Sunday 31 August 2014

Woody Allen - Now where did I leave that oxygen tank?

Now, Where Did I Leave That Oxygen Tank?

Woody Allen
The New Yorker
5 August 2013

How my wife was able to transmute the ingredients of an award-winning recipe for chocolate brownies into twelve perfect squares of granite was a feat that only medieval alchemists could appreciate. Biting into one, I heard my tooth make the same sound Krakatoa made as it vanished, and I soon found myself in the waiting room of my dentist’s office, where I sought distraction from the treble yelping of some poor candy junkie in the chair as his molar was excavated by the latest Black & Decker equipment. Wolfing down my third Xanax, I noticed a remarkable tidbit in the pages of USA Today telling me that up to six thousand surgical patients a year leave operating rooms with sponges, forceps, and other tools mistakenly left inside them.

Creatively blocked, as I had been since the Times critic wrote a column about my last play, comparing it to typhus, I seized upon this tabloid nugget as a viable starting point for a Broadway pastiche that might just rake in the spinach required to subsidize the dementia I have planned for my golden years.

In it, the curtain rises on our protagonist, Miles Goatley, an exuberant young man of twenty-six who makes a meagre living selling meagres. Exactly what meagres are I feel will come to me while I flesh out the characters and sluice in the main themes. Suffice it to say that Goatley is in love with the succulent and raven-tressed Palestrina, whose Mediterranean beauty is of the type that lures sailors to their doom. It might serve us to have a chorus of doomed sailors in tiers upstage who can help with the exposition and keep the story moving. I’ve found that, particularly in my more complex writing, any device explaining the plot as we go along produces a calming effect on the more embittered ticket-buyers.

Although Palestrina loves Goatley, her father, an Old World Armenian rug dealer, Mr. Tatterdemalian, wants his daughter to marry one of her own kind, namely, Larry Fallopian, New York’s hottest art dealer. Fallopian is based on the real-life Murray Vegitarian, whose reputation as a gallery owner was made when he got a record price for a Marie Laurencin watercolor of two lesbians koshering a chicken. Goatley tries courting Palestrina by standing under her window and serenading her. Unfortunately, his instrument is the triangle, and the sound irritates her father, who cannot resist dropping a cinder block on his head. Vowing to become a success, Goatley forms an acting group that performs avant-garde plays written in palindromes, but the group peters out as the members start dying off from starvation.

Act I ends with the chorus warning against worship of the bitch goddess success and explaining why men with immense wealth will always prefer a well-endowed blond lap dancer to a less comely type whose strong points might be punctuality or a clear handwriting.

In Act II we meet the crackerjack surgeon Henry Postpistle and his promiscuous wife, Vendetta. Postpistle has learned to live with his wife’s peccadillos but only because he does not know what peccadillos are, as she has convinced him that they’re Mexican food. Meantime, he has sought romantic succor with Ingrid Shtick-Fleish, a baroness who comes from a once great family of German munitions makers who retooled their factories after the war and now manufacture only peashooters. She and her brother Rudolph stand to inherit a fortune when their father dies, but he has been in a coma for thirty-six years, and, while Rudolph refuses to pull the plug, Ingrid tries casually to kick it out of the wall each time she visits. Postpistle would love to run off with Ingrid, but a divorce would ruin him financially, because the baroness is used to jewels, yachts, and Beluga, and once struck him across the face with her riding crop when he dared suggest that she fill her blini with red eggs.

Meanwhile, Goatley asks for Palestrina’s hand in marriage; she accepts, but when he learns it is only her hand she is giving him, while the rest of her body goes to Larry Fallopian, he swallows a cyanide capsule he has been carrying around for two years, anxious to use it before the expiration date runs out. He keels over, clutching his abdomen, and is rushed to Our Lady of Perpetual Whining Hospital, where, near death, he calls out for one final glimpse of Palestrina—or, if she’s unavailable, any co-ed in a thong willing to do jumping jacks. An immediate operation is required, and Dr. Postpistle receives an emergency phone call to come to the hospital at the very moment he is about to make love to Ingrid Shtick-Fleish. He puts down his spray can of whipped cream and rushes off.

At the hospital, he has slipped into an operating gown when his nurse, Miss Waxtrap, bursts in breathlessly to inform him that he’s just won the New York Lottery, worth three hundred and sixty million dollars, which means that she and Postpistle can now finally go off together, something he’s always promised. My thinking here is that an affair between Nurse Waxtrap and the doctor gives us an excellent subplot, with rich potential for emotional fireworks, especially if we make her a secret agent for the Mossad.

Suddenly wealthy beyond the dreams of Croesus, Postpistle phones his lawyer, Murray Sinkhole, and has him serve Vendetta with divorce papers, charging reckless weight gain and claiming that, while he vowed at the altar to stick by her through sickness and health, for richer or poorer, for better or worse, the rabbi never mentioned fat.

Ecstatic at the prospect of a new life, Postpistle races through the operation, saves Goatley, and surprises the baroness at her penthouse with a million-dollar diamond the size of a doorknob; when she points out that it actually is a doorknob, he realizes he has overpaid. Impressed by his new net worth, the baroness surrenders to him, and all that remains is for Postpistle to claim his lottery ticket, rent a Gulfstream, and sky with her to the Caribbean island where they first met. The baroness had been vacationing there with her then husband, the British Lord Sir Gornischt Helfin. Diving off the rocks one day, she hit her head, and Postpistle, the hastily summoned surgeon, suggested amputating it. Instead, the couple started a conversation and began having an affair under her husband’s nose but found there was not enough room under his nose to stretch out, although it was the only shady spot on the island. Now, two years later, Postpistle is rich enough to take her as his bride.

But what’s this? Postpistle is at sixes and sevens because he can’t find the lottery ticket. Frantically he searches his trousers. Where did he put it? Suddenly it hits him: rather than leave the precious billet in his locker while he was in the operating theatre, he had it clutched in the palm of his left hand, secure under the tight surgical glove. Then, like as many as six thousand doctors who yearly leave remnants inside their patients during operations, he’d absent-mindedly left his glove inside Goatley, along with the Powerball prize. In a frenzy he races to the hospital and prepares to open up Goatley again, telling him that when he did the operation he left his cell phone inside and is expecting an important call.

Goatley, suspicious, checks his X-rays and spots the lottery ticket, the rubber glove, and a photo of Ann Corio he swallowed years ago. He offers to split the prize money, and Postpistle starts the operation.

Now we come to the climax, the moment of moral indecision. Postpistle realizes that if Goatley were not to survive the operation the money would be his alone. Bearing that in mind, he places a live hand grenade inside Goatley and sews him up again. Reproachfully, the chorus curses Postpistle, reminding him that the Hippocratic Oath forbids the use of explosives in treating any illness except hives. Stricken with remorse (and here I’m thinking of Postpistle’s conscience perched on his shoulder, urging him to obey his better nature, although we’d need a very tiny actor), the doctor removes the grenade before it goes off, and Goatley survives. Finally, just when all seems well, Fate, that capricious chess master, brings his queen into play: Postpistle discovers that Nurse Waxtrap has misread the lottery numbers and the ticket is worthless. The baroness drops Postpistle, saying that she will always love him but right now wants a restraining order. In an epiphany, the doctor realizes that it’s Nurse Waxtrap who truly cares for him. They marry and become a famous husband-and-wife operating team. Also a great ballroom-dancing team, whose specialty is doing the merengue while performing kidney transplants.

Goatley, under the spell of all the anesthetic, dreams at last of what meagres could be used for and lives to market them, making millions and wedding Palestrina. Of course, there are some loose ends, and I have yet to solve the problem of what he has decided the meagres actually do, but a few weeks on a Caribbean island might be just the thing to tickle my muse, particularly if my muse is wearing a thong and willing to do jumping jacks.

Saturday 30 August 2014

Bill Kerr RIP

Bill Kerr - obituary
Bill Kerr was a distinguished Australian character actor who made his name on radio in Hancock’s Half Hour

29 Aug 2014

Bill Kerr, who has died aged 92, was an Australian actor who made his name on the radio in Britain in the 1950s, becoming particularly well-known for his role (alongside Sid James and Hattie Jacques) as one of Tony Hancock’s three cronies in Hancock’s Half Hour.

But Kerr was also a character actor of distinction, giving memorable performances as a racketeer in My Death is a Mockery (1952); as the bomber pilot Micky Martin in The Dam Busters (1955); and as a mentally disturbed crook in Port of Escape (1956), co-starring Googie Withers and Joan Hickson. His other films of this period included Appointment in London (1952), You Know What Sailors Are (1954) and The Night My Number Came Up (1955).

After more than two decades in Britain, in 1979 Kerr returned to Australia, where he had been brought up from early childhood, settling in Perth. The British entertainment industry’s loss was Australia’s gain, as Kerr continued to forge a successful career on both stage and screen.

William Henry Kerr was born in Cape Town on June 10 1922. Both his parents were in showbusiness and they took him on stage when he was still in infancy. “My mother took about 10 weeks off to have me, and when she returned to the stage the producers said rather than bother with a doll for the baby, why didn’t she use me,” Kerr said in 1995. “So you could say my stage career began when I was only a few weeks old.”

By the time the family moved from South Africa to Australia, Bill was old enough to go on tour playing child parts such as Little Willie in a production of East Lynne. By the age of eight he had started in variety. He appeared in his first film, a short called Harmony Row (in which he was credited as Billy Kerr), in 1933, and from the age of 16 he was taking part in children’s broadcasts from the Australian National and commercial radio networks.

Having served with the Australian Army in the Second World War, Kerr arrived in Britain by ship in 1947, immediately securing roles on radio programmes in which he was billed as “the stand-up comedian from Wagga Wagga”. After a spell performing at the Camberwell Palace, he toured the Moss and Stoll theatres.

Kerr was one of a host of repertory stars in Variety Bandbox, playing alongside names such as Frankie Howerd and Reg Dixon on “steam radio”. His droll, lugubrious character had the catchphrase “I’ve only got four minutes”, and after the laughter this generated had subsided he would come back with a riposte such as: “I don’t want to worry you, but you people in the balcony — those pillars don’t look too safe.” For audiences of the late Forties, this counted as black humour.

His first British film was a programme-filler called Penny Points to Paradise (1951), which also featured Peter Sellers, Alfred Marks, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe.

During this early period of his career Kerr was also active on the stage, in productions such as Pommie; The Bed Sitting Room (alongside Spike Milligan) at the Mermaid; and Son of Oblomov at the Comedy.

In 1954 he joined Hancock’s Half Hour, which ran on the radio for six series and later moved on to television. As Hancock’s Australian lodger at the dilapidated 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam, Kerr appeared as the gormless, slow-on-the-uptake butt of his landlord’s humour. The role made Kerr a household name in Britain, and he later resumed his partnership with Sid James in the first series of the television comedy Citizen James (1960).

Kerr’s other television appearances in Britain included one of the Doctor Who stories, “The Enemy of the World” (1968), alongside Patrick Troughton; and the BBC soap opera Compact, created by the same team that went on to devise Crossroads.

On the big screen, he had parts in The Wrong Arm of the Law (1963), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), and in two of the “Doctor” films, Doctor in Distress (1963) and Doctor in Clover (1966).

For much of the 1970s, Kerr concentrated on theatre. He appeared in Cole at the Mermaid; The Good Old Bad Old Days, co-starring with Anthony Newley at the Prince of Wales; and in Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime at Sadler’s Wells. He charmed audiences as Sakini in a national tour of The Teahouse of the August Moon; was a forcefully ingratiating Devil in Damn Yankees; and proved a hit as Humphrey Bogart in Play It Again, Sam at the Globe.

After settling in Perth he played serious roles in a number of Australian films, including in the Peter Weir pictures Gallipoli (1981) and The Year of Living Dangerously (1982). He also co-starred in Razorback (1984), about a murderous wild boar running riot in the Australian outback.

He was active on the Australian stage — in My Fair Lady he was a critical success as Alfred Doolittle — and appeared in numerous television series, including Return to Eden.

Bill Kerr, who was three times married and had four children, is said to have died while watching television at his home.

Thursday 28 August 2014

Talking about Larkin

Film of June Willis, Monica Jones's former neighbour, talking about Larkin, on the day of a plaque unveiling at Haydon Bridge, Northumberland - Tuesday, August 26, 2014. (Filmed by PAUL KELLY).

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Make You Feel My Love
Autumn Leaves
Need Your Love So Bad
Dead Flowers
You Better Move On

Da Elderly: -
Unknown Legend
On The Beach
One Of These Days
Old Man

The Elderly Brothers: -
Love Hurts
Crying In The Rain
Bird Dog
Let It Be Me
I'll Be Back
True Love Ways
So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)
Surfin' USA
Then I Kissed Her
The Sound Of Silence
You're Sixteen
Bye Bye Love

A rather quiet night at The Habit; disappointing as the evening had been hijacked, in a good way, by Oxjam York - fundraising for Oxfam GB.

Unknown Legend was dedicated to Pegi Young and On The Beach to Neil. Two lasses got up and danced to One Of These Days much to my surprise. Someone in the audience, who was enjoying the Neil songs, then shouted out "you've got to play Old Man, so I obliged and virtually everyone sang along. One of the players then took up the Neil banner and performed a lively Tell Me Why.

The Elderlys ended off the evening to a very appreciative audience and introduced a "new" song, I'll Be Back from the wonderful A Hard Day's Night LP. As usual, a post-open mic jam followed and all was brought to a close by around 1pm.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Philip Larkin Plaque Unveiled at Haydon Bridge

Monica's former neighbour, June Willis, with her daughter, Jacqueline, and Dennis Telford, author of Monica - 'Dearest Bun' - A Haydon Bridge Love Story, outside 1A Ratcliffe Road, Haydon Bridge. (All pics: PAUL KELLY.)

Haydon Bridge pays homage to renowned poet's secret love nest

Joseph Tulip
Wednesday 6 August 2014

A blue plaque to commemorate poet Philip Larkin’s association with Haydon Bridge is set to go up in the village later this month.

The plaque which will be placed at 1A Ratcliffe Road, Haydon Bridge, in honour of poet Philip Larkin.

It will be unveiled outside the “secret love nest” he shared with his friend and lover Monica Jones, during a special ceremony on August 26.

The love nest – a house at the east end of Ratcliffe Road – was bought by Miss Jones in 1961, with nationally acclaimed writer Larkin spending much of his time there before his death in 1985 at the age of 63.
A commemorative plaque in Haydon Bridge has been talked about for several years, especially after they have gone up elsewhere, including Hull and Belfast, where Larkin has connections.

But with the support of local historian Dennis Telford, the house’s current owner and the national Philip Larkin Society, Haydon Parish Council has progressed the scheme over the past 12 months.

Speaking at the latest parish council meeting, Coun. David Robson said the plaque was ready to be installed, and that an unveiling ceremony had been planned.

He said: “It’s good that we’ve finally got this far and I hope everybody is happy with the plans. It would be nice to see people turn out for what should be a nice village occasion.”

Councillors were not ready to confirm who would carry out the unveiling of the plaque, which will include an extract of a letter written by Larkin, about the house, in 1962.

However, it will be followed by high tea and a musical presentation by Johnny Handle, at the General Havelock Inn.

A keen local historian, Mr Telford has long believed that recognition for Larkin would complement a plaque on the Old Bridge in honour of the village’s most famous son, artist and engraver, John Martin, as well as the John Martin Trail, which opened almost a decade ago.

The poet and Miss Jones were often seen in the village’s shops and streets during their time in Haydon Bridge.

June Willis, Monica's former neighbour

Much earlier, they had worked together at Leicester University, where she was a lecturer in English and he was a librarian, in the 1940s.

They were close for many years, and when Monica took ill in the early 1980s, she moved to Larkin’s house in Hull, where she remained after his death. Monica died in 2001, aged 78.

Tynedale played a part in the writings of Larkin, with notable references to allotments in Haydon Bridge, while the poem Show Saturday, is said to have been penned after Larkin visited the 1973 Bellingham Show.

Journalist Paul Kelly at the unveiling

In 1984, Larkin was offered the role of Poet Laureate following the death of John Betjeman. The decision to decline may have been influenced by Larkin’s own failing health.

Today, Larkin’s work is studied in schools and his poetry collections, including The Whitsun Weddings, published in 1964, have been part of the English literature A-level curriculum.

Tuesday 26 August 2014

Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Volume 11 - The Basement Tapes

Not mentioned on his own site yet, however...

The definitive chronicle of Dylan's legendary 1967 sessions with The Band
Historic 6-disc set includes 138 tracks
Compiled from meticulously restored original tapes
Exclusive 120 page deluxe-bound book containing rare and unseen photographs and memorabilia
Extensive liner notes

Compiled from meticulously restored original tapes many found only recently this historic six-disc set is the definitive chronicle of the artist's legendary 1967 recording sessions with members of his touring ensemble who would later achieve their own fame as The Band.

Among Bob Dylan's many cultural milestones, the legendary Basement Tapes have long fascinated and enticed successive generations of musicians, fans and cultural critics alike. Having transformed music and culture during the early 1960s, Dylan reached unparalleled heights across 1965 and 1966 through the release of three historic albums, the groundbreaking watershed single "Like A Rolling Stone," a controversial and legendary 'electric' performance at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival and wildly polarizing tours of the United States, Europe and the UK. Dylan's mercurial rise and prodigious outpouring of work during that decade came to an abrupt halt in July 1966 when he was reported to have been in a serious motorcycle accident.

Recovering from his injuries and away from the public eye for the first time in years, Dylan ensconced himself, along with Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson and, later, Levon Helm, in the basement of a small house, dubbed "Big Pink" by the group, in West Saugerties, New York. This collective recorded more than a hundred songs over the next several months including traditional covers, wry and humorous ditties, off-the cuff performances and, most important, dozens of newly-written Bob Dylan songs, including future classics "I Shall Be Released," "The Mighty Quinn," "This Wheel's On Fire" and "You Ain't Going Nowhere."

When rumors and rare acetates of some of these recordings began surfacing, it created a curiosity strong enough to fuel an entirely new segment of the music business: the bootleg record. In 1969, an album mysteriously titled Great White Wonder began showing up in record shops around the country, and Dylan's music from the summer of 1967 began seeping into the fabric of popular culture, penetrating the souls of music lovers everywhere. With each passing year, more and more fans sought out this rare contraband, desperate to hear this new music from the legendary Bob Dylan.

The actual recordings, however, remained commercially unavailable until 1975, when Columbia Records released a scant 16 of them on The Basement Tapes album (that album also included eight new songs by The Band, without Dylan).

A critical and popular success, The Basement Tapes went Top 10 in the US and UK.

Over the years, the songs on The Basement Tapes have haunted and perplexed fans, with the recordings themselves representing a Holy Grail for Dylanologists. What's on the rest of those reels?

The Basement Tapes Complete brings together, for the first time ever, every salvageable recording from the tapes including recently discovered early gems recorded in the "Red Room" of Dylan's home in upstate New York. Garth Hudson worked closely with Canadian music archivist and producer Jan Haust to restore the deteriorating tapes to pristine sound, with much of this music preserved digitally for the first time.

The decision was made to present The Basement Tapes Complete as intact as possible. Also, unlike the official 1975 release, these performances are presented as close as possible to the way they were originally recorded and sounded back in the summer of 1967. The tracks on The Basement Tapes Complete run in mostly chronological order based on Garth Hudson's numbering system.

Disc: 1
1. Edge of the Ocean
2. My Bucket's Got a Hole in It
3. Roll on Train
4. Mr. Blue
5. Belshazzar
6. I Forgot to Remember to Forget
7. You Win Again
8. Still in Town
9. Waltzing with Sin
10. Big River (Take 1)
11. Big River (Take 2)
12. Folsom Prison Blues
13. Bells of Rhymney
14. Spanish is the Loving Tongue
15. Under Control
16. Ol' Roison the Beau
17. I'm Guilty of Loving You
18. Cool Water
19. The Auld Triangle
20. Po' Lazarus
21. I'm a Fool for You (Take 1)
22. I'm a Fool for You (Take 2)

Disc: 2
1. Johnny Todd
2. Tupelo
3. Kickin' My Dog Around
4. See You Later Allen Ginsberg (Take 1)
5. See You Later Allen Ginsberg (Take 2)
6. Tiny Montgomery
7. Big Dog
8. I'm Your Teenage Prayer
9. Four Strong Winds
10. The French Girl (Take 1)
11. The French Girl (Take 2)
12. Joshua Gone Barbados
13. I'm in the Mood
14. Baby Ain't That Fine
15. Rock, Salt and Nails
16. A Fool Such As I
17. Song for Canada
18. People Get Ready
19. I Don't Hurt Anymore
20. Be Careful of Stones That You Throw
21. One Man's Loss
22. Lock Your Door
23. Baby, Won't You be My Baby
24. Try Me Little Girl
25. I Can't Make it Alone
26. Don't You Try Me Now

Disc: 3
1. Young but Daily Growing
2. Bonnie Ship the Diamond
3. The Hills of Mexico
4. Down on Me
5. One for the Road
6. I'm Alright
7. Million Dollar Bash (Take 1)
8. Million Dollar Bash (Take 2)
9. Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread (Take 1)
10. Yea! Heavy and a Bottle of Bread (Take 2)
11. I'm Not There
12. Please Mrs. Henry
13. Crash on the Levee (Take 1)
14. Crash on the Levee (Take 2)
15. Lo and Behold! (Take 1)
16. Lo and Behold! (Take 2)
17. You Ain't Goin' Nowhere (Take 1)
18. You Ain't Goin' Nowhere (Take 2)
19. I Shall be Released (Take 1)
20. I Shall be Released (Take 2)
21. This Wheel's on Fire
22. Too Much of Nothing (Take 1)
23. Too Much of Nothing (Take 2)

Disc: 4
1. Tears of Rage (Take 1)
2. Tears of Rage (Take 2)
3. Tears of Rage (Take 3)
4. Quinn the Eskimo (Take 1)
5. Quinn the Eskimo (Take 2)
6. Open the Door Homer (Take 1)
7. Open the Door Homer (Take 2)
8. Open the Door Homer (Take 3)
9. Nothing Was Delivered (Take 1)
10. Nothing Was Delivered (Take 2)
11. Nothing Was Delivered (Take 3)
12. All American Boy
13. Sign on the Cross
14. Odds and Ends (Take 1)
15. Odds and Ends (Take 2)
16. Get Your Rocks Off
17. Clothes Line Saga
18. Apple Suckling Tree (Take 1)
19. Apple Suckling Tree (Take 2)
20. Don't Ya Tell Henry
21. Bourbon Street

Odds and Ends alternative version:

Disc: 5
1. Blowin' in the Wind
2. One Too Many Mornings
3. A Satisfied Mind
4. It Ain't Me, Babe
5. Ain't No More Cane (Take 1)
6. Ain't No More Cane (Take 2)
7. My Woman She's A-Leavin'
8. Santa-Fe
9. Mary Lou, I Love You Too
10. Dress it up, Better Have it All
11. Minstrel Boy
12. Silent Weekend
13. What's it Gonna be When it Comes Up
14. 900 Miles from My Home
15. Wildwood Flower
16. One Kind Favor
17. She'll be Coming Round the Mountain
18. It's the Flight of the Bumblebee
19. Wild Wolf
20. Goin' to Acapulco
21. Gonna Get You Now
22. If I Were A Carpenter
23. Confidential
24. All You Have to do is Dream (Take 1)
25. All You Have to do is Dream (Take 2)

Disc: 6
1. 2 Dollars and 99 Cents
2. Jelly Bean
3. Any Time
4. Down by the Station
5. Hallelujah, I've Just Been Moved
6. That's the Breaks
7. Pretty Mary
8. Will the Circle be Unbroken
9. King of France
10. She's on My Mind Again
11. Goin' Down the Road Feeling Bad
12. On a Rainy Afternoon
13. I Can't Come in with a Broken Heart
14. Next Time on the Highway
15. Northern Claim
16. Love is Only Mine
17. Silhouettes
18. Bring it on Home
19. Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies
20. The Spanish Song (Take 1)
21. The Spanish Song (Take 2)

Needless to say, it's being released in various formats for those who can't afford to shell out almost $150.

Bob Dylan to share full Basement Tapes
Dylan’s label agree to unveil the remaining 114 tracks from the legendary 1967 sessions, including covers of songs by Johnny Cash and Curtis Mayfield

Sean Michaels
Wednesday 27 August 2014

Bob Dylan is sharing the rest of his Basement Tapes. Four decades after the singer released 24 songs under that title – cuts he recorded with the Band in upstate New York – his label have agreed to unveil 114 more tracks from the same 1967 sessions.

“Some of this stuff is mind-boggling,” Sid Griffin, author of the set’s liner notes, told Rolling Stone. Packaged under the title The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11, the six-CD set incorporates alternate versions of Blowin’ In The Wind and It Ain’t Me Babe, covers of tunes by Johnny Cash and Curtis Mayfield, and at least 30 tracks that Rolling Stone claims “even fanatical Dylan fans never knew existed”. A shorter, two-disc compilation, The Basement Tapes Raw, will present 12 of the unreleased tracks alongside the original LP.

Almost all of this material was harvested from reel-to-reel tape: 20 tapes in all, which the Band’s Garth Hudson kept stored in his Woodstock home. Jan Haust, a Toronto-based collector, acquired the archive about 10 years ago; he worked with Dylan’s reps to find a way to put them out. Although a few tapes were allegedly missing, and a handful of recordings “just [sounded] like a distortion”, everything else is making its way to the public. “We usually curate these packages more, but we knew the fans would be disappointed if we didn’t put out absolutely everything,” an unnamed Dylan source told Rolling Stone.
Fans of The Basement Tapes have always known that there was unreleased material. There have been several expanded, bootleg editions over the years, and musicians have even turned their attention to Dylan’s unreleased Basement Tapes-era lyrics. Earlier this year, T Bone Burnett collaborated with Marcus Mumford, Elvis Costello and others to record their own versions of his incomplete songs. “The stuff that people haven’t heard justifies, in every way, shape and form, all the hype, hubris and myth that surrounds these tapes,” Griffin promised.

Moving forward, Dylan’s archivists are hoping to assemble unused material from 1975’s Blood on the Tracks sessions. “The unheard stuff from there is crazy,” said Rolling Stone’s source. “You can hear the first day of recordings before they put all that echo on.” According to a report in January, Dylan’s camp is also preparing a documentary about the Rolling Thunder Revue, a caravan concert tour from 1975, where Dylan played alongside Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, a 20-something T Bone Burnett, and guest stars like Allen Ginsberg and Harry Dean Stanton. Some of the audio recordings were previously released on Dylan’s Bootleg Series Vol 5, from 2002.

The Basement Tapes Complete and The Basement Tapes Raw are out on 4 November with Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings.

Monday 25 August 2014

Richard Attenborough RIP

Richard Attenborough
Richard Attenborough obituary
British film industry luminary who began his career as a character actor before triumph as a director with Gandhi

Ronald Bergan
Monday 25 August 2014

Richard Attenborough, who has died aged 90, had three distinct personas for those who followed his career in the entertainment world: the baby-faced, pint-sized actor, at turns, cocky and cowardly, later rotund in mostly creepy character roles; the film director of epics such as Gandhi, and Chaplin; and Lord "Dickie", ubiquitous, ebullient and lachrymose, presiding over a host of charitable organisations. However, each image merges into one complete picture of a cheerful humanitarian and imperishable idealist who, for over half a century, played an integral part in British cultural life.

In the history of cinema, the image of the actor will probably be the most enduring, though physically Attenborough lacked the requirements of a romantic leading man (ironically, his younger brother, David, the wildlife expert, had the film-star looks). In fact, Attenborough was in front of the camera for over a quarter of a century before his directorial debut, at the age of 46, with Oh! What a Lovely War in 1969.

His first screen role was as a callow stoker who deserts his post in Noël Coward's In Which We Serve (1942), told in flashback by survivors while they cling to a life raft after their ship has been sunk off Crete in May 1941. Small as the part was, the 19-year-old Attenborough made an impression as a cockney coward for Coward. A cockney he wasn't, though he played mainly working-class characters throughout his career.

Attenborough's father, Frederick, was a Cambridge don, who later became principal of University College Leicester. Richard, born in Cambridge, was exposed to culture early. His parents and grandparents were all musical, and one of his first memories was hearing The Messiah conducted by Malcolm Sargent in the De Montfort Hall in Leicester.

Above all, Richard and his two younger brothers, David and John, were brought up with a sense of social responsibility. Their mother, Mary, was chair of a committee to care for evacuee Basque children during the Spanish civil war, and she marched in protest against the bombing of Guernica. On the outbreak of the second world war, the Attenboroughs took two Jewish girls into their home, where they stayed for eight years. "That particular decision, not merely paying lip service but taking positive, responsible action to help other human beings, made a profound impression on me. It has, I suppose, affected my life and my attitudes ever since," Attenborough wrote.

This is clear from most of his choices of subjects as a producer and director. He inherited his energy and non-stop activity from his mother, who died in a car accident, apparently suffering a heart attack as she was returning alone from a committee meeting.

Attenborough was educated in Leicester, at Wyggeston grammar school, and showed his acting skills early on, gaining a scholarship to Rada in 1940. His first part in the West End was Ralph Berger, the younger son of a Bronx Jewish family in Clifford Odets's Awake and Sing. The Times said he played it "with sound understanding", while the Daily Sketch thought he "showed an intensity of feeling and restraint for a youngster who has a big future".

A few months before joining the RAF in June 1943, Attenborough achieved his greatest stage success in Brighton Rock, adapted from the Graham Greene novel by Frank Harvey. Attenborough as Pinkie Brown, the vicious young Catholic gangster, according to the New Statesman, "deserves to have won fame in a single night, for his study in abnormal psychology is thoughtful, delicate and powerful." This forceful performance was recreated in the 1947 Boulting Brothers film version, and remains one of Attenborough's most memorable creations.

In 1945, while in the RAF Film Unit, he married Sheila Sim, whom he had met at Rada. The year before, they had both been cast (though her role was cut out in the editing) in the wartime propaganda film Journey Together, directed by John Boulting, which was meant to demonstrate the special relationship between America and Britain. The US was represented by Edward G Robinson, who waived his fee for playing a flying instructor, while Attenborough was a would-be pilot who has to be content with being a navigator, reflecting his own frustration at never having become a pilot during the war.

After demob, Attenborough continued in uniform on screen in Powell and Pressburger's A Matter of Life and Death (in one shot as an airman) and Peter Ustinov's School for Secrets (both 1946). He was to play several soldiers and sailors into the 1970s. In The Man Within (1947), based on Greene's first novel, one of Attenborough's rare costume dramas, he was an adolescent member of a gang of smugglers, who betrays his leader (Michael Redgrave). He would continue to play teenagers into his late 20s.

Although he had not changed much physically since Pinkie on stage in Brighton Rock four years previously, he brought more maturity to his film performance. However, it was pushing it a bit to accept the 25-year-old Attenborough in the title role of The Guinea Pig (1948), a 15-year-old working-class scholarship boy at a posh public school, particularly as his wife Sheila played the house mistress.

This was followed by another well-meaning social reform melodrama, Boys in Brown (1949), in which "bad 'uns" Attenborough and Dirk Bogarde were Borstal boys. In the same year, Attenborough took another neurotic role on stage, a mentally disturbed Jewish GI in Arthur Laurents's Home of the Brave. Then, eight months after the birth of Michael, their first child, Richard and Sheila appeared together in Roger MacDougall's farce To Dorothy a Son, which ran in the West End for over a year from November 1950.

Meanwhile, Attenborough reprised his cowardly sailor role of In Which We Serve in the submarine drama, Morning Departure (1950) as Stoker Snipe, who cracks under pressure. If John Mills represented the stiff-upper lip school, then Attenborough often had a quivering lower lip. "Pull yourself together, Stokes," says Commander Mills, slapping the hysterical Snipe. "Thank you, sir. I needed that." It worked, because Attenborough seldom let the side down again when below decks in Gift Horse (1952) and The Ship That Died of Shame (1955).

In 1952, Sheila and Richard (as Detective Sergeant Trotter) led the first cast of a play which was to became a theatrical phenomenon. They stayed two years at the Ambassadors with The Mousetrap, of which its author Agatha Christie prophesied that "we should get a nice little run out of it". The Attenboroughs were still around to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the whodunnit's run.

In the mid-1950s, Attenborough reunited with the Boulting brothers in a series of satirical comedies attacking some of Britain's institutions. Attenborough, now having put on more weight, was a louche figure in all of them. In Private's Progress (1956), on the army, he was a scrounger; in Brothers in Law (1957), on the legal profession, a smarmy barrister; and in I'm All Right Jack (1959), on management and unions, he was Sydney de Vere Cox, a shady munitions manufacturer.

In 1960, Attenborough formed Beaver Films with the actor and director Bryan Forbes, and an independent distribution company, Allied Film Makers, with Forbes, Guy Green, Michael Relph, Basil Dearden and Jack Hawkins. His first film as producer was The Angry Silence, an anti-trades union tract, in which Attenborough was a blackleg and yet a hero. Better was the delightfully piquant heist comedy The League of Gentlemen (1960) with a gallery of British ex-army types, including Attenborough in his spiv persona. Also for his own production company was Forbes's Seance On a Wet Afternoon (1964), in which Attenborough was medium Kim Stanley's weak husband.

The 1960s saw him break into Hollywood, with The Great Escape (1963), third-billed, after Steve McQueen and James Garner, as Squadron Leader "Big X" Bartlett, the master escape planner who is later executed. Further US movies were The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) in which he was an inept navigator whose alcoholism has led to a plane, piloted by James Stewart, to crash in the Sahara desert; in The Sand Pebbles (1966), supporting McQueen again, Attenborough was encouraged to go over the top as a crewman hopelessly in love with a Chinese girl bound for prostitution, and as circus man Albert Blossom in Dr Dolittle (1967).

These roles were taken on to help finance his long-cherished project, a film on the life of Gandhi. It was the only film he thought he would direct, but when offered Oh! What a Lovely War, he accepted the challenge gladly.

Although the film, with a dazzling all-star cast of British actors, rather softened Joan Littlewood's scabrous stage satire on the first world war, its stylisation and clever seaside-postcard use of the Brighton pavilion and old pier made it Attenborough's most audacious and artistically successful project. The closing scene, a helicopter shot of thousands of white crosses in a military cemetery, as a chorus sings They'll Never Believe Me, is genuinely moving.

Attenborough appeared in four features in 1970, mostly antipathetic roles, notably as the serial killer John Christie in 10 Rillington Place. The sight of a chubby, bald Attenborough wearing thick glasses rubbing a corpse and moaning with orgasmic delight is particularly disturbing. Sir Richard – he was knighted in 1976 – with a broad Scots accent, played a British general sent to take over a small kingdom in Satyajit Ray's The Chess Players (1977). He had met the great Bengali film director in India during his long quest to set up Gandhi. "I count working for Ray as one of the milestones of my career."

At the same time, Attenborough followed his directorial debut with two technically competent but illustrated schoolbook epics, Young Winston (1972) and A Bridge Too Far (1977), the latter about the allied defeat at Arnhem. Finally, in a similar mode, after 20 years, with Goldcrest having put up two-thirds of the £20m budget, Attenborough was able to make Gandhi (1982), which had a fine performance by Ben Kingsley in the title role. The film is dedicated to Lord Mountbatten, Pandit Nehru and an unknown Indian called Motilal Kothari, who suggested the subject to Attenborough in the first place in 1962.

Nehru's advice to Attenborough was that it would be wrong to deify Gandhi: "He was too great a man for that." The film won eight Oscars – best picture, best actor, best director, best original screenplay, best cinematography, best art direction, best editing, best costume design – the biggest haul ever for a British movie. In his acceptance speech, Attenborough said: "Gandhi believed if we could but agree, simplistic though it be, that if we do not resort to violence then the route to solving problems would be much different than the one we take."

In the 1980s, he was an active and inspirational chairman of Channel 4 and the British Film Institute, as well as taking on a multitude of other duties with professional bodies and charities for film, theatre, drama and education.

With A Chorus Line (1985), Attenborough once again took on material that seemed intractably theatrical. But, as much as he tried to make the Broadway musical "cinematic", such as using flashbacks, it defeated him, replacing cynicism with mawkishness.

He was more at home with another portentous biopic, Cry Freedom (1987), through which he was able to express his anger with apartheid in South Africa. The first half, dealing with the friendship between liberal white journalist Donald Woods (Kevin Kline) and anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko (Denzel Washington), up to the murder of Biko while in police custody, is impressive, but the second half, following Woods's escape from South Africa, descends into conventional thriller territory.

When Attenborough's protracted attempts to make a film about Thomas Paine, the 18th century humanitarian and republican, fell through, he turned to another of his idols in Chaplin (1992), a sprawling, vacuous homage to the great comic. He continued on the biographical path, covering CS Lewis in Shadowlands (1993), the young Ernest Hemingway in In Love and War (1996) and the North American conservationist Archie Belany in Grey Owl (1999), demonstrating that Attenborough's heart was definitely in the right place as was his camera, most of the time.

He once told the film critic David Robinson that he derived the most pride from a back-handed compliment paid by an American critic. As Attenborough explained: "He said something like, 'the problem with Attenborough's work is that he is more interested in the content than the execution.' Almost without exception that is true. I am glad to say I am sorry if I'm not more adventurous cinematically. But my concern is always, did the film say what I wanted to express or advocate?"

After a gap of 13 years, he returned to the screen as an actor in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993), as the mad genius who runs the theme park featuring genetically recreated dinosaurs, a role which he was to repeat in the sequel The Lost World (1997). This introduced him to a new generation of filmgoers, as did his twinkly-eyed Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street (1994), a pointless remake of the 1947 movie. In fact, it was not difficult to see something of Santa Claus in Attenborough, who disarmingly admits that the character is "not far from my own in terms of bonhomie".

In his mid-80s, Attenborough was still active in film production. The last one he directed was Closing the Ring, released in December 2007. It is a love story, set in South Carolina and northern Ireland. A dying gunner, who was in a crash involving a US B-17 plane in 1943, gives a ring to a local to return to his American girlfriend. Fifty years on, a man finds the ring and tracks down the girlfriend and the history of this ring.

Attenborough was devastated by a triple tragedy that occurred on 26 December 2004 when his eldest daughter Jane, her daughter Lucy, and Jane's mother-in-law, Jane Holland, all perished in the Asian tsunami disaster.

In 2008 he suffered a fall at his home in Richmond, south-west London and was rushed to hospital where he went into a coma, but recovered within a few days. Three years later, David said that his brother was confined to a wheelchair, and that it was unlikely he would be making any more films. In early 2012, he joined Sheila in a home for the care of elderly actors in London that they had both supported for many years. Attenborough was awarded a life peerage in 1993. He is survived by Sheila, his son Michael and daughter Charlotte.

• Richard Samuel Attenborough (Lord Attenborough of Richmond upon Thames), actor, producer, director, philanthropist; born 29 August 1923, died 24 August 2014.

Richard Attenborough
Richard Attenborough's death: a sad day for the British film industry
'Dickie' was an actor, producer, director, world-class networker, an establishment heavyweight and incorrigible wearer of the Garrick Club salmon-and-pink tie

Peter Bradshaw
Sunday 24 August 2014

How he hated being called "Dickie". It sounded like the name of a luvvie lightweight – and Richard Attenborough, the brilliant stage and screen star, and director of the multi Oscar-winning Gandhi, was anything but that. He was always a beaming, cherubic, endlessly charming, endlessly garrulous man: actor, producer, director, world-class networker and committee man, an establishment heavyweight and incorrigible wearer of the Garrick Club salmon-and-pink tie.

Attenborough started out the quintessential character actor: he was the baby-faced, sinister Pinkie in Brighton Rock in 1947, before that, a scared young naval rating in In Which We Serve in 1942. Later, he would morph into the stiff-upper-lipped Squadron Leader Bartlett in The Great Escape in 1963, and, chillingly, returned to villainy as the thin-lipped Reginald Christie in 10 Rillington Place in 1971. Yet he was finally to evolve into the apparently benign old visionary in Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993) and the lovable teddy-bearish Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street (1994).

But it was a director that he became the conqueror of Hollywood, with two Oscars for Gandhi – the film took eight overall. "Dickie" was how he came to be known to the public; that was his brand, and in fact that was how he was professionally christened. He was registered at Rada as Dickie Attenborough, because they already had a Richard and a Dick. Moreover, he had a habit of addressing people in precisely this way: John Mills was "Johnny"; Bryan Forbes was "Forbesy".

Attenborough was an old-school British film mogul who nailed down huge funding or casting decisions over a good lunch. Sending off box-ticking forms to official funding bodies like the UK Film Council or the BFI wasn't his style; when Attenborough started work on Gandhi in the 1960s, he simply got Mountbatten to introduce him to Nehru and took things from there. A lifelong Labour man, he would nonetheless embarrass Neil Kinnock during the 1987 election by cheerfully showing up for photocalls in his beloved Rolls Royce. But he never let politics get in the way of the film business and lavished his passionate bubbling enthusiasm and charm on Margaret Thatcher. "Why on earth didn't you come and see me before, Sir Richard?" she asked thoughtfully, after he had addressed a Downing Street seminar on the subject. "Because you never asked me, darling!" he replied.

Richard Attenborough used "darling" to pin people down and his phrase "Entirely up to you, darling" was a masterstroke of passive-aggressive coercion. Actors and colleagues would be asked to join his movie or charitable committee but told it was "entirely up to them". No-one could resist him. Tellingly, he had been introduced to this technique by his mother, who in wartime assembled the Attenborough boys (Richard, David and John) and told them she was thinking of taking in two children from the kindertransport as their honorary siblings, if they consented. It was entirely up to them!

As a character actor, in the earliest phase of his career, Attenborough had a doughy everymanish face which made him eminently castable in any and every type of non-lead role, with a competent class range from upper-middle to lower-middle. He always looked very young, though, and was often landed with the "juve" role – most notoriously in the 1948 film The Guinea Pig, in which he played a cockney boy who had been given a scholarship to a public school as part of an experiment in social mixing. Incredibly, Attenborough was then 25 years old, and had to keep the school cap on so that no one could see his growing bald patch.

But even then he was already building relationships with producers and directors, and had a natural flair for spotting properties and developing projects. Some of his work with Bryan Forbes is of great interest: Forbes wrote The Angry Silence in 1960, in which Attenborough plays a young factory worker who comes close to a nervous breakdown because he has been sent to Coventry by his mates for breaking a strike. 
This is a film which, like John Boulting's famous I'm All Right Jack, is sometimes looked at a little askance for being apparently anti-union, but it is actually bold and disquieting, not entirely dissimilar in spirit to Basil Dearden's Victim. Similarly intriguing is Richard Attenborough's role in the creepy 1964 thriller Seance On A Wet Afternoon (again, scripted by Forbes) as the husband of a phoney spiritualist.

Attenborough got into directing with his hugely admired screen version of Joan Littlewood's first world war satire Oh! What A Lovely War! and his breezy commanding charm showed him to be a natural director and leader of men, interestingly drawn to historical and military subjects: he went on to direct Young Winston and A Bridge Too Far.

But it was that monumental 1982 three-hour biopic of Gandhi that was his finest hour. This was a high-minded, old-fashioned epic with a compelling central performance using thousands upon thousands of real, non-CGI extras – arguably the last real historical epic of this sort. It was a massive picture in the style of David Lean, and its triumph was the cause of a froideur between Attenborough and Lean, who had himself nursed a Gandhi project, but then let it lapse, gave his permission to Attenborough to run with it – and was reportedly far from delighted to see Attenborough make it such a success, especially as his own career was in the doldrums, and his "Indian" project, a version of Forster's A Passage To India, was coolly received.

It was Attenborough's good fortune to have found the Anglo-Indian actor Ben Kingsley and given him the role which he was born to play. Later, when he was casting his Chaplin biopic, Attenborough had the luck to chance upon the mercurial young actor Robert Downey Jr, who could do such an eerie impersonation. Again, Attenborough showed his sureness of touch: cast a brilliant unknown, so that the picture itself was the star.

With extraordinary energy, and his irrepressible and ingenuous good humour, Attenborough continued with public commitments until almost the very end, relinquishing his presidency of Bafta only a few years ago. What a sad day for the British film industry.

Sunday 24 August 2014

Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love - Review

Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love by James Booth – review
A loving, loyal friend or a misogynist monster – which was the real Larkin?

Blake Morrison
The Guardian
Friday 22 August 2014

Larkin's poems cultivate solitude, withdrawal, "the wish to be alone". His persona is that of an awkward bachelor, too fond of his own company to crave other people's, too old (even when young) to take advantage of the sexual revolution, too conscious of "the sure extinction we travel to" to have fun. Even casual readers, let alone those who knew the man personally, must have realised this misanthropy was a performance – a poet playing at being his gloomiest self. Still, few were prepared for the picture of Larkin that emerged in his Selected Letters, edited by Anthony Thwaite in 1992, and in Andrew Motion's biography the following year. It wasn't just the number of women he was involved with that came as a shock (at one point, towards the end of his life, three at once), but the illiberal views privately expressed to friends on everything from immigration to the awfulness of children. "I can't believe I am so much more unpleasant than everyone else," Larkin wrote, but in bleak moments he did believe it and after the biography and letters even former admirers started believing it too.

Thwaite and Motion were close friends of Larkin as well as his literary executors; they didn't see why revealing the man should diminish the reputation of the poet. The letters are hugely enjoyable and the biography is magisterial, all the more so when you consider how soon after Larkin's death it appeared. But two decades on, with a great deal of other Larkin material having since appeared (poems, letters, juvenilia, fictional pastiches), there's no doubt that a corrective is needed before the myth of Larkin as monster (misogynist, racist, porn addict, gin-swilling Thatcherite bigot) hardens into fact.

This is where James Booth comes in. His Larkin – the man he knew for 17 years at Hull University – was Mr Nice not Mr Nasty: attentive to friends, loyal to his women, kind to animals and even rather fond of children. "All those who were close to him remember him with affection and feel privileged to have known him," he writes, in the tone of a eulogist, and – accentuating the positive – takes us briskly through the life (middle-class Coventry childhood, Oxford in wartime, first library job in Wellington, escape to Belfast and return to Hull, where he remained till his death), carefully scrutinising poems for their own sake as well as for their emotional insights.

Booth doesn't claim to offer much new material, but one woman in Larkin's life comes to the fore: not Monica, Maeve, Patsy, Ruth, Winifred or Betty (his relationships with whom are by now well-known) but Eva, his mother. None of the letters he wrote to her twice weekly, 4,000 in total, were included in Thwaite's selection, but Booth quotes a few, and though their tone is mostly dutiful ("Dearest Mop", "Dearest Old Creature", etc) sometimes it's more. "We must go again up that road to the wood, where we found the scarlet toadstool, & listen to the wind in the trees," he writes in one, as though to a lover. Larkin was only 25 when his father Sydney died, whereas Eva hung on, in failing health and through spells of clinical depression (including admission to a mental hospital for electric shock treatment), for three more decades. Feeling responsible for her made him resentful: he worried he'd not get free till he was 60 ("three years before cancer starts"), and he wasn't far wrong. But Eva inspired one of his most moving poems, "Love Songs in Age", as well one of the bleakest, "The Old Fools", and was instrumental in his finishing "The Building" (a week after she went into a nursing home) and "Aubade" (a week after she died).

Monica Jones held Eva partly responsible for Larkin's failure to commit himself to marriage. Few other women would have stuck out their long-distance relationship or his falling in love with a younger rival, but Booth does his best to vindicate Larkin. There's no requirement for poets to be virtuous, he says, but where virtue is at issue and seemingly lacking he manages to find it. When Monica's father dies, for instance, and Larkin fails to offer her emotional support, Booth explains that this is because he's "in danger of being overwhelmed by her grief. Loyalty was his strongest instinct, and his inability to console Monica at this time distressed him deeply." Well maybe. Later, when Larkin is shuttling between Maeve Brennan and Monica, Booth concludes that his motive is "kindness" and speculates that they "were taking advantage of Philip, rather than he taking advantage of them. He was the victim of the breadth and generosity of his sensibility and the narrowness of theirs."

Here Booth is the victim of his generosity. However tangled these relationships, and whatever pain they brought him, Larkin was always the dominant partner, jealously guarding his own space and never quite escaping what he called his "monstrous infantile shell of egotism". This isn't to say that his feelings didn't run deep. But he believed that "giving in" to a woman "spells death to perception and the desire to express, as well as the ability". It's no coincidence that the most overused term in Booth's book is "misogamy", hatred of marriage. "I do feel terrible about our being 40 & unmarried", he writes, after a decade and a half of keeping Monica at bay. Later, when she suffers a nervous collapse because of his vacillations, he writes: "I feel quite awful, as if I had, well, kicked something to death." The abject apologies allow him to alleviate guilt while going on exactly as before.

Booth is tough on Monica: "a woman with her limitations could not but disappoint and bore him", he says, and holds her responsible for some of the feebler choices in his Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse. Kingsley Amis is another malign influence, a shallow showoff who "encouraged Philip to follow his own example of shameless promiscuity" and who failed only because Larkin's "empathy with and respect for women made him less aggressive than Amis in the pursuit of sexual conquest". Harsh on Amis, Booth is also less than fair to Ted Hughes, whose poetry is said to attribute "human pride, guilt and deviousness" to animals, whereas Larkin's "respects" (that word again) their "non-human otherness". It's true that Larkin writes with great tenderness about animals. He even enlists his women into their world through the use of pet names: Monica is a rabbit, Maeve a mouse, Patsy a honey bear, Betty an alligator. The accompanying drawings in letters are charming, but the pet names are indicative of where he likes to keep these women, at a cosy remove.

Booth is stalwart in defending Larkin against charges of political incorrectness, highlighting his youthful leftist sympathies, his desire to escape "heterosexual patriarchy", his denunciation of racism in jazz reviews, his aversion to the Orange marches he witnessed in Belfast ("staggering dullness … & stupefying hypocrisy") and the relative innocuousness of his taste in porn (part of his collection was kept in a university ring binder with the words "Staff Handbook" on the spine). The points are well made, but an air of desperation creeps in: the book's so partisan, so Hull-centric, so anxious to present Larkin as decent and companionable (an inspiring boss, a genial colleague, a paid-up member of the RSPCA), it underplays his troubled genius. "I think I am mad and odd," he once wrote to Monica, and he was indeed madder and odder than Booth finds it prudent to admit.

Luckily, he doesn't lose sight of the savage comic brilliance of Larkin's epigrams, whether on life ("life is slow motion dying"), sex ("almost as much trouble as standing for parliament", "like asking someone else to blow your nose for you") or his own appearance ("an egg sculpted in lard, with goggles on"). Luckily too, he offers some astute commentary on the poems, demonstrating that Larkin's ambition to tackle the themes of "Life, Death, Time, Love, and Scenery in such a manner as would render further attention to them by other poets superfluous" was entirely in earnest, however jokily expressed. Achieving perfection was a slow process – "Aubade" took three years, "Love Again" four – and his lack of productivity in later years made Larkin distraught: poetry had abandoned him, he said, and all he had was a fucked-up life. Booth doesn't see it that way. He's especially good on the big Keatsian odes and the subtlety of their rhyme schemes. He also shows how if Larkin used a key word once (whether the simple "unsatisfactory", the neologistic "immensements" or the demotic "wanking"), he didn't use it again.

The critical analysis is not without its agenda. Booth's emphasis on Larkin's indebtedness to French symbolism, and his talk of ellipses, anacruses and intertextuality spring from an urge to present his subject as a European modernist rather than a little Englander: Larquin not Larkin. There's a lot of numerology, too – "Face" (or "faces") occurs, as noun or verb, 48 times in Larkin's poetry after 1945 – and less statistic-minded readers may wonder how helpful this is as proof of Larkin's greatness. Still, Booth's diligence is unquestionable and even readers who think they know the poems will see nuances they had previously missed.

Despite the glut of recent years, there may yet be more Larkin to come. The letters he wrote to his friend Bruce Montgomery are embargoed in the Bodleian till 2035. His relationship with his sister Kitty remains little explored. And "Larkin's Vision: the drawings and photographs" is a PhD waiting to be written. But Booth's supplement to Andrew Motion's biography – the light to his shadow – should render further attention by biographers superfluous for several years.

Saturday 23 August 2014

Shields Gazette Sign Rescued for Posterity

Rescued in a secret midnight mission before the wrecking ball could strike, the signage from the Shields Gazette building in Chapter Row is now securely squirrelled away in a top-secret location.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

The Playmaster - a new film by Charlie Hedley

Starring Paul Kelly and Chris Maxwell

A four minute short inspired by the tennis scene from School for Scoundrels, the 1960 British comedy film, directed by Robert Hamer, starring Ian Carmichael and Terry-Thomas.

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Jacques Tati - The School for Postmen

Timing is everything: why Tati's The School for Postmen delivers

Peter Bradshaw
Wednesday 6 August

Jacques Tati's short comedy about a bumbling postman on a bike is exclusively available on the Guardian Film website – watch it to see why the French director ranks up with Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton as one of the world's great film-makers

Jacques Tati's 16-minute short film from 1947, L'École des Facteurs, or The School for Postmen, is all about a wacky postman on a bike, and it's sort of a prototype. In some ways, The School for Postmen is Jour de Fête with the training wheels on. This is Tati taking his brilliant sight gags and routines for a spin before he developed them into the famous full-length movie that came two years later. But it's a terrific film nonetheless, a silent movie with words — presented at a length that the great early masters like Chaplin and Keaton would have understood. It delivers the essence of Tati.

He plays a rural postman who, along with two comrades, is evidently under instruction from a snappy-voiced martinet of a supervisor who raps out his demands at an absurdly high pitch. The postmen have to cut down the time it takes them to complete their round — a round that, entirely preposterously, ends with delivering mail to an aeroplane for deliveries overseas. They have to reduce the delivery from two hours and 50 minutes to two hours and 25. It is exactly the kind of pseudo-scientific rational efficiency that Tati's anarchic behaviour is going to undermine.

All three have to work out on a special cycling treadmill, then they are despatched out into the field. Tati himself is of course instantly recognisable: tall, gawky, maladroit, with worn trousers, an ill-fitting jacket whose sleeves are too short, and a cap whose peak is tugged down in the same direction as his drooping moustache. He looks like a schoolboy who has outgrown his uniform.

His mailbag is slung bandolier-style across his shoulders, and when he shoves it to one side, it swings all the way around and hits his supervisor in the face, just as he is leaving: a neat bit of timing, which Tati makes look easy, like everything else.

Many of the setups and routines will be familiar from Jour de Fête — and one may even be familiar from Robert Zemeckis's 1985 film Back to the Future. Way before Marty McFly hitched a ride on his skateboard on automobile rear bumpers, Jacques Tati on his bicycle would insouciantly grab on to the back of a flatbed truck, and by jamming his elbows down on the woodwork, he could even get a little paperwork done.

He contrives a non-CGI surrealism in the way he sends his riderless bike careering off by itself, and a sequence of edits makes it look as if the bicycle is making a long, unbroken journey with a mind of its own. Solemnly concentrating on speed, or rather haste, Tati tries to climb over a rail safety barrier with his bike, a transparently ridiculous type of pseudo-athleticism that winds up with the bike getting hooked to the gate and hoisted into the air, wasting time, while a young woman who had been calmly waiting whooshes on ahead of him.

There are more bizarre mishaps as Tati attempts to deliver mail to someone while his fingers are sticky with glue, or while the recipients are busy ringing bells or chopping meat.

And yet with great resourcefulness and athleticism, his zany postman faces his final challenge – getting the overseas mail up, up and away. However rustic and ridiculous he may look on his silly retrograde old pushbike, Tati is to launch himself, after his own crazy fashion, into the future. It's a very enjoyable film.

• The Essential Jacques Tati Collection on Blu-ray is available now

The official Tati website:

Monday 18 August 2014

Tim Wallace - Scenes from a 'Ghost Town'

Amazing photographs of Death Valley 'ghost town' go on show in North East
County Durham photographer gives unique insight into ghost town he stumbled across in Nevada’s Death Valley

Barbara Hodgson
16 August 2014

Caught in an eerie time warp, this is the ghost town a North photographer discovered in the middle of America’s Death Valley.

Tim Wallace, from Hamsterley Forest in Durham, had stopped for just a moment on his drive through one of the most dangerous environments in the world when a sudden sparkle of light off glass offered a clue to the whereabouts of a Nevada desert mystery: the rarely-seen town of Darwin whose residents deserted it in the mid-sixties, leaving cars in the drive, milk in the fridge and clothes in the closets.

“I’d heard about this mystical place Darwin a few times,” says Tim but, like many, he hadn’t been able to locate it.

Now fascinating black and white images he took there, capturing eerie scenes such as an abandoned pick-up truck and roads empty except for ‘Keep Out’ signs, are on show in Newcastle - a first ever exhibition for the renowned award-winning photographer who is better known for his commercial photography.

Tim, 45, whose work takes him across the world, has teamed up with Digitalab 8, a photo lab and custom-built gallery space in Stepney Bank, to stage the six-week show of 30 photographs he took while alone in Darwin.

Describing how he stumbled across it, he says: “Death Valley is vast, about the size of France. You can drive across it and there’s nothing there: no cars, no people; in 96 degree heat even bacteria doesn’t grow there.

“If you pull over from the road it’s really difficult because there’s just sand and there are warning signs saying if you get stuck you will die. You have to have 10 litres of water if you break down.”

But Tim had to stop to fix a loose lead and says: “I saw a glint in the distance miles and miles away and I thought ‘it can’t be Darwin’.

“I went down very, very carefully and I came across a ragged American flag.”

And he found himself alone in a town frozen in time.

“The place is amazing,” he says.

“You’ve heard the term ‘deafening silence’ - the thought of that were in my head when I was there. There is no atmosphere, no animals, no noise.”

Without wind or rain “Darwin is perfectly preserved”.

“And the strange thing is that when these people left - and nobody knows why they left - everybody left at once. The houses are intact, there are cars on the drive, newspapers on the kitchen table, clothes in the cupboards and drinks in the fridge.”

The photographs he took capture a time capsule covered in a layer of dust.

He wandered around the houses and, because it felt as though people should still be living there, he found himself first knocking on doors.

He spotted an advert in the window of a dance hall inviting people to an open night of Elvis records and saw a filling station with the old-style glass dome-top petrol pumps.

“The Post Office is the only place boarded up,” he says.

He was even more unsettled when he noticed all the mechanical clocks had stopped at 4.20pm. To add to the mystery he found a US military truck with a bullet hole in the windscreen.

There are ‘Keep Out’ signs around Darwin which initially sprang up as a silver mining town and swelled with 3,000-5,000 residents. Riddled by tunnelling, it’s surrounded by cordoned-off mine shafts but Tim did want to explore further than the centre, pointing our that if he’d fallen into a hole he’d never be found.

He does not intend to reveal where the town is but is confident he could find it again and may even revisit it at some point, with a few others, to explore further.