Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tarantino’s Two Apaches

Tarantino’s superb Inglourious Basterds mentions Apaches not once but twice…. Brad Pitt’s Southern hero Lt Aldo Raine, specialist in interesting ways of killing Nazis, is called “Aldo the Apache”.

Another Apache is “Winnetou”, whose name turns up on the forehead of a German soldier when they’re playing the cards-on-foreheads guess-the-identity game in the restaurant scene with Germans and disguised Brits. We are told “Winnetou” was an Apache, but the reference is obscure – unless you’re a bad film aficionado, as QT is, of course.

Here, M. Apache knows only what Wiki knows. Winnetou was the hero of a series of late nineteenth-century novels by Karl May, who died in 1912. Winnetou is a Mescalero Apache, allegedly, but the values are Christian, not Native American – Winnetou dies a convert.

There were a dozen awful films in the 1960s, starring Pierre Brice, a French Baron, as the hero. YouTube shows the acting as wooden, the shots conventional, the “evocative” music enthused over in the comments by sentimental contemporary Germans. It’s the kind of thing QT would know about, thought it’s surprising that – even with his eclectic interests – he should like such deadly stuff. Perhaps he doesn’t.

The 1944 restaurant scene refers to the novels, which remain popular today – Karl May is one of the best-selling German authors ever, unbelievably – but presumably QT would first have reached Winnetou the Apache through the films, and reached back to the stories.

The key irony is that the values of the Karl May novels were Christian and humanitarian. Wait until you see the end of the restaurant scene stand-off – straight out of Reservoir Dogs, with added testosterone. Or deleted testosterone, if you prefer.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Evan Davis, egotist

Evan Davis ran into trouble with Peter Mandelson on the Today programme on Wednesday morning (12 August), as M. Apache predicted he soon might do. Clever but arrogant Evan fired up every time PM tried to criticise opposition policies Evan seems to want a complete ban on cross-party criticism of any kind.

This led to Mandelson trying to explain to him that voters make a choice between parties, and that criticism is legitimate. “Politics is about a choice…”. Yes, Evan, and it’s called democracy.

PM tried three times to explain what the Chancellor had said in his budget speech about the longer-term future, but this was swamped by Evan’s interruptions. “If you stop interrupting me…” PM said, in reasonable tones that made Evan seem excitable.

Then Evan got incomprehensible. He told PM and us that the economy has a structural deficit of 6% of national income. Fair enough. Immediately after that he said that new debt meant there had to be a tightening “of point eight per cent of GDP”. From 6% to .8 per cent in a few seconds was a bit too much, even for M. Apache’s usually agile intelligence. What on earth was he talking about? There was more, and it went on for a while. Then PM came in with a slyly timed “Have you finished?” And proceeded to answer the question.

PM’s most telling point came earlier. We pointed out a few weeks ago (see June 25 below) that Evan’s reflexive tendencies – he comments on the answers he gets – would get him into trouble, and this time they duly did. PM was able, quite reasonably, to say: “You’re not interviewing yourself, you’re interviewing me”.

It was a killer point for anyone who has listened to Evan’s methods this year. For Evan Davis, the important person in the studio is Evan Davis. The real PM, or this PM, are adjuncts to his big knowledge of economics –in excess this time – and his big ego.

Come on, Evan: calm down, stop being full of yourself, and think of your audience.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Apache films prove M. Apache right all along….

Down at the Café Coup de Poing, M. Apache was flicking through that great newspaper Le Monde when he came across an article about a filmmaker called Bruno Petit, who has escaped from working on the Bourse to make a series of tv films called “Scalp”. These are proving very popular, since they satirise the illegal goings-on at…the Bourse.

Funny thing though: M. Bruno P. – no, not that Brüno, stupid – has called his company 7e Apache Films, which pleases M. Apache greatly.

Even better, he meets his friends at a restaurant called Le Coup de Feu, in the Bastille area.

(For a waiter, a “coup de feu” is a moment of sudden activity, after standing around a lot.)

Better still, Bruno Petit is described as having “également un autre visage, celui de quelqu’un d’agressif”. His aggressive other side extends to his being “carnassier”.

M. Apache looks forward to a little carnivorous eating alongside M. Petit at the Coup de feu someday soon!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Stephen Glover’s goat

Stephen Glover has just published the latest of his paranoid attacks on the Guardian and the BBC (Indy, 27 July). According to him, these two organisations are conspiring to mislead by improperly promoting the story about massive telephone hacking at the News of the World.

There is nothing new here, he says, because we already know about what he calls “the former eavesdropping techniques” at the NOTW. – “as I pointed out in this column”. A journalist went to prison, and Andy Coulson resigned, and we should all go back to sleep. But the Guardian, “aided and abetted” by the BBC, is conspiring to keep the phone scamming story alive.

But which story? On 9 July the Guardian led with “Revealed: Murdoch’s £1m bill for hiding dirty tricks”. This wasn’t a story about hacking, it was a story about NOTW victims being paid off so as not to cause big trouble in the courts. For a few days, a few stars thought about taking legal action themselves, Max Clifford and Vanessa Feltz among them. If they do, and a lot of other victims join in, we shall see a merry time in the courts. And possibly a massive drain on News International’s finances.

Glover, then, can’t even identify the story correctly.

And this was a genuine story. We hadn’t heard before that Murdoch had made these payments. Behind it was a mass of police evidence never used for prosecutions. Behind that was the feeling that the Met was afraid to act against News International. Right in front was a reasonable suspicion that the NOTW and Andy Coulson were lying about the extent of the scamming, and the extent of what they knew. Mass NOTW-related amnesia at the Culture, Media and Sport select committee on 21 July tended to confirm this.

Now Stephen has his own story – that ten years ago the Guardian itself employed a private investigator to hack into Monsanto (you know – the GM people Tony Blair liked so much). Stephen’s story is, sadly, second hand: it belonged to David Leppard of the Sunday Times, whose own source was “a shadowy accomplice” he had worked with before. While Nick Davies’s Guardian story was properly sourced, the ST can do no better than “shadowy”. After Alan Rusbridger got the director of the private investigators involved to deny that it happened back in 1999 (yes, it’s ten years old, this story), the ST didn’t run anything to counter the Guardian story about Murdoch buying people off.

Funnily enough, Stephen Glover couldn’t get a “nervous” David Leppard to talk to him, whilst the Guardian “passed on its denials to me”.

So what’s going on here? M. Apache has hinted before that he doesn’t find S. Glover to be the sharpest knife in the columnists’ box. It seems he wants to get himself involved in this story, hassling Leppard and Rusbridger, worrying away at unsupported conspiracy theories, and all the while moralising in the dead language of the secular pulpit.

Rusbridger, he says, acts “holier-than-thou” and is on his “high horse”.

Glover insists again and again that the Guardian – sorry, the moralistic Rusbridger – did employ a hacker. He’s very sure of his source, in other words, and though he has no evidence that he can give us, and no known investigative skills, he is right. The ST didn’t run the story, so he will do it – even if “Mr Leppard” (as he calls him) won’t speak to him.

But what is Glover right about? Not about the Guardian story, which was about previously unknown payoffs, and a stack of interesting police evidence.

Let’s just glance at what’s serious about this story.

Andy Coulson is probably lying, and if he goes as Tory party communications director, then he just goes. (And goes to edit the Sun in the autumn.) If he stays, this story will keep erupting as a distraction, and he’ll go eventually.

More important than Coulson is the Met’s trepidation before Murdoch. If there’s good actionable stuff amongst the evidence collected, that’s a scandal.

If News International is discredited in a slow-burn process over the next year or so, then it will become less necessary for New Labour to suck up to Murdoch. Blair’s sweetheart deal will not be repeated, and the unhappy liaison can be wound up. Labour can find its own way.

And then there’s Parliament. (M. Apache feels slightly ashamed to be supporting that venerable and far from anarchistic institution, but needs must.) Central democracy needs to be redeemed after the expenses scandal, and vigorous action from select committees might help. Eventual legislation – such as reform of the libel laws, and a PCC with teeth – would be one way of rescuing something from the shambles.

Meanwhile, we can look forward to more self-centred look-at-me columns from Stephen Glover. What gets his goat, he says, is Rusbridger’s moral attitude, “that he somehow occupies a higher and better universe than the rest of us”, when really he is only another journalist. Stephen (not so brightly) seems to think that all journalists are the same. Trouble is, they aren’t. There is a difference between a Nick Davis with a story, and a David Leppard without one – or a NOTW hack with a Vanessa Feltz phone transcript in his hand.

If Glover is looking for problematic types, how about the crass vanity of Stuart Kuttner? He is the recently-resigned NOTW managing editor, who tried to tell the CMS select committee that certain MPs should not be there – and they laughed at him!

It’s not quite clear what Glover is getting at – his 27 July column is full of non-sequiturs and nonsense – but he does give the rest of us a chance to say something sensible by sorting him out.

Stevie G. is the little boy outside the tent, desperate to see what the big clowns are up to.

Himself, he is just a little clown.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

John Walsh: Knicker Man

Sexy John Walsh, journalist and Padel squeeze, has tried to impress us by writing in French (Indy, 23 June). Sarkozy has taken to reading books, apparently, Zola and Céline among them.

Walsh tries to imagine what Sarko would have said to novelist Michel Houellebecq when he invited him to dinner. Walsh’s French goes like this: “Oh, Michel. J’ai lit tout de ton oeuvre”

This is hopeless. Lire (to read) doesn’t go to past tense lit. Un lit is a bed, and the person round here most interested in beds is sexy John himself.

It should be: j’ai lu toute ton œuvre. That’s only three mistakes, John.

But no French person would use this construction in the first place. Sarko would have said: J’ai lu tous vos livres.

Walsh then goes on to mention that Sarko has been reading Louis-Ferdinand Céline, author of Voyage au bout de la nuit, which he says is “savage”. Why doesn’t he also mention Céline’s notorious anti-Semitic tract Bagatelles pour un massacre, published in 1937, just in time for the war?

Walsh does a lot of superficial and tricksy stuff about the Goncourts and Proust and Flaubert. Why doesn’t he say how significant it might be that a very right-wing president is reading a very right-wing author? Why doesn’t he notice that Sarkozy is also reading Zola, a radical of his time, who in 1898 denounced the judgement in the Dreyfus affair in his famous “J’Accuse…!” newspaper article. It was a magnificent statement against state anti-Semitism.

Isn’t this contradiction interesting enough? Walsh doesn’t pick up any of it. Instead he burbles on about the alleged sincerity of Sarko’s new interests (so it’s not Carla), and Alan Bennett – always safe territory.

Instead of trying to make a serious point or two, Walsh is more interested in suggesting some people read Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland because Obama is reading it. I bet he’s met a whole lot of people doing that.

Walsh mentions no less than twenty-two writers in his 750-word piece. He has nothing significant to say about any of them. A kind of literary jeering takes place instead.

On 9 June he made what looked like a similar point, about F.T. Marinetti, the Futurist agitator (tied to the current Tate Modern show). He wrote: Marinetti was a barking mad Fascist sympathiser. Very true of the 1920s. But not when he founded and propagated Futurism before the First World War. There was no Fascism then, and Mussolini was still a socialist. Hopeless, again.

A friend who has read John Walsh with more attention than he deserves says that a year ago he wrote about Edith Sitwell’s underwear, and the chances of her contemporaries making an entry therein. Kitchen-table bonking, le lit, knickers – these are John Walsh’s real interests.

Come on, John: if you’ve read so many books, try and say something thoughtful about them.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Death of Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson died in the late eighties. It was after Bad that it all went bad. It was a child of eleven, beaten up by his father, who died this week.

He took Motown and everything that it stood for, culturally and musically, and delivered it to the global stage. But he was produced by others, notably by Quincy Jones in the great albums of the 1970s and 1980s. He was a great musician, as so many are saying, but not a great thinking musician.

Compare him with Miles Davis, who changed jazz forever. Miles had a new sensibility, a transforming musical intelligence. Yet Miles acknowledged Jackson when he covered Human Nature on the album You’re Under Arrest in 1985. But it is Miles who is expanding musical boundaries here, not Jackson.

Listen to Jackson’s Human Nature, and it’s a child singing about love. Miles’s version is music for grown-ups.

Yes, Jackson’s music was at the pinnacle of popular consumerist culture. Yes, he created the template for pop production today. Yes, he was the first truly global black pop star.

All because he was good enough to be shaped and produced into something that took over the world.

“Michael Jackson” was a collective achievement, and the idea of individual genius doesn’t apply.

As musicians like to say, Jackson paid his dues on the Jackson 5 recordings. And on the MTV videos. But his individual success after that was always commercial, always a need to please, and to make money.

Remember when Jarvis Cocker was at some ghastly over-produced Jackson theatre event, and dropped his trousers in the direction of the star?

Yes, his death is a significant moment. He will feature in the history of music, but not as a pioneering musician. He was never allowed to be truly original.

As for his personal life, that was a weird tragedy right from the start. In the photographs at the hospital, his father looks like a monster.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Evan Davis: a very clever man

Evan Davis nailed Jack Straw beautifully on Today on 19 June. Straw’s usual hesitation waltz of stuttering speech came to and end when he got cross: “I’m sorry. What you’ve just said is an outrageous and completely unjustified charge against me. I’ve been completely explicit . . .” The sudden clarity was delicious to hear.

Davis had made the point that the figures for financing the Probation service were cooked, since they left out debt interest and social security costs. It was a nifty bit of superior economic knowledge. The absence of funding led, inter alia, to the terrible deaths of two French students at the hands of someone who should have been in prison.

Evan Davis is a very clever man. Evan Davis is very quick. Evan Davis knows a lot about economics. Evan Davis wants to tell the Chancellor what he knows about economics (which may well be more that what the Chancellor knows).

According to Peter Hitchens, Evan Davis is a dangerous man, who espouses liberal causes on Today. And so he does, and may he continue to do so. (Though M. Apache thinks he heard Evan say one morning that there were such a thing as “feral children”, a good Daily Mail line.)

Evan Davis signed off on this occasion with “Jack Straw – always a pleasure to talk to you”. The irony, not to say incipient sarcasm, was unmistakable. There was some blog-comment on this item, and M. Apache is not alone in being pleased at Jack Straw being seen off.

But we need Evan Davis – because we have in the making a liberal interviewer with teeth, who will eventually replace the middle of the road-rightist one with teeth, John Humphrys. Nondescript North American editor Justin Webb is due to hit Today in October, and Davis needs to get established as the liberals’ attack dog.

And he mustn’t make any mistakes. He already has the annoying habit of commenting on the quality of the reply he has elicited. Soon, somebody is going to jump on him for this.
Evan Davis is very arrogant, because he knows how clever he is.

If his arrogance gets the better of him – telling Gordon Brown he was slumping in his chair was not a good idea (especially on radio) – then he will find BBC suits and legal types after him.

Come on Evan: don’t screw up. Keep us liberals happy.