Reviews 27 June 1985
Reviews of Books, Art, Cinema, Rock, Television, Theatre
Books - Bright Lights, Big City
Does spending a week with Mick Jagger sound like the sort of thing you'd expect from a modern novelist? Well that's the rage if you are Jay Mclnerney, writing for the New York magazine Esquire and have just had published a novel about a literary man roaming the clubs, bars and restaurants in the Big Apple seeking cocaine and a leisureely life.
"Bright Lights, Big City" is McInerney's first novel and if it wasn't for his intimate knowledge of American life you might easily be convinced that he is Irish, such is the writing style which permeates the novel, recognisable to aficionados and scholars of the Irish short story, Synge, Joyce, 0 'Brien, McGahern and the like as a peculiarly strong Irish voice. In face McInerney's not too distant family hail from Cork, which makes him a statistic on the American ethnic register - a considerably larger populattion than the world of Ameriican authors and journalists, where in a matter of months he has become the most talkked about figure.
John Coetzee, winner of the 1983 Booker-McConnell prize for literature, once said that saying one book is better than another is like saying an orange is better than an apple yet it is difficult not to pick up "Bright Lights, Big City" and regard it as one of the biggest apples of the past thirty years. It is also one of the few first novels to have been written in the first perrson, but it is unlikely the prose style would have suited any other mode.
The opening page testifies to that: "You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning. But here you are, and you cannot say that the terrain is enntirely unfamiliar, although the details are fuzzy. You are at a nightclub talking to a girl with a shaved head. The club is either Heartbreak or the Lizard Lounge. All might come clear if you could just slip into the bathroom and do a little more Bolivian Marching Powder. Then again, it might not."
The opening chapter announces: "It's six am do you know where you are?" Within a week the twentyyfour year old narrator - who is nameless throughout the novel - goes through a life of decadence and debacle, losing his job as a researcher from the Department of Factual Verification at a magazine, which bears close resemblance to the New Yorker, and snorting coke in the less than salubrious surroundings of night club toilet cubicles durring the twilight hours.
From the narrator, who talks both to himself and the reader, we learn that he has also recently lost his wife Amanda, a model, although he is persuaded by his friend and night-time partner, Tad Allagash, to tell new women friends that she died ("She was in Paris showing the fall collection and she got caught in a crossfire between Palesstinian terrorists and the French police. Totally fluke thing"). Actually she is in Paris and not dead, having simply left him.
This jocular, witty, pulsatting prose is prominent throughout the novel as our researcher trails after Tad and the women he attracts after dark, and with the help of the headlines from the morning New York Post manages to crawl into the magazine office with a little sanity left and the knowledge that he knows what is going on in the world, even if it was only a few hours before when he left the night club.
Author Jay McInerney
But there is no sanity for him in the office, his editor is not happy and neither is he, having been given an article with so many inaccuracies that the following conversattion occurs between himself and the writer:
"Where did you get this about the French govern, ment owning a controlling interest in Paramount Picctures? "
"Don't they. Well, shit, run a line through that."
"Your next three paraagraphs depend on it."
"Damn. Who told me that?"
And so it goes, the narrattor sinking deeper into a world where he is a small car on a thundering roller-coaster and unable to stop.
There are few flaws in this novel, which to non-New Yorkers might be seen as a satire of life in Manhattan, although the irony is that this is all so real, autobiographical it would seem How On earth did McInerney write a novel in between night clubs and riding on subway cars? Mayybe it was after he got the sack from the magazine?
Art - Robert Janz
Robert Janz's work is about time. In his exhibition at the "", Douglas Hyde Gallery, "Movving Pictures", he makes drawwings and paintings in sequence, recording change over a given period. And it is the process of change itself, rather than the objects undergoing it, that is the focus of his work and the feature that sets it apart. There is a curious, edgy fragility to the images that he makes. Even his closest approaches to making connventionally static images, the sequences tracing the budding, blooming and decay of a flower, for example, in the space of six panels, never quite become set and fixed. Each panel suggests flux and alteration.
Janz, an American, was born in Belfast in 1932 and came relatively late to art. When he was called up by the American army he didn't take kindly to the idea. Dispatchhed to military prison, he suffered a breakdown and it was when he was recovering in hospital that he began, as a form of therapy, to make bowls. An interest in the work of the potter Bernard Leach led to his happy disscovery of Chinese culture and, during the 1 960s, the gradual evolution of his own approach to art, broadly rooted in kineticism and perrformance, filtered through Eastern philosophical ideas.
Three days a week, for the duration of the Douglas Hyde show, Janz is working in the gallery, making three drawing sequences. They all explore what are for him tried and trusted schemes. One pictures a fist progressively unclenchhing, the other two Chronicle the wilting of flowers. Prior to making each new image, Janz erases the preceding one. The cumulative erasures leave a blurred, ghostly impression.
This kind of performance work, ephemeral, of fixed duration, represents J anz's work at its best. He is an innstinctive draughtsman and his eloquent, descriptive lines look good on a large scale. The processes of duration, change, circularity and decay which preoccupy him are also best served by the performmance format. The lack of an end product, save for docummentation of the particular prooject, is also appropriate. The images' brief flowering, like the plants they often depict, is vivid and poignant. The generously scaled hand is all the more effective for being made directly on the block wall of the gallery, the surrface into which it will evenntually disappear.
The series of drawings and paintings that stand as finishhed, durable objects are more conventional in every sense and not as conceptually neat. Lest this sound too harsh, it is as well to point out that J anz has made some ravishing images along the way: briskly made with luminously bright swathes and dashes of colour as delicate as petals. But the effect is quite different . from the performances in time. The static images are slowed down. The idea of progresssion tends to become heavyyhanded, almost as if we are seeing successive frames from an animation film enlarged and displayed before us; we can admire the artistry that goes into each frame, but we rather miss the point of the movement. And it is the temmporal gap between each image that lends J anz's art its necesssary dynamism.
He has introduced one deevice that exploits the nature of the static process. The last frame in a series is often his palette, a blurred amalgam of all the colours and lines he has used in a sequence which is, in effect, a record of the making of each piece, and a nice way of making concrete a sense of its duration. The smeared palettes also suggest the final dispersal that seems to be the logical conclusion for many of the processes he describes.
His show is cool and unncluttered. Each set of images is allowed room to breathe. Though he usually details a process of eventual decay, there is nothing downbeat about his work. On the conntrary, it is remarkably light on the eye, full of incidental delights and readily accessible; pretty much an ideal summer show.
Eilish McCarrick's series of stark, grainy photographs at the Temple Bar Gallery have a kind of morbid theatricality. Oblique symbols of alienattion, death, violence, insecurrity, fear and despair recur persistently, giving a cumullative impression of nightmarish disquiet. In a statement she compares her treatment of her subjects to tabloid shock-horror news pictures, but there is a film-noir rommanticism to her work that more immediately suggests another acknowledged innfluence: Alfred Hitchcock. The scenes she creates also have the same eerie quality as sculptor Ed Kienholz 's bizarre tableaux, and the same ability to disturb. Aidan Dunne
Cinema - Adventures
In America, research shows that four out of every five cinema-goers are under twenty four years of age. Irish audiences are probably even younger. The signifficance of these figures has not been lost on the Hollywood marketing men and more and more movies are being designed to appeal to the teenage market. This trend always reaches a peak at the beginning of summer as cute distributors release movies to catch the kids as schools break up for the holidays.
One type of movie that is always a .sure-fire success with teenage kids is the exciting, action-packed adventure. I've just seen three of them and I have a pro blem: not a frisson of real excitement did I experience in almost six hours of unndoubtedly· action-packed cellluloid. Pushing forty, am I in common with a lot of movie revievers - simply too old for this kind of thing? Or are these particular movies not really very good of theirrtype? I'm inclined more to the latter view.
Take the new James Bond movie. I must be right in thinking that a fourteen yearrold kid going to see 'A View To Kill' today won't experrience one-tenth of the excitement that I did going to see 'Dr No' at the same age back in 1962. Okay, times change and Bond was a sixties phenomenon par excellence, but the early Sean
Connery Bonds were also better adventure movies: the plots were cleverer; the climmaxes more awesome; the villains more villainous; the pacing sharper; the women more dangerous and so on. This is not nostalgia: check out the re-runs on TV.
'A View To Kill' is not a bad movie, it's just ordinary. Good new plots for James Bond movies ran out even before Roger Moore took over in 1973. The current one concerns yet another mad entrepreneur (a seriously misscast Christopher Walken) who uses his fabulous wealth to threaten the Western World with something or either, in this case the cornering of the world microchip market. Big Deal. This is to be effected by floo ding Silicon Valley in California which happily entails an explosion which as everyone who has seen a Bond movie knows means a countdown. Yawn.
Of course the plot doesn't really matter in a Bond movie, let's be fair, it's only a peg for the action sequences. So what action have we in this one? A shoottout on the Eiffel Tower, a horse race, a fire in an elevator, explosions down a mine and tussles on the Golden Gate bridge. Not bad but hardly out-of-this-world and decidedly tired-looking in execution. Almost as tireddlooking as Roger Moore, bored stupid with his role and now showing it. Bored stupid too, by all accounts with the antics of his co-star Grace Jones. One doesn't wonder. What the point of this woman is, other than to adorn publicity posters, is beyond me.
'A View To Kill' is not then, you will have gathered, vintage Bond. It is, nevertheeless, good, clean and, above all harmless fun. The same cannot be said for two other action-packed adventure movies currently showing: 'Wild Geese 2' and 'Missing In Action'. Both these aim more exclusively at young male market than the Bond movie does and with messages far more insidious.
'Wild Geese 2', a separate movie but similar in theme to the original 1978 'Wild Geese' has as its hero the fashionable mercenary. His jo b in this case is to rescue Rudolph Hess from Spandau prison for an American TV company which needs to boost its ratings: Absolutely ludicrous of course. This is ironically confirmed by the movie itself when, mission duly accomplished, Hess calmly informs his rescuer that he really shouldn't have bothered and promptly takes himself back off to Spandau,
But will our young male audience dismiss this risible movie? Not necessarily, because it's the action not the plot that counts in the addventure movie. The action consists of nineteen killings (we are certain of the number because our hero obligingly tots it up for us at the end of the movie). The vast majority of those killed are not people guarding Hess as you might think but sundry Russians, Palestinians and IRA men (I kid you not) who are stinking up Berlin and getting in the way of our mercenary hero (Scott Glen, last seen in 'The River' who tries hard to be Bronson but is just too normal to cut it) and his lieutenant (Edward Fox with a thankfully tongue-in-cheek repeat of his 'Day Of The Jackal'role).
The nineteen killings are not just macho and brutal, they also contain heavy righttwing messages. Take the IRA man for example. An agent of the Russians accepted onto the mercenary team, he is ' portrayed as evil incarnate and allowed to be racially abused, knee-capped and finally shot in the head by another team member, a tough but likeable British Army man. The rest of the mercenaries applaud - as, no doubt, British and American audiences are also meant to do.
One can only hope that the plot, the ponderous direction, the lack of charisma in the hero role and the absence of any real excitement will be sufficient to nullify the right-wing macho attitude running right through 'Wild Geese 2'. If so, our young male audience may emerge relatively unscathed.
I fear there is little chance of this with our third action-packed adventure movie, 'Missing In Action'. I watched the matinee audience leave this one. They were, indeed, young men in the main. Mostly workinggclass, a lot probably unemployed. Wry smiles of amusement were not much evident. Alone, or in twos and threes, they were ominously quiet.
They had just seen a blatant right-wing propaganda exercise from the notorious Golan-Globus production team. They had seen superrcool Chuck Norris, playing an ex-Green Beret Colonel, return to Vietnam ten years after the end of the war, with the connivance of the American government, to unofficially and singleehandedly 'rescue' four of his old buddies: 'missing in action' according to the Vietnamese government but - as we all know - really held in illegal captivity.
They had just seen this portrayed in the crudest comic-book fashion with Norris having to slay virtually every slant-eyed commie gook bastard soldier in the Vietnamese army to accomplish his mission on behalf of his buddies and the Free World.
Yet within the b-movie style, they had seen it done with some panache, by a strong, silent, modern hero with absolutely clear cowboys and indians ethics. A movie like 'Missing In Action' picks its own audience. It has done good business in America. So did 'Red Dawn'. Golan-Globus are working on 'Missing In Action 2', '19' stayed at the top of the charts in Britain for weeks.
I found none of these action-packed adventure movies exciting. I don't think they are good movies at all. But then I'm pushing forty.
Rock - Talking Heads
Never mind the unlikely packaging of the new Talking Heads album, 'Little Creatures' (EM!). The front cover is a mess of quasiireligious sloganeering and artwork, credited to a Reverend Howard Finster of
Georgia. Flip it over and there's the equally garish sight of the four Talking Heads, their lips sealed and their bodies adorned, if that's the word, by over-fussy post-flowerpower ensembles.
Perhaps this is another of their little jokes, but what matters is what lurks inside these covers. Some more humour, as might be expected, but funnier in context, and no more agreeeable a context than this punchy, often exhilarating nine-track album, the first collection of new material from the band in over two years.
'Little Creatures' marks a return to basics for this splendid American fourrpiece, and it should endear them further to the numerous new converts won over by their dynamic concert movie, 'Stop Making Sense'. Wry, deadpan lyrics performed in characteristically droll and stylish fashion by their writer and vocalist, the inscrutable David Byrne, against a busy but clean production. Music to make you feel good, and an album that gets better with every playing.
It opens on 'As She Was', a breezy track stamped with the distinctive Talking Heads sound. The band's driving new single, 'The Lady Don't Mind' is there for good measure, followed by contrast with the mellow, charming 'Perfect World'.
Byrne's ode to a baby on 'Stay Up Late' hurtles along at a staccato pace, heightened by his chipped delivery of lines like 'See him drink from a bottle. See him eat from a plate'. A relentless chant harmonises with' frenetic percussion as the superb 'Television Man', the album's longest track, fixes its muscles for an extended instrumental break. And the . band's classic 'Girlfriend Is Better', a line from which gave the title to 'Stop Making Sense', is evoked in the bustling intro to the infectious 'Walk It Down'.
The new album takes its title from a line in 'Creatures Of Love' which sees the Heads taking an unexpected diversion into country music, most likely speaking in tongues that are firmly in cheek. It's only a matter of time before an Irish country act covers this song, varnishes it with the customary mock sincerity and storms up the Irish singles chart with it. David Byrne would be amused, I imagine.
A more difficult cover to get away with would be Prefab Sprout's opening track on their new album Steve
McQueen (Kitchenware Records). Named 'Faron Young' after a bland, almost forgotten country singer, and complete with running refferences to Young's dreary 1972 hit 'It's Four In The Morning', the song starts with wailing harmonica and twanging guitars so reminiscent of Johnny Cash's 'Folsom Prison Blues' that one nearly expects Prefab Sprout lead singer Paddy McAloon to sing that he hears the train a-coming, rolling 'round the bend, and that he ain't seen the sunshine since he don't know when. Nearly, but not quite.
Prefab Sprout are too smart for that. Some people think they are too smart for their own good, and their previous album 'Swoon' was attacked as precious and pretentious. Aware that they are treading a thin line, the Newcastle group worked hard and confidently to strike the balance on 'Steve McQueen', a mature and richly entertainning record on which the word play is cunning and likeably eccentric, and the emotions expressed with wit and conviction.
Savour songs such as 'Appetite', 'Desire As' and 'Goodbye Lucille' as they glow and disarm. And don't waste your time pondering why an album entitled 'Steve McQueen' fails to make even passing reference to the deceased movie star on any of its tracks. Perhaps, as the sleeve suggests, the Sprouts share McQueen's passion for motorbikes. Then again, 'Goodbye Lucille' is all about someone called Johnny and makes no mention of the eponymous Lucille.
Despite its im pre ssive guest list, 'Boys And Girls' (EG/Polydor) is essentially a star vehicle for Bryan Ferry. An immensely stylish connsummately produced album which took weeks and months and cost pots of money to make, using over two dozen guest musicians and six international recording studios.
There must be - and there are - less expensive ways of cutting discs, but these factors finally become immaterial when the quality shines through so effectively as it does on this underrated new solo album from Ferry. Unlike his earlier solo records which were renowned for Ferry's stylish treatments of other people's material, everything on 'Boys And Girls' stems from his own pen.
Now pushing forty and living apparently in domestic bliss with his wife and two young sons, Ferry has dispensed with his former flamboyance. The new album finds him in melancholy mood as he reflects back on past hurts and heartaches, his smooth tones cascading over measured funk arrangements.
From the now familiar 'Slave To Love' to the gorgeous 'Windswept' to the haunting title track, 'Boys And Girls' is a rich and touching treat.
Television - The Ha'acks
Although Chaim Herzog didn't go so far as to propose a Final Solution to the Palesstinian problem, on his Today Tonight interview, he came pretty close. He got an easy ride, in the Today Tonight tradition that one respects visiting dignitaries regardless of the transparency of the bill of goods they have come to sell. (Of course the incident at Atiri was trivial: the point is, why do the Israelis find it necessary to lie even about trivial incidents? The mind goes back to the news film of the Israelis recklessly sprayying the countryside with machine-gun fire as they zipped along in armoured cars, then firing at an Irish Unifil patrol - and how one calmly awaited the following day's official Israeli denial that the incident happened, .•.. and how the denial came like clockwork.)
We have a lot to thank the TV crews for, the ones who move from one Hilton to anoother in the perpetual search for the kind of exciting footage which will justify their expenses sheets. All the same, it was a joy to see some of them getting a thumping from the Shi'ites last week.
Five of the TWA hostages were brought in te face the
press and thus put further pressure on Hopalong. The journalists with the noteebooks and microphones wannted to hear the hostages, the journalists with the cameras just wanted to see them. The two factions, crammed into a small room, argued while the hostage spokesperson began to shout to make himself heard as he tried to read a statement. "Can they stand up, please?" pleaded a photoographer. "Shut up," said someone without a camera. Hostage Peter Hill put two fingers in his mouth and emitted a whistle which didn't come close to piercing the hubbub.
TV crews were clambering onto tables. The Shi'ites may be ruthless in their tacctics, but they were Boy Scouts in the face of a scoop of journalists determined to
• The Ha 'acks stomp on anything or anyone getting between them and The Story. So clamorous were the journalists that they stomped all over The Story, forcing an abrupt cancellaation of the "press conferrence". A Shi'ite picked up an empty glass and threatened to throw it at a reporter. Other hacks were pushed and punnched as the Shi'ites fought to restore order. The hostages were hustled from the room, more or less for their own safety. From the shambles of Beirut there had emerged yet another warring faction, the Ha'acks, who made the Shi'ites look like Young Fine Gael.
On another night a crowd of angry Moslems marched along chanting slogans about the iniquities of Hopalong, It was thanks to the courage and resourcefulness of the TV journalists that we got to see this and much more in our living rooms. It was thanks to the stupidity of the TV journalists that we had to suffer long shots of Vernon Mann standing in front of the marchers, between them and the camera, spouting banaliities about how Hopalong must be worried by the inntensity of their anger. The refusal of many TV journaalists to just let the story happpen and then make what they can of the material, their innsistence on trying to chop and shape it into packageable pieces, results in a proliferaation of visual and verbal cliches and often distortion. The chaos at the hostage "press conference" was just an extreme example of what happens daily in the pursuit not of a record of what is happening but the pursuit of The Packageable Story.
On the whole the Ha'acks probably do more of worth than of harm. Without them the bland charm of Mr Herrzog might have looked more convincingly like the truth.
Poor Jim Dooge and Jack Marrinan, on the same Today Tonight, didn't have such an easy time. Brian Farrell seemed to get tired of Dooge's foostering and managed to extract some fragments of answers as to what Dooge is up to in Europe. Yes, connceded Our Man At The Connference Table, of course we'll be dumping neutrality when we work through the present process and head towards a United States of Europe. But that, he said disparagingly, will be way, way in the future, a long time from now, after Dooge has left public life. He made that seem like decades away. A word to the unwise, Jimbo: two years max, that's when you leave public life.
Mr Dooge's regard for the democratic process was deemonstrated in 1981, when he accepted ministerial office after that year's first election and discarded it rather than seek a mandate in the second election. He has SUbsequently accepted another (nonted) position of power and is currently tinkering with some plan of his own which was never put forward for the consideration of the electoorate.
Since no government has survived an election since 1969 we can assume that when his patron, Garret FitzzCrusade, gets his P45 at the next election we can say cheeri-o to Jimbo. Between now and then the shadowy Mr Dooge is unlikely to subbject himself to too many innterviews such as that conduccted by Farrell.
Jack Marrinan, head of the GRA, the garda pressure group, is a much more subbstantial figure than the unforrtunate Dooge. He is good on TV, knows the moves like a chess player. Subject: joyyriders. Smile condescendingly as interview with Peter MeeVerry ends. Compliment him on his compassionate work, feint to the right and throw in an innuendo suggesting McVerry condones joyriding.
Smiling Jack can do this in his sleep. His technique is to bring in one or two solid points which he wants to plant in the viewers' minds. Then use the little tricks of a raised eyebrow here, a scepptical smile there, everywhere a disparaging innuendo, and meanwhile keep plugging away with his one or two points.
On this occasion John Bowman stepped in. McVerry had condemned joyriders, he said. Smiling Jack cocked an eyebrow and said, sure, fair enough, it's just that he didn't like seeing people enncouraging this kind of ....
Bowman popped right back. McVerry had not enncouraged joyriders. Smiling Jack could see that Bowman was in one of those moods where he was going to defend the integrity of the discusssion and block unfair innuenndo. So Smiling Jack stopped playing tricks and made his points.
Bowman's sense of fair play was spot on. He didn't interfere with Jack's line of argument, just stopped him distorting someone else's. It was a small episode in a large. debate. But we could do with more of that kind of thing.
Clive James is still being insufferably smug on Saturrday nights. Har, har, he says, and you know he's going to make a joke. James is funny in print. On TV he keeps giggling at his own jokes. He also has a leer which is achieved by a unique relaationship between his lower lip and his left eyebrow. He encourages his guests to make jokes, then tries to top them. Usually this is not too diffiicult. Last week he tried to top Peter Cook. No one tops Peter Cook. Peter Cook is the funniest. Okay, he's done some sleazy stuff to make a buck, but when he's left alone he's the greatest.
James interrupted Cook.
Misunderstood a joke about Cambridge and jumped in with a limp rein ark of his own, diverted Cook's line of humour into a corner. Cook shrugged and tossed out another one.
It's the silly season. The Late Late is off. Hill Street Blues too. Minder is on, but just repeats. Lou Grant is on, repeats of course, but good to see. Miami Vice is off, exxcept for BBC, but they're repeating the series we saw on R TE. Even Remington Steele is off. Mostly the movies are lousy. Only the adverts remain. Those of us who cheer up when we hear about hoose being stamped on, when lung worm and ringgworm are shafted, when the warble fly is zapped, are delighted to see that there is a new agricultural disease we can be told about just as we're biting into the spiceeburger: rynchosporium. Lord knows what it does. But you use Mistral to kill it off. Or maybe mistral is the disease and Rynchosporium is the cure. . .. Gene Kerrigan