I am at a meeting in BAFTA with an old colleague of mine. He mentions his films are distributed by a company called DRG. I said I think I met a bloke from there a couple of years ago at a documentary festival in La Rochelle. It was the company name with three letters which made me make the connection. (We had dinner together in a group one evening, nice fella, but I haven’t seen or thought about him since.)
About an hour later, thirty feet from that spot, I go to the loo and bump into that very man. It’s turns out his company is not DRG but TCB.
So two years on, based on an incorrect connection, the same man is in the same place. Now that’s what I call a Coincidence (No. 394)!
I live for coincidences. They briefly give to me the illusion or the hope that there’s a pattern to my life, and if there’s a pattern, then maybe I’m moving toward some kind of destiny where it’s all explained.
Jonathan Ames – US writer, columnist, novelist, scriptwriter
I was standing under this poster at the foot of Waterloo Bridge on a Skype call to Germany, homeland of Fassbinder. The poster was on the wall of the BFI/NFT advertising a new season of films. The bridge is the next road bridge down the Thames from Westminster Bridge. The call was to fellow participants of Berlin-based Documentary Campus and we were discussing the films we are all working on.
I was Skyping from my phone on the street because I had an adjacent meeting about the creation of an app to address the global problem of 10,000 children dying every day from preventable diseases. I had no time between the call and the meeting so had to dial in from the open air.
The other call participants commented on the noisiness of the London streets – sirens, helicopters, traffic. I said this was just normal for London (which it often pretty much is along the river there). Then one of the callers from Germany said no it’s not, there’s been a terrorist attack. For a moment I hesitated to see if it was some kind of joke, the same reaction as one or two of the other participants. But then it became clear he was not joking, that the site of the attack was around Westminster.
A strange way to learn of such a tragedy.
This was the blood red sky in the direction of Westminster as I left the meeting.
This was the blood red sky as I reached the river under Waterloo Bridge.
This was the view towards Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament. The blue lights were still flashing.
A second big indiscriminate attack on the multicultural population of this greatest city in this grim period for the world. Innocent bystanders from Brittany and Romania, Lancashire and Lord knows where, no more than the perpetrator knew where. This beautiful view in stark contrast to the ugliness of the act and the ‘thinking’ behind it.
I got up and went to enjoy the early morning sunshine in the garden, reading Jay McInerney’s ‘Bright, Precious Days’. I noticed for the first time that the word ‘bright’ recurs in his novel titles: Bright Lights, Big City; Brightness Falls; Bright, Precious Days.
I went to a funeral at lunchtime. In the service human life was compared to a passing shadow and the religious leader drew attention to the brightness that created that shadow.
In the evening I saw ‘An American in Paris’ at the Dominion (where Chaplin’s ‘City Lights’ was premiered in 1931). In that show the composer character has a revelation that what his tunes are missing is brightness in the wake of World War Two and the occupation of Paris.
In a word
God’s finger touched him
Oh for the touch of a vanished hand
Into thine hand I commit my spirit
Underneath are the everlasting arms
Only to us a short time lent
Until the end of our days
Our lights have gone out everywhere
No morning dawns no night returns
A place is vacant
Our family chain is
A bitter grief, a shock severe
The shock was great, the blow severe
The cup was bitter, the shock severe
Tragically taken from us
Many a lonely heartache
When we are sad and lonely
This sad life of toil and care
Troubled in life
After great suffering patiently borne
Peace after pain
In the midst of life we are in death
Lay down thy head
I am not dead
but sleepeth here
I am not there
when sleeps in dust
A faithful friend lies sleeping here
who fell asleep
called to rest
entered into rest
for they rest from their labours
Good night, God bless
Beyond the sea of death
to shape the ships he loved
lost his life while saving a dog from drowning
He gave his life for one and all
Every restless tossing passed
Fell like warm rain on the arid patches of my imagination
So much of hopeful promise centred there
One of earth’s loveliest buds
A sweet flower plucked from earth
A loving sweetheart my only chum
I have loved thee
I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet need
He loved in youth
to walk with me throughout my life
In death they were not divided
A short while apart,
together once more and never to part
together again forever
we’re together in dreams, in dreams
love never ends
She was an angel
A warm smile
In her tongue was the law of kindness
A devoted mother
Widow of the above
Breathe on her
May the angels take you
He did his best
By his good deeds you shall know him
Kind to all
Upright and just to the end of his days
A fond father and a kind husband
His merry spirit is with me yet
Your spirit lies within us
Lost to sight
Passed away but not lost
Gone but not forgotten
Forever in our thoughts
Silent thoughts and tears unseen
Sacred to the memory
Remembrance is the sweetest flower
Live on the memories of days that have been
I never wanted memories George
I only wanted you
The bosom of our lord
Where I have longed to be
But that we think of thee
I will fear no evil for thou art with me
I have fought a good fight
Life’s race well run
He was summoned
The lord gave and the lord hath taken away
Exchanged mortality for life
Wipe away all tears from their eyes
In my father’s house are many mansions
We would walk right up to heaven and bring you home again
I am the resurrection and the life
I am a thousand winds that blow
Until the day dawns
Joy cometh in the morning
Nothing could be more beautiful
Inwardly we are being renewed day by day
Just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper
Peace be with you
Requiescant in pace
Love never ends
This poem was constructed from fragments from gravestones in St Pancras and Islington Cemetery in East Finchley, London N2.
I’m sitting in – what turned out to be the very appropriately named – Spiritland in King’s Cross chewing the fat with fellow WordPress blogger Thom Hickey of The Immortal Jukebox when a voice comes from my right saying my name in a slightly uncertain way. That’s because we haven’t seen each other in over 20 years. K is the former girlfriend of my old friend S. It would have been S’s birthday on Monday just gone. The day before I went for a kind of memorial walk in honour of S with the third friend in the photo above. We talked about K. I hadn’t talked or even thought about K in a long time. So Sunday I unusually find myself talking about her. On Friday I bump into her. (Someone up there is pulling strings.)
I’m brushing my teeth this morning and (happily) hear my nephew from Dublin, Sean, downstairs playing ‘Wonderwall’ by Oasis on the (blue) guitar. I’m on the tube back from dropping Sean at King’s Cross and meeting Thom [see No. 390 above] when I find myself in a carriage with a really good busker with a (red) guitar. He engages much of the carriage and gets people not only talking but singing along. He rounds off an enjoyable communal entertainment with Oasis’s ‘Wonderwall’. The Welsh woman in the headband has a brilliant voice and does all the response/echo lines (I know she’s Welsh because he’s got us all talking – he tells me I’m the only happy Londoner he’s met). So Oasis in the morning, Oasis in the afternoon – for a man who owns no Oasis records and never plays their music. To round it off, I came home to work on a documentary series entitled ‘What’s the Story?’ which involves Oasis.
I was reading an interview of Martin Scorsese by Paul Schrader (scriptwriter of ‘Taxi Driver’) yesterday morning at the front of the Faber book of the ‘Taxi Driver’ script which I picked up in the wake of the screening the other night. On the page I stopped at Schrader mentioned Kim Novak in ‘Vertigo’ when he’s listing his most memorable moments in cinema. I haven’t seen the film for years or thought about it for a good while.
I was reading ‘Mandy’ by Mandy Rice-Davies on the DLR on the way home from work yesterday afternoon. She mentioned meeting Kim Novak.
Not as Twilight Zone as No. 390 but still not a bad coincidence.
Just back from watching ‘Taxi Driver’ for the first time in years, on the big screen at the National Film Theatre, London. The latest sortie in an on-going campaign to expose the Enfants Terribles to the best of 70s cinema – from ‘The Godfather’ via ‘Serpico’ to ‘Chinatown’. And this the day after bumping into Martin Scorsese on the mean streets of London.
1. The Beginning
As the shark-monster wing of the yellow New York cab emerges from the cloud of steam to the epic music of Bernard Herrmann (to whom Scorsese’s 1976 masterpiece is dedicated) we know this vehicle is more than a jaundiced automobile – it will take us from here (a neon-lit metropolis littered with sin and evil goings-on) to there (a patient study in alienation and trying to do right but failing in an oh so human way) for a few dollars but we’ll leave the slick pavement on the journey and transcend to higher places (including a climactic moment in which we float over the ultimately murderous outcome across the ceiling of the blood-spattered room in a bold overhead shot). This film is blood red like the Technicolor crimson lipstick in ‘Black Narcissus’ which Scorsese so admires, like Powell & Pressburger’s ‘Red Shoes’, like the blood of Christ and the neon in the city night.
2. The Acting
DeNiro, the year after his triumph in ‘The Godfather II’, brilliantly conveys the building total exhaustion of a man who can’t sleep despite 12 hour overnight shifts in the cab. His eyes gradually darken as does his outlook. Returned from Vietnam, wounded in body and mind – all shown and not told (scars on his back, his named combat uniform, Nam references in a political speech) – Travis Bickle tries desperately to get back in touch with the world but his 26-year old head just isn’t there. He reaches out to presidential campaigner Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) but can’t remember why taking her out to a porn movie on a date might not be right. He tries to engage the kiosk girl in a porno cinema to no avail, foreshadowing the failed date as well as spotlighting a painful innocence. DeNiro’s performance is a patient portrait of isolation and aloneness. When we first see him in the brilliant revelation of his radical Mohican haircut in a tilt up from his hands opening a bottle of pills, up his combat fatigues, past his We Are The People badge, to reveal his final descent to animalistic warrior basics, he is standing alone at the edge of a crowd.
3. The Writing
Paul Schrader’s script is full of classic lines, as epic and resonant as Herrmann’s score. The biblical passage near the front about washing all the filth off the city streets – Manhattan as Nineveh (which has an added dimension in that Nineveh is now Mosul and Mosul is now being cleansed of IS animalistic psycho-warriors) – is masterful.
May 10th. Thank God for the rain which has helped wash away the garbage and trash off the sidewalks. I’m workin’ long hours now, six in the afternoon to six in the morning. Sometimes even eight in the morning, six days a week. Sometimes seven days a week. It’s a long hustle but it keeps me real busy. I can take in three, three fifty a week. Sometimes even more when I do it off the meter. All the animals come out at night – whores, skunk pussies, buggers, queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets. I go all over. I take people to the Bronx, Brooklyn, I take ’em to Harlem. I don’t care. Don’t make no difference to me. It does to some. Some won’t even take spooks. Don’t make no difference to me.
4. The Ending
The romantic shot towards the end of Betsy, framed in the taxi rearview mirror, surrounded by soft-focus glittering city lights, is literally a rear view, a coma fantasy drawn from a more promising time. The sounds of the hospital life-support machines subtly playing in the background (at least that’s how I read it). The sound design is fabulous throughout, many grim scenes of guns and prostitution underlaid with the shouts and play of children in the city streets. The Betsy in rearview mirror shot was referenced by John Mackenzie in the ending of ‘The Long Good Friday’ four years after this movie – in that case a young Pierce Brosnan fixing a resigned Harold/Bob Hoskins in the reflection. There Harold Shand is being driven off to his death. In the last moments of ‘Taxi Driver’ it is a comatose Travis Bickle who pulls away in his taxi from his dream of love and connection (in the fantasised form of Betsy) and drives off on his own to his own death and fade to black, leaving us with a powerful sense of wasted human potential, the urge to do right, to help, to save, to connect, to reach out, which somehow goes wrong…
I got some good ideas in my head after the inspiration of watching such a flawless film. It has just been re-released in the UK to mark its 40th anniversary.
An email comes in from Goodreads website based in San Francisco at 10:01 today:
I go to a website I set up a few years ago to add it, Quotables. When I add it the site detects that it has been added before – by me! 3 years ago. I start scrolling down recently added quotations and 5 down I see this, added 19 hours ago by a teacher:
…because you can bump into Martin Scorsese (and Tom Ford) totally by accident on your way home from work…