Du musst Caligari werden

Everything is crooked and claustrophobic in Robert Wiene's Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari, everything is warped and twisted and at an impossible, indecent angle. The proportions are all off: everything is either cramped and hideously uncomfortable or too terrifyingly huge. People walk like inanimate dolls, like crabs, or scurry like insects. The doors, it is clear to see, are far too high, much too narrow, open reluctantly like they have a will of their own. They never were designed to be used for entrances or exits. Well not by human beings anyway. The mountain in the background is like a naïve or demented version of Bruegel done on psychedelic drugs. The town clerk sits high on a peg or a perch, like a bird of prey, and has to bend deep deep down to reach his desk. The entire movie unfolds like a particularly heavy and disturbing nightmare. Like something Lovecraft might have dreamed after a very nasty meal. What is really crooked, and manifested in every tiny detail, is the soul.

Very unpleasant.

Wholly delightful.

The entire story is told in flashback by the protagonist Francis. It all begins when a mysterious Dr. Caligari comes to town. The arrival coincides with a series of brutal murders. Caligari is a shady, sinister looking character, in manner and appearance something like a cross between a severely demented black bug and a secretive penguin with a nasty attitude, who carries with him in a coffin or box a somnambulist called Cesare. Cesare has been asleep all his life but Caligari has the power to awaken him. This he does at the fair, for money. Cesare has got a rare gift: he can foretell the future. However, anybody asking when he will die gets a terrifying answer: You will die before the dawn.

At the fair Francis's friend asks Cesare the ominous question and receives the inevitable answer. He is slaughtered during the night, stabbed most viciously, becoming the second victim in the murder series. It can be no mere coincidence. Francis puts two and two together and goes to the police. Then another man is arrested for the murders - he's caught red-handed trying to stab a woman. He pleads his innocence.

Francis is less than convinced of the man's guilt. He decides to stake out Caligari's house. Through the window he sees Caligari sitting by the somnolent Cesare. Cut to Jane, Francis's beloved, sleeping in her maidenly bed. Jane has caught Caligari's eye earlier in the day when she sought her father and Francis at the fair. Is she to be the crazed killer's third victim?

Something lurks in the shadows, creeps silently nearer. It's Cesare. He breaks into her chambers, knife in hand. He approaches her bed, his bulging eyes reflecting madness and bottomless horror. He raises his knife, ready to plunge it in her heart, ready to rip her to shreds like the previous victims, then he stops. He cannot do it. His face softens, he reaches for her hair, caresses her forehead. She wakes up and screams her lungs out. He grabs her, lifts her up and carries her away.

Jane's screams rouse the household. Cesare makes his getaway through the cubistic rooftops, lugging the unconscious Jane to Caligari's lair. The men-folk pursue him. Exhausted he falls on his knees and is forced to abandon Jane. He manages to give the angry mob the slip only to collapse, all his energy spent, in the marsh-like wilderness.

Back home Jane regains her consciousness. She shouts out the name of the culprit: "Cesare!" Francis explains that this is impossible. He's been watching Caligari all night and Cesare has been sleeping in his coffin. Francis and a couple of constables pay Caligari a visit anyway. They find that Cesare isn't sleeping in his coffin: it's an effigy, a lifesize doll. Caligari makes a run for it, Francis is hot on his trail. Caligari slips through a gate. It's an insane asylum. Francis enters and demands to know whether they have an inmate called Caligari. They do not. But perhaps the director knows, he returned earlier today. Frances is shown to the director's office. Francis enters the office, the director looks up - it's Dr. Caligari!

In blind panic he rushes out and explains the situation to the incredulous staff. While the director is away Francis and members of the staff enter his office. There they find incriminating evidence. The director is a specialist on somnambulism. In one book they find the description of another murder series; in the 18th century there was another Dr. Caligari and a similar series of murders. Similar? More like identical. In the director's journal they learn that it has long been his ambition to recreate the murders - and when a suitable somnambulist was admitted into the asylum the director saw his chance and grabbed it. Oh the joy, oh the ecstasy! Now, finally, he can realise his dream! Now at last he can unravel the psychiatric secrets of the original Caligari! Can a somnambulist be forced to commit murders against his will?

In order to penetrate Caligari's secrets he needs must become Caligari!

Francis and the Staff are aghast. Caligari is confronted and seized - his madness now impossible to conceal any longer. He's put in a strait-jacket and locked away.

Cut back the first scene with Francis telling his tale. He is revealed to be an inmate at the asylum. When the director of the asylum - obviously Dr. Caligari - shows himself, Frances bursts out: "You all think that I'm insane! It isn't true - it's the director who's insane!" He assaults the director and has to be forcibly restrained. He's placed in a strait-jacket and locked away - in the same cell Caligari in which was locked in his story.

The movie ends with a disturbing close-up of Caligari, who's just realised what is wrong with Francis and how to cure him.

The impact of the movie is surprisingly deep and complex. What ought to be phony and childish becomes somehow, quite mysteriously, terrifying. The acting is hammy; it only increases the effect. The settings are cardboard and at best clumsy - that only makes the nightmare more hallucinogenic. I can't explain it. I can only watch, mesmerised.

The way one watches a nightmare.

The ending (which supposedly was thought up by Fritz Lang; it wasn't in the original script) has been admonished a great deal. I find it only enhances the impact - it's one extra layer of madness in a totally mad universe. Nothing can be trusted. Nobody is sane. Especially not those who think they are. The strait-jacket is never far away.

In 1933 the movie was banned in Germany as "entartete Kunst", degenerate art. Which seems quite logical. Talking about lunacy.


SF 100

I rather like lists. I may not always agree with then - in fact I seldom do, come to think of it - but that's not important. That may make them even more interesting.

100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels, edited by Stephen E. Andrews and Nick Rennison, with a foreword by Christopher Priest, is a splendid book, especially on a short tube or tram trip (or indeed on the bog). It lists, you probably guessed it, one hundred science fiction novels that everybody ought to read. I've read forty of them. In case you're wondering. Will probably end up reading quite a few more, as several of the unread ones really do seem quite interesting.

The choices are, for the most part, fairly obvious. There are a few exhilaratingly quirky books thrown in. It begins alphabetically with Brian Aldiss (Hothouse) and ends with Roger Zelazny (This Immortal). The earliest novel is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818/1831) and the only other 19th century novels are Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth and a trio of Wells's - The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau and The War of the Worlds. Apart from Conan Doyle's Lost World and Edgar Rice Burroughs's A Princess of Mars - which by the way came out the same year: 1912 - it's all pretty modern stuff. The most recent is Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon (2002), with close runners-up J. G. Ballard (Super-Cannes, 2000) and Stephen Baxter (Moonseed, 1998).

The POV is excessively Anglo-American, frighteningly so. Only three novels published in another language are deemed worthy to grace the pages of the book. They are the aforementioned Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth (written in French), Stanislaw Lem's Solaris (written in Polish) and the Strugatsky brothers' Roadside Picnic (written in Russian). There are about three times as many American novels as UK ones. And, oh, one Australian one: Greg Egan's Permutation City (1994). Probably only a slip-up.

So this we learn, well and proper: valid Science Fiction is written in English (most preferably American English) and written sometime around or after 1950. Good to know.

The violent American slant amazes all the more as the book is a British one, A Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide, in fact. Though what the old Bloomsbury lot, Virginia Woolf and company, would have made of good old honest science fiction I have no idea. Actually I do. They'd have loathed it. Well, they couldn't even stand James Joyce, he was far too horrid and grubby and plebeian for them.

A few authors are in with two books: Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Ubik), Isaac Asimov (I, Robot and The Foundation), J.G. Ballard (The Drowned World and Super-Cannes), Alfred Bester (The Demolished Man and Stars My Destination), Ursula K. LeGuin (The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed), Robert Heinlein (Orphans of the Sky and Starship Troopers) and Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles and Fahrenheit 451). And Wells, of course, is in with three. Ballard is clearly over-represented, and so is Heinlein. Frightfully so. And probably Asimov as well. I doubt their work will retain its value over the years. They won't be forgotten, they're too good for that, but most of their stuff will be. And justly so.

A lot of authors clearly belong on the list, but haven't quite got that seminal piece of work. Robert Silverberg's book is The Man in the Maze. Could have been any of a dozen others. He does keep his standard even and extremely high, but the stellar performances may be missing. Arthur C. Clarke's book is Childhood's End. Not a bad choice, not at all. Philip José Farmer's is The Lovers, which is actually a wise and inspired choice. The Lovers is actually a seminal work, now that I reflect upon it a moment.

Michael Bishop's Ancient of Days is a superb choice and quite surprising. It's one of those books that you can't categorize, a book that transcends the narrow constraints of genre, a book that is good science fiction, delightful fantasy and a full-bodied and thought provoking mainstream read - at the same time. And so is Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange. An obvious choice, painfully so, but a necessary one. He's written a few other science fiction novels but nothing as lasting as this one.

D.G. Compton's The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe is one of the books I haven't read but certainly shall. I've seen the movie though and it had a great impact on me. This is one of those instances where the author has nailed the future with amazing accuracy. Much to our distress. Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is one of the self-evident ones. It had to be chosen. Barry N. Malzberg's Guernica Night is another one I've managed to miss. He's a bit elusive, one doesn't come across his stuff very often. But it's always worth reading. And it always tends to be funny, dark, more than mildly deranged and mind-bogglingly amusing.

I have my doubts about Samuel R. Delany. To me he seems wildly overrated. Especially books like Nova. So that's a choice I'm not entirely happy with. Larry Niven's Ringworld, however, I do agree with wholeheartedly. Jack Vance's The Languages of Pao I've tried to get my hands on for years. I'm still trying. John Sladek's Tik-Tok was quite far-out and cutting edge for it's time but has it lasted? I certainly hope so. Connie Willis's Doomsday Book seems a little light-weight in this company. I did enjoy it, immensely. But more as an easy-reading entertainment than as a serious science fiction novel. And of course there's Orwell's 1984. Another self-evident choice and an imperative one. I can't argue with Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-five either.

Disch (The Genocides), Budrys (Rogue Moon), Spinrad (The Iron Dream), Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash), Miller (A Canticle for Leibowitz), Keyes (Flowers for Algernon) are splendid choices. In many cases I approve of the author but not the selection. Can't be helped, I suppose.

Re-reading Priest's foreword I notice that he shares my concerns in most cases. I don't know if that's good or bad. But I guess it boils down to this: a question of what one sees Science Fiction as. Is it an entertaining vehicle for space adventure and suchlike - or a serious, and I might add powerful, tool for intellectual curiosity. Is it an end in itself or a means for posing important and interesting questions? The latter, I think. But also, in a lesser and blatantly self-indulgent degree, the former. One certainly does tend to like Science Fiction just simply because it is Science Fiction.

To my dismay I find that I've read hardly any of the novels written in the '90s. Naughty me. Will have to look into it. All of them can't be rotten.

But. There's a lot missing. Where's Stapledon? Where's Douglas Adams? Where's Stanley G. Weinbaum? Where's Richard Cowper? Where's Poe? Insanity!

Another thing. The meat of the genre is more often than not in the short story. That's the best vehicle for the idea hence the entire genre. The novels, well they're mostly padded out just for profit. That's what readers want. So they get fix-ups and one-trick ponies and a lot of useless pages. A lot of science fiction novels really don't need to be novels, don't want to be novels. But still, some of them really are worth the reading, all the same, abundantly worth it. In fact, many of them.

So the problem remains. There are too many books. And, alas and alack, too many good books. Can't possibly read them all.

Oh, the misery of it all.

And, of course, reading rubbish also has its definite charms.

So I guess we're buggered both coming and going.

But if one can't read all the books one ought to read, one can at least read about them. It's something, anyway.


The Bat

Is Mary Roberts Rinehart quite forgotten or does somebody still read her today? She seems to have a somewhat bad rep, did at least when I read her sometimes in the early 80's. I found her particular brand of semi-gothic thriller rather refreshing, probably because so much time had gone by and all her horrible clichés seemed, well, almost original. "Had I but known" is the key phrase in her books, the heroine always doing something remarkably stupid and getting herself and everyone else in a mighty jam just because there's this crucial bit of information that's been withheld from her or there's something she never understood to pass on.

The Bat is a 1926 movie based on Rinehart's play (written together with Avery Hopwood), and partly on her first and best novel The Circular Staircase, set in a secluded old mansion - with a particularly nasty criminal known as The Bat looming around somewhere in the neighbourhood. An elderly lady rents the mansion from its owner, the president of the Oakdale Bank. The bank has just been robbed and the president is dead. It seems like the culprit has stashed the loot somewhere in the mansion. There are, of course, several secret passageways in the house for nocturnal creepers-about and clandestine rooms for mysterious villains to reside in.

The menagerie of the house is colourful: the elderly lady, her niece, the kooky maid, the sinister Asian butler, the crooked nephew of the president, a shady doctor, a gardener who is in reality the cashier of the bank and suspected of embezzling the money, an inept private eye, a policeman with remarkably piercing eyes, a masked figure who creeps around the house in the dark as if he owned it and a creepy dazed guy who seems to have been hit over the head with something, or maybe he's just severely unbalanced and most likely dangerous. And one of them may indeed be the much feared Bat. Must be.

And The Bat certainly is around - and he's after the money stolen from the bank. And the money is hidden somewhere in the house, in a concealed room. But nobody knows where the room is located.

What follows is action somewhat akin to the better known The Cat and the Canary (which in fact is written and filmed later than The Bat - and hence probably influenced by it), suspense, laughs, horror, claustrophobia, death - and the unmasking of the villain. Who turns out to be the policeman. In fact he's an impostor, the real policeman is the dazed fellow whom The Bat has hit over the head and whose papers he's stolen.

Now The Bat is an interesting character indeed. In the very first scene of the movie he sends a gloating note to a millionaire announcing that he's going to steal the millionaire's invaluable emeralds - and there's nothing anybody can do to stop him. The millionaire alerts the police and soon his house is bursting with boys in blue. The Bat goes ahead and steals the emeralds anyway, makes an easy getaway and leaves an acerbic taunting note written on bat-shaped paper. He's dressed in a frightening bat mask with pointy ears and wears a black cape. He scales any wall with his ingenious ropes almost as if he were flying. He has got his own bat signal - he projects a bat on the wall with a lamp to scare people.

Now of whom does this remind one?

Batman, obviously.

I'd be immensely, hugely surprised if Bob Kane hadn't seen the movie and been quite influenced by it, maybe even got his hero almost directly from it. It's clear that this is the world from which Batman stems, the world of the silent movies with their pulpish plots and theatrical characters. Indeed, many of the early adventures could be straightforward silent movie scenarios. And the Joker, for instance, is simply a comic book version of Conrad Veidt's unforgettable Gwynplaine from the 1928 The Man who Laughs by Paul Leni - physically that is. It's the same leer, the same deathlike grin. Those who've read The Black Dahlia (or even seen the pretty lacklustre movie version) will remember the movie; it has got a really ghoulish nightmarish quality to it, but it's also extremely tragic and touching.

The Bat is not a particularly good movie, even in it's own genre. It's ludicrous, none of it makes much sense at all, but it's fun. Ripping fun, actually. It was even remade twice, in 1930 as The Bat Whispers and 1959 as, again, The Bat, with no less an actor than Vincent Price.

It may be worth a mention that the director Roland West, who also did the 1930 version, gained unwelcome notoriety a few years later when he was implicated in the possible murder of his girlfriend Thelma Todd. Todd was an actress, pretty famous, as it happens, as she'd appeared in several Laurel & Hardy features, two Marx movies (Monkey Business and Horse Feathers where she played the vampish College Widow) and, this pretty much clinches it for me, in the 1931 original version of Hammett's The Maltese Falcon where she played Iva Archer, the wife/widow of Spade's unlucky partner Miles Archer. She specialised in tough, hard-as-nails blondes, and never was there a more convincing tough blond than she. Never were nails quite as hard as in her case.

The Todd murder is one of the legendary Hollywood murders and it never was solved. West was a strong suspect, but so was Lucky Luciano. It's interesting, however, to notice that West never worked in Hollywood after the Todd murder. And naturally there is supposed to be a deathbed confession, which, a bit conveniently, only surfaced some thirty years after West's death.


End Game

I came across Michael Dibdin surprisingly early. He'd published his first novel in 1978. I purchased it in 1982, a couple years after the Sphere paperback came out. I'd never heard of the man, obviously. I don't think much anybody had. He'd only written the one book and it was by no means a runaway bestseller. The reason I bought the book, the reason I had to buy it was simple. The book was called The Last Sherlock Holmes Story and it was a Sherlock Holmes pastiche.

This was back in the day when Nicholas Meyer had recently published his seminal pastiche The Seven-Per-Cent solution, and everything seemed possible. Meyer had taken a jaded, hackneyed, severely vulgarised character and made him exciting again. After that it was another game entirely. The old rules no longer applied. Anything could happen.

Dibdin went one further. His pastiche was cheeky, oh yes very cheeky indeed, it was clever - and above all it was dangerous. After all - the man had the nerve to make Sherlock Holmes not only face Jack the Ripper but be Jack the Ripper. How macabre! How absolutely refreshing and delightful!

The Last Sherlock Holmes Story quite simply altered my consciousness. I don't think I've ever fully recovered from the book. From that moment on Dibdin was a marked man. Anything he wrote I read.

Took eight years for him to follow up with another book. A Rich Full Death, while not as exciting as the first one, was still a wonderfully grotesque book. It had the poet Robert Browning as the protagonist (and possible murderer), it had a series of macabre murders, it had eerie atmosphere in spades and wit in buckets. It also began the Dibdin's long literary association with Italy.

The next one, Ratking, came out after two years. This time the protagonist was an Italian policeman called Aurelio Zen. It showed us the seamy underbelly of Italy, the Italy we all knew and suspected existed, but to the existence of which nobody would admit. Not as good a book as the two previous one, but still entertaining. The Tryst, the next novel, was short, cryptic, hard to define or even to grasp. It was polished, elegant, obscure. Maybe there was a crime, maybe there wasn't. By the end one didn't much care. Then another Zen, Vendetta. Hang on, he wasn't trying to turn this Zen chap into a serial character was he? He wasn't? I mean, that's where the money is, churning out the same book over and over again in slightly different form, that's what the readers and thus the book publishing industry wanted, but surely Dibdin was above such petty and grubby thinking? Wasn't he?

In 1991 it was time for Dirty Tricks. And what a brilliant novel that was! Dark, funny, ironic, and with the snotty and superior narrator ending up with egg on his face, justly so. Dibdin even had the cheek to let his protagonist meet an oddly familiar Thames Valley Inspector called Moss who liked doing crossword puzzles and listening to Wagner. Oh the dramatic irony of the book. Superb. This was a masterpiece.

Now there seemed to be a pattern. The Zens and the non-Zens seemed to alternate. And the Zens weren't that bad, really, once one got used to them. Cabal was quite amusing, Dead Lagoon and Cosi Fan Tutti positively splendid. In Dead Lagoon we were granted a wonderful view of Venice, Cosi Fan Tutti was a criminal opera buffa (after the fashion of Mozart's opera of the almost identical name) where impostors flourished and identities were mistook and life was just one delicious game. Here was Dibdin at his best, bubbly, sparkling, witty, ironic.

The non-Zen books, however, took a turn for the worse. The Dying of the Light and Thanksgiving were pretty bleak. Dark Spectre was a surprisingly un-Dibdinian thriller about an American religious cult with deplorable suicidal tendencies. Not bad, with many fine insights in fact, but nothing special. In America Dibdin seemed to be on alien turf, not really at home with the language or the ethos. Any number of American thriller writers could have churned out the book. For them it would have been a high point. Not so for Dibdin.

So the Zen books were the thing, then. In them one could find the old clever, bubbly Michael. Right?

Which is of course when it all went down in flames. A Long Finish was pretty boring. Bleak and boring. The next ones, Blood Rain and And Then You Die were positively depressing. It was like Dibdin was fed up with life in general and his own life in particular and the only way to fight it was to pour it all out on paper. It was like he had to take all that was dark and miserable in his soul and chuck it in his books to cope. Unfortunately the depression did not elevate the books. The depression just went in a corner and sagged there, too tired and weary to stand up and give a mighty roar.

Time perchance to kiss Dibdin off?

I never made a conscious decision to stop reading his books, to sever the connection, to finish our fruitful relationship that had lasted a good twenty years. He just faded away. There were other books, there always are other books. That's the curse and the blessing of it. I was half conscious of the fact that new books about Zen were being written and published. Sometimes I caught a glimpse of them in a bookstore. They didn't register particularly.

Then suddenly he died. In 2007, far too early.

Sometime after that I came across the penultimate Zen novel, Back to Bologna. And of course bought it. Reading it I was flabbergasted. This was the old Dibdin! The man was back on form, at the top of his game! The book was funny, clever, ironic, cheeky, bubbly - everything one expected and hoped for. The characters were lively, the plot suitably arabesque, the patter delightfully tongue-in-cheek. It was a marvel. One of the best Zens.

Of course I had to dig up the previous Zen, Medusa. While not as brilliant as Back to Bologna, it was still a splendid read. Things had definitely taken a turn for the better. The slump was over.

Then there was the last one, the posthumously published End Games. The positively last one. No more Dibdin'd to be had neither for love nor money. Kept putting it off for the longest time. Last one. Not to be wasted.

End Games is in many ways the typical Zen novel. Once more Zen has been posted in unfamiliar territory. This time he's a Questore in Calabria, as the previous fellow accidentally shot off his own toes. The Americans are making a movie in the area about The Apocalypse. Except that they aren't. They're really looking for the tomb of Alaric and the treasure buried with him. An American with the film crew is kidnapped for ransom, then savagely executed. Except that he isn't American at all but a scion of the local ruling family. Except that he isn't.

As usual identity is a shifty thing in Dibdin's world. People very often aren't what they're supposed to be, aren't even what they think they are. Dibdin again uses multiple protagonists and tells his story through them, never explaining much, not explaining much at all. The plot consists of "carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts, of accidental judgements, casual slaughters, of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause, and, in this upshot, purposes mistook fallen on th'inventor's heads", to quote old Horatio. The last thing, by the way, quite literally.

Zen manages to solve the convoluted case, after a fashion. Of course he gets bollocksed by his superiors. Well, time to go home anyway. So he gets stuck on a railway platform, temporarily unable to get home, as the trains seldom if ever run on time anymore.

The image of Zen, having accomplished his task, stuck on a platform, in a sort of limbo, unable to get home, seems haunting - like the "hail and farewell" of the author himself.

Hail and farewell, old fellow.


Mr. Holmes Goes to the Moving Pictures

I'm pretty sure I've read Chris Steinbrunner and Norman Michaels's The Films of Sherlock Holmes some years ago, but when last week I came across it window shopping I had to buy it. As a guide to Holmes movies up till 1978 (when it was published) it's fairly unbeatable, even if there's more than a bit too much attention given to the Rathbone series (which to me seems pretty much the villainous low point in Sherlockian cinema, not to put too fine a point on it). The pictures are glorious, absolutely delicious, and there are plenty of them. They make even the weak movies seem like something one definitely wants to see, nay needs to see.

The history of the Sherlockian cinema is long, if not always particularly edifying. The first Holmes movie hails from as early as 1900. It is a short short comic bit, lasting only a minute or so, called Sherlock Holmes Baffled. In it Holmes takes on a burglar who is audacious enough to break and enter into the sacred Baker Street premises. It's hardly more than a joke. Holmes corners the burglar who then, in an utterly baffling manner, disappears through the cinematic magic of stop-camera action.

In 1905 we have The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with the esteemed American actor Maurice Costello. He repeats the role in the particularly inaptly named 1908 film Sherlock Holmes and the Great Murder Mystery. In the movie Holmes solves the case by revealing that the murderer is in fact - a deranged gorilla. Poe anyone? His client is none other than his "old college chum" Dr Watson. Right. This film sounds so bizarre and ludicrous that I'd definitely want to see it.

In 1908 we get a Scandinavian Holmes - the Danish Sherlock Holmes i livesfare. In the movie Holmes faces not only Moriarty but Raffles as well. Other Danish films follow, Denmark being one of the early super powers of silent film. In 1915 there's a German Holmes movie (bit odd that actually, when one thinks of it, Germany being in a war against England) Der Hund von Baskervilles. Maybe the first movie version of the novel? Other German films follow.

The first British movies seem not to have survived. Georges Treville played Holmes in eight films. Most of them apparently based on the Canon.

The American William Gillette is of course the Sherlock Holmes of the turn of the century. He was a distinguished actor but also an extremely successful playwright whose play Sherlock Holmes (1905) pretty much moulded how Holmes was viewed in those days. He even got the Conanical seal of approval for his treatment of the great detective. When he asked for permission to marry Holmes in the play, Doyle's legendarily nonchalant reply was: "You may marry him, or murder or do what you like with him." Carte blanche. At that point Doyle was so fed up with Holmes he just didn't care.

I wonder. Had Doyle's reply been less nonchalant, would Holmes's cinematic fate have been less degrading? Would he, in the subsequent movies, have received a less cavalier treatment?

It was inevitable that the hugely popular Gillette play be turned into a movie. This happened in 1916. The movie was called, plainly, Sherlock Holmes, with Gillette of course in the title role. Sadly, like so many other early silents, it's lost. At the time Gillette was no less than 63. Perhaps a bit long in the tooth to play Holmes? But maybe not entirely past it?

The English Eille Norwood enters the picture in 1921. He too, at the time, is almost in his sixties. But still seems to be able to pull off the role. Between 1921 and 1923 he makes no less than forty-seven films, most of them long destroyed. In the stills he looks quite impressive: lean, brooding, imperial, haughty, beak-nosed and hatchet-profiled - quite the aloof calculating machine. The scripts follow the Canon closely.

The films are short, only 20 minutes a piece, which was probably a good thing. There was no need to invent any extra action for Holmes or unnecessarily convolute the plot, it was quite sufficient to follow the short story in question - it was a perfect fit. As the films were presented in three blocks of fifteen films each - The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Last Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - they seem to have been a precursor of the television series. Furthermore two longer features were filmed: The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1922 and The Sign of Four in 1923.

Norwood (what a good Canonical name he has!) took his brief with the utmost seriousness. "My idea of Holmes is that he is absolutely quiet. Nothing ruffles him but he is a man who intuitively seizes on points without revealing that he has done so, and nurses them up with complete inaction until the moment when he is called upon to exercise his wonderful detective powers. Then he is like a cat - the person he is after is the only person in all the world, and he is oblivious of everything else till his quarry is run to earth."

He also seems to have been quite the master of disguise. Like Holmes Norwood spent many an hour perfecting his disguises, inventing new methods and devices, and many of his disguises (if the stills are anything to go by) really are quite impressive.

In the book Steinbrunner and Michaels note that most of Norwood's films are falling apart, reel by reel, frame by frame, and urgently need restoration. This was in 1978. I wonder how many films are intact and in perfect viewing condition today, thirty years later?

Then in 1922 it was time to film Gillette's play a second time. Again with the plain title Sherlock Holmes. Now John Barrymore of the famed acting dynasty donned the deerstalker and trusted meerschaum. Interesting choice. I'm not entirely convinced of his greatness as an actor, not as a movie actor anyway, as he's always hamming it up for dear life, though I must admit he's pretty good in Cukor's Romeo and Juliet as Mercutio (which obviously is the perfect choice for a dedicated ham). I haven't seen the film. In the pictures he looks quite convincing - and one must bear in mind that Gillette's Holmes is indeed a romantic hero and the play ends in Holmes proposing to the heroine. The film ends with Holmes shooting off on a honeymoon with his blushing bride. So probably the young Barrymore (young? he's forty actually, but looks far more youthful) is a fine choice in this instance. In the pictures the most interesting thing of the film would be the Moriarty of Gustav von Seyffertitz - who's made up as a protosimian, something primeaeval that's escaped from Doyle's Lost World, a truly ghastly and atavistically terrifying creature. Though, perhaps, not very much to do with Doyle's original creation.

The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1929) gives us the first Holmes, the very British Clive Brook, of the sound era. The film is directed by Basil Dean and based on the short story The Dying Detective. Based? Well sort of. In the movie Holmes dashes to the rescue of Watson's grown-up daughter and Moriarty and his dastardly sidekick Colonel Moran are up to their old tricks again (this time Moriarty heads an international "radio-tapping ring"- with "super criminals using the illicit information to plot huge capers"!). The whole thing takes place on a plush modern ocean liner. So no, it's not really a totally faithful rendition of the Doyle original. Another one I haven't seen. Well worth a look, it sounds like.

Brook, whom one remembers best from Sternberg's movies (he was Marlene Dietrich's love interest in the superb Shanghai Express), did another Holmes film in 1932. This was Sherlock Holmes , the third film version of the Gillette play. Again it's wedding bells for old Sherlock. Watson is played by Reginald Owen.

In 1931 it's time for a different Holmes. This Holmes is a very modern Holmes. Away with the deerstalker, away with the calabash. "Curiously, the house number is not 221B but 107, and there are other far more startling changes as well. Baker Street is "computerized" - in a 1931 version of up-to-the-minute efficiency. The anteroom to Holmes's study is filled with secretaries, stenographers, intercoms and automated filing systems." When Watson comes with the details of the case Holmes informs him that the entire discussion has been recorded over an intercom.

The film is called The Speckled Band and as Holmes we have the Canadian born Raymond Massey. The villain, Rylott (sic), is played by Lyn Harding, later a hissing and particularly hammy Moriarty in the Wontner series. It seems odd to have such a super modern Baker Street clashing with the very eerie atmosphere of the country manor where the villainy takes place - this is after all one of Doyle's most poignantly Gothic tales. Apparently the director Jack Raymond pulls it off quite nicely. Another film I'd dearly like to see.

1931 also gives yet another version of The Hound of the Baskervilles. This time it's pudgy Robert Rendel who plays Sherlock. Rendel doesn't look entirely wrong for the part, he does indeed bear a certain resemblance to the legendary Paget drawings, but he's far too stocky to convince. And, what's far worse, he looks sedentary and middle-aged. That won't do for Holmes who must look alert and ageless, however old he is. The most interesting thing about this film might be that the dialogue is by Edgar Wallace.

Arthur Wontner begins his stint as Sherlock in 1931 (a plentiful year that) with Sherlock Holmes' Fatal Hour. He goes on to make four more Holmes movies.

Then 1933 it's A Study in Scarlet with Reginald Owen, who played Watson in Brook's Sherlock Holmes the year before - making him the only fellow to do them both.

And after Wontner and Owen it's Basil Rathbone. His first movie, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) isn't actually bad. It is in fact quite good, if one can faze out that infernal idiot Nigel Bruce. (I don't like Nigel Bruce. I really don't like him. He's a living insult to Watson and Doyle, a slap in the face of every true Sherlockian.) And the interesting thing about it, the positively revolutionary thing about it is - it is set in the past, it's a Victorian period piece. This is quite amazing. They'd been doing Holmes on the silver screen for forty years and this is the first Victorian Holmes movie.

Now when one thinks about it a little further it isn't so odd after all. When they started doing the films Holmes was still active. He was a contemporary character, and remained so for almost thirty years. He did his bit in the Great War, as can be read in His Last Bow. The last collection of short stories, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, came out in 1927. Small wonder then that Holmes wasn't seen as an exclusively or even primarily Victorian character.

The second Rathbone entry, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, also 1939, was another period movie. Then it changed. The first two movies were produced by Twentieth Century Fox. The next twelve movies were produced by Universal. They had the bright idea to modernize Holmes, have him fight the Nazis. And what rubbish most of the movies are. Blimey. What utter rubbish. The angels weep.


A Will by Any Other Name

What is Shakespeare's name? It certainly doesn't seem to be "Shakespeare", or very rarely, at least if one goes by the contemporary Elizabethan and Jacobean documentation. Bernard Shaw always spelt it without the last "e", "Shakespear", after the 18th century fashion.

The man himself ought to know, surely. However, as far as we know, William only ever signed his name upon six occasions. Three of the signatures are in his will. There he signs his name twice as "Shakspere" and once as "Shakspeare". His other signatures are "Shakspe" (with a wavy line on the "e", actually, but I don't seem to be able to reproduce it here, more's the pity), twice, and "Shaksp".

This seems to indicate that, however the name is spelt, the first part of it is pronounced with a short and rustic "a", with a similar "a" as that in shack or back, instead of the longer and more genteel "a" in shake or take. And it seems highly probable the last part was pronounced with a short, almost semi-glottal "e".

In the official documents there is a plethora of inventive spelling variations. F.E. Halliday's A Shakespeare Companion 1564-1964 gives the following list: 1564 (christening) Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakspere; 1582 (betrothal) Wm Shaxpere; a day later and another parrish the delightful and faintly ribald William Shagspere; 1582 (christening of daughter Susannah) William Shakespeare; 1585 (christening of Hamnet and Judith) William Shakspere; 1594 (paid for court performances) Willm Shakespeare; 1596 (burial of Hamnet) William Shakspere; again 1596 (the cryptic William Wayte writ) Willelmum Shakspere; 1597 (buying a house) Willielmus Shakespeare; same year (tax dodging) William Shackspere; 1598 (corn hoarding) Wm. Shackespere; again 1598 (Frances Meres writing in his diary) "mellifluous & honey-tongued Shakespeare"; again 1598 (Stratford Chamber Account) Shakespeare and Shaxspere; 1599 (Globe ownership) William Shakespeare; 1599 again (defaulting on a debt) Willelmus Shakespeare; yet again 1599 (and the same debt) Willelmus Shakspeare.

On to the new century: 1600 (Stationer's register) "Wrytten by Master Shakespere"; same year (debt again) Willelmus Shakspeare; 1601 (will) "Anne Shaxspere, wyf unto Mr Wyllyam Shaxspere"; 1602 (purchasing land) William Shakespere; again 1602 (securing a warranty) Willielmus Shakespeare; 1603 (receiving Royal Licence) William Shakespeare; 1604 (supplying red cloth for royal coronation) William Shakespeare; again 1604 (court case) Willielmus Shexpere; same year (property survey) William Shakespere; 1605 (will) William Shakespeare; same year (transaction) William Shakespeare; 1606 (property survey) Willielmus Shakespere; 1607 (marriage of daughter) Shaxpere; 1608 (becoming a share-holder in the Blackfriar's theatre) Willelmus Shakespeare; 1609 (court case) Willielmus Shackspeare; same year (burial of mother) "Mayry Shaxspere wydow"; 1610 (property business) Willielmus Shakespere; 1611 (bill of complaint) "William Shackspere, gentleman"; again 1611 (contributing towards prosecuting a bill in parliament) William Shackspere; same year (lease of a barn) Mr Shaxper; 1613 (will) William Shackspere; same year (purchasing a house) William Shakespeare; also 1613 (receiving payment) Mr Shakspeare; 1615 (bill of complaint) Willyam Shakespere; 1616 (marriage of daughter) Shakspere; same year (burial) Will Shakspere, gent.

While there are some "Shakespeares" in the lot they really aren't that plentiful. Most of them appear in documents from London and the theatrical circles. The more official and pompous the occasion, the more likely that his name is spelt "Shakespeare". To his actor friends he is mostly "Shackspere" or "Shakspere". Back home the spelling is consistently erratic with such gems as "Shagspere", "Shaxper", "Shaxpere" and "Shaxspere". Not to forget the pearl "Shexpere"!

Then there is the published work. The first publications are poems: Venus and Adonis in 1593 and The Rape of Lucrece in 1594. In the first volume there is no name on the title page but in the dedication the poet signs his name as William Shakespeare. (Or actually, the second "s" is a long and narrow Germanic "s" of the old-fashioned variety.) The same is true of the second volume.

In 1598 the first play Love's Labour's Lost is published with Shakespeare's name on the title page (there have been several anonymous quartos). The spelling is the regular one of today: "Shakespeare". The 1603 edition of Hamlet, however, the infamous Bad Quarto, has Shakespeare's name spelt on the title page as "Shake-speare" with an unnecessary and really quite inexplicable hyphen. Next it's more poetry. The sonnets come out in 1609. Again Shakespeare's name is spelt with a hyphen. The hyphen recurs in John Webster's 1612 Quarto The White Devil where Webster, in a preface, writes about "the copious industry of M. Shake-speare". (Though my Penguin English Library edition of The White Devil looses the hyphen. This is a particular problem with modern editions - they tinker with spelling blast them!)

Before the Folio of 1623 there are about thirty quartos published with the author's name on the title page. In about half of the volumes his name is spelt with the hyphen, "William Shake-speare". (The King Lear edition of 1608 has the name, curiously, as "Shak-speare".)

What is the significance of the hyphen? Why does it suddenly appear on the title pages, out of nowhere as it were? The Anti-Strafordians have a pat answer: the hyphen is there to signify that the name "William Shake-spear" is in fact no real name but rather a pseudonym. And meant to be understood as a pseudonym or nome de plume. Spelt like that it does indeed smack of one.

But if so, then why isn't it on every title page? And why isn't it there from the start: why, one wonders, were the earliest Shakesperean volumes as by "William Shakespeare" and not "William Shake-speare"? And why do both versions (including the slightly bizarre "Shakes-speare") peacefully coexist in the prefaratory material of the Folio?

It is well known that spelling was a very personal matter in the 16th and 17th centuries, most names were spelt by ear and were therefore at the mercy of the clerk in question. Most names, it seems, had no commonly accepted spellings. Not unless they were really noble and not always then. Quirky variations were no exception, a shaky grasp of the language never a rarity.

But it does seem to me that all the misspellings cannot be purely aleatory. There are so many of them and there would seem to be some method in the madness. In fact I believe that there are certain higly interesting patterns in the misspellings of Shakespeare's name. Patterns that might reveal quite fascinating things about the man and the author.

One thing is certain: the pronunciation of "Shakespeare" or "Shake-speare" is huguely different from that of "Shakspere" or "Shaxspere". Is that merely due to gentrification? Surely, if the name is spelt by ear, the forms are not interchangeable? Not even in those erratic days? Or is it all a matter of rustic northern spelling versus citified southern spelling?

At the moment the name is yet another unsolved mystery in the conundrum that is William Shakespeare. As if there weren't enough of those without it.


The Author is Sick

In 1959 Anthony Burgess received his death sentence. A year was what he had left, at the most.

He'd been in the Colonial Service for years, teaching English to the dark-hued natives of the East, finally ending up in Brunei. He wasn't a particularly happy man at the time. His wife was an alcoholic and chronically promiscuous to boot. He'd written a few novels and published three of them, unsuccessfully. They hadn't sold terribly well but they had been noticed: he was being sued for slander. That didn't look too promising. He and his wife, especially she, had caused quite a stir in the colonial circles and nobody really wanted him there. They particularly didn't like his wife barking abuse at the visiting Prince of Edinburgh. Or her getting blind drunk and trying to fight a rajah. The clouds were gathering and one day he snapped. He was teaching class and the fans in the classroom weren't working, there was a cobra looming somewhere on the premises and he was fed up with it all.

"At the end of the lesson I felt I had also come to the end of my tether. A great deal of tension had been building up - a dissatisfied wife, a libel action, Australians who called me a pommy bastard, a disordered liver, dyspepsia and dyspnoea which morning drops of Axe oil did nothing to alleviate, a very large measure of simple frustration. I had done my best; could do no more; let other agencies take over. I lay on the classroom floor and closed my eyes."

He was carried to the local hospital where he was examined. He felt fine but remained passive. His head was X-rayed. Upon which he was sent back to England. That was the end of his colonial career which is what he wanted. But of course, now that it was actually happening he didn't want to return to England.

In England there were further tests. The result: he had an inoperable brain tumour.


What to do? His first concern was his wife. There was no money, absolutely none. But he had a year. In one year's time he'd be able to write a bunch of novels, which is what he wanted to do anyway, and she'd have the money from them after he was gone. Not much perhaps but it was better than nothing. And what else could he do? There was nothing else.

"I sighed and put paper in the typewriter. 'I'd better start,' I said. And I did."

He had a plan. Write 2000 words polished text a day, every day, and you were set. Absolutely in the clover. The brilliant thing was that one could do it early in the day, before the pubs opened, and then spend the rest of the day getting gloriously plastered.

So he started. It was January 1960. He wrote the first novel, The Doctor is Sick, in six weeks. It was a light-hearted comedy with darker undercurrents, based on his time in the hospitals and the people he met there. He started another, Inside Mr. Enderby, about a poet who for some reason can only write his poetry in the bathroom, when his wife attempted suicide. Clearly the marriage wasn't going too well.

Inside Mr. Enderby was finished in late June. He was a bit behind. He calculated he needed to write five novels within the year. But he doubted his capacity to produce even four. A novel he'd written earlier, The Right to an Answer was published. His wife made another suicide attempt. His publisher wanted more. He gave them a book rejected some six years previously, The Worm and the Ring. This time it passed muster. He wrote a novella, The Eve of Saint Venus.

What else. He needed a new novel. Quick, quick. But he had nothing. He started scrounging classics: Flaubert's Salammbo, John Ford's Jacobean play 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. But every idea seemed not to work. "In despair I typed a new title - A Clockwork Orange - and wondered what story might match it. I had always liked the Cockney expression and felt there might be a meaning in it deeper than a metaphor of, not necessarily sexual, queerness. Then a story began to stir."

It was to be about the new and bizarre youth culture that had sprouted while he was abroad, the violent gangs called the Edwardian Strutters or Teddy boys. The gist of the novel was a personal incident. During the war his wife Lynne was savagely assaulted by four American deserters, causing her to miscarry and very nearly die. This was the primary cause of her alcoholism and erratic, often deranged behaviour. The book was to be about violence, but with a solid theological backbone. And very stylised with a language all its own. It was to be set in the future. He started it. There was still something missing. He didn't finish it.

The Doctor is Sick was published in the autumn. Before Christmas he delivered a new manuscript to his publisher, One Hand Clapping.

Then it was suddenly 1961 and he wasn't dead. He thought he might want to become a teacher again. Writing novels clearly wasn't bringing in enough dosh. He started a new novel, a science fiction thingy called The Wanting Seed, loosely based on the Ford play. And finished it.

He and his wife took a trip to Russia. That's when A Clockwork Orange finally clicked and he got his missing piece: the mock Russian teen lingo Nadsat. The book came out in 1962.

And it seemed he wasn't dying after all. Unlike his wife who was slowly but surely drinking herself to death.

In his recent biography The Real Life of Anthony Burgess Andrew Biswell sheds light on the curious events surrounding Burgess's impending demise. There never seems to have been an official or rather conclusive diagnosis. At one time it might have looked as if there was a tumour. On the other hand Burgess was never told anything definite by the doctors. When he was released from the hospital he was supposed to have more tests. He never went.

And this is the really interesting bit. He was told he had an inoperable brain tumour, not by any doctor, but by his wife Lynne. She opened the envelope entrusted to her, the envelope containing the Brunei doctor's X-rays and preliminary diagnosis. She read his notes. She told Burgess.

Could she have gotten it wrong?

Could she have lied?

Well, yes.

Could Burgess even have made that bit up?

Again, yes.

The story as I've recounted it is in Burgess's autobiography in two parts: Little Wilson and Big God and You've Had Your Time. But he's told it in several different versions, depending on where he told it or when. It seems to vary wildly. Biswell pricks many holes in the account Burgess gives in the autobiography. Several facts are flawed or even quite erroneous.

Faulty memory? A gifted writer of fiction at work?

But it's a good story. Problem is, perhaps a bit too good to be quite credible.


Plum Movies

I had absolutely no idea that the early Wodehouse novel Piccadilly Jim (1918) had been turned into a film. Well it had and as recently as 2004 by director John McKay. The script was by actor and writer Julian Fellowes, the chap who penned Altman's Gosford Park a few years back.

In fact, IMDB informs me that this wasn't the first time the novel had been filmed. They did it in 1936 (Robert Z. Leonard, with - not so promisingly - Robert Montgomery as Jim) and even as early as 1919 (Wesley Ruggles). Curious.

The relations between Wodehouse and the cinema were always a bit strained. They'd been doing his stuff on the silver screen since the 1915 film A Gentleman of Leisure which was based on his play. By 1950 around thirty of his texts (plays, short stories, novels) had been filmed. Basically they seem to have been fodder, all of them pretty much forgotten, and justly so.

The Wodehouse films best remembered might be Her Cardboard Lover (1942) - based on a play only adapted by Wodehouse - by George Cukor with Norma Shearer, Robert Taylor and George Sanders, and George Stevens's re-do of A Damsel in Distress (1937) which had precious little to do with the original novel. Damsel is still quite a good film but not thanks to Wodehouse but the splendid cast: Fred Astaire, Joan Fontaine, George Burns and the simply brilliant Gracie Allen. During the '40s not much Wodehouse was filmed. Then along came Television and his stuff was in great demand once again and continued to be so for several decades. The latest Wodehouse venture worth a mention was Jeeves & Wooster (1990-93) by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.

The films and the TV stuff all seems to have one thing in common. There's never much Wodehouse in them. Oh the characters might be called Bertie Wooster or Emsworth, the plots and situations might well follow Wodehouse's original texts, yet something is always missing. The spark, the soul, the Wodehousian spirit. That which makes him unique.

They always get it wrong.

Wodehouse's magic lies in his language. As simple as that. Film makers or TV people never ever seem to grasp just how well and delicately crafted his language is, how finely tuned it is, how it all hangs together and paints the picture with vivid colours. It's like a clockwork. They only concentrate on plot and character, which in his case are secondary, dare I say clichéd, and loose the quintessence of the text. The language elevates the text. It's like music. The plots, though they often are breath-takingly virtuoso like preformances, still never have much importance as we always know how it all will end in the end.

Wodehouse ought to be handled with the same respect and delicacy as Shakespeare because his most important qualities are exactly the same as those of the Bard (whose collected works, by the way, never left his bedside table).

(But of course film and TV people almost always get him wrong too.)

Wodehouse's language, the rhythms and the patterns, the quirky images, must be given priority in any adaptation. Otherwise it cannot but fail and fail spectacularly. The characters are what they say. They are their lines. If their lines are rubbish then so are they.

Then there's another problem. It's not that hard to get the lines right. But how do you incorporate the narrative, the beautiful and funny and lyrical and inventive descriptions on film? That's the real clincher. Without the narrative, without the descriptions the whole story is indeed one-dimensional and utterly emasculated.

Maybe that's why Wodehouse's own plays, the little I've read them, always seem a bit boring. There's never any meat in them, just the bones of the plot. And that isn't enough.

And here I must hasten to add that the Fry-Laurie series is about as good as they come. I cannot imagine anything closer to perfection when it comes to a Wodehouse adaptation. They understand what it's all about and just get it right. Though I do have certain reservations. Jeeves would never dress in a woman's clothes or jump off an ocean liner, he simply wouldn't. But I'll let that slide, just this once.

But by and large, Wodehouse and the film industry never have seen eye to eye.

As evidenced by Wodehouse's stint in Hollywood. Oh yes, in the early 1930s he did his bit in Hollywood, like many another honest and gullible novelist and playwright. Samuel Goldwyn made him an offer. Wodehouse didn't want to go so he asked for a ridiculously large sum of money, fully expecting to be turned down. He wasn't. It was simply too much money to turn down. So he had to heed the sugary siren songs of a large film company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, sign on the dotted line and move to California. There he at once faced a problem. They paid him large sums of money but they didn't let him work. He'd ask for work, beg for work, but they gave him nothing to do. Nothing but sit around his house - Norma Shearer's actually - and wait. So all day he just sunned himself at his pool, idling away the days sipping drinks and reading the evening papers. What he wrote was his own stuff basically, short stories and the like. Nothing he was actually paid to write.

This pained him a great deal because he was used to earning his money fair and square. These fellows paid him enormous sums and he did nothing to earn it. It just wasn't right. He felt almost a cad accepting their money under false pretenses. $2500 a week - a huge sum!

Sometimes they gave him assignments. And he wrote. Nothing, however, was produced. But fortunately his contract was only for six months. Unfortunately there was an option and MGM used it. So he had to stay on for another six dreary months. He wrote some more. Nothing was used. Ever. Contract ended. Finally. Well and good.

Then came the interview.

This is how Wodehouse's old friend Bill Townend describes it in Performing Flea: "Although his contract had lapsed the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer people rang Plum up one day to ask if he would give an interview to a woman reporter from the Los Angeles Times. Plum said he would be delighted. The woman reporter duly arrived and was received by Plum politely and cheerfully. She asked Plum how he liked Hollywood. Plum said amiably that he liked Hollywood and its inhabitants immensely; he said how much he had enjoyed his stay and added, to fill in time and make conversation before the interview proper began, that his one regret was he had been paid such an enormous sum of money without having done anything to earn it. And that was that." (Plum, by the way, is Wodehouse's nickname.)

This caused an enormous scandal in Hollywood and almost toppled the entire film industry. How come people were paid so much for doing nothing? Everyone was livid, banks and other financial backers were enraged, studios were horrified. This was after all immediately after the great depression of 1929 and money was tight. If the ordinary moviegoer was disgusted by the spending policy of the studios, this might have disastrous consequences, they might not want to go to the movies at all as a protest. No. The spending had to cease. It clearly couldn't go on. And it didn't. Studios started to cut costs, the industry underwent a complete economic metamorphosis. The days of the plentiful cornucopia were over. No more money for free.

And all for something Wodehouse blurted out trying to make pleasant small talk.

After that Wodehouse was not the best beloved fellow in certain quarters. He quickly moved back to England and then to France. (Which is where inadvertedly and through a certain naïveté on his part, during the war, he caused his other cataclysmic scandal - but that's another story entirely!)

Still, he did get something out of Hollywood - a suite of short stories called The Mulliners of Hollywood (published in the collection Blandings Castle, 1935), superbly describing the asinine conventions and incredibly ineffective and immeasurably idiotic mechanisms of Hollywood. Very funny indeed, I might add.

But back to Piccadilly Jim. The movie, that is. In many ways it's a pleasant surprise: the sets are opulent and colourful, the art decoish fantasy world (though ostensibly London and New York in 1930) visually splendid, the cast (Sam Rockwell, Frances O'Connor, Tom Wilkinson, Brenda Blethyn, Hugh Bonneville, Pam Ferris) excellent, the anachronisms deliberate and delicious (who wouldn't love Soft Cell's Tainted Love or Joy Division's Love will tear Us Apart as smooth night club or cool jazz versions?). At the same time it is wildly overproduced and vastly underwritten. There is freshness and energy, the pacing is furious, the twists and turns of the plot come by and large as and where they ought to; yet it never feels Wodehousian. Nice movie as such but not really much at all to do with good old Sir Pelham Grenville and his works.

It did however make me want to re-read Piccadilly Jim, post-haste. Digging out my old copy I find that I don't seem to have (re-)read it since 1990, when I purchased my delightfully orange Herbert Jenkins Piccadilly Jim (twenty-second printing) at one of the finer purveyors of second hand literature in town. Wodehouse is one of those writers one re-reads constantly. And as he hasn't produced much lately there's really no alternative. Either one re-reads or one doesn't read at all. Fortunately his books just get better with each new reading.

Post Sriptum:
John McKay seems to have directed a couple of quite interesting movies for TV. I'd dearly love to see A Waste of Shame: The Mystery of Shakespeare and His Sonnets, as well as Reichenbach Falls. The latter is about a one hundred year old murder mystery and obviously there is a Holmes and Doyle connection, as the name clearly implies. And the fascinating Dr. Bell seems to be included in the cast of players as well, which is nice. The script is based on a short story by Ian Rankin called Acid Test. It isn't included in either of his short story collections. I wonder where it was published and where I could lay my hands on it.


Pelin henki

Turussa suljettiin äskettäin kaksi sivukirjastoa. Koska Helsingissä totta kai ollaan suurempia, mahtavampia ja kaikin puoin parempia, kuinkas muuten, täällä ollaan sulkemassa viittä sivukirjastoa: Pitäjänmäkeä, Tapulikaupunkia, Puistolaa, Pukinmäkeä ja Vallilaa. Siitäpäs saavat Turkulaiset. Mitä nekin luulee olevansa.

Ja ihan vaan varmuuden vuoksi sunnitellaan vielä kahden muunkin sivukirjaston, Malminkartanon ja Roihuvuoren, sulkemista. Jotta jäävät turkulaiset taatusti toiseksi. Kulosaaren sivukirjasto on suljettu homevaurioiden takia ja sitä tuskin ollaan enää avaamassa. Siitähän saadaan jo suljettujen sivukirjastojen määräksi kahdeksan, mikä on ihan mukava määrä. Siihen turkulaiset nyt ei ainakaan pysty - tuskin niillä edes on kahdeksaa sivukirjastoa.

No tuskinpa meilläkään, ainakaan kovin kauan.

Uutisen lukeminen sai minut ajattelemaan turkulaisen Harri Kumpulaisen absurdien tarinoiden kokoelmassa Pelin henki esiintyvää Porakone-tarinaa. Tarina on muuten julkaistu myös Kirjastokirja-kokoelmassa - joka sattumoisin syntyi vastalauseena juuri Turun sulkemisille. Turun kirjamessuille Kumpulainen ja Kirjastokirjan toinen tekijä Kari J. Kettula pystyttivät hirthehisen kirjastonäyttelyn. Se oli totta kai pelkkä tyhjä tila.

"Kirjastonhoitaja oli ikääntymisensä myötä ruvennut epäilemään kirjojen tarpeellisuutta. Kirjoja oli jo niin paljon, ja monen sorttisia, että mitenkään eivät voineet kaikki olla välttämättömiä, eivät edes jotenkin tarpeellisia. Tarpeettomia kirjoja täytyi olla paljon enemmän kuin mitä hyvän ja jouhevan elämisen kannalta oli välttämätöntä."

Joten: "Kun epäilys oli juolahtanut kirjastonhoitajan mieleen, ei hän saanut sitä karistettua pois, vaikka yrittämällä yritti."

Mahdollisesti sama salakavala epäilys on hiipinyt rakkaan kaupunkimme viisaiden johtajien mieleen?

"Epäilys johti lopulta tekoon. Mielen rauhaa saadakseen kirjastonhoitaja poisti hyllyistä muutaman kaikista vanhimman kirjan, semmoisen joiden selkä oli jo kovettunut käppyrään, ja sivut rempsottivat irti sitomossa neulotuista langoistaan. Kovin suurta rakoa ei hyllyihin tullut. Poistamansa kirjat kirjastonhoitaja vei salaa roskapussissa kirjastotalon roskalaatikkoon."

Paperinkeräyslaatikkoon kirjoja ei voinut laittaa, ei tietenkään, sieltä olisi vaikka joku spurgu voinut dyykata ne ja viedä divariin.

"Lopulta yksi ja toinen asiakas havaitsi, että hyllyillä oli alkanut olla kirjoilla väljät tilat. Muutama asiakas ihmetteli asiaa kirjastonhoitajalle. 'Kirjaston budjetti', selitti kirjastonhoitaja, 'Ei tämmöiseen sivukirjastoon kannata tuoda kirjoja enää, vanhojakin jo siirrellään toisiin, isompiin kirjastoihin. Etpä sinäkään niitä kaipaa, aina kun käyt roikut vain netissä, tuolla perällä tietokonesalin puolella."

Luonnollisesti nälkä kasvaa syödessä. Hyllyt pitää saada kokonaan tyhjiksi. Mutta ei sekään riitä.

"Hyllyjen lopulta kokonaan tyhjennyttyä kirjastonhoitaja koki hetken tyydytystä hyvin suoritetusta työstä. Jotakin oli vielä tekemättä silti, aavisteli kirjastonhoitaja, jotakin poistettavaa vielä on. Kolme päivää kirjastonhoitaja mietti, ennen kuin keksi. Koko kirjasto oli poistettava. Sen poistaminen olisikin jo isompi urakka, ajatteli kirjastonhoitaja, kirjahuoneet eivät millään mahtuisi roskalaatikkoihin, vaikka käyttäisi kaikkia, maaduntajätteenkin laatikkoa, poistamiseen."

Onneksi tarinalla on onnellinen loppu. Viereisen huoneiston kauppias tulee kysymään saako laajentaa liikettänsä tyhjään kirjastoon ja kohta on kirjasto täynnä porakonetta ja muuta tuiki tarpeellista työkalua.

"Edes se, että pakettien sisällä oli vehkeitten käyttökirjaset, ei niitä rumentanut. Ja onneksi, kertoi kauppias, oli ne kaikki painettu kiinan tai korean kielillä. Semmoisia ei kukaan koskaan pyrkisi lukemaan.

Helsingissä onnellinen loppu on helppo ennustaa. Kun sivukirjasto on saatu suljettua niin mihin sitä pääkirjastoakaan tarvitaan?

Se on pelin henki se.

Mutta totta kai se uusi hieno, monumentaalisen mykistävä keskustakirjasto pitää silti rakentaa. Eihän sinne kirjoja mahtuisikaan kun tulee niitä tietokoneita ja totta kai sauna, eikä suksien ja kävelysauvojenkaan lainauspistettä sovi unohtaa.

Alberto Manguel siteeraa kirjassaan The Library at Night kolmisen tuhatta vuotta vanhaa opusta Kaksoisvirran maasta. Kirjassa esiintyvä rukous tahi loitsu kuulu vapaasti suomentaen kutakuinkin näin: "Siunatkoon Ishtar sitä lukijaa joka ei muuta tätä taulua eikä siirrä sitä väärään paikkaan kirjastossa, ja kirotkoon Hän sen joka rohkenee viedä taulun pois kirjastosta."

Vaan missä on Ishtar nyt kun Häntä kaikkein kipeiten tarvittaisiin?


Rienzi, 1945

In 1908 Richard Wagner's third opera Rienzi, der Letzte der Tribune was put on in Linz. This production, though as such it wasn't earth-shattering in artistic significance or otherwise, nevertheless was to have grave and unforseen consequenses in world history.

It was literally to change the world.

The Linz performance was attended by a certain August Kubizek, a man whom by and large history has forgotten. Herr Kubizek was a musician and an avid Wagnerian. At that time he lived in great squalor in a "gloomy, bug-ridden back room" in Vienna. With him at the theatre he had his room mate, an awkward provincial youth of nineteen who knew nothing of Wagner. The youth's musical taste was rather less refined, vulgar even. What he loved was Lehár and especially The Merry Widow. When he whistled it was most often the cheerful and delightful ditty "I'm off to Chez Maxime". In his daydreams he was the dashing Danilo, beloved and adored and coveted by every woman in the land. In reality women would have nothing to do with him.

Lehár, Kubizek thought, what tosh! But there's more to music than that, Kubizek thought. Music can be a mighty force, a force to be reckoned with. It can be philosophy. It can show us the way. It can change us beyond recognition. It veritably can give us a reason to live. Therefore Kubizek took it upon himself to educate his young friend. The most important thing was to teach him about Wagner.

Hence Linz and Rienzi.

"It was at that moment it all began", the youth reminisced thirty years later in Bayreuth. It was when Rienzi sang: "But if you choose me as the protector/ of the people's given right's,/ then you may look back upon your forebears,/ and see me as the people's tribune!" Whereupon the people reply: "Rienzi, hail to you, the people's tribune!"

The youth was called Adolf Hitler.

Wagner became his god and Rienzi became the opera for him. It was the Rienzi overture that opened the Nuremberg Rallys, by Der Führer's insistence. When Robert Ley, head of the Labour Front DAF (Deutsche Arbeitsfront) and the leisure organization KdF or Kraft durch Freude, suggested the piece be substituted with something slightly more modern, something more "National Socialist" in tone and appeal, Hitler became quite livid. "You know, Ley, it's not accidental that the Party Rally always opens with the overture from Rienzi. It's not just a musical question. By invoking the splendours of the Imperial past, this son of a small inn-keeper succeds, at 24 years of age, in persuading the Roman people to drive out the corrupt Senate. It was while listening as a young man to this divinely blessed music in the theatre of Linz that the inspiration came to me that I was likewise destined to unite the German Reich and make it great."

The libretto of Rienzi, though from a historical novel by Bulwer-Lytton, is based on a true story from the 14th century. Cola di Rienzi is a modestly born fellow who becomes a tribune, brings down the rule of the aristocracy, defies the Church and becomes the de facto ruler of Rome. Then things start going against him and in the opera both the aristocracy and the mob, egged on by ecclesiastical powers, turn on him. He seeks refuge in the Capitol but the mob sets fire to it and in the end he is buried in a sea of flames amid collapsing stone walls.

It's quite easy to see why young Adolf was drawn to the story. He and no one else was Rienzi. It was his holy mission - nay fate - to unite and purify Germany and make the Vaterland mighty once more. From then on that was his single goal in life, that and nothing else.

I wonder, would Hitler ever have become so obsessed with his mission or fate had he never seen Rienzi or encountered the opera at a later and far less impressionable age? Would that have made a great difference in historical terms? Would Nazism perhaps never have been born, or more likely, adopted a far less rabid and contagious form? I wonder. Maybe.

If so: Cheers, Kubizek, nice one.

Hitler's career does in fact parallel Rienzi's career in an eerie fashion. They have roughly the same humble background, the same metoric rise, the same power over the masses. They are both frighteningly, alarmingly beloved by their almost mesmerized people. The end is particulalry eerie. Rienzi meets his in the burning collapsing Capitol, Hitler his in the burning bombed Berlin bunker; both surrounded by the enemy, both having lost the favour and adoration of the people.

In the end Hitler wanted as much death and destruction as possible. If his dream failed to materialize then everything deserved to be destroyed. If his people failed him in the end then they deserved to be destroyed. Only his fate mattered, nothing else. Because his fate was Germany's fate.

There's an interesting footnote about the end. When once it became clear that Germany would be defeated and his dream was not to be, Hitler in his Führerbunker started to retreat into himself. His health started tottering. He'd kept going by the dubious shots and pills his personal doctor, the remarkably shady Dr. Morell, had administered. (His favourite pills were called Dr. Köster's Antigas Pills and were a well nice mixture of strychnine and belladonna.) But Morell abandoned him the first chance he got. So no much needed medication.

Hitler sought comfort in music. The record player was on the whole time.

What did he listen to? Rienzi, the opera that started it all and uncannily predicted his fate? Götterdämmerung - another powerfully apocalyptic opera? Lohengrin? Maybe Parsifal or Tristan und Isolde? No. None of them.

Apparently, according to reliable witnesses from the bunker, what he listened to over and over and over again, in a plethora of different recordings, was The Merry Widow and especially Danilo's cheery tune about being off to Chez Maxim.

Maybe, just maybe, when the bombs started coming down in heavy showers and the destruction of his world was imminent, there was a small part of him that wished he'd been Danilo instead of Rienzi.


Viddy well, little brother, viddy well!

For Stanley Kubrick no detail was ever too small or insignificant. Everything was important. Not perhaps equally important but still significant. Everything counted. If it could have any bearing on the film it counted. In spades. He would have someone investigate.

He liked to control everything.

That's why he had agents, or Irregulars as his assistant Anthony Frewin nicely put it, all over the world. Was the sound loud enough in The Shining in Winnipeg? Was the copy of 2001 too dark in Manila? To find out he'd employ spies who'd report back to him. He also had cuttings of advertisements for his movies from all over the world sent to his house where he'd go over them. Were the ads as they should? Were they as large as they ought to be? If not he'd send somebody to find out why they weren't. Questions would be asked and answered until he was satisfied. No matter how small a matter or how distant.

He was occasionally called obsessed, deranged, crazy even. However. It seems clear to me that it was his unrelenting focus on even the tiniest details that made his movies what they were.

This was clearly how his mind worked.

He had to know everything, see everything. If, like in Eyes Wide Shut, a scene took place in a toy department he'd want to see photos of just about every toy department in the south of England. If a scene took place in costume shop he'd want to see pictures of every single costume shop available. If Alex and his droogs were to wear hats he'd want to see any kind of hat there was. Preferably on the droogs.

Which was a lot of work. And took a long time. His preproduction time was usually long enough for his colleagues to complete their entire film in. Maybe even a couple.

But he was patient. If anything he was patient.

Because everything had to look right. But he didn't necessarily know what right was until he'd seen all the options. Only then could he make up his mind. Only then did it become evident.

There was also a great deal of secrecy involved in any given project. Most of the time he made sure the people he employed didn't have a clue for whom they were working. He had, for instance, a lot of people reading scripts and novels for him, in order to find something for him to film, and they had absolutely no idea it was Kubrick who employed them. When Frederic Raphael, as he writes in his fascinating book Eyes Wide Open, was asked by Kubrick to turn a short story into a movie script, Kubrick refused to tell him the name of the story and who'd written it. Raphael was sufficiently well read to pin it down anyway, making Kubrick a bit annoyed.

He did not give out information. That wasn't his game. He collected it. He hoarded it. He stashed it in boxes (the cornucopia of which we can witness in Jon Ronson's documentary Stanley Kubrick's boxes) and filed it away, to be used if and when it was needed. Often it was never needed.

But it was there. Just in case.

He couldn't help himself. Collecting information was his nature.

Kubrick was like a spider, sitting pretty in the middle of his gigantic international web, feeling every twitch of every thred, controlling it all: "He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them." To quote Doyle.

Bear in mind also that he was ever the chess player. For him facts were like chess pieces. The more information one had, the more facts one had and hence the more pieces one had. The more pieces, the more options and moves. The more options, the better film one could make. For in that multitude of moves there lurked the perfect move, or at least the almost perfect one. Therefore it was imperative to have as many pieces as possible. Only then could anything like perfection be approached.

The secrecy, I believe, stems from the same source. A chess player never lets anyone know what his next move will be. That would entirely ruin his game. The element of surprise is in fact half the game. There's also a very practical aspect. Letting for instance script readers know they read for Kubrick would have influenced them. They would have started reading for Kubrick. They'd have started to anticipate what he would want in a script. Which isn't what he wanted at all. How could they anticipate his wants when he himself didn't know what he wanted?

John le Carré once tried to write a script for Kubrick and failed miserably. He attributed it to the fact that Kubrick had these images in his head that he wanted le Carré to write but he could not put them into words. That's what he needed le Carré for. To write what was in his, Kubrick's, head. But as he couldn't communicate what he wanted the task was virtually impossible. The scripts always were a struggle. Many a writer was squeezed dry and tossed aside to be replaced by a new and fresh one. The man just doesn't know what he wants, most writers thought. Maybe so.

But Kubrick did know what he wanted. He wanted a story. A story he'd want to tell. A story he'd fall in love with, as his wife put it.

That's not too much to ask, is it?


Poor Siegfried

Being Richard Wagner's son can't have been easy. Being a homosexual probably didn't help. At all, really. And wanting to be a composer - well that just sounds like a recipe for disaster.

No, being Siegfried Wagner never was the easiest thing in the world.

I first heard his music in '94 in, of all places, Bayreuth. Bayreuth might at first seem the natural place to encounter the music of Siegfried: it not only being his hometown but the seat of the family dynasty and quite unequivocally the town of Wagner.

Well it wasn't and it isn't. Bayreuth is such a small town there's hardly enough room for Richard, who - truth to be told - does demand rather a lot of space. There simply isn't room for two Wagners in Bayreuth, not two composers of that sacred name and certainly not two Wagners both of whom write operas.

Still, they can't ignore him completely. He is the master's son, after all. So in '94 there was a Siegfried exhibition in Haus Wahnfried and they even played bits and pieces of his music. To me they sounded quite interesting, fascinating even. Problem was, in those faraway days there just weren't many recordings. Not recordings one could lay one's hands on anyway.

So Siegfried remained a mystery, a weak and fairly ludicrous character. The man who was eternally in the shadow of his gigantic father. The man completely dominated by his bullying mother, Liszt's daughter, the formidable Cosima. The man who was, pretty much against his will, forced to marry a Welsh orphan in order to play down his sexual indiscretions of the blatantly sodomite variety - which after all were a fairly serious crime in the Germany of the day.

The man whose audacious wife openly flirted with this deranged Viennese nobody Hitler. When Hitler was put behind bars for a while after the disastrous Munich putsch, Siegfried's wife Winifred supplied him with paper and writing materials with which to occupy his time in gaol in a productive fashion. Herr Hitler proceded, on those pure white sheets presented to him by the Wagner clan of Bayreuth, to write a nifty little shocker: Mein Kampf.

This slow and slovenly man who never ceased to look like a soft and pampered schoolboy; as overgrown as he was overfed. This man who seems to have despised the vulgarity of Hitler and what he stood for, yet covertly been mesmerised by the brutal ideology. Which, had he lived, certainly would have crushed him without a trace of pity, son of the divine Wagner or not.

This man whose operas nobody took seriously.

Who did he think he was - bloody Wagner?

But Siegfried never gave up, never gave in, writing some sixteen operas all in all. He also wrote his own libretti, just like his father had. There weren't many performances. The opera houses weren't interested. They already had a Wagner. The real thing. Why on earth would they want a cheap copy? Some of Siegfried's operas never went on during his lifetime. Oh there were plans, grand plans, but somehow they never materialised.

When at long last I came across one of Siegfried's operas I at once purchased it. Der Heidenkönig was written in 1913. The premiere was in 1933, three years after Siegfried's death.

As the CD (published by the Naxos owned label Marco Polo) wasn't furnished with a libretto I have only a very hazy idea of what the action is about. It's mediaeval. Something to do with Balticum and Christianity. And Teutonic knights. Not, as such, particularly promising stuff.

The music, however, is quite strong and forceful, extremely Wagnerian in the overly ripe romantic manner with lots and lots of boisterous brass and warlike manly singing, with the occasional high dramatic soprano hysterically butting in. Bits of it easily could have been written by old Richard. Still it doesn't actually sound derivative or unoriginal. It just isn't particularly original.

By no means is it bad. There are haunting melodies in it, strains and chords that will not go away. That keep on echoing in one's head. Dark, mournful and sombre melodies. Simple but highly effective dirges. And they just won't go away. Then one slowly begins to like them.

Der Heidenkönig seems to be, if I'm not very much mistaken, Siegfried's Parsifal, his holy and sacred opera, maybe even his magnum opus. What he's best known for is comic opera. His first, Der Bärenhäuter, is probably his most performed and best loved piece. But Siegfried was a deeply religious man and the Christian message was vitally crucial to him. No doubt he, therefore, would consider Der Heidenkönig far more important than Der Bärenhäuter.

I'd dearly like to know what precisely it was I heard in Bayreuth. Whatever it was it sounded fresh and dynamic, and a bit quirky. Der Heidenkönig often sounds stale and stuffy, a bit claustrophobic, as if its own importance were suffocating and slowly draining the life out of it, so it certainly wasn't Der Heidenkönig. Could it in fact have been Der Bärenhäuter? I'm beginning to wonder.

Parts of Der Heidenkönig I grow tired of very quickly, other parts I cannot get enough of. Odd.

Having heard only the one opera by Siegfried Wagner I obviously can't say anything very definitive about him as a composer. I do have a hunch though. I strongly suspect that were his surname not Wagner both he and his work would be far better known.

On the other hand. Without his surname he might have disappeared completely.

I'd quite like to proclaim him a forgotten genius. I'm very much afraid he's no such thing. Not even slightly. Then again, very few composers are. Geniuses, I mean. Forgotten or otherwise.


Library Nights

Alberto Manguel was sixteen years old and worked in a bookshop. The shop was called Pygmalion and it was an Anglo-German bookshop, if that is of any significance. One night he was propositioned by this shabby-genteel old geezer. Come over to my place and we'll have a right good time, the geezer said. Alberto, being an adventurous youth, went - even though he knew that the old geezer was in the habit of propositioning right and left. Just about anybody would do. He wasn't that particular. He just couldn't get enough.

The city was Buenos Aires. The old geezer was called Jorge Luis Borges. Alberto's task: to read aloud to Borges. Sometimes he even got to write down poems and bits of prose Borges had composed in his head. When the poem or story was finished Borges used to stick it between the pages of a book. That's where he stored things. Also his money. When money was need he went to his bookshelf, pulled out a book and paid whatever needed paying. Sometimes he found his banknotes. Often he didn't.

These encounters obviously had a profound effect on Alberto. He himself grew up to become a writer. One of the books he wrote, a slim and elegant volume, is called With Borges. In it he recounts his sessions and what conversing with Borges meant to him.

I re-read this volume recently, while re-reading Borges. I keep re-reading Borges all the time, just about, because he's one of the very few authors that absolutely demand it, but this time it was because I came across a slightly battered volume of Kerrigan's Ficciones (which I'd never read) at the local library where somebody had left it for anyone to pick it up for free. Which I did, without missing a beat, even though I of course have all the stories in several translations and several languages. And a most of them in Spanish too; a language I am not particularly familiar with, fluent in or cognizant of. But still one tries. It's always nice to see what the man wrote. I mean really wrote. Word for exact word.

One grasps nary a syllable of it but it's still nice. One sees things, one hears things with the inner ear: there are always the rhythms, the patterns, the alluringly exotic words which seem to carry deep and resounding significance. Not perhaps quite what the author intended but significance nonetheless. It becomes like music. One needn't understand every bar, one need but enjoy them.

And the translations all taste quite different. Reading Borges in English is nothing like reading him in Swedish. And reading Borges in Finnish is really remarkably bizarre as the language is in no way related to Spanish nor any other Indo-European language. It's like transposing a classical symphony for a Balinese gamelan group. There are similarities, of course, but these seem sporadic and almost unintentional. The pitch is different, the orchestration off and none of the rules apply any longer.

But in the Borgesian world this is normal. One never can read the same book twice. The book is always different. Every time. That's because the reader never stays the same but changes. This automatically alters the book as well. One cannot step in the same river twice. That's what makes Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote such a mind blowing experience: because it applies to everyone and all reading. The experience never can be repeated. Therefore every book is infinite. There is no end to how often it may be read or in how many ways.

Dare I say: every book is all books?

One thing that rather amazed Manguel when he stepped into the sanctum sanctorum that was Borges's apartment was the smallness of his library - merely a few shelves. That was incredible: this man who was the archetypal librarian (and former head of the National Library), this man whose entire universe was a library. This man who seemed to write about nothing other than books, libraries and writing. And there were so few books in his home.

"For a man who called the universe a library, and who confessed that he imagined Paradise 'bajo la forma de una biblioteca', the size of his own library came as a disappointment, perhaps because he knew, as he said in another poem, that language can only 'imitate wisdom'. Visitors expected a place overgrown with books, shelves bursting at the seams, piles of print blocking the doorways and protruding from every crevice, a jungle of ink and paper. Instead they would discover an apartment where books occupied a few unobtrusive corners."

There were the encyclopedias: the Encyclopaedia Britannica (eleventh edition, with essays by De Quincey and Macauley, purchased in 1928), the Brockhaus, the Meyer, the Bompiani. On the lower shelves there was fiction: Stevenson, Chesterton, Kipling. Wells, Wilkie Collins, James Joyce. Oscar Wilde, Lewis Carroll. And of course detective fiction. Fairly much of that actually. And Don Quixote.

But still, far far less books than anybody had a right to expect. I mean, this was Borges. Mr. Library himself.

And he owned so few books.

This was, naturally, because Borges believed reading was essentially re-reading. He constantly read (or had read to him) the same old favourites, the same books he now knew by heart. He was Pierre Menard. The books constantly changed. They lived for him. He lived so they lived. He changed so they changed.

The game isn't reading as much and as widely as one can. It's about reading as deeply and as profoundly as one can. Therefore re-reading is essential. One might almost go as far as saying: re-reading is reading.

That, I suspect, is also why Borges never ceases to return to his old themes, the ones he's used so frequently in the past in every variation imaginable. Rewriting is writing. Or maybe I go to far.

I already mentioned Manguel became a distinguished writer in his own right. I hunted down another book he wrote. It's called The Library at Night. And it's about - libraries. Seems very interesting indeed.

And if it does turn out to be as good as it looks I may even consider re-reading it.


Luottakaa meihin, Sir Henry

Pakko se on myöntää. Olen kuunnellut kolmisenkymmentä jaksoa alkuperäistä versiota (The Men from the Ministry) ja puolisen tusinaa jaksoa ruotsalaista versiota (I plommonstop och paraply) ja havainnut ne hyviksi ja hauskoiksi. Mutta suomalainen versio Knalli ja sateenvarjo pesee ne kyllä mennen tullen.

Mistä tämä johtuu? Näyttelijävalinnoista? Englannin ensimmäinen Hamilton-Jones on My Fair Ladystakin tuttu eversti Pickering eli Wilfrid Hyde-Whyte jonka erinomaisuudesta ei liene epäilystäkään. Ruotsissa HJ on varhaisten Bergman-elokuvien suvereeni veteraani Gunnar Björnstrand. Nämä miehet ovat millä mittapuulla hyvänsä mitattuina maailmanluokkaa, kansainvälisiä huipputähtiä. Kauko Helovirta ei häviä heille milliäkään.

Suurin ero ja syy suomalaisen version ylivertaisuuteen (josta pitkäikäisyys, etten sanoisi ikuisuus kielii) on lähestymistavassa ja toteutuksessa. Alkuperäisen version idea on elävässä estraadiviihteessä, jaksot on toteutettu suorina lähetyksinä yleisön edessä. Yleisö tietenkin tuo tiettyä spontaania energiaa esitykseen omilla reaktioillaan ja onnistunut vitsi palkitaan heti. Tässä on huomattavissa ongelma - näyttelijät lähtevät helposti lypsämään repliikkejään palkkion toivossa. Painottamalla repliikkiä tietyllä tavalla saa taatusti hyvät naurut. Aina se ei silti ole hyväksi kokonaisuudelle.

Suomalaiset lähtivät eri tielle. Sarjaa ruvettiin alusta saakka toteuttamaan radioteatterina - ei estraadiviihteenä. Näin ollen esitysten dynamiikka ja energia on aivan erilainen kuin alkuperäisessä (ja ruotsalaisessa) versiossa. Se mikä välillä energiassa ja yleisön tarttuvassa riemussa hävitään, voitetaan replikoinnin tarkkuudessa ja fraasin nyanssoinnissa. On vaikea tehdä kovin hienostunutta näyttelijäntyötä kun repliikki jää yleisön naurunremakan alle. Ja suorassa lähetyksessä monet näyttelijät varsinkin pienemmissä rooleissa (jotka usein on tuplattu) tuppaavat lukemaan repliikkinsä suoraan plarista ja välillä vähän sinne päin. Eikä uusintaottoja tunneta. Suorissa lähetyksissä ei myöskään voi saada aikaiseksi kuin mitä alkeellisimpiä erikoistehosteita.

Kaikki tämä puhuu minusta selvää kieltään suoria lähetyksiä vastaan.

Radioteatterimaisuus kohottaa sarjan suomalaisversion omalle tasolleen. Jaksoa voidaan lähestyä läpikirjoitettuna kokonaisuutena eikä vain sarjana irtovitsejä. Vitsejä ei tarvitse alleviivata vaan ne voi esittää subtiilimmin jolloin ne yleensä ovat hauskempia. Tehosteilla voi loihtia huikeita tehoja. Eikä väärin lausuttuja ja hätäisesti korjattuja repliikkejä tarvitse pitää mukana vaan ne voi korjata seuraavassa otossa. Ja kun äänimaailma on puhdas yleisön taustahälinästä ja yleisestä melusta niin nyanssit kuuluvat ja pienikin ääni oikein mitoitettuna ja sijoitettuna tuntuu suurelta.

Suomalaisessa versiossa - ja uskon tämän johtuvan juuri lähestymistavasta - sivuroolitkin on miehitetty mykistävän hyvillä näyttelijöillä. Suorissa lähetyksissä sivuroolit tuppaavat jäämään joko hätäisen yksiulotteisiksi tai pelkäksi juonta kömpelösti edistäväksi pakkopullaksi, meillä ne ovat rikkumaton nauha kirkkaita loistavia helmiä. Olavi Ahonen, Risto Mäkelä, Keijo Komppa, Pia Hattara, Topi Reinikka, Jussi Jurkka, Marita Nordberg, Esko Nikkari, Tuula Nyman, Heikki Kinnunen, Pirkka-Pekka Petelius ja Marjatta Raita (monen muun muassa) todistavat kiistattomalla tavalla ja kerta toisensa jälkeen sen ettei ole olemassa pieniä rooleja, on vain pieniä näyttelijöitä. Viisasti täytetyt sivuroolit ovat koko sarjan suola ja nostavat sen humahtaen kertakäyttöviihteestä klassikoksi.

Välillä tuntuu melkein siltä että sivuroolit ovat liiankin hyvin miehitettyjä, että HJ ja Lamm jäävät sivuroolisoolojen jalkoihin ja joutuvat itse statistin osaan. Tämä on kuitenkin tervetullutta sillä se tuo sarjaan syvyyttä, ulottuvuutta ja rikkautta. Jaksot vanhenisivat paljon nopeammin jos kaikki olisi koko ajan pelkästään päänäyttelijöiden harteilla. Kuten muualla.

Tarkoitukseni ei ole millään muotoa vähätellä päänäyttelijöitä - aivan päin vastoin. Huimempaa nelikkoa kuin Helovirta, Pekka Autiovuori, Aila Svedberg ja Yrjö Järvinen on vaikea keksiä. Ainakaan minun. Yhteispeli hipoo parhaimmillaan täydellistä - ja tekee sen usein. Kaikkia yhdistää sama harvinainen taito (kuten sivuosienkin näyttelijöitä): he saavat ladattua uskomattomat määrät tunnetta repliikkiin. Tämä on radiossa tärkeämpää kuin muualla. Me emme näe heitä, kuulemme vain. Siksi se miten he sanovat asian on usein tärkeämpää kuin se mitä he sanovat. Kun Helovirta on masentunut me kuulemme kuinka hänen viiksensä ovat lerpahtaneet. Kun Yrjö Järvinen puhuu nuorista naisista me kuulemme kuinka hänen joka huokosestaan tihkuu kiimaa ja irstautta.

Siinä mielessä Edward Taylorin tekstit ovat mitä oivallisinta materiaalia taitaville näyttelijöille. Ne eivät ole ylikirjoitettuja. Niissä on tilaa tulkinnalle. On hauskempaa kuulla äänensävystä miten asiat ovat kuin saada selostus siitä. Show, don't tell.

Alunperinhän sarja kirjoitettiin muuten mittatilaustyönä Lammin esittäjälle Richard Murdochille. Siksi hän on varsin selvästi englantilaisen sarjan keskushenkilö. Suomessa Helovirran ja Autiovuoren välinen dynamiikka on demokraattisempi. Olisikin mahdotonta - ja älytöntä - pitää Helovirran tasoista taitajaa vähäisemmässä roolissa. Omalla luontaisella gravitaksellaan hän ottaa luonnollisen paikkansa. Sir Henry (tai siis Sir Gregory, kuten hän alunperin on!) on sekä englantilaisessa että ruotsalaisessa versiossa yksiulotteisempi ja siksi marginaalisempi hahmo. Auktoriteettiasemassa oleva Sir Henry karjuu ja on vihainen ja . . . niin . . . siinä suunnilleen se. Koko henkinen skaala ja tunteiden kirjo. Yrjö Järvinen tekee hänestä huimasti moniulotteisemman, lataa tulkintaan uskomattomat määrät pönäkkää itsetyytyväisyyttä ja sokeaa itserakkautta, alistavaa tyrannimaisuutta, lipevyyttä, irstautta, vahingoniloa, halveksuntaa, sadismia, hedonismia, tekopyhyyttä, ja (oman esimiehensä edessä) hurskastelevaa nöyryyttä, ja tekee Sir Henrystään sellaisen cocktailin ettei moista aikaisemmin ole kuultu.

Järvisen Sir Henry on varsinainen huonojen ominaisuuksien renessanssi-ihminen jolle mikään alhainen ei ole vierasta. Jokainen valhe, jokainen potku tulee suoraan sydämestä. Siksi Järvisen Sir Henryn auktoriteettiasema ei ole pelkkä tyhjä klisee vaan aidosti pelottava. Ja siksi HJ ja Lamm tuntuvat entistäkin inhimillisemmiltä protagonisteilta.

Mutta toisaalta, Järvisen Sir Henryn rinnalla kuka (tai mikä!) tahansa vaikuttaisi inhimillisyyden perikuvalta.

Knallissa ja sateenvarjossa operoidaan kliseillä. Helovirran, Autiovuoren, Järvisen ja Svedbergin käsittelyssä kliseet muuttuvat joksikin muuksi. Lyijy jalostuu kullaksi, hiili timantiksi.

Ei siis mikään ihme että täällä sarja pysyi elossa kun se muualla, kotimaassaankin, kuoli pois. Täällä siihen suhtauduttiin vakavammin, täällä se otettiin tosissaan. Täällä siihen satsattiin parhaat voimat, niin kääntäjien, ohjaajien kuin näyttelijöidenkin osalta. Täällä se ansaitsi jäädä henkiin.

Täällä se tehtiin paremmin kuin muualla.