BOOK REViEW: Napoleon’s Spy, Tim Kane

Hmmm!?

I paid £1 for this at a book stall in our local Tesco. And I kind of feel had!

I’m surprised in fact that I’m persisting with reading it, to be honest. Life’s too short, frankly!

The author’s style is very run of the mill, and unremarkable. But much worse than that, his central character – the protagonist for whom we should be rooting – is a bell-end.

A feckless and not to be credited (in any sense of that expression) gambling addict, who moves from down on his luck gambling dildo to ADC to Caulaincourt, on the eve of the 1812 invasion of Russia.

I collect stuff on 1812, so I thought I’d take a punt. And it’s also useful for me right now to have brainless diversions from the fall-out of the last eighteen months of travails. So it’s really just on those two counts that I persist.

MEDiA/POLiTRiCKS: Trump, Guilty

Crumb, in a 1989 Hup Comics strip.

Waaay back in 1989, Trump was calling out Donald Trump for the criminal he has always so very proudly been. In Crumb’s comic book world of wish-fulfilment Trump is literally flushed down the toilet.

A prophecy? I do hope so.

I’m not usually one to wish ill on anyone. Well, I didn’t used to be. But several extremely unpleasant experiences in the last few years have changed that.

I’m 100% with Crumb in wishing and hoping fervently that Trump and his ilk be publicly punished, and indeed humiliated, and that their disgustingly venal self-serving ways be fully exposed for what they are.

Crumb’s more recent anti-Trump T-shirt design.

I’ve read that Trump has been found guilty of all 36 charges against him, in the Stormy Daniels hush-money case. Excellent. Let’s hope this is just the first in a tidal wave of successful prosecutions.

And let’s hope he spends the remainder of his life in jail. Sadly I suspect his hyper-wealth will protect him from such an outcome. I hope I’m proven wrong.

Trump is allegedly a great businessman. Well, he’s certainly very rich. But according to hundreds of former ‘business associates’, or more plainly victims of his ‘sharp practices’, he’s just a non-paying bully and criminal.

As Adam Gabbatt tartly observes, in a piece on Trump’s recent Bible sales gambit, for The Guardian ‘Trump owes more than $500m as a result of civil court convictions. He is facing 88 felony charges, in five different jurisdictions, and lawyers cost money (unless you don’t pay them).’

Trump and Stormy, 2006.

Just as Crumb saw Trump clearly for the criminal he is, so too did Joni Mitchell understand where we’ve all been headed, as the 1985 lyrics to ‘Dog Eat Dog’ testify:

It's dog eat dog, I'm just waking up
The dove is in the dungeon
And the white washed hawks pedal hate and call it love
Dog Eat Dog
Holy hope in the hands of
Snakebite evangelists and racketeers
And big wig financiers
Dog eat dog
On prime time crime the victim begs
Money is the road to justice
And power walks it on crooked legs
Primetime, Crime
Holy hope in the hands of
Snakebite evangelists and racketeers
And big wig financiers
Where the wealth's displayed
Thieves and sycophants parade
And where it's made
The slaves will be taken
Some are treated well
In these games of buy and sell
And some like poor beast
Are burdened down to breaking
Dog eat dog
It's dog eat dog, ain't it Flim Flam man
Dog eat dog, you can lie, cheat, skim, scam
Beat'em any way you can
Dog eat Dog
You'll do well in this land of
Snakebite evangelists and racketeers
You could get to be
A big wig financier
Land of snap decisions
Land of short attention spans
Nothing is savored
Long enough to really understand
In every culture in decline
The watchful ones among the slaves
Know all that is genuine will be
Scorned and conned and cast away
Dog eat dog
People looking, seeing nothing
Dog eat dog
People listening, hearing nothing
Dog eat dog
People lusting, loving nothing
Dog eat dog
People stroking, touching nothing
Dog eat dog
Knowing nothing
Dog eat dog

DAYS OUT/CHURCHES: Cardiff Cathedral

Cardiff Cathedral.

A sign outside said ‘Welcome, we are open.’ But it was locked shut. Damn! There was even a doorbell. I rang it a few times. No idea if it worked or not. Nobody answered.

Gorgeous shadows and light!

Between The Butcher’s Arms and the cathedral, there are some ruins. Poss an old Abbey, or Abbey Gatehouse? They now enclosed a small municipal park. Lovely!

Teresa, for scale!
Lovely panoramic view.

The next gallery is us walking down the steps to the cathedral.

Blah..

DAYS OUT: Abbie’s Painting Party

The Butcher’s Arms, Cardiff.

Friday evening we all – well, nearly all – met up at The Butcher’s Arms, in Cardiff. To celebrate Abbie’s 26th birthday. With a meal, a drinks, for all. Followed by a ‘painting party’, for the ladies.

DAYS OUT/CHURCHES: St Illtud’s, Llantwit Major

St Illtud’s.

Visited a church in Wales today. At Illtud’s, in Llantwit Major. Very nice scenery in the locality. Sheep, greenery, an old Abbey gatehouse, or somesuch…

The tiny narrow winding streets of the older parts of Llantwit Major are charming, but tricky to navigate in a big modern car. We parked down a track near what may have been the old vicarage.

On the walk down to the church there’s a lovely grange gatehouse. and when you get to the church, there are lovely little enclosed sections of stream. The sound of running water is gorgeous. Very calming!

Obviously a popular tourist destination, this church has a kind of gallery, at one end. And then a newly built mezzanine. This latter is actually a nice space to sit, and view the gallery end of things.

Down at the far or altar end, there’s loads to see, as my pics testify. Funerary monuments, remnants of old wall paintings, and an amazingly ornate carved stone altar. Fabulous!

The number of wall painting fragments is greater than most churches I’ve seen so far. And the variety of them is also interesting. From parts of figures, to geometric or organic patterns. Fascinating stuff!

And finally, a pretty walk back to the car.

DAYS iN/DAYS OUT: Home & Holidays

The garden, looking gorgeous.
Chester, looking equally gorgeous.

We’re off to Wales for a few days, on a short holiday break. Teresa just showed me the two above photos, that she recently took. A lovely reminder of our home.

AirB&B, Cardiff, Wales.
Holiday reading.

I bought the fabulous Uncompromising Expression Blue Note book with me. It’s really terrific.

Gill Melle, Rudy Van Gelder & Alfred Lion.

LATER THE SAME DAY…

We had breakfast, fairly late. And then went to Porthcawl, to the beach.

We had fish & chips, on the beach. And were joined in that by Hannah and co.

In the evening Abbie popped over, and we had a nice (if rather late!) dinner, courtesy of Tim and Hannah. We also gave Abbie her (slightly belated) birthday gift and card.

MEDiA/MOViES: Taxi Driver, 1976

I first saw this film in my late teens, somewhere around the age of 16-18. I must admit, I found it not just shocking, but actually very traumatising, at the time.

All these years later, having just watched Rolling Thunder, I thought I’d revisit Taxi Driver. It turns out both are based on Paul Schrader screenplays. But whereas Schrader was involved throughout and liked the results, when working with Scorsese, the same was not true with Rolling Thunder.

I won’t synopsise the plot of Taxi Driver in any great depth. Most folk will know it chronicles Travis Bickle’s descent into a paranoid vigilante hell. In a NY that is sleazy and trash-ridden, the titular lonely insomniac ‘Nam vet’ unravels, with unrequited love, politics, and post ‘Nam violence all feeding into his brooding insanity.

Jodie Foster, as Iris, De Niro, and Scorsese.

Interestingly, the budget for Taxi Driver was less than that for Rolling Thunder ($1.9 million, as opposed to $2 million). It feels the other way around. TD is much, much, much better filmed, directed, acted, and conceived.

Music plays a very prominent part in Taxi Driver’s power. It was Bernard Herrman’s last soundtrack. He died only a few days after completing it (and the movie is dedicated to him, as a result). Jazz is frequently used to create that sleazy urban vibe, whilst sinister brooding orchestral sounds underpin the more ‘psychological’ stuff.

Betsy. A golden haired goddess.

There’s even some contemporary mid ‘70s pop thrown in, with reference to a Kris Kristofferson track (Bickle buys the album for Betsy, the latter played by the enchanting Cybill Shepherd), and the inclusion of Jackson Brown’s song ‘Late For The Sky.’

Whereas Rolling Thunder seems, esp’ by comparison, like quite a sparse empty film, Taxi Driver is packed with layers, nuances and themes. And whilst almost all the characters in RT are wafer thin, and not too believable at that, almost all of those in TD have depth, subtlety, and are – for the most part – very believable.

Taxi Driver tells a pretty grim story, frankly. And leans heavily on such cheering themes as alienation, paranoia and violence. But it has within it many other moments. Such as the brief romance between Betsy and Travis. Which Travis swiftly ruins, by taking her on a first date to… a porno cinema.

Scorsese directing his star cast.

That gets us to one area of the movie that doesn’t quite add up. Travis Bickle is a mess. Taciturn by and large. But also prone to offer unsolicited opinions very forthrightly. Clever enough to journal and make a modified handgun rail; for concealment. But dumb enough to take Betsy to a porno, for a first date!

It’s a strange movie. Very much of its time. The post hippy-era comedown from a few summers of love. It’s horribly dark. But it is also beautiful. Beautifully filmed – the opening and closing credits, for example, are gorgeous – terrifically directed and acted, and with a fantastic score.

From this…
… to this.
Scorsese’s cameo role.

Scorsese is, undoubtedly, brilliant, as a director. He’s fairly horrid as a character, within the movie; one of Bickle’s graveyard shift fares, seething with vengeful and racist anger. And his New York is a squalid hateful place.

But his skills as a director are sublime. The attention to detail is stunning. Witness the split second moment during the end credits, when a momentary glitch in the smooth shot/soundtrack signifies Bickle’s unsettling volitility.

And the God’s eye view of the bloody crime scene in the brothel? That’s clearly inspired by scene of crime photography. And shows both the breadth of Scorsese’s inspirations, and how he used such ideas creatively.

Scorsese’s inspiration?
The tracking for the brothel massacre scene.

Just as the above mentioned aerial crime scene shot – a brilliantly conceived and executed long overhead pan – references infamous crime scene photos, so too does the poster image make what I believe to be a deliberate sly and subversive pop culture swicheroo.

Accidental similarity? I think not.

I’ve not seen anyone else mention this, but what about the above? In this image we get a cold, gritty urban NY vibe. But it’s basically positive. The Taxi Driver version substitutes the lonely alienated figure of Bickle, sans girl. Still amidst brownstone tenements and traffic. But now, instead of cars and fire escapes, it’s all sleazy fleshpots. Visual poetry, but with a sour taste.

What this shows, and especially if one contrasts Taxi Driver with Rolling Thunder, is how differently similar material can be made to feel, in the hand of different creative and directorial hands. Both are very dark movies. Thunder is ok, I guess. But Taxi Driver really is a great movie.

They’re both so grim I hesitate to actually recommend anyone watch either, to be honest. But they are worth seeing. Well, Taxi Driver is.

Iconic end titles.

MEDiA/MOViES: Rolling Thunder, 1977

I’ve read online that this is a movie Tarantino digs. Well, it is in parts very violent. And it’s a bit grindhouse, I suppose. But it’s also quite slow moving in parts, and fairly basic in execution.

It’s also part of what is now a massive part of the mainstream, what I’m going to call vigilante ‘revenge porn’. And that’s nothing new. A lot of Westerns are revenge based. At least the premise – two ‘Nam vets, both POWs, finally return home, and can’t assimilate – is reasonably well handled.

In fact that’s the best part of the film; exploring the fall-out from a soldier returning home to a dysfunctional, disintegrating and disappointing civilian life.

Layer on there’s a hillbilly-gangster home-invasion scene, which is pretty rough. And that’s kind of what sets up the film’s raison d’etre. It’s perhaps a bit far-fetched? But the brutality is delivered in such a basic way it does still shock.

And from there on in it gets stuck into the anger and violence, only very mildly leavened by a bit of family banality, with a young Tommy Lee Jones’ family, and Linda (played by Linda Haynes), Major Zane’s post family-massacre squeeze.

I like William Devane, as Maj. Rane, despite the rather clichéd taciturn tough guy vibe. He has sufficient grit and charisma to carry the part. TLJ, young and square jawed, is a much less developed character, almost robotically blank, in a way suggestive of prior sociopathic tendencies, in addition to post ‘Nam PTSD.

Rane and Linda, practise shooting.

There’s a character called Cliff – he shacks up with Rane’s wife in the latter’s absence, and (inexplicably and with absolutely no tact) calls Rane’s son ‘runt’! I wrongly assumed he was being set up to be Rane’s first kill.

Personally I think the movie makers missed a trick or two in how they handled both Linda’s and Cliff’s roles in the film.

And then there’s the Mexican whorehouse denouement. This whole type scene has in itself now become something of a cliché. Maybe back in ‘77 it was a fresher idea? But there are a lot of aspects of this ending that feel half-arsed or somewhat disappointing.

And the very ending is pretty abrupt and unsatisfactory. And yet, it was an ok watch. Hardly classic. But compelling enough to want to finish.

As a postscript, it feels to me like a fairly poor riff on Scorsese’s far bleaker and far superior Taxi Driver, of 1976. So much so, I think I’ll watch the latter again, to refresh my memory. In fact it turns out that the two films share Paul Schrader, as screenwriter.

MUSiC: Mo’ Jazz, Daddy-Oh!

Dexter Gordon

Decided to augment my Blue Note jazz collection with a few more albums. Financial strictures mean I can’t get these as individual albums, which would’ve been nice.

Instead I’m getting two boxed sets that comprise reasonable collections – 15 albums by two artists – at affordable prices. The Dex’ set includes the following: Resurgence, Doin’ Alright, Dexter Calling, Landslide, Go, Swingin’ Affair, Our Man in Paris, One Flight Up.

Resurgence is actually a Jazzland release, not Blue Note. And Landslide, whilst recorded in the ‘60s, and released on Blue Note, wasn’t released until 1980.

Freddie Hubbard

The Freddie Hubbard set contains Open Sesame, Goin’ Up, Hub Cap, Ready for Freddie, Hub Tones, Here to Stay and Breaking Point.

Whilst the Dexter set is a complete survey of Gordon’s 1960s Blue Note output, the Freddie set omits a few: Blue Spirits and The Night of The Cookers, in particular.

DAYS OUT/CHURCHES: St Edmund’s, Emneth

St Edmund’s, Emneth.

I’ve passed St Edmund’s, Emneth, many, many times. And stopped to investigate more than once. But it’s always locked.

Today I sought out a keyholder. And gained entry. As ever, it was a rewarding experience.

Entry is, unusually, via the north or secondary door, not the usual porch.

The guy I got the key from, a Mr Pickles, said something along the lines of ‘there’s not much to see’. Well, there another of those Fenland Angel Beam roofs, some nice stained glass, an interesting funerary monument, and sundry other bits n’ bats.

Look at my pics closely, and you’ll see there are some decrepit areas; flaking paint, crumbling masonry. These old buildings are showing their rage, I guess. A reminder to me of my desire to join the CCT.

The main lights of the large altar end window (east facing?) are beautiful. Rather akin to stuff at Ely Cathedral, in style and colour palette. Even the plainer glass windows are beautiful.

So, yet another satisfying church visit. Oh, and it was raining. Heavily enough that it made being in the church both cosy, and sonically soothing.