Archive | November, 2012

Hendrix In Camden – An Interview With Jimi Hendrix at 70

27 Nov

If you’ve ever listened to late night radio – and this insomniac, practically nocturnal writer has listened to a lot of late night radio – you will have heard at least one of his songs. Tucked away in the play lists of niche rock DJs worldwide is where you’ll find him, songs that are at once strangely familiar, and yet almost impossible to pin down. You know you’ve heard them before, but where?

Said DJs will talk about him with such veneration that you, the casual listener, might wonder why his is not a household name. Sure, your folks will know him, but unless they are still fans – and there are still diehard fans – when was the last time they said his name out loud?

Born in Seattle in 1942, James Marshall Hendrix – known to friends and fans as Jimi – was once a legendary figure in rock. Though his career proper kicked off in London, his performance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival sealed his global reputation. Songs such as ‘Purple Haze’, ‘Foxy Lady’, and ‘Voodoo Chile’ became anthems for the late ‘60s counterculture, the soundtrack to an era of civil rights and Vietnam. With his shock of Afro hair, his eclectic wardrobe, his unconventional sex appeal, and his laid-back demeanour, Hendrix became the poster boy of psychedelic rock. His bands, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and, later, Band of Gypsies, were symbolic, multiracial melting pots of musical talent.

So… Where did it all go wrong?

“Where did it all go wrong?” Hendrix (who turns 70 this month) muses. He takes the question in good enough humour, though his expression is a little distant and melancholy. “That’s an interesting question,” he says. “I mean, did it all go wrong?”

We’ve met at a café in Camden, North London, where the guitarist has lived for the past twenty-five years. He comes here every day, he tells me, and has done since he retired from teaching four years ago.

“If the weather’s good I’ll sit outside,” he says. “If it’s raining I’ll sit near the window. Either way, I just like watching the world go by. People watching, I call it. You know, like bird watching?”

Though now a pensioner, Hendrix still cuts a dapper, if world-worn figure. He wears a grey suit that hangs a little loosely on his tall, still skinny frame. The Afro has gone – his hair is now short, and receding – though he has kept his trademark moustache and soul patch – and the hair on both his head and face is now a silvery grey.

I decide to rephrase my – admittedly unsubtle – question. Does he have any regrets?

“Regrets?” He asks. Hendrix does this often during our conversation, repeating the tail end of my question back at me, not to challenge the question’s validity but, I think, to give himself time to prepare an answer. “No, no regrets,” he says. “I mean, I could have regrets, if I wanted them. There are plenty of things I never achieved, things I’d have liked to have done, but no… If I regretted them, and kept regretting them, well… What kind of a life would that be?”

Okay. So if he can’t regret the things he’s done, what about the things he didn’t do?

“Oh, sure, “he says, laughing. When he laughs his eyes twinkle with a feline kind of mischief, like he’s toying with you. “I know Miles and I talked about a second collaboration, but that never materialised, and I think that would have been interesting. But I think both of us had some trouble in our lives, so the time was never right.”

He is talking about Miles Davis, and their album ‘Johannesburg’ (1974). A firm favourite of jazz critics and Davis’s supporters, the album – a double disc, tour-de-force epic – remains an obscure footnote to Hendrix’s fans, who thought it pretentious and overlong. On balance, it is now perhaps the last great flowering of Hendrix’s talents, before he began a long, downward spiral into drug dependency and alcoholism.

His appearance as the Preacher in Ken Russell’s 1975 film ‘Tommy’ was a baffling moment in a movie full of baffling moments. His belated, and ultimately misguided attempt to cash in on the ’70s funk scene (‘Catch My Breath’ – 1977) met with harsh reviews and poor sales. (Rolling Stone critic Lester Bangs called the album “mind-bendingly bad. Like James Brown popped some Quaaludes, staggered into his recording studio at 4am, and tried playing every instrument himself at the same time.”)

Lester Bangs

Hendrix believes the decline in his career began with the death of his friend, and fellow guitarist Eric Clapton, in 1973. Clapton was one of the key figures who promoted Hendrix early on, and the “progressive blues” pioneered by them both would become the sound of an era, but Clapton’s slide into heroin addiction and his eventual overdose all but destroyed his one-time protégé.

“I fell apart,” says Hendrix, staring off into the middle distance, his eyes a little tearful at the memory of it. “Eric was so many things to me. A friend. A rival. If he did something, I had to do it better, and vice versa. That was how we worked. I still miss him.”

If Clapton’s premature death was a blow, the 1980 assassination of John Lennon was, Hendrix says, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Having battled with – and overcome – heroin addiction in the late 1970s, the guitarist now turned to drink. His three-year marriage to the actress Britt Ekland collapsed in acrimony, and things came to a head on the night of April 1st 1982.

“April Fools Day!” Hendrix laughs. He laughs a lot, even when talking about the worst of times. “And I was one hell of a fool.”

After performing at a nightclub in Brighton (remember, this is a man who once played before tens of thousands) Hendrix drove back to London. Heavily drunk, and under the influence of tranquillisers, his car left the road and span several times before landing in a ditch. Hendrix was in a coma for two weeks, and suffered a fractured skull, broken pelvis, and severe damage to his left hand. Doctors initially told him he might never play guitar again.

“That was the worst,” he says. He isn’t laughing now. “I mean, if they’d have told me I couldn’t walk again, couldn’t drive again… hell, if they’d told me I’d go blind, I’d have learned to live with it. But never play guitar again? Man… that was like the end of the world.”

There followed a year of painful recovery and physiotherapy, but Hendrix was determined to prove his doctors wrong. His greatest struggle remained the battle with booze.

“Yeah,” he says. “Heroin, that was easier to quit, I think. I was nearly forty, and I kept thinking to myself, you know, the idea of this old man, this middle aged man, chasing the dragon? Shooting up? And this was around the time of AIDS, you know, so that kind of scared me into quitting all that. But drink? That was hard.”

By 1984 Hendrix was well enough to sing – but not play – on Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, though by now many of its target audience, fed on a diet of MTV, were more familiar with Simon Le Bon and Boy George than they were this obscure, American rocker. Still, fans believed this appearance might signal the beginning of a revival in his career, and anticipation mounted in the months before the Live Aid concerts of 1985.

“What can I say?” Says Hendrix, with a self-effacing shake of the head. “I thought I could do it, I really did.”

In the event, his appearance, shortly before Queen’s now-legendary performance, was a disappointment. Still struggling with his left hand, and badly out of practice, Hendrix was a shadow of his former self. His ‘Miami Vice’ style grey suit and espadrilles were almost comically inappropriate, as if he was trying far too hard to appeal to a younger generation. He looked tired, as if his heart wasn’t in it, something he denies to this day.

“My heart was in it,” he says. “But what use is your heart when you just can’t play like you used to? It was too soon. I know that now. It was just too damned soon.”

I ask him if he would like to rethink his earlier answer, that he regrets nothing he has done in his life.

“No,” he says. “I still stick by that. You see, Live Aid was the end of an era for me. I kind of gave up trying to be whatever it was people wanted me to be. If they wanted a… a… rock star… They weren’t gonna get it. I was tired of trying, so I retired.”

And it was through retiring that he met his second wife, Helen Salisbury. Ten years his junior, Helen worked as a waitress in a restaurant near Hendrix’s house in Camden. When they met, she had no idea who he was.

“Well, I think she was exaggerating a little,” says Hendrix. “But we had different tastes in music. She preferred Elton John, Gilbert O’Sullivan, that kind of thing. But you know what they say, about opposites attract and all.”

He and Helen married in 1987, and had two sons, James Jr. and Marshall. James Jr. is now an acclaimed musician in his own right, performing as a violinist with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, while Marshall is a music video director who has worked with acts including Plan B and Tiny Tempah.

“I’m so proud of them both,” says Hendrix. “James could play violin practically before he could walk, and Marshall, well… he gets these ideas, so creative. His mind’s so active.”

When Helen died of breast cancer in 1995, Hendrix was left to raise their sons single-handedly. As sales of his music continued to decline (while many of his peers enjoyed revivals and comebacks), he was faced with a choice: Survive on dwindling past glories, or find himself a job. He completed a teacher training course in 1996 and began teaching music at a North London comprehensive school the following year.

“After seeing my sons mature and flourish, that’s perhaps my proudest achievement,” he says, beaming. “Some of the kids I taught, they never thought they had any talent. Never realised they had it in them. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I inspired them, I’m not that vain, but I like to think I gave them hope.”

Many of Hendrix’s students were too young to know their teacher had once been a rock star, though he admits there were occasions when parents asked for autographs.

“Ha,” he laughs. “That was kind of funny. It would be a parents evening, or something, and I’d be trying to tell them how their son or daughter must try harder and all that, and they’d be sitting there smiling at me the whole time. And when it was time for them to go they’d go looking in their pockets for a piece of paper and a pen. That was funny.”

Did he ever play his own music to his students?

“No! Never. They wouldn’t have liked it, I don’t think. By then the kids had their own music, their own bands. Why’d they want to listen to an old man like me? Besides, I was there to teach, not to get all nostalgic.”

If there is a recurring theme to our conversation, this is it. Hendrix refuses to “get all nostalgic”, to live in the past. In 1967 his music sounded like, and in a way was the future (the term “Heavy Metal” was first used to describe his crunching, feedback-laden riffs). Why should he live in the past?

And yet the reason for our meeting this afternoon is that in two nights Jimi Hendrix will play his first live gig in over a quarter of a century. Performing at London’s Brixton Academy with Experience bassist Noel Redding, he will treat an audience half his age and younger to sounds that once blew the minds of their parents and – in some cases – grandparents. Is this a comeback?

“Oh, I don’t know,” he shrugs. “I spoke to Noel, and we just felt the time was right. And we won’t get many more opportunities. We’re old men, you know? We just want to have some fun with it.”

And should we expect any new albums?

“Ha… We’ll see,” says Hendrix. “Does the world want a new Jimi Hendrix album? Does it need one? I don’t know. Maybe we should be looking for something new.”

When our bill arrives I reach for it out of instinct, and he puts his hand over mine to stop me. He knows it’s the norm for the writer to pick up the tab, but he also knows how many fading stars come to rely on these regular free dinners. He doesn’t say as much, but he doesn’t want me to think he’s penniless and freeloading.

He pays the bill, and gets to his feet. Hendrix walks with the aid of a stick these days, and has done so for some time. As we part I ask him if he’ll use it to get out on stage in two nights’ time.

“Oh no,” he laughs. “I’ll manage somehow. After all, when was the last time you saw a rock star with a walking stick?”

Stuff I Love – 3: Music From The 1910s

24 Nov

Wait… come back. Seriously. Come back. I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Bleeurgh… Classical Music.” Or words to that effect.

Either that or, “I hope to God this isn’t going to be about Al Jolson.”

But, you see, that’s where you wrong. First, because technically the term “Classical Music” only applies to orchestral music from the 18th to early 19th Century, but also…

Hey! Come back here this instant!

Anyway. Where was I? Oh yeah. What I was saying was that while the music I’m talking about is orchestral, and while you will hear much of it on BBC Radio 3 and (shudders) Classic FM, this is also some of the most exciting and innovative music ever written.

Pictured: The opposite of “exciting and innovative”.

I’m not an expert, I have no formal education in music, so I’m not about to start waffling on about arpeggios and minor sixths (I have no idea what either of those things are), but I can tell you why I think this music is great and why you might love it too. So here, without further ado, is a very short selection of fantastic music from the 1910s…

Fantasia on a Theme byThomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1910)

Regular listeners to Desert Island Discs will have heard this one on a near weekly basis (most recently chosen by the lovely Mark Gatiss), and yes… if I was stuck on the eponymous desert island this is one of the tracks I would choose.

Vaughan Williams (the handsome chappy pictured at the top) spent much of his career visiting and drawing inspiration from traditional English music. Folk songs, choral pieces, he ransacked them all. Here, he takes the melody from Thomas Tallis’s 16th Century hymn Why Fum’th In Fight (and no… before you ask, I have no fucking idea what a “fum’th” is) and stretches it out into an emotional epic; a piece of music which, when I heard it for the first time, left me utterly devastated. You can listen to it right here.

What I find most impressive is the way Vaughan Williams makes a string section sound like so many other things: A choir, a church organ, he squeezes multiple effects out of the orchestra without once resorting to bombast. And if you’re not holding your breath during what I can only describe as an orchestral multiple orgasm, you have no soul.

I’ve listened to a lot of music in my life, but this remains the single most beautiful piece I have ever heard, and am ever likely to hear.

Mars, from The Planets by Gustav Holst (1916)

Remember what I was saying about Vaughan Williams and the absence of bombast? Yeah, well Gustav Holst takes your “absence of bombast”, scrunches it up into a ball, sets fire to it, eats it, and then farts the ashes back into your face.

“In your face, bitches. In. Your. Face.”

While there are many pieces in Holst’s Planets suite that display his great dexterity and subtlety, Mars ain’t one of them. This is music with great big clanging metal balls, music with the gloves off. Mars is the freshwater well composers of music for war films and sci-fi movies have drawn from since there was such a thing as war films and sci-fi movies. Without Mars there’s no Star Wars. Without Mars there’s no Aliens

Picture this, but with the music of Herb Alpert.

Though, incredibly, Mars was written before the First World War, the sheer scale and terror of it is absolutely in tune with the horrors to come in Europe’s trenches; the nightmare of a war in which, for the first time, bombs would rain down on civilian targets from above; in which mounted cavalry faced rolling metal monsters mounted with machine guns and cannons; in which ordinary front-line soldiers were confronted with the cruelties of chemical warfare.

If you’re an aspiring writer and you’re trying to write something exciting, fuck rock music, dance music or hip hop. This is where the real adrenalin-pumping action is.

Le sacre du printempts (The Rite of Spring) by Igor Stravinsky (1913)

It’s May 29th, 1913, and you’re at Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Élysées for a night of ballet.

“Wonderful,” you think. “I love a bit of ballet. We saw The Nutcracker last Christmas and it was simply delightful.”

Then this happens.

That clip is from the BBC’s brilliant film Riot At The Rite, which depicts the production and premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Springand the near riot it inspired.

That’s right. In 1913, while gentlemen footballers with handlebar moustaches kicked balls around before polite crowds of well-wishers, people were rioting at the ballet.

Pictured: The “Covent Garden Barmy Army”, following a controversial production of ‘Swan Lake’.

Nobody had seen or heard anything like it before. Stravinsky’s music was frenetic, discordant and disturbing; Vaslav Nijinsky’s choreography – representing a “primitive” fertility rite – was violently aggressive.

The Nutcracker this was not.

Now, you may think the audience overreacted a little. After all, you’ve heard music like that in countless films. Hell… Bernard Herrmann and John Williams built entire careers writing music like that. But remember… This was 1913. There was no such thing as “film soundtracks” back then. Or at least if there were they were played on upright pianos in the actual cinema itself.

Like Holst, Stravinsky’s music is the reason film music sounds the way it does. Once the initial, avant-garde shock wore off, audiences began to appreciate the sheer power of it, and it has lost none of its power in the intervening 99 years.

So there you have it, folks. Three composers, three amazing pieces of music. And you don’t have to fork out a fortune at the Albert Hall or the Royal Opera House to listen to any of this stuff. Thanks to stations like Radio 3 or (eurgh) Classic FM, or sites like Youtube, or streaming services like Spotify you can listen to some of the all-time great recordings for nothing.

The world of Classical Music (opera, concerts, ballets) can often seem elitist, or something “Posh People do”, but the music itself is anything but. You don’t need a university degree to know that the Tallis Fantasia is beautiful, that Mars kicks ass, or that The Rite of Spring is a balls-to-the-wall blockbuster. The music does all that for you.

The Emperor ain’t naked, but he’s down to his socks and pants – Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘The Master’

21 Nov

It’s now three days since I watched Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, The Master, and this is my third attempt at writing a blog about it.

Why is that? I hear you ask.

Well… Where to start? I guess most films can be placed in one of two categories: “Instant Hits” and “Slow Burners”. Take my favourite films of 2011. Rise of the Planet of the Apes was an Instant Hit. By the final reel, I wanted to stand up on my seat and cheer. It’s the closest I’ve come to applauding during the end credits of a movie outside of a film festival.

Fuck yeah.

The same year’s Melancholia, directed by Lars Von Trier, was a Slow Burner. After the credits had rolled I was dazed, unsure of what I’d just seen. It was only when I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days, weeks, even months afterwards that I realised just how brilliant it is.

Anderson’s last film, There Will Be Blood, was a slow burner. It took a few days, and two viewings, for me to fully appreciate it, and I’ve watched it countless times since. I still maintain that it’s the greatest film to come out of the US in over 20 years. So maybe, in taking my time, I was hoping the same thing would happen with The Master. 

Sadly, it hasn’t.

The Master tells the story of World War II veteran Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix). Well… Kind of. You see, Quell is an alcoholic whose only real talent lies in making cocktails from just about anything. Engine oil, paint thinner, developing fluid. If it’s a fluid and smells like it would take the roof off your mouth, he can turn it into a mean faux-jito. (See what I did there?) After being kicked out of numerous jobs, Quell finds himself aboard a boat leaving San Francisco, bound for New York, in the company of charismatic “philosopher” and pseudo-scientist Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), aka ‘The Master’.

Dodd takes the sex addicted, inarticulate and socially inept Quell under his wing, introducing him to his self-discovered, cultish belief-system-cum-therapy, ‘The Cause’. Dodd believes that our souls are trillions of years old, and that only through revisiting past lives, through a kind of hypnosis, can we cleanse ourselves of our hangups and neuroses.

Sounds familiar? Well yes. That’ll be because ‘The Cause’ bears uncanny similarities with Scientology, and Lancaster Dodd is pretty much a dead ringer for Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard.

Otherwise known as Suri Cruise’s Sperm Daddy*. (*For legal reasons I should point out that there is no evidence whatsoever that anyone other than the film actor Thomas Cruise Mapother IV [also known as Tom Cruise] is the father of Suri Cruise, let alone a drug-addled con artist who has been dead since 1986.)

Anyone expecting a scabrous exposé or critique of Scientology can, however, think again, because The Master is nothing of the sort.

So what is it? Well… I wish I could tell you. Though it starts as a fairly intense character study of Quell, the minute Dodd turns up this focus shifts. Suddenly Quell is sharing screen time and the narrative’s point of view with Dodds, but this doesn’t result in a character study of two men, because while Seymour Hoffman acts his tits off in this movie, we’re never really given any insight into Dodd’s mind. We know he’s a charlatan, and we know that many around him (including his own son) are aware of this. We know he’s pretentious (I particularly liked the shot of Dodd posing for a portrait while holding a quill). We know he can’t stand being challenged or questioned by anyone. But then what?

As for Quell, by the end of the movie we’re none the wiser. He’s still socially inept. He’s still an alcoholic. He’s still alone. Has he learnt anything from his encounter with this larger-than-life fraud and his crazy clique? Not that I could tell. Is the fact that he remains unchanged by this encounter a commentary on the inability of cults like Scientology to cure all ills? Not sure. If it is, it’s a point being made a little too subtly to have any lasting impact.

In trying to decide whether or not I enjoyed The Master, I kept hitting two snags.

Snag 1: The sheer number of things I loved about this film. The opening 20 minutes, showing us the crazed last days of World War II and Quell’s struggle to get by in post-war America, are incredible. Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s cinematography is stunning, like an Edward Hopper painting brought to life. Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood proves once again that he’s capable of so much more than shoe-gazing rock (he also wrote the soundtrack for There Will Be Blood) with a beautiful, eclectic, and often disturbing score. Phoenix turns in a career best performance, and Hoffman and Amy Adams (playing Dodd’s wife) are both on splendidly creepy form.

Snag 2: My inability to describe the film without comparing it to There Will Be Blood.

This second snag was the real cruncher, because it struck me that the seeds of what’s wrong with The Master can be seen germinating in There Will Be Blood, and the critical reception it received. I remember reading a review – I forget who it was by – that declared, a little pretentiously, that Paul Thomas Anderson had invented a new form of narrative cinema. Now, that’s a little grand, but I kind of understood the point being made. There Will Be Blood challenges many narrative conventions: The film opens with a repetitive, dialogue free 20 minutes focused on a single character; there’s a jarring leap forward of about 15 years between the penultimate and last act; almost every single line of dialogue in the film is about oil or  money…

Or milkshake.

…But, importantly, it still has a conventional – and very strong – narrative arc. It’s the story of one many’s spiritual – if not financial – rise and fall; the way in which avarice and greed corrupt absolutely. Those who found it a little cold didn’t grasp that it is a deeply moving portrayal of a man who throws away every shred of his humanity in the pursuit of money. What’s more, it does all this while having something to say, being a timely (not to mention surprisingly on-the-nose) allegory for the relationship the West still has with oil rich, theocratic regimes.

And there… I’ve done it again. In a review of The Master I’ve just spent two paragraphs talking about There Will Be Blood. But you see, that’s the thing. With all those critics celebrating TWBB‘s idiosyncrasies, perhaps Anderson lost sight of the very things that gave the movie a solid structure, and made it an emotionally powerful and thought-provoking experience.

In contrast, The Master feels like an exploded narrative, a series of long, sometimes interminable scenes that go nowhere, strung together with enigmatic montages. I could have understood this if it had been adapted from an epic, 700 page novel from the mid-1950s; if in translating it to the big screen too much narrative was excised, leaving the finished film feeling insubstantial and slight. That happens all the time. However, this was written for the big screen, and there’s only so much experimentation a narrative can take before the bubble bursts and we’re left with nothing but soap suds.

Anderson has denied, in several interviews, that ‘The Cause’ is based on Scientology, or that Lancaster Dodd is based on L. Ron Hubbard, and perhaps this hints at another problem with the film’s development. Though an innovative film-maker working on the fringes of Hollywood, he still operates very much within that system. He has, in the past, worked with Scientology’s Crown Prince of Crazy, Tom Cruise (on Magnolia).

Does this even need a caption?

Tom Cruise is still a powerful person in Hollywood. As the makers of South Park can confirm, you become persona non grata to any Scientologist the minute you openly and explicitly criticise or lampoon their religion. (Isaac Hayes quit his role as ‘Chef’ on the show after an episode mocking Tom Cruise and John Travolta.) Is it too much to suggest that in approaching the subject of pseudo-scientific American religious cults of the 1950s, Anderson had one hand tied behind his back?

How much more powerful a film could The Master have been had it dared to take a run at the Church of Scientology with all guns blazing or, in a different vein, focused almost exclusively on the character of Quell; his run-in with Lancaster Dodd and ‘The Cause’ forming a much smaller part of the story?

Critics who hated the film have called it pretentious, comparing the film’s more enthusiastic (often quasi-beatific) reviews to The Emperor’s New Clothes, as if those reviewers daren’t voice their disappointment for fear of being labelled philistines. They may have something of a point, but I wouldn’t go quite that far. I don’t think the Emperor is bare-bottomed, but he is down to his socks and pants. Perhaps someone should have a quiet word with Paul Thomas Anderson, before he turns in a movie that’s genuinely stark bollock naked.

The Diabolical Schemes of Gary Barlow

18 Nov

So, last night I watched X Factor for the first time in about a month-and-a-half. Don’t know what it is, but this series really hasn’t grabbed me in the way previous years’ have. Usually I stay away until the sadistic – not to mention deeply unethical – audition stage is over.

I know, I know… “But that’s the best bit,” you’ll say. But the whole “Victorian asylum tour” vibe leaves me feeling grubby.

“That was possibly the worst rendition of Christina Aguilera’s ‘Beautiful’ I have ever heard.”

Take this clip for example. Simon Cowell describes Cardiff auditionee Rachel as “rude, cocky, deluded”. Anyone who lives in Adamsdown – as I do – will tell you she is also mentally ill, and can be seen most afternoons staggering up and down Clifton Street, laughing to herself, or shouting at the people in Gregg’s. Now, while it isn’t for me to accuse Syco and ITV of ruthlessly manipulating and exploiting the mentally ill in the name of entertainment… Oh, wait. No, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

“La la la… I’m not listening… la la la…”

So in recent years I’ve found myself enjoying the live shows much more than the auditions, but this year… not so much. Maybe the format is tired. Maybe the judges just aren’t witty or ascerbic enough. Maybe Nicole Scherzinger’s brutal rape of the English language (“Shamazeballs”) makes me want to reach down my throat with a greased-up fist and pull out my own spleen. Who can say?

Seriously, lady. Sha-fuck off.

What struck me, though, while watching last night’s episode, was that Gary Barlow has one act left in the competition, and – inexplicably – it’s peachy Scouse club singer Christopher Maloney. For the uninitiated, Christopher was the guy whose first audition nerves saw him shaking like a Golden Pond era Katherine Hepburn, and who won the nation’s heart. Then, for reasons I couldn’t care less about let alone remember, he didn’t make it past “judges houses” but somehow got through to the live rounds. And he’s still there, after so many others have been booted off and turned into a cheap, Soylent-Green-style foodstuff for the cast of The Only Way Is Essex.

Look at them. These people would eat their own children if they thought it would get them on TV.

Christopher Maloney is a man out of time. Had he been born anywhere between 1935 and 1940, he would have been huge. Just a couple of years later, less so. Look at Tom Jones and Tony Christie. Tom was born 1940, Christie was born 1943, and if it wasn’t for Peter Kay most of you would never have even heard of Tony Christie. The world has not been kind to big voiced crooners this last, what… 40 years?

Especially ones who do this with their face.

Now, obviously, being over 28 years old Maloney is in a category the X Factor audience gives least of a fuck about, so it was always likely they’d be down to a single act this late in the competition, but why him? Well, here’s where I have a theory.

Gary Barlow, you see, is like the evil scientist in The Human Centipede. From day one he has seen, in Christopher Maloney, the potential to achieve something he could never do alone. He is out to create the most middle-of-the-road act the world has ever known.

This is the face of a madman.

Picture him pacing around the hospital bed on which – for no particular reason – Christopher lies.

“Oh, they accused me of being middle-of-the-road when Take That first took off, Christopher, but let me tell you… We were the Velvet fucking Underground compared to Westlife. It was Robbie, see? When you’ve got a wildcard in the pack, it taints the rest of the endeavour. How could I ever stake my claim on the very middle of the road when we had a crazy character like Robbie in the band? He had to go. But by then it was too late.

“He’d poisoned everything. No sooner had he left, than Howard grew dreadlocks, and Mark started getting ideas very much above his station. Before I knew it, we were doing Nirvana covers. It was insane. And when you’ve gone over to the far side of the road, there’s no coming back to the middle, no matter how hard you try.”

Christopher looks up at him, his eyes rheumy with the promise of tears, his bottom lip trembling like a plate of Liverpudlian blancmange.

“B-b-b-b-b-but what’s all this got to do with me, G-g-g-gary?”

“Oh, Christopher. Don’t you see? You’re my protege. The zenith of my dreams, my ambitions. The crowning achievement of my entire career. You, Christopher, are the most middle-of-the-road act the world will ever know. You have a big voice, but which carries virtually no genuine emotion. Though clearly batting for the other side, you’re non-threatening, and the grannies love that. By the time I’m finished with you, Christopher, you’ll make Richard Clayderman sound like Aphex cocking Twin.”

Anyway, to atone for all this, my next blog will probably be about Stavinsky and Holst. It’s all about the balance, people.

Stuff I Love – 2: Philip Roth’s later novels

15 Nov

The literary world was… well… if not exactly shocked, then at least saddened by the news, last week, that the novelist Philip Roth is to retire at the tender age of 79.

Roth’s career spans more than 50 years, from the publication of his short story collection Goodbye, Columbus in 1959 to his novella Nemesis in 2011. In that time he’s written 26 books of fiction, 2 nonfiction works on writing and literature, and 2 memoirs. His novels cover a lot of ground, from the broad satire of 1971’s Our Gang (a very thinly-veiled attack on the Nixon administration) and gross surrealism of the following year’s The Breast (in which the main character turns into a 155lb breast) through to the heart-stopping drama of American Pastoral, and his final hit-and-miss quartet of novellas, referred to collectively as Nemeses.

They feature none of the above.

What’s striking about Roth’s career is just how successful so many of these later novels are. Where many authors see their talents dwindle in later life, Roth went from strength to strength. Of course, this is often a matter of perspective, and though American Pastoral won him the Pulitzer, there are many critics who still prefer his earlier, bawdier novels, like the notorious Portnoy’s Complaint, but having read some of his earlier work and a lot of the later novels, and while there are still vast swathes of stuff left for me to read, I’d say I fall squarely into the Later Roth camp.

Not this one.

But what, then, do I mean by “Later Roth”? Where do we draw the line in the sand? Before, or after the first quartet of novels featuring Roth’s alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman; starting with 1979’s The Ghost Writer and ending with The Prague Orgy in 1985? I’d argue later, and specifically from Sabbath’s Theater (1995) on. I couldn’t tell you exactly why this is; I’m not enough of a Roth scholar to say if that’s a fine place to draw a line, but it feels like the point at which Roth goes from being a very good novelist with a successful body of work behind him, to being arguably America’s Greatest Living Author – a title that’s been almost a given since the deaths of Saul Bellow in 2000 and John Updike in 2009.

“Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. I win.”

So, using that imaginary line in the sand, here are my Top 5 Later Roth Novels:

5) Nemesis (2010)

Roth’s final novel is the story a polio epidemic in mid-1940s Newark – the location to much of Roth’s work – and the trials and tribulations of  23-year-old teacher and playground supervisor Bucky Cantor. Cantor, riddled with guilt at being unable to serve in World War II, due to his poor eyesight, finds himself waging a personal war against the outbreak. A deeply moving novel about blighted opportunities, and – a recurring theme in Roth’s work – the way in which history impacts upon the lives of ordinary people. This was the perfect antidote to 2009’s toe-curlingly dreadful The Humbling.

4) The Plot Against America (2004)

Roth’s one and only dabble with alternate history, The Plot Against America explores a 1930s and early 40s in which Charles Lindbergh, not FDR, is US President while Europe falls, country by country, to the Third Reich. Taking its cue from the 1941 speech Lindbergh made in Des Moines, in which he warned of the “ownership and influence (Jews have) in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government”, Roth imagines a world in which the famed aviator turned politician signs a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany, and the creeping antisemitism that begins to affect Jewish families in the US, including a fictionalised version of Roth’s own parents and brother. While his reading of history is occasionally a little off, and his speculations unlikely, The Plot Against America can be read just as easily as an attack on the Bush administration’s handling of the so-called ‘War On Terror’, or on the threat charismatic bigots and a mob mentality can pose to any apparently civil society.

3) The Human Stain (2000)

Turned into an icky, almost unwatchable film starring a woefully miscast Anthony Hopkins and Nicole Kidman, The Human Stain is the penultimate Zuckerman novel, but as with all of the later Zuckermans its main character is in fact someone else; in this case university classics professor Coleman Silk. Silk is accused of racism, when his use of the word “spooks” (he means ghosts) is willfully misinterpreted, first by a student, then by a bitter and jealous colleague. The novel explores his doomed relationship with semi-literate cleaner, Faunia Farley, and his secret past: Having passed himself off as white and Jewish throughout his career, Silk is in fact biracial African American, and disowned his family in order that his career should progress unimpeded by the racism of the 50s and 60s. The Human Stain is a brilliant exploration of race, sexuality, and the political machinations of academia. The character of Faunia’s estranged husband, Lester, is one of Roth’s finest and most disturbing creations.

2) Indignation (2008)

It’s interesting that of the four Nemeses novellas, the two which work best are those – Nemesis and Indignation – which focus mainly on young, college-age protagonists. Here the setting is 1951. As boys his age are dying in the Korean War, Marcus Messner lives under the fretful tyranny of his father, a kosher butcher, in Newark. Terrified that his son will wind up in the army, and get sent off to die, Marcus’s father fusses about him with a paternal concern that’s overwhelming, driving Marcus west, to study at the conservative – and very Christian – Winesburg College, Ohio. There, his fervent atheism and – you’ve guessed it – indignation see him enter a downward spiral of futile conflict and sexual misadventure. Funny and heartbreaking in almost equal measure, this is the finest of the Nemeses novellas.

1) American Pastoral (1997)

There’s an accusation often levelled at Roth’s novels, and particularly the later works, that they all cover much the same ground (Carmen Callil walked off the jury for the International Mann Booker after it awarded Roth the prize for that very reason), and there is some truth in that. Certain things can be taken for granted: The protagonist’s Newark upbringing. A blue collar father, along with detailed descriptions of that father’s working life (in Everyman, watchmaking; in Indignation, kosher butchery etc.) The impact an historic event or events will have on that protagonist’s life. All of this is true of American Pastoral, but this is where those themes and motifs are at their most perfect. In Swede Levov we have the Jewish American man as all-American Hero. Levov is tall, handsome, blonde-haired (I can’t have been the only reader picturing a younger Robert Redford playing the part); a high school sports star who married a beauty queen, before becoming a successful industrialist (he inherits his father’s glove factory). Levov has it all, but then of course the man who has it all and keeps it could never be the protagonist of a novel, and so American Pastoral is really about the failings and transparency of the American Dream, and how that dream can be so very violently ruptured.

American Pastoral is ten times more powerful than an earlier work like Portnoy’s Complaint could ever be, because while that novel sets out to shock us with toilet talk and wank jokes, American Pastoral is shocking in its frankness about our real taboos, the ones we’ll never be comfortable discussing, but does it with great warmth, compassion and honesty. A deserving, resolutely politically incorrect Pulitzer winner, and the pinnacle of Philip Roth’s entire, 53 year career.

Bronze, Bard and Barbican

14 Nov

Just returned from a busy 48 hours in the quaint, historic market town of London-Upon-Thames. Strictly speaking, I was down there on business, but that sounds awfully grand for what was actually 7 or 8 hours in a recording studio in Ladbroke Grove. Plus, my total contribution to the day, in terms of hard graft, was telling the director, Gary, that it was okay to add the word “even” to a single line of dialogue. The real draw, whenever they record anything I’ve written at The Moat Studios, is the lunch put on by sound engineer and culinary whizz Toby. Never mind that, as a Doctor Who fan, I get to meet and work with actors I’ve admired since I was 4 years old. Nah… It’s the lunch, every time.

Left to right: Sean Carlsen, Lalla Ward, Barnaby Edwards, Louise Jameson, and me, all thinking, “Hmm… Lunch.”

Anyway… being in London gave me about a day-and-a-half to go off and do my own thing, so I decided to fill that time with exhibitions. Well… Exhibitions and food.

First up was the Royal Academy’s show Bronze. This was, perhaps, the most “Ronseal” of all the shows I went to, providing a fairly broad selection of bronze sculpture from around the world, from a 14th Century BCE chariot found in Trondheim all the way up to an enormous, concave bronze mirror by Anish Kapoor. Perhaps the best thing about this show was its refusal to treat the sculptures as archaeological objects by placing them in some sort of chronological order. Instead, each room was arranged by theme – Figures, Animals, Objects, Gods etc. This meant that in a single room you could find, side by side, a piece by Jasper Johns from the 1950s next to a cabinet of tiny, intricate weights made to resemble bird claws and human figures, from 14th Century Nigeria.

Plus quite a lot of cock – ‘Dancing Satyr’ – Greek, 4th Century BCE (photograph from The Times)

It was the works from Africa, and primarily Nigeria, I found most interesting of all. Now, this may be down to me being a Patronising White Twat or a serious gap in my education (or both), but I hadn’t realised bronze sculpture was such a feature of African art, and certainly not dating back to pre-Renaissance times, but the works on display here are absolutely stunning, and add a bit of welcome variety from all those gym-honed heroes, gods and Biblical characters.

Another great feature of Bronze was the room, early on in the exhibition, in which you learn how bronze sculptures are actually made. Bronze is one of those materials I’ve always taken for granted, assuming there was some semi-magical process by which it gets moulded or sculpted into shape, without ever thinking too hard about what that process was. To learn that there are several processes, and be given a basic understanding of how each one works, really adds to your appreciation of what you see in the rest of the show.

‘Head With Crown’, Nigeria, 14th-15th Century (photo from The Economist)

After spending all of Monday in the studio, I was free again on Tuesday to go exploring, so I started the day with the British Museum’s Shakespeare: Staging The WorldThis was one show where I may have benefited from knowing a little less. A few years ago I went through a bit of an Elizabethan phase. I don’t mean I walked around saying, “Prithee, sir” while wearing a ruffled collar and breeches, I mean I read an awful lot about the Elizabethan and early Jacobean era: Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Shakespeare; Charles Nicholl’s book The Reckoning, about the murder of Christopher Marlowe; Dominic Green’s The Double Life of Doctor Lopez, about Elizabeth I’s Jewish-Marrano physician; Alice Hogge’s God’s Secret Agents, about the Gunpowder Plot.

I may have also watched a lot of ‘Blackadder II’.

As a result, there was very little in the exhibition that was new to me, and indeed some of the items on display I’d already seen elsewhere. An imaginative group portrait of Henry VIII and his children, for example, is on loan from Cardiff Museum. That said, I liked the way the show was made up mostly of historic artifacts relating to the plays’ subject matter, rather than Shakespeare himself, and there were still one or two surprises – the gold coin minted by Brutus and Cassius in the aftermath of Julius Caesar’s assassination, a page manuscript from Sir Thomas More, written apparently in Shakespeare’s own hand – but I couldn’t help but think this would have been a more spellbinding and illuminating experience had I been just a little less familiar with the subject matter.

“Hello, ladies…” ‘Portrait Miniature of Edward Herbert’, from the exhibition

Still, no trip to the British Museum is ever wasted, and right now they have a great – and most importantly, free –  mini-exhibition of prints and drawings from Spain, including some brilliantly ghoulish examples by Francisco de Goya. There’s something lovely about seeing preliminary sketches and rough drawings by great artists, in much the same way as there’s something wonderful about a page of handwritten script by the World’s Greatest Playwright™, complete with crossings out and amendments. It reminds us that as indisputably great as the finished works may be, they weren’t brought into the world in a single, perfect and painless outburst of creativity; that even artistic titans have to work at their craft.

The dark truth behind the career of TV astrologer Russell Grant… ‘Drunk Silenusa’ (1628) by Jose de Ribera

In the afternoon, following my now compulsory spending spree in Cecil Court, I went over to the Barbican, for their show of 1960s and 70s photography, Everything Was MovingHaving spent much of the day walking, and after a rubbish night’s sleep (thanks to a combination of pancake-related heartburn and crappy hotel air-con), I wasn’t sure I could handle another exhibition. Even if I was able to drag my sorry carcass around the gallery, I might not take anything in, and would walk out of there having wasted £12.

‘Sumner, Mississippi, Cassidy Bayou in Background, 1969’, William Eggleston

I needn’t have worried. Everything Was Moving was the cultural highlight of the whole trip. For one thing, it’s a pretty epic show, covering both floors of the Barbican Gallery, and featuring work by twelve photographers. Some, like Bruce Davidson and Larry Burrows are well known for their images of the US civil rights movement and the Vietnam War respectively. Others, like India’s Raghubir Singh and China’s Li Zhensheng are little known outside their native countries, or in the case of Sigmar Polke more renowned for their art than their photography.

‘Below the Howrah Bridge…’ (1968) – Raghubir Singh

It’s difficult, in a show so extensive and so packed full of content, to pick individual highlights, but Davidson’s work in particular packs one hell of a punch. His picture of a beleaguered-looking Martin Luther King, surrounded by aides and a clamouring press, is a masterclass in reportage photography, while the image of a Ku Klux Klan cross burning made me physically gasp.

‘Reverend Martin Luther King at a press conference, Birmingham , Alabama, 1962’ and ‘Outside Atlanta, Georgia, 1962’

Elsewhere, and in a similar vein, the show takes work by two South African photographers, one a white Afrikaner, the other a black African, to show us their country at the very height of Apartheid. The former, David Goldblatt’s work provides an insight into the lives of black mine workers – their horrible living conditions, combined with their quiet, almost stoic dignity – in stark contrast with the infinitely more carefree lives of their white bosses, without ever resorting to caricature. There’s empathy, compassion and warmth for all his subjects.

‘The farmer’s son with his nursemaid…’ (1964)

Coming – understandably – from a much angrier place, there’s a more obviously satirical intent behind Ernest Cole’s photography. He demonstrates brilliantly just how absurd apartheid truly was, with his images of “Europeans Only” phone booths, park benches, and bank tellers, but what’s striking, in both Goldblatt’s and Cole’s images, is just how often blacks and whites in South African found themselves standing or sitting side by side, and how much affection there could be between the communities, despite the government’s best efforts to rend them apart.

Untitled – Ernest Cole

To highlight just these three is to do a disservice to the other photographers, most of whom are brilliant in their own right. Perhaps the weakest of the bunch, or perhaps the one that feels slightest and most at odds compared to everything else around it, is Sigmar Polke’s series on an Afghan bear-baiting match, but even then these are strong images in their own right. It’s entirely possible somebody else could come away from the show having been most moved by Polke’s work, or Larry Burrows’ cinematic depictions of Vietnam, or Graciela Iturbide’s surreal and striking images from Central America.

‘Panama City, 1974’ – Graciela Iturbide

I can’t recommend Everything Was Moving enough. Like the RA’s Bronze and British Museum’s Shakespeare, it reminded me of the opening line from L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Except here this isn’t a distant past of bronze gods and mythical beasts, or a world of witch trials and the conquests of empire. Here, the past is familiar. We see the 7-Up logo, and people doing the twist. These are recognisably our immediate ancestors or even our younger selves, and yet the world has changed immeasurably since then. Bruce Davidson’s images of the hovel lived in by a poor black family (Trickem Fork, Alabama) look as if they should have been taken in 1865, not 1965, and the white men taunting the freedom riders from the roadside look all the more cruel, all the more ridiculous, and all the more pathetic in a world in which Barack Obama just won his second term as US President.

Don’t worry, chaps. Only another 48 years until the Tea Party Movement.

If I have one regret about my jaunt over the Barbican, it’s that I wasn’t able to check out Random International’s installation, Rain Roomthe queue for which snaked around the ground floor, and – according to a notice – would have taken up over 2 hours of my afternoon. A shame, as this looks like one of those rare occasions when conceptual art is fun, accessible and genuinely inclusive, but it’s running until March, so maybe next time!

  • ‘Bronze’ is on until  9 December 2012
  • ‘Shakespeare: Staging the World’ is on until 25 November 2012
  • ‘From Renaissance to Goya’ is on until 6 January 2013
  • ‘Everything Was Moving’ is on until 13 January 2013

Affleck and the Argo-nauts

9 Nov

There’s a great song from the film Team America in which, contemplating Michael Bay’s execrable movie Pearl Harbor the singer declares, “I need you like Ben Affleck needs acting school /He was terrible in that film. / I need you like Cuba Gooding Jr needed a bigger part / He’s way better than Ben Affleck…” 

“Oh, by the way, Ben. If, erroneously, I’m told you’ve died in combat, I will shag your best friend, Josh Hartnett, within minutes of finding out.” Seriously. That is the actual fucking plot of this movie.

Until very recently, I was inclined to agree. I’d seen Pearl Harbor, a film so bad it had me this close to cheering the Japanese, and a number of other Affleck movies that weren’t Good Will Hunting, and I was left distinctly unimpressed. He was just so bland; neither as charming as Clooney, nor as sexy as Pitt, and he hadn’t taken the kind of risks his old chum Matt Damon had, preferring to stick to mainstream snoozathons like The Sum of all Fears and Armageddon.

When I saw his brother Casey’s performance in Andrew Dominik’s brilliant The Assassination of Jesse James, I decided he was the Affleck brother with all the acting chops, and how dare his more-matinee-idol-ish brother Ben steal all the limelight?

“He also stole my ice cream and my Boba Fett in 1981.”

That all kind of changed when I saw the 2006 film Hollywoodland, in which Affleck plays the troubled – and ultimately doomed – George Reeves, star of the original Adventures of Superman TV show. It’s not a perfect movie, but Affleck’s subtle, nuanced performance holds it up and keeps you watching. Maybe I’d underestimated him. Then, in 2010, I saw The Town, his second film as director. Though borrowing heavily, in terms of style, from Michael Mann’s 1995 crime epic Heat, it was a strong film, and very confidently directed, considering his relative inexperience as a director and the size and scale of its set pieces.

Now we have Argo, Affleck’s third film as director, and the second in which he appears both sides of the camera. Stylistically, he’s going back much further than the mid-90s on this one, opening his movie with the late 1970s Time Warner Logo some of us oldies may remember…

This one!

The year is 1979. Following the Iranian Revolution, the US has provided asylum to the deposed Shah, and the Ayatollah Khomeini ain’t happy. A crowd of protesters has the US Embassy in Tehran surrounded. Inside, embassy staff work hard at shredding paper files and destroying hilariously enormous computers, while a group of Iranians wait, desperate to have their US visas stamped so they can flee the country. In a nerve-shredding sequence, the protesters break through the gates and storm the compound, capturing 52 US hostages, and thus beginning the 444 day Iran Hostage Crisis.

However… Unbeknownst to the Revolutionary Guard, but beknownst to us, six consulate staff are able to make a getaway. Having run around the streets of Tehran trying not to look too much like tourists (in reality they were on the run for several days) they are taken in by Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor and his wife, who hide them at their private residence.

“I hope you fellas like ‘Kids In The Hall’. It’s our favourite show, ay.” “But… that won’t even be on TV for, like, another eight years.” “Shut up! This is OUR house!”

Thus begins the “Canadian Caper“, a story whose full details were only declassified by the CIA in the 1990s, and which must rank as one of the strangest missions ever attempted by a government agency.

Providing ‘Spies Like Us’ wasn’t based on a file yet to be declassified…

Put simply, the plan was this: CIA operative Tony Mendez, posing as a Canadian film producer and with assistance from Hollywood professionals (including Planet Of The Apes make-up designer John Chambers and comic book artist Jack Kirby) would develop a fake film project, a Star Wars rip-off called Argo. He would then travel to Iran and, still posing as a producer, scout for locations for said film, along with six “members of his Canadian film crew” (in other words, the six US consulate staff currently hiding in the Canadian Ambassador’s house and forced to listen to way too much Moxy Früvous). Having briefed the six on their fake Canadian IDs (and presumably taught them how to say “aboot” instead of “about”), Mendez & Co. would then head straight to the airport, and get on the first plane out of Bearded Fundamentalist Central.

Not quite what I had in mind…

So, I know what you’re thinking. You want to know if the plan worked, right? Well, that’s one of Argo‘s strengths. Until now, the so-called “Canadian Caper” has been something of an obscure footnote to the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Most audiences won’t know the outcome, and I’m not about to go spoiling it here. Though I’d read about it before – in this Cracked article – I couldn’t remember how it all turned out. Did it go tits up? Were they all dragged back to Azadi Square and hanged? Did some go cycling into freedom, like James Coburn’s terrible Australian accent in The Great Escape, while others, in the manner of Donald Pleasance and James Garner, were gunned down in cold blood? I just didn’t know.

As a result, by the last act I’d run out of fingernails to chew on. Affleck skillfully ramps up the tension pretty much from the opening scene, and he doesn’t let go. Even when the film is winking satirically at Hollywood, it never lets you forget that actual lives are at stake.

The acting is uniformly great across the whole cast, but there are some standout performances from Alan Arkin as a grizzled Hollywood veteran, and rising star Scoot McNairy, who was excellent as a seedy stick-up artist in the recent Killing Them Softly.

I’ve heard some – for instance, Pouya Alimagham in this piece from the Huffington Post – complain about the film’s depiction of Iran and Iranians, but I’m not sure how much more this film could have done to depict Iran in a balanced light without it being clunky. How many more close-ups of crying “normal” Iranians could we have taken before having to yell, “Okay… Ben… we get the fucking point.”

Though, granted, that woman in the grey hijab does appear to be smirking.

If Affleck had made an epic movie about Iran’s long, rich history, but focused only on the bad bits, Alimagham may have a point. As it is, pretending Iran’s hard-line theocratic government hasn’t behaved like one giant, bearded bastard for the last 33 years helps no-one, least of all those living under the regime. Plus, if you don’t want people to be presented “through the lens of terrorism and hostage-taking, public executions, (and) bearded men shouting so hysterically that spit flies out of their mouths”, you should probably take them to task for their terrorism, hostage-taking, public executions, beard growing and shouting so hysterically that spit flies our of their mouths, not have a pop at Ben Affleck for making a movie.

That’s like having a go at these guys because you hated ‘Gigli‘.

Sadly, the censorious streak runs thick and wild these days, with far too many pundits deliberately missing the point of what certain kinds of film are and what they set out to do.

“What’s that, Mr Affleck? You’ve made a thriller, you say? About the Iranian Hostage Crisis? Well, I hope you’ve included a 45 minute prologue detailing Persia’s rich, cultural heritage, from the Sufi mysticism of poets like Rumi and Attar through to the recent, Oscar-winning film A Separation. What do you mean, you’ve focused only on the story you wanted to tell? This is an OUTRAGE.”

Anyway… All that aside, and with the chip duly removed from my shoulder, Argo is a cracking film, capturing perfectly the look and the feel of the late-1970s/early-80s without resorting to too much clunky exposition or a jukebox soundtrack. On the strength of his first three films, I’m fascinated to know what Affleck will do next.

I’m guessing it won’t be a sequel to ‘Daddy Day Camp‘.



David Llewellyn is the author of six novels, most recently Ibrahim & Reenie, which you can buy here.