Thursday, June 27, 2013

Hotel - 1937

Pour des raisons multiples, j'ai trouvé ce petit film promotionnel pour une chaîne d'hôtels etre rien de moins que fascinant.

Je ne parlerai pas plus loin...........

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Profumo Redux

It’s fifty years this year since l’affaire Profumo. The daily revelations about who had slept with whom, and who had said what to whom, seem as portentous today as they were then. The dramatis personae.......Christine Keeler, Mandy Rice-Davies, Stephen Ward, Peter Rachman, Yevgeny Ivanov, Bill Astor, Johnny Edgecombe, Aloysius ‘Lucky’ Gordon, Harold Macmillan, John Profumo.............seem as alive today as they were then.

And the way Richard Davenport-Hines’s book - that I’ve just finished reading - “An English Affair: Sex, Class and Power in the Age of Profumo”, portrays the England of circa 1963 - so awash in avarice, corruption, materialism, mendacity, cutthroat journalism - that it seems the England of today, not of then. Yet,
 .........England was a country where the gravy served at main meals made everything taste alike. Dominated by the memory of two world wars, it was more drilled and regimented than at any time in its history, and more strictly regulated. Restaurants and pubs were controlled under onerous rules derived from the Defence of the Realm Act of 1914; audiences stood in respectful silence when the National Anthem was played at the end of any cinema performance; pedestrians still doffed their hats as they passed the Cenotaph memorial to the war dead in Whitehall; family-planning clinics did not dare to give contraceptive advice to the unmarried; every foreigner had to register with their local police station, and report there regularly; businesses needed clearance from the Bank of England for the smallest overseas expenditure......
And, England was still an important manufacturing power. Growing up in one of its tropical colonies, I can remember that the cars on our roads were nothing but Morrises, Austins, Wolseleys, Vauxhalls, Fords (the ones from Dagenham), and Rovers, that had come off England’s assembly lines.

I still recall my first car, a 1960 Ford Prefect, light blue, and with an external sunvisor. No car I’ve had since, has meant quite as much to me as that little Ford Prefect. Whatever became of it? I sometimes ask myself these fifty years on.........

My first bicycle was an English bicycle, a Raleigh. It had a chainguard and a three-speed. It was, at the beginning, too big for me to use completely safely, since my Mother and Father wished not to waste money buying me a bicycle I would soon grow too big for. They could, though, have bought me the English-made Rudge bicycle instead, for the Rudge and Raleigh were the only two brands of bicycle available.

All the knives and forks I ate with were made in Sheffield, as were all the china plates I shovelled my food off of, as were all the china cups I drank my tea out of........

There seemed nothing there that wasn’t made in England. On my asking why, I was told things like “Imperial Preference” and “Sterling Area”.

Such was the world-wide reach of England’s influence that nearly all of us in this tropical English colony who were lucky enough to live not only in a house, but a house with a wireless, listened to the BBC News on the wireless every evening. The broadcasts were preceded by pip pip pip sounds - the sign that the BBC news was about to follow. On some evenings the voice of the man from the BBC was intermittently drowned by hissing noises, because the news broadcasts came in on shortwave, and shortwave is affected by weather disturbances and suchlike, the more so the longer the distance.

So it was mainly because of the BBC News that l’affaire Profumo was as immediate to me as it was to the people of England six thousand miles away. I could hardly wait for the next installment the next evening.

What, then, was l’affaire Profumo all about? Sex, it seems. The people of England were as obsessed about sex-in-high-places then, as they are now, because they were as Puritanical about sex then, as they are now. You may think this surprising. You should remember, though, that the infusion today of sex into just about every conversation, film, television programme, book, newspaper article, and whatnot, is a reaction to yesterday’s Puritanism. It’s the same dynamic, you might say.

The Sexual Offences Act that was enacted in 1956, had a section that said if a man introduced another man to a woman between 16 and 21, and they subsequently had sex, the man who introduced them was a criminal (as a procurer) and could go to jail.

A ridiculous law I’m sure you’ll agree. Worthy of a Third World theocracy. On the other hand it was 1956, not 2013. Here, though, is the pièce de résistance: this section wasn’t abolished until 1995. That’s right, 1995, just eighteen years ago.

As long as this section was law, it made criminals of hundred of thousands, if not millions of Englishmen, and could be used by the police to prosecute anyone the government didn’t like.

In l’affaire Profumo, a man the government definitely didn’t like, was a Harley Street osteopath called Stephen Ward, who had been going around boasting about his friendships with men in high up government places, and also with the Russian naval attache, Yevgeny Ivanov.

Stephen Ward didn’t help himself by having both Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies stay with him at various times. So he became easy meat for the police to hang several sex-related charges on, including the infamous procuring charge.

To ensure nothing got in the way of Stephen Ward being convicted, the police pressured prosecution witnesses to give false testimony, and threatened to plant incriminating evidence in the home of at least one man, a quite important man, who wanted to give Ward a good character reference in court. This man got the message and changed his mind.

So the English police were not quite like Dixon of Dock Green. And, if you are an Englishman of today, how can you be sure the police don’t get up to the sorts of things today that they did in 1963. A dank jail cell may await you even though you’ve done nothing. You could be taken there in handcuffs at any time, maybe even this evening.

L’affaire Profumo, despite being for all intents and purposes a storm in a teacup, did contain a tragedy - Stephen Ward’s suicide. His persecution by the English police became too much for him and he cracked. In the opinion of experts, the trumped-up charges on which he was convicted would have been overturned by an appeals court.

There was such a mountain of happenings surrounding l’affaire Profumo, you can only begin to get a complete picture of it by reading Richard Davenport Hines’s account. It’s page-turning reading.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

On Seeing "The Great Gatsby"

I had delayed seeing the latest film version of “The Great Gatsby” because I’d seen the film’s trailer, that had put me off, and had read some reviews which weren’t flattering. One review went so far as to call it a dreadful film, that was all glitter and no heart. And I had been enchanted by the 1974 film of Gatsby, and felt any future film treatments of Gatsby couldn’t therefore fail to disappoint.

I had also delayed seeing this latest version of Gatsby because I had got out of the habit of going out to see films. The last one I saw was over a year ago. And I hadn’t been watching films at home, apart from some favourites from decades ago on YouTube. So I’d become as far removed from the current filmic Zeitgeist as it’s possible to be.

The film-theatre where this latest Gatsby was showing is part of a multiplex that has automatic machines through which you can get a ticket, and a long counter at which you can buy fizzy-drinks and popcorn and potato chips and chewing gum. There are also video-game machines for you to play games on if you arrive too early and don’t know what to do before your film starts.

Always at sea with gadgets, I didn’t buy my ticket from one of the automatic ticket machines, but from a real live ticket seller behind a counter. Most film theatres, it seems, still employ live ticket sellers to cater to people like me for whom gadgets are uneasy bedfellows. One day, though, the last live ticket-seller will have been got rid of. What’ll I do then?

Having bought my ticket, I was handed a pair of odd-looking glasses because this latest version of Gatsby is in 3D. I thought about the fact that I last saw a film in 3D close to sixty years ago. I had thought then that you couldn’t get more modern than watch a film in 3D. One of these films was set in Africa somewhere where the natives threw spears in the direction of the viewer. I ducked behind the seat in front as the arrows flew at me. I don’t remember anything else about this film, except that it may have had Errol Flynn or Stewart Granger in it, and also one of the beautiful ladies who were big stars in films then, like Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth.

Having put the glasses on as Gatsby began, I hoped the 3D effect wouldn’t distract from the film. It did at first because I kept taking the glasses off to see how the images on the screen really looked. And when I put the glasses back on I closed one eye every now and again in order to experience the 3D effect vanishing.

As the film began, and I saw the computer-generated effects, and heard the beat of the modern music, I had to struggle not to compare all this unfavourably with the 1974 Gatsby that had enchanted me so. Instead, I abandoned my sixty-something persona and imagined I was again twenty, but instead of being born in the mid-1940s, I had been born in the early 1990s, and so had been shaped by the music and other cultural influences dating only from then.

As soon as I did this, I began to feel better, and got into the spirit of the film I was actually seeing. And I reminded myself that novels and the films of them must necessarily be different because..... well.....films and novels are very different artistic means of arriving at very similar truths. So when I saw the film has Nick Carraway as a recovering alcoholic in a psychiatric home as he narrates and types his memories of Gatsby, I didn’t mind. In fact I thought: what a good idea, given Scott Fitzgerald had himself been an alcoholic, and that Tobey Maguire, who plays Nick Carraway, is made up to look like Fitzgerald.

Because of the music and computer-generated effects, this Gatsby, despite being set in the ‘twenties, doesn’t really convey a feeling of that time, and could just as well have been set today. And if it had been, so what? Think of the various adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, some of which are set in modern times, and people like it. If a story is compelling, it shouldn’t matter when it’s set.

While this Gatsby, aside from its superb camera-work, is over-the-top lavish, I think it comparatively no more over-the-top lavish than Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane” was considered to be in 1941. Had Orson Welles lived today, and had filmed Gatsby, his Gatsby may well have been similar to Baz Luhrman’s.

Watching Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, and hearing him speak sometimes slurringly, I wondered if he was channeling Marlon Brando. Whether he was or wasn’t, I thought DiCaprio excellent as Gatsby. The more the film went on the more it pulled me in, so that I forgot where I was. When it ended I thought I might like to see it again, and soon.

For me, these are always the signs of a good, if not great, film. So I give this Gatsby a thumbs-up - maybe even a big thumbs-up. I hadn’t at all expected to feel this way when I’d set out from home earlier. Is there a lesson here?