Archive for March, 2010

SVEN HASSEL

28 March 2010

[Picture of Sven Hassel]I have not thought about Sven Hassel for years — probably since the early to mid 1970s if I’m honest. Yet he popped up in a conversation I was having recently with a client at lunch.

He’d also read Sven Hassel books way back then.

We were talking about language, and I said the only reason I knew how to swear in Russian was because of a book I’d read when I was a boy — and he asked if it was Sven Hassel.  I was amazed; who’s ever heard of Sven Hassel?

It made me think though, that Sven’s books were pretty significant in my development.  Let me try to explain.

Sven wrote his books in the first person. A narrative style. They were about the Second World War, but they were from the German / Losing side. Now that’s a twist.

Just how much of a twist can only be understood once you realise that for anyone growing up in the 1960s, there was a lot of TV shows and films about WWII — often John Wayne stuff.  Hollywood or at least very American-centric.  It used to drive my father nuts:

“You’d think they’d won the war all by themselves!” he would roar at the screen.

There were TV shows like “The World at War” running every week, and boys read “Commando” comics and had “Action man” soldier figures. We watched “Hogan’s Heroes“,  “The Great Escape“, “Where Eagles Dare“, “Colditz“, “Dad’s Army” and later “‘Allo, ‘Allo“. Every November, we bought poppies from men outside The British Legion.

When I think about it now, the war was only 15 or so years before I was born, so it was all still fresh, and of course, the Americans were still at it with Vietnam — which meant we were still getting war films and TV shows, such as “M*A*S*H“. Vietnam was what linked WW2 with the cold war to my mind.

On top of all that is the fact that I grew up in an extremely Jewish neighbourhood. Can you imagine? Goodness me, I knew so many people who refused to buy BASF cassette tapes because BASF made the Zyklon-B gas that killed millions of Jews in the NAZI extermination camps.

The ONLY thing in memory that was not from the Allied perspective was Sven Hassel.  And you know, when I think about it, I have no idea how his stuff was allowed to be translated into English, published and printed in paperbacks for schoolboys to buy with pocket-money from local newsagent shops (such as John Menzies).

Not only were the characters fighting against the Allies (Britain, Russian, USA, France etc), but they were criminals!  They were in a penal regiment — and it was pretty violent too.

I was a lad, so I understood the gang, the team mentality.  I loved “The Magnificent Seven” and “The Dirty Dozen“, so I understood and liked Sven’s crew — Tiny or Little John (a giant of a man), The Little Legionnaire — who always said things like  “Allah be Praised”.  He was ex-Foreign legion, a small but lethal wee man.  Porta was one of those amazing people who could always make money, always had a connection, knew people, could get things even though they were rationed or scarce. There was also a wise old fellow, “The Old Man“.

All through my life I have seen these characters; they are actually archetypes.  That is the truth in Sven Hassel, he describes real groups of men very well indeed.  The books hit the spot in that respect — these chaps were true and real, and the characters they encountered — as well as the situations and how they reacted to them — were believable, and tragically plausible.

[Picture of the book cover for Sven hassel's legion of the  damned]I think I read about ten of these books during the summer holidays, one after the other,  starting with Legion of the Damned.  It balanced out the war for me; from them I understood that war was bad, that these were guys just like the Brits on the telly or the Yanks in the movies. They were forced into killing other people who were just like them.

The things I can recall about them too was that it was the first time I had come across war stories about tanks, the first time I had encountered big long German words, such as Obergruppenfuehrer, and the first time I had read anything so graphically violent.

Sven Hassel was the Quentin Tarantino of his day.

I think that as a result of Sven Hassel books, I have forgiven the German people.  I also think I gained an insight into my father’s war; Sven’s stuff seemed much more authentic than the Hollywood stuff.  I learned that humour is necessary, and very close to tragedy, that people are levelled out in wartime — when wealth and cleverness mean nothing. And that when you might be dead tomorrow, you live more in the moment. I learned of the bonds between men that make the difference, and I learned that society’s laws, cultural differences, nationality, religion, morality and even army regulations are luxuries, and that sometimes pack society rules apply.

Oh, and I learned to swear in Russian.

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VIRNA LISI

17 March 2010

[Picture of Movie Poster for How to Murder Your Wife]In today’s’ parlance, O.M.G.

The one and only time I have seen Virna Lisi has been in one of my all-time favourite movies, she plays “Mrs Ford” in “How To Murder Your Wife (1965)” starring Terry-Thomas, Eddie Mayehoff and Jack Lemmon. What a film!

She is simply STUNNING looking. She speaks Italian and cooks all the time. She was so utterly perfect for this film! She has a waist like Sophia Loren (see picture below) and everything else better than the rest. More arresting than even than Marilyn Monroe, bustier than Diana Dors, sexier than Brigitte Bardot. Virna Lisi had it all. Seriously. Wow.

[Picture of a young Sophia Loren with small waist]

The thing for me, was her face. I remember thinking I really liked her face and suddenly realising that the face was important as you would have to look at it most often! In other words, it was not all about curves!

[Picture of Virna Lisi in How to Murder Your Wife]

Virna Lisi is simply gorgeous, and her name is like the Mona Lisa, she’s a work of art!

I tell you what: I saw her in this film, and although I looked long and hard in the real world as well as film, I never saw anything come as close. Virna Lisi is in a class of her own. A goddess.

[Monochrome Picture of Virna Lisi] [Monochrome picture of sexy Virna Lisi]

I adored this film — the cartoons, the draughtsmanship, the photography, the bachelorhood, even Hefti’s music.  It epitomised The Playboy lifestyle. The way this Italian wreaks havoc on the poor guy, the way the American lady works on her to turn her into a standard nag. Ah, what a film on so many levels!  Lisi actually meets Lemmon by jumping half-naked from a cake! How good does it get? OK, it actually gets better when she dances on the piano, but hey.

Her long eyelashes, her lipstick’d pout, her dreamy come-to-bedness, her curves, her innocence, her Italian-ness. The bob of Blonde hair. (A BLONDE Italian???) Ooh, what a heady mix. How could anyone kill all that?

[Picture of Virna Lisi on Piano in How to Murder Your Wife] [Picture of Virna Lisi sleeping in Jack Lemmon's Bed in "How to murder your wife"]

Why don’t they make ’em like that any more?

This film made me want to work at a drawing board, take photographs, have a brilliant bachelor pad/ NY town-house,  work things by remote control, have membership to a gentlemen-only club with steam rooms and a pool, and have a butler who made me cocktails and got the shower working properly for me in the morning. Ah, one can dream can’t one?

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MEDIA SATIRE

12 March 2010

I have to say that I have been ‘off’ satire for a while; it’s not that amusing after a while.  Things seem to have stagnated.  Or so I thought. Then along came some stuff from YouTube.com that brought it all back.  Superb stuff for you to enjoy.

I kick this off with a stab at both pop music and pop music TV programs with this gem from Fat Pie’s David Firth:

[Embedded video from you tube]


Next up is Movie Trailers, The Oscars, and formulaic Hollywood motion Pictures:

[Embedded video from you tube]

How good was THAT?

Adam Buxton has taken YouTube to heart; some of his best work is there.  Check out his Eurovision satire:

[Embedded video from you tube]

I cannot leave this without including his hilarious subtitled “Songs of Praise” skit.  This is almost genius!

[Embedded video from you tube]

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FLORIDA ROADKILL

9 March 2010

[Picture of Tim Dorsey's Florida Roadkill book cover, 1999]A client of mine loaned me a Tim Dorsey novel – “Florida Roadkill“, and I read it in just a few days; it was a ripping yarn indeed.

It all began when I spotted him carrying a copy of a Dashiel Hammet novel, and talk ranged from there, through Raymond Chandler to Robert Altman. Then he handed me “Florida Roadkill”.

One thing I will say about this book is that you get educated.  By the end of it you know a considerable amount more about The Sunshine State than you did when you started.  It references Miami Vice, Humphrey Bogart movies, Baseball, American Football, NASA space launches, Hemingway, the Everglades and loads more.

Doresey’s 1999 debut starts with the 1997 World series baseball, and works backwards in chunks, so the various stories unfold and intertwine in reverse.

You learn weird things too — for example, the novel mentions a 17 year old girl sucking on a dummy tit because ecstasy made her grind her teeth.  Now I have seen teenagers using dummy tits, and just thought they were being teenagery, now I know better!

The first murder was by a Rube Goldberg contraption, a knock-up that we Brits would probably call Heath Robinson. It depended upon the vibration of a rocket launch.

There was also a murder by  Shrink-fit denims in a bathtub, an ottoman-surfing accident, inhaling tyre inflation and filler, drinking crop spray, and being filled with alcohol using a funnel inserted in the victim’s rectum.

The humour is black. Obviously.  It has a couple of central characters that resemble Lenny and George from Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”: the simple Seymour Coleman with his chubby, too-big head and small sunken eyes, and the tall thin, grey haired Serge A. Storms.

Another strand has Black Irish Sean Breen, (wife Karen and two kids — Christopher, 4, and Erin at 3 months) and school chum and fellow wrestling fan David Klein.  These two plan annual, unsuccessful fishing trips in Breen’s skiff, and got caught up in the story line when ill-gotten gains are stashed in their car.

There is a strong world-weary cynical streak throughout the novel, from the corruption and manipulation of the life assurance company, the crop spraying, the lies of Blaine Crease, television reporter and “Holy Moly” Mo Grenadine Radio shock radio jock, and the double-crossing of the developer and of Sharon, to the property developer aiming at the old and infirm.  There is also a sadness that Florida’s landmarks are uncared-for, not well enough known, not understood, and that sexual harassment is alive and kicking in the police force.

There is black humour and irony in abundance, from the Running of the Hemmingways to The ” Three Latin men” turning out to be Russian Mafia!

Dorsey packs a lot into the page, and the book whips by at a fair pace.  There are few moments of calm, and if there was one criticism I would make, it would be that there are a lot of characters to keep track of, and right from the outset.  This is therefore not a book to read in bits and bobs over a long period of time!

Anyway, I enjoyed it enough to move onto his next book, “Triggerfish Twist” (also loaned to me by my client — thanks Dave).

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LOUISE BOURGEOISE

2 March 2010

[Picture of the artist Louise Bourgeois]Louise Bourgoise is nearly 100. Wow.

What an artist, what a sculptor.  She’s French, but really  — now — American; she lives in New York. She represented the United States at the Venice Biennale back in 1933.

Everyone will no doubt think of her as the spider sculptor, especially as she did the inaugural exhibit of the Tate Modern in London (Bankside Power Station’s Turbine Hall) in 2000.  That was something! Called Maman, it is just breathtaking.

Maman spider sculpture Tate Gallery Bankside 1999

It is stainless steel with marble eggs, and I once considered planning a road trip to visit the bronze copies dotted around the world from the Guggenheim in Bilbao to the Jardin des Tuileries in Paris.  There’s even one in Havan Cuba, and another in Tokyo!  What an excuse for foreign travel — collect the set!

It was on loan for eight years before being bought for 3.2 million quid in 2008.  Louise promptly bought a Townhouse mansion in Manhattan for 4.75 million dollars, I mean, come on — she’s 98 and then she hits the Big Time — there’s inspiration. After her husband’s death, her career took off — from the 197os on, building and building… and I find her fascinating as a result.

It is NEVER too late, and you are NEVER too old!

I adore her piece entitled “The Arch of Hysteria” (Tate, 1993):

[Picture of The Arch of Hysteria by Louise Bourgeois]

I guess it helps if you know the original meaning of hysteria. This is one of those examples of best work done well beyond youth, and as I get older, I find that a comfort and an inspiration.  Go girl!

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