Thursday, 23 December 2010
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
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 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.
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
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
Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Saturday, 27 November 2010
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:
- "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."
- "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
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Sunday, 21 November 2010
Thursday, 18 November 2010
Monday, 15 November 2010
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
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
Thursday, 4 November 2010
"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).
Wednesday, 3 November 2010
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
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
Sunday, 31 October 2010
Saturday, 30 October 2010
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
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.
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
Wednesday, 20 October 2010
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
Monday, 11 October 2010
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
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
Friday, 1 October 2010
Friday, 24 September 2010
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
Saturday, 18 September 2010
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
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
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
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
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
Thursday, 19 August 2010
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.