Before Tracey Emin

debby harry

Debbie Harry in her New York apartment, 1970s. Photo by Chris Stein. [Via PunkAndStuff]

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Screening history

Can we trust film directors to tell the truth about the past?  If “Belle” and “The Imitation Game” are any guide, the answer has to be no.  And now along comes “Selma”. In The New York Review of Books Elizabeth Drew addresses an alarming trend:

Some embellishments are harmless, especially when there’s no history to contradict… In “The Queen”, it doesn’t matter that it’s most unlikely, and certainly unknowable, that Elizabeth II, who had underestimated the degree of her subjects’ grief over the death of Princess Diana, upon seeing a beautiful stag about to be shot by hunters, shed a tear because it put her in mind (a stag?) of the tragic young woman. That’s acceptable “artistic licence,” since it doesn’t change the story.

But then there are elaborations that do change the story and mislead in serious ways. Both the play and the movie “Frost/Nixon” base the plot on a historical falsehood: Nixon agonizingly utters a confession he didn’t make; in fact it turns what he actually said on its head by leaving out some crucial words More recently, as Christian Caryl has pointed out, in “The Imitation Game” so many liberties are taken with what the figure Alan Turing was like, and so many historical facts are distorted, as to present a real question of the movie’s legitimacy.

[…] A film critic for The Washington Post argued that we should simply get used to the idea that films pretending to represent history are going to contain falsities—and that we can then discuss why the director made these choices. But how are we to know? Is every kid who’s misled by “Selma” going to take a seminar on it? Our history belongs to all of us, and major events shouldn’t be the playthings of moviemakers to boost their box-office earnings.

Drew’s earlier article on Frost/Nixon is worth reading too.

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The perfect placard

At yesterday’s march in memory of the staff of Charlie Hebdo and the other victims of the Paris terror attacks. [Via Arthur Goldhammer]

je march mais

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Notebook

Mrs Oscar Hammerstein, so the story goes, once overheard someone praise “Ol’ Man River” as “a great Kern song”. “I beg your pardon,” she said, “But Jerome Kern did not write ‘Ol’ Man River’. Mr Kern wrote ‘dum dum dum da'; my husband wrote ‘Ol’ Man River’.

Philip Furia, “The Poets of Tin Pan Alley”.

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Charlie Hebdo

Awful, awful news from Paris. I have the words of “La mauvaise réputation” rattling round and round in my head: “S’ils trouv’nt une corde à leur goût, ils me la passeront au cou…”

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Notebook

Outside my work the thing I care most about is gardening, especially vegetable gardening. I like English cookery and English beer, French red wines, Spanish white wines, Indian tea, strong tobacco, coal fires, candle light and comfortable chairs. I dislike big towns, noise, motor cars, the radio, tinned food, central heating and “modern” furniture. My wife’s tastes fit in almost perfectly with my own.

George Orwell, in a note written for “Twentieth Century Authors”, 1940. From Michael Shelden’s “Orwell: The Authorised Biography”.

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Cold front approaching

sky cookham cold front

The sky over Cookham.

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A cautionary tale for all columnists

In the end, you always risk outstaying your welcome…. From a 2005 British Journalism Review article by Tom Stoppard, whose fascination with the news business dates back to his apprenticeship on the Western Daily Press, a staid broadsheet I used to deliver on my paper round. (The whole of the piece is worth reading, even if you don’t agree with his views on Margaret Thatcher, Wapping and the print unions.)

winchell stoppard

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Americana queen

Early days, I know, but something tells me Rhiannon Giddens’ solo album, due out next month, is going to be one of my picks of the year.  (If you’re a fan of the magnificent Carolina Chocolate Drops, you’ll already know she’s a very special talent.)

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Notebook

“Well, well,” observed Mr Norris. “Dear me, what a very small place the world is.”

“You never met my mother, I suppose? Or my uncle, the admiral?”

I was quite resigned, now, to playing the relationships game. It was boring but exacting, and could be continued for hours. Already I saw a whole chain of easy moves ahead of me – uncles, aunts, cousins, their marriages and their properties, death duties, mortgages, sales. Then on to public school and university, comparing notes on food, exchanging anecdotes about masters, famous matches, and celebrated rows. I knew the exact tone to adopt.

But, to my surprise, Mr Norris didn’t seem to want to play this game after all. He answered hurriedly:

“I’m afraid not. No. Since the War, I’ve rather lost touch with my English friends. My affairs have taken me abroad a good deal.”

Christopher Isherwood, “Mr Norris Changes Trains”.

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