Month: October 2015

One of the times I interviewed Almodóvar

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I’ve been trying, whenever I remember,  to signal articles that I wrote elsewhere but  are easily available online. This was one of the interviews I did with Almodóvar in his middle period for The Guardian:

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2002/jul/31/features.pedroalmodovar

Dancer in the Dark (Lars von Trier, Denmark, 2000)

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sight and sound cover

I just came across this piece on Dancer in the Dark I wrote a long time ago for Sight and Sound. It’s now online at: http://old.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/feature/53

Phantom Lady (Robert Siodmak, USA, 1944)

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phantom lady poster

The lights went out in American cinema just before the iron curtain went down in Europe. ‘ In Film Noir: The Encyclopedia, we’re told, ‘”Film noir” is literally “black film,” not just in the sense of being full of physically dark images, nor of reflecting dark mood in American society, but equally, almost empirically, as a black slate on which the culture could inscribe its ills and in the process produce a catharsis to help relieve them.’[1] According to James Naremore, ‘thrillers of the 1940s and 50s…were perversely erotic, confined largely to interiors, photographed in a deep-focus style that seemed to reveal the secret life of things, and often derived from the literature of alcohol – a substance especially conducive to desire, enervation, euphoria, confusion and nightmare…Indeed the narratives themselves are often situated on the margins of dream as if to intensify the surrealist atmosphere of violent confusion or disequilibrium that (French critics) Borde and Chaumeton regard as the very basis of noir’[2].

 

Fig A
Fig A

Noirs have never ceased being in vogue but interest has been even stronger than usual recently with the BFI publishing its Top Ten list of American noirs and an interesting infographic on what makes a noir also from the BFI trending on social media. Jonathan Rosenbaum’s list of overlooked noirs has also been making the rounds.

Robert Siodmak’s Phantom Lady fits most of the characteristics they all describe but doesn’t make Rosenbaum’s list. It seems a key noir but one that doesn’t feature as much in the discussions of the mode as one might expect. Though released the same year as Double Indemnity and a popular success in its day – it’s the film that really jumpstarted Siodmak’s career — Phantom Lady is a noir treasured primarily by connoisseurs of the genre.

Iconic noir imagery
Iconic noir imagery

Phantom Lady begins with an extraordinary close-up of the back of a woman’s head (Fig A). She’s wearing an ostentatious fur-lined hat whose plumes extend practically to the edges of the 4-3 frame (see fig. 1). Who is this woman? Why so ostentatious a hat? Why is she filmed from behind? Why is the focus shallow so that the emphasis is on the back of her head and on her hat? Who is this faceless woman with fur and plumes? All will be important but the film doesn’t tell us right away. Instead, the the hat seems to come into being with increasing light, the camera pulls back, the set comes into focus – a bar –we see a barman, the woman turns her head, shows us her face and we see her borrow a nickel. The camera begins to pursue her, but we don’t know where her destination is because rather than trail her there, the camera instead follows an incoming man to the bar. This sequence shot will be rhymed by the last sequence shot in the scene but the scene there will end on the barman for reasons that will subsequently become clearer. This is a film where every camera movement, every choice of composition or editing seems purposeful.

Regis Toomey is always in character
Regis Toomey is always in character

In three minutes a world, a mood, and a dilemma are clearly established. A lonely man meets a lonely woman bar. He’s got tickets for a hit show but has been stood up. Will she join him? The woman, hysterical for reasons not yet known to us, agrees but only on condition that they don’t exchange names and addresses. From the first shot, the film hooks us narratively and has us purring with pleasure at the skilled and inventive visual storytelling. Just as importantly, from the first scene, the élan and complexity of the staging, announces that one is witnessing the work of a great director.

Rainy streets
Rainy streets

I felt like David Parkinson, when he writes on ‘How I Fell for Robert Siodmak’, there are some directors, ‘who knock you for six the first time you encounter one of their films, with the result that you not only remember that particular epiphany for years to come but immediately want to see more of their work.’ Phantom Lady proved a similar encounter with Robert Siodmak for me as well: the staging at the scenes at the bar, the angles, the shooting in depth, the travelling shots across the bar, it’s not dazzling, it doesn’t strike you dumb, but one just purrs with pleasure at seeing a filmmaker who knows his way around camera and mise-en-scène as ingeniously as Siodmak does here.

Hands that create and kill
Hands that create and kill

In another excellent piece on noir for the BFI, Parkinson writes: ‘Siodmak didn’t patent the noir formula, but he showed how to blend German expressionism and French existentialism with American angst and, in the process, he directed more canonical landmarks than anyone else in the new genre’s heyday. Dismayed by the world around him, Siodmak examined societal injustice, domestic turmoil, gender conflict, sexual repression, psychological trauma and the rise of the career criminal. Preferring to shoot on controllable studio sets rather than on location, he used deep-focus photography, precise camera moves, meticulously designed mises-en-scène and sculpted lighting effects to create milieux beset by paranoia, greed, lust, obsession and violence. Multiple flashbacks, rapid cuts, mirrored images and unsettling scores reinforced the sense of urban alienation, moral decay and nightmarish paranoia.’ Not all of these are evident in Phantom Lady but most are; and that’s part of the enduring fascination of the film for me: how a film that is not quite good enough can still be a canonical noir, arguably the ur-text of the genre (though I’m quite happy to use cycle or style or mode if that better fits your understanding of the body of films. I in fact prefer cycle to refer to these films from the early 40’s to late 50s).

Madness, murder and modern art
Madness, murder and modern art

Phantom Lady raises interesting dilemmas; it’s the work of someone who has a mastery of the medium but who doesn’t quite have control of the material he’s given to work with; it’s also one of the most memorable and significant of the cycle of 40s film noirs, sharing the same sense of dislocation and alienation, the trope of the investigation or search for the woman – and this film manages to find several ‘phantom ladies’ –; the distinctive high key-lighting that encases a world in shadows that are not merely landscape or background but moral and in this case almost metaphysical. Siodmak and cinematographer Woody Bredell, through their skill at composition and lighting, make of these shadows and shapes some of the most beautiful and haunting images of 1940s cinema. Yet, the pulpiness of the material – adapted by Bernard C. Shoenfeld from a Cornell Woolrich novel he wrote under the name of William Irish — and some of the worst acting of any landmark film prevent this from being as good a film as its impact would suggest.

Lamposts, dark streets and transparent raincoats evoke Lang's Scarlett Street.
Lamposts, dark streets and transparent raincoats evoke Lang’s Scarlett Street.

Yet the film is full of interesting tangents; extra-diegetically, the screenplay is credited Joan Harrison, Hitchcock’s past and future collaborator. Does this have any bearing on the film’s focusing on a woman who’s impersonating women, performing different types of femininity, and in search of a ‘Phantom Lady’ to help save the man she loves? The film also has proffers a wink to Carmen Miranda, the other and extra-diegetic Chica Boom Girl, then at the height of her fame and being impersonated by everyone, perhaps most famously Mickey Rooney. . Franchot Tone, the biggest marquee star in the film, only appears half-way through and as a villain. The film links the then fashionable Freudian psychology to madness, and links the villain to Modern Art explicitly by associating him with Van Gogh’s self-portrait. Serial killing and Modern Art go together in this film.

Visually the film clearly owes a debt to German Expressionism and the use of lighting, canted angles and overt symbolism is fascinating particularly in the extraordinary sequence where Elisha Cook Jr. jams with the jazz band. The scene with the secretary following the barman to get him to confess that he does know the ‘Phantom Lady’ are also examples of superb noir mise-en-scène: staged in depth, the film begins by showing Carol (Ella Raines)alone, staring; then people gather, then she’s the only there, then she disappears. Later, when we’re shown her following him, amidst these little pools of light illuminating little but the rain, we only see her (superb) legs. There’s then this wonderful moment at the train station when they’re waiting for the train and each of them is acting with their eyes, and there’s this instant when it’s indicated he might push her but for this black lady entering the station. It’s a lovely moment of tension, indecision; the hint that something much darker than what we’ve seen so far is a possibility. The whole scene culminates in the bartender being run over by a car whilst trying to get away from her. She’s wearing a plastic see-through rain-coat not unlike Joan Bennett’s in Scarlett Street; whilst all that’s left of the duplicitous barman is his hat, in a puddle of water on the road, glistening from the light of the street lamps in the cold dark night.

Screen Shot 2013-08-17 at 10.41.50

The film is marred by the performances of the leads. Allan Curtis is handsome but very wooden. Ella Raines is very beautiful if stiff as the good-girl secretary and then hams it up way too broadly when she impersonates the good-time girl. As already indicated Franchot Tone appears late in the movie, as the hero’s best friend, and everything that prevented him from being a star — he can pass for handsome but isn’t quite, there’s a slight superior sourness to his puss and a kind of distancing to his person, part of the reason that though highly regarded as an actor, he never quite made it as a star – is used very effectively here. Indeed, Siodmak does better with the supporting players – Regis Toomey is a delight as the detective who’s always hewing gum, always in character, always focused on what’s happening on the scene. His eyes are always doing something, particularly noticeable in relation to the lovely lump that is Alan Curtis. And of course the superb Elisha Cook Jr. as the nervy, needy, and seedy sideman.

Is a plumed hat the solution to Modern Art?
Is a plumed hat the solution to Modern Art?

Structurally, the film has a fascinating premise: everyone remembers him (the bartender, the cabdriver) but no one remembers her; she’s the Phantom Lady. The film, like other noirs, involves an investigation of a woman (the wife who’s murdered, the witness who’s disappeared, etc) but here, and unusually in noir, it is a woman who is chercheing la femme and the woman rescues the man rather than cause his destruction, and she does this by donning different masquerades of womanhood. It’s quite extraordinary.

Visually, the film is beautiful with arguably as many images that are both typical and iconic as in any noir. The writing is pulpy; the acting often amateurish and stiff. But, oh the direction: the direction is a thing of beauty. After I saw The Spiral Staircase last year, I wrote, The real star, however, is director Robert Siodmak: his camera movements alone are a thrill to see; they creep, glide, close in, pay attention, sweep, peek, penetrate; all in wonderful compositions that will elicit awe and joy in those who can appreciate them’. This is at least as true of Phantom Lady but with even more beautiful images and ingeniously directed scenes that act almost as contemporary set-pieces. A B-movie, but one in which phantom ladies, masquerades, performativity, modern art, madness and desire intersect in dark and rainy urban streets; A B-movie directed by a master of the medium.

José Arroyo

phantom lady book

[1] Alan Silver, Elizabeth Ward, James Ursini, Robert Porfirio, ‘Introduction: The Classic Period’ Film Noir: The Encyclopedia London: Overlook Duckworth, 2010, p. 15.

[2] James Naremore, ‘American Film Noir: The History of an Idea’, Film Quarterly, Vol. 49, no. 2. (Winter, 1995-960, pp. 12-28, pp. 18-19.

Can I Go Now?: The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood’s First Superagent

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Can I Go Now cover

Can I Go Now?: The Life of Sue Mengers, Hollywood’s First Superagent

By Brian Kellow

New York: Viking, 2015

A biography of the greatest agent of one of the greatest periods of American cinema is a book to read; especially if that agent is a woman; and even more so, if she zings one-liners like Sue Mengers.

Brian Kellow’s book is admirably researched and a great read. We learn that Mengers was Jewish, born in Hanover, and that her family only emigrated to the US in 1935. Kellow depicts Menger’s struggles with her mother as the driving force in her life: ‘My mother, the Gorgon’ says Mengers in the very first sentence of Chapter One. But surely hazard, chance, the luck to have ended up in New York whilst many of her relatives in Germany ended up in ovens must also have informed her very particular way of being in the world and helped shape her actions?

In the first few chapters, Kellow depicts Mengers as a character out of  Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything: a combination of Joan Harris and Peggy Olsen from Mad Men in the process of becoming like a character in a Jacqueline Sussann novel. She begins intelligent, hard-working, and with incredible drive and proceeds to shed her inhibitions in order to get what she wants, all the while scheming to get more power, and more permanent sources of it, than  transient desirability could be cashed for. That’s how Mengers worked her way from acting school (she was pretty enough to think of becoming a star), to working as a general receptionist at MCA, then run by Lew Wasserman, to working as Jay Kanter’s secretary. Kanter was the agent for Brando, Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe amongst others; and Mengers took and made the calls. If the boys of her stature, the Geffens and the Ovitzes, made it up through the mailroom, Mengers – and she had no peer amongst women – made it through the secretarial pool.

In 1957 Mengers left MCA, landed at the Baum and Newborn Agency — smaller but offering more room to rise — and by ‘59, Sue was secretary to Charles Baker, head of the theatre department at the William Morris Agency, one of the biggest, oldest and most respected in the business and still run by the legendary Abe Lastfogel, who had joined in 1912. Whilst there, Mengers met Alice Lee “Boaty” Boatwright, a young casting director who was to become a great aid, resource and life-long friend. One of the interesting things about the book is that it demonstrates that whilst Mengers could play with the boys, and on their own terms, she earned and enjoyed the trust and confidence of the girls.

In 1963 Mengers went to work for Korman Associates, another small firm whose list was mainly B, and whose most famous client was probably Joan Bennett. By then, Bennett’s star had plummeted to such depths that a leading role in the ABC-TV hit daytime soap, Dark Shadows, was considered a career boost (Interestingly, it was produced by Lela Swift, who also directed 588 episodes). Mengers was relentless in pursuing new talent, always already stars — she didn’t have the patience to develop unknowns — and made such a name for herself that people, famous people, were already talking about her.

Menbgers was friends with Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman, then at the peak of their stardom; Nicky Haslam, already the jet setting society designer, and Gore Vidal and his partner Howard Austen — whom Mengers would become deeply devoted to — and many others. According to Haslam, Vidal and Mengers made ‘topping jokes, topping remarks. They wouldn’t exactly put people down; they would just to react to what people said with much funnier lines.’

Mengers had a talent for friendship. She had the wit and the chutzpah to be what was then called a ‘fag hag’ —  she was at ease with gay men and their culture and shared in the outsider’s ironic stance; she could be a man’s woman – she certainly loved the boys; and, most importantly, she was a girly girl who helped many of what would become the most powerful women in Hollywood in the Blockbuster Era (Sherry Lansing and Elaine Goldsmith) get a leg-up in the business. Many of her friendships would be lifelong ones and she inspired rare devotion in her friends if not always in her clients.

Part of Mengers’ attraction was her smarts, her flouting of social conventions and her wit. She’d been Constance Bennett’s agent in the 60s when the 30s Diva was finding it hard to get a job and, after much hard work, landed her a choice part as Lana Turner’s mother in Madame X, only to have Bennett hound her for star billing or at least her name in a box. She died of a cerebral haemorrhage shortly after making the film and Mengers couldn’t resist quipping, ‘Well, at least she’s got her box now’. After the Manson gang murdered Sharon Tate in her home, she soothed an anxious Barbra Streisand by telling her, ‘Don’t worry honey. Stars aren’t being murdered. Only featured players’. And famously, ‘if you can’t say anything nice about someone, come sit by me.’

Mengers relished having so many of the top stars and directors of a defining epoch in American cinema on her roster, amongst them: Gene Hackman, Ryan and Tatum O’Neal, Ali McGraw, Faye Dunaway, Michael Caine, Peter Bogdanovich, Mike Nichols and even Brian de Palma. But she saw Barbra Streisand, then the biggest star not only in the movies but in the whole of the world of entertainment, as the lynchpin to her roster. She considered her a ‘soul’ sister, managed her career throughout the 70s and would be devastated when Streisand left her in ’81.

Nonetheless, throughout the 70s, Mengers personified the figure of ‘The Hollywood Agent’ in American Culture, the only woman ever to do so. CBS 60 Minutes, then a top-ten network show and one of the most respected news programs on American television, did a profile of her in her trademark pink shades, speaking in her baby girl voice: ‘I was a little pisher, a little nothing, making $135 a week as a secretary for the William Morris agency in New York,’ she tells Mike Wallace,’…and I thought, Gee, what they do isn’t that hard, you know. And I like the way they live, and I like those expense accounts, and I like the cars…And I suddenly thought: that beats typing.

Sue Mengers has been a legend for a long time. In 1973’s The Last of Sheila, Stephen Sondheim and Anthony Perkins, a client, based the character of the bulldozing agent played by Dyan Cannon on Mengers. And everyone in the know, and even some who weren’t quite, knew who was being referred to. As recently as 2013, Bette Midler played her in the hit Broadway play, I’ll Eat You Last. Mengers is a myth and a legend.

What Kellow does in Can I Go Now? that’s so great is that he a brings the person to life ; we get to know the funniness, the love of pot, the talent for bringing people together at dinner parties, the good times and the good business. Kellow also does an excellent job of charting the development of the agency business in the US – the book is a great, more personal companion to Frank Rose’s excellent The Agency: William Morris and the Secret History of Showbusiness and to Connie Bruck’s equally good When Hollywood had a King: The Reign of Lew Wasserman, Who Leveraged Talent into Power and Influence. The book is also a marvellously entertaining recounting of some of the biggest deals in the business, featuring some of the most important stars and movies of that great decade of American Cinema, the 70s. It’s a book to read.

José Arroyo

Judy Garland on Judy Garland

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judy garland on Judy Garland

Judy Garland on Judy Garland, edited by Randy L. Schmidt. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2014

It could be argued that of all Studio-Era stars, Judy Garland is the one that continues to be most present in the culture; most seen and heard, most discussed, indeed so much of a reference point that we might take her presence for granted. Every Easter we see her in Easter Parade with Fred Astaire; every Christmas it’s ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ in Meet Me in St. Louis; not a year goes by where we don’t have an opportunity to see The Wizard of Oz, recently even in Cinemas and in 3-D. Her death in 1969 was said to have sparked the Stonewall Riots, the subject of one of this year’s great flop movies. She’s a gay icon. But the obsession with her life and career is, as Susan Boyt so movingly demonstrated in the excellent My Judy Garland Life (London: Bloomsbury, 2009), not limited to gay males d’un certain age. End of the Rainbow, a musical show about her life, is still touring after its debut in 2005, and Tracie Bennett won the Tony for her performance in the play in 2012. This year, Lorna Luft, the other Garland daughter, has been touring the UK in The Judy Garland Songbook and Variety just announced that The Judy Garland Show, which ran for a short time in 1963 and 1964, would, with The Merv Griffin show, anchor the new Talk-Variety block on Get TV.

All the above is a context as to why I was so eager to read Judy Garland on Judy Garland: Interviews and Encounters. In the back cover of the book, Sam Irvin, author of Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise, tells us, ‘The Holy Grail for fans of Judy Garland! Randy Schmidt is the Indiana Jones of Garland archaeology. Never before has Judy been given such laser-focused spotlight to speak for herself – and like her greatest musical perofrmances, she takes center stage and wows us with every phrase.’ After reading the book, my first thought was, ‘who does Sam Irvin think he’s kidding’?

The book is composed of interviews garnered from radio, the fan magazines, newspapers and later television. They’re organised by decade. The first two deades are clearly studio stage-managed. Thus in the 30s we get a lot about how Judy’s stuck ‘In-Between’, the title of one of her great hits of the period, where she’s not yet a child but can’t quite go on dates. The forties are very much a way of stage-managing the public reception of her love life; mentions of Artie Shaw and then her elopement with David Rose, her subsequent marriage and divorce with Vincente Minnelli and the birth of Liza. The fifties are only partially covered and we only get slected interviews mainly from the fan magazines until 1955, thus covering the period where she was fired from MGM to the moment just after the release of A Star is Born. The Sixties is expectedly necrophiliac but covers a greater diversity of material, including excellent interviews with Art Buchwald and a transcript from a superb interview with Gypsy Rose Lee on TV.

On the one hand, it’s great to see these collected in one volume. On the other, most of them are quite readily available and the ones culled from TV or radio would be so much better to listen to or watch that one feels disappointed. One doesn’t really begin to hear her ‘voice’ until the sixties, though there are some hints in the 50s material as well.

There’s no question that this is rich source material; and that Randy L. Schmidt has done a good job of collating it together. But reading through the material one wishes someone had offered an analysis or more of a context for each of those periods covered as it raises a lot of questions and answers none: Are Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland the key popularisers of the concept of the teenager in the twentieth century?;How did what Garland mean evolve throughout the 40s?  Is anything Garland did in the 50s different to what Sinatra did and is the differing ways they were imaged and publicised not a continued marker of an oppressive sexism? How could someone who worked at that pace across so many media and into middle age in the Sixties avoid drugs and alcohol when much younger people in that decade were much quicker to succumb? How could someone who never stopped working and always earned top dollar never have any money (i.e. were Freddie Fields and David Begelman, her managers in the sixties, thieves?} These are the questions the book raises, though it is perhaps unfair to expect a book of this kind – a collection of interviews – to answer them. I nonetheless wish someone would.

Thus a good collection of interviews, with quite a lot of repetition amongst them, less context and analysis then one would have hoped even within the scope of such a book, and ultimately a disappointment.

For Garland completists only.

José Arroyo

Peter O’Toole: The Definitive Biography by Robert Sellers

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otoole

Peter O’Toole: The Definitive Biography by Robert Sellers

London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 2015.

It’s always a mistake for any biography to announce itself as ‘definitive’ in the title: it invites contradiction; and on the evidence of reading Peter O’Toole: The Definitive Biography, it will not be the last word on the great star: the interior life, what drove him at different stages in his life, even why so many of his film performances continue to thrill when the films themselves don’t, are questions the book does not answer satisfactorily.

But to say that it is not definitive is not to say that it is not good. In fact it’s the best one we’ve got so far and Robert Sellers has conducted dozens of new interviews, dug up and clarified essential facts that we did not know or which were not clear before – for example, he firmly establishes that whilst his father was Irish and his mother Scottish, O’Toole himself was born in Leeds – and we even get charming nuggets such as the following: ‘O’Toole left RADA, aged twenty-three, with a little blue book that every student was given upon graduation, The RADA Keepsake and Counsellor. It gave indispensable advice for the rocky road that lay ahead, gems like: ‘It doesn’t matter if you don’t get the job as long as the shoes you were wearing at the audition were clean.’

Sellers is very good at contextualising O’Toole’s first steps as an actor. We learn that O’Toole ended up in the same class at RADA as Albert Finney and Alan Bates; actors who would really come into their own and symbolise a new type of British cinema in the sixties. Interestingly, of these, and even if one were to include his great friend Richard Harris, O’Toole is the one who would remain least associated with the dominant currents of British Cinema in this period. He’s got no equivalent to Finney’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning or Harris’ This Sporting Life and Bates is almost exclusively associated with British Cinema (Georgy Girl, Women in Love, The Go-Between, Far From the Madding Crowd, etc.). O’Toole was different. His first big splash was in Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia, where Noel Coward quipped he was so pretty he should have been called Florence of Arabia. It was a ‘runway production’; British story, director etc. but also international money and international stars (Anthony Quinn, Omar Shariff); a typical Sam Spiegel production. And it’s interesting that many of O’Toole’s greatest success or most famous films of the 60s would have strong associations with Britain but all be in one way or another ‘international’: Becket, Lion in Winter, Lord Jim, Goodbye Mr. Chips, even, in different ways, What’s New Pussycat.

Sellers is marvellous at illuminating his work in theatre. He interviews lots of his contemporaries, co-stars, people who worked with him in various capacities and their accounts are vivid and illuminating. We do get real insight into his time at the Bristol Old Vic, his star-making turn at the Royal Court and the West End in The Long and the Short and the Tall in 59, his legendary performance as Shylock at Stratford for Peter Hall, the famously disastrous Macbeth in 1980 and of course late triumphs such as Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell. These aspects of the book are excellent .

The personal life, his relationship with his father and with his son, with his two wives and two daughters, all of these are sketched out clearly if a bit unsatisfactorily, though the fault here might be more with this reader’s wanting to know more than with the way the book tells it. Certainly Sellers seems to have had unprecedented access to the family and to personal papers, all of which are put to good use in the book.

The picture is of a star who continues to dazzle, a man with somewhat bipolar tendencies who drank to unconsciousness during one part of his life and until his body could take it no more; a selfish but good man; a literary man who delighted in performing and in the admiration and applause of others. This is all vividly sketched. So why the grumbling? I suppose I would have wanted more on the film career; that’s what we see now; that’s what matters disproportionally now; that was a large part of his life then. As the book makes clear, he loved being a film star. Lastly, I don’t think we get enough of a sense of who Peter O’Toole was as a person; his actions are clearly narrated and well-documented by the book; his fears, dreams, desires still remain opaque. I suppose we can consult O’Toole’s own excellent autobiographies: Loitering With Intent: The Child and Loitering With Intent: The Apprentice. But they’re only partially revealing, and only on that period before he became famous. Nonetheless, these are perhaps the grumblings of a fan: Sellers’ book tells us so much more than we already knew that it’s begrudging to criticise him for not telling us as much as we want to know. Thus the book might not be definitive. But it is essential to anyone who wants to know more about Peter O’Toole.

José Arroyo

Grace Jones: I’ll Never Write My Memoirs

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grace

Grace Jones: I’ll Never Write My Memoirs

by Grace Jones, as told to Paul Morley, London: Simon and Schuster, 2015.

It’s out, seems written rather than dictated — a credit to the writing of Paul Morley –full of wonderful imagery and in a unique voice; very intelligent too, with some of the most acute observations on the development of the discotheque and on disco music that I’ve ever read.

Why Grace Jones remains fascinating is clear:  throughout the 70s and eighties she was at the centre of a dynamic intersection of art, fashion, music and celebrity culture, with even a short but memorable raid into the movies; as a model in Paris, she roomed with Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange; she was photographed by Helmut Newton, painted by Andy Warhol, Keith Haring designed for her videos, Issey Miyake and Kenzo designed her clothes, Phillip Treacy designed her hats, Jean-Paul Goude directed her videos. She was a star of Studio 54 when it was the centre of Club culture, the same for the Garage later, and Le Palace in Paris after that; she and Dolph Lundgren were the celebrity couple of their day and as visually striking as any duo in the 20th Century. She co-starred with Schwarzenegger and Eddy Murphy in their heyday and is one of the most memorable of Bond villains; and this is all be before we get to the music, which is, justly, what she is most celebrated for — she  produced music that has stood the test of time even as it vividly represents it;

The joy of reading this book is that as an intelligent woman, a cultured woman with lots of experience, she’s got a lot of perceptive things to say on all the cultural moments and movements she participated in, and she says it honestly and with warmth and a great deal of humour.  ‘I wanted what I did to be entertainment, but the entertainment that is really art that likes to party’. It was and is; and the book vividly demonstrates how and why Grace Jones is an artist.

José Arroyo