Monday, May 19, 2008

Brought To Book

It seems quite a novel idea nowadays to buy a newspaper simply for the news. If you want to know what’s going on in the world, that’s what Today on BBC Radio 4 is for. Red tops and resized broadsheets seem to exist solely for the Sudo Ku and free books, CDs and DVDs.

After the slender novella Octopussy, coupled with the slight, nine-page 007 in New York, accompanied Saturday’s edition of The Times, each day of this week the newspaper is giving away copies of Ian Fleming’s first five James Bond novels. This meant Casino Royale today, Live and Let Die tomorrow, and on until From Russia with Love on Friday.

This is all very decent of them because I haven’t read the books – which had two bullet holes cut in the cover – since I was eight or nine and it will be interesting to see what I think of them over three decades later. Of course the promotion leads up to the centenary of Ian Fleming’s birth and the editions prominently advertise the new Bond novel, Devil May Care, written by Sebastian Faulks.

It’s a shame these copies have the lurid Richie Fahey designs rather than the wonderful Michael Gillette covers for Penguin’s hardback centenary reprints. Still, they’re free, and it’ll be great to be reacquainted with Fleming’s snobbery and sadism after all these years.

During a spot of none too strenuous tidying yesterday afternoon I came across various newspaper freebies scattered on the bookshelves’ shelves: CDs, DVDs, CD-Roms that probably won’t play on a Mac, all in their little square cardboard sleeves. Come the earlier evening, and looking for something to watch, I settled on David Hare’s Plenty.

According to the cover it had come free with The Daily Telegraph. When exactly I couldn’t say, but like most of the films acquired this way it was something I was interested in seeing but not enough to pay good money to satisfy my curiosity.

Meryl Streep’s cut glass English accent is faultless and director Fred Schepisi and Ian Baker, his DP, make it look quite beautiful. But once Tracy Ullman and Sting turned up it was like being invited to look at a beautiful landscape but only after someone had rubbed shit in your eyes. I paused it while I started to cook and stayed in the kitchen so long that the player sensibly turned itself off.

I ate watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It didn’t totally spoil my appetite. Amongst all the stunts and pratfalls there is a pretty good story about the reconciliation between fathers and sons. But because the previous film had been a rather nasty, dark affair, it’s pretty obvious that for the third effort they wanted to lighten it up. The problem was they just went far too far.

Influenced by those marvellous old Republic serials that used to play during the holidays, Raiders of the Lost Ark got the balance between the thrills and spills, drama and humour absolutely, perfectly spot on – which is why it is such an enjoyable film to watch. Last Crusade certainly had its moments, but they were utterly swamped by relentless double-takes and gags that turned the drama into a clownish romp that disrespected the characters.

The other thing I’d forgotten about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was how utterly bloody awful the special effects were. The whole airship sequence and fighter plane sequence was astonishingly bad. Far worse than Albert Whitlock’s astounding work on The Hindenburg, fifteen years earlier, and even worse than the cripplingly bad effects in Temple of Doom, how anyone at Industrial Lights and Magic thought they were acceptable to show the public is beyond me.


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