Archive for the ‘dylan thomas’ Category

Rising from the Ashes

nowhere-boy-anne-marie-duffIf I wanted to boost the SEO for Simple Pleasures part 4 I’d be writing this evening about Jim Morrison, The Snowman, lonelygirl15, Dylan Thomas, Lara Croft and Albert Camus, but I’ve got other stuff in mind, first and foremost The Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley, London N2. I’m just back from there where we went for a family matinee outing to watch Glorious 39.

Glorious 39 is considerably less glorious than Inglourious Basterds – basically it belongs on TV like many BBC Films ‘movies’ – but the Phoenix itself was its usual blaze of Art Deco glory, gilded but faded but ready to rise again in even greater splendor…

…which is why two nights ago I arranged a preview screening of Nowhere Boy at the Phoenix. It was just the second public screening of Sam Taylor-Wood’s new film about the young John Lennon and it was raising money towards the Phoenix Restoration Fund. The Phoenix is the UK’s oldest purpose-built cinema and to celebrate the centenary of its 1910 opening the charity trust which runs it is striving to complete a major restoration by its 100th birthday next year. (If you feel like donating a couple of quid, you can do that here – we’ve got 90 grand left to raise to release the lottery grant needed to do the job.)

Anne-Marie Duff – of Channel 4’s Shameless, Film4’s Garage and The Virgin Queen fame (especially Shameless! pretty much the best TV drama of the last decade) – kindly pitched up to do a Q&A after the screening and gave a great insight into her intelligent and feeling approach to acting. She plays Julia, John Lennon’s mother, who found herself giving him up as a child but later helping spark his musical genius. The scene of Julia teaching John to play the banjo and then his swift but hard-earned mastery of the instrument is thrilling.

Film4’s Nowhere Boy was rousing. I didn’t like Matt Greenhalgh’s script for Control but this was a story well told and moving. Anne-Marie as Julia and Kristin Scott-Thomas as John’s aunt Mimi (who raised him) were both powerful and affecting, making sense of a tragic love tussle. But the big revelation was the charismatic Aaron Johnson as the young Lennon, old school charisma and strikingness on screen.

Sam Taylor-Wood came in to visit us a couple of years ago at Channel 4 to talk about her work and inspirations, and showed us a short art video depicting the decomposition of a partridge and a peach – very impactful in a short, sharp way. A feature is a very different prospect and she pulled this one off with energy and aplomb. I suspect her interactions with the actors were lacking in experience but the thesps were all good enough to make up for any wooliness in that aspect of the direction.

One of my first insights into Channel 4 was in 1988 when a programme called Lennon /Goldman: the making of a best-seller was being cut in Solus Productions where I was working, my first job. It was about the rather grubby biographer of Elvis and Lenny Bruce and his biog of Lennon which was due to come out shortly after. The director, Binia Tymieniecka, kindly gave me a copy of  it, The Lives of John Lennon, which I dug out after the Phoenix show.  I could see from a cinema ticket bookmark that the last time I had dug it out was in April 1994 when Stephen Woolley (who I believe used to work at the Phoenix) & Nik Powell’s Backbeat came out. The inscription reads: You’ve heard the gossip. You’ve seen the rough cut. Now read the book. The gossip and the aforementioned insight involved Goldman pulling all his contributions from the documenatry at the 11th hour (not sure what kind of C4 contract allowed for that kind of veto, but Channel 4 was still in its naively golden first decade then).

This week (Tuesday) was the 29th anniversary of John’s death. I remember it clearly – I was in Tijuana in Mexico and saw the headlines in Spanish, struggling to translate them exactly. I associate that time with realising for the first time my eyesight was dodgy, taking off my specs and realising the degree of my myopia (your youropia, his hisopia), getting a bit upset about it as a person who’s always been visually driven, through still and moving pictures. There’s a lot of play in Nowhere Boy about John’s short-sightedness – Mimi’s always reminding him to put on his specs and he’s always taking them off again as soon as he gets out of range. He has to put them on when Paul (superbly played by the fresh-faced Thomas Sangster) is teaching him guitar. The chemistry between John and Paul is palpable. On Tuesday I was listening, trusty ol’ iPod on shuffle, on my walk home past the Phoenix to Yer Blues from the White Album and was greatly struck by the haunting words he wrote in India and recorded just a few miles from the Phoenix at Abbey Road:

Yes I’m lonely wanna die
Yes I’m lonely wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why

In the morning wanna die
In the evening wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why

My mother was of the sky
My father was of the earth
But I am of the universe
And you know what it’s worth
I’m lonely wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why

The eagle picks my eye
The worm he licks my bones
I feel so suicidal
Just like Dylan’s Mr. Jones
Lonely wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why

Black cloud crossed my mind
Blue mist round my soul
Feel so suicidal
Even hate my rock and roll
Wanna die yeah wanna die
If I ain’t dead already
Ooh girl you know the reason why.

The-Snowman

I'm coming down fast but I'm miles above you

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Drinker with a writing problem

brendan behan

What do I think of when I hear the name Brendan Behan?

* Drink
* Fighting
* IRA
* Dylan Thomas
* Woolly jumper
* Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Drink:
By all accounts the man was an alcoholic for years. It certainly done him in. He described himself as “a drinker with a writing problem” (not quite Oscar wit, but amusing enough).

Fighting / Woolly jumper:
He looks like a brawler in the photos, even with those 50s Irish woolly jumper and tie arrangements. I’m not sure how much fighting he actually did – suspect most of it was with himself.

IRA:
He seems to have got caught a lot but I suppose at least it gave him raw material for his writing. His first stretch, the time he did in borstal, was for republican activities, specifically a half-baked attempt to blow up Liverpool docks. His first writings, poetry and prose, were published in Fianna, the magazine of Fianna Eireann, the youth organisation of the IRA. (My first published photos were in An Phoblacht [it’s a long story] but from there, besides our shared wild&windswept hairdo, our lifestories diverge.) I get the impression he eventually grew out of the IRA and came to doubt political violence.

Dylan Thomas:
There appears to be a number of close parallels between Dylan and Brendan – lionised to death in the US, hounded by the media, the drink, the woman they couldn’t live with or without (Caitlin and Beatrice respectively), the woolly jumper with tie look, money worries, New York, the White Horse Tavern on Hudson St. in Greenwich Village. My sister-in-law Bronagh is arriving from Dublin this evening and she knows about these things so hopefully I’ll be a bit more clued up about these connections by the time I hit the pit tonight. Poking around on the web I came across a bit of a spat in the mid-60s on this very point between Conor Cruise O’Brien and a certain Constantine FitzGibbon (a biographer of Thomas) – O’Brien made connections between the two and FitzGibbon denied them.

I stumbled across this rather neat link last night: “Dylan Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood, Brendan Behan wrote under Littlewood” – referring to Joan Littlewood whose Theatre Workshop put on The Quare Fellow at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1956, transferring to the West End and ultimately to Broadway, establishing his international rep.

It’s the last commonality on the list above – time spent in New York – which gives rise to this posting. A new play entitled Brendan at the Chelsea is coming up this month at the Riverside in Hammersmith (starting 15th January) written by Behan’s niece Janet and starring Adrian Dunbar (The Crying Game, The General, My Left Foot, Hear My Song – who co-directs) and Brid Brennan (Dancing at Lughnasa, Topsy-Turvy).

It’s set in the 60s in the “legendary bohemian bolt-hole”, The Chelsea Hotel (where Dylan Thomas checked out of this world in 1953 with alcohol poisoning – hang-out also for that other poet who adopted Thomas’ name, Bob Dylan, and his buddy Allen Ginsberg, not to mention writers ranging from Eugene O’Neill to Arthur C. Clarke [who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there], and musos including Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, and of course the ungrateful dead, Nancy Spungen, who had no fun in a room there with Sid back in 1978). So, fellow playwright Arthur Miller is just across the hall, the grooves of free jazzer Ornette Coleman are drifting down from a floor above and Brendan’s in his room, short of dough and inspiration – he’s hung over and way past the delivery date of his next book, not a line written. He’s been told to stop drinking or he’ll be dead in six months – and that was two years ago….

So all set for a lively night on 23rd Street. I’ll report back when I’ve seen it and if you fancy a night of drama, drink and the fascinating interaction of human Behans, you’re just a click away from the Riverside

Dexy’s Midnight Runners:
I remember buying their first single Dance Stance and being intrigued by the litany of literary Irish (including Brendan who I hadn’t read but if he was in the same list as Oscar Wilde that was good enough for me)

Never heard about Oscar Wilde
Don’t want to know about Brendan Behan
Don’t think about Sean O’Casey
Don’t care about George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett
Won’t talk about Eugene O’Neill
Don’t know about Edna O’Brien
Won’t think about Laurence Sterne

Shut it
You don’t undertand it
Shut it
That’s not the way I planned it
Shut your mouth til you know the truth.

Starless and Bible-Black

Dylan Thomas

Came across an astonishingly beautiful piece of music this week thanks to my friend – writer, music-lover, and fellow enthusiast for creative thinking – Doug Miller. STARLESS AND BIBLE BLACK is a tune inspired by Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, from an eponymous record of 1965 by the Stan Tracey Quartet. The Quartet was a British jazz outfit right there on the front line, “one of Britain’s few genuinely original contributions to world jazz”. The tenor saxophonist on Starless is a Glaswegian called Bobby Wellins whose performance is Something Special. I really, really love the title.

STARLESS AND BIBLE-BLACK.

It’s just one of those perfect phrases. It comes from the very beginning of Under Milk Wood: “To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black”

I once started a novel (inspired by Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones) and took the rather over-reaching step of starting it “In the beginning…”. Proved a bit too much to live up to.

Tracey worked outwards from the titles which I really love as a working method – titles can be key and inspiring. “I settled down with the book and the album [original performance of Dylan Thomas’ play], and as I was going through I jotted down ideas for titles. By the time I’d got to the end of the play I’d got all the titles worked out and just went on from there – writing for the titles”.

The phrase immediately brought to mind my favourite sentence from my favourite book:

THE HEAVENTREE OF STARS HUNG WITH HUMID NIGHTBLUE FRUIT.

It’s from James Joyce’s Ulysses (page 619 in my trusty old Penguin Modern Classics copy). It’s from when Bloom and Stephen go back to Bloom’s house after a wandering night on the lash and go out into the back garden for a piss.

Which brings us round to the Simple Pleasures – an outdoor piss after a great night out; an inspirational read; and a musical surprise. Total cost: about a fiver.

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