Mandy as Fanny

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Terence Donovan’s cover shot of Mandy Rice-Davies for Town (Man about Town) magazine

In 1964 Mandy Rice-Davies was asked to play the lead role in a film of Fanny Hill, based on the novel by John Cleland. However, the film was never made.

This cover shot is currently to be seen at Terence Donovan: Speed of Light at The Photographers Gallery, London.

This is a magazine/pamphlet I bought at an antique shop near Woodside Park for a tenner. It’s Mandy’s response to the Denning Report into The Profumo Affair, hence the cheeky title.

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“Well he would, wouldn’t he?”

Here’s the house of Mandy’s lover Peter Rachman – I found it on Sunday after a walk on Hampstead Heath.

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Freebird

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Back in 2000 I chaired a task group for the Broadband Stakeholders Group (a body lobbying the Government for better broadband connectivity) looking at the probable impact of broadband on the UK workplace. One of the group’s conclusions was that it would have a positive impact on the environment and transport because it would enable workers to do more locally or at home, thereby reducing the need for the daily commute.

From 2000 to 2013 I spent much of my life on a tube train across the city, mostly for no good purpose. I stopped that on 9th July 2016 when I left Channel 4 after 13 glorious years.

I am now working in a peripatetic style and not only thoroughly enjoying it (and the summer) but actually finding creative inspiration from it. I knew this from the sabbatical I took in 2013-14 to write during which I wrote in all kinds of places from the National Library, Dublin to the kitchen garden of Kenwood – and chronicled it here on Simple Pleasures.

As my working week drew to an end yesterday in a steam room near Gray’s Inn followed by a last hour-long burst of writing in some barristers chambers (very productive and clear-minded) I reflected back on a classic week of working on the move which I feel like capturing here for posterity because the working locations were such an inspiration in themselves; reflect the rich mix I plan to make the defining characteristic of my work life going forward; and brought with them such uplifting experiences.

So this week I have worked…

  • in Borough, in the shadow of London Bridge – with Mark Stevenson, writer and futurist, on a project about the sustainable future of energy, feeding on his always refreshing optimism
  • at BAFTA, one of my two pied-à-terres in central London, where I had a key meeting with an always-inspiring former colleague about the film script I am currently writing (for an energetic British production company whose early successes are very promising)
  • in the garden of the Chelsea Arts Club where I met a film-maker whose father knew the protagonist of my movie and from whom I got a useful sense of the kind of person he was. This particular stop brought the highlight of the week as we were joined in the sun-bathed garden by the poet Brian Patten, a charming, witty and warm man from the evidence of this first encounter. In fact it was in a way my second encounter as I saw him perform live in Cambridge around 1984 with his fellow Liverpool poets Roger McGough and Adrian Henri. He gave wise advice concerning my younger son, who has severe dyslexia, and his literary studies. A young priest in exquisitely made robes entered the garden at one point and sat at the adjoining table. At which juncture Brian leaned over the table and recited a brilliant poem about a falling priest, without the faith or courage to fall freely. Brian had based the poem on an ancient Sufi text. It was a beautiful and unexpected gift of words that made my week.
  • in a restaurant in Victoria where an old Channel 4 colleague  of mine turned out to be pals with a director who would be perfect for the film
  • outside Kipferl, an Austrian cafe at The Angel, one of my favourites, where I caught up with Harry Cymbler, MD of Hot Cherry (where I am a Non-Exec)
  • in the Reading Room of Somerset House where I drafted an application for Creative England with my co-producer
  • in the newly opened Eneko Basque restaurant, scion of Eneko Atxa’s Michelin-starred place Azurmendi in Larrabetzu (in the Basque country in Northern Spain), where we finished drafting the application either side of a beautiful meal of Iberico pork and fruity wine punch
  • in my back garden where I carried on writing the treatment to the tranquil sounds of my newly resurrected water-rock (I can’t possibly use the term ‘water feature’, it’s so Home Front). I copied the water-rock from the courtyard of a hotel in Newry, County Down – it definitely irrigates creativity.
  • in Raymond Buildings, Gray’s Inn in a room with a photo of my lower sixth English class, a reminder of a very inspirational year with a very inspirational teacher (in the photo sporting a velvet jacket).

There’s a lot to be said for wandering freely. As I read in The Week earlier this very enjoyable week, Nietzsche was also much in favour of being on the move:

All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.

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The Water-Rock

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Eneko on the Aldwych

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Eneko Basqueness

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Chelsea Arts Club

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Gray’s Inn

4 reasons to go see Café Society

Tomorrow sees the UK release of Woody Allen’s latest movie, Café Society, starring Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, Holy Rollers, Batman v Superman), Kristen Stewart (Twilight, On The Road) and Steve Carell (The Big Short, Foxcatcher). Here are 4 reasons why it is not to be missed…

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Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) & Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) fail to have dinner in his rooms

1. Vittorio Storaro’s coffee-coloured cinematography

Now into his late 70s, Storaro is the man who photographed Apocalypse Now, The Last Emperor and Bulworth (the first and last of these being among my very favourite films). In this movie he paints 30s Hollywood and New York in a palette of yellows and browns which is as delicious as a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain with a dash of cream, making it the most beautiful looking film you’re likely to see this year. He is already working on Woody Allen’s next.

Rose: Too bad Jews don’t have an after-life – they’d get a lot more customers.

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Vonnie faced with a heart-breaking dilemma

2. Woody Allen’s masterful writing

Phil: Two time Academy Award winner.
Bobby: Wow, congratulations.
Hollywood Writer: Thank you. You’ve never heard of me, I’m a writer.

Having written nearly 80 films, Woody has gotten pretty darn good at it. Café Society has absolute economy – you see what you need to see, you hear what you need to hear, you linger when you’d like to linger, you catch fleeting words and moments that delight. You get the laughs, you get the philosophy, your heart-strings get tugged, all leading to a bitter-sweet moment that doesn’t even need any words.

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Grown up Vonnie

3. Santo Loquasto’s Production Design

Woody’s Production Designer since 1987’s Radio Days, Loquasto delivers again – a golden LA at the height of the studio years contrasts with a darkened NYC of clubs, cramped apartments and alleyways. The film opens on a luxurious poolside party beside a bright white Deco mansion – Hockney meets Gatsby – and sets the tone: this is a world to which we’re going to enjoy every minute of our visit.

Party Guest: [to Bobby] Unrequited love kills more people a year than tuberculosis.

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Bobby’s fashionable club in New York

4. Unique Story-telling

No-one in the movies tells a story quite like Woody Allen in his elder statesman years. It’s thoroughly American. Profoundly Jewish. Shot through with European. Café Society has the voice-over of the early faux-documentary films (e.g. Take the Money and Run), performed by the ageing voice of the writer-director, rich and literary but still restrained and judicious. It has that distinctive Allen thing of having a young Woody avatar – there’s an aspect of Eisenberg’s performance which is reproducing Woody’s screen persona – much like Owen Wilson’s excellent performance in that other fabulous late bloom that was Midnight in Paris – yet he transcends it to produce a poignant and memorable lead character living a poignant and terrible love.

Narrator: Life is a comedy written by a sadistic comedy writer.

 

Simple Pleasures from Regent’s Park

29107454095_057b7308b6_oThe sound of running water (fountain). Sunshine. Comic books. Flowers. Jesus Christ Superstar (I can hear it from where I am lying, coming from the Open Air Theatre). Grass. Summer. Children. Drums. Dancing. Languages. Chance encounters with friends. Walking with an Enfant Terrible. Full moon – the details on the lunar surface. Parks. In-laws. Allotments. Blackberries. Sharing fruit. McDonalds chocolate milkshake. Gardening. My water-rock. Innuendo.

Dream of Life

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Patti Smith: Dream of Life

I met Patti Smith one time – it was in St Luke’s Church near Old Street roundabout after an intimate gig of hers. We talked briefly about Rimbaud and the time he spent in Camden Town with Verlaine. Rimbaud of course features in a scene of the ten-years-in-the-making poetic hotchpotch of a film that is Steve Sebring’s documentary ‘Patti Smith: Dream of Life’ which I saw on the big screen this afternoon at the Arthouse Cinema in Crouch End thanks to Doc n’ Roll.

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On Rimbaud’s toilet

I went with my old friend, film-maker and teacher Roddy Gibson. We went to see Patti in 2007 at The Roundhouse where she did a wonderful gig centred on her album ‘Twelve’. I’ve probably seen her play live around ten times, always in London, from the Union Chapel to St Giles-in-the-fields by Denmark Street – and even in one or two places that weren’t churches.

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Patti Smith & photographer Robert Mapplethorpe

The best moment of the film for me was when she, without warning, pours out from an exotic urn Robert Mapplethorpe’s ashes into her hand, explaining the texture, that it’s not like normal ashes or dust. Their connection is a fascinating one, not least as it overlapped with her intense marriage to Fred Sonic Smith.

Her smile which punctuates the film is another thing that stays with you.

I liked the moment when she meets Jesse Jackson at an anti-war demo, as it struck me that he bears the names of both her children – Jesse is the daughter (on piano), Jackson the son (on guitar).

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Patti Smith & Allen Ginsberg

The presence of Allen Ginsberg in the film really resonated for me. I have been writing about him in recent times – here’s an extract. His poetry, in my experience, has the marvellous effect of inspiring the reader to write poetry. Patti is clearly a descendent of his, and that they were friends is inevitable. Blake, Corso, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Burroughs are all present in the film as a constellation at the centre of a particular cultural universe – one that really sings to me.

The line that punched out for me was where Patti asserts that we all have a voice and a responsibility to use it. As I watch my 19 year old wrestle with the shape of his identity and life mission it’s a salutary reminder to tread softly as someone lays their dreams at your feet, to be careful not to crush nascent ambitions or visions, to enable them to use their singular voice and realise their dreams of life.

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With 1930s guitar given her by playwright Sam Shepherd in the 70s

My mission is to communicate, to wake people up – it’s to give them my energy and accept theirs. We’re all in it together, and I respond emotionally as a worker, a mother, an artist, a human being …with a voice. We all have a voice. We have the responsibility to exercise it, to use it.

 

Simple Pleasures from Cyprus (Limassol – Lemesos International Documentary Festival)

IMG_6705Reggae. The sound of the sea. Iced coffee. Going shirtless. Fresh white fish. Balconies. Rooms shuttered from the sun. Reading on the beach. Curves. Pregnancy bump. Sandals. Cool showers. Water with ice & lemon. The shade of trees. Watermelon. Handstands in the surf. Floating in the sun.

Whole in a Hole – Picture of the Month: Pelvis 1 by Georgia O’Keeffe (1944)

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Pelvis 1 – Georgia O’Keeffe (1944)

Reviewing Georgia O’Keeffe’s life’s work at the extensive exhibition currently showing at Tate Modern, it is clearly a journey of abstracting Nature to capture and communicate its essence.

The journey as portrayed in this retrospective has the following landmarks along the way: early experiments with pure abstraction, exploring synaesthesia and detached from figurative representation; taking the figurative edge off of cityscapes of New York; immersion in Nature in New York State; flower paintings; discovering New Mexico; bone paintings and New Mexican landscapes; last works including aerial landscapes. I pick out Pelvis 1 as the culmination of the journey.

It is the brilliant realisation that you can create a ready-made abstract of Nature through the simple device of a dried bone from the arid landscape of New Mexico. O’Keeffe used the hole in a pelvis bone to frame the brilliant blue of the Southern sky. In so doing we have both the figurative representation of a piece of sun-bleached bone and patches of sun-drenched sky; and a two-colour abstract centred on a big blue ball. There’s just enough shadow on the bone and shading in the sky to retain the literal representation of the scene and yet the execution is simple enough to read as a Modernist work of Abstract Expressionism.

The tightly cropped presentation owes something to the art of photography – O’Keeffe was married for over two decades to the photographer and modern art promoter Alfred Stieglitz.

The degree of abstraction is amplified when we consider the date: 1944. There was some heavy shit going on for the USA in ’44 and even more so for humanity and the world and yet we have here purity and tranquility. Having said that, over half of the picture area is made up of Dead Stuff (bone). Pelvis can be read as a momento mori, a meditation on the finite life of Man and Nature’s creatures in contrast to the infinity of the heavens.

O’Keeffe was consciously in search of what she termed “The Great American Thing”, a form of art as native and characteristic as, say, Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was in terms of the novel. That other Great American and lover of Nature, Henry David Thoreau, swore by Simplicity:

Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.

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Mask with Golden Apple – Georgia O’Keeffe (1923)

And our own apple-lover Isaac Newton captured it well:

Nature is pleased with simplicity.

So is Art.

Another great American Modernist, architect Frank Lloyd Wright, (much influenced by Thoreau) summed it up as well as anyone:

Simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art.

By those measures Pelvis 1 is a masterpiece. I love it for having boiled down the essence of the Human Condition (mortality in the face of eternity) like the desert strips the rotting body down to pure white bone. O’Keeffe collected bones from 1929, initially due to Nature holding back its bounty: “That first summer I spent in New Mexico I was a little surprised that there were so few flowers. There was no rain so the flowers didn’t come. Bones were easy to find so I began collecting bones.” She began painting them from around 1931, initially mainly skulls. She painted them as still lifes; superimposed on landscapes in the Surrealist manner; integrated into the landscape sitting in the foreground. That this painting features the pelvis rather than the skull I also love because this is not about brains and thinking, this is about cohones and feeling, about instinct and the deepest-down understanding.

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Georgia O’Keeffe by Alfred Stieglitz

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A previous Latino Picture of the Month:  Autorretrato con Chango y Loro (Self-portrait with Monkey and Parrot) – Frida Kahlo (1942)

Broadcast Digital Awards 2016

The studs, femmes and muffins of The Black Lesbian Handbook go into battle…

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All Fall Down

This review originally appeared on A Penguin a Week.

 

Penguin no. 1742: All Fall Down
by James Leo Herlihy

Cover design uses still from the MGM movie ‘All Fall Down’.

“Tomorrow I’m going on a health binge, get some filter cigarettes and start doing push-ups every night. Maybe I’ll do some right now, to make myself sleepy. Because I’ve got about forty-seven big knots in my chest, and they hurt.”
 
When I pick up an old Penguin I’m hoping for a surprise – something off-beat, long neglected, out of left field, a lost gem. ‘All Fall Down’ delivered. 

It’s the first novel from the Detroit writer who went on to write ‘Midnight Cowboy’ five years later in 1965, James Leo Herlihy. It’s a coming of age story in the heritage of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’, a decade in its wake. It follows the growth of Clint Williams from an isolated, uncommunicative 14 year old to an emerging adult with the capacity to care and love. 

A fair proportion of the story is told through Clint’s diary – it’s like an external hard drive he relies on to compulsively capture memories and documentation from his chaotic family life. He steals his mother’s private letters (outgoing and incoming) to copy into this notebook which he keeps tucked in his trousers, right against his flesh. It’s the one place he controls and to which he can bring some degree of order.

Clint’s hero, his older brother Berry-berry, is absent for much of the story, on his low-life travels around the USA, much of the time just one step ahead of the law. Yet his being has immense gravitational pull on the family. The disparity between what mother, father and little brother hope for from Berry-berry and the real man (in as much as he is grown up) is the source of the all-round disillusionment which engulfs the family.

When the Williams move to a new house across the city in Cleveland, Ohio, the cracks open up. Berry-berry takes off before he’s even spent a night in his new room. The father, a former left-wing activist, spends his time in the basement doing puzzles. The mother immerses herself in domesticity on the ground floor, while Clint eavesdrops from the laundry chute upstairs and records the exchanges in the diary which he “made use of … with an unconscious ease similar to that of walking or feeding oneself”.

Clint, in an attempt to come to the aid of the older brother he idolises, goes on a road trip across the country to the Florida Keys. He loses his innocence along the way when he is sheltered by Shirley, a young tart with a heart, whose inner beauty and profound loss influence Clint for life.

The person who catalyses the final destruction of both the dysfunctional family and their illusions is the unmarried daughter of one of the mother, Annabel’s, friends. Echo O’Brien is a dynamic young woman, very attached to her perfectly preserved 1929 Dodge touring car. Tall and slender, she could, in a parallel universe, have been in the pages of  ‘The Great Gatsby’. Think ‘Gatsby’ and Tennessee Williams for the kind of tension Echo brings into the Williams household as she becomes the object of both Clint’s innocent, tender love and Berry-berry’s careless lust, the latter returned to his home city and the proximity of his family, but living on the edge of town with a dark secret.

Watching Berry-berry live a lie and talk up his hollow, self-centred life, gradually grinds away at Clint’s hopes and illusions. Like Holden Caulfield’s obsession with ‘phoneyness’, Clinton Williams can’t take the lies: “I just stayed there at the table and thought about what big liars we all are”. Berry-berry tells his biggest, most unforgivable lie at the climax of the novel and it is this which finally severs his bond with his once adoring brother. Berry-berry ultimately cares only for himself and loves no-one, not even himself. Clint though has a great capacity and desire to care and cherish. His growth into adulthood is complete with the realisation that “[in] the difference in the love offerings people make to one another, lay the reason for all the pain in the world.”

First published in the U.S.A. 1960. Published in Great Britain by Faber & Faber 1961. Published in Penguin Books 1962.

The roots of the Brexit

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Picking up from my post in the run-up to the Brexit vote about Democracy, Control & Project Fantasy I see the roots of yesterday’s dark shock as being in the same realm –  the fundamental weakness of British democracy due to lack of proportional representation.

David Cameron offered the in/out referendum in January 2013 to appease members of his own party and keep the Conservatives yoked together in the run-up to the May 2015 general election. If the First-past-the-post voting system was not so inimicable to the third party and below, we could be looking at a much fairer and more democratic landscape in the UK.

The tension in the Tory party is down to the fact that it is not really a single party. There could be a centrist conservative party and a more right-wing one.

Likewise on the Left, the Labour Party is forever jumping through hoops to get round the fact it is not really a single party. It too could exist as a Socialist party and another Social Democrat one.

And that would still leave room for a Liberal party in the centre ground, as well as narrower/more focused parties from the Greens to UKIP making up a healthier, more diverse offering.

Instead we are looking at a riven Conservative Party, a leaderless Labour Party, a destroyed Liberal Party and what was a disenfranchised UKIP, whose followers have now taken revenge.

The way many Tories in particular (largely the ones that went on to back the Leave campaign) stifled and undermined the last UK referendum (May 2011) on voting reform was disgusting and ultimately very damaging as yesterday proved.

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