Friday, 22 November 2013

Daniel Radcliffe does 'the Michael Fassbender test' when choosing film roles

Margaret Thatcher's romantic escapades when husband hunting

23 years ago, on November 22, 1990 Mrs Thatcher resigned. Daniel Hannan says that some of his colleague still refer bleakly to the anti-Thatcher Tory MPs as "the November criminals". 

While the details of how she was betrayed are doing the rounds, I'd like to unveil the romantic side of Thatcher, which may sound a contradiction in terms.  

She always said that there had been no man before Dennis, ‘that’s because in those days women had to guard their reputation very carefully’, said Charles Moore at a talk he gave at  Waterstones, High Street Kensington. This was part of the London History Festival, and Charles Moore was interviewed by Paul Lay on November 18th, who took the conversation deeper into Lady Thatcher’s husband hunting. 

Dennis was not her first love interest – my ears could scarcely believe it – when I heard that the young Miss Roberts had ‘various boyfriends’ and some real disappointments in the dating scene. Moore stressed that, ‘she needed a husband who understood her ambition’, and 'she would be seen through the prism of her husband'.

While Mrs Thatcher was keen that her travails as a singleton be veiled from public view, she did actually write the accounts of her dates and suitors – in her  letters to her sister Muriel.  Muriel entrusted Charles Moore with the stash of 150 letters. 

The missives detail a ‘complicated’ relationship that Miss Roberts had with a boyfriend while at Oxford University, but which came to nothing. 

The dynamic medic, Dr Robert Henderson held the attention of the young Miss Roberts, because he was a very skilled scientist who had developed the iron lung. She considered that being the wife of a notable doctor might be the right background for her rising star.  

But Henderson was twice her age, and when she was 24, he was 48. Knowing the long years of climbing to power that lay ahead, the then Miss Roberts knew that the age gap could become unbearable. So, she did not develop this dalliance. Had they married, he would have been 75 when Thatcher defeated Heath to become Leader of the Opposition in 1975. And he would have been an octogenarian in her first year as prime minister. 

Most amusing is the case of the 35 year-old Scottish farmer in Colchester who pursued her relentlessly, until she agreed to go to dinner with him. At the meal, he laid out all his credentials, including the fact that his farm was worth a small fortune (two million in today’s money). But she was not impressed that he gave a measly nine penny tip to the waiter. Remarking wryly on the evening to Muriel, the young Margaret said, ‘I’d rather like to see his farm as a matter of interest’. Knowing that he was not for her, the young Margaret introduced the farmer to Muriel, who was much more open to being a farmer’s wife, and later the two were married. 

Miss Robert’s first impression of Dennis Thatcher were not exactly the stuff of Mills and Boon, he was not a heart-throb. She described him as, ‘not a very attractive creature’ who had ‘plenty of money’. On that faithful night that he gave her a lift into London, he was candid that he didn’t like mixing with people and was timid. He had been married before, to another Margaret but his first wife had run off with a Baronet. 

In their very first meeting, the seeds of their lifelong relationship were sown – he would be the one to stand back, while she led, and he would be the one to encourage her without envying her success. 

You can read about her romantic escapades in much more detail in Charles Moore's biography Volume One: Not For Turning.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Michael Fassbender succeeds in making The Counsellor a success: his performance paints a portrait of hubris

As soon as The Counsellor opened in London, a Spanish friend and I sprinted over to the Fulham cinema. My friend has fellow Spaniard Penélope Cruz’s interests at heart. And I’m from Munster, so naturally I cheer for Michael Fassbender. He plays the leading role, the nameless counsellor who is overwhelmed by his love for his girlfriend (Cruz) and asks her hand with a costly engagement ring. The counsellor will pay for it with a one-time drug deal.

Fassbender’s counsellor has a rich variety of personal traits. He’s a man-in-love, his eyes liquefy when he beholds his fiancée, and he has an enraptured tone of voice when he whispers poetic sweet-nothings to her (‘you are a glory…you are a glorious woman’). 

In interviews, Fassbender has been quick to identify that the counsellor’s chief mistake is that he thinks himself cleverer than he is. He’s a conceited man who may be book-smart, but has little savvy and has the job of giving advice but paradoxically goes advice to avoid drug lords. He is also ‘a smart-ass’, which is the term of disaffection used for him by Ruth, a prisoner client of his.  

It’s the scene where he visits Ruth in a gaol cell that Fassbender proves his acting acumen. Fassbender has taken off the smiling mask that the counsellor uses for his fiancée, and we see a very self-satisfied individual, who thinks he’s too good for the imprisoned mother. Every tiny detail of Fassbender’s performance creates a portrait of hubris. 

In the way he throws down the box of cigarettes that he’s brought for her, the wolfish grin, the glinting eyes and the way that he won’t sit opposite her but stands over her. The mother entreats him to help her son, who has just been gaoled and needs $400 bail. With an even bigger smirk, he agrees to do it, doing so proves his higher station. He can help her son, she cannot. In return, the mother offers him a sexual favour, to which he replies sniggeringly that even if she gave it to him; she would still over him $380. 

Fassbender smoothly delivers those sickly smirks or the laughing tones of contempt in which he speaks to Ruth. He suffuses his voice with a barely-restrained laugh. Ruth is a figure of fun to him. You might want to strangle Fassbender’s counsellor, but he leaves the same bad taste in the mouth that these ‘smart-ass’ types do in real life.

Ruth’s son is a drug runner for the Mexican cartel with whom he is doing a deal. While motorcycling across America with a drugs parcel, the son is beheaded, his parcel stolen, and the cartel are convinced that since the counsellor sprung the drug-runner from gaol, that he is behind the whole counter operation. 

They think the condign punishment for the counsellor is that his loved one be slaughtered. Ironically, the counsellor and Ruth will both be reduced to the same level, they will both be torn by loss and grief. She has lost her son, he his beloved.  

The film’s failing is that we never *understand* why the counsellor is so profoundly in love with his intended. Sure, she is sweet-tempered and beautiful. And over this past weekend, two male friends have at pains to stress how ‘hot’ she looked lying on the towel in the spa. But, ultimately our knowledge of her is skin deep. We never see the layers of her character, her good deeds (or lack of them), would she be a friend in a time of need.  In simple terms, we never get to know her. We see the counsellor mourn a beautiful woman who has been butchered, but we don’t grieve with him because our rapport with her is the same as with a fashion model that we admire on the cover of a magazine. 

We may not understand why he loves her, but we believe he loves her. Why else would he grieve her so intensely? But we are dependent on Fassbender’s depiction of grief ripping through his body, causing his face to fracture in agony, for the film to make sense.

The film has more sparkle than substance. Yet it achieves its central objective: to be a morality tale about the hazard of hubris, and the mighty counsellor falls from a height of his own making. It’s Fassbender’s depiction of two opposing states of existence that make the film work; the glutted-with-hubris ‘smart-ass’ who risks everything for easy money, and then the grief-ridden and guilt-frenzied shaking wreck that he becomes.

The key to his success: Fassbender succeeds in authenticating these flawed characters, because he enters fully into the persona, body-language, tone of voice, without letting cares about how the real-life Michael Fassbender might be judged when cinema go-ers watch him act.

Interviewers and journalists always ask Fassbender if he is similar in any way to the characters that he plays. It always strikes me a rather silly line of questioning. The only way for him to go into role as these complicated personalities is to put his instinctive reactions to one side, and submerge himself in the character's mind and adopt their reflexes.
Aspects of how Fassbender prepares for a role are common knowledge, such as the way he may read a script 300 times. But were I to interview Fassbender, top of the list would be how he practises every detail of body language and tone of voice so as to ‘become’ a character. 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Oh, such a perfect day, I'm glad I spent it with you...

Lou Reed's Perfect Day. 


The Vatican led a tribute to Lou Reed when Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi tweeted lyrics from Perfect Day. The first tweet was, 'Oh, it's such a perfect day I'm glad I spend it with you Oh, such a perfect day You just keep me hanging on (Lou Reed)'.   This tweet was RT'd  969 times.

Taking lines from Lou Reed's classic song was a way for Cardinal Ravasi to segue into then tweeting the Bible verse, 'Be under no illusion: God will not be fooled. You're going to reap just what you sow (Galatians 6,7 and Lou Reed in Perfect Day)'.  This tweet was RT'd  54 times. 

I am a practising Catholic, but was not given Bible lessons as a child. The first time that I heard the verse, 'you're going to reap just what you sow', was when I heard the song, Perfect Day at age 11.

It's quite possible that had Perfect Day never been written, then I would not have heard the line from Galatians about reaping good crops if you do good works, and bad crops if you do bad works, until I was much older. 

Monday, 4 November 2013

Noel Harrison's The Windmills Of Your Mind

The recent death of Noel Harrison on October 19th called to my mind his most famous song, The Windmills Of Your Mind.  When I was going to school, circa 2001, I used listen to the song on old vinyl LPs or 'records' as they were called in their hey-day.

It was part of the soundtrack for The Thomas Crown Affair and won the Oscar for best song in 1968. At first, Noel Harrison did not realise the song's potential, "it didn't seem like a big deal at the time. I went to the studio one afternoon and sang it and pretty much forgot about it...I didn't realise until later what a timeless, beautiful piece Michel LeGrand and the Bergmans had written. It turned out to be my most notable piece of work."

Now, I'll have to watch the Steve McQueen Thomas Crown Affair, and see how the lyrics play into the story, 'like a carousel that turning running rings around the moon, like a clock whose hands are sweeping past the minutes of its face, And the world is like an apple whirling silently in space, like the circles that you find in the windmills of your mind... Like a tunnel that you follow to a tunnel of its own...'