Sunday, 20 February 2011

Dropout Boogie

Certain intellectuals are famous, albeit only amongst students and university lecturers.  History suggests it is rarely for the quality of their thought: few are justly known for their work alone.  Usually there are other reasons, which have little to do with their intellectual worth; a popular one is to play the Zeitgeist’s jukebox, giving an academic justification for the prejudices of the age.  Bernard-Henri Lévy for example; who is always well stocked with what is safe and fashionable; and readily available for private functions, in the best houses. 

So what about Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari?  Little known outside academic and avant-garde circles, they had significant influence on some leftist movements in the 1970’s and the electronic music scene in the 1990’s.  They later became popular in the academy; their ideas decorating many a professor’s Curriculum Vitae.  Unlike Lévy, Bernard Lewis or David Starkey, they don’t serenade the rich and the powerful, so what is the source of their success?  Is it the profundity of their insights?  Or do they appeal to different tastes; to an audience, perhaps, that is more hip and counter-cultural…

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Amongst the Gods

Alexander Cockburn does a wonderful demolition job on the Reagan cult, reminding us, or at least those who had foolishly forgotten, just how bad he was: nasty and incompetent, with a natural stupidity that slid smoothly into the onset of earlier dementia.  He was the perfect figurehead, allowing the executive to carry quietly on in its own efficient way.  The trick was repeated twenty years later with more or less the same crew behind a different talking head; George W. Bush wasting acreages of newspaper space as journalists debated his laziness and lack of attention; as if those matter, in the slightest.

Britain is not immune from this insanity.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Softly He Falls

It starts in the first person.  You stop, and put the book down; and remember the last scenes, his final degradation: a human being turned into a rag doll, his spirit ripped out by the machinations of a trusted servant.  To listen to his own words, to watch his decline through his own eyes, is much too much, it is all too intimate; and you wonder whether to continue.  Isn’t the film enough? a classic only to be watched once.

You start again…

Monday, 14 February 2011

Look Here!

How much do we need to be told?  Hollywood is never quite sure.  A screenwriter writes with the subtlety of Elizabeth Bowen; but this upsets the producer, who imagines tomorrow’s reviews in the Washington Post.

The influence of the early Goddard is surprising, but the emotional nuance and political analysis is handled cleverly; the balance is never once disturbed.  We came away with much to think about.  Of course, we will need to see it again; like any work of art it needs time for those hidden levels of meaning and textural pattern to emerge; for its overall shape to be fully appreciated.

Apart from its classic period in the early 70s Hollywood has always lived with this tension.  It wants a high quality product, but it must also appeal to the widest audience; many of whom will lack sophistication and a literary culture; and thus have to be told too much for the good of the story.  As a result its films are rarely free from the occasional signpost to direct the viewer to the obvious.  It’s a problem.  For Hitchcock, in his classic phase, Freud may have been the solution: the psychological complexity contained within a relatively transparent doctrine; which allowed for a sensitive handling of the individual scenes, but a slight crudity in their interpretation.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Dark, Dangerous Bird

Nothing has changed in forty years.  Manhattan, you’re still the same.  The grainy camera shots, and the subway carriages – the adolescents’ MOMA -; those old apartments, that could be Parisian, though somehow are not; even the tattered vinyl stacked on the shelf, all is familiar; and I lose myself for a little while. 

We open the door into old money (always the best); it is a large apartment, and cluttered so tidily, with large spaces in dishevelled rooms; we can feel the sensibility; a cultivated bohemia (even better) is all around; like old furniture it fills these rooms, and reminds us, suddenly, of a wise professor in faded clothes: a quiet order amongst the absentminded untidiness. 

Few things have changed; the ballet certainly has not: Swan Lake still its winter hit.  Manhattan has survived, it seems, so for a while at least I can relax and relive old memories.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Faster! Faster! Faster!

The international bestseller.  You grab it, hands shaking, sweat drops the size of marbles rolling down your face.  Get out of my way!  Get out of my way! Rushing, barging, you batter a path, through the few customers, to the empty till.  Oh, there you are.  Come on!  Come on!  The shop assistant is much too pleasant; and so she is slow with your cash.  She asks if you have read the last one.  It’s ok, its ok; I haven’t time for the receipt.  Outside you’re running to the nearest tube.  The train clunks along, breaking at every misfortune, can’t you see I’m in a hurry! as you pace the carriage…  and race the escalators at your home stop.  In the house, through the door, quickly into the bedroom; where you shoot up 500 pages…  Later, when she returns from work, Madeleine finds you flat out and comatose; peppered with the ripped pages of an “enthralling” new talent.  She picks them up, and puts them out for the recycling.