The look of love

I only just discovered that Dusty Springfield’s grave is in Henley. Had no idea.

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“Out this way,” she said. “It’s better.”

She indicated the emergency exit on the side. It led us to an alley that ran around the theatre. As we walked through the darkness towards the street,  Kit said:

“I always like to duck out before anybody asks how I liked the picture.”

“Even if you did?”

“It isn’t that simple.  Hollywood has a regular ritual for preview reactions.  When they know they’ve got a  turkey they want to be reassured. And when they have one that’s okay they expect superlatives.”

She illustrated her point by telling the old Hollywood story about the yes-men who are asked what they think of the preview.  The first says it is without doubt the greatest picture ever made. The second says it is absolutely colossal and stupendous. The third is fired for shaking his head and saying, “I don’t know, I only think it’s great.”

Budd Schulberg,  “What Makes Sammy Run?”

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Boldly going

Was Gene Roddenberry an “incredible, insufferable jerk”? As Star Trek celebrates its fiftieth birthday, Matthew Continetti, a self-confessed Trekkie, presents the case for the intergalactic prosecution:

In 1964, after a decade as a freelancer, Roddenberry registered a treatment with the Writer’s Guild for a show he described as “Wagon Train to the Stars.” Lucille Ball’s Desilu Studios backed it. An initial pilot was filmed, featuring Leonard Nimoy as a pointy-eared science officer from the planet Vulcan. The network rejected it as outside the mainstream, but they filmed another pilot, with a new captain played by William Shatner. This time the network bit. Star Trek debuted on NBC on September 8, 1966. Roddenberry’s insecurities were apparent from the start. He fought with the studios, the network, the writers, anyone who crossed his path. “During the first year,” he says, “I wrote or rewrote everybody, even my best friends, because I had this idea in my mind of something that hadn’t been done and I wanted to be really there. Once we had enough episodes, then the writers could see where we were going, but it was really building people to write the way I wanted them to write.” But no one could do that. Roddenberry never stopped rewriting. “The problem,” says his biographer Joel Engel, “was that he basically couldn’t write well enough to carry it off.” For 25 years, a script never left Roddenberry’s hands without becoming worse.

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A different world


No disrespect to the drama critics, but when I saw some of the reviews for “Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour” at the National, my first thought was, “Can it really be that good?” Well, it turned out to be even better. In fact, I’m struggling to think of a more exciting and inspiring night I’ve ever had at the theatre. It didn’t even feel like a play, more like a demented fly-on-the wall documentary. The six young Scottish actresses are just extraordinary: not only do they convince you that they are a gang of unlikely, hormone-fuelled choir singers, they also take turns to play all of the adults too, from prim schoolteachers to randy middle-aged men on the pull. The language is filthy, but it’s not really shocking because it underscores the contrast between the girls’ fractured lives and the intoxicating sense of freedom they discover whenever they let songs sweep over them. No wonder some people have drawn comparisons with “The Commitments”. Whether they’re performing Bartok, Bob Marley or the ELO the voices are heart-breakingly beautiful. I haven’t read Alan Warner’s source novel, “The Sopranos”, but it seems to me the play (or musical, depending on your point of view) is a lesson in how music gives us all a chance to live another life. Absolutely unmissable. [Photo by Manuel Harlan]

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Horseguards Parade

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A war zone called Chicago

When was the last time British news programmes ran anything substantial about the epidemic of violence in the Windy City? The stats are abysmal:

In the first five months of 2016, someone was shot every two and a half hours and someone murdered every 14 hours, for a total of nearly 1,400 nonfatal shooting victims and 240 fatalities. Over Memorial Day weekend, 69 people were shot, nearly one per hour, dwarfing the previous year’s tally of 53 shootings over the same period. The violence is spilling over from the city’s gang-infested South and West Sides into the downtown business district; Lake Shore Drive has seen drive-by shootings and robberies.

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Back on form

I’ve been listening to the new Madeleine Peyroux album for the last few days. Her best in quite some time, I’d say, and all recorded in a church in deepest Oxfordshire.

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Fifteen year-old Daniel Johnson had been in the backseat of that car. He had been riding with two other youths about his age and a mother and her two small children. A bullet had smacked into the car. Daniel had slumped onto the shoulder of a friend next to him, bleeding from a mortal wound… The killings happened after an argument between two women mushroomed, resulting in a face-off between two youths, both with gang ties. The bigger youth threw a punch at the smaller one. The smaller one left. He returned with his mother and stepfather and a group of friends, loaded in several cars. The parents  later explained that they had wanted the two youths to have a fist-fight to settle the score. Such a response might seem crazy. But in Southeast, cases of parents personally escorting their kids to “catch a fade” – to fight- were not so unusual. Encouraging so-called fair fights was seen as a hedge against homicide: parents sought to ensure that their sons weren’t labelled “punks”, which might increase their risk of getting shot. The results were predictable. The caravan rolled up the street – “came in thick”, as one witness later said. The local gang members hollered, “Get outta  the ‘hood!” The intruders yelled back. More yells. Then gunshots.

Jill Leovy, “Ghettoside”.

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Hype & hope

kamasi washington

There was a standing ovation for Kamasi Washington at his late-night Prom. I wish I could have felt like joining in. From my review in today’s Times:

The good news about the advent of Kamasi Washington is that here is a jazz musician who connects with his audience at an emotional level. The burly Californian saxophonist with a taste for dashikis wins over people who do not think of themselves as jazz fans. Some have discovered him through his work with the rapper Kendrick Lamar, and they are just as likely to hear him playing at a rock festival as any of the usual clubs.

Yet the hype is reaching ridiculous proportions. Critics have been drooling over the triple album The Epic, seemingly oblivious that the three-hour set, in which Washington’s group lock horns with a choir and orchestra, contains an astonishing amount of padding wrapped in Pharoah Sanders-like mysticism. (Not to mention the sort of sophomoric references to Malcolm X that seem to make some music journalists go weak at the knees.)

On the other hand, California also happens to be the source of my Sunday Times album of the week, John Beasley’s sparkling and refreshingly irreverent Monk’estra. If only it could receive a fraction of the attention lavished on Washington’s band.

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One of the difficulties that confronts the novelist is how to describe the appearance of his characters. The most natural way is of course the formal catalogue, the height, the complexion, the shape of the face, the size of the nose… I do not believe that the reader gets any clear impression. The older novelists were very precise in their enumeration of their characters’ physical parts, and yet if any reader could see in the flesh the person the author has thus elaborately described I do not believe he would recognise him. I think we seldom form any exact image in our minds as a result of all those words. We have a clear and precise picture of what the great characters of fiction looked like only when an illustrator like Phiz with Mr Pickwick or Tenniel with Alice has forced his own visualisation upon us.

Somerset Maugham, “A Writer’s Notebook”.

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