Tuesday, December 27, 2022

About Billy Wilder

Only now have I got round to reading Jonathan Coe’s Mr Wilder & Me, about Calista, an awkward 20-something who finds herself working with Billy Wilder on his not-great 70s movie Fedora. Much is made of the protagonist’s ignorance (when she first meets Wilder she has no idea who he is) and how difficult it was in those analogue days to remedy such ignorance.

Except that she remedies it:

...and I went to Foyle’s on the Charing Cross Road hunting for film books. I bought two, one called Halliwell’s Film Guide and one called Halliwell’s Filmgoer’s Companion, and for the next few months, back in Greece, I pored over them night and day, memorising not just the facts they contained but also the opinions... by the summer of 1977, my knowledge of film had gone from being non-existent to being literally encyclopaedic.

The point being that in those pre-VHS days, her encyclopaedic knowledge doesn’t extend to watching any films that she hasn’t encountered by chance on TV, so she’s reduced to regurgitating Leslie Halliwell’s (rather reactionary) opinions, even when she’s talking to the people who made the films in the first place. I got into films a few years later, also with Halliwell as my grumpy gatekeeper, and although video was slowly making things easier, I can identify with Calista’s situation, of knowing about the films, years before ever really knowing them.

Which feels like a pretty reductive kind of knowledge (knowledge without experience, without true understanding). Except that, in today’s world, where the films themselves, and all the facts about them, and Halliwell’s and everybody else’s thoughts on them, are all available at the touch of a button, people apparently feel less of a need to know (in whatever sense you like) than Calista or I did.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

About snowmen

Each year kills off a few more of my heroes and in 2022 it was probably the death of Raymond Briggs that stung the most. This month, for the first time in decades, I sat and watched the film of The Snowman. Briggs himself wasn't all that fond of it, believing it missed the point, asserting that his original book isn’t about Christmas, but about death: “I create what seems natural and inevitable. The snowman melts, my parents died, animals die, flowers die. Everything dies. There’s nothing particularly gloomy about it. It’s a fact of life.” And I’d clean forgotten until I saw a documentary that preceded this year’s showing that Briggs himself appeared as his curmudgeonly, welly-booted self when the film first went out in 1982. He was swiftly replaced by David Bowie at the behest of the American networks, and this is the version that became the definitive one. So just to redress the balance, here’s a Christmas card more in keeping with Briggs’ original intentions. Have a Christmas, everyone, as happy as you like.

(Georges Mouton, ‘Bonjour’, c 1903, from the V&A collection.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

About Amazon

I don’t use Amazon all that much these days, but I do find its wish list function a useful tool with which to jot down books and other products I might wish to buy (from someone else) in the near future. Except that of course I forget about my list for months at a time, and the items on it become incrementally less desirable additions to the tsundoku pile.

For some reason, today I found myself rummaging in the depths in the deepest recesses of my list, going back as far as 2006. Many of these titles ring not the faintest bell. And I muse on what version of myself thought I might want to read the following:

  • Shyness and Dignity, by Dag Solstad
  • The Gift: How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World, by Lewis Hyde
  • Living Life Without Loving the Beatles: A Survivor’s Guide, by Gary Hall
  • The Giro Playboy, by Michael Smith
  • Dork Whore: My Travels Through Asia as a Twenty-Year-Old Pseudo Virgin, by Iris Bahr
  • Beware the Lobster People, by JJ Flitwick
  • Thirteen, by Sebastian Beaumont
  • Yiddish with Dick and Jane, by Ellis Weiner
  • Gents, by Warwick Collins
  • Transparent Imprint, by Michael Barnard
  • What The Actual: Exasperated Incredulity Will Save America, by Muriel Chong
  • The Edgier Waters, by A Stevens
  • The Amnesiac, by Sam Taylor
  • Three Trapped Tigers, by Guillermo Infante
  • What Was Lost, by Catherine O'Flynn
  • TM: Corporate Brand - Dream #69, by Nenko Joretsu
  • I Am Not Sidney Poitier, by Percival Everett
  • Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Living, by Declan Kiberd
  • Cyburbia: The Dangerous Idea That’s Changing How We Live and Who We Are, by James Harkin
  • The Great Dog Bottom Swap, by Peter Bently
  • Gribley’s Last Conundrum, by Horatia Mannix
  • Mobius Dick, by Andrew Crummy
  • Callisto, by Torsten Krol
  • The Last Mad Surge of Youth, by Mark Hodkinson
  • How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu
Except that three of these, inevitably, are titles I’ve just made up. But which one? Without looking back at the list, even I can’t remember.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

About the BBC

The BBC, we are informed, will attempt to attract viewers from less affluent socio-economic groups by producing more sports documentaries, crime dramas and other “lighter” products. Except that nobody asks why such groups (allegedly) prefer such material. Furthermore, does an individual’s socio-economic status determine the media he or she consumes, or is it the other way round? Does the choice of media put them on the path to a specific rung on the socio-economic ladder? By giving the punters what they want (which is supposedly restricted to variations on what they already know), the BBC would be fulfilling its remit to reach out to all social groups, but at the same time reinforcing the inequalities that keep those groups apart – and pissing the Reithian mission to educate all over the walls of Broadcasting House. And then what’s the point of the BBC?