All Hallows’ Eve is the eve of All Saints’ Day, which is then followed by All Souls’ Day, which was yesterday. In Mexico, the triduum becomes El Dia de los Muertos, when the dead, and death itself, are made welcome by the living. In her poem All Souls’ Day, Frances Bellerby dreads death, but the […]
“Operating at the interface of rhythm and noise as punk-primitive, clearly finding his true self in the blues.” That’s what The Independent said of Richard Warren. And there’s this from WithGuitars.com: “The sound is stripped down to a wrought iron core, revealing an intriguing collision of country soul and primitive apocalyptic blues, Southern Gothic and English Romanticism.” Richard Warren’s new album, Rich Black Earth, will be released on the coming Monday, 4 November.Tweet
Once upon a time… Well, July 2008, actually, and the Guardian titled it, “Obama wows Berlin crowd with historic speech.” Reading it today, one cannot help but smile. Jonathan Freedland described it as “a summer gathering of peace, love — and loathing of George Bush.” The madness of crowds, and all that. Freedland reminded readers that “the latest edition of Stern magazine features Obama on the cover, above the line ‘Saviour — or demagogue?’” Ah, fickle media. The current issue of Stern features Obama on the cover, too, but the title is “Der Spitzel“, a German term redolent of a Gestapo-Stasi horror that can only be approximated in English with informer, rate, fink, snitch or stoolie. But back to the Guardian and its treasure trove of mirth. Freedland noted an outbreak of “warmth” when Obama explained his belief in “allies who will listen to each other, who will learn from each other who will, above all, trust each other”. Yeah. Listen.
Were Obama to appear in Berlin now, “The young and the pierced, some with guitars slung over their shoulders” would, no doubt, pelt him with rotten eggs, or worse. The “Love Parade” affection that was paraded back then for the Democratic candidate would now be demonstrated for the data thief Edward Snowden. Today, Hans-Christian Ströbele, a German politician and lawyer, who once defended RAF terrorists, announced that he had met Snowden in Moscow and had invited him to Germany to testify about US intelligence gathering activities. Ströbele is noted for his hatred of America and it would be the ultimate irony of recent trans-Atlantic relations if Snowden, at the behest of Ströbele, and guaranteed exemption from extradition, were to appear at a mass rally in Berlin and declare “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Sounds daft, of course, but 200,000 crazy Germans turned out to hear another American promising “Hope and Change” in July 2008. The madness of crowds.Tweet
Amazon has delivered and once some upcoming unpleasantness has been successfully weathered, we’ll be enjoying Solo, the new James Bond thriller by William Boyd. Can’t resist a quick peek at the first sentence, though. Here goes: “James Bond was dreaming.” Hmmm. Sounds, er, promising. Meanwhile, here’s the cover of the third Ian Fleming 007 story, Moonraker, which was published in April 1955 in Britain by Jonathan Cape. The cover art, if one can call it that, marks one of the low points in the history of design. Between the covers, though, the author was splendidly un-PC.
“Unless she married soon, Bond thought for the hundredth time, or had a lover, her cool air of authority might easily become spinsterish and she would join the army of women who had married a career.” Ian Fleming, Moonraker
The Rainy Day team celebrates the annual anniversary of its union today. We have a lot to be grateful for and wish for many more days, rainy or fine, to celebrate our good luck.
What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?
Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.
Philip Larkin, Collected Poems
One would think that in these dramatic days of data mining the old-style espionage thriller would find it hard to compete, but the opposite is the case. Three new novels suggest that there’s a lot of life left in the genre yet:
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris explores the Dreyfus Affair through the eyes and ears of Colonel Georges Picquart who, as head of the Statistical Section, a clandestine intelligence unit, gains access to the secret evidence used against Dreyfus. Parallels between the resolution of the Dreyfus Affair in 1906 and recent events revealing the power that intelligence agencies wield is not coincidental.
Solo by William Boyd is a continuation of the James Bond saga. M sends 007 to a West African state split by civil war over oil reserves with the mission of destabilizing the rebel movement under the cover of a journalist for a French press agency (France, unsurprisingly, supports the insurgents). So, in 1969, Bond departs for the Dark Continent equipped with Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter and some toiletries. “He who travels lightest, travels furthest, Bond supposed, and that included weaponry. Into a war zone with a can of talcum powder and some aftershave.”
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan deals with the experiences of its protagonist, Serena Frome, during the early 1970s, when Britain is being torn apart by industrial unrest and terrorism. After graduating from Cambridge she is recruited by MI5, and is sent out to combat communism in the intellectual world. But Cupid strikes and Serena is forced to abandon the first rule of espionage — trust no one.
Reading all three will take some time, but they’re on the list. That same list has been reduced by one with the recent completion of Paranoia by Joseph Finder. Although it was published in 2004, the theme of industrial espionage is as relevant as ever. The problem with the book, however, is that it has aged radically, although it’s less than a decade old. The pace of technological change is so relentless now that a story where LexisNexis is the cutting-edge search engine sounds absurd to our ears. Joseph Finder cannot be faulted for this, but there is a lesson here for would-be novelists and over-reliance on communication gadgets as plot drivers. Robert Harris, Ian McEwan and William Boyd cleverly fix their recent spy stories in the 20th century, which allows them to look back — cynically, humourously, skeptically — at what was once considered the acme of progress and sophistication.
Joseph Finder’s Paranoia was given the opportunity to refresh itself recently via a Hollywood adaptation but the reviews have been universally awful. Describing it as “a ho-hum thriller about corporate spying in the high-tech world,” SF Gate says it “comes off as a lot more preposterous than paranoid, and it takes no more than a few frames for the eye rolling to commence.” Much of the blame lies with the vapid Liam Hemsworth, who was dreadfully miscast as Adam Cassidy, the mischievous, brilliant, vulnerable narrator of the yarn, but the inclusion of Gary Oldman as the villain, Nick Wyatt, is another serious blow to the credibility of Finder’s original. “He had a deep tan, shoe polish-black hair gelled and combed straight back. His teeth were perfectly even and Vegas-white. He was fifty-six but didn’t look it, whatever fifty-six is supposed to look like.” That’s very not Gary Oldman and an over-egged London accent does not make him a convincing corporate shark, either. Ah, well. Solo is sure to be better when it is filmed.Tweet
Beginning on 8 November and offering the Marc’Aurelio Award for best entry, The Rome Film Festival presents some intriguing titles: Marc Turtletaub’s star-filled directorial debut Gods Behaving Badly — a tale of Greek gods living in present-day New York; Her by Spike Jonze, Seventh Code from Japan’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Blue Sky Bones from China’s Jian Cui, Jean-Marc Vallee’s Dallas Buyers Club and Out of the Furnace by Scott Cooper.
The Latin saying, Mille viae ducunt homines per saecula Romam (“A thousand roads lead men forever to Rome”) became the proverb: “All roads lead to Rome.” In this clip, Tom Mckie reveals the eternal beauty of the city once known universally as caput mundi.Tweet
In 1980, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz, then living in exile in California. Although he served as a post-war cultural attaché of the newly formed People’s Republic of Poland in Paris and Washington DC, Milosz became increasingly disillusioned with Stalinist dogma and in 1953 he wrote The Captive Mind, which exposed the pernicious effects of Marxist orthodoxy on his generation of idealists. “Written before the Berlin Wall went up, The Captive Mind was a key factor in eventually bringing it down,” noted the critic Clive James in Cultural Amnesia.
When the Polish intelligentsia was being “wiped out half by one set of madmen and half by another”, Milosz found strength in the Bible because it “provided a standard of authenticity against a much more dangerous language, the language of legalized murder,” writes James, a confirmed atheist. Of his own position regarding the Good Book, he declares: “But without the scriptures we poor wretches would be lost indeed, because without them, conscience itself would become just another disturbance of the personality to be cured by counselling. We are surrounded by voices telling us that everything will come right if we learn to love ourselves. Imagine the torment of Jesus in his passion, if, on top of the sponge of vinegar and the spear, they had offered him counselling as well.”Tweet
The winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival was The Conversation, a cautionary technological tale written, produced and directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Cindy Williams, Robert Duvall and Harrison Ford. Since then, The Conversation has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
What made the film especially significant was that it employed the same surveillance equipment that members of the Nixon Administration used when spying on political opponents. Because the film was released just before Richard Nixon resigned as President, many interpreted it to be a commentary on the Watergate scandal and on the dangers of technology in the hands of those determined to use it for personal or political advantage.
So what are the chances of Hollywood producing a Conversation for our times? You know, one that would highlight any theoretical abuse of surveillance power by the Obama administration. Don’t hold your breath. “Obama fundraiser at George Clooney’s home nets $15 million” reported CNN in May last year. Attendees included, “DreamWorks studio executive Jeffrey Katzenberg; designer Diane Von Furstenberg; Barbra Streisand and her actor husband James Brolin. “Folks are still hurting out there and those frustrations with Washington and the nonsense they see on the news is making them more cynical than they were in 2008,” Obama said. How true. But Hollywood “folks” ain’t hurting too bad so it’s unlikely they’ll be making movies about “the nonsense they see on the news” anytime soon. Anyway, they’d prefer not to offend their candidate.
Note: A few short years ago in Germany, a rabid hatred of George W. Bush was regarded as a sign of sanity but the mania ended in 2008 and was followed by a wave of Obama idolatry, equally terrifying in its obsessiveness. This fever has cooled, too, and Germany’s yellow press is now comparing Obama to Nixon using words that evoke Watergate.
“The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less sure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the […]
A quick look at the New York Times Bestsellers earlier in the week — Hardcover Non-Fiction — showed Jesus topping and tailing the list. In first place was Killing Jesus, an account of the life, times and crucifixion of our Saviour by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, and in tenth position, Zealot, a biography of the revolutionary Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan. And there was even more faith in fourth position with I Am Malala, which is about a Pakistani girl who was shot by the Islamist Taliban, while in fifth place was My Story, in which Elizabeth Smart tells of being kidnapped from her Utah home in 2002 at age 14 by a couple noted for their “religious idiosyncrasy”.
All this brings us to Amos Lee, whose fine new album, Mountains Of Sorrow, Rivers Of Song has come into our possession via iTunes. Although the name may not be familiar to all, Lee has built a sterling reputation by touring with Adele, Willie Nelson, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. Along with composing his own songs, he’s a superb interpreter and his version of Fred Neil’s A Little Bit of Rain is splendid. This is from the Mission Bell album.Tweet