Celebrity…so what

I live in Cannes. Have done for a while. I have just finished a novel set in a similar festival, no names, no pack drill etc.

So down to the festival I sometimes go, some years, to see the hoi mix with the polloi. Where are all the stars? Shall I be honest? Who cares. I am not interested in them, though they appear in my novel. Go figure. Privileges and the Precious Few. I’m not concerned about that in my life, I say. I like bigger things, I say.

It’s just a personal thing, no big deal. Not trying to sell anything to you, change your heart or mind, or get you upset. I mean who cares what another human thinks unless it’s someone you love, care about, live with.

Most people, as Sartre identified, are hell, wild animals to watch, arrive at an unspoken agreement with, to give room to get by or around without any anger or fuss.

So there is this word I think about sometimes, not a lot, but some. It’s no great shakes in itself, unless you use it to rate the world, to measure others by. Some think it’s right up there with the really major words: death, love, hope, life. It’s not on that level, but it’s a word that gets talked about an awful lot. And ignored by me just as much, I like to say.

Renovating in Italy

It’s now ten years that we have been in Pitigliano, renovating, holidaying and living. We chose Pitigliano, in the hills of La Maremma, southern Tuscany, for several reasons – the town itself; the hot springs of Saturnia; the wonderful beaches south of Argentario, and the countryside all around. Here are a few photos.

We took up the floors and found old tiles which was a wonderful find, but which now need work again because the ceiling of the magazzino (store room) below is deteriorating affecting the floor above. In truth this work was always going to be done, it was just a matter of when – when arrived in 2012.


I made my own stoneware tiles for the kitchen, following the idea of uncovered – ‘found old marble’.

We found the original painted wall and built it around designs incorporating terracotta wall lamps I made. Not everyone would do this or even like it for his or herself, but for us the architectural point of an old house like this, going back in parts to the 17th century – as it it is for local builders – is that you create and reconfigure old aspects and ‘finds’ into the overall look.

The fireplace was completely excavated, set back and made much larger, and we designed a heavy cast iron grill and had it made at a local foundry, so any fire on it would suck up the air and roar up the chimney.

A wood heater (la stufa), for keeping the house warm when a roaring wood fire would create too much heat.

The roof was redone.

Ceilings and a skylight done.

Shutters (le persiane) put up.

Slowly, modestly we are getting the house in shape.

Another Outsider

Mother died today. This morning at 11. Having a sudden feeling suddenly all might not be well I called. The nurse told me my mother had died six hours before.

No one sent me a telegram: Mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Yours sincerely. I had been back and left my number just in case she worsened.

Flying back to see her it was winter. Getting off the plane at five in the morning I went and swam in a pool to get my head straight. Driving up into the hills I stopped at a bakery in a small shopping centre. On offer were the same rolls loaves and sweets I knew from my childhood. I ate them in the early sun under a 7am clear sky, drinking hot coffee. Then I drove on to see her at the home. The nurses were kind. You are the one abroad aren’t you? We heard of you.

The home where she lived is half a world away. The nurse on the phone said the funeral will be tomorrow or the next day. The body had been taken away.

I have been away for twenty years this time. If you add up all the years in between the times we saw each other, contact was sparse over the last thirty-five years.

I watched as a Roman Catholic sister came in and said to her: I know you are a woman of great faith, would you like me to give you a blessing? My mother looked up at her with adoration in her eyes. Yes, she said. The sister took her hands in hers. I bless your eyes for all the beautiful things you have seen. I bless your nose for all the wonderful flowers you have smelled. I bless your lips for all the kind things you have said, and I bless your hands for they have held all your children.

What do you do? the sister asked bouncing a little on the vinyl floor. I write, I said. You are all creative. Then she left, coming back to confirm my telephone number. Is this still yours? Yes, I said, mine.

My mother and I used to be very close, before others made a weapon of the distance between us. I am a writer, before that a filmmaker. Not the lawyer my mother wanted me to be. So there was that in the silence between us.

The last thing she said, I hear you have not been well. Given all the laps up and down in the pool I said they would have scraped me off the bottom by now if I weren’t. She didn’t laugh, just closed her eyes, went back to that half dream, dozing morphine state.

I suppose I needed a caretaker to walk in, say, You’ve no need to justify yourself, my boy. I’ve read your file. You just lost contact with what you were once.

It was true. Or maybe I am confused as to what it was in truth. After I left the first time whenever I wrote we were two points in space inching further and further away. She looked at me with her one good eye, her beautiful mouth ruined by a stroke. You are looking well on the whole. I nodded. I keep fit. We only have one body so I guess I have to. I wondered if hers was ready.

The room was oblong, purpose-built, bigger but plainer than I expected, the walls covered with my sister’s paintings. Photo albums were scattered around. Over in the corner on the floor in with some other dusty paperbacks I found a copy of my last book.

My mother liked her apple juice. I helped her drink some. She was connected to a catheter. She couldn’t get up, her life now like Bukowski’s beer sodden sadder than all the dead Christmas trees in the world. In the corridors residents pushed metal walkers.

I never saw my father’s body. I’ll never see hers. On my last day I kissed her forehead near the large cyst. I have to go to the airport, mother. I hope to see you soon. Yes, she said. No anger, no hopes and no dreams. I could  have looked up through the roof at the mass of signs in the stars and laid myself open to the benign indifference of everything, but there are no signs to be had. I left, walking the corridors, thinking: if I meet my family at the door I hope they greet me with shouts of hatred.

NormanLloyd@CANNES

Norman Lloyd’s talk in the Salle Buñuel was a lesson in theatre, film technique, Shakespeare, Renoir, Brecht, Chaplin, Welles, Hitchcock and Kazan, and how to keep your mind a steel trap well into your nineties. I don’t know if he eats nothing but blueberries but he must be doing something right.

In an age when aging (see Haneke’s Amour) is often told in tales of sad decline, this man stands out as an object lesson of hope for all. The session was one of the highlights of Cannes in 2012. Holding his audience spellbound, Lloyd, a 97 year-old veteran of acting, directing and production, took listeners through the best part of the pantheon of cinema (the first 60 years of it). What and who he didn’t know simply wasn’t worth pursuing.

         Lloyd,  stage and film actor

It wasn’t just that he knew so many of those who were crucial to the development of 20th century cinema, it was he knew what they knew and why they knew it – and above all he could tell us how and why he knew what they knew. He understood their brilliance with exacting modesty, placing himself in the role of pupil to all of them. Yet for all intents and purposes he was their equal in collaboration, a creative confidant in so many ways; he travelled through film history with them not because of them. Lloyd’s contribution to film is real, tangible and deep. When he recounted how Hitchcock – a decidedly unpolitical man – with three words to NBC, “I want him” dissolved the McCarthy blacklist era, the entire audience in the Salle was stilled. Lloyd’s part in McCarthy’s ruination was just one anecdote in many. Politically involved and motivated throughout his career, Lloyd was a close friend to Jean Renoir, Chaplin, Welles and Hitchcock. Lloyd was at the heart of theatre and cinema for nearly fifty years. One of the best moments of the night was his recollection of the lines of Bertolt Brecht: “Since the people are displeased by the government, the people must be replaced.”  The sharpness of wit, his breadth of cinematic knowledge was stunning.

Experiment, what experiment?

..handheld shaky cam, found footage, ultra-violence, meta-storylines, etc., all becoming part of the broad pop cultural landscape and assimilated into the commercial marketplace. This translates across all cultural lines – music, art, technology, etc. as the outsiders and untouchables of yesteryear are today’s TV spokesmen and tastemakers..

…experimental film seems to represent more fully the true potential and magic of cinema

…for brief moments in history, think the ‘beats’, the real ground-shakers, the true risk-takers, manage to do something that is life and culture affecting, their minds drafting the future…

One Writer’s Journey

I grew up watching Superman, The Cisco Kid, O.S.S., hearing war stories, chasing down moth-eaten army uniforms back when milk arrived in a horse and cart marvelling at the colour style of actual coca leaf sugarpop in Coke bottles blinking at motor cycles Dick Van Dyke falling over a couch cowboy films shot in daylight B/W then coloured nights of my father’s home-grown vegetables, born with words in my mouth – ‘gimme-that’ , ‘how-dare-you’,  ‘what-the-fuck’ –

– ideas as fixed and eternal as the motives for every war, growing into Kidnapped bicycles desert boots Seventy Seven Sunset Strip Disney Land Rear Window Psycho Lawrence of Arabia, the annual anxiety of packing the car at holiday time, each and every moment stilled in memory of the forever mysterious parodies of life or art even if parodies weren’t even an option back then. I knew the Beatles before the Monkees, Bogart before Belmondo, but I can’t say I recall the idea behind the Summer of ’42 before it was a film conjured into a Mad magazine parody or whether it co-existed in the smash crash and kill dinky toy mind of George W. Bush. I believe I’m not alone, even growing more bewildered year on year by the incoherence of images and texts surrounding me from birth arresting my natural river environment in the far southern climes the commercial and cultural ink-blotting over my childhood my natural world a parody of some story my mother told me, those seconds on a baked sidewalk hearing JFK was dead, pink socks on the rock ‘n rollers, moments things events sounds sent to make life even more dangerous curious frightening, a direct result of the industrial military complex, Elvis Presley Chuck Berry even, the jack shit political influences beaten into the worrying shame of death in the world, prejudice, organically connected and woven into a general valueness held dear by so many years on from that day when morality was gunned down in broad daylight.

Inside Job and The Euro

See the documentary Inside Job – a forensically researched, superbly delivered film about the 2008/2009 financial collapse – to see what the Euro leaders really have to deal with, the rating agencies delivering them an ultimatum.

Why haven’t we had a detailed analysis as we see in Inside Job presented to us by big media?

Some empirical facts to ponder: “The financial services industry’s share of profits increased from 10% in the 1980s to 40% in 2007, and the value of its shares (in the overall) went from 6% to 23%, while the industry only accounts for 5% of private sector employment.” Household debt in the U.S. grew from 3% of disposable income in 1998 to 130% in 2008. Prime mortgage delinquency as a percentage of loans increased from 2.5% in 1998 to 118% in 2008 – Manuel Castells.

The Frankfurt School Revisited

The objective of  the culture industries – in a critique developed in the 1930s, written and published in the 1940s by Frankfurt School members Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer under the title The Culture Industry – was to keep ordinary folk as docile and manageable as possible… ‘happy’, uncritical, coralled consumers of a ‘capital’ controlled culture.

The idea was: the tranquilized poor, the culturally deceived, the ‘creatively dociled’ buy, watch, listen to and read what they are told to watch, listen to, read. The discourse on culture, being ideologically-fed by capital on steroids, makes phase 2 so easy, the accounts driven bottom-line. This pay-up and now driven discourse leads its proponents still to say –  See! It is what ‘they’ want (the great unwashed unconsidered)  otherwise they wouldn’t buy or want it.

Reminds me of Jack Crabb’s (Dustin Hoffman’s) encounter with General Custer just before the ‘great general’ got whipped at Little Big Horn. “General, you go down there,” Crabb says, when Custer asks him what to do. Thinking Crabb, a pathetic muleskinner, spineless, with not-even guts enough to shoot Custer in the back,  a git who could only lie to him, Custer reasons (aloud, of course) that if Crabb wants Him to go down to the Little Big Horn it’s only because Crabb really doesn’t want Custer to go down there  – Crabb could only lie to achieve a goal. So, Custer does go down there – much to relief of the world, history and the native American.

Little Big Man (1970) was the sort of film American filmmakers made after the film studios lost control in the late 1960s. In that rare moment, spanning a few years only, cultural complexity was synonymous with creativity – the audience and creators were so close they could have been one and the same.

Back to the genealogically disturbed present. No cultural outbreaks, no individual voices, no “surprises” for those in charge right now, no matter how many camp in Wall Street or outside St. Paul’s.  Society, dare I say it, Capital, is under control. No matter what the postmodernists, Foucault, Castells et al want, did and do tell us, culture is still controlled, top down –  never more than in the 21st century (thanks to Lessig {Free Culture, 2004, p12} for reminding us).

So a nod to the voices that seem so still and silent today – to Theodor, Max, Walter and Herbert: We need to hear from you again.

“The web of domination has become the web of Reason itself, and this society is fatally entangled in it.” Herbert Marcuse