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Tag: Hollywood

In the year of his first cigarette

Saturday, 24 June, 2017 0 Comments

In the year that the great Galty smoked his first cigarette, The Wizard of Oz, starring Judy Garland, premiered in Hollywood; Francisco Franco assumed power in Spain; Flann O’Brien’s metafiction At Swim-Two-Birds was published in London; Princess Fawzia Fuad of Egypt married Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi of Iran; Billie Holiday recorded Strange Fruit; Italy seized Albania and King Zog fled; an Irish Republican Army bomb exploded in the centre of Coventry, killing five people; John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath was published; Batman made his first appearance in Detective Comics No. 27; nylon stockings went on sale in Wilmington, Delaware, and LaGuardia Airport opened in New York City.

Oh, and the opening shots of World War II were fired when Germany invaded Poland.

Galty


Claud Cockburn’s Cork literary colony

Thursday, 2 February, 2017 0 Comments
Claud Cockburn’s Cork literary colony

At the height of the Spanish Civil War, George Orwell wrote Homage to Catalonia and in it he accused Claud Cockburn of being under the control of the Communist Party. Was the star journalist a Stalinist? The debate raged through the 1940s and when it became uncomfortable the suspected “Red” moved his family from England to Ireland and the Cockburns set up home in Youghal, County Cork, in 1947.

With a household to maintain and a dodgy reputation to contend with, Claud needed to be agile and he was. He created his own “literary colony” and proceeded to type a constant but uneven income stream under a variety of names. In his memoirs, he recalls a visitor to Youghal describing the hive of creative industry thus:

“He claimed to have met Frank Pitcairn, ex-correspondent of the Daily Worker — a grouchy, disillusioned type secretly itching to dash out and describe a barricade. There was Claud Cockburn, founder and editor of The Week, talkative, boastful of past achievements, and apt, at the drop of a hat, to tell, at length, the inside story of some forgotten diplomatic crisis of the 1930s. Patrick Cork would look in — a brash little number, and something of a professional Irishman, seeking, no doubt, to live up to his name. James Helvick lived in and on the establishment, claiming that he needed quiet and plenty of good food and drink to enable him to finish a play and a novel which would soon bring enough money to repay all costs. In the background, despised by the others as a mere commercial hack, Kenneth Drew hammered away at the articles which supplied the necessities of the colony’s life.”

And it was James Helvick who helped the family win the lottery, as it were, with the novel Beat the Devil. Helvick, aka Cockburn, met John Huston in Luggala and sold the film rights to the Hollywood director and this advancement from penury to prosperity is recalled by Claude’s late son, Alexander, in Corruptions of Empire: Life Studies & the Reagan Era. As we’ve been pointing out here this week, Luggala, the outstanding 18th-century Irish house and estate in County Wicklow, is now being offered for sale by Sotheby’s International Realty for $29 million.

What did Helvick/Cockburn do with the fat film cheque when it eventually arrived in Youghal via Luggala and Hollywood? Champagne and a bicycle were involved, as we’ll find out tomorrow.

Luggala


When Hollywood came to Cork

Wednesday, 1 February, 2017 0 Comments
When Hollywood came to Cork

On Monday and yesterday here, our topic was the impending sale of Luggala, the beautiful 18th-century Irish house in County Wicklow. Sotheby’s International Realty want $29 million for the estate, an incomprehensible sum for many people today and an unfathomable amount for the creative types who once found refuge in Luggala.

Claud Cockburn was one of these and his Wicklow adventures were recalled by his late son, Alexander, in Corruptions of Empire: Life Studies & the Reagan Era. Claude, author of Beat the Devil, met John Huston in Luggala and made a pitch for the novel’s screen potential. The Hollywood director was impressed and soon afterwards he made his way to Youghal, the ailing port on the Cork coast, where the Cockburns lived precariously:

“By the time Huston and his wife came down to Youghal to talk more about the screenplay he couldn’t read Beat the Devil on the phone, not ours at least, because it had been cut off for non-payment of bills. Telegrams shuttled back and forth between Youghal and Hollywood and finally the offer came: £3,000 for rights and screenplay, or a lesser sum up front, against a greater, but as yet insubstantial reward — the famous ‘points’ — in the distant future. My father naturally took the lump sum on the barrel, used some of it to plug the roof and appease the bailiffs and then went to work with Huston on the screenplay.

The film had a sumptuous cast: Bogart, Peter Lorrie, Gina Lollobrigida, Jennifer Jones, Robert Morley. When it finally got to Youghal there was a great to-do in the form of a grand screening at Horgan’s Cinema. The people of Youghal, not entirely without reason, found it incomprehensible but applauded heartily, none more so, I imagine, than the bailiffs and other representatives of the commercial sector of the town.”

But there was a fly in the ointment. As the film’s credits rolled, the screenplay was attributed to Truman Capote, “from a novel by James Helvick.” Who was this James Helvick and how was he related to Frank Pitcairn, Patrick Cork, Kenneth Drew and Claud Cockburn? Or were all they the same person? The answers can be found here tomorrow.

Beat the Devil


When the Cockburns went to Luggala

Monday, 30 January, 2017 0 Comments
When the Cockburns went to Luggala

“Hidden inside a secluded Irish valley lies Luggala, an exquisite 18th-century house at the centre of an estate comprising of some 5,000 acres.” And for $29,952,931 this can be yours say Sotheby’s International Realty, who don’t spare the adjectives in their blurb: “Luggala is that special brand of eighteenth-century gothick that rejoices in little battlements, crochets, trefoil and quatrefoil windows and ogee mantelpieces, Indeed, quite like the gothick of pastrycooks and Rockingham china.” Good ones those: gothick, crochets, trefoil, ogee.

Anyway, Luggala, with its 27 bedrooms and 18 full baths featured in the hilariously readable Corruptions of Empire: Life Studies & the Reagan Era by the late Alexander Cockburn. In the chapter titled “Beat the Devil”, he recalls how his father, Claud, author of the novel Beat the Devil, retreated to Luggala to escape his creditors:

Beat the Devil was published at the beginning of the fifties, in England by Boardman and in the US by Lippincott. Both are now defunct, at least as houses publishing trade books. The advance against royalties provided by Boardman was, to my mother’s recollection, somewhere between £200 and £300, and the sum of the American rights was $750. This sort of money, though not as paltry as it now appears, did not long stay the bailiffs and things were looking bad as we went off to stay, for the Dublin Horse Show week, with Oonagh Oranmore at Luggala, her house in the Wicklow mountains.”

Tomorrow, here, how the Hollywood director John Huston, a frequent guest at Luggala, made a dramatic entrance and saved the Cockburns from poverty.

Luggala


The Spielberg trademark

Sunday, 18 December, 2016 0 Comments

In 1964, when he was 17, Steven Spielberg caught the attention of Universal Studios with his 140-minute film Firelight, about a UFO invading a small town. He went on to direct episodes of TV series such as Columbo and Marcus Welby, MD, as well as his own psychological thriller Duel in 1971, but it wasn’t until 1975 that the breakthrough came. That was the year Steven Spielberg presented the movie industry with the concept of the summer blockbuster in the form of Jaws. The rest is Hollywood.

If you watch any of his films, you’ll notice a trademark element: the Spielberg Face. This is his signature. Characters watch in awe, wonder, fear, sadness, hope, joy. It’s his way of showing us that this is a vital scene. The great storyteller Steven Spielberg is 70 today.


Watching Watson emote with redundant robots

Saturday, 27 February, 2016 0 Comments

Hollywood has become rather fond of depicting robots and artificial intelligence as threats to humanity and that’s not good for the image of the computing industry. Too much dystopia and people might begin to fear the machines. Time, then, for a spot of conviviality where people interact with the technology that will soon be bossing business, and that’s why IBM will present two ads starring its Watson cognitive computing system during the Academy Awards show.

In this clip we see Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher leading a support group for outmoded robots upset at being replaced by newer technology. She invites Watson to help them confront their anxieties and he tells them he’s a computing system that works with humans. But the “traditional” robots say they’re not interested in working with people and opt for a coffee break instead. Humour is not an easy thing to do at the best of times and it’s especially difficult for humans to make robots funny.

#OscarsSoRobotic: The bots in the Watson clip will be live-tweeting during the Oscars.


And the Oscar goes to…

Thursday, 7 January, 2016 0 Comments

… the landscape. Sorry, Leonardo DiCaprio, your performance is compelling, but there’s more to acting than being attacked by a bear. The Revenant is a feast for the eyes, but not so much for the ears. The score by Ryuichi Sakamoto, in collaboration with Bryce Dessner and Alva Noto, is appropriately chilling but it lacks all traces of humanity. The other pain-in-the-ear is the accent of the dastard John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy). “I’m talkin’ to you,” he says in one scene, and it’s about the only understandable thing he utters and mutters throughout. Dave Schilling in the Guardian nails it:

“Fitzgerald is supposed to be from the south or some other rural area and has plans to go back to Texas to re-enlist in the army once he receives a fat payday. This affords Hardy the chance to sink his teeth into yet another dialect and boy, does he chew away at that thing. Again, Hardy’s accent seems to ride in and out on the wind, appearing when necessary and getting usurped by a generic, Star Trek: Nemesis-esque growl when he can get away with it.”

With The Revenant, director Alejandro G. Iñárritu has made a unique visual statement about survival in the face of almost impossible odds and viewers are treated to some memorable graphic moments, but the film has no soul. Worse, it is littered with the inevitable PC sops that must be offered these days to the “victims” of history, but they are too clumsy and transparent to be anything but cliché. When the dust settles after the 88th Academy Awards ceremony on 28 February at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, The Revenant will be remembered mostly for reviving a 19th century word for someone who returns from a long absence. The noun comes from the French revenant, the present participle of the verb revenir (“to return”).

Prediction: The Revenant will win an Oscar: Best Cinematography for the magnificent camerawork of Emmanuel Lubezki. He creates a truly imposing wild West from a variety of scenes shot in Canada, Argentina and the United States.


Current reading: I Am Pilgrim

Friday, 21 August, 2015 1 Comment

With Mad Max 2, Payback, Cliffhanger and Dead Calm among his credits, the Australian screenwriter Terry Hayes could rest on his laurels, but he’s not content with being put out to grass. I am Pilgrim I Am Pilgrim is his debut novel and it is an exceptionally fine thriller. The moving parts include a flawed hero in the form of a US intelligence agent codenamed The Pilgrim, working for a shadowy outfit called The Division, and a jihadi Saudi doctor codenamed The Saracen, who has created a smallpox variant with which he hopes to destroy the “far enemy”, namely the USA.

The action races from Manhattan to Moscow to London, the Hindu Kush, Bodrum and a Nazi death camp in Alsace. And that’s just a half dozen of the global settings. In between, Hayes peppers the story with wry observations about humanity, its habitats and its foibles. In an attempt to extract confidential customer records from an especially reptilian Swiss banker, the Pilgrim takes the man’s daughter hostage and threatens the worst. The banker is forced to choose between finance and family. This prompts the following observation:

“People say love is weak, but they’re wrong: love is strong. In nearly everyone it trumps all other things — patriotism and ambition, religion and upbringing. And of every kind of love — the epic and the small, the noble and the base — the one that a parent has for their child is the greatest of them all. That was the lesson I learned that day, and I’ll be forever grateful I did.”

I Am Pilgrim is a cut above the ordinary so it’s not surprising that MGM bought the rights and are said to be plotting a series of films, similar to the Bourne franchise.


Marx and Mass and Moguls and Myanmar

Tuesday, 18 August, 2015 0 Comments

When he was a hard-left Labour activist and a militant atheist, the young(er) Tim Stanley saw life as a class struggle and believed that salvation could only come through revolution. That was then. And now? In the Catholic Herald, the historian and journalist explains his epiphany in “Why I became a Catholic“. Snippet:

“I’ve abandoned Marxism (a whole other complicated story) in part because I’ve realised that you can’t save this world by trying to tell others what to do. Politics is impotent compared to a kind word or a helping hand. Not that I’ve become a saint over the past 10 years — on the contrary, I’m more conscious of my failings. When you become a Catholic you find lots of new ways of feeling guilty.”

Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration Between LA and DC Revolutionized American Politics is the title of Tim Stanley’s latest book. In it, he argues that the film industry has “helped to forge a culture that is obsessed with celebrity and spectacle.” George Clooney and Matt Damon may be big at the box office but this does not make them experts on domestic or international affairs.

Stanley’s analysis of the West Wing phenomenon is funny and frightening. The series is “a Bible for liberal reformers the world over”, he says, pointing out its writers “are all former Capitol Hill staff, many of Obama’s staff are huge fans, and the character of Matt Santos was actually based on Obama when he was still an unknown Illinois politician.” Most terrifying of all, however, is the fact that when Myanmar (Burma) was transitioning from military rule, “its new government learned how to run a democracy by watching West Wing DVDs.” General elections are scheduled for Burma on 8 November, but the Wall Street Journal has spotted clouds on the horizon: “Myanmar Military Strengthens Grip Over Ruling Party as Election Nears” it reported recently. Looks like the West Wing did not unduly impress the colonels.


And the Oscar for best foreign-language film…

Sunday, 22 February, 2015 0 Comments

… goes to Leviathan. Well, that’s what we hope. Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film exudes contempt for modern Russia. Its story of corruption and cruelty is an indictment of the entire system. A win for Leviathan tonight in Los Angeles will be a black eye for the Putin regime and a victory for creativity. How the characters in the film feel about their country’s perverted history in captured is one of the film’s best scenes: a picnic with some local policemen, lots of bottles of vodka, semi-automatic weapons and an array of Soviet-era portraits — Brezhnev, Lenin, Andropov… the entire gallery of thugs.

Vladimir Medinsky, the Russian Minister of Culture, has called for new guidelines to ban films like Leviathan, which “defile” Russia and her culture.” Leviathan is a glorious defiling; a film that reviles what it loves with grief-stricken rage.


Paranoia

Wednesday, 30 October, 2013 0 Comments

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.