It’s not that often I go to the cinema. Blame that on a string of disappointments (film critics? – huh!) and other people (the shared experience?) as far back as the late ’70s; that and after feeling ennobled by the first one, coming out of the second Lord of the rings film feeling like I’d been beaten up. But such was the buzz around Michael Hazanavicius’s The artist (2011) that I was tempted back for an afternoon screening and I was knocked out. As any fule kno by now – though they were still warning everyone who bought a ticket at the tills – it’s a silent movie. Set in late ’20s Hollywood, during the time of the changing of the guard with the introduction of talkies, it’s lovely stuff. No clichéd dialogue for a start, and lots of neat visual gags in the background to supplement the basic good-natured hommage to the history of storytelling cinema. Beautifully paced and played, with good old-fashioned male and female (I’m in love) leads, it’s an intellectually and emotionally satisfying cinematic experience, a joy in fact. Go see if you’re at all tempted.
Interestingly enough, mid-way through The artist there is a dream – well, for the silent movie heart-throb awakening to the reality of the brave new talkie world – nightmare sequence when the music stops and all you get are silence and disproportionately loud domestic sound effects. It’s a disorientation that takes us down the conceptual road to the new show at Milton Keynes Gallery. Artist Daria Martin‘s ‘survey exhibition’ consists of four short 16mm films, projected on screens in the dark. I’ll quote from the exhibition guide notes:
These films combine elements of painting, sculpture, performance, dance and music […] Martin’s work often raises questions about what it means to be ‘touched’ by cinema and alternates playfully between luring the viewer through rich sensuous images and pushing them back into an awareness of artifice. This intentionally crafted ‘push and pull’ draws attention to the essential contradictions of the medium of film.
Maybe. I wouldn’t vouch for it but I am being drawn into ‘getting’ – for want of a better term – video art (for want of a better term). The artspiel in the guide goes on (as it invariably does), but I was riveted by Harpstrings and lava (2007); it was like walking into a surrealist painting – de Chirico maybe, or Max Ernst – with a formal harpist playing music I couldn’t quite place and wasn’t quite atonal and I was indeed strangely enchanted. In Soft materials (2004) “two performers trained in body awareness and acutely sensitive to the nuances of movement” approach specially prepared robots ” as if they were sentient beings.” Looked like a very odd fluttering dance routine to me, but it fascinated. The newest film, the title piece, Sensorium tests (2012), revolving around the notion of ‘mirror touch synaesthesia‘, will probably be more interesting if I revisit it, which I probably will.
I always look forward to a new John Harvey novel. I think he’s the best writer of the British crime big three (no surprises: take a bow Ian Rankin and Peter Robinson) showing an economy and subtle matt polish that owes, I guess, to his being a poet, too. He can usually be relied upon to juggle parallel narratives skillfully, drawing you along at a pace, but I have to admit to a certain disappointment with Good bait (Heinemann, 2012). On the police procedural level it works just fine, these mean streets and the Harvey compassion are in evidence as ever, but there is an artistically deliberate (I suspect) indeterminacy about the link between the two narrative strands – an East European crime boss who hardly actually appears – that doesn’t really gel into a satisfying crime novel; I think the point is that life’s like that, but then, so what?
There are two police operations in progress, two main protagonists. The first, in London, is Karen, a youngish black woman detective on the Met murder team working in the sharply drawn capital (with a side trip up the M1), while the second is Trevor, a career sidelined good Samaritan ‘tec in Cornwall who graduates to white knight status, spending time in rural France, via London and an ex-footballer private eye mate in Tufnell Park. I’m not sure Karen and Trevor ever actually meet, though they’d probably make a nice couple.
I will still look out for his next book, but apart from what I’ve already said, there are three problems, really. The first relates to John Harvey, the second to Brit crime in general, while the third applies specifically to Good bait. Plus it must be said there is a big musical bonus.
- The Resnick problem. I hate to have to say this, and I understand why he had to go, but I miss him and his food stained ties. The people at the centre of subsequent books, even Frank Elder, all blur for me. A couple from Good bait may even have appeared earlier in the oeuvre …
- The rise of the East European organised crime gangs has become a blight, a dead hand, on crime fiction, a bit like child abuse was a decade or two back. I know, I know, it’s a real problem, but these days my lids start to droop at the first hint of people smuggling.
- In Good bait there is a climax to the French episode which brings together the resolution of a sexual tension narrative strand and the couple in hiding being found by the representatives of those they are hiding from, which culminates in Trevor getting knocked unconscious by intruders at the moment of … you guessed it. A big bang indeed. Is JH actually putting himself forward as a candidate for the Bad Sex Award? Sorry, disappointing.
- What was not disappointing was the steer to some music (link below). The title of Good bait comes from a jazz standard, an old Count Basie tune that’s been much recorded over the years. Trevor hears it or plays it at various points in his odyssey. It’s one of those jazz tunes – not a song – that is just out there and I couldn’t hum it for you even now. There are plenty of interesting takes on it to be found on Spotify, and I liked the long Dexter Gordon treatment. But the Nina Simone recording is magnificent. As JH warns, it starts quietly and slowly, so give it time to build and just prepare to be stunned. Enjoy:
Damn. I thought that should have embedded but seemingly not. Oh well, the link’s there. Enjoy.