Saturday, May 27, 2017

Herman Wouk - 102 today!

Of course I'd heard of Herman Wouk. Who hasn't? He wrote The Caine Mutiny, for goodness sake. But did I know, 66 years on from the publication of Caine, he was still alive? No. I'm amazed, impressed, and glad. I've celebrated by ordering a copy of Caine, which like many others I expect, I have never read. I've also given the movie a wide berth and suspect I will continue to do so.

I did read his other biggie, though, back in the 'Eighties. The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, both star-studded TV mini-series. Back then, of course, Wouk was only in his late sixties. Who would have imagined he would still be publishing books (Sailor and Fiddler) in his centenary year?

Herman Wouk is making a valiant attempt at living forever. Good luck to him. So far so good. This year I will be celebrating by reading the novel that made him. In their works, it goes without saying, all writers live forever.

Discover more by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

New header

Decided to change the image that tops this blog. I read in The Times obituaries this morning that Martin Froy died back in January. Froy, who was ninety years old, had a long career in art and was always well known without hitting the heights. One work that received great attention at the time (1953) was his mural for the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. That is the new image:

The reason I chose it was that I used to work at the Belgrade back in the Eighties. I think it was the job I enjoyed most in my short but colourful theatrical career. I really liked the building, too.

If anyone is wondering why a theatre in Coventry is called the Belgrade, it is that the great Serbian city donated the timber for the building which was part of the massive postwar reconstruction of the city after the murderous German bombing in the war. Back in the Fifties and Sixties the Belgrade was at the forefront of the kitchen sink drama movement, premiering plays by the likes of Arnold Wesker. Nowadays, sadly, it sticks to musicals, touring shows and general dross.

Friday, May 12, 2017

American Gods - Black Horse graphic novel

As those who visit my book blog will know, I struggle with Neil Gaiman. I admire the man hugely. I loved Black Orchid (1988-9), adored Neverwhere (1996) - I even liked his episode of Doctor Who when the Tardis became Suranne Jones. But I struggled badly with Anansi Boys (2005). Meanwhile, ignoring my opinions rightly and completely, Gaiman has gone on to big and better things. Right now his 2001 novel American Gods is slaying them on Netflix. Not having Netflix, I opted for the graphic novel version, launched by Black Horse in March 2017. Even better, I downloaded it as an e-book to my Kindle Fire.

Turns out the e-reader is the perfect vehicle for graphic novels. I used to be a huge fan of American comics in my youth (actually until my mid-twenties) but only dipped my toe in the grown-up version with the aforementioned Black Orchid three or so years ago. I'm now going to focus on them digitally.

Gaiman didn't actually write the graphic novel - that is the work of P Craig Russell. He's done a good job. When you look at analytically there's a heck of a lot of story in the 20-odd pages of Issue #1. Moreover, he's not afraid to lose the words and let the pictures convey the mood.

The pictures are by Scott Hampton, who is very much in the forefront of contemporary comic art. He worked on Gaiman's Sandman and the revamped Batman. He has a detached, edgy style which suits the material here perfectly. I loved the layouts, like the above example, with its tightly cropped, almost columnar off-centre panels.

Good news. I'm intrigued to view more (but not intrigued enough, yet, to splash out on Netflix).

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Visit the Rijksmuseum - online!

I've recently discovered the Rijksmuseum's fabulous site, via Open Culture. Very quickly I found this typical double portrait by Piero di Cosimo. Painted around 1485, it's an oil on board, and features Giuliano da Sangallo, a Florentine architect, and his father Francesco.

Piero shows us that Giuliano was in the design business by the drawing tools resting on the table or sill below him. Francesco was also an architect, apparently, but he also liked a tune according to Piero. Francesco had recently shuffled off his mortal coil - no real surprise, by the look of him. Did Piero know him in life? Did he work from a separate portrait, either by him or someone else? Or did he rely on the son's description? I doubt the latter: if Giuliano disliked his father so much that he described him as a human gargoyle, why would he want him included in the painting he was paying for? Actually, I rather suspect it was Francesco's legacy that paid the fee. Piero (1462-1522) was a well-regarded artist in Medici Florence, on terms with Leonardo and Michaelangelo. Typically, his work on the Sistine Chapel was painted over by the latter. Piero was also solitary, unsociable, a bit odd.  That's why I love him so much. He reminds me of me.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Broadchurch Season 3

I just finished binge-watching the third and final season of Broadchurch on ITV1.

Everyone loved Broadchurch season 1. I reviewed it in effulgent terms on this blog. Nobody much liked season 2, and I certainly didn't. Season 3, however, was back on form. Indeed, I consider it to be the best of the three, largely thanks to a stunning performance from the magnificent Julie Hesmondhaugh as the victim.

It's a rape story, not a murder, and the victim is a middleaged woman, a daring and incredibly powerful twist. Trish has a teenaged daughter, an estranged husband, and friends and contacts throughout the community. Morever it necessitated an entirely different investigatory technique from the Robin and Marian of Wessex Police, Hardy and Miller (David Tennant and Olivia Coleman). Hardy had to be on his best behaviour with Trish whereas Miller could ask the awkward questions, of which there turned out to be many.

As it happens, I guessed early on who did it, though I was unclear about the exact arrangement until Episode 7. It didn't matter at all. As in all three series, absolutely everyone is a suspect - including the legend that is Sir Lenny Henry and the human teddy bear that is Charlie Higson (both of whom were on top form). Linking series 3 with 1 and 2 was a rather clumsy, often toe-curling, storyline about the parents of the original child victim. Mum (Jodie Whittaker) had a proper role in the rape storyline but poor old Dad (Andrew Buchan) was marooned in some improbable search for truth.

Notwithstanding the odd clunk, this was an appropriate and impressive end to a landmark trilogy. Writer/Producer Chris Chibnall now takes up the reins of Doctor Who. Hopes are high.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Wallace Collection #1

I took this picture in the garden of Hertford House, home of the Wallace Collection, on February 28, when I took myself off to London to try and cheer myself up. The trip itself was great but it could not help my mood. I plunged into a deep depression, something I've always suffered from but which has got much worse since my pituitary apoplexy. Anyway, today I have started treatment and decided I would post this on my media & culture blog as a kind of place-holder, a token marking my determination to write more about my major cultural fix of the year so far.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Leon Russell and the Shelter People

Leon died last year, one of so many musical stars of my generation. The loss of Bowie still feels raw; he was my inspiration in so many ways. Leon, on the other hand, was my first idol back in the early Seventies. His first, self-titled album was probably the first I ever bought, from a record shop downstairs in the Arndale Centre, Nelson, Lancashire. I'd be fifteen or so, I suppose. It was the photo that attracted me - I wanted to look like that. I did grow the hair and I've now got the beard. Sadly the two never really coexisted for me. Then, scanning the tracks, I saw 'Delta Lady' and realised that Leon had written it. I took it back to my grandma's house, where I was staying for the week. She didn't have a record player, so I had to wait to hear the album, Then - well, a lifelong fan was born.

So much for historical background. Leon Russell and the Shelter People was the second studio album. It wasn't second I bought. I suspect I got it later, in the mid-Seventies, perhaps while I was at university the first time round. I didn't take to it straightaway. 'The Ballad of Mad Dogs and Englishmen', the opening track on Side Two, was a disappointment. I loved everything to do with the Joe Cocker/Leon Russell collaboration, so naturally that is where I started. The other tracks on Side Two are variable. 'Sweet Emily' is typical of Leon's country drift. 'She smiles like a river' is a classic and Leon's gothic take on George Harrison's 'Beware of Darkness' is undiluted genius. The Dylan cover, 'It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a train to cry' ... well, it's not half an hour since I heard it and I've already forgotten everything about it.

The Dylan cover on Side One, 'A hard rain gonna fall', is the complete opposite, the best cover of that song ever for me, and I include Bryan Ferry in that assessment. In fact, all six songs on Side One are essential Leon listening: 'Stranger in a strange land', 'Of thee I sing', the Dylan, 'Crystal Closet Queen', 'Home sweet Oklahoma' and the magnificent 'Alcatraz', later covered, with considerable aplomb, by the now-forgotten Nazareth.

On the subject of Leon covers, let us not forget that this is the man who wrote 'Song for you', now referred to on TV talent shows as 'Donnie Hathaway's "Song for you"', covered by well over 100 other performers. This is the man who was a brick in Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, who was musical director on Harrison's concert for Bangladesh, who launched the second, 'Delany and Bonnie' phase of Eric Clapton's career and who collaborated with them all, from the Beatles and Stones to Elton John in 2010. In 1971, the year of Leon Russell and the Shelter People, he wasn't yet thirty but had already formed his own record label, Shelter - hence the title.

Yes, cry for Bowie as we all still do, but spare a warm thought for the creative force that was Leon.