Tuesday, 17 January 2017


Although it plays on the tropes of golden age musicals, La La Land isn't really a musical in that sense. The leads are not great dancers - to have been so would simply have been cheesy. Their modest hoofing is approachable, which seems right for what is, in effect, a two hander. It is a very clever thing to have made so intimate and ordinary a story on such a cinescopic scale. The hilltop dance scene (six minutes - one shot - the one in the posters) was done on location. The artifice is the artifice of reality (that sounds a bit pseudy, I am aware, but it rather sums up the movie's appeal). The story itself is rigorously anti-sentimental, which plays brilliantly against all the expectations we bring to the genre. No, it isn't Singin' in the Rain, nor meant to be (and anyway, Singin' in the Rain is more or less the greatest of all movies in the history of the universe, including all parallel universes). As for the performances - dancing aside - Ryan Gosling's is wonderfully generous and understated, while Emma Stone's first audition is alone worth studying - for once a movie audition that isn't played cod - her character can really act. We are transfixed by Stone's brilliant acting until we become aware that behind her, blurred, a minion is knocking at the glass office door with a sandwich for the casting director, and we are ourselves torn, distracted. The film's cameras linger; there are shots that last minutes on end, so that all the action is in the performance It seems like a film put imagined beforehand and not put together in the cutting room. It also continues a theme that impels 'Whiplash' - that to be your best self, sacrifice must be made. La La Land is not simply a floaty floaty pastiche; it is a proper tale beautifully told.

Friday, 6 January 2017

St David's Day Pageant, 1953

HPW and Wynford Vaughan-Thomas broadcasting from the Royal Albert Hall,
St David's Day Pageant, March 1953
© National Library of Wales

Monday, 2 January 2017


John Berger, I understand, has died, at 90. He was one of the larger characters of my childhood, with that wonderful voice, and serious motorbike. He made several films for my father, and had a deep friendship and intense correspondence with my mother. John asked her to write the original blurb for his Booker prize-winning novel, 'G', and she did so. I reproduce it here, because I think it does the novel justice and might bring it new readers.

"G. is pre-eminently, monumentally, the sexual man: an embodiment, perhaps, of the life-force itself. In him, the claims of sexuality are total, leaving no part of his life and fate untouched. They push their unimpeded way through riot, sudden death, the onset of world war, the fabric of social forms and sexual conventions, until that last moment when under the weight of the world 'desire is indistinguishable from despair'.
G.'s ineluctable preoccupation with women and the life of sex gives unexpected foundation for an astonishing new vision of the physical world and its inner life. Although set at the turn of the century, the action of the novel is not 'condemned to living the present in the past', which in G. himself signifies the beginning of his death. From G.'s birth to the Anglo-American mistress of a wealthy Livornese merchant, every described moment is made a present one with hallucinating precision. Many of these moments relate to the affairs of the world - Garibaldi entering Naples, the first flight over the Alps, riots in Milan, the outbreak of the 1914 war; others to the timeless being of the countryside and its fruits, houses, the play of light and shade; yet others to acts of personal human kindness, rage, desire - the most central of all to the acts of sex. Those moments are so originally and truly observed that they have a rare, persistent, mind-moving effect on the reader.
The book is impressive throughout: in its slow, mesmerising rhythms and frequent startling poetic leaps of thought; in its perceptions at once precisely and sensuously physical and speaking always to the mind's eye; in the strong appearance of the author as storyteller and essayist and philosopher - the only reasonable comparison here would be with Musil; above all perhaps in the head-on collision between a modern writer and the intractable stuff of reality. 'Whatever I perceive or imagine amazes me with its particularity'.
At this collision, John Berger shows us how reality, upon the utterance of a word, disappears: to reassemble, both time and silence are necessary to it. As a result of the author's dedication, patience and highest art both these elusive elements are present in this very remarkable work. Fore this reason alone, G. cannot but help raise critical questions of the utmost importance."

Jacqueline Wheldon, September 1971


 Last day. Preposterous crowds. The trick is to skip around until you spot a picture not being looked at. The problem with this approach is that although it is a big show there aren't that many paintings, on account of their being so damn large. However, you'd have to be deeply misanthropic not to enjoy being surrounded by this stuff, even in the press of head-phoned humanity. So - a few notes: Willem de Kooning was a bit of a turn up. Although I don't much like his pastellly palate, I do like the kind of tease in his pictures: what precisely am I looking at? (There is that odd moment in art history - brought home in the recent Nash exhibition - when Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism shared a similar space; there's a Rothko gouache and w/c here from 1944 that occupies the same place). I enjoyed a Motherwell or two, especially the big 'Elegy to the Spanish Republic' (unspoiled by a son's insistence that it was an illustration of Imperial fighters from Star Wars). The Rothko room is too full of people - It is hard to get that weird otherworldly hum that Rothko's paintings give off in a room of his paintings, as though speaking to one another. He and Pollock - yin and yan, energy and meditation - so perfectly complement one another, and they are head and shoulders, in my opinion, above the rest. I think 'Blue Poles' alone was worth the price of entry. An absolutely fabulous thing. In reproduction it is almost impossible to understand the sheer scale, and the work, the ferocity of it; it has depth but it also sits on the surface. It can be looked at in so many ways. Might be worth a trip to Australia to see it again. A real privilege. Finally, a word about David Smith, whose sculptures make you smile, seasoning the austere seriousness of the painters' ambitions. I saw a show of his at the Tate Modern a few years ago, and because he is not a galactico, it was possible to actually see each piece in relative peace and quiet. They are invariably engaging - again on that nexus which includes surreal and abstract - and often beautiful. Fab show. Catalogue sold out. Here are a couple of badly photographed de Koonings and a David Smith.

Sunday, 1 January 2017


MOONGLOW by Michael Chabon

Tuesday, 13 December 2016


To the Tate for Paul Nash.  A biggish exhibition, perhaps a little too big, but fascinating.  I've had a soft spot for Nash ever since an exhibition of his photos at my school in the early 1970s.  I feel possessive.

Among the very first pictures is one which features a moon and pyramids.  It is a geometric theme than runs through almost all his work, giving it its distinctiveness and tension: the war between curve and straight.  That early picture also has a mysteriousness which is present in almost all his subsequent work, and provides the seasoning that brings the paintings their liveliness.

Nash's trees and hills and suns and moons are given a mythic identity; I was reminded of Samuel Palmer.  Nash is a romamtic: the world is not as it seems; nature contains meanings.

By later landscapes I was reminded of Ivon Hitchens, who surely learned from Nash, who by this time seems more interested in the paint on the canvas, so to speak.  There is more than a hint of abstraction.

The absence of Nash's most famous painting, the wonderful 'Battle of Britain' was a disappointment.  Is there a war going on between the Tate at the Imperial War Museum?  I wanted to use it in my biography of my Dad, as it seemed brilliantly to illustrate the strange beauty of a scene he witnessed, of German dive bombers being scared off by Spitfires, over the Channel in 1940.  But I wasn't allowed colour pics, so...

My favourite picture was probably this one:

Spring in the Trenches, Ridge Wood, 1917
painted 1918

A very worthwhile exhibition.  Nash was not a great painter, I think, but he was a very good one.  Top of the second division.  This is a great oversimplification, but I think, in the end, the paintings say more about Nash himself than they do about the world.  Having said that, I was at Seatown recently, below Golden Cap, and the moon  had risen as the sun was setting over the channel, behind me.  There was a clump of trees on the rise of a hill, and it was mysterious, and it made me think of Nash, and Nash made me feel this little landscape's power, so maybe I'm wrong, and he has helped me see the world.


A Paul Nash scene, Seatown, Dorset - the rise towards Golden Cap.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016


Doddery Dad manages to make Wise Son smile.

Nice scrolling on that 'O'

Eugene Grasset's rather startling 'Morphinomane', 1897

Wise son preparing to take on world / life etc
(circa some time ago now)

Wise son (right) promoting a good idea.

Wise and beautiful wife preparing to take on Scotland.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016


Gorgeous exhibition at the Jewish Museum of work by ceramicists, including by Ruth Duckworth, whom I remember from my very early childhood. She and her husband Aidron lived just up the road from us in Kew. They had a converted chapel or perhaps warehouse; very clay-ey.  I liked her, but I can't remember why. My sister Sian says it is because she was very generous with juice and biscuits.

Pottery is rather undervalued (Ruth called herself a sculptor).  I think it fills an interesting space between abstraction and the figurative. Everything on display is also unarguably beautiful, though little of it could be called merely decorative (perhaps Rie's buttons?)


Monday, 14 November 2016

Sunday, 13 November 2016


I have a poem in this anthology published today, on the first anniversaire of the Paris attack. But there are also poems by much better poets, so may be worth a purchase.


Sunday, 30 October 2016

NUTSHELL by Ian McEwan

No-one plants unease as well as Ian McEwan.  I had thought, before 'unease', to write, unthinkingly, 'disease'; now it occurs to me that maybe disease is an even better word.  His prose, which I would suggest is now among the best the English language has, digs in and under, and fills the imagination with all kinds of mental dyspepsia.  It is quite brilliant; but of course one knows that it will all end badly.  With McEwan it always does.   'Nutshell' is actually a novella, a long short story, longer than some novels. The claustrophobia, the intense detailing, are reminders of those earliest, shocking tales in 'First Love, Last Rites', the only collection of short stories, in my literary lifetime, that have had the impact of an important novel.  I've a feeling that, like an English football player's overhead goal, this book would be praised to the treetops were it by a Czech or Vietnamese or Egyptian writer.  It is a state-of-the-world tract encased in the nutshell of an English - very English - short story.  A book about shuffling on the mortal coil, it is worth the read for the prose alone, but it may leave you sadder and not necessarily all that wiser.