Monday, 8 February 2010

Noel Coward - 'The Master'

Getting enormous pleasure reading a biography of Noel Coward (1899-1973) - surely a 'one-off' in British cultural history if ever there was one. Can't think of another person being so multi-talented in so many fields - composer/lyricist, writer (of novels, short stories, factual articles), playwright - of works, both serious ('The Vortex' written in his twenties featuring drug-addiction still has power to shock) and light 'frothy' comedies (Hay Fever, Private Lives, Blithe Spirit etc), serious actor of both stage and film, director - and, of course, raconteur par excellence. Some of his critics maintain that although he did dabble in so many creative areas he never produced a really undoubted masterpiece in any of them. I think that's unfair. His plays alone stand up today despite being very much products of their time, set almost exclusively within an upper-class milieu which, with a less skilled writer, could look very dated and irrelevant - but the wit is still undoubtedly there, and effectively so.
One can fully understand why he always strived to keep his sexuality private at a time when all gay acts in all circumstances were illegal, despite his wide circle of friends and acquaintances, including politicians (Churchill, among them) and royalty (especially the late Queen Mother and Princess Margaret) knowing, so one has to read between the lines when words like 'companion' and 'close friend' are employed.

There are so many delicious stories of his repartee one could mention. One of my own favourites is from the early 1950s when he and a friend were emerging up the steps from a London Underground station and were confronted by a large poster advertising a newly-released film - "MICHAEL REDGRAVE, DIRK BOGARDE - 'THE SEA SHALL NOT HAVE THEM!" . Coward stopped, looked up quizzically at the poster, and then, in his inimitable clipped voice - "I don't see why not. Everybody else has!"

His verdict on seeing the opening production of the stage musical 'Camelot' - "Parsifal - without the jokes."
(Note: I had originally written 'Gotterdammerung' here but my memory has since corrected me. Like all Wagner's operas, 'Parsifal' is ultra-serious, with the appropriate parallel of being, like 'Camelot', based on legend, in this case the search for the Holy Grail - long, long before the Monty Python team got its hands on it ;-) !

After seeing 'Blitz', the stage musical by (gay) Lionel Bart (who also wrote 'Oliver!'), set in London's East End during the Second World War - "As long as the real thing and twice as loud!"

On seeing musical stage version of 'Gone With The Wind' - "Would be vastly improved by two cuts - to the second act and to the little girl's throat!" (That 'little girl' being the character of Bonnie, child of Scarlett/Rhett, played on the London stage by the then insufferable child actress Bonnie[!] Langford.)

After being told by a newspaper critic, who had just lambasted his latest play, that he acted much better than he wrote, Coward's reply - "How odd. I'm always saying the same about you!"

It's interesting that when the first of the James Bond films, 'Doctor No', was being planned, Ian Fleming wanted Coward in the role of the megalomaniac Doctor. (Coward and Fleming had neighbouring homes in Jamaica). Coward's reaction - "Doctor No? NO NO NO!" Although the virtually unknown Joseph Wiseman was quite acceptable in the eventual role I do think that Coward would have been a better choice had he been willing. He would have brought the necessary disdain and menace that the character in the book displays, albeit in the film being on screen for only a few minutes with just the one extended scene.
I regret not having appreciated the man when he was still alive, despite the fact that even by the 1950s he was being regarded as out-dated, though in the following decade there was actually a re-surgence of interest and re-appreciation of him both here and in the U.S.A. which must have been very satisfying for him.

As I said, I can't think of anyone else who covered such a wide gamut of cultural creativity, certainly not in Britain. I wonder if there is or has been a similar multi-gifted person in America - or anywhere else for that matter. I'd be interested to hear of suggestions.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Tony Blair's wife, as judge - spares man prison because he is 'religious'!!

I'm seething inside. News just out that Cherie Booth, Roman Catholic wife of Tony Blair (who has himself now converted), acting in her capacity as judge, has told a man who broke another man's jaw during an altercation in a queue, that she would not be sending him to prison because he is 'religious' (he had just visited a mosque) and that being so, he knows that such behaviour is unacceptable. Great - So that's all right then! The National Secular Society is quite rightly filing a complaint against her on grounds of her practicing discrimination. Can only hope she gets rebuked, but in this land where religion, most religions, still calls the shots, I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Nope to the Pope

Just signed an online petition by the National Secular Society objecting to the £20 million estimated cost of the Pope's proposed visit here, expected in September, to be funded by the British taxpayer generally, rather than by the Roman Catholic Church itself and members thereof. His proposed visit has suddenly become even more contentious as he's just been mouthing off about our country's 'unjust' laws (currently being heatedly debated in Parliament - Disgraceful update: See my comment below) which will prohibit churches from refusing to employ someone because s/he is homosexual or transexual. He says this move should be fought with 'missionary zeal'. I've heard of foreign leaders and governments criticising other country's discriminatory laws but to find someone calling for more discrimination against a particular group really takes the biscuit. Large demonstrations being planned not just by secularists and gays but also by pro-abortionists, victims of paedophile priests and others. Should be fun.

Friday, 29 January 2010

J.D.Salinger - Who?

I'm quite surprised to see the sad, but not entirely unexpected, death of this man getting such prominence on British news - but that may say more about the times of my own education. During all the time I was at school (1952-63) I can't recall a single American author being even mentioned, let alone being read, apart from Mark Twain, perhaps. However I believe that nowadays greater awareness of such as F.Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Henry James as well as Salinger and one or two others is given greater importance now than in my time - not least because American culture has pervaded the rest of the world outside the U.S.A. to a much greater extent and in so many respects than was the case half a century ago.
I first read 'Catcher' only 5 years ago, and re-read it last year. On one particular point I do wonder if other Americans, especially gay readers, share a certain discomfort towards the very end of the novel when Mr Antolini makes a presumed 'pass' at Caulfield which he rebuffs by making an excuse and running away. Is it just me being over-sensitive at the thought that the first time so many young people will read about a gay ('flitty'/'perverty') person, albeit possibly bi-sexual, is that such an individual is predatory and, if not to be actually despised, then certainly should be avoided and perhaps pitied? Of course I realise the book is very much a reflection of its then contemporary 1951 world and the prevailing attitudes of the time. British writing of the same period was, by and large, hardly any more enlightened. (Films and novels from and before then would have assumed a viewer's/reader's satisfaction at a character with implied 'dubious' sexuality being killed, usually violently, with an undertone of 'Serves him right. He got what he deserved!'. So in that respect at least, I suppose Salinger's book may be considered an advance.) But I'd be very interested indeed in hearing an American viewpoint towards my own take on this episode at the end of 'Catcher'. And I'm also curious to know whether the book is still considered to be an essential read for Americans, as I understand it had been for several decades after its first appearance?

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Oft-repeated resolution - but I mean it this time!

My 6-monthly visit to doctor this morning. Disappointing - Blood pressure significantly up (though it has been appreciably higher than today's in the past). Now he wants me to take my own B.P. twice over next month and then to see him again in 6 weeks. Situation not helped by my having given up running some 8 months ago (because of pains in Ach. Tends.) but also ceasing all other exercise, even walking distances. Now get breathless walking up flights of stairs, which is something really unusual. Lack of exercise also predictably contributing to expanding waistline. Just got to do something about it as when Summer comes and I want to go out dressed in just T-shirt and shorts, the resulting image can justifiably give rise to mirth in others, something I know so well from experience. So got to start the fightback right now - after all, who wants to see a silver bear who looks pregnant?

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

My first full-length 3D film experience

Well, yesterday finally got round to seeing 'Avatar'. If it hadn't been for the novelty of 3D I probably wouldn't have bothered. My previous experience of 3D had been for some film I'm pretty sure was in the early 1980s when you were supposed to put on your spectacles for only those times in which a certain character wore a mask, I think. I can't for the life of me remember what that film was but it must surely have been some sort of horror film.
Anyway, if I'd seen 'Avatar' in 'flat-screen' format I doubt very much if I'd have stayed until the end. Found the first third of it mildly interesting, the next hour or more deadly boring with all its predictable romantic cliches (outright hostility turns to grudging admiration which turns to 'love', in turn changing to perceived betrayal and then finally to 'saviour' mode.) , though the film did perk up a bit towards the end, with the stock 'baddie' getting his just deserts of course. But all through, as Larry Ohio mentioned, I found the over-use of 'this-is-what-you-must-think' music so objectionable. As for the 3D itself, yes, it was sporadically impressive but I'd honestly expected to be even more impressed than I was. On getting my 'specs' at admission I said that I didn't expect to be using them again for a long time but was told that they are expecting up to 18 releases in 3D later in this year alone so I'd better keep them safely.
By the way, why do so many films, even those set at some future date, simply have to feature at least one heavy smoker. It's almost as though the film-makers are 'making a point' - perhaps cocking a snook at goody-goodies like me, though what people do in private OR do with other adults without deleteriously affecting non-participants I couldn't care less about. But it seems to me that even in contemporary settings the number of characters on film who smoke is a higher proportion than in real life. Anyway, so much for that. I'll now make an exit on that little peeve.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Raybeardless - aged 24

Might as well show this pic off, taken on the same sojourn in U.S.A. as previous blog. (Note the razor-sharp crease in my trousers. I was so 'trendy' then!) Couple of years after this was taken I grew a beard, which, despite pleas from my mum to shave it off, has remained a continuous feature right up to today....... and, oh yes, my note says "Taken on 88th floor balcony (?) of Empire State Building".

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Rolling back the years - to my American experience.

Thought one or two of you might be interested to see a pic I took on my one and only visit to the U.S.A. in 1970. This was taken from the Staten Island ferry - at a time when colour film for personal use was, for me, very much a novelty. As I took this photo I recall thinking of the opening aerial shot of (the film of) West Side Story. On the left of the shot one can see the construction of (of course) the Twin Towers.