Sunday, July 09, 2006


Reading David Thompson's intriguing history/polemic of Hollywood, "The Whole Equation." It's not just the Fitzgerald quote of the title (from "The Last Tycoon") but Thompson's clearly a Fitzgerald obsessive, which is great. Already I get the sense - a few chapters in - that Hollywood has lost it, will no longer keep our collective pulse raising, and still might. There's a few more novels about Hollywood than rock music; and I'd guess there's a whole raft of novels that owe something to the grammar and the glamour of film. (David Foster Wallace might say its television that influences his generation of writers, but he's American - growing up in Britain in the '70s there wasn't really enough television to influence a writer; and the BBC, despite its legendary remit to entertain, educate and inform, never touched on the wider vocabularies that I was discovering through literature, music and movies. Only Channel 4's arrival provided that stimuli.) Somewhere I've a book about poetry and the movies, (American movies), and I guess it mentions the D.W. Griffiths' short "The Lonedale Operator" which John Ashbery paraphrases in an early prose poem. It strikes me that this was the same technique - a film from memory - that Fiona Banner was so successful with in her writing-on-the-wall pieces such as "Hunt for Red October." Interestingly, around the time that I was at my most Ashbery-esque, I wrote a poem called "How I came to Love the 20th Century", which mentions Griffiths' epic "Birth of a Nation", without, I'm sure, having been aware of "The Lonedale Operator." Thompson makes much of the Griffiths' films economic as well as cinematic connotations. That the Griffiths' film was based on the novel "The Klansman" and may have led to further lynchings in the year after its release, is one of the great embarassment's of American movies. But we're not yet at Hollywood at this point - and Hollywood - and the Californian light, so memorable an image for Hockney's swimming pools (another reference I used in my poetry), is the central subject of the book.' You read the dates in the book, and you realise how young an art form cinema is, and he compares and contrasts the films being made in the first quarter of the century with the literature, the music, the art. This mass medium had yet to find its vocabulary. I think it does, later, and does with the power of a symphony, or a great novel. I'm reminded by the Manchizzle, that George Clinton comes to Manchester next week. He of course produced and co-starred on the Red Hot Chilli Peppers' early highlight "Hollywood", and I guess for any non-initiates a good starting point in all things Clinton would be a Parliament compilation, or even Bootsy Collins' "Back in the day" compilation. "The Awesome Power of a Fully Operational Mothership" can be recommended unadvisedly as well, if you can find it.

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