Thursday, 4 February 2010

Once upon a Time in Newcastle...

A Tokyo-based Geordie by the name of Michael who runs a blog called Dolphin Hotel (stick that lot in your pipe) has just made my day with the following post about Crusaders, which I am strangely impelled to reproduce in full. In particular, his analogies with a hot bag of chips, and with a Proustian gangster film that I've loved since it came out, are such stuff as the novelist dreams of in a reader's response. Reassuring to know that he's also well aware of what are the canonical Newcastle texts. I should say that Michael's posts on other, more substantive matters around his blog seem to me even better...
"We're a small city, true enough, but there still isn't much in the way of good literature about Newcastle-upon-Tyne. There was Kiddar's Luck, of course, Jack Common's masterpiece - "one of the two best working-class novels of the 20th century" - Robert Westall's The Machine Gunners, and the poems that came out of Bloodaxe Books. Jack's Return Home - set in Scunthorpe and written by a Mancunian - feels like it's really about the Toon, but that's only because of the film (which really was a classic, by the way). And then there's Catherine Cookson, who I always suspected was a bit crap but haven't actually read.
I found Richard T. Kelly's The Crusaders in the Edinburgh branch of Fopp, drawn to the arch of the Tyne Bridge on the cover (ok, and the two quid price tag), and devoured the 540 pages like a bag of chips after a Saturday night out. Set in a semi-factional West End in the mid-1990s, with flashbacks to the early-80s, regeneration schemes and several cameos from the black-and-whites themselves, it has the kind of broad, generational sweep you find in the Victorian novelists. If it was a film, it'd be called Once Upon A Time in Newcastle - and Jimmy Woods and De Niro would be queueing up for the starring roles."

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

New Esquire (March 2010) on stands: The State of Man

An extraordinary cornucopia in the new Esquire, ranging from a photo gallery of British servicemen returned from Afghanistan, through interviews with Ryan Giggs and Ayrton Senna's nephew, to the rather revealing results of a reader's poll - how much we earn, how much we owe, what we spend weekly on alcohol... Oh and there's a spread featuring the actress Talulah Riley, of the sort the red-tops call 'sizzling.' Riley is also the cover star for the subscribers' special edition. The newsstand buyers get Robert De Niro, who is celebrated at length within, including tributes from Neil LaBute and DBC Pierre and a longish think-piece from your correspondent, in which I say... Actually, I don't - the following paragraph is one that had to be cut for space, following on from a quote by Sean Penn likening De Niro's preparatory rigours to those of a trained dancer:
"The discipline in which De Niro was himself steeped as a training actor was the famous and much-misunderstood ‘Method’, devised in Russia by Konstantin Stanislavsky, immortalised on American soil by such gurus as De Niro’s own acting coach, Stella Adler, who also taught Brando among many others. Most laymen assume The Method is an obsessive, interior mission to ‘stay in character’ at all costs, but Adler urged her students to cultivate life experience, observe the world outside their windows, and always respect the writer’s vision. ‘Don’t drag it down to your small self’ was an Adler mantra, one to which De Niro apparently subscribes..."
Yes, a little over-technical, that, I think you'll agree. Elsewhere my film column this month is on Clint Eastwood's Invictus, of which I say:
"The erstwhile Man with No Name remains deeply absorbed by classic western themes: the new lawman in town, the town as a fractious community on the brink of frontier wildness. Eastwood is famously obsessed by revenge, especially when contemplated by a once-violent man who has since sworn to beat his sword into a ploughshare. And he can’t resist the image of the lone hero standing up to make his case before a gathering of townsfolk, then demanding of the assembled, ‘Who’s with me?’ All these elements may be found in Invictus too, even though its hero – Mandela, in the shape of Morgan Freeman – is a septuagenarian with a smile and a kindly word for everyone."

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Superbowl overkill: The Tebow Case

I was wittering on about The Who below but there's another and bigger media sideshow story at this year's Superbowl, namely the $2.5 million TV commercial that will air at some suitable break featuring boyish heartthrob football star Tim Tebow, 2007 winner of the Heisman trophy for best collegiate ballplayer, and his devoutly Christian mother Pam, who refused medical advice to abort the birth of Tim back in the mid-1980s, and is thus doubly convinced of the utter wrongness of abortion.
William Saletan of Slate offers this punchy rebuttal:
"Pam's story certainly is moving. But as a guide to making abortion decisions, it's misleading. Doctors are right to worry about continuing pregnancies like hers. Placental abruption has killed thousands of women and fetuses. No doubt some of these women trusted in God and said no to abortion, as she did. But they didn't end up with Heisman-winning sons. They ended up dead. Being dead is just the first problem with dying in pregnancy. Another problem is that the fetus you were trying to save dies with you. A third problem is that your existing kids lose their mother. A fourth problem is that if you had aborted the pregnancy, you might have gotten pregnant again and brought a new baby into the world, but now you can't. And now the Tebows have exposed a fifth problem: You can't make a TV ad."

Clare Short & the BBC: Endless Love

I guess on the whole I've been able to live in peace with 13 years of New Labour - there have been peaks and nadirs, to be frank - but it does still irk me that Clare Short ever got to sit at a cabinet table; and this solely, like Prescott, because Blair thought he was playing nice, palliating that useless/sanctimonious side of the Party in which he privately had no interest. Well, good work there, Tone - you wound up letting Short become the public face of the pseudo-sacred principle of 'cabinet government', i.e. the utterly unpersuasive voice that won't shut up ought by definition to be heeded. Having somehow attained the status of Minister, Clare Short was not going to be ignored - and her being her, who could expect otherwise?
Stolidly populist, Short has been the most easily quoted critic of the decision to topple Saddam. But her performance when it came to giving up that ministerial office is all one needs to know about her political gifts. (As the Telegraph heard one minister say, "better to have her as an unprincipled laughing stock rather than a principled martyr.") As for the value of her purported service to the cause of the Left, George Monbiot made a rather stark case for the prosecution back in 2003, in the Guardian, no less.
And yet, and yet... our state broadcaster takes Short very seriously, for what one supposes are personal reasons. Nicholas Witchell of the BBC has been awfully keen that we know who gets applause from the discerning gallery at Chilcot, and today we understand that Short finally gave those people just what they wanted to hear and more. It was truly painful to watch even the slightest fragment of her 'It's My Turn' efforts as played on the news bulletins - that scarf gaily trailing from her neck, those awful, chatty dismissals of top people and major matters to whom and to which she should never have been in the remotest proximity. Jim Pickard in the FT and Paul Waugh in the Standard have got the tone just about right in their reporting.

NUFC: Trouble, man?

If you see the football season as a 5-act play – I do at any rate, Act I being August-September (the pitches still splashed by summer sun, six weeks of clean new strips and surprise results), through the dramatic meat of autumn and winter, to the business end of April-May that constitutes Act V, and what Sir Alex Ferguson famously calls 'squeaky bum time' – well, if you’re still with me, then you see that we stand now on the threshold of Act IV: the passage of play that determines just how squeaky will be those derrieres.
What we of Division 2 have learned in Act III is that, sadly, this flight contains three sides of fairly consistent footballing ability – the Toon, WBA and Notts Forest – and so, with only two automatic promotion places to spare, then fatalistic Toon fans such as I are now envisaging a play-off spot... Moreover, with nothing to remember of Toon visits to Wembley in the lifetime other than capitulation, anti-climax and a general failure to show up, I can’t help feeling in my pessimistic bones that we will back to Barnsley and Doncaster next season.
The real concern is that the last half-dozen league games, while extending an unbeaten run, have been a plodding set of performances. We have been found out at this level, to take loan of the cliché. Injuries and opposition pace expose the defence. Pace of any kind troubles our 'senior-pro'-comprised midfield. Upfront even the disagreeable Marleen Harewood begins to be missed. No fan would have failed to jump at the offer of where we are now, 4 points clear with a game to spare, but there’s going to have to be a rising to the occasion for the big games of Act IV, the visits of Cardiff and Forest, the trip to Swansea, not forgetting all the rest...

This transfer window just gone has seen the completion of the retooling of the NUFC squad to high-end Division 2 standard: if it was hard to see the mob we started with doing any better in Div 1 (hypothetically) than they’d managed in 2009-09, the best XI we have at present would be fairing no better in the six-pointers with Burnley, Hull and Bolton. Still, this is our lot, and it has been rightly said in his favour that Ashley backed the club appropriately in the transfer dealings: cover at the left and centre of defence, some pace and wiles for the midfield, and another striker (Leon Best, pictured.) Perhaps a little competition for places, plus a bit more of what Kevin Nolan was saying back when he was scoring, about actually wanting to bag that Division 2 title… these things could only help.

Roll on this Friday then, and the visit of the 'soul crew'. Always liked that Aretha Franklin, myself.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Superbowl XLIV: The Who dares, wins?

This Sunday, Superbowl 44, Colts v Saints, and the bookies say Colts by 4. I haven't a clue myself, and if the Pittsburgh Steelers aren't in it then I have no-one to shout for. The half-time show, though, that's a different matter. For this year the Dolphin Stadium in South Florida, and a few hundred million TV viewers worldwide, will welcome to the stage the 'Orrible 'Oo.
The half-time entertainment is a Superbowl perennial, but looking back at its history one could be surprised at how long the organisers persisted in mounting tame little Disney-like family spectacles for 10 minutes or so, seemingly unaware that when you've got thousands of sports freaks crammed into a stadium, and folks at home getting rowdy and beery, the chief thing they'll want to do is rock.
Michael Jackson (XXVII) and Diana Ross (XXX) were gestures toward superstar power, but, again, whoever imagined that a significant portion of the fanbase wanted to hear La Ross do Ain't No Mountain High Enough or I'm Coming Out? Even Aerosmith were made to share the slot with N-Sync and Britney Spears. Finally, in the decade just past, some genius figured it out - U2, the Stones, Springsteen, unalloyed and no support act - that's what the boys want.
There is something self-defeating about the 10-minute format: I didn't much enjoy Springsteen's set, for instance, not just because the songs were edited but because of the songs themselves - obvious, middle-ground, crowd-pleasing choices from The Boss. With The Who, however, advance word suggests that they will cram in versions of Baba O'Riley, Pinball Wizard, Tommy, Can You Hear Me?, Who Are You, and Won't Get Fooled Again. And let it be said, brothers and sisters, you could not possibly get a better mini-setlist than that, not in the entire annals of rock's lost highway...