Recently I became a fan of the Westish Harpooners. They are a college baseball team and they don’t exist. Those seem like two extremely good reasons not to care what the Westish Harpooners get up to but as I got to a part in Chad Harbarch’s novel The Art of Fielding where the legendary Mike Schwartz, catcher and leader of the Harpooners, is crouched in the batter’s box with the game on his shoulders, I could not have been more emotionally invested if Schwartz was about to take his best swing at my undefended testicles. I love sport; I even love it when somebody makes it up.
Niall Anderson looks at a new book about Andrei Tarkovsky’s most mysterious film
Stalker doesn’t ask much of the viewer. It tells a clear, simple story. It’s not tricksy, obscure or up itself. Every scene seems perfectly calculated to either raise an interesting question or provide a more interesting answer. Its ending is a real ending (one of the most memorable in all cinema, in fact). So yes: Stalker is easy. All it asks is that you give it your complete and sincere attention for nearly three hours, preferably without blinking.
Martin Scorsese has famously described cinema as simply being “a matter of what’s in the frame and what’s out,” but when The Last Temptation of Christ was released in 1988, very few were willing to consider the film on those terms. This adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel remains one of the most controversial films ever released by a Hollywood studio. It sparked protests, threats and even physical attacks, with a cinema in France being firebombed by a group of Christian fundamentalists for daring to screen the film. The charge was blasphemy, with the biggest bone of contention being a much talked-about sex scene between Jesus and Mary Magdalene. The fact that few of those criticising The Last Temptation of Christ had seen it, or had any intention of doing so, was apparently beside the point. Continue reading The Passionate Christ→
Michael Winterbottom’s eclectic career has made him a hard filmmaker to pin down, but a recurring touchstone for the director has been the work of Thomas Hardy. In 1996, Winterbottom had his first high-profile success with an adaptation of Jude the Obscure and four years later he made The Claim, a loose retelling of The Mayor of Casterbridge. Winterbottom’s third take on Hardy is his most radical adaptation yet, simultaneously updating and relocating Tess of the d’Urbervilles to modern-day India. Trishna is a bold and occasionally beautiful interpretation of the source material, but it’s also a hugely problematic one.
Since first writing about the film John Carter for Mostly Film nearly a year ago, I’ve done my best to avoid news of it. I’ve seen the trailers, but deliberately decided not to watch any clips – I wanted to come to the finished product as unspoilt as possible. That didn’t mean I escaped the news altogether, and some of that news wasn’t encouraging. The dropping of ‘of Mars’ from the title, reportedly decided after the massive failure of Mars Needs Moms caused an outbreak of brown trousers in the Disney marketing team, was a big worry. The name John Carter on its own didn’t seem to communicate much to a potential ticket buyer. If Lawrence of Arabia was being made today, would it be retitled just Lawrence, in case the mention of Arabia put people off? They might as well have called it A Film about Some Bloke and be done with it. Continue reading John Carter→
Niall Anderson looks at the history of actors writing fiction
You can’t imagine Popeye Doyle writing a novel. Buck Barrow barely lived long enough to read one. Royal Tenenbaum wouldn’t write a novel, but he might pass off someone else’s as his own. Harry Caul, on the other hand, looks to have the necessary focus, but he’d need to put down that saxophone and stop going insane for a while.
Gene Hackman, the man who played all these parts, hasn’t made a movie in almost a decade, but he has used his relative leisure to write four novels. Gaunt, sparely told and resolutely unmodern, the first three are blown off-course every few chapters by excitable procedural interludes – long disquisitions on how to cast an anchor in a storm, for example, or dredge up a sunken chest from the bottom of the ocean. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to lay these passages at the door of Hackman’s co-author, Dan Lenihan, a retired marine archaeologist once charged with salvaging the debris from Pearl Harbor.
For his fourth novel, a western called Payback at Morning Creek, Hackman has done what all great gunslingers and novelists must do: he’s struck out alone. Gaunt, sparely told and unmodern like never before, Payback at Morning Creek does away with Lenihan’s antic boyishness and substitutes for it an epic manliness that is all Hackman’s own. Thus remasculated, Hackman turns his attention to the real business: that of rewriting Shane from memory. Continue reading Actor! Actor!→
With the announcement that the final Hercule Poirot stories will be filmed for ITV this year, confessed detective fiction bore and tedious cataloguer of ways in which the book was better than the film Laura Morgan wonders what we should expect.
I have never been asked to appear on Desert Island Discs, but I have spent happy hours planning what to take with me, just in case Radio 4 should come knocking. My music choices change depending on my mood, but my book doesn’t: ever since I was nineteen, I have turned to Agatha Christie whenever I was ill, bored or miserable, and since banishment to a desert island is likely to involve all three, the Queen of Crime will be coming with me.
(I’m assuming that I will be allowed the complete works. If not, I’ll swap them for Shakespeare, the way you can swap the Bible for your preferred alternative.)
Christie’s stories have been adapted for screens both big and small almost since she started writing them, and while there have been a number of admirable Misses Marple, David Suchet’s 23-year tenure as ITV’s Poirot-in-residence has rendered everyone else’s efforts superfluous. Anorakish types like to tell a story of unclear origin about how Agatha Christie once saw a young Joan Hickson perform on stage and told her “I hope one day you will play my dear Miss Marple”. True or not, it’s pleasing to imagine that Christie could foresee how good Hickson would one day be as the gentle little old lady “with the mind of a sink”, but if Hickson’s Marple is a good likeness, Suchet’s Poirot is perfect: the character sprung from the pages of the books and brought to life. The fussy little walk, the enquiringly cocked head, even the accent, which ought to waver but never does: everything is spot-on.
Josephine Grahlfinds a little too much unspoken in Tomas Alfredson’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Reviewing a cinema adaptation of a book you know and love is hard. Am I judging the film fairly as a work of art in itself; or am I criticising it, unfairly, for failing to live up to my own imagining of the characters and settings? You can’t divorce the film from its inspiration. Once a reinterpretation departs too far from the source material, you start to wonder why it still lays claim to the original material; why not just write something new instead?
“There is a mole at the heart of the Circus” – a Soviet double agent at the centre of the British secret service. George Smiley’s predecessor, Control, has worn himself out searching for the traitor and retired in disgrace. When a terrified agent suddenly turns up on the run from Russian assassins, with a story which confirms the existence but not the identity of the mole, Smiley is called from his own retirement to track down the traitor. Control has narrowed the field to five men, the tinker, tailor of the title; Smiley must finish the job. Continue reading A mole at the heart of the Circus→
The title of Klaus Kinski’s memoir is Kinski Uncut, but that’s not strictly accurate. When the actor first attempted to publish his autobiography in 1988, under the title All I Need is Love, a lawsuit from Marlene Dietrich (who had taken offence to his depiction of her as a lesbian) ensured the book was withdrawn from circulation until after her death. Since then, each subsequent edition of the book has carefully removed the names of anyone still living who may be feeling similarly litigious, so what we have here is not exactly the complete recollections of Klaus Kinski as the author intended. Nevertheless, it still feels like a pure, concentrated dose of Kinski; as if the actor’s brain spilled out onto the page and he left it there without making any attempt to organise his thoughts or check his darker impulses. Perhaps Kinski Unfiltered or Kinski Unhinged would have been more appropriate titles.
But is it Kinski Untrue? I don’t doubt that many of the events in the book took place in Kinski’s life, but the author’s hyperbolic description of them often gives us reason to doubt the veracity of what we’re reading. Everything in Kinski Uncut is extreme – his suffering is more intense than most ordinary souls could bear, his acting performances are received with either angry derision or tears and standing ovations, his sexual encounters (of which there were many) are all epic and orgasmic. When he talks about his childhood, he describes a period of Dickensian squalor, where he suffered permanently from starvation and frostbite and learned to steal in order to survive. Everything in the book seems designed to reinforce the idea that Kinski’s life was more dramatic, outrageous and depraved than that of any mere mortal who might be reading his story; that he is a tortured genius who has suffered nobly among the “idiots” and “riffraff” who make up the rest of the population. This is Klaus Kinski’s world, and the rest of us are just living in it. Continue reading The Passion of the Kinski→
Niall Andersonlooks at the knotty history of sex and nudity on television
Note: This article contains spoilers for The Wire and The Sopranos
In an earlier life, I used to catalogue DVDs. My duties were to look at the contents of the box, view the contents of the disc, and make sure the details matched. I’d check the technical specifications (region code, aspect ratio, audio set-up) and enter all the details in the catalogue. I never had to watch a whole film, and only ever did on flat Fridays or when I wanted to waste time.
Quite a number of these films – say 5%, conservatively – were pornographic; usually the semi-hardcore things you find gummed to the front of skin mags (which I was also cataloguing). These films feature real sex you can never quite see. There is a lot of sound, and circumstantial evidence of fury, but they signify literally nothing.
I bring this up because whenever I came to match the contents of the pornodisc with those of the pornobox, I could almost never do it. If the box promised you ten chapters, you’d only get five. If the box promised you a certain performer, it was touch and go they would actually appear. On one occasion, only a few weeks apart, I saw the same porno under two different titles with completely different listings for cast and crew. From this I learned that almost everything to do with filmed sex is based on lies. Continue reading Sauce for the Gander→