Sunday, March 29, 2009

TV or not TV

Without wishing to sound unduly negative, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to be even remotely interested in television, despite exhortations to watch The Wire which apparently will jump start my batteries and get the juices flowing again. OK, but the everyday stuff just bores me, the production values scream "CHEAP", the formats are boringly repetitive, the scheduling's a bloody mess, and most comedy (except Stewart Lee) is just, well, shite. I don't even get my news there now.

But man cannot live on the Guardian Crossword, websites and the pub alone. Noooo...

So on Friday at BAFTA we watch Britain's greatest film director (official) have praise heaped on him by every living luminary from cinema - Danny Boyle, Stephen Frears, Mike Figgis, et al - a true BAFTA love-in at the feet of Nicolas Roeg who, at 80 years old, is still making films - Nic Roeg films - and who sat modestly listening to all these current whizzos explain how he'd influenced them, how they'd stolen his ideas, and how brilliant he was/is. The clips of his best movies - Performance, Don't Look Now, Walkabout, The Man Who Fell To Earth - were played over and over, as exciting now as they were thirty years ago. There's something about breathing the same air, scoffing the same canapes, and networking with the same people as the genius in the room that beats staying in to see Jonathan Ross.

And then to the theatre to see Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen trip the light fantastic through 'Waiting For Godot' Becket's marathon which - with Simon Callow and Richard Thackery in tow - is an absolute comedy joy. Both leads at the peak of their powers here, teasing out comedy line after comedy line, filling every space with precisely the right nuance and body language, constantly chattering for an hour, then after the break another hour in an awe inspiring display of actor supremacy. I do not know how they did it. McKellen is his character, no question, and the longer it went on the more I didn't want it to stop. I've always thought of it as a long play and yet time flew with this pair. Masterclass Theatre.

Michael Sheen's out again, this time as Brian Clough in the Damned United about his 44 days at Leeds in the 70's. He's been so stunning in his previous impersonations it's sometimes like watching Kenneth Williams or Tony Blair doing Cloughie, but that's the price you pay for being mesmerising in characters you look vaguely like. Tim Spall's senasational and the arch nemesis Don Revie is played suitably dark and brooding by Colm Meaney. Jim Broadbent is, sigh, his usual brilliant self (is he ever bad at anything?). And yes, it is the best film about football you'll ever see although to be fair it's a TV film blown up for the big screen to allow BBC Films to recoup some of that dosh.

A second visit to the Picasso exhibition at the National is even more rewarding than the first now that I know and understand what "Challenging the Past" is actually about, the artist's obsession with the grand traditions of past European Masters. Picasso's take, and responses to his esteemed forebears reveals not only a great deal about his passions, but theirs too, and the motivations of all great artists with a desire to make great art their own. Easily one of the best curated shows you'll ever see.

And before Duplicity sinks from sight, an hour or two in the company of Clive Owen trying his hardest to playact in shiny Armani suits, smooth tanned skin, from New York to Rome in a dense, almost impenetrable tale of artful deception, making love to Julia Roberts along the way. Is this what he would have been like as Bond? I'm glad he didn't get it if it is, but it's still pretty flash stuff written and directed by Tony Gilroy, our fave screenwriter (Bourne, Bourne, Bourne!) who put a lot of effort into the pace and intrigue.

Apparently there was something on TV too this weekend, but I can't remember what exactly.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Notting Hill




Hugh Grant
is wibbling at the camera and Rhys Ifans, resplendent in laundrette-grey Y's, is no doubt in a nightclub somewhere desperately hoping that people aren't watching so he can finally move on from Spike. Julia Roberts, playing herself, is doing that simul cry/smile thing.

Notting Hill, the movie, is on again. ITV something (3? 4? 87?)

I'm watching Hugh, dumped by Julia, walking up Portobello Road from the Electric Cinema (as was) two blocks north through all the seasons, snow, everything, to the sound of "Ain't No Sunshine". The sequence starts with a pregnant woman and ends with the same woman holding a baby. Clever. Poignant.

Come on, you've seen it plenty! I've seen it bloody millions of times (mild exaggeration) at the cinema then on planes because it was a "safe" film to show on flights. I got to know it almost off by heart. Literally, I can nearly recite the script now.

Thing is, I'm dragging some cool-out of towners around, because I've spent most of my life in Notting Hill. Not as a born-and-bred local council estate market stall holder, or a trustafarian whose £2m flat has no mortgage, or even a fashionista, but someone who just, er, lived here and shopped on Portobello Road of a Sa'aday mayte. . I wasn't just passing through either. We're talking years. Decades. And while it may not be fashionable, I like the movie too.

On Friday we had dinner at Galicia, the Spanish home from home, (and David Cameron's) so fantastic we had lunch again on Saturday; drinks and stuff at the Electric, downstairs, and more upstairs; after some kosher canapes at a Barmitzvah, some roast halal chicken (a whole one) from Chicken Cottage on Ladbroke Grove, some weekly shopping at the market, pizza in Kensington Park Road opposite where 192 used to be (RIP), Red Velvet cupcakes from Hummingbird, coffee and pastries from Kitchen and Pantry plus breakfast at Mike's (the best!).
No wonder I was fucking fat when I lived there.

As The Travel Bookshop's best ever customer (I travel. I buy travel books) I'm tempted to tell the crowds taking snaps of the exterior that the bookshop in the movie was faked in Portobello Road and also that Richard Curtis's Blue Front Door, opposite Nu-Line, which framed Spike in said undies, wasn't just painted black but has actually been replaced entirely, the real one being sold for charity. But I didn't. So many Japanese kids doing that V-sign, who am I to spoil it?

Gary sings outside the Market Bar, Mary sells her Balinese jewellery; gentrification is relentless and while the Oxfam Shop now sells nowt but books (it's the best one, save possibly for Marylebone High Street) and there are tables and chairs on the pavement north of Westway (as opposed to guys selling, er, stuff at the corner of Cambridge Gardens) it's still the real deal.

Richard Curtis's movie is good, neither the date stamped imagery of Four Weddings, nor the American prism of 'Love, Actually', but a likeable love story, set against a real backdrop.

Because that's what that part of Notting Hill actually looks like. Really.






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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rocker Stalker





Rather weirdly, I nearly became poet John Hegley's stalker at the Edinburgh Festival one year after telling him at the bar of the Assembly Rooms that I was not only coming to see his show, I had brought a lot of friends with me, as I had seen him perform in London "many times". For the next few days everywhere, but everywhere, I went in Edinburgh I bumped into him. It became so embarrassing I nearly stayed in. I don't know who felt more awkward, him or me.


But that's nothing compared to the lifelong crush I appear to have on Annie Lennox, resurrected again by the release of her new solo album that nearly had me in tears during the Jonathan Ross Show last week and in subsequent listenings produces a lump in my throat.


When she first appeared (in The Tourists) I was suitably impressed, but on reflection it was really just a rehearsal for nearly a decade of beautiful music with Dave Stewart. I bought every Eurythmics album and we played them endlessly, endlessly, endlessly. There is something about her voice that presses the buttons for me and I still go slightly weak at the knees over Annie Lennox. At the peak of her powers I was besotted - musically speaking of course.


After they split she came to New York to play Central Park and I was living there. I asked a member of my team to secure tickets. Impossible, I was told. Rubbish, I said. I was wrong. I couldn't get bloody tickets for love nor money. The Pope was in NYC at the same time and I saw HIM twice, scornfully remarking to the cowering members of the team that it was easier to see the f*cking Pope than Annie Lennox. What made matters even worse was that when the DVD of the show came out, it was blisteringly, bloody, barnstormingly brilliant. I think I wore the stupid thing thin playing it so often.


But back in London it came as no small surprise to be walking a small nationwide into the school playground one morning to see Ms Lennox walking out, having dropped off her small sprog. I could barely speak I was so moved. I think I began to hyperventilate. In front of small children. Every morning, almost without fail, I walked in as she walked out, I would bow my head (face red) and walk past in case she saw me and suspected me of stalking her. I could not bring myself to speak.


The school was heavily favoured by slebs and a lot of them I knew professionally. But I could never bring myself to approach The Diva.

"Hi Annie, I know it's the school playground and all, but I just well, really, er, really, um , well, ........."

"Thankyou. It's very nice to meet you. Why don't you drop round for tea and crumpets one day and I'll sing you a song."

Yeah, like that conversation ever took place.


Even worse, I would occasionally find myself, shortly after 9am, at the local petrol station filling up the tank and who would be at the next pump. Filling hers. And then at the cash queue there would just be the two of us. God I felt awkward.


Sleb restaurants and clubs in Soho, television studio green rooms, and posh parties are where you definitley do NOT approach music royalty so seeing A. Lennox at such places and bashes was slightly easier to deal with. But in local caffs, shops and pavements around our neck of the woods it almost forced me to dart behind the odd postbox. I once looked up during coffee at one of those communal tables to discover her at the same table. Jeesh.


In Le Caprice I was at a tiny table with a friend from Arizona and pointed out to her that at the next table but one was Jools Holland, a fabulous muso and TV persona, and whom I had met a couple of times. We might even talk when he got up but rather annoyingly he started to talk to the woman sitting to my left, at another tiny table, whose elbows had occasionally touched mine during dinner. Bugger, I thought, before glancing through the very corner of my eye on hearing this woman speak to confirm that it was...well you've guessed who it was. I froze, fearful of being labelled the Playground Stalker or somesuch. I grimaced and rolled my eyes at my dining companion, doing a kind of muted Basil Fawlty impression, trying to convey who this was and that I could be arrested at any moment for harrassment. Mercifully, we escaped before the rozzers (sleb protection squad) were called.


And then it all went away as Ms Lennox did other things and I moved out the area. Until Friday, when I was near to tears at the sound of her voice again, wondering if I could just pop down to a stage door somewhere and lurk a little.......