Back in April, I posted about the new Penguin Nabokovs. What I failed to spot - ouch - was that the real problem with the new
Penguin edition of Lolita is not the cover, it's the omission of the "Foreword" by John Ray, Jr., Ph.D.
- in effect, the first chapter. Perhaps somebody thought this was
just a piece of uninteresting academic apparatus. As John Self pointed
out on Twitter, the next step will be to publish Pale Fire without the notes. Penguin: for shame.
via @BFI's photostream on Twitpic, with this explanation:
In 1968, an excited audience awaited the arrival of Jean-Luc Godard,
who had been invited to open a series of John Player Lectures at the
National Film Theatre. Instead, they received this telegram.
100 members of the audience accepted the offer to have their money
returned, while the remainder stayed for a screening of Godard's Vivre
At the New Republic David Thomson marks the 50th anniversary of À bout de souffle with some scepticism about Godard:
There is a temptation to see Breathless (or A Bout de Souffle)
as the epitome of the New Wave. In this reading, it was the emblematic
film for a group of young critics and cineastes who had longed to make
films themselves and who suddenly found the chance. But if you want the
right emblem, you’d be better off going to Truffaut (with Les 400 Coups or Tirez sur la Pianiste).
Truffaut loved movies, story-telling, people, and actors. What was
always special about Godard was the reticence he felt for all those
institutions, an edginess or hostility, a doubt that was always
mounting. No wonder, then, that by 1963 he had made a picture (about
moviemaking) called Contempt.
Here's an appalling confession: I've never seen Breathless. But I have seen Contempt - Le mépris - at the Rio in Dalston just a couple of weeks ago; Thomson pins down some of what I disliked about it. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I disagreed with it: it struck me as an argument as much as a story, and there were bits of it that I adored - Jack Palance's swaggering, unselfconsciously monoglot American producer; Fritz Lang playing a wise, fatherly but rather down-at-heel version of himself; the prematurely post-industrial charm of Cinecittà; Brigitte Bardot's bottom. But it struck me as morbid with cynicism.
And what are we to make of that telegram: cynicism replaced with what's naive enthusiasm for the perceptiveness and articulacy of the poor. From a man of what Thomson calls a "malign sensibility" - well, it takes my breath away.
Since coming across this via William Gibson (GreatDismal) on Twitter, I have been brooding incessantly on the injustice that saw me born on the wrong side of the Channel and 20 years too late to have a torrid affair with Françoise Hardy.
I'm both those things, realising that it's almost a month since I've posted. My excuse is that I have been busy trying to be a proper writer - in particular, I have written and recorded two radio programmes with Tim Dee, one of which went out last Friday, a Radio 3 concert interval talk entitled Almost Like Literature (if you do follow that link, can I say that I am not responsible for the illustration and have no idea what it is).
I've got about three months of zoo news to catch up on, and some excellent Penguin covers scanned in and ready for action. So proper blogging will recommence soon.
As you know, this is meant to be a Monday morning Penguin. But maybe it's so late it's early. And maybe this is so bad it's good:
No, it's just bad. And I'm just late.
This is the first Penguin edition of Sweet Dreams (1976), a novel set in Heaven. The artist is Philip Castle (best known for the poster for A Clockwork Orange). Clearly, somebody told him what the novel was about: "What you've got to remember, Phil," they said, "is that Heaven isn't all that clouds and harps crap. It's where all your dreams come true - and these are modern dreams, right? It's a satire on contemporary society." Philip skims the first three pages of the book and discovers that the City of God is a towering metropolis with yellow cabs, approached via a 10-lane express way, from which you can see, in the forecourt of a pancake house, the gigantic figure of a woman revolving on top of a pylon, and an electric sign flashing your name.
But he misses the bit where the woman turns out to be St. Julian of Norwich, and he doesn't read on to find that the society Frayn is satirising is English and bourgeois and liberal. For Howard Baker (the cover gets the name right, at least), Heaven is a place where people listen to your opinions at dinner parties, where your
children are precocious without being brattish, where on holiday you find marvellous
little tavernas in the back streets, such good value, and
afterwards you drink brandy and chat with the proprietor; and where
your career always seems to be progressing up and up and up - so that
you're even being spoken of as a possible successor to God. The Howards of this world, or the next, don't have fantasies about tailfins and vacant blondes in tight jeans; their dreams revolve around shabby old 2CVs and dark-haired, faintly mysterious girls with whom they have intense, bitter-sweet affairs, the pleasure coming from pangs of loss and longing as much as from consummation. This is the profound side of Frayn's satire - the understanding that Heaven couldn't be a place without pain: to imagine otherwise is to confuse happiness with numbness.
Years ago, I persuaded a friend to read it, and she said afterwards she felt sneered at. I can see what she meant: Frayn is brilliant at identifying and puncturing delusions, and on re-reading it I wince constantly in self-recognition. It's amazing how little the satire has dated, too (the central preoccupations of dinner-party conversation are secondary education and house-prices). But the book seems to be me, at bottom, both sad and compassionate towards the emptiness of all our dreams.
Having just seen the film Helvetica, I'm feeling particularly sensitive to typefaces: I'd love to know what to call the one used here - the identifont.com website offers several possibilities, but none matches in every detail. Helvetica Rounded Bold is close, but its lower-case t has a tail and the thickness of line varies more. I've entered a query at WhatTheFont.com, and hope that somebody will come up with an answer. Meanwhile, if anybody out there has any ideas...?