Category Archives: Minitrue

Bulletins from the Ministry of Truth

Did you care about Beirut as well?

The online landscape has been akin to the shifting sands of the desert in the days since the attacks in Paris. As also happened after the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine, many of the initial responses were graphical, with a very striking image of the Eiffel Tower looking like a CND badge by Jean Jullien quickly being shared far and wide. Facebook, which had initially offered a service to Parisians to let friends know they were safe, also rolled out a feature which allowed users to superimpose the French flag over their profile pictures, akin to the rainbow flags which did the rounds after the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling earlier in the year.

This wave of virtual tears then crashed on the shores of ‘whataboutery’, when other similar yet less prominent killings in other countries and cities around the world were invoked, culminating in a debate about whether higher prominence should have been given to the 43 people killed by a bomb that went off in Beirut the day before the Paris attacks. Did you care about Beirut? And did you do it quickly enough? Before or after this prompting?



As one article pointed out, sharing a link from the BBC News website and complaining that the media is ignoring a story you feel should be receiving greater attention shows you the limitations of this argument: The media did cover the attacks, you just weren’t reading it. The writer notes:

“Why didn’t the media cover *insert country here*?” appears to actually be shorthand for “Why wasn’t this story shared extensively on my Facebook feed?”

Increasingly we are taking our news via the social media sites and the way in which such stories reach us – via the algorithms which determine which friends’ posts we see the most of and which kinds of stories ‘pop up’ – is anything but random. Facebook is in the business of generating engagement and it is enhancing that by learning about our habits. That function on Facebook for Parisians to show they were safe that I was so impressed by was perhaps in response to a ‘person finder’ function that Google enabled after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011. There are social benefits to these initiatives, of course, but the sites are not doing this out of the goodness of their hearts, remember. They want our engagement and they generate that partly by linking us with our global communities as well as by making themselves invaluable to us.

You could call me paranoid, I suppose, but the way that the Tricolore spread across the profile pictures of friends around the world and how that change was prompted by Facebook itself does make me wonder. Were we the guinea pigs in another behavioural study similar to this one on the Diffusion of Support in an Online Social Movement, as mentioned in this Washington Post story about the rainbow flags? Facebook was not particularly subtle in its prompting: a story about a friend’s updated profile picture with a button below to allow you to change yours. I am sure that they would never in a month of Sundays admit to using this kind of news story in such a way, but it does make you wonder. Or perhaps I need a tinfoil hat…

If, as this intriguing read from the New Statesman on PETA, Ferguson, jihad, Doctor Who, rape and kitten pictures (honestly, it’s great, give it a read) suggests:

Anger online is a cyclical parasite

then it stands to reason that online compassion or empathy is too. If you are pissed off that *insert location here* is not getting the right amount of attention, you must share more stories about that place in such a way that encourages your friend group to share those stories. Maybe then we will soon see the option to superimpose the flag of Lebanon over our profile pictures.


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In those open arms is where I wanna be

We meet in town, in one of the pubs. Way back when, before gastropubs and chains, before pubs got remodelled to look like living rooms. Back in the 90s, when floors were sticky, decor was dingy and ashtrays overflowing (we smoked indoors, copiously, little realising what a luxury combination nicotine and warmth would become…) I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that I am wearing a little black dress and black trainers, my mate is wearing leather trousers and a fluffy fake-fur coat, because that is what we usually went for and this was going to be a great night out. The outer reaches of my memory suggest that it was midweek, a school night, but there can’t have been school because we never would have got away with it, both being in possession of the kind of mothers who could occasionally be distracted but who certainly noticed things like that. So it is a weeknight, probably in the holidays, maybe it had rained but stopped, so the Brighton pavements were greasy with a kind of black sludge that always seemed to appear from nowhere after a shower, making them treacherous for those in heels – even block-heeled 70s-style boots like my mate usually wore – and making my trainers screech as I went round corners.

I suppose we spent a few weeks doing that, working every Friday night; and Goldie was on the phone every other night with new ideas for different bits. If we were working solidly, we might have had it done in one or two weeks, but I think it was good that we didn’t, because we had the time to work on all the different ideas we had for the song.

– Rob Playford

I probably bought the album the day it came out, more or less. Waiting for it, with the release date marked on my calendar. I would have gone to the music store on my way to work, bought the CD and played it over and over and over again, showing no mercy to the parent downstairs trying to watch the telly. Learning all the songs, the words and the stories behind them.


Kemistry would have been one of my favourites, because of the adoration Kemistry & Storm inspired as two female DJs that made the stupid boys that said girls couldn’t DJ shut right up, as well as knowing that Goldie had written it for her when they were together. The voice that haunted the album’s intro and weaved and played through the bass before gaining strength: this is how it is going to be because ‘I need to be in your love/Living free’. That voice sounded like something heard in dreams, probably due to listening to it on low volume into the night and it being the last thing heard before going under. Pre-internet and Google hive mind, I probably didn’t put it together that it was the same voice as on The Key, The Secret, a song that in my family we always sang back at people when they asked us ‘have you got your keys?’ As I knew about the album release, getting the tickets would have been down to me too, probably buying them at one of the record stores in town that you had to go into and pay cash when you wanted to go to something that was happening in a month or so. I usually stuck all the tickets around my mirror so they wouldn’t be forgotten as I was leaving then checked they were in my pocket 799 times on my way to meet my friend.

I was living in Stevenage at the time and would give Goldie a ride back to London when we’d finished; we just kept rewinding the string section on the trip back, it was so gorgeous. After a few weeks, we thought that it would be great if this was a really long track; I suggested that we should make it go up to the 40-minute limit for a single. Then I realised that on Notator, our sequencer, at the tempo we were using, the maximum length was 32 minutes! I was gutted… (RP)

When it is time to go, running a bit late as we usually do, we don’t head in our usual direction – down to the seafront where the best clubs are – instead it is up to the main street with all the cheesy places, the massive nightclubs that usually have queues stretching around the block into freezing gale winds. The ones that don’t let you in with trainers and where we have both run the gauntlet of fake IDs and spoilsport bouncers. Although we did our apprenticeships in these cheesy dives, we have both since graduated into the house and garage clubs – out of a shared love of better music, cooler DJs and trying to avoid the more meat-head variety of the beery rugby lads we went to school with. These have not yet reached a comfortable level of metrosexuality where they can venture into a club with a drag queen in nine-inch heels on the door and a chance of their arse getting grabbed as they dance, nor will they for another decade. Tonight though, it is no meat-market, there will be no chart remixes playing, no local radio DJs shouting over the top pretending they have fame. Tonight it is a real S H O W with true S T A R S. The Muse alone knows how, who booked it, by what random act of madness this has conspired. But Goldie is on at the Paradox, doing songs from recently-released Timeless, with all the Metalheadz in support: Kemistry & Storm, Fabio & Grooverider and ohmygoodgoshyesyes: we have tickets. I checked, they are still in my pocket.

Later, after the show, when Fab & Groove are on the decks and we are all going nuts, in this venue that we shouldn’t be in, especially us because at weekends it is over 21s only. No way our shoddy fakes would get us in on a normal night, even if we wanted to. Although we wouldn’t anyway, but here we are now and our favourite songs are blaring because, wow, this cheese-palace has quite a decent sound system, who would have known, with proper lasers all across the dance-floor which is going right off like it has suddenly been beamed into our seaside town from South London. Then, over my shoulder there is a gleam from a lad asking my friend for a light and he holds a ciggie making it clear it isn’t just a ploy to talk to her so she is digging in her pocket. A flash of light reflected from the links around his neck and oh look, it is Goldie, come down from the stage. He dances with us for a bit, my face must be marked with shock and surprise, my mate is trying not to laugh at me, as he sticks both thumbs up with the cigarette pointing out of his fist and yells, ‘This is great, yeah!’ and we both agree ‘Yeah!’ as we dance and then he is off out into the crowd. Hands slap his back or grab his hand, no smartphones, no selfies, just a fleeting moment. He looks around the room like he is hosting the best party of his life before he dances off into Bjork-dating, acting, national treasure status LEGEND.

I think it’s still very experimental. Timeless was a blueprint for ideas for the future. It was about a kid having a dream about something he wanted to do in his head.

– Goldie

He was 30 that year. The owner of the most haunting, powerful voice in drum ‘n’ bass, Diane Charlemagne, was a year older. I would turn 18 a few months later. Time passes, we grow older, swap dancing for other pastimes perhaps. Think of other things. I hadn’t listened to Timeless in a little while as my CDs were packed up in a box in storage back in the UK. My MP3 player has so much on it it takes a while for the old favourites to shuffle round. There are YouTube playlists, Soundcloud mixes and more new music than anyone could know what to do with. So much to listen to passively now, you liked that so we think you will like this, people who bought that also bought this. The positive action of choosing, of deciding what mood you are in and what you need to listen to. Then taking the CD out of the box, or the record from the sleeve before pressing play or putting down the needle, it is – like the turning of a gramophone handle – something the youth know about in abstract, but can’t believe really happened.

I don’t know when the vocals idea came into Goldie’s plans, but he certainly didn’t tell me about it until we’d done the whole track. In my head, I’d constructed it to have all the pieces come out and develop; I couldn’t see where the vocals would fit in. Diane Charlemagne came over and did the vocals, and we put them onto DAT and sampled the parts we wanted. I also reprocessed them; I think I put them through a [BBE] Sonic Maximiser, to get that airiness in there. But it wasn’t actually until I put them into the song that I thought, ‘no, brilliant, they work perfectly.’ (RP)

Do musicians really die – not for their friends and family, of course, who miss them physically, but for the fans who knew them mostly in the space between the ears? I never met Diane Charlemagne in a club, but her voice made that night and many others possible. That amazing voice lifted me as I danced, relaxed or studied at home, walked around town or took train journeys with my headphones on. For years, the first thing I unpacked in a new place was the stereo and Timeless. It wouldn’t feel like home until that ritual had been performed. When the news came that she had died, far too young of cancer, my heart was heavy.

Thank you, Diane, for all the moments your beautiful voice soundtracked and for taking me right back to that time when I was 18, living by the sea with a head full of music, every time I press play.

Rob Playford interviewed on the recording of Timeless

Goldie interviewed around the 20th anniversary of Timeless


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Ageism: the last taboo?

Grace Jones, Kate Bush, Deborah Harry, Madonna, Patti Smith, Annie Lennox. Undeniably all iconic musicians, yet before any talk of their craft, their artistry, the principal thing mentioned is their AGE!

Thankfully, these ladies with an attitude will not be restrained by the hypocrisies of society. One that celebrates the older male but shuns the older female. It is no different to the way in past ages an old lady who lived alone was known as the crone or the witch. I found this strikingly apparent in Prague, particularly visiting the puppet stores. The sole representations of the female were one of two things, the angelic to the vamp, the tramp to the crone.

It seems perfectly alright for old rockers to keep on rocking, the Stones, Bob Dylan and the like.For male artists age seems to add another layer, a respectable wisdom, yet this is never applied to female artists, especially those who have dared to articulate their sexuality. Take Madonna for example, the media are insistent on always mentioning how she should behave more appropriately.


Who sets this moral standard anyway, really? She is completely ridiculed for sleeping with twenty-something hunks of perfection. But if an older man takes a younger girl, this is celebrated and is heralded as some sort of trophy, a sign of his vitality. Even if the guy is completely showing the signs of excess, it is not commented on what a mess he looks. He is, after all, a wolf or a rogue. The songstress claims that the younger men are the only ones who can really keep up with her. I am all on side with the Material Girl, as what is the alternative? To sleep with some sourpuss thrice-married man with not just physical baggage, but also emotional baggage too. If I spent several hours a day training to maintain an Olympian-like physique, as she does, I would not be happy to make whoopee with an out-of-shape octogenarian who was unfit and needed to take a pill of Viagra to even begin to have tepid sexual relations.

As a friend of mine put it,

It’s OK for Nick Cave to sing No Pussy Blues in Grinderman yet it’s abhorrent for Madonna to express female sexual desire now she’s over 30. What a bizarre and misogynist world we live in.

Age is a state of mind. In the same way that people who bang on about how bad their day is going to be or how they always have misfortune, consistently uttering a mantra of ‘just my luck’ attracts negativity, I think those people who start to set boundaries about their age will age quicker.

Oh a nightclub, I am too old for that kind of thing now.

Really? I danced to the pop track Anaconda with a 71-year old Liverpudlian lady who has more energy than the majority of students I speak to. It’s a mindset!

You start to say, ‘I am too old for this and that,’ well then that’s it, go and buy the coffin, because you are going to age. Be careful what you wish for! The Universe has a mischievous sense of humour. Thankfully, the female artists that I admire are following in the heels of past icons that created their own rules, like Frida Kahlo, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Tallulah Bankhead, Marlene Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn, and Mae West.


There is still a glass ceiling for the female musicians but the Graces and the old girls, coupled with the current tribe of bohemian and intelligent examples of the female species, are taking off their stilettos, smashing the glass ceiling and dancing all over the broken glass.

Madonna Image


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Matt Damon and the importance of not being earnest

A recent interview with thespian Matt Damon created more of a stir than is usually expected of these opening weekend chitchats – or perhaps, one’s never sure of the level of calculation on the part of the parties involved  – by venturing that an actor being open about his or her sexuality is therefore less of a mystery to audiences and so, it follows, less credible to them. He used Rupert Everett as an example of a gay and out actor whose career had suffered due to his candour. Although the two comments have been run together in a lot of the subsequent discussions, they really appear to be two different carriages of one train of thought. He said first:

But at the time, I remember thinking and saying, Rupert Everett was openly gay and this guy – more handsome than anybody, a classically trained actor – it’s tough to make the argument that he didn’t take a hit for being out.

Before adding:

I think you’re a better actor the less people know about you period. And sexuality is a huge part of that. Whether you’re straight or gay, people shouldn’t know anything about your sexuality because that’s one of the mysteries that you should be able to play.

As other, faster, minds have pointed out when considering the ‘ugly implications’ of these comments, to be an actor these days is to be expected to deliver up a certain amount of one’s personal life in order to generate audience interest in the film that is being touted. As Damon well knows, because the Guardian interview makes brief mention of his family. For all that he attempts to extend his wish for this vow of silence to include straight actors…

That said, is Damon really so far off the mark, when Rupert Everett has himself plainly stated that he would not advise any actor thinking about his career to come out:

The fact is that you could not be, and still cannot be, a 25-year-old homosexual trying to make it in the British film business or the American film business or even the Italian film business. It just doesn’t work and you’re going to hit a brick wall at some point. You’re going to manage to make it roll for a certain amount of time, but at the first sign of failure they’ll cut you right off. And I’m sick of saying, ‘Yes, it’s probably my own fault.’ Because I’ve always tried to make it work and when it stops working somewhere, I try to make it work somewhere else. But the fact of the matter is, and I don’t care who disagrees, it doesn’t work if you’re gay.

The major difference here is that Matt Damon is talking about maintaining an air of mystery for the viewing public, while Rupert Everett presents it as fear of the industry, the studio heads and deal-makers, that keeps people living quietly within their closets. That ever-present worry that your sexuality will one day count against you and ‘they’ll cut you right off’ instead of offering the support that your straight peers can expect.  Asked by another Guardian interviewer whether he felt he had missed out, Everett responded:

The answer to what, if he’d been luckier or straighter, the promise of My Best Friend’s Wedding would have led to is, he thinks, obvious. “If I’d been straight? I’d be doing what Colin [Firth] and Hugh [Grant] do, I suppose.”

Which means, as they now reach more advanced ages, Everett could be playing kings, politicians, lords and lawyers. (And it’s not to say his career is over, he still appears on stage and TV, writes and produces.) But still, it is the (straight, married) Firth who earns the plaudits (and rightly!) as the personification-of-elegant, bereaved, gay, British professor in A Single Man. Maybe so that director Tom Ford can tell the Wall Street Journal about how autobiographical the story is and yet still reassure them:

…this is not a gay film.

Which may perhaps also be true – it is a beautiful love story, ultimately – one that in a more perfect world wouldn’t need to be tagged with any kind of sexuality. If you have known love and loss, you will adore this film, Tom Ford could have said. Also if you appreciate the finer things in life, you could watch it for the architecture, the cars and Julianne Moore’s wardrobe and be incredibly happy. That does, however, take away from the fact that it is a beautiful story of the love between two men in a committed, homosexual relationship, both being played by straight men who have never been told to keep quiet about their heterosexuality so that audiences can believe in their on-screen love.

If Matt Damon is confused as to why his comments have sparked controversy, he only needs to look to his own career for further evidence of the double standard at work. During press for Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra, his fellow straight married man and father, co-star Michael Douglas hailed Damon:

I just want to commend Matt because I don’t think I would have had the courage at that point in my career to take this on.

There is very little attempt by either star to maintain an air of mystery around their sexuality and allow that ambiguity to enhance the enjoyment of their performances by the audience. Instead it was sledgehammered into almost every interview and profile: LOOK THEY’RE NOT REALLY GAY, OK? IT’S JUST PRETEND. Some mystery, lads.

I often feel that audiences don’t get enough credit from the Hollywood bigwigs. The old adage about no one ever having gone broke by underestimating the intelligence of the masses seems to get a lot of play there and results in ever more and more stupid films being given immense budgets to stun our senses into submission. That’s why whenever anything half-decent with a semi-functioning brain comes along you feel you must support it and tell everyone you know to do the same, in case they never make another one like it.

But ultimately, suspension of disbelief is what we are there for, sitting in the dark cinema, giving up three hours of our lives to be shown something that we are pretty sure isn’t real but are prepared to go along with for the thrills. Psst, Matt, no one really believes that that is King Kong hanging off the Empire State Building or that Audrey Hepburn couldn’t walk into Tiffany’s and be given one of anything she asked for. We are delighted with the smoke and mirrors, the tricks of lighting, the CGI (but not too much of it) and the hyper-reality of a cinematic experience. And sure, it can be wonderful when real-life couples play opposite each other – Bogart and Bacall, for instance – but it can also be kind of icky: Cruise and Kidman, for instance. We don’t need the showmances or to have our hands held: Matt Damon can play Tom Ripley, Neil Patrick Harris can play straight in Gone Girl and all will be well.

Matt Damon could have created a very different kind of press storm by pointing out that if ‘they’ are cutting off actors with the vitality, looks and charisma of Rupert Everett because they think his private life has typecast him, more fool them. No one should have to keep quiet about their personal life – unless they want to – in order to reach the top. Unfortunately it seems Hollywood still remembers the morals clauses of the past, where actors had to promise not to ‘outrage public morals or decency.’ While it is slightly commendable for Matt Damon to hark back to those classic Hollywood days, before the gossip mags took over and we knew more about the goings-on of some inhabitants of La-La Land than we do our own family members, that particular horse has well and truly bolted. Instead, let’s have more quality film-making unafraid to risks with content and in casting. Let’s create more diverse stories showing truer representations of the mixed up, muddled up, shook up world we inhabit (when we’re not off bothering Martians, of course). And let’s celebrate love and the lovers, whichever category they may fall into.

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Living in a viral world

Oh Monday, Monday, Monday, I think somebody has been telling you lies. You see it’s not November yet, it’s July. My thoughts on the charcoal grey wet invasion at the beginning of this week, definitely not the stuff that make a summer’s day. On my way to the theatre after work, I kept my sanity by listening to Grace Jones. Her tune ‘Walking in the Rain’ played in my ear as I was trying to manoeuvre along the road, avoiding splash-back by angry car drivers. Ironically, I was going to see the first show in this year’s Shiny New Festival at the home of fringe, the Lantern Theatre, Liverpool. Yet, the only thing shiny so far was the petroleum puddles on the potholed roads.

I love the graffiti that springs up around Liverpool and I was greeted by some simple Liverpudlian philosophy at the top of Bold Street that did force a smile on my frowning face.

TV Rots Yer Head

I don’t really watch a lot of television preferring to try and catch live events. The Lantern is a venue that delivers experimental, provocative and – most importantly – entertaining theatre. Thankfully, the atmosphere inside the venue that night was a hell of a lot brighter than the weather. The Lantern was buzzing and rammed full of people. Good theatre is at its best when it is relevant and rooted in the now. The festival’s opener was such a piece. Follow/Unfollow by Andrew Rimmer and directed by Pete Mitchelson chronicles the onscreen, off-screen antics of a plastic internet sensation.

Ryan Marten

Shallow vlogger Ryan Marten has a legion of dedicated fans from his social media feed, playing on his looks rather than talent. His manager, Dee, wants to make a new star of thoughtful fan Chloe, who is tired of Ryan’s sponsorship deals. The trouble is Chloe never sought fame. The hour-long play is an tense analysis of the annoying and vapid Ryan. Young fan Chloe grows to believe that she has more to offer and we witness her transformation from angry teenager to something else.

Viral fame, I would not wish it on my worst enemy!

Ryan Marten as himself reminded me of Peter Andre, for he had the same air of self-importance as that ‘star’. An excellent character portrayal that radiated a narcissistic self-love that was disgusting and ridiculous. The play opens with three screens on a bare stage, playing a montage of clips from the famed vlogger’s YouTube post. Placing the screens in isolation, out of the usual environment you would find them in, emphasises the crassness and absurdity of the clips. A techno triptych that highlights the fact the video footage is actually rubbish. When the clips are played back-to-back on a loop it is somewhat torturous. Exactly how I feel having to watch X Factor or any of the other reality TV nonsense.

The fusion of live action and prerecorded clips of Ryan – and his sycophantic fans, the Rylos – is used economically throughout and emphasises the stark difference between reality and online representations of the self. Around 20 years ago, the acclaimed writer, Dennis Potter saw the dangers of the public and the private blurring into one,

The mind and the culture, increasingly dominated, in a sociological sense by a widening technology, increasing media activity, the possibility of the public and the private collapsing into each other and of the public being defined entirely in commercial terms? It represents a really advanced shift in human culture. There was a time when you could shut out that world simply by shutting your front door, but of course that’s no longer even remotely the case.

– Potter on Potter, 1993.

What is interesting in this play is how it captures the need for validation and how easy people can become, as my brother puts it, a ‘like whore’: someone who only posts status updates to see how many likes are generated. With the disease of modern celebrity that vomits up the Kadarshians and Jordan, I do find myself yearning for old-school Hollywood Glamour, mystique and class, like that possessed by Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and Katherine Hepburn. People who worked damn hard to earn their fame and to keep it. French icon Catherine Deneuve commented recently at Cannes,

There are no longer any stars, It’s the social networks that prevent people from dreaming any more about stars. Their private life is displayed constantly on social networks; and some even post private pictures of themselves. I find it a pity. Being a star entails glamour and secrecy; it’s hard to keep a degree of mystery nowadays.

Follow/Unfollow is an uncomfortable piece to watch as the world depicted is a mirror to the society we inhabit. A world of connectivity that allows us to reach people all over the world, but as much as it makes it a smaller place, the distance between people and reality is becoming increasingly bigger.

The Shiny New Festival runs until 2 August.
Follow/Unfollow will transfer to The Space@Surgeons Hall Theatre 2: 24-29 August 1.00 pm, Edinburgh

Follow/Unfollow by Andrew Rimmer.
Directed by Pete Mitchelson.
Starring Jay Podmore, Leanne Martin and Lily Shepherd.
With Ryan Marten as himself.

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Hitler is back – and going viral!

Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes

look who's back

In a world where absolutely ridiculous media nincompoops like Katie Hopkins can make a career out of being a sensationalist fascist and are lauded with too, too much media attention, it is hard not to imagine that the plot of the novel Look Who’s Back is anything but highly plausible.

When I have to come up with a solution to a particularly cumbersome problem, I often ask myself,

What would David Bowie do?
What would Kate Bush do?
What would Madonna do?

Rarely, do I think what would Adolf Hitler do? Yet this is exactly what Timur Vermes has done. The resulting piece of fiction is darkly humorous, subtly frightening and deeply disturbing.

It is summer 2011. Adolf Hitler wakes up on a patch of open ground, alive and well. He is recognised of course, but not as the original blueprint of sadism, instead as being a flawless impersonator, a method actor who refuses to break character. Soon Hitler in all his ‘fuhr-ocity’ goes viral on YouTube and the madman is given his own television show. Disturbingly, the more outrageous his sentiments, the more he is given media attention.

I know Shirley Bassey is not a philosopher but she was ever so right when she sang,

It’s just a little piece of history repeated.

The story abruptly commences with the fascist dictator re-awakening in Germany and immediately thrusts the Fuhrer into the modern jungle that is Berlin. He is outraged and disgusted that his beloved Fatherland is now being run by a female of the species.

The German Reich appeared to have given way to what was called a ‘Federal Republic,’ the leadership of which resided with a woman (‘Federal Chancellor’), although men had been entrusted with this position in the past.

The changes to contemporary society and Adolf’s take on them are laugh out loud amusing. Everything from Starbucks coffee to fashion,

He had brought me a clean pair of blue cotton trousers, which he called ‘genes’, and a clean red-checked cotton shirt.

To mobile phone ringtones,

Which sounded like a drunken clown playing the xylophone.

And of course there is the pint-sized psychopath’s musings on modern technology,

The time, the stock prices of the American dollar, the temperature of the remotest corners of the earth-oblivious to all this; the announcer carried on broadcasting news of world events. It was as if the information were being retrieved from a lunatic asylum. And as if these nonsensical antics were not enough, interruptions for advertisements, as frequent as they were abrupt, declared where the cheapest holiday could be obtained, a claim, a large number of shops made in the same way. No sane person would be capable of remembering the names of these outlets, but they all belonged to a group called www.

Lest we forget, in the past people used to smoke at work, they could puff away at their desks (I thank re-runs of Colombo for this history lesson) and also drink whisky in meetings. With this in mind, it is understandable why such modern civic practices like picking up domestic pets faeces (or doggy caramel as I call it), would look positively absurd;

Out of the corner of my eye, I spied a madwoman on the edge of the park who was gathering up what her dog had just deposited.

I think what is clever about this book is it has an almost fearless approach to a taboo subject. It is controversial, and quite timely, in that it really underlines the problems and vulgarity of fame. A society that sees plastic celebrity worshipped above all else. Who cares if you have a talent unless you look younger than you did when you were in the womb? A little bit (or a lot) of a fascist? That’s okay as long as you get the ratings, conquer the Twitter stream and grapple with the Facebook likes.

This piece of literature was first published in Germany, ‘Er ist wider da‘ and is now parading the shelves of book stores in the rest of Europe. A tale that will have the Fuhrer’s ghost haunting you long after you have read it.

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A Late Quartet

It is easy to feel adrift on a tide of mediocrity at times. Easy to heed the words of Oscar Wilde when he said, ‘everything popular is wrong,’ and feel that he had a little premonition of the reality shows, song and dance competitions and CGI mega-franchises we would be enduring.

But then you happen across something so perfect for you and your tired sensibilities that you wonder what the heck the marketing department were thinking in not making the particular work obvious to you at the time it was released. Why on earth did you not know that this film existed until accidentally flicking on to it one grey afternoon almost three years after it was made? So you do a bit of internet digging and realise that there was quite the publicity round and you must have had your head in the sand to miss it.


The quartet of the title comprises Christopher Walken, Catherine Keener, Mark Ivanir and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a world-renowned group marking their 25th anniversary with a performance of Beethoven’s Opus 131 String Quartet in C-sharp major. It is a famously difficult and complex piece of music, which makes great demands on the players. Preparations are interrupted as Walken’s character, a father figure to the others, announces he has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. This shock news brings professional rivalries long suppressed to the surface and, as the marriage of Keener and Hoffman’s characters begins to unravel, no member of this de facto family can remain untouched by the conflict.


It is unashamedly high-brow and I suspect will reward many further viewings. The act of playing this music is a physical and mental challenge closer to what we more commonly associate with Olympic competitors. The effects of such dedication to a craft on professional and personal relationships, on family life and on the body itself – especially as it begins to age – are considered to a depth that Hollywood is often considered incapable of reaching. The women could have been defined by their relationships to the men, with Keener in particular playing daughter, wife, mother and former lover, but she is also a committed professional woman and the one trusted to carry the quartet on.

Although this film is rooted in music and the lives of musicians, there is a lot to compare with other creators, as the actors found.

‘I thought of him as papa,’ Walken said of Peter. ‘I also thought of him as an actor. And especially it all came together in that way at the end, standing on the stage, it might as well have been in a play.’

Hoffman agreed.

I know some actors, they know how to have their life, they can compartmentalise it in a way. But me, things kind of go to pot while I’m doing a show… I think that’s also to me what the film was about. Again, it takes something from you to give on that kind of level. To commit that much. What are you willing to risk? What kind of life are you willing to lead to have that? For any serious person doing this, I think that is a question you have to answer. Or at least know that it’s a question.

If those words are a punch to your gut, knowing of their speaker’s end, his performance here will leave you aching for the loss of him.


The lengths that the director, Yaron Zilberman, went to to have the performances look realistic are another act of dedication spurred by his love of music, and while professional musicians may not be totally convinced, with my admittedly amateur eyes it was possible to believe in the quartet’s abilities.


This is a beautiful film, moving around a snowy New York from rehearsal space to concert hall and auction house, with clever, well-conceived things to say about family and performance and living. The characters brought to life by an acting dream team, who are never less than a joy to watch. The effort spent in searching out work of this quality is rewarded by being able to spend time in the world it creates, the viewer leaves it reluctantly, but with plenty to think about.

Christopher Walken in A Late Quartet

As Walken’s character notes, when passing on advice he was given as a younger man to a group of music students:

I can be grateful, and so must you be… for even one singular phrase, one transcendent moment

And I am.

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