Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Catching Up - Books, Movies and Television

Well I finally put the Faction Paradox book to bed, after a weekend of proof-reading and fiddling with the PDF, then sent it off to the printers. Which means it's time for a bit of a catch-up on what I've been reading and watching over the past month or two, while I've had little time for posting on here.

Let's see...

Two books featuring Oscar Wilde as a character: Willie Rushton's only novel, WG Grace's Last Case and one of Gyles Brandreth's Oscar Wilde Mysteries.

The Rushton was the better of the two: a caddish cricketer dies with an Indian arrow in his back while running up to bowl to WG Grace, and so Grace regales Inspector Lestrade and Dr Watson with the tale of his travels across America some years previously in the company of AJ Raffles, Oscar Wilde and others and explains exactly what relevance that trip has to the current murder. If you like Rushton's humour in general, then you'll love this early stab at a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen style adventure.

The Brandreth book is considerably more sensible in every respect, and suffers because of it. It's a common enough trick nowadays to grab AN Literary Figure and make him a detective of some sort, but it's a far more difficult trick to do so and actually make the Literary Figure serve a genuine purpose. Brandreth nearly manages it, but he spends so much time ensuring Oscar rings true that at times it seemed too implausible that he would also be the great detective he proves himself to be in the book. It's pleasantly written, very sympathetic to Wilde and full of interesting background on late 19th century theatre, but perhaps because of the latter, it's a little stuffy, doesn't flow as well as it might and the solution was a tiny bit obvious, meaning I ended up reading it in fits and starts, picking it up largely on the basis that it was to hand, rather than a genuine desire to plunge back into the narrative. Worth a read, certainly, but if it's a choice between the two books, go with Willie Rushton.

A series of monologues about the Crucifixion: Tales from the Madhouse.

Tales from the Madhouse is a short series of 18 minute monologues in which the major figures in the Easter story are relocated from the middle east to a Victorian English madhouse, where they describe in retrospect their actions in Jerusalem and the impact those actions had on one Jewish mystic. I can't recommend this highly enough. The writing is wonderfully rich, the translocation from Judea to England deftly handled and the acting, from the likes of James Cosmo, Claire Bloom and Joss Ackland, is absolutely top-notch.

Shamefully this sn't out on a commercial DVD, even though - for instance - every episode of 'Two Pints of Lager' is. Clearly, there is no God.

Books about old films: '50 Years of Carry On' - Richard Webber and 'So You Want to be in Pictures' - Val Guest

Richard Webber is probably my favourite tv writer. It helps that he seems exclusively to write about things I love - Dads Army, Carry On, Porridge, Hancock, Are You Being Served? and more - but more importantly, he writes about stuff which he loves. And it shows. 'What a Carry On' charts the movies all the way from the excellent 'Carry on Sergeant' in 1958 to the abysmal 'Carry on Columbus' in 1992, with a lot of detail on the development of the series by Rogers and Thomas, and on the interactions of the various stars. It's quite a dry read but never less than interesting, and Webber avoids the temptation to write a blinkered hagiography (who but fans are likely to buy the book, after all?) and rightly slates the films made after the departure of Talbot Rothwell, and points out the failings of the occasional Big Names pulled in to add star cachet to the regulars.

So You Want to be in Pictures should have been great but even though it falls short of that, it still manages to be pretty bloody good. Val Guest directed some of the seminal British stars and movies of the first half of the twentieth century, including one of my all time favourite films, Will Hay vehicle, 'Oh! Mr Porter' and several Hammer movies, as well as workign in the States during the Hollywood golden age. It's no surprise therefore that his autobiography is packed full of anecdotes, backstage gossip and forgotten tales of the black and white era. Compulsive name dropping, a vivid, chatty writing style and a consistently positive attitude towards everything he encounters makes this my current favourite film biography. If you've got any interest in Gainsborough movies, Hammer or Will Hay (or any number of other things, actually), pick up a copy of this book...

Cartoon Movies

Rio - Was OK. Pretty standard cartoon movie fayre, with almost nothing worth noting expecially, but wildly popular with my kids for some reason. The very definition of 'Will make more money via lunchboxes and free toys in Macdonalds Kiddie Meal boxes than in the cinema).

Rango - Was brilliant, Like David Lynch made a cartoon with Sergio Leone filtered through Tod Browning. Possibly with the intervention of some French cinematographer. it looks wonderful, all washed out dustbowl colours and strangely deformed talking animals. It's got a cinematic feel to the direction which is rare - actually, unknown - outside a Pixar film, and it features The Man with No Name as the Spirit of the West. Anyone want to argue that's not the Best Thing Ever?


  1. Not a French cinematographer, Roger Deakins...

  2. I included that for you, you know ;)