Sunday, 20 September 2009

Get your texts out

Sampling, of course, has had its place in pop music for some time. In art or literature it's usually couched in the form of homage, but a few of my favourite authors seem to have taken to dropping in quotes, and more, in their books as a form of literary parlour game. Though Geoff Dyer's Paris Trance was described by Tim Pears as 'A Tender is the Night for the ecstasy age' on its cover, Dyer took instead to dropping lines from Fiesta (The Sun Also Rises) by Ernest Hemingway among his pages. 'It was amazing champagne' (p120), 'He took a big gulp of coffee...' (p218) are among the book's handful of what Dyer refers to, typically engagingly - and in his engaged manner - as 'samples'.

Arthur Phillips notes of his latest, The Song is You: 'beginning with its title (Kern-Hammersmith), this book incorporates in its text several song names'. He namechecks such estimable - and notaby UK-centric - sources as the Beloved, the Blow Monkeys, David Bowie, of course, Leonard Cohen, the Dream Warriors, EMF, Haircut 100, the Pet Shop Boys, Swing Out Sister and They Might Be Giants in his book of pop voyeurism.

And now The Escape, by Adam Thirlwell, 'contains quotations, some of them slightly adapted, from works by WH Auden, Mel Brooks, Alfred Hitchcock, Groucho Marx, Marcel Ophuls, Saïan Super Crew, Tupac Shakur' [my editing, again, of his much longer list]. Considering its form, verging on pastiche of the elderly lothario's antics in a generic mittel-Europa spa, there's also Saul Bellow, Bohumil Hrabal, Ladislav Klíma as well as Mann, Nabakov and Tanizaki.

Most appropriate of all, though, is probably the quote from Milan Kundera on The Escape's cover - and perhaps most important to the potential buyer of this very readable work. Credit, also, the book's designer, who seems to have spent some time matching the breasts of the cover's model with the description of the novel's gamine central character, Zinka: 'Her nipples were long, and almost black, with stained pools of areolae.'

Friday, 18 September 2009

Pocketful of riches

Two new French films reflect the flipside of long movies. Born in '68 examines the legacy of that year's protests on the next generation while Rien dans les poches ('empty pockets') takes a 17-year-old post-punk popstrel and follows her through to her forties. So, roughly the same time span, just a decade later.

The two movies touch on some of the same themes: the Mitterand and Chirac years; the threat of the far right and, notably, AIDS. You might expect Born in '68 to be the weightier, considering its starting point, but it struggles; director-writers Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau fail to find convincing parallels between the revolt of the late '60s and the fight for access to HIV drugs a generation on. And while their hearts are very clearly close to the latter battle, they fatally lose their sense of humour at this point in proceedings.

Both films are nearly four hours long and focus on a central female figure but Emma de Caunes' turn in Rien dans les poches hopelessly outstrips vapid model Laetitia Casta in terms of presence. Born in '68 seems to think that ensuring Casta looks stunning on screen throughout is enough to keep us hooked, but it makes everything that passes look like a shallow fashion spread.

Conversely, and somewhat ironically given its early setting among TV shows and cover shoots, Rien dans les poches feels much more real. Even its fictional pop songs are spot on. Director Marion Vernoux says she wanted to make a 12-hour film originally so this is virtually a trailer; I would happily have more of its world of Plastic Bertrand and Rubik's Cubes. Best of all are the performances, notably de Caunes, who's never less than watchable, but watch out too for producer Alain Chabat, best known over here for his roles in comedies (I Do and The Science of Sleep), as a wonderfully understated drag queen.

Vernoux's film is reminiscent of some of the best episodic family TV dramas; BBC2's adaptation of Tim Pears' In a Land of Plenty springs to mind. She makes us care about the characters and shows, rather than telling. So avoid Ducastel and Martineau's dry thesis and turn instead to the much more fun Rien dans les poches.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

May the cube be with you

Late notice, I know, but the Invader exhibition at Lazirides on Rathbone Place is due to finish; the website variously has the closing date as 12 or 17 September. The show features some of his Rubik's Cube versions of classic album covers and, as I mentioned last month, it's heralded another wave of alien sightings in the capital, the most stunning of which is behind the Holiday Inn on Old Street.