Cinematically stoned

 

© Omni Zoetrope / United Artists

 

In my previous post I wrote about the late Anita Pallenberg and her finest cinematic moment, the dark and twisted 1968 crime / rock movie Performance.  This also starred Mick Jagger, fellow Rolling Stone and best buddy of Pallenberg’s then lover, Keith Richards.

 

Performance’s cocktail of rock stars, gangsters, drugs, decadence and debauchery was seen as representative of the culture surrounding the Stones in the late 1960s; and this, along with Pallenberg and Jagger’s participation, surely means it can be classed as a ‘Rolling Stones movie’.  Which begs the questions, “Are there other Rolling Stones movies?  And if so, what?”

 

After all, there’s been plenty of Beatles movies over the years: A Hard Day’s Night (1964), Help! (1965), Yellow Submarine (1968), Let It Be (1970), I Wanna Hold Your Hand (1978), Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1978), The Birth of the Beatles (1979), Give my Regards to Broad Street (1984), The Hours and Times (1991), Backbeat (1994), Two of Us (2000), even The Rutles (1978).  But what of the Liverpudlian moptops’ less wholesome London rivals?  What’s been their contribution to cinema?

 

On the face of it, there isn’t a lot.  That is, if you don’t count the various documentaries made about them like Charlie is my Darling (1966), Jean Luc Godard’s oddball Sympathy for the Devil (1968) and Gimme Shelter (1970), a chronicle of their 1969 American tour that ended bloodily with Hells Angels-inspired carnage at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival.   And if you don’t count their many concert movies like The Stones in the Park (1969), Let’s Spend the Night Together (1982), Julien Temple’s The Stones at the Max (1991) (the first feature-length movie to be filmed in IMAX – because what you really want to see is a 100-feet-tall close-up of Keith Richards’ face, right?), The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (1996) (plug your ears for the bit with Yoko Ono) and the Martin Scorsese-directed Shine a Light (2008), which provided the gruesome spectacle of leathery 60-something Jagger duetting with 20-something pop-moppet Christina Aguilera and prowling around her like a camp velociraptor.

 

There’s been little effort to film key events in the history of the Rolling Stones.  Off the top of my head, the only one I can think of is the little-known Stoned (2005), about the possible circumstances of Brian Jones’s death.  And as for movies featuring Stones-members as actors, well, there’s just a couple of items with Mick Jagger – epics such as Ned Kelly (1970) and Freejack (1992).  Ouch and double-ouch.

 

© Walt Disney Productions / Jerry Bruckheimer Films

 

Actually, you could make a case for the Pirates of the Caribbean series being Rolling Stones films as their star Johnny Depp famously based the voice, mannerisms and swagger of his Captain Jack Sparrow character on Keith Richards.  I thought Depp-playing-Keith-playing-a-pirate was a rib-tickling gimmick that elevated the first Pirates of the Caribbean instalment, back in 2003, from being a middling film to being an entertaining one.  Alas, Captain Jack / Johnny / Keith has gradually lost his novelty value as the sequels have become ever-more convoluted, repetitious and tedious.  For the third in the franchise, At World’s End (2007), the filmmakers had the bright idea of bringing in the real Keith Richards to cameo as Captain Jack’s pirate dad.  You can see his cameo here on Youtube, which saves you the ordeal of sitting through the whole poxy movie waiting for him to show up.

 

However, there’s one thing you can say about the Rolling Stones and celluloid.  In the right film, blasting over the soundtrack at the right moment, a Stones song can help create a splendid musical, visual and dramatic alchemy, turning a good cinematic scene into one that’s truly awesome.  Here are my all-time favourite uses of Rolling Stones songs in the movies.

 

© Taplin-Perry-Scorsese Productions / Warner Bros

 

Jumpin’ Jack Flash in Mean Streets (1973)

Wow.  Martin Scorsese really likes the Rolling Stones.  Not only has he made a concert movie about them, the above-mentioned Shine a Light, but he’s used their music in umpteen films: Goodfellas (1990), Casino (1995), The Departed (2006) and the one that first put him on the map, 1973’s Mean Streets.  Even today, more than 40 years later, the scene in Mean Streets where a young Robert De Niro comes swaggering through a bar, in slow motion, towards a pensive Harvey Keitel, while Jagger hollers in the background about being “born in a cross-fire hurricane”, is a great synthesis of rock ‘n’ roll music and rock ‘n’ roll cinema.  Indeed, Jumpin’ Jack Flash is a fitting accompaniment for the arrival in popular consciousness of De Niro, who’d spend the rest of the 20th century showing Hollywood how to do proper acting.  (The 21st century, containing The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle (2000), Little Fockers (2010), New Year’s Eve (2011) and Dirty Grandpa (2016), is a different matter.)

 

Satisfaction in Apocalypse Now (1979)

The Stones’ early, primordial and still potent stomper Satisfaction gets a brief but memorable airing in Francis Ford Coppola’s baroque Vietnam War masterpiece, playing on the radio while Captain Martin Sheen and his not-exactly-fighting-fit crew go cruising up the Nùng River in search of Marlon Brando.  Cue some funky on-deck dance moves by a frighteningly young-looking Laurence Fishburne and some funny / cringeworthy water-skiing moves by Sam Bottoms that knock various Vietnamese people out of their fishing boats.

 

Sympathy for the Devil in Alien Nation (1988)

Graham Baker’s sci-fi / cop movie Alien Nation isn’t very good.  Its premise of an alien community getting stranded on earth and having to integrate as best as they can with the curmudgeonly human natives was handled much better in Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 (2009).  But I do like a woozy, hypnotic scene in it where alien-loathing cop James Caan enters a sleazy alien bar while a lady-alien performs an erotic dance to the strains of Sympathy for the Devil.  Not the original Stones song, but a correspondingly woozy, hypnotic cover-version of it by the great Jane’s Addiction.  I can’t find a film-clip of the scene, but here’s the Jane’s Addiction cover.

 

© Légende Entreprises / Universal Pictures

 

Can’t You Hear Me Knocking? in Casino (1995)

While Martin Scorsese serenades Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel with Jumpin’ Jack Flash in Mean Streets, he employs the 1971 Stones song Can’t You Hear Me Knocking? for another of his regulars, Joe Pesci, in Casino.  Remarkably, Scorsese plays all seven minutes of the Santana-esque Can’t You… as an accompaniment to a lengthy sequence showing how Pesci’s Casino character Nicky Santoro gets established in Las Vegas.  Predictably, the sequence has Pesci doing what Pesci usually does in Scorsese movies: being a psychotic shit, barking orders at hoodlum sidekicks twice his size, eating in restaurants, ingratiating himself with fellow Mafiosi, being a psychotic shit, cursing and swearing, getting a blow-job, being a psychotic shit, talking about food, knocking off jewellery stores, acting the loving family man with his non-criminal relatives… and being a psychotic shit.

 

Sympathy for the Devil in Interview with the Vampire (1995)

It’s Sympathy for the Devil again.  And again, this isn’t the Rolling Stones original but a cover version, this time by Guns n’ Roses.  It’s as ramshackle, shonky and (for me) enjoyable as Guns n’ Roses’ other covers, which include ones of Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door and Wings’ Live and Let Die.  In Interview with the Vampire, Sympathy… kicks in during the final scene when, to nobody’s great surprise, the supposedly-vanquished vampire Lestat (Tom Cruise) reappears and takes a bite out of reporter Daniel Molloy (Christian Slater).

 

© Strike Entertainment / Universal Pictures

 

Ruby Tuesday in Children of Men (2006)

Wistful Stones ballad Ruby Tuesday features briefly on the soundtrack of Alfonso Cuarón’s gruellingly pessimistic science-fiction thriller Children of Men.  It’s another cover, sung by Franco Battiato.  We hear it during one of the movie’s calmer moments when Theo (Clive Owen) is visiting his mate Jasper (Michael Caine), whose home provides a small pocket of sanity amid the unfolding dystopian grimness.  Amusingly, Caine, well known in real life for being a right-wing old grump given to moaning about his tax-bill, here plays a left-wing old hippy given to smoking super-strong pot.

 

© Plan B Entertainment / Warner Bros

 

Gimme Shelter in The Departed (2006)

Martin Scorsese loves the Rolling Stones and he loves their apocalyptic 1969 number Gimme Shelter in particular.  By my count he’s used it in three movies: Goodfellas, Casino and The Departed.  It’s best deployed at the beginning of The Departed, rumbling in the background while gangland thug Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson) expounds his philosophy.  “I don’t want to be a part of my environment,” he intones, imbuing his words with that leery, languid menace that only Nicholson is capable of.  “I want my environment to be a part of me.”  Strangely, in Scorsese’s Shine a Light two years later, Gimme Shelter was one of the songs the Stones didn’t perform on stage.  So Marty missed a trick there.

 

Street Fighting Man in Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)

Director Wes Anderson also sticks Rolling Stones songs into his movies, but so far I haven’t mentioned him because I find most of his work insufferably smug and pretentious.  (Play with Fire figures prominently in 2007’s The Darjeeling Limited, an Anderson movie so twee it’s the cinematic equivalent of being force-fed with chocolate cake-mix.)  However, I like the scene in his stop-motion-animation adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox where, to the sound of the rabblerousing late-1960s Stones anthem Street Fighting Man, Farmers Bean, Boggis and Bunce use three diggers to tear up the den of the titular Mr Fox; forcing the den’s inhabitants to frantically dig an escape-route.  As Keith Richards might say: “We’re the Stones – you dig?”

 

© 20th Century Fox

 

Farewell, Black Queen

 

© Dino de Laurentiis / Paramount Pictures

 

A word that frequently came up in tributes to the Italian model and actress Anita Pallenberg, who passed away last week, was ‘muse’ – i.e. muse to the Rolling Stones, a couple of whose members she was involved with during the 1960s and 1970s.  She started off as girlfriend to Brian Jones, was Keith Richards’ partner for more than a decade and was rumoured to have had a fling with Mick Jagger, though this rumour she always denied.

 

It was no doubt frustrating for Pallenberg to have her life defined almost entirely by the Rolling Stones, even though she was only associated with them for 15 years.  I read somewhere that she abandoned a project to write an autobiography because the publisher kept demanding that she put more in it about the Stones.

 

Still, if you’re a Stones fan, as I am, you should be toasting Pallenberg’s memory just now because she was with them during a period when they were truly on fire and deserving of the moniker ‘the best rock ‘n’ roll band in the world’ – from the Beggar’s Banquet album (1968), through Let It Bleed (1969) and Sticky Fingers (1971), to Exile on Main Street (1972) – and her influence surely played a part in the band’s greatness at the time.  It’s said that once Beggar’s Banquet was in the can, Jagger took her advice and remixed the tracks; and she provided backing vocals for the album’s most famous and notorious song, Sympathy for the Devil.  The Stones’ then bodyguard and drugs procurer Tony Sanchez claimed that Pallenberg was into the occult and would carry around garlic and holy water to ward off evil, and I like to think her esoteric interests contributed to the spooky vibe that Sympathy is famous for.

 

Years later, when her relationship with Keith Richards was on its last legs, she at least provided the inspiration for Richards’ song All About You, one of the few good things on that duff Stones album Emotional Rescue (1980).

 

As an actress, Pallenberg’s filmography included the Marco Ferreri-directed Dillinger is Dead (1967) and the Marlon Brando film Candy (1968), but for sheer iconic-ness it’s her role as the villainous Black Queen in Roger Vadim’s sex-comedy-sci-fi-fantasy movie Barbarella (1968) that she’ll be remembered for.  Sporting a piratical eye-patch, Pallenberg doesn’t really have to do much acting in Barbarella, since her voice is dubbed by veteran actress Joan Greenwood.  But she looks great.  I have to say that for me she’s the only reason to watch Barbarella, as I’ve always found it annoyingly smug and leery and – worst of all – totally not funny.  Then again, I don’t think there’s any ‘swinging 1960s’ comedy movies that I like.  Yip, Help! (1965), What’s New Pussycat? (1965), Casino Royale (1967), The Magic Christian (1969), even The Italian Job (1969) – I hate them all.

 

© Goodtime Enterprises / Warner Bros

 

Pallenberg also appears, of course, in Performance (1968) – the famous and psychedelically weird crime-rock movie co-directed by Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg, which tells the story of an on-the-run gangster (James Fox) who holes up in a mansion belonging to a burnt-out rock star (Mick Jagger) and gets involved in some mind-bendingly druggy goings-on.  Pallenberg plays one of the mansion’s female inhabitants – she memorably welcomes Fox when he rings the doorbell by saying over the intercom, “Please leave a message after the beep.  Beep, beep, BEEP!”  Performance neatly captures the dark, dangerous aura that was popularly associated with the Stones at the time and it did the film’s scary reputation no harm that afterwards Fox underwent a ‘crisis’, dropped out of acting for a decade-and-a-half and became an evangelical Christian.  When I first saw the film as an impressionable teenager, it certainly blew my socks off.

 

Talking of socks…  Keith Richards had and still has a deep-rooted aversion to the film, thanks to the sexual shenanigans that Pallenberg supposedly got up to with Jagger during filming.  He believed these shenanigans were orchestrated by Donald Cammell, presumably as a way of getting Pallenberg and Jagger further ‘in character’.  In his autobiography Life, Richards describes Cammell as “the most destructive little turd I have ever met.”  But actually, if you’re to believe Life, old Keith didn’t have that much to complain about.  He claims that he got his revenge on Mick Jagger during the filming of Performance by nipping around to the house of Jagger’s then girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull, and getting up to some ‘hot and sweaty’ hi-jinks with her.  Supposedly, while they were in the middle of this, Jagger unexpectedly arrived home – which led to Richards having to shin his way down the drainpipe from Faithfull’s bedroom window.  He was in such a hurry that he forgot to put his socks back on and left them lying on the floor.  However, Jagger, who was obviously a bit of a slob, didn’t think there was anything amiss about a pair of rogue socks littering Faithfull’s bedroom and suspected nothing.

 

Thanks to Richards’ loathing of Performance, one Jagger-Richards song that’s never been played at Rolling Stones gigs and is unlikely to ever be played at future ones is Memo from Turner, which soundtracks a particularly strange sequence at the movie’s climax.  On the Performance recording of the song, Jagger is the only Stone involved, doing vocal duties, while Ry Cooder plays slide-guitar (wonderfully) and Randy Newman plays piano.  It’s a shame that we’ll never hear a live Stones version of it as it’s a belter.  (I’m also partial to this cover of it by forgotten 1980s retro-rockers Diesel Park West.)

 

Then again, I guess the omission of Memo from Turner from Stones concert set-lists is another example of the lasting influence that the late Anita Pallenberg had over a band who, for a few heady years at least, really were the best in the world.

 

The boys are back in (the Auld and New) Town

 

© Film 4 / Creative Scotland / DNA Films

 

Finally, nearly five months after it went on cinematic release in the UK and just before it goes on sale there on DVD, I’ve been able to catch up with Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting 2 in Sri Lanka.

 

It is, of course, the long-awaited sequel to Boyle’s Trainspotting (1996), which somehow caught the zeitgeist of mid-1990s Britain, obsessed with Britpop and all things Cool Britannia.  How long ago that seems now…

 

To be honest, it annoyed me that the original Trainspotting got lumped in with the Britpop / Cool Britannia thing, even if the filmmakers opportunistically loaded its soundtrack with music by bands of the time such as Pulp, Sleeper, Elastica, Leftfield and Underworld.  (Ironically, the song that became the film’s signature tune, Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, had nothing to do with 1990s Britain.)

 

To me Trainspotting sprang from an earlier, darker and less glamorous era than the one of Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde shark, Geri Halliwell’s Union Jack dress and Blur-versus-Oasis – namely, the mid-to-late 1980s, when a boom in heroin use and a subsequent, resultant HIV / AIDS epidemic in Edinburgh led to the city being dubbed ‘the AIDS capital of Europe’.  This became material for the book that inspired the film, Irvine Welsh’s novel Trainspotting (1993), which is an altogether bleaker and rougher-edged work than Boyle’s cinematic version.  Though of course the film isn’t without its bleak or rough-edged moments either.  The worst toilet in Scotland, anyone?

 

Not that I’m complaining.  I think both Trainspotting the book and Trainspotting the movie are great and are classics in their respective fields, 1990s Scottish literature and 1990s British cinema.  So here’s what I thought of the new movie.  A word of warning – there will be spoilers ahead.

 

Trainspotting 2 also has its roots in an Irvine Welsh book, 2003’s Porno.  This reunited the four main characters of Trainspotting, Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie, who in the original film were memorably played by Ewan McGregor, Johnny Lee Miller, Ewen Bremner and Robert Carlyle – actors who, in various stages of menopausal gnarliness, are also excellent in the sequel.  Porno was about their efforts to illegally raise money to fund a blockbuster porn movie called Seven Rides for Seven Brothers, which Sick Boy intended to film in the back rooms of the pub he’d just inherited from an aunt.  Its sub-plots included Spud trying to escape his heroin addiction by writing a book and a just-out-of-prison Begbie vowing to get bloody revenge on Renton, who at the end of Trainspotting (book and film) had run off with the all the money they’d made on a drugs deal.

 

© Film 4 / Creative Scotland / DNA Films

 

Trainspotting 2 scriptwriter John Hodge retains these basic elements from Porno, but determinedly does his own thing with them.  Sick Boy owns a pub, but instead of wanting to shoot a porn movie on the premises he wants to turn it into a bordello.  Begbie breaks out of prison – in the novel he’s simply released – and first crosses paths with the hated Renton halfway through the movie.  This differs from the book, where Renton and Begbie’s first and last confrontation is saved for the climax.  And Spud, who in the book was attempting a write a history of his hometown Leith, here decides to use his past adventures, good and bad (though mostly bad), as the basis for a novel.  When you see him writing its opening line – “The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy” – you realise what he’s doing.  He’s writing the original novel of Trainspotting.

 

I almost expected Trainspotting 2 to end with Spud’s completed manuscript falling through a time warp and ending up in 1993, where it arrives in the hands of Irvine Welsh, who sneakily passes it off as his own work.  Alas, that doesn’t happen.

 

One element of Porno that I’d expected Hodge and Boyle to dump, because it’d be too mysterious for cinema audiences who weren’t Scottish or Irish, surprisingly turns up in Trainspotting 2.  That’s the scam perpetrated by Renton and Sick Boy, whereby they break into and loot the bank accounts of various West-of-Scotland / Loyalist / anti-Catholic Glasgow Rangers supporters because they know what the four-number pin-codes are likely to be: 1690, the year of the Battle of the Boyne, when King William of Orange (King Billy to his fans) defeated the Catholic forces of James II and saved the countries of Britain for Protestantism.

 

In Trainspotting 2 this is compressed into a single sequence where Renton and Sick Boy sneak into a Rangers club in Glasgow to steal bank cards.  When their presence is noticed and they’re asked to entertain the punters with a song, they have to improvise like crazy to save their hides – and if you’re familiar with the culture that Boyle, Hodge and co. are poking fun  at, the result is hilarious.  In fact, I don’t expect to see a funnier scene in a film this year.

 

The great advantage that Trainspotting 2 has over the book Porno is timing.  Taking place in the early noughties, Porno’s characters were starting to realise that they wouldn’t stay young and reckless forever; but they could still act that way.  Set more than a dozen years later, Trainspotting 2 – whose making was delayed for a long time because of a rift between Boyle and Ewan McGregor – sees Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie firmly in the throes of middle age and reacting to it, for the most part, badly.

 

Renton and Sick Boy, when pissed and stoned, tend to retreat into a rosy, nostalgia-distorted version of their pasts where everything was, you know, better.  (This smartly allows Boyle and Hodge to duck the accusation that they’ve made Trainspotting 2 out of nostalgia for the 1990s.  No, they can argue, they’ve made a movie about nostalgia.)  It’s telling that in one scene they start obsessing about the legendary but ill-fated Northern Irish footballer George Best.  When the 40-something Renton recounts the famous ‘George, where did it all go wrong?’ anecdote, it seems he’s rewriting history for his own comfort.  No, he’s arguing, Best didn’t lose it as was commonly assumed.  He still had it – just as Renton himself believes he still has it.

 

Spud relates rather better to the past and his lost youth – he uses them creatively, as material for his writing.   Begbie, a psychopathic dinosaur, seems unable to grasp the concept of time, let alone the fact that it changes.  But even he’s starting to notice that he’s no longer the force he once was, something emphasised by a scene where he nicks a packet of Viagra.

 

© Film 4 / Creative Scotland / DNA Films

 

One difference between Trainspotting and Trainspotting 2 is that the new film makes much more of its Edinburgh setting.  The Royal Mile, the Grassmarket, the Cowgate, Cockburn Street, Harvey Nichols, the Scottish Parliament, the tram system, the Forth Road Bridge and Salisbury Crags are all used to good visual effect and even Edinburgh Bargain Stores and Edinburgh Castle Terrace Car Park look sexy during the movie’s comic and action set-pieces.  Indeed, the Scottish capital has rarely appeared so glamorous and exciting.  The days when ultra-Conservative Edinburgh councillor Moira Knox used to fulminate against Irvine Welsh and the Trainspotting phenomenon for giving the city a bad name are long gone.

 

Like James Cameron’s Terminator 2 (1991) – a sequel with which it shares an abbreviated nickname, T2Trainspotting 2 is immensely enjoyable but doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original.  It can’t reach them.   The original Trainspotting (like 1984’s The Terminator) was iconically of its time and place and the ideas driving it, by virtue of being fresh and new, gave it a momentum that any follow-up simply can’t manage.  Nonetheless, Boyle and Hodge deserve kudos for resisting the temptation to just rehash the original and for exploring new territory with the characters, even if that territory is more ruminative and melancholic and less cinematically in-your-face exciting.

 

Trainspotting 2 isn’t the classic that its predecessor was, then, but it’s as good a sequel as I could’ve hoped for.  I think the adventures of Renton, Sick Boy, Spud and Begbie should end here, though.  Just as the Terminator franchise ran out of steam after the second movie, I fear another entry in the Trainspotting franchise would be a sequel too far.  Yes, a Trainspotting 3: Rise of the Machines would probably be shite.

 

© Film 4 / Creative Scotland / DNA Films

 

Jim Mountfield at the Hellfire Crossroads

 

© Trevor Denyer

 

My horror-fiction-writing alter-ego Jim Mountfield has just had a new story printed in issue 6 of the magazine Hellfire Crossroads, which is available at CreateSpace here, at Amazon UK here and at Amazon US here.

 

This is the third consecutive issue of Hellfire Crossroads in which I’ve had something featured.  I’m particularly pleased to be associated with this magazine, because its tireless editor Trevor Denyer used to be responsible for the magazines Roadworks and Legend and he published some of my earlier work in them – giving me a break at a time when my morale really needed it.  That was back when my horror-fiction nom de plume wasn’t Jim Mountfield but Eoin Henderson.  (I’m superstitious, and when I stop having luck getting stuff published under one pseudonym, as happened to me with Eoin Henderson, I change to another.  But I’ve had a reasonable run of luck with Jim Mountfield, so I expect to be him for a while longer.)

 

The story in Hellfire Crossroads issue 6 is called Amy’s Gift.  I like to think of it as a weird mixture of the TV situation comedy Keeping Up Appearances (1990-1995) and the horror movie Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1972).  It’s also set in an alternative universe and it has one of the bleakest endings I’ve ever written for a story.

 

Everybody won – and lost

 

© Daily Record

 

My head hurts.  Since Friday morning I’ve been trying to figure out the results of the British general election and I still don’t feel much wiser.  Here’s how it appears to me.

 

Theresa May’s Conservative Party got the most seats in Parliament, 317 out of 650.  So they won the election.  Right?  Wrong.  Their total was 13 down on what it’d been before, which left Theresa May looking the world’s biggest dolt for calling the election in the first place because she’d assumed, from the polls, that her party would be returned with a thumping majority.  In fact, the biggest thump heard as the results came in was that of Tory jaws striking the floor in shock and disbelief at their majority failing to materialise.  Now they’re nine seats short of the magic 326 number required for a working majority and it looks like they’ll have to do a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.  More on whom in a minute.

 

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has been hailed as the election’s big winners because they performed much better than expected.  There’s rarely been an election campaign where the odds against the main opposition party doing well seemed so great.  In particular, Corbyn and his followers had opprobrium heaped on them by the British press – two days before the vote, for instance, the Daily Mail seemed to devote an entire edition to telling us that Corbyn was an evil, crazed, corrupt, terrorist-loving, Satan-worshipping, child-murdering, baby-eating ghoul.  However, despite the unexpected bounce in their fortunes, Labour still managed a total of only 262 seats.  Even if they joined forces with the all the other non-right-wing parties in Westminster, they’d barely come within touching distance of that 326 working-majority number.

 

Tim Farron’s Liberal Democrats increased their share of seats by a third.  That’s a win, right?  Well academically.  They now have 12 seats instead of nine and remain utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of things.  Next!

 

Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party got its second-biggest share ever of seats in Scotland, 35 out of 59 and comfortably more than all the seats won by the other Scottish parties put together.  That surely qualifies as a win, right?  But no.  The party lost 21 of the seats it’d won in the previous election of 2015, which had been its all-time high-water-mark, with the result that their performance this time has been interpreted as a loss.  That’s certainly how the anti-SNP mainstream media in Scotland has been spinning it furiously since Friday.

 

The Scottish results are rich in irony.  The Scottish Labour Party managed to increase its number of seats from one to seven, helped no doubt by the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing credentials north of the border.  Yet for the past few years the Scottish Labour Party has been notable for its loathing of Corbyn.  ‘SLAB’ leader Keiza Dugdale claimed that Corbyn would leave the Labour Party ‘carping from the side-lines’ and Ian Murray, previously Labour’s only Scottish MP, once resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet in an effort to undermine him.

 

Meanwhile, the way the media has fawned over Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson since the election has left many with the impression that Scotland has now entirely turned Tory and Davidson has somehow become the new Queen of Scots.  I’ve seen comments on Twitter by hurt English Labour voters, berating the Scots for changing the habits of a lifetime, voting Tory en masse and letting the Conservatives finish ahead of Corbyn.  For the record, Davidson’s Tories won 13 seats in Scotland, 22% of the total – a lot by their usual standards in Scotland but nowhere near a majority.  Though in the topsy-turvy world of Britain’s 2017 general election, a showing of 22% is construed as a victory.  (Yet another irony is that the pro-Brexit Scottish Tories won their seats in regions like the Borders and the North-East, heavily dependent on agriculture, which will likely get hammered when Brexit goes ahead and EU farming subsidies stop being paid.)

 

One group who lost utterly was the right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party, which went from a vote-share of 12.7% in 2015 to a share of 1.8% in 2017, won no seats at all and saw its leader, the wretched Paul Nuttall, come close to losing his deposit when he stood in the constituency of Boston and Skegness.  Thus, UKIP are dead, buried and hopefully already in an advanced state of decomposition.  Good riddance to them.

 

© Daily Mirror

 

And probably the party who are feeling most chuffed post-election are the afore-mentioned DUP in Northern Ireland, who won 10 seats; and who since Friday morning have had Theresa May, desperate to form a Conservative-DUP coalition, wooing and serenading them like Romeo under Juliet’s balcony in Act 2, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet.  Yes, because the DUP have become the new kingmakers at Westminster, they could be identified as the real winners of this election.  Mind you, if you examine their beliefs and political record, you soon appreciate what a shower of losers they are.

 

Where to begin with Theresa May’s new best friends, the DUP?  Well, there’s the fact that as a bunch of Bible-thumping, science-hating nincompoops they include in their ranks such specimens as Thomas Buchanan, who campaigns for creationism to be taught in schools, condemns evolution as a “peddled lie” and proudly asserts that “the world was spoken into existence in six days by His power”; and Trevor Clarke, who until very recently believed that HIV was something that affected only gay people; and Sammy Wilson, who mind-bogglingly served as Northern Irish Environment Minister whilst denying the existence of climate change and dismissing the Paris agreement with Trumpian scorn as “window dressing for climate chancers”.

 

They have a medieval attitude towards women’s issues and gay rights, ensuring that that Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where abortion is illegal, and vetoing any move towards the legislation existing in the rest of the UK that allows same-sex people to get married.  Former DUP politician Iris Robinson – whose hubby Peter served as Northern Irish First Minister for several years – once described homosexuality as an ‘abomination’ and prescribed psychiatric treatment as a cure for it.  “Just as a murderer can be redeemed by the blood of Christ,” she reasoned, heart-warmingly, “so can a homosexual…”  I hope some journalist tackles out-and-proud lesbian Ruth Davidson about what she thinks of her boss in London climbing into bed with Robinson’s party.

 

I’m from Northern Ireland originally so I know it’s futile hoping for religion and politics to be kept apart in the province.  But even if you forget their religiosity and focus purely on their performance as politicians, the DUP are useless.  Their disdain for environmental issues didn’t stop them running the disastrous Renewable Heat Incentive or ‘cash-for-ash’ scheme, encouraging folk to switch from fossil fuel to biomass heating systems; which not very smartly meant that claimants could get £1.60 back for every £1 they spent.  Hence, crafty local farmers were soon rushing to install biomass heating in empty sheds.  This happened while current DUP First Minister Arlene Foster was running Northern Ireland’s Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and is believed to have cost the taxpayer £400 million.

 

And then there’s the tale of the DUP receiving a £425,000 donation from dodgy sources, of which £282,000 was subsequently spent on funding a ‘vote leave’ advertisement in the Metro newspaper during the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum.  The Metro isn’t even published in Northern Ireland.  Soon after the vote, and despite her own party backing Brexit, DUP Agriculture Minister Michelle McIlveen went scuttling off to Brussels to plead for continued EU support for Northern Irish farmers – a shameless act of grovelling hypocrisy.

 

But the most entertaining instance of DUP duplicity and corruption is, of course, the 2009 scandal involving Iris Robinson and a man nearly 40 years her junior.  Robinson not only had an extramarital affair with him but also illegally procured some £50,000 to help him out with a business project.  Needless to say, this turned the supposedly God-fearing and holier-than-thou Robinson into a figure of ridicule.  And with a name like ‘Mrs Robinson’, she was really asking for trouble.

 

© Irish News

 

Right, that’s enough politics for now.  I’m seriously depressed.  The UK has become the equivalent of a clown-car, trundling towards Brexit, with the beleaguered Theresa May and those idiots in the DUP at the steering wheel.  The only way this scenario might change is if May gets usurped by her party, which isn’t known for showing mercy towards failed leaders.  But if that happens, her replacement is likely to be Boris Johnson – and substituting Boris for May is like treating an open wound by pouring sulfuric acid into it.

 

So there’ll be no more politics in Blood and Porridge for a while.  Unless they decide that to clear up the shambles caused by this election by holding another bloody one next week.

 

Something fishy

 

© Heinemann

 

The other week my better half (Mrs Blood and Porridge) and I were travelling in a three-wheeler along Colombo’s Marine Drive when we found unexpectedly found ourselves at the back of a traffic jam.  This was unexpected because we were on a wide part of the drive that isn’t normally prone to bottlenecks; and it was the middle of a Sunday, when Colombo’s frequently severe traffic isn’t that severe.

 

Then we realised that the congestion was caused by a large number of vehicles left parked at the seaward side of Marine Drive.  Crowds of people had climbed out of those vehicles and crossed the railway tracks, which run alongside the drive, to get to the rocky shoreline overlooking the Indian Ocean.  We asked our driver what was happening.  He didn’t know, but thought that someone might have drowned – and the onlookers were there out of ghoulish curiosity to see the police retrieve and remove the body.

 

By chance, the place we were travelling to on Marine Drive, the 14-storey Ozo Hotel, stood opposite the spot that seemed to be the focus of the crowds.  We planned to have some lunch at the hotel’s rooftop bar.  After we’d finally arrived there and taken the lift to the top of the building, the first thing I did was go to the railing and look down over Marine Drive and the railway, shoreline and sea and find out what had been drawing all those spectators.

 

Far below, lying across some sand whilst being gently pummelled by endless silvery breakers, was a big pale carcass maybe twenty feet long.   A carcass of what, I couldn’t tell.  It was so decayed and shapeless and bloated that it was unrecognisable.  I was relieved to be 14 storeys above the scene, well out of the way of what must have been a vile reek of putrefaction.

 

 

At first I thought it might be the remains of a whale-shark – the world’s biggest fish species – because two months earlier someone had told me she’d been scuba-diving at a shipwreck a short distance out into the ocean from Colombo when one of those giant (but non-carnivorous) sharks had swum at her out of the murk and spent a minute moseying around her.  However, according to a news report that appeared subsequently, the badly-decomposed carcass was identified not as a shark but as a whale.

 

This occurred just a fortnight after a well-publicised incident where a 50-foot-long corpse was washed up at Seram Island in Indonesia.  Rotting, but still bleeding enough to turn the surrounding waters red, the thing initially caused speculation that it might be the remains of some gargantuan and hitherto-unknown sea-creature.  Later, though, marine experts were able to identify it, from the presence of baleen plates, grooves along its body and certain skeletal features, as a whale too.

 

Being into literature, the carcass on Marine Drive set me wondering about giant washed-up bodies in books and stories I’d read.  I could think of two examples.  One occurred in the whimsical (and occasionally twee) fantasy novel Mr Pye (1953) by Mervyn Peake, which is set on Sark in the Channel Islands and concerns an eccentric evangelist who arrives to preach a message of love and compassion to the islanders.  A first attempt to convert a mass audience ends in disaster, however – he assembles Sark’s inhabitants on a beach one evening with the promise of a giant picnic, but before he can start proselytising, the waves inconveniently dump a dead whale on the sand nearby and the stench of it drives everyone away.

 

The other example I thought of was the short story The Drowned Giant by J.G. Ballard, which appeared in his 1964 collection The Terminal Beach and, as its name suggests, isn’t about a whale carcass but about a gigantic human one that’s inexplicably deposited on a beach following a violent storm.  In his typically perverse fashion, Ballard has no interest in who the giant was or how he came into existence or how he ended up on the beach.  Rather, he focuses on the reaction to him by the ordinary, normal-sized humans living along the coast.

 

This begins with intense and rather disrespectful curiosity – soon they’re clambering over his huge, dead bulk like the Lilliputians swarming over Gulliver.  Then it turns into even less respectful greed, with the body gradually being dismantled and processed by “a fertiliser company and a cattle-food manufacturer”.  And finally the poor giant fades out of both the landscape and human consciousness.  The stretch of beach that was his final resting place is left empty save for a “clutter of bleached ribs like the timbers of a derelict ship” that “make an excellent perch for the sea-wearying gulls.”  Meanwhile, the anonymous narrator observes that “most people, even those who first saw him cast up on the shore after the storm, now remember the giant, if at all, as a large sea beast.”

 

One of Ballard’s most haunting and melancholic stories, The Drowned Giant can be read here.

 

Cinematic heroes 11: Abbott and Costello

 

From mynewsla.com

 

Before I write about the film-comedy double-act of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, here’s a digression – an entry from The Ian Smith Life Story.

 

In the early 1970s I attended a primary school in rural Northern Ireland and occasionally the school would receive visits from entertainers and impresarios who’d put on shows for the pupils.  These included a stage magician, a puppeteer and a couple with a mobile zoo, which in reality was some animals in tiny cages crammed into the back of a van.  In today’s climate, with British educationalists placing huge emphasis on child protection, it’s hard to believe these assorted oddballs and chancers were ever allowed to saunter into a school and be in close proximity to young kids.  Plus, of course, that mobile zoo would’ve been busted immediately on grounds of animal cruelty.

 

Not that we cared.  Anything to provide a break from the drudgery of our lessons.

 

Another of these visitors was someone I thought of as the ‘film-man’.  He’d commandeer a classroom and set up a screen and a hulking projector with reels rotating on top and a lens sending out a beam that highlighted the swirling dust patterns in the air.  Once the lights were turned off, he’d show us short comedy films featuring the Three Stooges and sequences from full-length comedy films featuring Abbott and Costello – among the latter, I remember watching the finales of 1943’s It Ain’t Hay and 1947’s Buck Privates Come Home.  In the early 1970s, the BBC broadcast Laurel and Hardy movies all the time.  However, neither the Stooges nor Abbott and Costello seemed to have been on TV for a while and they were new to kids our age.

 

Yes, I lived in a low-tech world back then.  I thought it was the height of excitement to be shown black-and-white film clips from the 1940s by a travelling showman with a creaking movie projector.  That’s an experience lost on the Youtube generation.

 

© Universal Pictures

 

Anyway, it was thanks to the film-man that I discovered Abbott and Costello.  Later, I made a point of watching as many of their movies as I could – it helped that, in the mid-1970s, the BBC acquired the broadcasting rights to some of their movies and ran a season of them.  And for a few years I believed them to be the funniest thing on the planet, better even than Laurel and Hardy.  It wasn’t hard to see how they appealed to a ten-year-old like myself.  Their comedy was broad – few comic figures came broader than Lou Costello’s loud, bumbling, sentimental, harassed but occasionally crafty man-child – and their films contained plenty of slapstick and crash-bang-wallop chases.  Also, they lacked that undercurrent of melancholia and pathos that I sometimes found unsettling when I watched Laurel and Hardy.

 

Fast-forward a decade to my college-years and my opinion had changed.  When I watched Abbott and Costello movies on TV, I’d cringe – finding them painfully dated.  Also, by then, I’d realised that the melancholia and pathos in the Laurel and Hardy films was indicative of comedy genius.  So Laurel and Hardy had become the funniest, Abbot and Costello the unfunniest.  (Well, not quite.  They still didn’t seem as dire as the Three Stooges.)

 

Today, I’ve yet another opinion of Abbott and Costello.  I like them again.  It’s largely because now I perceive them for what they were, a pair of sharp stand-ups from the burlesque circuit – Abbot had been producing and performing in burlesque shows since 1923, Costello became a burlesque comedian in 1928 and they started working together in 1935 – who ended up in a different medium, film, where the necessity for slapstick and visual gags sometimes got in the way of their true comic talents, which were verbal.  Mind you, the verbal routines that do appear in Abbott and Costello’s movies are often funny.  No more so than the famous ‘Who’s on first?’ one, which the duo had performed on stage and radio before essaying it in the movies One Night in the Tropics (1940) and The Naughty Nineties (1945).  Taking as its premise that there’s a baseball team whose players have unusual nicknames like Who, What and Because, a fact that Abbott is aware of but Costello isn’t, ‘Who’s on first?’ sees comic confusion escalate along these lines:

 

ABBOTT: Well, that’s all you have to do.

COSTELLO: Is to throw it to first base?

ABBOTT: Yes.

COSTELLO: Now who’s got it?

ABBOTT: Naturally.

COSTELLO: Who has it?

ABBOTT: Naturally.

COSTELLO: Naturally.

ABBOTT: Naturally.

COSTELLO: Okay.

ABBOTT: Now you’ve got it.

COSTELLO: I pick up the ball and throw it to Naturally.

ABBOTT: No, you don’t, you throw the ball to first base!

COSTELLO: Then who gets it?

ABBOTT: Naturally.

COSTELLO: Okay!

 

So popular was the ‘Who’s on first?’ routine that Abbott and Costello performed it live for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and it led to their induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, a rare honour for people not directly involved in baseball.  There’s also a 1999 episode of The Simpsons where Principal Skinner and Superintendent Chalmers attempt, and fail, to perform ‘Who’s on first’ at a school show – Skinner blows it by blurting, “Yes, not the pronoun, but a player with the unlikely name of ‘Who’ is on first!”  Coincidentally, the actor supplying the voice of Principal Skinner, Harry Shearer, made his film debut at the age of eight in the 1953 movie Abbott and Costello go to Mars.

 

© 20th Century Fox Television

 

I also like the duo’s ‘7 into 28’ routine, which today seems to form the basis of Donald Trump’s economic programme.

 

For me, another positive about Abbott and Costello is a particular group of their movies that I still find enjoyable – the scary ones, where they perform their comic shtick in horror-film settings, though obviously the horror is watered down to suit family audiences.  It’s a formula combining laughs and chills that continues today in children’s cartoon-shows like Scooby Doo; and children especially seem to find this combination delightful.  They love being scared but not too scared, with the comedy providing a safety valve.  In the late 1940s, Abbott and Costello’s studio, Universal, had the bright idea of teaming them with the monstrous characters who’d populated the same studio’s famous horror films during the past two decades: Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolfman, the Invisible Man, Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde and the Mummy.

 

The first three of these characters – well, four, as the Invisible Man makes a cameo ‘appearance’ right at the end, voiced by Vincent Price – appeared in 1948’s Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein, which is one of the best horror-comedies of all time.  Partly this is because, despite the presence of Abbott and Costello, the monsters are presented as serious threats rather than as comic stooges.  For instance, Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and the Wolfman (Lon Chaney Jr) have a bruising confrontation at the finale, and the scene where Frankenstein’s monster (Glenn Strange) throws supporting actress Lenore Aubert to her death though a window is unexpectedly nasty.

 

On the other hand, there are some priceless moments of humour, such as when Abbott and Costello stand over Dracula’s coffin in a wax museum: “I know there’s no such person as Dracula.  You know there’s no such person as Dracula.”  “But does Dracula know it?”  Also good is this exchange between Lawrence Talbot, aka the Wolfman, and Costello: “I know you think I’m crazy, but in half an hour the moon will rise and I’ll turn into a wolf.”  “You and twenty million other guys.”  No wonder Quentin Tarantino claims he was fascinated by this movie as a kid, because it taught him how successfully the hilarious and the horrific could be blended together – something Tarantino’s done throughout his career.

 

© Universal Pictures

 

Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein was a big success, so more movies with Abbott and Costello meet… in their titles followed.  In 1951 there was …meet the Invisible Man, with Arthur Franz, not Vincent Price, voicing the titular creature.  1953 saw the underrated …meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which has an atmospheric Victorian London setting and the great Boris Karloff playing Robert Louis Stevenson’s transformative mad scientist.  It contains a weird sequence where Costello accidentally drinks a potion in Jekyll’s laboratory that changes him into a giant fluffy mouse, prompting the line: “How do you like that Dr Jekyll?  He turned me into a mouse – the rat!”  And in 1955 there was …meet the Mummy, which while not great, was still better than the several ‘serious’ Mummy films that Universal made during the 1940s.

 

Like many people who found fame being funny onscreen, Abbott and Costello’s lives offscreen weren’t always a barrel of laughs.  The grumpy, gravelly Abbott, greatly underrated as a straight man, suffered from epilepsy and became too fond of the bottle.  Costello had to endure bouts of rheumatic fever and was devastated in 1943 when, just before he was due to do a radio show, he was informed that his one-year-old son had fallen into the family swimming pool and drowned.  He went ahead with the radio show, saying, “Wherever he is tonight, I want him to hear me.”  By the mid-1940s the pair of them had clashed about money and even their act’s name – Costello wanted it to be ‘Costello and Abbott’.  That’s why their gentle 1946 ghost / fantasy movie The Time of their Lives seems so strange – they’re in it but scarcely have any screen-time together, because in real life in 1946 they weren’t on speaking terms.

 

By the mid-1950s, the writing was on the wall.  Cinema audiences were more interested in a younger and hipper comedy double-act, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and to compound the misery the US Inland Revenue Service gave both of them a hammering.  In 1959, two years after they’d ended their partnership, Costello died of a heart attack aged just 52.  Abbott lived until 1974, but his final years were blighted by financial insecurity, strokes, a hip injury and, finally, cancer.

 

Abbott and Costello are too much of-their-time to be considered in the same league as comic legends like Laurel and Hardy or the fabulously surreal and anarchic Marx Brothers; but if you’re a connoisseur of wordplay and smart comedic patter, or if you just have a liking for offbeat movies where funny men meet scary monsters, then the pair retain their charm.

 

And I like the fact that in 2016’s impressively intelligent science-fiction movie about alien contact, Arrival, the scientists who’re tasked with communicating with the giant cuttlefish-like aliens nickname the pair of creatures they encounter ‘Abbott and Costello’.  In a movie about the importance of communication, I assume this is a sly reference to the unfortunate consequences of miscommunication.  Who’s on first?!

 

© Paramount Pictures / FilmNation Entertainment

 

When your neighbourhood collapses

 

Late on the morning of May 18th I was at my Colombo workplace when I was telephoned by my partner, who was back in our apartment.  She said that in the mid-morning she’d heard a cacophony of sirens – police cars, ambulances and / or fire engines – on the street outside.  Then, soon after that, she’d received a call from our local electrician, who’d been in the apartment the day before to check an electrical fault in a couple of our wall-sockets.

 

The electrician’s reason for ringing today was nothing to do with the condition of those sockets.  He’d just heard a news-flash saying that a building in our neighbourhood had collapsed and he wanted to make sure we were okay.

 

Reports about what’d happened were already appearing on the Internet.  It turned out that part of a big banquet / party / wedding reception complex called the Excellency, which stands behind the Savoy Cinema on Galle Road, had caved in.  The building’s façade remained intact but its back half, where some new floors were being constructed on top of an existing section, had suddenly fallen like the proverbial house of cards.  Trapped in the rubble were both members of the Excellency’s staff who’d been in the completed bit at the bottom and builders who’d been working in the under-construction bit at the top.

 

Not only were the emergency services soon on the scene to begin rescue efforts, but members of the Sri Lankan army were drafted in too.  By bad luck, shortly after the disaster happened, it started raining heavily and Colombo endured what was probably its wettest day so far of 2017, which meant that the rubble and dust that the rescuers were working in must have turned into a quagmire.

 

By the day’s end we’d heard reports that 23 people had been pulled out of the debris and taken to hospital and one person had later died of their injuries.  The bodies of two more victims were to be recovered from the flattened building over the next few days.

 

 

I walked past the place the following evening.  The soldiers were still present – indeed, one off-duty group of them sat and gazed out forlornly at the rain from the back of a truck parked next to our apartment building.  The stretch of street at the front of the Excellency had been sealed off with big white-and-red traffic cones, though the police guards posted there were tolerant of pedestrians walking through the closed-off area so long as they kept walking and didn’t make nuisances of themselves.

 

Considering what’d happened, the Excellency’s façade showed surprisingly little sign of damage.  If you peered down the alleyway at its side, you could make out a piece of still-standing wall with a pile of rubble at its bottom and, hanging above it, a broken, twisted mess of roofing.  Meanwhile, the floor of the Excellency’s front lobby was slathered with dried muddy footprints left by rescue-workers going to and coming from the devastation at the rear.  And one of its front windows had disintegrated and covered the street below in pieces of blue-tinted glass – it looked like there’d been a snowfall and then a thaw and now there was a thick slush full of lumps of melting ice.  At first, I thought that window might have been smashed by the rescuers, wanting to get some bulky rescue equipment into and through the building; but then, seeing how all the broken glass was lying outside rather than inside, it occurred to me that the window had probably been knocked out by the shock-waves from the collapse.

 

 

The pavement in front of the entrance to the Savoy Cinema was cordoned off with ropes and the building was atypically dark and silent.  A sign in the door said simply: “We are closed today.”

 

To see the collapsed building itself, you had to go onto the bridge where Galle Road crosses the Kirillapone Canal.  From there, you could view a giant, crumpled hole among the row of buildings backing onto the canal.  Debris and rubble oozed like a semi-solid effluent down into the canal-water below.  The whole, sad sight was framed between the big green fronds of the trees that grow near the bridge.

 

 

Barely had the disaster occurred than journalists got wind of the fact that the building had received inadequate planning permission.  The owner had been authorised to build three storeys by the canal – but at the time of the collapse the structure was five storeys high and the intention was to finally raise it to seven.

 

Initially, we’d heard rumours that the Excellency’s owner – whom, understandably, the police were keen to speak to – was ‘out of the country’.  However, on May 21st, news came through that he’d been arrested.

 

And without wishing to prejudice any upcoming trial, I can only say to that: “Good.”

 

 

RIP, Sir Roger

 

© Eon Productions

 

I feel slightly hypocritical to be paying tribute to Sir Roger Moore, the movie star and the third and longest-serving of the cinema’s James Bonds, who passed away yesterday at the age of 89.

 

As a serious Bond aficionado, especially regarding the original novels written by Ian Fleming, I was generally not impressed by the Bond movies Sir Roger made between 1974 and 1985, nor by the easy-going way that he inhabited the role.  And during the five years this blog has been in existence I was frequently unkind to him, making cruel puns about ‘Roger Mortis’ and the Bond movies getting ‘Rogered’ in the 1970s and 1980s, and dismissing his acting ability with ungentlemanly comparisons to planks and floorboards and blocks of wood.  Once, I even sniped that the makers of Guardians of the Galaxy (2015) should have hired him to play Groot the sentient alien tree rather than Vin Diesel.

 

However, two years ago, in a fit of remorse at my un-Rogerly ways, I posted a piece detailing all the admirable things about the venerable actor.  I mentioned how his third Bond movie, 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me, was actually really good.  I pointed out that he was surprisingly effective as a rich, smug businessman going to pieces while a mysterious, malign and unseen doppelganger invades and takes over his life in the creepy psychological horror film The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970).  I also enthused about his 1971-72 TV series The Persuaders.  To be honest, the show itself wasn’t much cop but the theme music, composed by John Barry, made for the best TV theme tune ever.

 

And I highlighted the amount of humanitarian work he’d done as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund, since 1991.  And he didn’t just express good will towards humans – he’d “also been involved in the campaign by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, against the gruesome processes used in the making of foie gras and he helped to persuade the department store Selfridges to stop stocking the stuff.”

 

© The Independent

 

One thing mentioned in Sir Roger’s obituaries that I hadn’t known about was his loathing of fox hunting.  Despite the languidly aristocratic air he had both as Bond and as his real-life self, he slammed the brutal upper-class pastime with the declaration: “Sport hunting is a sickness, a perversion and a danger and should be recognised as such.  People who get their amusement from hunting and killing a defenceless animal can only be suffering from a mental disorder.  In a world with boundless opportunities for amusement, it’s detestable that anyone would choose to get their kicks from killing others who ask for nothing from life but the chance to remain alive.”

 

To be honest, if I hadn’t been obsessed with the Bond books and hadn’t formed some strong opinions about how Bond should be portrayed on screen, and if I’d come across Moore’s Bond movies at a younger age – I didn’t see any of them until I was a sullen teen of 14 or 15 years old – I probably would have really enjoyed them: all that funny, silly but exciting stuff with Jaws, Nick-Nack and Sheriff Pepper, all those laser-gun battles in outer space and gondoliers that turn into speedboats and alligators that can be used as stepping stones when you’re making your escape from Mr Big’s henchmen.  (Indeed, Daniel Craig did something similar with Komodo dragons in 2012’s Skyfall.)  As it turned out, millions of other filmgoers, less severe in their tastes than I was, really did enjoy them – and as I’ve admitted elsewhere on this blog, the Bond franchise was fantastically lucrative when Sir Roger played its title character.

 

I often wondered why the Bond producers cast Roger Moore in the first place.  But recently I read a book called James Bond: The Man and his World by Henry Chancellor, which observes that Moore was first suggested for the role by the Supreme Being in the Bond-verse, Ian Fleming himself.  According to Chancellor, in the early 1960s when the first of the Bond movies was on the drawing board – and before co-producer Harry Saltzman got his way and cast Sean Connery in the role – Fleming “initially suggested his friend David Niven.  When it was pointed out that Niven was too old he suggested the young Roger Moore, who was starring as The Saint on television.”  Ironically, both of Fleming’s suggestions would eventually get to play Bond, for Niven turned up as 007 in the ‘rogue’ 1967 production of Casino Royale, a swinging-sixties would-be comedy so dire and unfunny that it makes even the worst of Roger Moore’s Bond films look like masterpieces.

 

Expect open season on Jeremy Corbyn

 

© The Independent

 

In my previous blog-post I said going to a music concert was a way of enjoying culture “in one of its most egalitarian, communal and spontaneous forms.”  This makes Monday night’s bomb attack by an evil psychopath on a concert in Manchester seem especially heinous.  Mind you, it was made even worse by the fact that the bomber had targeted an event that would clearly be attended by many youngsters.

 

Afterwards, social media was dominated by reactions to the bombing, some of which rekindled your faith in human goodness – the way the city of Manchester came together, for example, to help those left injured or stranded by the attack – and some of which had the opposite effect.  Witness hatred-vomiters like Katie Hopkins, who tweeted a demand for a ‘final solution’; or Daily Telegraph hack Allison Pearson, who raved that thousands should be put in ‘internment camps’.  (If we’re going to intern potential trouble-makers, why not start by interning people who call for politicians to be decapitated, as Pearson’s headline-writers did for a Telegraph piece she wrote about Nicola Sturgeon not so long ago.)

 

Talking of newspapers, I have a queasy feeling that once campaigning for next month’s general election resumes – it’s currently suspended as a mark of respect for the Manchester bombing’s victims – there will be an awful lot of shit flung at Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn by the country’s many right-wing newspapers: the Telegraph, Sun, Daily Mail, Daily Express and so on.  Against all expectations, Corbyn has enjoyed a decent election campaign so far.  Okay, he hasn’t been that more effective than his usual somnolent self, but his party has proposed some policies that seem to chime with the public mood and at least he’s been visible on the campaign trail, which is more than can be said for his opposite number, Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister Theresa May.  So far, she’s been woeful.  Her strategy this election seems to be to hide from the public, hide from journalists and hide from any questions that might involve even a modicum of spontaneous thought.  She’s hopelessly unable to think on her feet and on the rare occasions that a journalist who isn’t afraid to ask awkward questions gets near her – as Andrew Neil did in a BBC interview a few evenings ago – the results are cringeworthy.

 

In fact, throughout the campaign, the lead May has enjoyed over Corbyn, once vast and seemingly impregnable, has gradually shrunk.  The way things were going, I’d still have expected her to win; but Corbyn looked capable of polling more votes than Ed Miliband did in 2015 and May was no longer guaranteed the massive majority in the House of Commons that she assumed she’d get when she called the election in the first place.

 

What I expect will happen now, though, is that the majority of Britain’s newspapers, which are owned by various right-wing millionaire and billionaire moguls like Rupert Murdoch, Richard Desmond, Lord Rothermere and the Barclay Brothers and which have been rattled by the fact that their heroine Theresa hasn’t been performing as well as they’d expected, will exploit the Manchester bombing and hammer home the message that JEREMY… CORBYN… IS… SOFT… ON… TERRORISM!  They’ll go beyond that, in fact.  They’ll relentlessly smear him as a terrorist sympathiser and imply that anyone who votes for him is betraying the memory of those killed in Manchester.

 

Corbyn’s supposed weakness for terrorism comes from the fact, as a left-wing backbench MP in the 1980s, he supported the principle of a united Ireland and had dealings with the IRA.  Now a couple of decades ago, when the Northern Irish Troubles were at their worst, I was deeply irritated by the fact that for many left-wingers it was trendy to express solidarity with the IRA.  I say that as a Northern Irish Protestant who, among other things, briefly attended school with the boy who was killed when the IRA blew up Lord Mountbatten in 1978.  But Corbyn wasn’t the only British politician hobnobbing with the IRA back then.  The governments of Conservative Prime Ministers Ted Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major spoke to them too, albeit surreptitiously.  So did the 1970s Labour government of Harold Wilson.

 

And even the most hard-line Northern Irish Protestant politician of the era, who spent decades bellowing, “NO SURRENDER TO THE IRA!”, ended up talking to, working with and from all accounts getting along rather well with one member of the organisation, at least.

 

© BBC

 

Meanwhile, post-Manchester, Theresa May will no doubt be portrayed by the press as an unflinching, Churchillian bulwark against the evils and dangers of terrorism.  But actually, back in March, she threatened our European allies that intelligence on terrorism could be withheld if Britain didn’t get its way in the forthcoming talks about Brexit.  (Murdoch’s Sun reported this with the jeering front-page headline YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIVES.)  Yes, that was Teresa May making a veiled threat that Britain might put other Europeans at risk from terrorism if Brexit didn’t go swimmingly.  However, because of the way the newspapers are in contemporary Britain, I bet you won’t hear many journalists mention that between now and election day.