Sunday, 8 December 2019

Richard's California Dreaming: Cafe Trieste, North Beach, San Francisco...

"... where everybody has a novel to write."

Beats parkin' cars and pumpin' gas.

Friday, 6 December 2019

Ten best Jane Fonda films...?

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Jane Fonda's 10 best films – ranked!
The Hollywood legend accepted a Bafta while being arrested last week – but which of her many standout roles have cemented her reputation?

Peter Bradshaw
The Guardian
Fri 1 Nov 2019

10. Barbarella (1968)
Nothing established Fonda all over the world more resoundingly than her leading role in this bizarre, kitsch sci-fi extravaganza, adapted by Terry Southern from the risque comic-book series and directed by Fonda’s then-husband, Roger Vadim. In France, it made her a sex-symbol to rival Bardot, and her stunning beauty and style achieve something almost extraterrestrial here. She plays Barbarella, an intrepid space adventurer who is entrusted with a vital intergalactic mission by the president of Earth, which involves nursing a blind angel on a distant planet by having sex with him. Fonda carries it off with dedication and style.
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9. Fun With Dick and Jane (1977)
This satire is, in some ways, a companion piece to her 1967 comedy Barefoot in the Park. It’s a critique of the American dream, which mockingly distorts the picture-book perfection of family life portrayed in the well-known Dick and Jane children’s books, which taught generations of Americans how to read while also perhaps schooling them in conformist attitudes. Dick and Jane are played by George Segal and Fonda, a well-off couple in a lovely home who turn to crime when he becomes unemployed. The film manages to be a spin on Bonnie and Clyde while also playing on Fonda’s own radical image. She has a bizarre broad-comedy scene in which she falls over while doing some amateur fashion modelling in a hotel dining room, causing mayhem.
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8. Youth (2015)
This extraordinary cameo, hardly more than a few minutes of screen time, is destined to become one of Fonda’s most cult performances. She plays Brenda Morel, a renowned, difficult, ageing movie actor. (There’s a PhD to be written on how older female stars only get his kind of self-parodic role in films.) She furiously berates a director (Harvey Keitel) who is trying to cast her in his new film, and, in an extraordinary scene on an aeroplane, we see her succumb to a full-scale temper tantrum that involves her screaming: “You fucking bitches!” and hitting a flight attendant before having a catastrophic hairpiece malfunction.
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7. Barefoot in the Park (1967)
Neil Simon adapted his Broadway hit for this movie, which was a key moment in Fonda’s early success during the run of frothy metropolitan comedies that made her name. It’s easy to forget how excellent she was – and is – playing comedy, with a droll lilt to her line readings; she puts the free-spirited zing into this movie, which was clearly conscious of being a bit squaresville for its day. She is Corie, a newlywed (that very dated notion) married to super-handsome but conventional Paul (played by Robert Redford, one of the few Hollywood men who could match Fonda for beauty) and yearning for him to loosen up and go frolicking in the park barefoot (a signifier for further bareness?).
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6. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969)
Fonda became a star to take seriously in this shocking movie about the Great Depression directed by Sydney Pollack. It’s a grim metaphor for the exploitation and suffering of working people, and can be seen as a forerunner of our obsession with reality TV and social-media cruelty. The setting is a dance marathon in the 1930s, in which poverty-stricken people pair up to dance for days on end – stumbling around like miserable zombies in front of a jaded and sadistic audience – hoping to be the last couple standing for a big cash prize. Fonda plays Gloria, apparently the most cynical and ruthless contestant in the running, but dealing with an inner hurt.
California Suite
5. California Suite (1978)
Neil Simon gave Fonda another great comic role in this bittersweet portmanteau movie, in which she plays a tough New York professional who flies into Los Angeles on a mission to confront her screenwriter ex-husband (Alan Alda) because their teenage daughter wants to live with him, not her. She has a great confrontation scene with Alda, simmering with contempt, hauteur and a strange unresolved attraction for her ex. The film is often noted for the fact that Fonda looks sensational in a bikini – this was the seed for her bestselling workout videos. She also looks great in glasses.
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4. Letter to Jane (1972)
This 50-minute film essay about a famous news photo of Fonda meeting Vietnamese communists in Hanoi in 1972 is directed by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin. It was originally intended as an archly ironic postscript to Godard’s film Tout Va Bien, which also came out that year (and in which Fonda acted, but fell out with the director). Letter to Jane is simply a deconstructionist essay/harangue, narrated by Godard and Gorin, critiquing the photo of Fonda, and also US leftism and Hollywood stardom.
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3. Nine to Five (1980)
Fonda had that rare thing, a female co-star billing in this smart feminist workplace comedy, in which she plays Judy, who has to get a job in a huge corporate office after her husband runs off with another woman. Like her co-workers Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, she is oppressed, harassed and exploited by her unspeakable male boss. This is an interesting role for Fonda, who is not cast as the overtly funny character nor the explicitly sexy one. Rather, she personifies a kind of benchmark normality. Yet there is something notably powerful and real in an opening scene in which she is yelled at because she doesn’t know how to work a particular piece of equipment; a moment that crystallises her rage.
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2. Coming Home (1978)
This is one of Fonda’s most courageous and heartfelt performances, which won her a second Oscar. It is also tied up with her activities as anti-Vietnam war campaigner. She plays the wife of a US Marine Corps officer (Bruce Dern) who leaves for service in Vietnam. Left behind, she finds volunteer work in a veterans’ hospital and befriends a wheelchair user played by Jon Voight. They begin a relationship that culminates in a sex scene – notably forthright in its day – in which Fonda’s character experiences the first orgasm of her life. It’s a movie that was overshadowed by the more macho take offered by The Deer Hunter – but it’s a fine performance from Fonda.
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1. Klute (1971)
Here is the quintessential Fonda performance, in Alan J Pakula’s psychological thriller: she is smart, beautiful, tough and haunted – in a film that, like Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation, embodies a proto-Watergate fear of being spied upon. And Fonda provides a new spin on the classic “shady lady” figure that always shows up in noir movies. She is Bree Daniels, a would-be model and actor who is doing escort work to pay the bills. Donald Sutherland plays Klute, the private detective spying on her because a serial killer is on the loose, and she is in danger. Fonda’s character is cool and reserved, having apparently mastered a kind of emotional numbness as part of the play-acting involved in her work, and part of her genuine alienation.

I won't argue with Klute as number 1, but Letter to Jane comes across as sixth-form agit-prop and Barbarella's fun, but...

No room for The China Syndrome, The Chase,  Julia, Cat Ballou, Tout Va Bien, Steelyard Blues? Thank God there's no room for Hurry Sundown, though...

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Jonathan Miller RIP

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Sir Jonathan Miller obituary
One of the great British writers, satirists and stage directors, he first rose to prominence in Beyond the Fringe in the 1960s

by Michael Coveney
The Guardian
Wed 27 Nov 2019

As a comedian, TV presenter, satirist, stage director, man of medicine and all-round intellectual, Jonathan Miller, who has died aged 85 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, was unrivalled in his own lifetime.

He had wise words on almost any subject under the sun. His big failing, somebody once said, was that he was interested only in everything; his curiosity, and his ability to formulate ideas in cascades of language around it, knew no bounds. As a child, he challenged the received notions of chicken speech by conducting his own in-depth survey. Instead of them going “buk buk buk buk” followed by “bacagh” he found a quite different pattern of chicken speech: six “buks” followed by a soft “bacagh”; two “buks” followed by a further soft “bacagh”; and nine further “buks” followed by a loud, conclusive “bacagh”.

The critic Penelope Gilliatt reported this breakthrough, adding that Miller could also enact objects: “I saw him imitate the sound of a sofa being sat on. His face expressed outrage on behalf of sofas everywhere.”

Miller was a very funny man. He was also a polymath, a dangerous word, with its overtones of “too clever by half” and dusty, book-bound isolation. But he was no snob. He loved low comedy and the Carry On films. It was his fate, however, to be branded a “pseud” in Private Eye; he became, in those pages, a cartoon character, Doctor Jonathan, a preposterous figure holding forth in Camden Town on Jung, Freud, Shakespeare, Schiller and schadenfreude. The fact that Susan Sontag, in some ways his opposite number in New York, branded him as “one of the most valuable people in the United Kingdom” did not help.

Theatre people saw him as a dilettante. Music critics were quick to capitalise on his admission that he could not read a score. Miller himself, although he held many academic posts, felt a fraud when attending medical conferences, where his knowledge was outstripped by that of dedicated professionals.

Nonetheless, he remained as involved in the disciplines of philosophy, neurology and art history as he was in the more raffish perennial pastimes of theatre and opera production. It is hard to think of anyone in British public life who could be as triumphantly at home as Miller was in the theatres, the lecture halls, the television studios and the great universities and libraries of Europe and America.

With his fellow Oxbridge comedians Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett, he changed the face of British entertainment in Beyond the Fringe (1961). This was the start not just of the satire boom, but also the postwar reaction to political stuffiness, religious hypocrisy and cultural stasis. There had been nothing like it on the stage before, certainly no prime minister had been so openly derided before as was Harold Macmillan, and the gifted quartet became the toast of the town.

Cook and Moore toasted the town right back while Miller and Bennett diversified into fascinating, self-fulfilling careers as, respectively, theatre director and much loved playwright and diarist.

In Miller’s case, his success with the show in New York took him to the heart of the city’s intellectual life, and he became a familiar with the New York Review of Books crowd, who included the poet Robert Lowell and the editors Elizabeth Hardwick, Bob Silvers and Barbara Epstein. Years later, he would still be contributing spellbinding essays on such topics as producing opera and, suitably enough, mesmerism.

In one Beyond the Fringe sketch, the lanky and bendy-limbed Miller played an ingratiating vicar telling Moore’s bone-headed Teddy boy that the thing about violence was to get it “off the streets and into the churches where it belongs”. As the acute Gilliatt also observed, Miller’s work in Beyond the Fringe confirmed him as a specialist in the comedy of mess: “He jolted muddleheadedness into lucidity by re-enacting confusion.” The golden rule in the case of nuclear attack? Get right out of the area.
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Beyond the Fringe occupied Miller and the rest for three years, from Edinburgh to London and New York. The show, as he ruefully remarked, was catastrophically successful. His career in medicine – he had been addicted to biology since his teens, studied natural sciences at Cambridge and qualified as a doctor in London in 1960 – was disrupted and he succumbed to the blandishments of TV, a move that haunted him for the rest of his life. He was an innovative producer on Huw Wheldon’s Monitor at the BBC in 1965 and later with his idiosyncratic BBC films of Alice in Wonderland and MR James’s Whistle and I’ll Come to You.

His brilliant series The Body in Question (1978), which he also presented, continued a great BBC tradition of intellectual talking heads such as Kenneth Clark, Jacob Bronowski and Kenneth Galbraith. If anyone was both the justification and embodiment of the BBC Reithian ideals of popular seriousness in the arts, languages and science, it was Miller.

An early idol was the comedian Danny Kaye, whom he saw at the London Palladium after the second world war, when Kaye sat on the stage and swung his legs over the orchestra pit with the audience in the palm of his hand; you could say that Miller was the Kaye of the mind, if that did not belittle Kaye’s genius for utter nonsense.

Miller was also an imaginative supremo on the BBC Shakespeare series (1979-81), which had got off to a more sedate start under a more senior and entrenched producer, Cedric Messina.

In the theatre, he became one of the star directors of Laurence Olivier’s National Theatre in the early 1970s, though he fell out badly with Olivier’s successor, Peter Hall.

He was also a renowned opera director, a reputation rooted in his stunningly fresh and original stagings at the English National Opera of a 20s New York mafia version of Rigoletto in 1982 (no one who ever saw La Donna è Mobile kickstarted by a sharp blow to the juke box will ever forget it); and of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado transposed in 1986 to the Freedonia of the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup. Miller cherished the incredulous laughter that greeted Eric Idle, as KoKo, opening the letter from the Mikado with an indignant: “I can’t read this; it’s in Japanese.”
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These productions, along with his ENO revivals of Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier (1994) and Verdi’s La Traviata (1996), became audience favourites, returning to the repertoire year after year, much to Miller’s annoyance on the grounds that his efforts – and his contribution to the ENO’s box office income – were not recognised with appropriate remuneration. In later years, Miller worked increasingly abroad, slightly bitter at what he took to be an ageist policy of employment at the major theatres at home.

He was temperamentally indisposed, anyway, towards the institutionalised nature of theatre, as he saw it, at the monolithic National on the South Bank and the Royal Shakespeare Company; he had had his time at the first when Kenneth Tynan was Olivier’s literary manager at the Old Vic and the offices a couple of Nissen huts round the back. And Tynan’s company and intelligence suited him.

Miller’s interest in the visual arts, and the work of such historians as Ernst Gombrich and Frances Yates, was constantly apparent in his stage work. A Measure for Measure at the National in 1975 – a low-budget touring show, set in the Vienna of Freud and Schoenberg – was directly inspired by a book of August Sander’s photographs.

The ENO Rigoletto quoted Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks before the painting was widely known. Debussy’s Pelléas and Mélisande sounded like Monet to Miller; so the medieval setting was translated to the world of Monet’s literary counterpart, Proust, and the Château de Guermantes. The little boy was obviously a young Marcel.

These adjustments earned Miller a reputation as an iconoclast, but he rarely strayed from the period setting of any piece. When he did so, as in the above examples, there was only a brilliant, metaphorical interpretation at work, never a mere rough and ready “update”.

His 1970 National Theatre Merchant of Venice was transposed to the Venice of the 1890s, with Olivier as a frock-coated Rothschild of the Rialto. This was not totally successful, but the idea was so fresh and so brilliant that it justified the cliche of seeing an old play in a new way.

No production was conceived without recourse to a wider frame of reference. This was not a fetish, but a genuine modus operandi. Over the years, Miller developed a passion for photography and then took an even more “hands on” practical line. While directing an opera in Santa Fe, he was initiated in the art of welding. He started collecting bits of brick, torn posters, splinters of wood and shards of metal; these “assemblages” as he called them were exhibited in various art galleries. Commenting on this new activity at the time, Miller claimed that growing older had sharpened, not blunted, his intelligence. “I think more imaginatively because I have such an enormous amount to draw on. I am like my garden, my brain has been mulched and manured, things have grown and I am more complicated.”

His piercing gaze and curly hair (changing over the years from sandy salt and pepper to a distinctive white) defined an instantly recognisable sage of the age. Even at 70, he would lope lithely as ever around his local market in Camden Town on a Saturday morning, bemoaning the closure of another fruit and vegetable stall in the rising tide of “Euro-slush groups who siphon their way through Camden Lock buying eighth-rate black leather clothes and awful Turkish food being served in a slatternly way”.

Born in St John’s Wood, north London, Miller was educated at St Paul’s school, where the neurologist Oliver Sacks and the bibliophile Eric Korn were contemporaries and, thereafter, lifelong friends, and St John’s College, Cambridge. His father, Emanuel Miller, was a child psychologist and psychiatrist, and his mother, Betty (nee Spiro), a popular novelist and biographer of the poet Robert Browning.

He married Rachel Collet, a contemporary at university, and later a general practitioner, in 1956. They bought a house in Gloucester Crescent, Camden Town, in 1960 and became indelibly associated with such neighbours as Michael Frayn, George Melly and his old friend Bennett – who lived directly opposite – as the trendy literati of NW1.

After the success of Beyond the Fringe, and despite holding academic posts at Sussex University (researching cognitive behaviourism) and McMaster University in Canada (as visiting professor of medicine), Miller’s theatrical career was tumultuous over three decades.

His first play as director was John Osborne’s Under Plain Cover (1962) at the Royal Court, his first Shakespeare a memorable King Lear at Nottingham Playhouse in 1970, in which Michael Hordern and Frank Middlemass were a blithe King and Fool of a similar age.

Around this time he even found time to direct two student productions of Hamlet and Twelfth Night for the Oxford and Cambridge Shakespeare Company, unforgettable experiences for the students finding themselves caught up in the sheer fun and exuberance of his observational humour and unbridled intellectual vitality. He made the same impact wherever he went. Olivier said of working with him at the National that he was excited beyond measure “by the limitless variety and the fascinating colour in the expression of his ideas”.

Speed, flexibility, vivacity: the suppleness of Miller’s mind found perfect expression in his early productions for Kent Opera, or in a trilogy of thematically interlinked plays – Hamlet, The Seagull and Ibsen’s Ghosts – performed under the generic title of Family Romances at Greenwich theatre in 1974, with a core cast of Irene Worth, Robert Stephens, Peter Eyre and Nicola Pagett.
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In 1986 he directed a notably speeded-up version of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, at the Haymarket, with Jack Lemmon as the overwrought patriarch and Peter Gallagher and Kevin Spacey as the sons. The actors were incited to overlap their dialogue, a technique rooted in behavioural psychology and the way families butt in on each other.

In 1987, returning to the Royal Court (though only in the Theatre Upstairs), he staged The Emperor, Ryszard Kapuściński’s account of the last years of the Abyssinian empire under Haile Selassie, as an echo chamber of spies and whispers, all doors and keyholes, and a text arranged by Michael Hastings from verbatim interviews.

His tenure as artistic director of the Old Vic (1988-90) under the patronage of Ed and David Mirvish gave London some of the most brilliant productions of the period, including Richard Jones’s black and white, rabidly cartoonish Feydeau, A Flea in Her Ear, and Miller’s own second look at The Tempest (the first was a pioneering anti-colonial version at the Mermaid in 1970), starring Max von Sydow.

He was back in New York, at the Metropolitan Opera House, with acclaimed productions of Katya Kabanova in 1991 and Pelléas in 1995, but he fell foul of the administration when he refused to sanction Cecilia Bartoli inserting two alternative arias for Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro. His view of star singers was dim. He referred to the Three Tenors – Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras – as “Jurassic Park”.

In the end, he felt there were only about 40 operas worth doing and travelling around Europe doing them proved a congenial way of also visiting libraries and churches in the great cities. He may have run out of plays, too, judging by his disappointing 1996 version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Almeida, in which the comedy’s magic was subverted in an abandoned 30s conservatory of glass mirrors, where Oberon provocatively coughed his way through I Know a Bank in evening dress and the music chosen to rock the ground was Noël Coward’s I’ll See You Again.

His last opera productions were of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale at the Royal Opera House in 2004 (and again in 2010); La Bohème at ENO in 2009 (and again in 2018-19); Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito in Zurich in 2005; and a staging of Bach’s St Matthew Passion at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2006 (and at the National Theatre in 2011).

His various publications include McLuhan (1971), a useful demolition job on the medium is the message guru, The Body in Question (1978), Subsequent Performances (1986), a superbly argued narrative about the afterlife of plays and their realisation in new cultural circumstances, and an enjoyable edition of essays, The Don Giovanni Book (1990).

He was appointed CBE in 1983 and knighted in 2002. He was an honorary fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge, and the Royal Academy, received honorary doctorates from Leicester and Cambridge universities, and listed his recreation in Who’s Who as “deep sleep”.

Miller is survived by Rachel and their children, Tom, William and Kate.

Friday, 29 November 2019

Wednesday night's set lists at The Habit, York

The Elderly Brothers (1): -
He'll Have To Go
All I Have To Do Is Dream
Walk Right Back
I Saw Her Standing There

Ron Elderly: -
Just My Imagination
One More Cup Of Coffee
Wagon Wheel

Da Elderly: -
Ain't She Sweet
You're Sixty
I Don't Want To Talk About It

The Elderly Brothers (2): -
Hello Mary Lou
Crying In The Rain
Let It Be Me
Bye Bye Love

The start of proceedings was delayed due to a PA malfunction requiring host Simon (pictured later in the evening) to ring around for help and then go and fetch a replacement. In the meantime The Elderly Brothers performed an impromptu unplugged set and were just completing I Saw Her Standing There when Simon returned. There was a decent crowd of punters in the bar, but not many players; a visiting party from Ireland persuaded one of their number to do a couple of numbers - she sang a beautiful version of Dougie MacLean's Caledonia. A local lad got folks singing with some very catchy tunes of his own. There were a couple of novelties too, a comedian and two poem readings. After a 3 week lay-off, The Elderlys closed the show with a run through some songs which we don't play all that often.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Clive James RIP

Mr. James in 2007 with a copy of “Cultural Amnesia,” in which he profiled more than a hundred representative 20th-century figures, most of them literary, arranged alphabetically.
Clive James, Literary Critic Who Took His Wit to TV, Dies at 80
A transplanted Australian, he had a zest for the knockout punch as he sparred with all things cultural, creating a pungent comic persona on British television.

By William Grimes
of the New York Times...
27 November 2019

Clive James, a transplanted Australian whose wit and aphoristic style made him a fixture in Britain as a literary critic of unusually wide range, a longtime television writer for The Observer and a reliable comic presence on numerous television shows, notably “Clive James on Television,” died on Sunday in Cambridge, England. He was 80.

His literary agents confirmed the death in a statement posted on Twitter on Wednesday. In 2010, Mr. James learned he had leukemia, kidney failure and emphysema.

Mr. James shared with his Australian compatriot Robert Hughes a pithy, muscular prose style and a zest for landing the knockout punch, the key to his success as The Observer’s television critic from 1972 to 1982.

He once dismissed a tedious public affairs program as “the mental equivalent of navel fluff.” He described William Shatner’s acting technique in “Star Trek” as “picked up from someone who once worked with somebody who knew Lee Strasberg’s sister.”

Unlike his British counterparts, who tended to sneer at popular programming, Mr. James regarded the entirety of television as precious raw material waiting to be mined. He found the peculiar language of sports commentators and Barbara Woodhouse’s dog-training show just as fascinating as a plush historical drama from the BBC. The Observer column, Mr. James wrote in “The Blaze of Obscurity” (2009), the fifth installment of his memoirs, was “the real backbone of my career as a writer.”

That career was varied. He published several volumes of poetry, including a series of mock epics and, as a lyricist, collaborated with the singer-songwriter Pete Atkin on six albums. He wrote a handful of novels, including “Brilliant Creatures” and “The Remake,” sendups of the London literary world.

Most of his non-television writing, however, was devoted to literary criticism, some of which appeared in American publications like The New Yorker, The Atlantic and The New York Review of Books.

His catholic tastes, and his enthusiasm for learning new languages, led him to take on figures as various as Edmund Wilson, Raymond Chandler and Primo Levi.

His range was on full display in “Cultural Amnesia” (2007), in which he profiled more than a hundred representative 20th-century figures, most of them literary, arranged alphabetically from Anna Akhmatova to Stefan Zweig.

Among other things, the book was a conscious attempt by Mr. James to re-stake his claim as a serious literary critic, which, in his own mind at least, had been damaged by his reputation as a television personality.

His gift for the one-liner and his lightning-fast footwork turned him into a one-man franchise. “Clive James on Television,” a quirky review of strange foreign television shows and advertisements, made him a household name and led to several sequels, as well as the travel series “Clive James’ Postcard” and a regular spot as a host of the weekly news review “The Late Show.” American viewers saw him in 1993 when PBS picked up his eight-part series “Fame in the 20th Century.”

Success came at a price. In “The Blaze of Obscurity,” he wrote: “The effect on my literary reputation was immediate. It was thoroughly compromised, and even now, after a quarter of a century, it has only just begun to recover.”

Vivian Leopold James was born on Oct. 7, 1939, in Kogarah, a suburb of Sydney, Australia. His father was taken prisoner by the Japanese at the beginning of World War II and died when the American transport plane carrying him back to Australia crashed into Manila Bay.

The elder Mr. James’s only son was named in honor of Vivian McGrath, an Australian tennis champion, but the name became untenable when “Gone With the Wind” made Vivien Leigh an international star shortly afterward. Allowed to choose a replacement, Vivian settled on Clive.

After graduating from the University of Sydney and working briefly as an assistant editor on The Sydney Morning Herald, Mr. James set sail for London in 1962.

The first volume of his autobiography, “Unreliable Memoirs,” which was published in 1980 and rose to the top of the best-seller list in Britain, described his childhood in Australia. Its sequel, “Falling Towards England,” covered, in often painful detail, his mostly unsuccessful attempts to gain traction in London, where he shared a flat with the future filmmaker Bruce Beresford.

Pembroke College, Cambridge, came to the rescue, offering him a place. Mr. James did manage to earn a degree and even embarked on a doctoral dissertation (never completed) on Shelley, but the real value of his second crack at higher education was the opportunity to do anything and everything. Cambridge was, he wrote in “May Week Was in June,” his third volume of memoirs, “the one place where I could be everything I wanted to be all at once.”

Eric Idle, the future Monty Python star, welcomed him into Footlights, the student theatrical troupe; he became its president. He pressed his poems on every journal available and parlayed his enthusiasm for Hollywood potboilers and arcane Japanese directors into a position as the film critic for The Cambridge Review. Looking back in “May Week Was in June,” he wrote: “I was tireless. I was tiresome. I was omniscient. I was a pain in the arse.”

A scrambling career in literary journalism followed, recounted in “North Face of Soho.” He was perhaps the least recognized name in the constellation of young stars that included Martin Amis, James Fenton and Christopher Hitchens, although it was he, he wrote in “North Face of Soho,” who created the weekly lunch that became the London equivalent of the Algonquin Round Table.

His essays were first collected in “The Metropolitan Critic” (1974). Later collections included “At the Pillars of Hercules” (1977) and “From the Land of Shadows” (1982). His television criticism, issued in book form in “Visions Before Midnight” (1977), “The Crystal Bucket” (1981) and “Glued to the Box” (1983), was gathered in a single volume, “On Television,” in 1991.

Mr. James, who lived in London and Cambridge, is survived by his wife, the Dante scholar Prue Shaw, and their two daughters, Claerwen and Lucinda. In 2012, he and his wife separated after Leanne Edelsten, an Australian socialite and former model, revealed on Australian television that she and Mr. James had carried on an affair for eight years.

Mr. James continued to write and publish poetry, much of it valedictory. “Japanese Maple,” a poignant meditation on his impending death, ran in The New Yorker in September 2014 and appeared in the collection “Sentenced to Life: Poems” (2015).
The New Statesman published two others in August of that year, including “The Emperor’s Last Words,” in which he contemplates, among other things, Napoleon, a niece’s ambitions to be a writer and his own mortality, writing: “It’s time to go. High time to go. High time.”

He never lost his enthusiasm for television, which he reviewed weekly for The Daily Telegraph from 2011 until May 2014. This time around, he turned a somewhat kindlier eye on topics as various as the Eurovision Song Contest, the Royal Jubilee and Barry Manilow, whom he had once savaged but was now prepared to appreciate.

“What you’re hearing from me now is atonement,” he wrote. “Time has happened to me, and as the dark closes in I am trying to behave better.”

In May, he told an audience at a literary festival in London, “One of my ambitions, at this age and in this condition, short of breath and perhaps not long for this world, is to live until Box 4 of ‘Game of Thrones.’”

Japanese Maple

Your death, near now, is of an easy sort.
So slow a fading out brings no real pain.
Breath growing short
Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain
Of energy, but thought and sight remain:

Enhanced, in fact. When did you ever see
So much sweet beauty as when fine rain falls
On that small tree
And saturates your brick back garden walls,
So many Amber Rooms and mirror halls?

Ever more lavish as the dusk descends
This glistening illuminates the air.
It never ends.
Whenever the rain comes it will be there,
Beyond my time, but now I take my share.

My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that.That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same:

Filling the double doors to bathe my eyes,
A final flood of colors will live on
As my mind dies,
Burned by my vision of a world that shone
So brightly at the last, and then was gone.

© Clive James, 2014