Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Wot I'm reading: dishing the dirt on Hollywood royalty (and ex-kings)

In Chapter One of this bonk-and-tell autobiography the author gets a blowjob from Walter Pidgeon. I, naturally, fainted at this point but made a quick recovery and read on with mounting enthusiasm!

A farmboy from Illinois, Scotty Bowers headed for Los Angeles after his demob from the Marines at the end of World War Two (having seen some grim action in Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima). Working the evening shift at a gas station on Hollywood Boulevard, he was soon running a lucrative sideline as a "call-boy" (he calls it "tricking") with well-heeled Angelinos, most of them in the movie business - both men and women (he claims to prefer straight sex). As well as turning tricks himself, he also set up many another hard-up young man (or woman) with movie people great and small. Then as now on Sunset Strip, straight guys willingly turned gay tricks for a few dollars of beer money.

Randolph Scott and Cary Grant,
 a Hollywood 'Golden Couple'?
It's all yesteryear tittle-tattle, mostly set during the Fifties and Sixties. Everybody mentioned is safely dead and unable to start libel proceedings. But there is some juicy stuff here: pool-party orgies at Cole Porter's house, threesomes with Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, bondage parties with John Carradine. Somehow we've always sensed that our stage and screen idols have feet of clay; Scotty Bowers wants us to know that a proportion of their off-screen time is spent wallowing in mud. Charles Laughton and Tyrone Power had particularly extreme tastes.

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor,
better in bed than on the throne!
Many names here are familiar to the gay gossips: Noel Coward, Montgomery Clift, James Dean. I was only occasionally surprised by his revelations: moving on from reigning Hollywood 'royalty' to deposed royals, he says he bedded both the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and fixed Edward up with call-boys and Wallis with girls; 'Eddy' was "a damn good lover" (not according to Thelma Lady Furness, one of Eddy's earlier ladyfriends); and Wally "really knew what she was doing," said one of the call-girls. Wow. At a time when pornography was illegal in the US (hard to imagine, isn't it?) he arranged a private showing of ex-King Farouk's extensive personal collection for Dr Alfred Kinsey and his fellow researchers.

Rita Hayworth, a famous beauty
and famously stingy
Not all the scandal is sexual: Rita Hayworth was too stingy to buy her out-of-work brother new tyres for his beat-up truck. And Scotty reminds us just how terrible was William Holden's decline (one of the non-gay clients) into the farther reaches of alcoholism.

Like the Collected Works of Kitty Kelley, Full Service is written (ghost-written in this case) in a gushing Louella Parsons prose style straight out of the "fanzines"; gushing enough to read at times like Barbara Cartland (who would churn in her urn at the comparison, I'm sure). I feel slightly ashamed to have wasted a few hours reading this tawdry drivel, but - oh dear - it's an undeniably compelling read. That said, I did find myself wondering how much of it is the unattractive truth and how much is money-minting fantasy.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Gay Authors Workshop had a garden party in Newhaven (Sussex, not Connecticut!) on Saturday. The weather was kind to us.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Wot I'm reading: Going, going, gone

Okay, I know I'm reading this two or three years after everybody else, but two months ago I was here reviewing a novel published in 1953 - so bear with me, people!

Luckily I'd forgotten some of the Big Twist from the movie of Gone Girl, so I still enjoyed the book's surprise reveal. It's narrated in alternate chapters by Nick Dunne, whose wife has gone missing, and by Amy, the missing wife. Nick is writing in the here and now, as he becomes the chief suspect in his wife's presumed abduction and murder. Amy's diary entries (with overtones of Carrie Bradshaw and even Bridget Jones) are a history of their marriage, from love and trust to cheating and mistrust, from falling in love to falling very heavily out of love.

Nick admits that he's lied to the police, from which we're obviously meant to assume that he might be keeping things from us. "I wasn't romantic," he admits; "I wasn't even nice." Amy comes across as the spoilt needy daughter of rich self-absorbed parents. It's hard to warm to a book when you take an instant dislike to its two main characters. In order to keep the reader guessing, plot and structure are elaborately contrived; and for me there was a bit too much contrivance, although the ending does give the story an edge which many potboilers lack.

This is, of course, a "woman's book", but here's one male reader who only gives Gone Girl four out of ten for literary quality, plus an ungrudging eight for the shock/surprise element. As in the movie, I came away with the feeling that this unlikeable pair deserved each other and the fate Gillian Flynn served up for them. 

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

David at the movies: Arnie saves the day - and the movie


I thought it would be a mistake having Arnold Schwarzenegger resume the role of the Terminator now that he has slightly, ahem, slipped past his prime. But in fact he's the best thing in this not-so-new new movie. A very different John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to the 1980s again to save his mother Sarah (Emilia Clarke). There's a different T-1000 threatening her but she still has Terminator Arnie as her protector - she calls him 'Pops'. Apparently cyborg skin ages like human skin, although no explanation was offered for robot middle-age-spread!

The plot - yet another attempt to destroy Skynet (I kept hoping, vainly, for a reference to Rupert Murdoch) before their supercomputer takes over the world and brings on Judgment Day - is a reboot/recycling of the plot of Terminator 1 & 2, with similar chases, fights, explosions, destructions.

The new cast is somewhat lacking in charisma and chemistry, so it's left to Arnie/Pops (and J.K. Simmons) to give the adventure some humour and charm. What even Schwarzenegger can't do is give it some freshness. Yes, the CGI is fantastic, but so it was in the earlier movies. Nothing much new here, and rather a lot that's stale.


The poster says it all. A film about male strippers is unlikely to be an intellectual feast, although The Full Monty did have a strong 'social commentary' element. The first Magic Mike movie had something (not much) to say about the economic pressures that might drive a young, generously-endowed man to find an alternative' career in the world of 'male entertainment'. This sequel doesn't bother with much motivation; unfortunately, it also doesn't bother with much plot.

Three years on from the previous episode, Mike (Channing Tatum)'s business making designer furniture from reclaimed timber is barely ticking over, so he goes back on the road with the Kings of Tampa. Dallas and Adam have moved on, but mega-hunk Tarzan (Kevin Nash), Richie (True Blood super-hunk Joe Mangianello) and Tito (CSI Miami's semi-hunk Adam Rodriguez) are still on board the RV in which they head off on a Bill and Ted-type road trip to a stripper's convention in South Carolina. They stop over in Savannah at a private club, a kind of cathouse-for-ladies run by an old flame of Mike's (Jada Pinkett Smith).

After shouty scenes with the guys in the RV we now get screamy scenes with the girls. In the closest this film gets to the irony that was occasionally present in the first movie, the club's clients are mostly black women, brandishing fistfuls of dollars which they throw onto the dance floor rather than tucking them into trunks and thongs. Clearly Obama in the White House has done wonders for the empowerment - and enrichment - of black women. A similar scene ensues in the finale at Myrtle Beach - more shouting and screaming - when Mike and the Kings get to strut their routines at the convention.

I'm probably not part of this movie's 'demographic', although I like to see buff gents in the buff as much as the next (gay) man. We seem to have come a long way from the Chippendales. The guys don't just strip and bump and grind, they now simulate sex acts on lucky (unlucky?) women from the audience. Like the whole movie, it's lewd and it's raunchy, but subtle it ain't.


This cinematic funfair ride comes with a 12A certificate, though under-twelves will probably enjoy it more than older kids. Lots of jumpy moments but we are spared the more grisly stuff: people are snatched and killed but 'chew and splatter' is mostly kept off-screen. 

Jurassic World is a mixture of 'same-old' and 'same-new' as the island theme-park re-opens its doors with a hot fresh attraction: a genetically-modified new breed of dinosaur which very soon (you guessed it!) escapes from its cage and goes on the rampage.

Two young brothers are the focus of the storyline, plus their aunt (Bryce Dallas Howard) and a hunky park ranger (Chris Pratt). They just happen to be trapped out in the park with the killing-machine monster; and Aunt Claire just happens to be the park's CEO. Although the rest of the plot (actually all of the plot) is very predictable - Claire and Owen rescuing the kids from a series of perils - the sheer pace of it largely obliterates any sense of over-familiarity. And the CGI is - no other way to say it - simply "awesome": the interaction between actors and creatures is seamless. This 'reboot' of the Jurassic theme really is a thrill-a-minute - visually it's a thrill-a-second!


The last time Ian McKellen starred in a movie directed by Bill Condon was 1998's Gods and Monsters, a little 'gem' of a story about James Whale, the director of the early Frankenstein filmswho in retirement develops a crush on his hunky new gardener (Brendan Fraser). Condon and Sir Ian's new collaboration looks at the retirement of Sherlock Holmes on the Sussex coast to a quiet life centred on bee-keeping. The great detective has a widowed housekeeper (Laura Linney, with an accent that veers from Kent to Devon and back again) whose studious young son Roger (Milo Parker) finds a father-figure in Sherlock.

His health declining and sliding into forgetfulness if not dementia, Holmes struggles to remember the details of a case he misjudged at the end of his career involving a beautiful young woman and a poisoning. This, together with the boy and the bees, is all the story there is. Gods and Monsters didn't have a huge plot either, but Mr. Holmes is a little too slow and insubstantial. It's good to be reminded what a fine actor McKellen is: the Tolkien and X-Men movies rely too much on CGI, and the bitchy-old-queen ITV sitcom Vicious is tired and dated and does neither Sir Ian nor Sir Derek Jakobi any favours.

This is meant to be Sherlock's swansong. Hopefully it won't be McKellen's or Condon's. Next time they will need a stronger script.

Monday, 13 July 2015

DAVID GEE "appearance" in Southampton: come along!

If you're in Southampton next Saturday (July 18th) drop into OCTOBER BOOKS at 243 Portswood Road, where I and two other Paradise Press authors/poets will be signing copies of our books.

Monday, 6 July 2015

God of Love, God of Hate?

Emily Watson as Julie Nicholson in BBCtv's A SONG FOR JENNY


Television doesn't get much more harrowing than this. Life doesn't get more harrowing than this. A mother grieving for a daughter killed by terrorists in the name of their vile, vengeful faith. In the story of Jenny Nicholson, one of the 52 victims of the London bombers on July 7, 2005, irony is added to the maelstrom of emotions: her mum Julie was a Church of England vicar. Her inability to absorb the Christian virtues of forgiveness and reconciliation (is it possible they are also Muslim virtues?) eventually caused Julie to leave the priesthood.

Emily Watson gave an almost unbearably visceral performance as Julie Nicholson, fearful that her daughter might be caught up in the bombings on her way to work, then having to wait days for dental and DNA analysis to identify the bodies of those closest to the bomber. We were spared a reconstruction of the explosion although there was a flashback to Jenny on the rush-hour train leaving Edgware Road Tube station, standing close to a seated man with a backpack on his lap. That man was Mohammed Sidique Khan, a British Asian from Leeds, at 30 the oldest of the four 7/7 bombers who between them destroyed the lives and families of 52 travellers that day.

The film chose not to investigate the motives for Khan and his fellow jihadists, whose horrific acts they - and we - are told came with the promise of a prime spot in the Muslim version of Heaven, which sounds like some ludicrous version of a Playboy Club, with 72 virgins dancing attendance on each of the holy suicide bombers.

Nicola Wren as Jenny, killed in the rush hour on 7/7/2005
There was a terrible scene in which Julie Nicholson anointed her daughter's shattered body with holy oil: holiness comes with different definitions in the world of faith and fanaticism. Did the white supremacist Dylann Roof imagine that he was somehow carrying out God's work last month when he shot nine black people during a church service in Charleston? There can be no doubting that Seifeddene Rezgui on the beach in Sousse believed, like Mohammed Sidique Khan, that he was serving the Will of Allah.

We are repeatedly told in the media - including by so-called 'moderate' mullahs - that the jihadi 'martyrs' do not reflect the true message of Islam, although those who brainwash them quote many verses from the Koran to justify acts that seem obscene and Satanic to outsiders. Medieval Christians found verses in the Bible that validated the savagery of the Inquisition, and popes promised pride of place in Heaven to those 'martyred' whilst slaughtering Jews and Muslims during the Crusades. In recent decades Christian militias have committed atrocities in Yugoslavia, in Lebanon, in Africa (to this very day in the Central African Republic).

Mohammed Sidique Khan (not an actor)
The notion, not difficult to take on board, that the God of Jesus is a God of Love whereas the God of Islam is a God of Hate, is both the truth and not the truth. Since the beginning of time evil people have used their gods to justify acts of terror and of horror. Nothing changes. Muslim fanatics bomb and murder in the name of Allah. In Asia there are Buddhist and Hindu fanatics who burn temples and kill 'unbelievers'. In the US Bible Belt bigotry and racism and homophobia are rampant. Not only in America.

It's also easy to take the view of those who call down a Curse on all Religions. And then you remember the millions eliminated in the name of godless Communism by Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot.

The third century Persian mystic Mani gave the world Manichaeism - later adopted by the Chinese, some of the Romans and medieval Christians in France - a philosophy which has the physical, material world ruled by a God of Darkness, with the God of Light only prevailing in the spiritual world. It almost makes sense.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Wot I'm reading: Sex, snobbery and sadism

'Sex, snobbery and sadism' were the key ingredients in a James Bond novel, according to a review of Dr. No in the New Statesman in 1958. Yes, he was probably right, but the reviewer seems to have missed out the outlandish thrills that Ian Fleming always delivered (well, almost always: The Spy Who Loved Me was unforgivably awful, as perhaps was the mercifully short story Quantum of Solace, which is more like something Fleming's friend and neighbour Noel Coward might have written). Plus, he gave us some of the most colourful villains in the history of pulp fiction: Mr Big, Rosa Klebb, Dr. No, Goldfinger and, that toothsome twosome, Ernst Stavro Blofeld and Irma Bunt!

Matthew Parker's lively new contribution to the 007 'canon' is a history of Fleming's long love-affair with pre- and post-Independence Jamaica, where he spent two months of every year from 1946 until his death in 1964 and where he wrote all the Bond books. Before Barbara Broccoli recycled it as a movie title, Goldeneye was the name of the boxy little bungalow Fleming built overlooking a beautiful and almost private lagoon on the north coast of the Caribbean island. Here he entertained the great and the good (including Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Eden and - of course - Sean Connery) together with a far from modest selection of married ladyfriends, one of whom, Viscount Rothermere's wife Ann, divorced her husband to marry Fleming. Ann had to put up with a "three-people marriage" when Fleming took another Jamaican expat as his long-term mistress. Tit for tat, Ann Fleming became Hugh Gaitskell's lover for the last years of his life.

Goldeneye today, available for you to rent!
Fascinating as this book is, it's filled with dislikeable characters. Fleming himself is a curmudgeon, sometimes genial, more often sulky. Ann is a snobbish pill-popping neurotic who dismisses her husband's novels (largely without reading them) as 'pornography'. Even Noel Coward comes across as little more than another of the old colonial bores. Fleming largely detested the idle rich and retired who made up most of his wife's social circle both on the island and in London, and yet, as the New Statesman observed, James Bond was very much a product of the supercilious 'imperialist' mindset.

Parker confirms what we have heard before, that there was a lot of Fleming in 007: the naval background, a love of fishing and snorkelling as well as lethal levels of smoking and drinking. Fleming hated Germans (Hugo Drax and Goldfinger were both Germans), despised Americans (Felix Leiter was practically the only American friend Bond had and his relationship with Tiffany Case - erroneously called Chase in Parker's book - was one of his least passionate) and had a patronizing attitude towards blacks (think of Quarrel in Live and Let Die and Dr No).

Sean Connery and Ursula Andress, filming Dr No in Jamaica, 1961
From this account Fleming does not seem to have been a very happy man, but his books, however sniffy some of the critics, have brought pleasure to millions. I've read all of them (some several times) - and most of the 'sequels' in the hands of a very mixed bunch of copycat authors. From Russia With Love and Dr No are clearly the greatest of the 'founder's' output; of his heirs I would rate the first one, Kingsley Amis (Colonel Sun, 1968), the closest to the calibre of the originals.

Fleming was toying with killing off 007 at the end of From Russia With Love when (unlike in the movie) Rosa Klebb strikes home with the poisoned blade in her toecap. Luckily for us, this was Fleming's break-through book and he contrived a way to 'resurrect' Bond at the beginning of Dr No. Today, in real time, Bond would either be long since despatched to the rest home for old spies or, more likely given his alcohol and tobacco intake, would have made the trip to the crematorium which he narrowly escaped in the movie of Diamonds Are Forever. Despite the up-and-down quality of both the book and the movie franchise, long may he go on living!

Rosa Klebb (Lotte Lenya) and those shoes in From Russia With Love