Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Book finds at the Hodges Figges Sale

Hodges Figgis always has a deadly sale in January but so far, because am utterly skint after the excesses of Christmas and am trying to spend fuck all even to the point that I tried to haggle with a vacant checkout assistant in BT2 over the price of a pair of jeans, I have not been able to pick anything up. There is a fine selection of books on offer, putting both Easons and Waterstones( even though it is owned by the same company) to shame. Anyway I succumbed to temptation yesterday evening after a particularly bleak day and bought Journey to the Orient by Gerard de Nerval and Les Onze Mille Verges by Guillaume Apollinaire. The latter title is untranslatable because 'verges' refers both to the male member and virgins. The English alternative cheerfully offered by publisher Peter Owen Modern Classics is 'The Amorous Adventures of Prince Mony Vibescu', which goes some way to catching the mood of this carry-on style pornographic romp from I would have thought the most unlikely of sources, a celebrated avant-garde poet. Written when Apollinaire was like me stony broke, the novel, if you can call it that, amounts to one improbable, comical sex scene after another as our hero, Prince Vibescu has his wicked way with the ladies of Paris while not forgetting in turn to be serviced by many of its male denizens. The repetitive task of describing shag after shag clearly got to Apollinaire because with each vignette the action becomes more fantastical, the sheer accumulation of bodies and positions a ruse to hide the mundane purpose of the exercise.
Meanwhile, de Nerval's book is about a trip he took to Cairo, Beirut and Constantinople in 1844 in search of hashish and Eastern women. Published five years later, it was only translated into English in the late 1990's but clearly pre-dates Jack Kerouac and Hunter S. Thompson similar narcotic inspired odysseys by a century. That's Apollinaire looking grumpy in the above image.

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Monday, January 29, 2007

Cinema: Blood Diamond

During one of many heated exchanges in ‘Blood Diamond‘, campaigning journalist Maddy Bowen, played by the surprisingly irritating Jennifer Connelly, says to remorseless smuggler and mercenary Danny Archer that if the American people knew where the diamonds they sport on their fingers came from, they would soon stop wearing them. Strange then that they knowingly guzzle on oil bought from totalitarian regimes. And at the film’s close, we are told that since the end of the civil war in Sierra Leone forty countries have agreed that a certificate as to the origin and sourcing of diamonds sold in their respective jurisdictions have to be made available to purchasers in a system called the Kimberley Process. On foot of its introduction, the filmmakers would have us believe that illegal diamond smuggling is a thing of the past, which reminded me, at least, of the final statements in the Veronica Guerin film where the viewer was informed that in the wake of her murder, the drugs problem in Dublin was all but eradicated. Both propositions are patent bollix and give an indication as to the level of analysis director Ed Zwick and his team bring to bear on the civil war that destroyed Sierra Leone in the 1990’s.
Zwick was a producer on ‘thirty something’, the creepy US drama series of the early 90’s that was so full of hugging and learning and one can see that impulse here as Archer, played by an improbably accented though rather good Leonardo Di Caprio, is transformed, while in pursuit of a particularly priceless diamond, from being an amoral war profiteer to, pace George Bush , a ‘loving guy’. The wretched suffering of the people - hundreds of thousands killed, more maimed, rape used as a weapon of war- are pushed to one side as Archer is slowly redeemed. This may make sense for a mainstream Hollywood film but I thought it veered on the offensive. So too did the plot which was essentially an action adventure chase movie weirdly reminiscent of the ‘Jewel of the Nile’, jarring somewhat with the setting of the story in a country devastated by war. Played as a conventional thriller, ‘Blood Diamond’ would have been enjoyable hokum but setting it in Sierra Leone and preaching to the audience about the ethical buying of diamonds was a mistake

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Cinema: Regular Lovers

On successive nights this weekend I fell asleep while attempting to watch Regular Lovers, a retort by French film maker Philip Garrel to Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers. Both star Garrel’s son Louis and both concern the failed Paris uprising of students and workers in 1968. While Bertolucci’s film shows three lovers participating in sexual games oblivious to the fact that outside the city is burning, the protagonists of Regular Lovers are more engaged, throwing Molotov cocktails at les flics and doing their best to avoid military service. At three hours long, Garrel is in no hurry to tell the story (a word used advisedly given that the attempt to impose a narrative is of course a knee-jerk bourgeois desire for order), instead he lingers on empty streets and passive faces. While I admire the seriousness of the enterprise and the blunt refusal to pander to the stupid fucked up aesthetic of Hollywood cinema, I found it deathly dull, to such an extent that I dozed off not once but twice. I was left wondering whether there is space in contemporary culture for the type of young intellectual that populates the film. Does anybody sit around stoned talking about poetry and the working class anymore or is everyone too busy writing blogs and more generally becoming fodder for the information technology industry?

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