Friday, 29 April 2016

Five Films From ...



Judged on how much a film is worth watching if you are a fan of this actor (so not just "is their performance good?" or "is it a good film?" but a bit of a combination of the two ...). Glaring omissions are most likely to, of course, be films I haven't seen rather than fervent opinions.

It won't surprise you to know that when I was a teenager I went through the Halliwell's Film Guide with a pen and marked films starring lots of different actors to see a) who was in the most films and b) who was in the most highly rated films. So this is all second nature to me.

Robert De Niro

Mean Streets
Taxi Driver
Raging Bull
The Deer Hunter
Midnight Run

Julia Roberts

Pretty Woman
Charlie Wilson's War
Notting Hill
Erin Brockovich
My Best Friend's Wedding

Alec Guinness

Lavender Hill Mob
The Ladykillers
Kind Hearts and Coronets
Tunes of Glory
Star Wars

Audrey Hepburn

Roman Holiday
My Fair Lady
Breakfast at Tiffany's

Denzel Washington

Training Day
Cry Freedom
Crimson Tide

Julie Christie

Dr Zhivago
Don't Look Now
Far From the Madding Crowd
The Go-Between

Cate Blanchett

Blue Jasmine
I'm Not There
The Aviator

John Goodman

The Big Lebowski
Barton Fink
The Big Easy
Inside Llewyn Davis

Marion Cotillard

La Vie en Rose
Rust and Bone
Two Days, One Night
Midnight in Paris

Owen Wilson

The Royal Tenenbaums
Midnight in Paris
Meet the Parents
The Darjeeling Limited
Inhererent Vice

Kevin Costner

No Way Out
Bull Durham
Tin Cup
The Untouchables

Michelle Williams

Brokeback Mountain
Synecdoche, New York
Blue Valentine
My Week With Marilyn
Shutter Island

Holly Hunter

Broadcast News
Raising Arizona
The Piano
A Life Less Ordinary
O Brother, Where Art Thou

Michael Douglas

The Game
Wonder Boys
Wall Street
Falling Down

Emma Thompson

Howard's End
The Remains of the Day
The Tall Guy
In the Name of the Father
Saving Mr Banks

Humphrey Bogart

The Maltese Falcon
The Big Sleep
To Have and Have Not
Key Largo

Katharine Hepburn

Bringing Up Baby
The Philadelphia Story
The African Queen
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner
On Golden Pond

Sigourney Weaver

Working Girl
The Ice Storm
Be Kind Rewind

Benicio Del Toro

The Usual Suspects
Sin City
The Pledge
Inherent Vice

Kevin Bacon

Mystic Rover
The Woodsman
Murder in the First

Amy Adams

The Fighter
The Master
American Hustle

Kristin Scott Thomas

I've Loved You So Long
Gosford Park
Four Weddings and a Funeral
Tell No one
The English Patient

John Cusack

Love and Mercy
Grosse Point Blank
High Fidelity
Say Anything ...
Con Air

Joan Cusack

School of Rock
Grosse Point Blank
Working Girl
Runaway Bride
Say Anything ...

Luis Guzman

Carlito's Way
Boogie Nights
Punch Drunk Love

Emily Watson

The Boxer
Red Dragon
Punch-Drunk Love
Gosford Park

Ewan McGregor

Shallow Grave
Young Adam
A Life Less Ordinary
Big Fish

Jake Gyllenhaal

Donnie Darko
Source Code
Brokeback Mountain

Tilda Swinton

Young Adam
Broken Flowers
Burn After Reading
Michael Clayton
We Need to Talk about Kevin

Keanu Reeves

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure
The Matrix

Whoopi Goldberg

Sister Act
Made in America
The Color Purple
The Player

Frances McDormand

Blood Simple
Short Cuts
Almost Famous
Moonrise Kingdom

Forest Whitaker

The Last King of Scotland
Ghost Dog
Good Morning, Vietnam

Christopher Walken

Catch Me if You Can
The Deer Hunter
True Romance
A View to a Kill
Batman Returns

Sally Hawkins

Blue Jasmine
Made in Dagenham

Susan Sarandon

Thelma and Louise
Dead Man Walking
Bull Durham

Christian Slater

Pump Up the Volume
Broken Arrow
True Romance
Untamed Heart

Marlon Brando

On the Waterfront
A Streetcar Named Desire
The Godfather
Last Tango in Paris

Dianne Wiest

Hannah and Her Sisters
The Purple Rose of Cairo
A Guide to Recognising Your Saints

Michael Cera

Youth in Revolt
Scott Pilgrim vs the World
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Julianne Moore

The Kids are All Right
Short Cuts
Far From Heaven
The Hours
The Big Lebowski

Nicolas Cage

Leaving Las Vegas
Raising Arizona
Con Air
Wild at Heart

Naomi Watts

Mulholland Drive
While We're Young
King Kong
Eastern Promises

Joseph Cotten

Citizen Kane
Shadow of a Doubt
The Third Man
Duel in the Sun

Lawrence Fishburne

Boyz N The Hood
Apocalypse Now
What's Love Got To Do With It?
The Matrix
The Color Purple

Faye Dunaway

Bonnie and Clyde
The Thomas Crown Affair
The Three Musketeers
The Towering Inferno

Helen Mirren

The Long Good Friday
The Queen
Gosford Park
State of Play

Grace Kelly

High Noon
Dial M for Murder
High Society
To Catch a Thief
Rear Window

Annette Bening

The Grifters
The Kids Are All Right
American Beauty
The American President
Regarding Henry

Emilio Estevez

The Outsiders
St Elmo's Fire
The Breakfast Club
Young Guns

John Wayne

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
Rio Bravo
The Searchers
True Grit

I could go on and on. I will go on and on. But I'll leave a little space for now ...

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Furies with their Voices

Skipping merrily from tragedy to tragedy, one of the more renowned myths of recent rock'n'roll is that which has built up about the Buckleys. But I've written enough specifically about them, I think, and will just use Jeff Buckley as a starting point to talk about one of music's undersung.

The undersung, the undercelebrated polymaths who keep on popping up on other people's tales but deserve to be championed in their own right - there are many books to be written about them, certainly several blog posts if I can concentrate on putting a list together.

Jeff Buckley's girlfriend was called Joan Wasser - as a solo artist, she's known, rather archly, as Joan As Police Woman. As well as the Buckley association, she's played violin for the likes of Antony and the Johnsons, Rufus Wainwright and Lou Reed. And various others. A session musician and a general presence.

There've been four full fledged solo records, called Real Life, To Survive, The Deep Field and The Classic. Lately, I've been making playlists of individual artists to listen to through the days, and after the usual suspects, she struck me with someone with enough good songs to make a good playlist, then it struck me that really, most of those good songs were on that first album, Real Life, then it struck me that that album was really a bit superb - a little underappreciated.

Its pace is relaxed but there are moments of celebration. It's a highly romantic album - her voice is languorous but clear and hopeful. There are no weak moments - the most well known song may be 'Eternal Flame', which may well be a tribute to, or almost a separation from, the legacy of Buckley - it even has little echoes of the song 'Grace'.

Eternal Flame

 There's a great duet with Antony (now Anohni) called 'I Defy'. It's really as subtle and complete an album as you'll hear.

There are good songs on her other albums, too, but that's the one that grabbed me. I remember seeing her, late afternoon, a festival, a compelling performer - there was a song from her (then) new album called 'Furious' which I remember taking as a direct personal challenge.


She said "This song asks, Are you not furious?" It's a protest song but also an exhortation. At the time (i think it was 2007) I almost took offence. No, I'm not furious, I'm ambivalent, I'm cautious, things could be worse ... but I was wrong, that was the time to be furious and now so much impotent fury may be too late ... it's such a striking song because it's out of keeping with her repertoire. Spot on. Now I regret any time I was self-satisfied and not furious. Fury may be the only thing that can save things now.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Sunday Afternoon in the Dublin Castle with Amy

Having written about Tragedy in general, I realise, almost guiltily, that there's plenty of specific material for me to write about in the countless tragedies of rock'n'roll.

So, I'm going to write about Amy Winehouse, and I'm going to do so in a way which might almost be exploitative, while also containing some fairly blatant virtue-signifying. I'm turning into one of the cunts, I'm quite sure.

I watched the film, 'Amy'. I wasn't sure about watching it, for reasons that will become clear, but I watched it, and it was, naturally, a fine piece of work.

There was a lot to be uneasy about, but I'm not sure I was uneasy about what I was supposed to be uneasy about. The surrounding publicity material from the director and various interested journalists broadly suggested that the film, in harrowing detail, showed us how we were all a little complicit in this girl's tragedy, that we watched fascinated as she fell apart.

Hell, no, I said to myself, I am not complicit. Speak for yourselves.

Here's my Amy Winehouse story. It's not a great one but it serves my purpose.

Persuaded by critical gushing, I'd bought 'Frank', the debut album by someone being described as a prodigious vocal and lyrical talent. I found it not to be so. I found it one of my least favourite albums for a long time - annoying, crass, show-offy in both sound and words. Amy Winehouse would later not think too highly of it herself, of course.

My friend Alex and I, in 2006, had, I think, been to see 'The Departed' at the cinema in Camden around Sunday lunchtime, and then shuffled off to the nearest pub, which happened to be the famous Dublin Castle. We settled over our pints in the corner, a bit away from the pool table.

There were various indie tourists, looking for the scene in there, desperate in Coldplay and Razorlight t-shirts. Anyway, the scene did arrive. Or rather, a spectacularly annoying girl arrived with a dapper, somewhat bashful gent in tow, and proceeded to dominate the pub for the next couple of hours.

We sat, chest tightened, as she flounced and swore and threatened and posed and shouted, praying she wouldn't look at us, disturb us, speak to us, looking deep into our pints and trying to talk about anything else.

I knew she was Amy Winehouse, Alex didn't. He knew the name Amy Winehouse, but Amy Winehouse wasn't yet wholly known to look like this and be like this. To place this in time - 'Rehab' was already on the radio, but 'Back to Black' had not come out yet. She wasn't yet the most famous fuck-up in Britain, nor the most enormous musical success. But it was just about to happen. She had a classic single on the radio and she had the look and she had the exhibitionism.

This bashful gent, putting two and two together retrospectively, was not the notorious Blake Fielder-Civil, but the inbetween boyfriend who might have brought a bit more normality back into her life.

That's it. We left her to it after a couple of pints, I remember Alex saying "gosh, she was annoying", me going "that was Amy Winehouse", and him going "ah, right".That's my Amy Winehouse story.  It serves my purpose of telling you that I was not complicit. Because I averted my eyes and wished she'd go away.

I took that attitude to her songs, too. To me, she remained the hypejob of 'Frank' and the annoying girl in the pub. So I registered that, in turn, 'Rehab', 'You Know I'm No Good', 'Back to Black', 'Tears Dry On Their Own' and 'Lose is a Losing Game' were fabulous singles. However, despite these anomalies, I remained adamant that the album 'Back to Black' would not be for me. I was not an Amy Winehouse fan. Her fame annoyed me. Her acclaim and success annoyed me.

She was unavoidable to an extent. This was the era of London Lite. Free London papers every day with Amy Winehouse on the cover, not in a good way. I couldn't stay entirely out of her tragedy, though I think I did try. I saw her singing on telly, often very badly, and told myself that I was right, that those great songs, beautifully sung, were exceptions, and that Amy Winehouse was no great talent.

Maybe, by some small chance, I'm right. Either way, that one album, which I did eventually get round to listening to in its entirety, is, by hook or by crook, obviously, a truly great album. And her death was a tragedy, a modern, hideous tragedy. It happened the same weekend as the Anders Breivik incident in Norway, as grave a weekend of horror, outrage, catastrophe and tragedy as can be.

OK, how do I round this off? By making it all about myself, of course. I find myself, these days, constantly, I mean constantly, haunted by snippets of my own verse from the long period of my life when I wrote prolifically, splenetically, badly, privately, internally. Lines, segments, couplets, burst into my brain for every occasion. Usually unwelcome. Throughout those books and books,  there is almost nothing I'm wholly proud of, but the painful aspect is those half-formed ideas which sometimes hint at something that could have been something, somewhere I could have gone if I'd followed it up, some hint that I was a person with some ideas who didn't know how to implement them.

When I watched 'Amy' and saw the sections where the paparazzi surrounded her, an attack on the cinemagoer as a smidgen of the extent to which it must have been a horrific attack on her dizzied, addled senses as an everyday reality, I felt a pang of pride.

Because I wrote this in either 2005, 2006 or 2007 (it took me ages and ages to find it today - usually I can place my words fairly accurately, but in this case it could have been anywhere in a 6 or 7 year period, yet I still remembered the first four lines). I think I wrote it in reaction to some story about Britney Spears, rather than Amy Winehouse. It's a fragment of a nothing, but I felt proud of myself that I at least had this thought. And a little disgusted with myself at how I fail to live by this thought now.

Sometimes it's kinder not to care
as the cameras blare and flash
Indifference is respect -
to disregard the crash.
It's kinder not to care about
every last ebbing ideal
Not to feel a thing
if you don't know what to feel.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Rock'n'Roll, the Theatre of Tragedy

Two of the three great megastars of the 1980s, all born in 1958, are now dead - Michael Jackson and Prince, with just Madonna surviving.  Indeed, if there were four megastars of the 80s, then three are dead, if you add Whitney Houston to that. It seems unfathomable.

Rock'n'Roll is not good for the health. Everyone knows that. Here's some study from almost a decade ago, and it feels like it's got even worse since then

The older it grows, and the more of its exponents move into middle or old age (or don't!), we see that it's not just the so-called Curse of 27, it's not just the very young ones who leave a beautiful corpse you have to look out for. There are so very many reasons why rock stars die young, or younger than average.

They die because they live hard and don't stop living hard, they die because they have to travel more than most people, they died because they're artists and can't cope with life, they die because mad fans or gang members shoot them,  they die because everyone gives them everything and  everything is too much, they die because everyone gives them everything then takes it away just as quickly. They die because they're addicted to the work and need to keep working, they die because people exploit them, they die because they think its their job to die, they die tragically because Rock'n'Roll is the modern theatre of Tragedy.

There's Tragedy and there's Death. Most deaths aren't Tragic. There's tragedy which is different from disaster, different from catastrophe, different from horror. Tragedy is the tale of an individual's life. Those other things might be "worse" if you measure death in terms of numbers and impact on the world, but they're different and they're not tragic.

Rock'n'Roll is, above all, the stuff of tragedy. Of tragic flaws, of predetermined downfalls, of people almost pulling through but giving in to their worst impulses, of pride and hubris, of families and virtual families rent asunder by jealousies, of generational sins handed on, of doom and woe, of grandstanding ludicrousness, of choruses looking on, passing judgement, of grand gestures and grand failures.

Tragedy hangs over nearly all the major players. Seriously, Elvis, the Beatles, the Stones, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochrane, the Who, Led Zeppelin, The Byrds, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Mamas and Papas, Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Band, The Beach Boys, Bee Gees (when the feeling's gone), The Doors (and you can't go on), New York Dolls, The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Joy Division, Queen, Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Clash (perhaps not strictly tragedy in this case, though it was the death that saddened me the most), Nirvana, Manics, Tupac, Amy Winehouse etc not to mentions the 100s of Nick Drakes and Jeff Buckleys, Sandy Dennys and Janis Joplins, Judee Sills and Gram Parsons, who might not be described as major players, but are still magnificent talents defined by tragedy. And Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and, now, Prince. A tragedy it wasn't easy to see coming, like some of them are, but, when the dust settles, likely to be a tragedy nevertheless.

I read a book a while ago called I'm a Man, by Ruth Padel, about the iconography of rock'n'roll being similar to iconography of Greek myth. I read it with a certain pinch of salt but I've been persuaded over time. In 'Almost Famous', rock stars are described as "golden gods", but, more precisely, they're not Gods, they're heroes, tragic heroes who do battles with the Gods and lose. Lemmy, they said, he's made of steel, he's fearless, he's immortal ... but he's not immortal, is he? Mortality wins, it bypasses all their illusions.

Is it more prosaic? More medical? Should we take the romance and just talk about people with access to somewhat self-destructive lifestyles? Sure, but there is more to it than that, more that dooms them. Rock stars, if they want to stay rock stars, have no way out, they need to stay young, they need to keep touring, they need to prop themselves up with lies and painkillers.

Sure, there are survivors - Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, right from the start. Dylan's still going, stuck on the treadmill like Sisyphus - the shock of an early death eluded him a couple of times, though it took so many of those around him. The great rock critic Greil Marcus, has described the book Small Town Talk, by Barney Hoskyns, as the most depressing book on rock'n'roll he's every read (I've just bought it, so don't know yet), with its tales of drugs,  dark doings and death seeping through the apparent idyll of Woodstock in the late 60s, 70s and beyond. Somewhere an early grave became the norm.

So, what of this concert they're announcing, this one-off festival with Dylan, McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters, The Stones and The Who all playing over the same weekend? Sure, a money-making exercise, but probably born of the realization that there'll never be another opportunity to bring this mythical generation together again. They should called the concert 'What's Left ...'

If you love rock'n'roll, really love it, this is hard to take. I ask myself why it is I love rock'n'roll and boxing so much, two such self-destructive industries with ugliness pulsing through them. Are there vicarious thrills at the heart of my ardour, a secret longing admiration and longing for destruction? Not really. It's not even the "rock'n'roll" aspects of rock'n'roll I love (Lemmy and Keith Moon are no heroes of mine) nor the truly brutal, barbaric side of boxing. Give me a hit-and-don't-get-hit slickster any day of the week. I'm thrilled by longevity and consistency, rare attributes in rock'n'roll.

Is it worth it? Is anything worth it for one kid who dies or is forever damaged in the ring? All the premature deaths and families ruined by rock'n'roll? I feel like saying yes, but really, who can say ... it doesn't even really matter. It's of the essence of rock'n'roll, this tragedy. It's there in Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams, its forebears. It goes deeper than the rock'n'roll cliches, deeper than bare statistics.

Of course, there are more cynical, less classical ways of looking at it. Here's one. No other business puts less importance on its talent staying alive. Death is bad for almost every business, be it film, be it sport, or any less glamorous pursuit. In rock'n'roll, if you're staying active and staying successful, then you're still worth something. If you're not doing that, well, then, death is rather a shot in the arm for your career. As a business, it's beyond reform. As a lifestyle, it's a tragedy.