Art, Film

Barry Lyndon*

What is luck? The dictionary definition is “success brought about by chance rather than by ones own actions”. To the religious mind nothing can be occasioned by luck because all is within the compass of a providential God. In Christianity what others call ‘luck’ is instead called ‘grace’. The Greeks believed in the randomness and pointlessness of luck, but they ascribed it to the capricious will of the Goddess Fortuna. Fortune was experienced as capriciousness but lay ultimately in the lap of the gods. To the secular mind the possibility of chance is an affront. To surrender to the idea that life is underscored by meaningless, pointless contingency is, for some, too brutal to be contemplated. Therefore instead, for the secular mind, providence is smuggled back in and called behavioural determinism or karma or destiny or fate or some such retrospective self-deceiving comfort. Let us steel ourselves and remain with the definition of luck as nothing more than pure mundane chance. Continue reading

Film, Photography

Faye Dunaway’s post-Oscar breakfast 29th March 1977

Faye Dunaway won a Best Actress Oscar for her role in the 1976 film Network at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles. This is her at the Beverley Hills Hotel at 6.30 in the morning of 29th March 1977, the day after the ceremony. With a doleful, faraway look of world-weary ennui, in silk gown and heels, she is breakfasting alone on fruit juice and Earl Grey tea, slouched poolside in the hazy Southern Californian dawn light. The morning papers are strewn about her and the Oscar is not far out of reach. She has recently risen from bed, or maybe she never went to sleep at all. This classic shot manages to capture the allure and loneliness of celebrity. Continue reading

Film, Law

Bomb the ban

In Stanley Kubrick’s classic black comedy Dr Strangelove (1964) a US General is so upset about the fluoridation of water he starts a nuclear war and destroys the entire human race. It is on one view an excessive reaction. He could instead have petitioned the lawmakers to oblige suppliers to purify water. I see that Stop the Fluoridation of UK water supplies is one of the 4079 petitions currently open on the website. The justification given is: “a study has revealed the dark relationship between lower IQ levels and sodium fluoride consumption”. There is no mention of General Jack D. Ripper so I have assumed that the petition is not ironic. At the time of writing it has 452 signatures. Continue reading


Educating Rita

Is Educating Rita* an optimistic film? Andy Beckett, in this weekend’s FT, argues that the British cinema of the early eighties was a cinema of optimism, in contrast with the pessimism of the films of the seventies.** Citing Educating Rita as an example of the cinema of optimism, Beckett describes Rita and Frank as “a frustrated hairdresser and an embittered alcoholic professor [who] better themselves and each other”. Putting aside the problematic argument that a film can be defined by how uplifting it is, I want to take issue with the idea that Educating Rita is optimistic at all. Continue reading

Books, Film, Miscellaneous

Springtime for Hitler: a Gay Romp with Eva and Adolf at Bechtesgarden

An Iranian newspaper in Tehran, Hamshahri, is currently running a Holocaust cartoon competition. Entries had to be in by the beginning of this month. The organisers have thrown down the challenge, they declare, as a test of the West’s commitment to freedom of speech. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo incident, the paper identifies a hypocritical attitude in the liberal West: it is regarded as all right to insult religion but impermissible to joke about the Holocaust. One entry, by a cartoonist from Brazil to an earlier competition, has a double image of a stand up comedian: in the first he is making jokes about Islam to an audience in raucous laughter and in the second making jokes about the Holocaust whilst being booted out of the window. If nothing is to be regarded as funny about Auschwitz, the paper says, then the West should accept that there is nothing remotely funny about Islam. Continue reading