more hi-tech ways to kill smart actors – Pete Postlethwaite, David Thewlis etc – horribly.)
In fairness to The Omen, it bravely makes no effort to endow Satan and Satanism with any sort of perverse allure, any suggestion of luxurious darkness or forbidden pleasure in the act of pledging one’s soul to Satan. You just have to take in on trust that Billie Whitelaw’s Mrs Baylock is committed to the Anti-Christ just as some people are to Labour or the Tories. She wants a strong leader in charge and she’s grimly prepared to roll up her sleeves and do the dirty job of getting him there, shoving people out of windows if needs be, though it’s hard to see what will be her personal reward for same. In Damian, sequel #1, Lee Grant is burned to death shortly after murdering her husband in a misguided show of loyalty to Satan’s son. In The Final Conflict, as I recall, a whole network/cabal of suburban English salarymen and housewives were revealed to be in joyless thrall to the Deceiver. And that's a powerful dramatic idea, one that allows a dramatist to reveal any character as being, quite suddenly and without apparent motivation, capable of the most appalling/malevolent act. Nasty, as I say...

Monday, 8 November 2010

#9: The number of the Beast

Is it only 18 months since I sat there most weekends worrying whether Andy Carroll had adequate goals and technique in him for the 'top flight', rather being just another of those Academy nearly boys...? It's the Rooney/Walcott syndrome, 'they need to show they've got it before their 18th birthday' etc. Well, as of today the Bensham Battering Ram looks set for a first England cap. Not that I care, indeed I'd rather he kept clear of all that muck, but then there are distinguished precedents for the national team being spearheaded by pure Geordie instinct for goal... As long as Big Andy comes back from his little holidays safe and well and ready to do it all again for NUFC...
Mind you, Carroll does give the air of being impregnable as well as often unplayable. 'He's a beast', said a West Ham mate of mine during the Boleyn game of a fortnight back - said so not quite admiringly neither. And Carroll's off-the-pitch manners are a big matter for concern, no question. But as Arsene Wenger put it in his programme notes on Sunday, 'Andy Carroll has stature, charisma and quality...' Over 90 minutes on the park, in other words, he is exactly What The Boys Want.
Photograph: Stephen Pond/EMmpics Sport

Thursday, 4 November 2010

"Kelly made editor at Faber Finds"

Ah-ha. This is the second time in a fortnight I've had the good fortune of my activities being reported upon by the Bookseller's Charlotte Williams. (This news was also lead item today on the industry subscription site Bookbrunch, if only for a day, but still...) This is how the Bookseller wrote it up:
"Faber has appointed author Richard T Kelly as editor of its print on demand imprint, Faber Finds. Kelly succeeds John Seaton who had headed up the imprint since its launch in June 2008. Kelly's first novel Crusaders was published by Faber in 2008, with his second, The Possessions of Doctor Forrest, to appear in June 2011. He has also written and presented television documentaries, and has contributed to a number of national newspapers as well as being a notable blogger (http://richard-t-kelly.blogspot.com).
Richard T Kelly said: "Like a great many writers and readers I was in love at first sight with the concept of Faber Finds as an expanding library of literary treasure, and so I'm very excited now by this opportunity to build on John Seaton's work, to keep on restoring brilliant books to their natural readerships, and also to ensure that Finds establishes an online presence that draws all interested readers and writers into a passionate discussion of our literary culture."
Stephen Page, Faber c.e.o. and publisher, said: "Faber Finds has always been about offering a service to authors, a way to make the wealth of their backlist titles available and to keep them available in good company. As Faber Finds builds on its early success and fast growth, it is wonderful to have an acclaimed writer with publishing experience at the helm."
Faber Finds has so far brought about 750 books back into print, with 250 more schedule through 2012. Recent successes include reissues of John Julius Norwich's Norman histories and Michael Foot's Aneurin Bevan."

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Bookhugger column #8: What Our Kids 'Should' Read

My October Bookhugger column went up last week, so this is a belated nod, but in a sense I was distracted somewhat by it having elicited one or two comments, which are, after all, what we live for... The nub of the piece is: how do we get 14-year-olds to sit still and read Great Expectations, since this would be so damn good for them? (And I don't mean the version by Kathy Acker, laudable as that was in its own way.) My answer, I suppose, is 'Teach Dickens together with Dostoyevsky...' But then thankfully when I go to work tomorrow it won't be in order to stand up before a sullen group of 14-year-olds and ask them what they think the author really meant... In any case, this question must come from within, not without.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Ferdinando Scarfiotti 1941-1994: Excursions into style

One of the many incidental pleasures of my recent sit-downs with Sean Penn - in Dublin for an update of His Life and Times, then in New York for an upcoming magazine profile, both times on the set of This Must Be The Place - was the customary occasional discussion of films and filmmakers. For instance, in NYC we fell to chatting about Paul Schrader, his scripts for Taxi Driver and the far less luminous Rolling Thunder, also his directorial gift for designing title sequences (cf. Blue Collar and American Gigolo.) Mention of Gigolo, though, got me thinking back to that film's pristine design by the late, great Ferdinando Scarfiotti, longtime collaborator of Bertolucci (The Conformist, Last Tango in Paris, The Last Emperor) and Visconti (Death in Venice plus numerous operas.)

When I was a research student at the British Film Institute in the mid-1990s I wrote a thesis on Scarfiotti and his work, to which Bertolucci and Schrader, inter alia, kindly contributed in loving memory of their friend and colleague. It seemed to me then that said thesis, however 'provisional' in its interview-derived biographical data, was the only substantive work on Scarfiotti in any language, albeit available only via the BFI library and in a truncated version courtesy of the scholarly journal Critical Quarterly.

Happily, however, that has changed: Zecchini Editore of Italy have newly published a biography/tribute called Nando Forever: what looks to be a very handsome tome, with a DVD attached, compiled by Luciano Gregoretti and Maria Teresa Copelli. And by the sounds of it this is just the commemorative/celebratory volume that this brilliant and unsung film artist has long deserved. The following trailer for The Conformist shouldn't really be listened to (dubbing!), enjoyed rather for the parade of imagery for which Scarfiotti gifted Bertolucci such a rich foundation through his exquisite design choices.



Monday, 1 November 2010

Twitter: I spoke and someone hearkened...

I'm about 4-5 days into the whole what-kept-you-old-man? experience of 'Being on Twitter' and after going through the only-to-be-expected initial oddness of it (also realising that I'm not build to be any sort of regular/compulsive Tweeter...) I've now had what feels to me a Real Result in response to one Tweet, which is that John Rentoul considers me 'Excellent'... Oh boy, that makes it all worthwhile, I tell you - and in the wake of previous kind words from Hopi Sen, I'm feeling pretty buoyed by this whole business of electronic hand-shaking with the writers one most admires. So, I must now formally renounce all former cynicism as the Devil's work, and profess, in the manner of Stevie Wonder, that Blogging and Tweeting have made my life sweeter than ever. (Still struggling a tad with Facebook, though...)

Sunday, 31 October 2010

My beef with Andy Carroll

Jason Mellor writes amusingly for the Independent on the court-decreed arrangement whereby Andy Carroll must currently lodge with his club captain Kevin Nolan, under strict curfew. (The PA picture shows them together at the Old Firm match the other weekend - Nolan presumably cheering for the Hoops, I wonder what side Carroll was on?) Nolan comes over as a decent fellow: his kids are around the same ages as mine, and I identify with his description of the domestic regimen. Obviously I'm not paid seven figures to pull on a black and white shirt, nor do I own an X-Box, but other than that I'm encouraged to think me and the skipper might get along. The towering issue on which we agree is Carroll's barnet: "I keep telling him his hair is absolutely shocking. I've been trying to get him to cut it for ages..." But, tell you what, if the lad can do the business in today's not-insignificant 1.30pm kick-off then I promise to quit my carping for good.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Gimme Shelter

I’m no right-winger, you understand… (Uh-oh, you might think, there’s a pretty ominous start to a post.) But nor did I consider the ideas of the Right to be axiomatically the Devil’s work. Following the lead of my literary hero Norman Mailer, who famously reckoned himself a ‘left conservative’ I try to use both sides of my head in an argument, and to resist the sanctimony by which some on the Left persuade themselves that all human history is class struggle, one in which they are – axiomatically – on the side of the poor and oppressed, whether or not required to match word by deed.
I can’t say exactly how hard we should be cutting in the light of this grim shortfall between tax revenues and public spending, but – since it seems likely that the cost of housing benefit for people of working age has risen by £5 billion over the past five years, i.e. roughly mapping the hopeless reign of Gordon Brown – then I’m quite sure that reform of housing benefit entitlements along the lines of what the ConDems have proposed is commonsensical and overdue, with a necessary cap on accommodation provided in the private rental market, as opposed to publicly-owned housing. As such, I now seem to be of the party of Max Hastings and the Daily Mail. Eh bien.
I’m quite certain the public purse has to assist key workers to live near their place of work. And people who are put out of work need to be given a hand with their rent for a reasonable period. I’m not some Chinese martinet seeking to cap families at exactly 1 Child. But I absolutely think people should act on their estimate of how many kids ‘they can afford decently to rear’ (cf. Hastings - 'decent' is a favourite Mail word, used as if they invented decency, but there's no reason we should let them own it.) Where six-figure sums have been paid annually to families of 6-8 kids, this was extravagant before and cannot continue. I don’t make light of the fear of mass evictions from Central London: one expects this cut to bite. But however harsh the ‘correction’, I understand there will be an emergency fund for true hardship cases. Otherwise, as Hastings puts it, ‘most of us take for granted the necessity to move home if our circumstances change.’ Indeed we do.
I can’t tell how Ed Miliband’s riposte to Cameron played in the chamber but to me, and to many others, I expect, he sounded just as John Rentoul puts it, conveying “the wrong message to the country, which simply cannot understand why so many billions of taxpayers’ money is poured into such a badly-designed benefit that undermines work incentives, profits landlords and keeps property prices higher than they would otherwise be.”
In other news, I am happily of the same mind as Hastings in respect of Polly Toynbee’s worth as an inverse barometer in any political argument, though he makes his point in a gratuitous manner, marshalling assertions the truth of which I can’t verify:
"There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Polly Toynbee and her kind in their concern for Britain’s underclass, though the charge of champagne socialism sticks pretty hard on anyone who, like herself, owns a villa in Tuscany and educated her children at private schools."
Similarly, readers will know I’m with Hastings on the profoundly annoying Boris Johnson, whose sickly coveting of David Cameron’s job rolls on unabated. Please, someone, tell me London can cough up a better prospect for mayor than the Bounderby-ish Johnson or the alligator-blooded Ken Livingstone.

Monday, 25 October 2010

In Praise of 'Temptation'

Flying Virgin Atlantic last week I had a choice of 60 movies on the small screen before me, and I must have watched 5-10 minutes each of a dozen of 'em, mainly to see how the special effects turned out. (Quite some Medusa in the remade Clash of the Titans, I must say...) But if one was a passenger in search of some drama, oriented toward grown-ups (i.e. not Adam Sandler in Grown-Ups), it was rather a hard hunt.

I watched all of Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, and that wasn’t the wisest idea, since I get a bit over-sensitive at 35,000 feet anyway, and this is a movie that relies heavily on the image of three small children lying face-down-drowned in a lake. Shutter Island was impressively done in its own stormy psycho-noir Dennis Lehane way, and I wouldn’t be so crass as to say any old hack could have made it. But there’s probably a long-list of younger and less brilliant directors who nonetheless might have given it a good shake. Whereas Martin Scorsese is 67 years old, a lion.

Anyhow, so: I de-plane, then flash-forward to my New York hotel room where I lie awaiting the sleep that I missed while flying. Flipping the 200 channels on my TV I stumble on one showing Scorsese’s 20-odd-year-old film of Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ. Now there’s a movie that could only have been made by the respected firm of Scorsese/Schrader: an incredible treasure, of the sort they don’t make anymore (but, let’s face it, had to struggle very hard to make in the early-to-mid-1980s.) I don’t hesitate to award it the Capicola Cup for Personal Favourite Scorsese Movie.

Sceptics may think it resembles nothing so much as a troupe of Manhattan thespians, musicians and mime artists on tour in Morocco, shepherded by a director who’s only been allowed one day’s shooting with his beloved crane (but sure is making the most of it.) Still, I think anyone who lets themselves sink into the movie’s peculiar rhythm would have to admire it. For one thing, that rhythm is underwritten peerlessly by Peter Gabriel’s glorious score. But then just the performances, even. Willem Dafoe elegant and anguished as ever was (since when he’s often seemed to be acting in a foreign language.) Barbara Hershey, whose idea the whole thing was, exquisitely witchy as Mary Magdalene. Andre Gregory’s stark-eyed rail-thin John the Baptist, David Bowie unbelievably pitch-perfect as Pilate.

The picture reaches one form of climax in the Golgotha sequence, all stony, bloody desolation, Dafoe wearing the thorniest of crowns. But the best is all to come, the titular ‘Last Temptation’. As Paul Schrader put it, ‘The greatness of the book is its metaphorical leap into this imagined temptation; that’s what separates it from the Bible and makes it a commentary upon it.’

This is how I describe the film’s final half-hour in Ten Bad Dates With De Niro:
  “… abruptly the Nazarene finds the noise gone mute all around, and his gaze falls on a perfect little blonde girl [Juliette Caton] who beckons him down. Calling herself his ‘guardian angel’, she has golden curls, a full mouth and a Roman nose. She offers him the life of a normal man, assures him he has already suffered quite sufficiently for his Father’s purpose. She sits serenely outside the dwelling as Jesus and Mary Magdalene make love, blesses their marriage, and consoles him when Mary dies in childbirth. She watches over his patriarchal old age, and steers away from that troublemaker Paul (Harry Dean Stanton.) It’s only when Jesus is visited on his deathbed by a bitterly anguished Judas Iscariot (Harvey Keitel) that this ‘angel’ is called by her true name: for the last temptation is domesticity, and in short order Jesus is renouncing Satan and begging to be set back upon the upright…”
 That reminds me of what are probably the film’s two most powerful performances, even in the midst of that stunning array: flame-haired Keitel, passionately dour as a radical Judas, and Harry Dean Stanton, quite, quite phenomenal as Saul of Tarsus, he who became Paul. In the clip below Harry Dean is so good I almost want to pick up my mat and follow him.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Costello/Springsteen: my kind of cabaret

Well, nobody told me this had happened, happily I found out for myself... But clearly Spectacle, the Costello show for Sundance Channel, is the sort of thing that should be on television all the time...

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

How the World Looks From Manhattan

I am in New York City this week, once more on the trail of Sean Penn and Paolo Sorrentino’s film This Must Be The Place. NYC is, as ever, a marvel, and just the same, only different... a world city, defining of America and yet not wholly American. My New York Times this morning was gratifyingly slim and manageable over breakfast, and full of interest, to wit:
1. Government expenditure: A big deal, naturally, Republican candidates for the Senate unanimously pitching from a platform that deplores ‘runaway federal spending’, but very shy (or else full of drivel) on the ‘What I Would Cut’ issue (other than taxes, the extension of the Bush-era cuts clearly dear to many GOPers.) I am relieved, in one way, to be off the scene as George Osborne displays his axe in the Commons today. And while resistant to any ideological formulation of the beauty of small government (and seconding Hopi Sen’s abhorrence of lectures on welfare dependence from trust fund babes) – as a freelancer I approve of Robert Peston’s tough-mindedness today on the public sector’s needful adjustment to how the rest of us manage our anxieties.
2. Democracy in Action: the standard of candidacy and debate in the contests for the US Senate seems shockingly poor, at least as far as the media is reporting it. In particular a woman called Christine O’Donnell, running for the GOP in Delaware, is setting the bar strikingly low. The ‘race’ for New York Governor is also descending into farce, judging by a Monday night hustings in which the minor candidates were given so much room to be minor that the main Cuomo-Paladino contest, vaguely defined already, got no clearer. Lest we get smug in the UK, I suppose the real lesson, for the millionth time, is that we surely get the politicians we deserve.
3. Ghost towns: A ‘new town’ in a district of the city of Ordos, China, is reported to be near-deserted, a product of boom times but waiting still to be populated by consumer-citizens. Having seen the high-end ‘ghost estates’ of Dublin recently, a vertical version of the empty luxury high-rises by Newcastle Quayside, I certainly feel the power of this metaphor.
4. China All Over: ... but economically China’s every move, micro or macro, is being scrutinised intensely, of course. Its announced raising of interest rates has a thumping feel to it, as does its widening embargo on mineral exports to the West. Reporting has a cagey feel to it. I must read The Economist this/next week...
5. That Hi-Tech Lynching, Redux: The 1980s beckon us once more... Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife, a Tea Party stalwart, is chasing Anita Hill again for an apology. Anita Hill is being very cool, in every sense, as the Times reports. (‘I thought it was certainly inappropriate...’ – Virginia Thomas’s request, that is...)
6. Gays in the US military: With Don’t Ask Don’t Tell seemingly erased, the TV news as well as print has had much of Dan Choi, an articulate young Asian-American previously discharged from the Army who yesterday, attended by umpteen reporters, sought readmission at the Army recruiting office just up the road from me at Times Square. Looks like he might have made it...
7. The decline of movie one-liners: The NYT arts section has it that Hollywood screenplays no longer offer widely quotable and cherishable dialogue in such profusion. But their ‘classic’ examples from Dirty Harry and Forrest Gump don’t have me lamenting in O tempora manner. Nor ‘Release the Kraken!’, from the remake of Clash of the Titans, parts of which I watched on the flight over, none of which seemed to me to surpass the pleasures of Ray Harryhausen’s hand-animated original.
8. Ryuichi Sakamoto: apparently the great man played a piano recital on Monday night, would I had been there. Though Steve Smith’s elegant review speaks of Sakamoto’s ‘curtains of white hair’ and ‘a decorousness better suited to a fern-throttled piano bar.’ But the audience apparently sighed with pleasure, as would I hearing the opening notes of the theme from The Sheltering Sky...

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Cosmopolis: what a day that was

I've only just noticed that the Think Something Different site has posted up a pretty thorough record of proceedings at the Cosmopolis events at UEA campus on a blazing Saturday back in early June. There are transcripts, videos and photos of pretty much everything that went on. 'The Politics of Storytelling' session I did with Giles Foden and Oscar Guardiola Rivera is logged here, and the 'How To Pitch Your Film' dialogue with producer Judy Counihan is here. The transcripts are especially useful, as I would otherwise find my memory fighting a losing battle against all the beer I thirstily consumed (well, it was really hot...) at several pleasant hostelries during the conference period - one such joint being the reassuringly synthetic student bar close to where all the panellists had their lodgings, in clean-swept Novotel-like student digs.

Monday, 11 October 2010

NUFC: Half-Term Report 2010-2011

1. Seven points from seven... Would one have taken that back in mid-August? I suppose so, expecting wins over Stoke and Blackpool, a point at either Wolves or Everton, losses at Trafford and Eastlands and - pessimistic, like - home to Villa... So my radar’s about 50% askew.

2. Call the Blackpool result an off-day when none out of many chances got converted. But it was 2-2 with Stoke at SJP in 2008 when I knew we were going down. So one has to hope this season’s 1-2 will prove no more disastrous (i.e. merely depressing) than the 1-2 home losses to Sunderland in the reassuringly mediocre lower-than-midtable seasons of 1999-2000 and 2000-2001.

3. There we were thinking we had another French bobby-dazzler, younger and possibly with a better attitude than the last few, in Hatem Ben Arfa; and then that despicable Dutch Nigel from Millionaire’s Row near Moss Side goes and breaks the lad’s bliddy leg... My slightly one-eyed regard for the Orange, which even survived that last thuggish World Cup, has gone in the dustbin of history.

4. The Steve Harper injury had a cruelty to it and all. Tim Krul has been in our hearts ever since his UEFA Cup heroics of four years ago, but he’s being tested now, questions about his positioning here and there, though of course he’s not playing behind Cannavaro.

5. We’ve had some dastardly refereeing, and they’d better start giving us at least a few throw-ins, just to level it all out, y'knaa.

6. Andy Carroll - signed to 2015. He only wants to play for NUFC. May you stop at the top, bonny lad, by banging in enough savers for us this season.

(Illustration is the front cover of the latest issue of the mighty True Faith)

Friday, 8 October 2010

The taste of Labour

(Sighs...) I suppose now that the New Generation (TM) has truly got its feet under the desk, a tired hack like me needs to get a life, move on etc, from the dismal events of a fortnight ago. It's hard, though, to spit out the rancid taste of that spectacle, those grim cheerleaders for 'change', that result that could have been cooked up by some demoniac scientist in a laboratory, his intention to make everything about Labour look backward and third-rate and full of spleen... As someone who only came round to Blairism about 10 years too late I can't be regarded as a genuine tribalist or a reliable guide to 'the soul of Labour' (an expression you'd expect to see in any Gordon Brown peroration, and one I'd like to club to death with a baseball bat). Still, hard to bear, son...
My fellow college/student-paper alumnus Peter Hyman wrote in the Times the other day that "only victory at the next election will justify Ed Miliband's leadership bid." Even I - finding 'Death Ray Panda' hard to look at/listen to, and agreeing vehemently with Hyman's withering assessment on Newsnight last week - would say that's setting the bar too high. A Labour leadership candidate can't promise that sort of sway over the wider electorate, he can only hope to impress his congregation, work the ridiculous electoral college system, and so jump the hurdle in front of him - which for DRP was defeating his brother. And, you have to say, no prospective Labour leader can hope to ascend without having reached at least a hand-shake settlement with the trade union leadership, even though that settlement will, of course, be broken by said leader over time; and the failure of David Miliband and his footsoldiers even to get to the foot of the hill in this respect will always count as a serious demerit. For want of a nail...
A great political party doesn't die overnight, though the annals show it can slip into suspended animation or, if you like, aggravated nostalgia. For instance, my pre-Labour-leader-result prediction about the impending return of Neil Kinnock, the consummate Labour career-pol and parader of principles he would later junk in the hope of favour - proved grotesquely accurate, and gave David Cameron an easy joke for his Conference speech. As for the shadow cabinet, I would never seek to patronise Alan Johnson, but really, and nervously, I have to wish him the very best of luck for his new posting. In the words of their last elected PM, I will still be wishing Labour well, wanting them to win, since they are the future now... But I'm still reaching for the full-strength mouth-wash, looking for something to like about the new dispensation.
(Cartoon above by Steve Bell, of course.)

Monday, 4 October 2010

"Faber takes Doctor Forrest to Frankfurt"

That's the sort of headline a writer likes to see... The Bookseller's Charlotte Williams today reports the news that The Possessions of Doctor Forrest is one of the titles my publisher Faber is taking keenly to market at this week's Frankfurt Book Fair; and my editor Lee Brackstone is quoted handsomely in summary of the book's form and content. Yes, it's good to set the ball a-rolling...
The image herewith is of a sculpture in Vermont marble by the artist Philippe Faraut, entitled 'Yesterday' ((c) 2003) - nothing to do with Forrest save that its rather sinister allure is a quality with which I've tried to imbue this book - also, Forrest is certainly a tale in which face-masks and face-sculpting figure prominently...

Friday, 1 October 2010

Bookhugger column #7: Out of the woods...?

This month at Bookhugger I write about what I've mostly been doing this month as a writer (not to say last month, and several before that) - which is completing and revising the manuscript of my second novel, The Possessions of Doctor Forrest. Much, much more to come on that subject - possibly a whole other blog... As I say in the piece, Amazon now summarises the plot and reports the book "hitting stores" on May 19 2011.

Books about filmmaking: not tap-dancing about architecture

I just remembered... that over the summer I contributed to a Sight & Sound magazine poll that sought to determine what are the best-ever books published on the subject of cinema. Like all the other scribes consulted, I submitted my own personal Top 5 which was collated into an overall result, and you'll find my list among the 50 others here.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Credits are currency in this town...

'Big time, Bill! Big time, big time...!', as that old rock 'n' roll cove Ronnie Hawkins cried cheerfully (to Bill Graham, one assumes) near the start of The Last Waltz. Yes, I finally have my very own entry on the Internet Movie Database - the first, that is, under my current stage name, as 'Richard T. Kelly (Writer, "Coming Up: Eclipse (#8.6)" (2010))'. However, owing to past problems with consistency and consolidation, and the difficulty in finding the time to pursue these matters, it remains the case that I am also the IMDB's 'Richard Kelly (III) (Self, The Name of This Film Is Dogme95 (2000))' and also its 'Richard Kelly (VI) (Miscellaneous Crew, Lee Marvin: A Personal Portrait by John Boorman (1998)'. That's the problem with having a familiar name. Still, if the day should dawn that someone feels like typing up a Wikipedia entry on me (everybody else has got one), then they'll want to know this stuff...

A great hope fell, the ruin within, etc

I’m often left feeling sick around 4.50 on a Saturday afternoon, but that’s because I’m a Newcastle fan. Some might say I’m inured to losing, that losing, indeed, is my ‘comfort zone’, and accordingly that my being a David Miliband supporter fits firmly into that trend – since rumour has it the Labour leadership result is ‘certified’, and the polling/betting tendencies of recent days would strongly suggest that younger, shorter brother of his is home. Jesus wept. At least I can watch the football scores come in at ease... but then the Toon aren't playing Stoke until Sunday anyhow.
But somebody please do wake me up whenever this curious Ed Miliband character has demonstrated an iota of worth. I will have to avoid the airwaves tomorrow, as I strongly anticipate a number of interviews with a euphoric Neil Kinnock… Still, as before, at least I’ll have to find something else ‘political’ to blog about now. Wonder what’s happened to that Purnell fella…? Has Alan Milburn started attending cabinet meetings…? Maybe I need to make a fresh assessment of what’s-his-face Clegg…

Monday, 20 September 2010

The Friends of David M

A shout out/back to Mark Nottingham, Labour councillor and blogger, who seems to have enjoyed the sport of my previous post on teenage pop-rock nostalgia, and has just kindly commended this blog of mine to his own readers on the additional grounds of my being agreeably mad for both the Toon and for David Miliband - two noble causes, I'd say, the epousal of which, sadly, seems to bring more sorrow than joy... Still, I do give thanks that this Labour leadership contest is nearly done, for without doubt I need to find something else to obsess/blog about...

Saturday, 18 September 2010

15 albums when I was 15...

Currently doing the rounds on Facebook again is one of those pop-cultural chain-letters wherein a friend offers a list of 15 albums that have meant something to them, this list copied to 15 friends and appended with the request that each friend make their own selection of 15 LPs and copy this on to 15 more... Impossible for me to play this game by the stated rules - what, only 15? - but I thought I could put some useful parameters round the exercise and give myself a little Proustian rush by picking 15 albums that had influenced me considerably by the time of my 15th birthday in late 1985... List as follows, roughly in order of when I first heard/bought/taped off a friend the long-player in question.

Blondie, 'Parallel Lines'



The Beatles, 'Revolver'



Talking Heads, 'Remain in Light'



Elvis Costello, 'Imperial Bedroom'



Kraftwerk, 'The Man-Machine'



Dexy’s Midnight Runners, 'Searching for the Young Soul Rebels'



Peter Gabriel, 'Peter Gabriel (IV)'



Echo and the Bunnymen, 'Porcupine'



Bob Dylan, 'Infidels'



Bruce Springsteen, 'Darkness on the Edge of Town'



Frankie Goes to Hollywood, 'Welcome to the Pleasuredome'



Run DMC, 'King of Rock'



New Order, 'Low-Life'



Propaganda, 'A Secret Wish'



Kate Bush, 'Hounds of Love'

Monday, 13 September 2010

Good old common sense in the FT

Because I agree with him, I must say that Phillip Stephens talks customary good sense in the FT on the already wracked state of the ConDemNation, and the resultant opportunity for Labour:
ConDemNation: "Britain’s coalition government set out its plans to eliminate the fiscal deficit in the bright sunlight of certain conviction. A couple of months later, it confronts the chilling realities of shrinking the state...Nick Clegg protested the other day that the spending cuts drawn up in Whitehall were “not dramatically different” to plans laid by the previous government. This softening in the language of austerity says it all. The Liberal Democrat leader once thought “savage” reductions were vital to repair the nation’s finances. Now he must weigh the political costs..."
Labour: "David [Miliband] is the choice of those at the top of the party, who are keen to return to power. Alone, he has talked about rebuilding the coalition that won the party three election victories from 1997. His handicap is that this tags him as the Blairite choice... Ed, the younger Miliband, who could yet win as everybody’s second choice, has offered mostly mush – policies and promises calculated to make the party feel good about itself and about his candidacy... By choosing David Miliband, Labour would be saying it wanted to win back England’s aspirant classes – that it was still serious about power. But the party’s heart could yet rule its head. Mr Clegg – and Mr Cameron – are cheering on the younger of the two brothers."

Monday, 6 September 2010

Bookhugger column #6: Novelists talking on telly

My Bookhugger column last month (last week, frankly) was inspired by the wonderful BBC4 archive series In Their Own Words, culled from the Corporation's back-catalogue of interviews with major British 20th-century novelists. Television does indeed compel us to look at books, so long as the programme-making and writing in question have sufficient spark. It took a while for TV to 'do' book-chat without too many excruciating pauses, but P.G.Wodehouse, here c. mid-1950s, biting amiably but hard on the end of every query, shows himself to be ahead of his time, whatever the culture once thought.

What We Did on Our (Bank) Holiday

This picture just in courtesy of my brother, who was one of our party of nine (inc. 4 kiddies) sharing a big old family-cottage-rental up in Suffolk last weekend. Behind us here is the 16th-century Melford Hall, as impressive up close as it likely seems even in miniature, the lawns of which were as lush and springy as any I've ever laid foot on.

Dublin's the Place...

Tony Blair and I both were in Dublin on business at the tail of last week, but I should say that our paths never crossed; nor did I have to face eggs and shoes thrown at me in public, unlike the ex-PM and memoirist. While over there I did overhear some Irish Robespierre-type interviewed on the radio news, bullishly making known his intention to protest Blair's presence on local soil, based on this pilgrim's own belief that war criminals, liars and scoundrels have no place, no prayer and no mission in Ireland.
With all due respect to (and personal fond regard for) Eire, the Irish, and the proper instinct to fight against evil, I’m not sure I’d have wanted to make so rash a claim as this chap, not in the full and harsh light of Irish history. To take only one instance: in Dublin’s Fairview Park, close to where I was lodging, I happened to pass this civic statue (pictured) of Sean Russell, the former IRA quartermaster who opened up the organisation’s contacts with Nazi Germany in the late 1930s, out of what looks to be ‘physical force’ ideological idiocy (exploiting ‘England’s difficulty’ and all that) rather than any active enthusiasm for the jackboot. Still, the fight against imperialism seems often to entail that one must make a lesser-evil choice between empires. I know that self-styled Trots plus some of the broader church of Not-in-my-Namers think themselves the true-blood scourges of all known and existing nastiness, i.e. for all the Good against all the Bad, be it Right or be it Left – but it’s only their fundamental estrangement from reality and its pains that enables the taking of such high/mighty positions.
My actual business in Dublin concerned current plans for a second and revised edition of my Sean Penn: His Life and Times, first/last published in 2004-05. Since Mr Penn has been around the Liffey shooting a section of his work on Paolo Sorrentino’s new film This Must Be The Place, I was very fortunately able to grab a little time with him on- and off-set to talk over his recent endeavours and roll some tape toward the updating of the book. As for This Must Be The Place, it’s a very exciting prospect – would have been so just on paper for the teaming of Penn with the maestro writer-director of Il Divo. But the bits and pieces of filming I witnessed encouraged me to believe this will be cinema that is highly original, unclassifiable and very, very special.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Labour's choice, final strait, horses for courses...

The New Statesman was, I think, first out last night with the very welcome news that Jon Cruddas is endorsing David Miliband for Labour leader. Apparently Cruddas was very taken with DM's Keir Hardie Lecture a few weeks back (also noted here.) "What was interesting to me about this", Cruddas comments, "was when he started talking about belonging and neighbourliness and community, more communitarian politics, which is where I think Labour has to go." Hear, hear.
The Staggers itself has come out for Ed Mili today, declaring that he is somebody they feel could, conceivably, become a "bold, charismatic, compassionate and visionary" leader. I'm still left wondering which meeting I missed where the younger/shorter Miliband brother offered such powerful evidence of these inchoate qualities. John Rentoul today describes the sanctimony, the small-meeting-room populism and evidently mounting peevishness that many of us associate more readily with Miliband Junior.
The NS is careful to make a secondary case for David Miliband, however heavily they count against him what they call "his mistaken support for the catastrophic invasion of Iraq." But they see him as the darling of "the right-of-centre commentariat" whereas their man Ed is the "change candidate"; and so they hope that DM, if defeated, will remain in politics as "his brother's lieutenant-in-chief." This would require extraordinary stoicism on David Miliband's part, if it turns out that what his brother is selling really is what most Labour voters want... and I only hope we aren't forced to witness such a fraternal job offer being made in the first place, much less the ghastly spectacle of its acceptance. The differences between these candidates are clear now, and only one, it seems to me, would not be utterly wasted in a backseat capacity.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

NUFC 6 Villa 0: Bad Karma

There are bitter and intractable and perfectly understandable enmities between football teams and rival fans thereof, usually based on geographical proximity, or else some historical grudge from out of the annals. And all this is good sport. I don’t know who Aston Villa – a club I’ve tended to admire on all sorts of levels – normally have their beef with, because I don’t know much about the midlands, but I’m sure it’s not with Newcastle United. So I was perplexed and irked when a significant section of Villa’s home support came to their last game of 2008-09 seemingly with the chief intent of barracking NUFC and generally celebrating our relegation to Division 2. That NUFC has very often made itself a laughing stock in the last 10 years is beyond argument: it must be why sportswriters like Simon Barnes or David Lacey still feel so comfortable wishing the club ill and broadcasting their anti-Geordie schadenfreude. But still, what kind of no-mark must you be to sit at home like some piddling schoolboy, inking out a bed-sheet banner so as to jeer a visiting team off on its way to the lower league? Who’s Your Next Messiah? Ant and Dec? That was one, wasn’t it? ‘Messiah’ is a term that those geniuses on Sky like to think Geordies are obsessed by. NUFC fans aren’t generally interested, though we do really, really like the loyalty shown to the club by certain favoured sons and local heroes, as does any club that can boast such an array.
So to today’s Toon-Villa rematch at SJP, and I was struck by some Villa texter to the BBC with his side already 3-0 down: "This isn't over - Newcastle can't defend. If we can stop them scoring it could finish 4-3! Up the Villa!..." Ah, another mad-for-it Villan feasting on ‘Premiership’ legend, courtesy of Sky. There certainly were more goals in the game, except it turned out to be the Villa that ‘couldn’t defend’, and Bensham’s Andy Carroll who filled his boots. Now, he’s not the Messiah, mind. In fact he’s often a naughty boy...
But to the bigger picture: as usual it’s clear from the off that the Barclays/Sky Division 1 contains leagues within leagues, and Newcastle are emphatically not in the top flight: the only realistic goal remains survival. I’m not sure which league Villa reckon they’re in, but I daresay they're giving the subject a mite more consideration than they'd expected to as of tonight.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Clegg: Dear me how...

Hopi Sen deserves credit for making more widely known this cringe-inducing report by the excellent Paraic O'Brien of BBC London News, wherein the so-called Deputy Prime Minister finds himself hoist by his own New Politics petard:

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Hitchens unbowed, never being boring


The other night I watched an interview posted online at the Charlie Rose talk-show website, wherein the masterful conversationalist Rose (we have no-one quite like him in this country, strangely) talks to Christopher Hitchens partly about his recent memoir but mainly about his recently diagnosed cancer of the oesophagus, for which he’s receiving chemotherapy, looking as drained by the ordeal as one would expect, but remaining as thoughtful, articulate and incisive as ever was. He's reading the letters of Saul Bellow, who once wrote that awareness of death is the dark backing a mirror needs in order that it truly reflect.
The interview is full of good meat, but I think many will find special interest, given Hitchens’ history of invective against phoney, cowardly, sinister and corrupt politicians, in his response to the question of which political figures, if any, he has admired. I daresay if Rosa Luxemburg had ever attained democratically-elected office he’d have talked about her, but in any case his pick was Tony Blair. The moment comes at 37:14 in the link above.
I remember once hearing Blair as PM, circa 2006, getting one of those famous ‘grillings’ from John Humphrys on the Today programme, and thinking to myself, ‘Christ, you need to pack this in...’ But Mr Humphrys is still in that job, and indeed several others, giving out in the amusedly irritable manner for which, clearly, he’s loved by many. It seems that Humphrys also writes a weekly-or-so column for YouGov on a big issue of the moment, and the other day it was Tony Blair’s donation to the British Legion. Weirdly Humphrys seems as keen as others in the BBC to quote in seriousness the risible views of those clapped-out old SWPers who believed that public opposition to the ousting of Saddam Hussein was the mass-radical 'anti-imperial' moment they'd waited all their lives for. The trope of these columns, which YouGov presumably asked for, is to conclude with a long list of opinion-poll style questions. These are those asked in respect of Blair:
“Do you think Mr Blair’s gesture is a genuinely selfless gift or do you think it is self-serving? Do you think the reputation he has gained since leaving office for being too interested in money is fair or not? Do you think he should feel guilty or not about the money he has made? Should he feel guilty or not about his decision to invade Iraq? Did he deceive the country or not? Do you think he has a criminal charge to answer or not? What do you make of the ‘blood money’ charge? Should the case of David Kelly’s death be reopened? And will you be buying Tony Blair’s memoirs?”
For what it’s worth, my answers are: Nothing in life is selfless, but it is a huge gift, likely given for complex motives, the merits of it obvious; He’s as interested in making money as the rest of us; As before; No feeling human escapes remorse over any part in the loss of innocent life; Blair clearly believed, like David Kelly, that some WMD capacity remained; No, can't see it; Bereaved parents of servicemen and women are, very obviously and profoundly, more than entitled to this opinion, though some hold it more impressively than others; No, still looks like suicide to me; and Yes, unless it's bought for me.