Sep 29, 2014


From my Vogue cover story:—
'Certainly “Wild” and “Reese Witherspoon” have not, until a year ago, been items that would turn up much in a Google search. It’s not too hard to see what star seeking to shed her studio gleam might find in Strayed’s memoir, a raw, soulful portrait of a woman cut off from the human pack, a “stray”, stripped to the core after the death of her mother and the collapse of her marriage. As she sets about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, she finds herself dismantling and rebuilding her very identity as a woman, “the one I’d fostered all through my young adult years while trying on different costumes — earth girl, punk girl, cow girl, riot girl, ballsy girl. The one for whom behind every pair of boots or sexy little skirt or flourish of the hair there was a trap door that led to the least true version of me.” The takeaways from Wild are obvious enough —Reese shoots heroin! Has sex with strange men! Swears like a sailor! — but more revealing  are the earlier scenes, showing us Strayed alone on the trail. Shot with a  minimal crew, with hand-held cameras, no rehersal, with Vallee and his cameraman swapping when the other got tired it felt, says Witherspoon, “more like a  documentary than a feature film” and the result has a remarkable candor: Witherspoon’s face plain and unadorned by make-up, slack yet determined, unillumined by the effort of charming people, or pleasing them. One of cinema’s great crowd-pleasers, alone.' 
Published today, my book on the films of Martin Scorsese.

Sep 28, 2014

"What did I tell you? Don't buy anything!"

From my piece about Scorsese's influence on the fashion world for The Daily Telegraph:—
'On February 8th, 1976 screenwriter Paul Schrader arrived at the Cinema 1 movie theater in New York to find queues around the block for his latest film, Taxi Driver. At first he thought: something’s wrong, they haven’t let them in yet. Then he realized it was the line for the next show, comprised mostly of pale, young men, all dressed with buzz cuts in army surplus jackets, in honor of the film’s brooding, psychopathically inclined protagonist. “Assemble a killer outfit” trilled a Details article from 2012, advising readers on how they could best recreate Travis’ Bickle’s “awkwardly intense” existential-loner look:    vintage Western buckle, hand-distressed Jeans, Salt Valley Western Shirt, all topped off with an M-65 Field Jacket and Flight Bomber Jackets, for that PSTD touch.   Travis may be an odd-ball fashion icon— Scorsese himself counted himself “shocked” at the way audiences took up the character as a hero — but he knew better than anyone how the screen glamorizes everything it touches: as a boy he had stood in front of the mirror, as Travis stands in front of his, practicing his cowboy moves, copied from Alan Ladd and Gary Cooper. Travis’s look — with its suggestion of rural transplant (“God, you’re square”) — drew in part from Scorsese’s own neo-hippie phase, when, in the aftermath of shooting the documentary Woodstock, he took to jeans for the first time, and shirts bought from LA’s thrift shops with girlfriend Sandy Weintraub. “At that point there was a part of me that wanted to erase everything of where I came from,” he said. “I had a feeling that I had escaped. I was wearing those cowboy shirts, our hair grew a little longer, and it was 1973 or so. It was really good.” Scorsese’s mother and father, remember, were both in the rag trade: his mother, Catherine, a seamstress and his father Charles, a clothes presser in the garment district.    ''Charlie could tell you if a wiseguy's collar spread was off a quarter-inch,'' said Gangs of New York writer Jay Cocks, and indeed his father served as wardrobe consultant on many of Marty’s gangland films, alongside costume designer Richard Bruno whose wardrobes for Goodfellas — broad, double breasted suits over steep-pointed shirts with deep collars that hide the top part of tie and a tab added to the double-lock collar to line up the collar points — started a trend in U.S. cities in the early 1990s. Scorsese’s films track masculinity in the rough, with all its attendant flora and fauna, so it’s no surprise that he uses clothes as indices of power, hubris, and excess, from Henry Hill’s first suit in Goodfellas (“You look like a gangster!” exclaims his mother), to his powder-blue-bathrobed decline (“I get to live the rest of my life as a schnook”), from the 70 costume changes Robert De Niro enjoyed in Casino (best look: the coral jacket with matching apricot shirt, tie and socks he wears to be blown up in his car), to the shoulder-to-shoulder Armani in Wolf of Wall Street. “Is he wearing a bow tie?” asks Jordan Belfort of one mild-mannered young  broker, before firing him on the spot.' 

Sep 12, 2014


From my review for Intelligent Life:—
'Finally, came the evening’s climax and highlight: a performance of Reich’s “Music For 18 Musicians”, one of the most sustained and beautiful feats of contrapuntal music—the Matterhorn for mallet instrumentalists. At its core lie two syncopated xylophones keeping up a steady melodic pulse, while around it amass marimbas, a vibraphone, a violin, a cello, bass clarinets, soprano voices and two pianos, all fading in and out but keeping the same quick, shimmering tempo, passing in, through and around one another, like intersecting shoals of fish, or as if the orchestra had formed a single organism and we were hearing its breath. Like surgeons attending the same patient, the musicians stand mostly—I haven’t see so many quietly pistoning elbows since Kraftwerk played at MoMA. Occasionally one will leave, or move to another instrument: at one point, the vibraphone player got up and joined Reich at his piano to provide some top notes, like someone espying a spare body part at an orgy. You think that too sexual a simile for music so mathematical? Reich’s time in Africa in the early seventies paid off; his absorption of black rhythms have placed him accidentally but fascinatingly close to the mainstream of modern pop and dance music. His music moves from the hips — it’s funky. When London DJs spotted the crossover between classical minimalism and Deep House—the trance-like rhythms, the cyclical repetition—it was Reich’s work they sampled and pillaged. Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood performed a portion of Reich’s “Electric Counterpoint” at Glastonbury this year, and has an album of the full work coming out this month. Glass builds impossible castles in the sky, great teetering structures that seem to just hang there, unattached to anything except one man’s will that they exist. But Reich is connected to the ground. He burrows and builds. It’s only afterwards that the size and beauty of what he has built hits you, and when it does it hits you in the solar plexus.'

Sep 8, 2014


'I’m a little worried ahead of meeting Al Pacino how crazy he’s going to be.  On the evidence of his latest film: very crazy. The film is actually two films. One is a production of Oscar Wilde’s play Salome.  The other is a documentary about the making of the first in the style of his previous Looking for Richard, a marvelous mosie around the highways and byway of  Shakespeare’s Richard III that set up a marvellous consonance with Pacino’s early roles, with Shakespeare’s anti-hero emerging as a kind of prototype gangster: Corleone with a crown.As Herod in  Salome, he holds court in  the declamatory, reach-for the-rafters  style of his work after Scent of a Woman. Jessica Chastain plays the Biblical temptress who has John the Baptist beheaded — her first film role. Or so Pacino could claim in 2006 when he started filming. By the time he was done, in 2011, another five filmmakers had beaten him to the punch and cast Chastain in their films. One of his collaborators even had time to write and publish a book about Pacino’s travails with the project, which finally, after losing American distribution, premieres at the South Bank Centre on the 7th, where Pacino will also appear in person, alongside Chastain, to talk about the project. You half expect to look up and seem him personally threading the film through the projector.   
“It has plagued me,” Pacino tells me when I meet him at his house in Beverly Hills, a large mansion house hidden from the street by carefully groomed shrubbery and trees. In the sitting room, CNN plays on a large plasma TV. Above the fireplace, a poem written by Pacino to his 14-year-old daughter Olivia. Next door, a room with some gym equipment and a painted portrait of Pacino, of whom there is no sign until, from upstairs sounds a loud yelp, followed by a faintly recognizable “Oooooh…” Pacino has just stepped on his daughter’s pet dog. “My children are all over the place,” he explains, leading me to the large, white verandah deck out front, where a chess set sits by one of the windows. The house is a rental. He’s been here about ten years now. “I've always expected to go home to New York, and I’m still expecting to go,” he says. He is wearing a black v-neck t-shirt and gym pants, a leather necklace and bracelet, his goatee trim and dark; his hair tousled and bed-headish.  Talking, he runs his hand through it, as if to check it’s still there, or untangle it. He doesn’t seem crazy — or anything like the kohl-eyed wild man who drags his production of Salome through hell, high water, and bad reviews in his behind-the-scenes doc, a fascinating collision of Wilde’s Salome and Pacino’s celebrity in which nobody quite emerges the winner. Pacino is seen arguing with his producers over whether it should be two films or one (“fuck em”). He frays the nerves of his editor with hundreds of miles of footage.  “Al doesn't know what he’d doing,” confides one of his collaborators who retitled the project Salomaybe. It’s by far the more compelling performance  — not Pacino as Herod, but Pacino as Pacino, brooding and wild-eyed, the emperor calling his own bluff, wondering aloud if he can make the centre hold, or if he isjust high on his own powers of bamboozlement. 
You know what it is, is you get a little moody, and you just take the mood and enlarge it because you know the cameras are rolling,” he says. “You know it may be good for the film, but I’m glad you felt it because there was some stuff going on. To be honest, I didn’t know where I was going. I thought, why am I doing this? Many times.  I still do.   I could feel the ‘why’ as I watched it. I could feel, what's Al on about? What is he doing? I know what I was trying to do. I think I was trying to bring an obsession to light. There's something about it that it just takes you over, because it’s about that thing, that passion, that unrequited passion that drives us sometimes and destroys us. I love that. It just ruins your life.” 
— from my Sunday Times interview