I’m declaring amnesty!

You can’t know how happy it has made me to see that stalwarts of the 24-hour news cycle and front runners in the race for an opinion on everything that matters have begun to buckle.

Writers deeply practiced in the wonders of technology are suddenly muttering about their desperately paced lives, as they scramble to keep up, keep current, keep balanced on that knife edge – and no, I’m not going to provide links; you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Providing links, offering a reaction, keeping up, before the spotlight shifts and we’re all on to the next new (frequently dreadful) thing, has just about done me in.

I love this little blog. I love that its very existence brought me back in touch with old friends; with writers I vastly admire, with the best editor I ever had, and with a collection of complete strangers. (Yeah!)  But now I understand why one of my closest friends, whose own blog sustained me for years, said, “I’m SO sorry!” when he heard I’d been given CQF.  It’s a devilish beast to keep fed, let alone readable.

Subjects should be a snap.  But my own klutziness with technology, added to my fervor for gathering everything I want to show you about the subject at hand, has become a bolo around my ankles. More than once.

Do you remember the CQF about Ronald Searle, who died at the age of 91, at the end of December? He was not simply a master cartoonist, he was indeed closer to being Britain’s “blazing graphic talent” (see the Guardian obit below.)

Searle was also the creator of St. Trinian’s and its school girls, true “little monsters, wicked as sin” on the page and in all those films. His instantly recognizable line – shaky, savage, and dangerously insightful — blazed the trail for Ralph Steadman and his ilk. And Searle’s works for the New Yorker for nearly 40 years: cartoons, sketchbooks, covers (and especially cats), rivaled Saul Steinberg’s for their airy complexity.

If you don’t remember that blog it’s because I didn’t write it.  My arms got so full of stuff to attach or to excerpt or to Xerox for you that this compound-complex hero had been dead a good long while before I stopped accumulating. By then I was too embarrassed to drag in with a very cold postscript.

I had started here, with this startling obit:


Whoa! Who knew about Searle’s six years in a Japanese prison camp, with that forced march to work on the death railway in what was then Siam? Probably toute Britain, but not I.  How does one come back from that; does that experience bleed through into one’s work and one’s take on life?  How could it not?  His life, beginning to end, took on a deeper fascination.

I found this insightful career summation, written when he was still alive:


By now, I had his prison sketchbook To the Kwai – and Back; War Drawings 1939-1945, and was Xeroxing drawings for CQF (and fretting about copyright if I reproduced one or two.) And I was close to ossifying friends with some of the gasp-inducing moments from Searle’s life. (Who walks out on a wife and twins, to save his life and his own art?  Possibly only someone who has had to cling to life itself so tenaciously, although for an outsider, keeping a balance of sympathy was pretty delicate.)

You can only share so much of the astonishing life of a stranger, I found, before you’re branded a relic and a blinding bore. So, the links to the riveting Ronald Searle are now yours, with this gala one thrown in, since it’s such a work of love and scholarship and it has such varied examples of his work:


I’m moving on, with the caveat that I am granting myself Amnesty from Keeping Up.

I now know that I cannot possibly include every link under the sun, just because it’s feasible, but if I’m late, I’m not going to fret about it.

If it happened last night, during the Women’s All-Nation Maybelline Olympics, I may or may not be on it.  However, I’m still wondering why Appointment in Samarra was never brought up in the case of Jessica Ghawi, one of the more vibrant young victims in the Aurora Colorado midnight shooting carnage.  The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson wrote about her this way, online:

Jessica Ghawi was twenty-four. This was the second mass shooting that came close to her. The first, in June, was a shooting at a shopping mall in Toronto; there were five minutes between her and a scene in which five people were shot and one died. She went back to an internship in sports broadcasting, and, on Thursday, to the movies, where she died. One wishes it seemed more bizarre or eerie or uncanny that one person would have encountered two different acts of gun violence. But lately, it doesn’t.

Then I realized, Amy Davidson is young and sensible; this is another case of my reaching back toooooo far and too esoterically. Well, whatever.

As for that Samarra appointment, in 1933 W. Somerset Maugham retold the Arabic fable this way (and of course, John O’Hara used it as an epigraph and the title of his first novel):

Death Speaks:

There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

As for constitutionally being far from current, I make no promises that it won’t happen again.  Courage!

Nobody Does It Better or Morphine Through A Drip?

Before we get into BAFTA, here are a pair of presents.

Looking up from the work at hand — bringing home as many Oscars as possible — a couple of studios have watched what big money PACs have wrought, and liked what they saw: money = influence. .  No, no, no, this time it’s a good thing. These featurettes were made in the hope of swaying voters, but they’re shameless fun all the same.  (Okay, the von Sydow piece is truly barefaced and blatant fun, and it diminishes my ardor for him not one scintilla.)   .

Take another brief look at the incomparable Hugo.

Here’s a celebration of the equally incomparable Max von Sydow.

*                           *                          *                        *

I’ve been trying to puzzle out why last night’s BAFTA Awards show went down so smoothly, at least at this house.  Not the awards themselves — a few things to talk about there — but the feeling of the event.

It may be a certain British take on life in general that seems so appealing. Offer a wild opinion to the kind of Englishman now owned by Colin Firth, and his opening salvo is, “Yes, well. . ” It has to do with reticence, a deep level of wit and intelligence, and the sense — rightly or not –that the person you’re speaking to is as least as quick as you are. It’s so flattering, really.

The show last night seemed to be steeped in that attitude.  It gets on with things. Even thought it’s held at the Royal Opera House, it seemed intimate, certainly compared to whereever  they house the Oscars, where the vastness is always chilling.

BAFTA seems blessedly anti-banter (Aussies excepted), which usually means a single presenter, even a grown-up, who gives a short intro that gets briskly to the point. Although music is recognized, there are no song awards,and thus no music production numbers. Think of the time your life gets back, right there.

If they have a house band, I don’t remember it, but nothing drowns out the winners who, peculiarly enough, have short and sometimes moving things to say. There seems to be the expectation that they will have something to offer, beyond thanks to their wife (first or current), to everyone they’ve ever met in the Industry, to their parents and to the god that made them. And this is an example of the thanks they do get:

Winning the Best Adapted Screenplay for Tinker,Tailor, Soldier, Spy  Peter Straughan first acknowledged the beginning of The Artist’s mop-up job of 7 awards in all, with, “I’d just like to thank The Artist for not being based on a book.” Then, he took the award for himself and his late wife and co-writer, Bridget O’Connor, whose clear blue eyes had just shone down from the BAFTA clip of artists lost in 2011, saying “She wrote all the good bits, I made the coffee.”

(Straughan has been on these pages a lot recently. When there’s time, I’ll share bits of his blog, which may make you a follower, too.)

The huge gang of dedicated filmmakers who made the insanely watchable doc Senna were exceptionally moving, even for those inured to the “glamour” of F1 racing. They thanked the young driver’s parents for entrusting them to present the very fabric of his life, over at 34.

The BAFTA folks gave the towering Stephen Fry the job of Minder, because he’s already proven that he has one. He wasn’t auditioning for anything or compensating for anything.  If at times you may have thought Oscar Wilde had taken over, well, it could certainly have been worse. Say to yourself:  Stephen Fry.  Eddie Murphy. Stephen Fry.  Eddie Murphy.  If a fit of pique and homophobia by designated Oscar producer Brett Ratner hadn’t surfaced early on chez Oscar, necessitating a change in producer and his choice of host, those would have been our contrasts in style. Fortunately for us, Billy Crystal knows the house.

As for the awards  themselves (those small, gaping bronze masks), I don’t really begrudge The Artist any of their 7 except the one that should have gone to Gary Oldman. (British reticence, this time working against him.) Jean Dujardin is a charmer, he’s been everywhere that Meryl Streep hasn’t and he’s big enough so that we’re fairly certain he won’t start clambering over the theatre seats like a manic French Roberto Benigni of unlovely memory. Still and all. . .I feel for Oldman.

Jean Dujardin and his BAFTA

It’s no secret that I had a favorite here, and still do. Have to say, though,  things seem far brighter to know that the Brits may loathe Mrs. Thatcher, but not her spirit-catcher.

Everyone at BAFTA was treated to one of the reasons we over here adore everything that makes up Meryl, and no one I’ve read captured the split personality that is Streep at work and Streep just being herself better than The Guardian’s Xan Brooks, so I turn this over to her:

“Ask Meryl Streep to play-act for the camera and the result is pristine professionalism, icy exactitude and self-possession that verges on the eerie.  Ask her to collect an award and you get the polar opposite, a rumble-tumble Feydeau farce.  At Sunday night’s BAFTAs, the Iron Lady star bounded on stage with such devil-may-care exuberance that she lost her shoe en route.

Colin Firth fits Meryl Streep's stray shoe

‘Well, that couldn’t have gone worse,” Streep chortled, having clearly forgotten her appearance at last month’s Golden Globes.  On that occasion she rocked up without her spectacles, shouted, ‘Oh shit, my glasses!’ and thereby triggered the telecast’s seven second time delay (the broadcaster’s equivalent of the red button or the ejector seat.)

[Reporter Brooks complains that over the years, awards shows have become “rigorously policed and stage managed” and that this year’s BAFTA “played out like morphine through a drip.” ]

“So, thank heaven for Streep, with her flying shoe and her mislaid specs; her off-piste [sic] outbursts and scatty good humour.  Undeniably, she gives a fine performance in The Iron Lady.  And yet her ongoing tour-de-force on the awards circuit — playing the dotty aunt, the agent of chaos — is at least its equal.  Streep is electrifying, she’s turbulent; you can’t take your eyes off her.  Maybe she should get an award or something.”