Sunday, March 26, 2006

There I was, Constant Reader, doing what I normally do on a Friday, e-mailing and following up eBay wins at the shop when I deceided to have my chicken and pickle sandwich.

My usual sandwich bought from the usual sandwich bar.

Four hours later I was troubled with crampy feelings in my stomach followed by nasty Tivoli Fountain-like bursts from both ends. As the outside lav at the shop is so squalid I didn't fancy kneeling to heave so stood bracing myself against the back wall so I also had to deal with pain in my back & sides from adopting said position.

Luckily I had Owen to watch over me and Martin to keep him company while I dozed twixt bursts until Andrew was free to drive me home. My eternal thanks to them.

All over a bleedin' sandwich.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Bonjour Lecteur Constant, c'est Lundi, c'est Paris!
Kendall asked me a few months back would I be interested in a day trip to the City of Light while he was here as he wanted to finally see where Jean Seberg was buried. Coming from Iowa, the same US state as Seberg and being a lifelong fan of the talented but tragic actress, he wanted to pay his respects. Always one for the Dramatic Gesture, I agreed!

The 9:09 (To Owen's surprise I woke up early) Eurostar on Monday whisked us away beyond the Channel and we arrived at Gard du Nord at 12:56 (Paris time). We set off from the station in search of the Rex Cinema which Kendall wished to visit, a towering 1930s picture palace which is still in use. After that it was only a small stroll to the delightful Passage Joufrey on Boulevard de Montmartre. Built in 1835 it is one of several remaining shopping arcades from the time when this was THE way to shop before the advent of the first ever department store Bon Marche. The Passage Jouffrey's big selling point was the fact it had underfloor heating!

Apart from all that it's where Cine-Doc the film memorabilia bookshop is! Kendall broke the purchasing duck first buying a few posters and, not wishing to let the British side down I bought a few nice postcards of Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo in A BOUT DE SOUFFLE, a small French poster for ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER and a larger French poster for CARRINGTON. A cramped but delightful shop.

After walking down the Rue de Richelieu passing the Biblioteque Nationale and the Comedie Francais we found ourself in the grand sweep of the entrance to the Louvre. Even as the heaven's opened and the obligatory rain fell nothing could dampen the epic majesty of the former palace of Louis XIV and the glass pyramid. Turning to take a picture of the arch I saw the Eiffel Tower appearing through the clouds.

We walked over the Seine and deceided we would make a fist of walking as far as we could before possibly having to jump on a Metro. We set off down the Rue de Saintes Pere past an enormous medical unversity disgorging students - luckily not rioting - hung a right into Sevres which brought us out to the Boulevard Raspail - at the end of which was our point of destination, Montparnasse cemetery, We bought some flowers along the way from an enormous florist which was crammed with - you guessed - flaars.

We arrived at the cemetery at 4.30 just as the rain tailed off. O had asked me to say hello to Simone de Beauvoir and I remembered where her resting place was, just down from the gateway by the wall where she is buried with Jean-Paul Sartre. I left a flower there for him and then took Kendall the short distance to where Jean Seberg is buried. Montparnasse is still a working cemetary and there was a funeral in place a few down from Jean so we were circumspect while there.

Ah Jean. Discovered at 19 by Otto Preminger after a nationwide search, she won the title role in his film SAINT JOAN. Despite bad reviews he bullied her through the filming of BONJOUR TRISTESSE with David Niven and Deborah Kerr, another critical no-no. Considered a has-been at 20, she was re-born in France as Patricia, the American femme-fatale in Jean-Luc Godard's A BOUT DE SOUFFLE with Jean-Paul Belmondo. She continued to work mostly in Europe, occasionally finding roles in off-beat American films including her finest performance in the title role as the disturbed and disturbing LILITH with Warren Beatty. Despite a Golden Globe Best Actress nomination, the film's poor business again meant a return to Europe including two films for Claude Chabrol.

She was back in the US for two major films PAINT YOUR WAGON and AIRPORT but these had negligable impact on her career and she drifted into unworthy film roles. However there were darker agencies at work. Always a liberal, she espoused the rights of the Black Panthers in the late 1960s which brought her to the attention of the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover who launched a covert operation to 'neutralize' her. A story was placed in the LA Times and Newsweek that her unborn child was by a black lover and not her 2nd husband Romain Gary. The upset this caused her resulted in the child being stillborn and she even went so far as to open the coffin at the funeral to prove the child was white.

Her depression after this was compounded by attracting hangers-on and men who used her as well as addictions to alcohol and prescriptive drugs and several attempts at suicide. Eventually in 1979 at the ridiculously young age of 41 her partly decomposed body was found lying wrapped in a blanket on the back seat of her car 11 days after she was reported missing. An autopsy revealed massive doses of Barbiturate and alcohol and a ruling of suicide was given. However her death has never been fully explained and it remains a troubling ending to this troubled woman.

Knowing all this it is moving to stand at her grave thinking that in that quiet well-tended cemetery she is finally beyond the reach of the bullying men she was used by personally and professionally, from the Black Panthers who used her money and celebrity then accused her of being a racist after attempting to prove her dead daughter was white, from the government agencies of her own country who did so much to ruin her and finally from her own unnameable demons. My roses are by the name tablet, Kendall's is the single one.

Appropriately enough, like a bad Hollywood movie, as we left the cemetery the rain started again. We walked back the way we came finally stopping for a much needed pizza, salad, and red wine around 6pm. A slow meander back, taking in the Virgin Megastore - where Kendall set off the theft alarm! - and walked past our first port-of-call again, the Rex Cinema now brightly illuminated for what appeared to be a premiere. We made it back to Gard du Nord in good time then chuffed wearily back to Waterloo to arrive dead (to the world) on 10:30. A slightly sad but very enjoyable day.

Once back home, I opened the guide book and did some serious figuring out... we had walked 8.2 miles!! No wonder my blood sugar was remarkably low
*makes mental note about a walk around Paris' arrondissements being good for high blood sugar*

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Another evening, another show... went with Kendall to see WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? tonight at the Apollo Theatre.

Edward Albee's coruscating marital drama is masterfully directed by Anthony Page - whose production of Tennessee Williams' THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA is on next door to this theatre - and brings out nuanced, human-scale performances from his cast of four, Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin as Martha and George, David Harbour and Mireille Enos as Nick and Honey. The shadows of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton still linger 40 years after the Mike Nichols' film of the play but Turner and Irwin hold the stage, Irwin in particular playing George as a needling teasing sarcastic bantam. Turner comes into her own in the third act delivering Martha's soliliquy with a wistful regret, rising to the final game with George only to be left broken by his revelations. Thrilling, funny but ultimately sad, Edward Albee's play still proves itself one of the greatest of American dramas.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

My mate Kendall - formally of Iowa now happily relocated to Miami - is here this week for his annual London visit to soak up as much culture as he can! This afternoon I meeched 90 minutes off work to see the matinee of Mark Ravenhill's new play THE CUT at the Donmar.

In an un-named country, Paul, a civil servant, is interviewing a man in hospital-style pyjamas. He is about to administer The Cut, a painful operation without drugs which appears to be used on possibly dissidents or members of the lower orders as a sort of lobotomy but he first must make sure all the correct paperwork is filled out as the new ruling party prefer things to be done by the book not like the old regime - which one presumes he was also a member of - who used a more stark procedure. He is taken aback when the man says he is more than willing to undergo The Cut as it's seen by his people as a rite-of-passage and also a way of happily disconnecting from the troubles of living in an unequal society. Paul confides that he is disenchanted with his work, having to keep what he does secret from his family and wanting nothing more than the peace that The Cut can itself deliver,even going so far as trying to pursuade the man to kill him. The man refuses and demands The Cut which Paul administers.

Later that night he and his wife Susan, while waiting for their late-running dinner, start to argue. She presses him on his refusal to be specific about what he does and he counters by demanding to know why she refuses ot sleep with him anymore. Paul flies into an angry tirade against her and their absent son away at college who has written to her saying that he is involved in a movement to stop the ruling power's use of The Cut. She tells her husband that she agrees with her son and wants to become active in it's banning. Dinner is served and eaten in silence.

The final scene takes place in an empty cell, now it's Paul's turn to be a prisoner. He is visited by his son who is now part of the new ruling party. The son has come with the news that his father will be kept locked up and will not lose his life as Paul appears to have wanted to happen. When he demands to be punished for his crimes the son tells him that the new government are beyond such cruelties, which Paul laughs at and tells him that they too will one day use methods like The Cut. After an awkward embrace Paul is left in his solitary confinement. Blackout.

On reflection, the play was a little too Pinteresque for it's own good: constant threat of violence throughout and teasing, eliptical dialogue. Despite an excellent second act, the play left me feeling that it didn't quite hang together. However I was involved throughout by the excellent production by Michael Grandage who never let the tense mood of the play slacken and the two excellent central performances. I am not an admirer of Ian McKellen but his driven performance was the best I think I've seen him give and in the second act he was matched all the way by the always wonderful Deborah Findlay who gave such an excellent performance last year as the all-seeing housekeeper Poncia in The National Theatre's THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Last Friday the BBC showed the Sista show to last week's KINGS OF GLAM show with QUEENS OF DISCO. It won't change anyone's life but it was great fun nevertheless. It featured short profiles on Gloria Gaynor, Donna Summer, Grace Jones, Sylvester, Chaka Kahn and Madonna.

Gloria Gaynor has always left me a bit cold but it was great to see the vintage footage. In particular it was good to see Sylvester in all his colourful glory although there appeared to be less of him than anyone else. There were nice interviews with Martha Wash, Jeanie Tracy and Jocelyn Brown all of whom gave testimony to his love of shopping and great stage act. There was also a sad little interview with his mother, obviously still proud of his accomplishments.

Friday, March 10, 2006


It was announced this week that Kylie Minogue has roused herself from her sick bed to.... write a children's book.

And there was me beginning to soften my cynical stance towards the unoriginal Ozer. That'll learn me.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

First off Constant Reader... what a shite week I have had. That twunt with the voodoo doll and the Acme box of pins has been having a field day at my expense. Strangely what seemed to kick it off was actually the highpoint of the week, namely seeing THE EXONERATED at Riverside Studios with Owen.
The play has been acclaimed in it's off-Broadway and Edinburgh stagings and I can see why. Ten actors seated in a line behind lecterns take turns telling the stories of six real-life cases of innocent people being condemned to death in the US and spending years on Death Row until they were exonerated of all charges and released. more or often than not, to a world that still viewed them with suspicion. The text was based soley on interviews with the parties concerned and court transcripts.

The focal point is the case of Sunny Jacobs, a single mother-of-two whose partner Jessie would sometimes get involved with shady deals which took him away from home. On a trip to Florida his deal went wrong which left him penniless. She drove with the kids to bring him home but the car broke down when she arrived. When the offer came from her parents to wire money, Sunny and Jessie asked an aquaintance of his, ex-con Walter Rhodes, to drive them to the house it was being sent to. On route they pulled into a rest stop followed by two policemen on a routine check. Sunny, in the car, heard gunshots and covered the children,. When she got out of the car she found the policemen dead and Rhodes, holding a gun, shouting at her and Jessie to get into the police car. Rhodes car-jacked an elderly man's car and drove on with the terrified Sunny, children, Jessie and old man. Soon they were stopped by a roadblock where Rhodes was hit by police gunfire. Sunny assumed the police would believe that they were hostages but found herself and Jessie arrested. Rhodes from his hospital bed plea-bargained a deal for a life-sentence while implicating Jesse and Sunny in the shooting. Amazingly on this evidence they were both found guilty and sentenced to death. Sunny and her parents put their faith in the judicial process so never tried to get a different attourney to the court-appointed one. 17 years later she was released after an Appeals court ruled that witness testimony was falsified. But it was too late for Jessie. He had been electrocuted two years before, suffering a horrific death as the chair malfunctioned and it took 13 minutes to kill him.

Sunny's words were movingly interpreted by Stockard Channing, making a welcome return to the London stage, really making Sunny's words hit home. Also the main reason for going was to finally see my Aidan Quinn on stage... 20 years after falling under his spell as 'Des' in DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN. He read the words of Kerry Max Cook who has the dubious honour of spending the longest time on Death Row without dying, 20 years incarcerated for the murder of a 21 year old girl - even when all DNA testing pointed to a middle-aged professor she was having an affair with. It was great to see him in his London stage debut. With a cast that also included Delroy Lindo and Matthew Marsh it was a haunting experience.

I so wanted to get Aidan Quinn to sign a portrait still of him from ...SUSAN but when I came out the walking dead autograph collectors were standing in a smelly huddle around the pass door and my heart sank. I slunk off into the night, dejected at not meeting an actor I've liked for 20 years. After that the week was a procession of burst water pipes flooding the kitchen, trains breaking down halfway home, not getting a chance to play my 5 tracks at the Retro, not being able to list on eBay as I couldn't upload listings from the Lister software on my computer... I couldn't even find anything in HMV that I particularly wanted when I went on a retail therapy appointment.

Come back soon Aidan.... *sigh*