ARTS / Cries & Whispers

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The Independent Culture
LAST WEEKEND I went to a new film, True Romance, and a new play, Machinal. I'm not sure which was the more dismaying experience.

Machinal is the one about the woman in 1920s America who murders her husband and goes to the electric chair. She's the central character. She's called Young Woman, which suggests she is meant to be representative. The story sides with her, and so does the casting: she's played by Fiona Shaw. Oppressed by a dehumanised society, married to a bore, she has no choice but to kill her husband.

No choice? So they didn't have divorce in those days? Well, yes, they did, but when a lawyer puts this point to her in court she says she couldn't leave her husband because 'I couldn't hurt him like that'. Ah.

This isn't just another bad play. It's on at the National, and benefits from the full majesty of the Lyttelton stage (machinery has its uses). The programme notes present it as an early example of feminism. A parallel is drawn with Sara Thornton, who killed her husband. But he was violent: this man is not. Plays are supposed to examine moral issues, not blur them. Would the National throw public money at a play in which a man, worn down by modern society, comes home, pulls out a gun and says 'Hi, honey, you're dead'? I trust not.

I THOUGHT True Romance might offer light relief. But after an hour I walked out. The only other film I had ever walked out of was Crocodile Dundee II, and that was a girlfriend's decision, not mine. True Romance has been praised by several critics, including our own Quentin Curtis, who knows far more about film than I do. It is hailed as a comic road movie. For me it goes nowhere, and it isn't funny. It was written by Quentin Tarantino, before Reservoir Dogs; he should sue the film company for dragging his embarrassing juvenilia out into the light. It stars Christian Slater, who can carry a fashion spread, but not a film. I sat there like Mary Whitehouse, wondering what all the violence was for. I left not because it was gory, but because it was boring. It was impossible to care a hoot for the characters.

The one consolation was that I'd been handed a questionnaire on the way in, so at least my views would get back to the distributors. But when I studied the questions, they were all multiple-choice (market researchers are not comfortable with freedom of speech), and they were loaded. Respondents were offered five overall verdicts on the film, and only one of them was negative; it was 'poor', which as an index of my views was very poor indeed. There were a dozen more precise comments to choose from, but not 'unsympathetic characters'. I'm afraid this tells us a lot about Hollywood.

JILLY COOPER'S last-but-one literary assault was on the jodhpur buttons of the polo- playing fraternity. Now she's turning her attention to musicians and is preparing an expose of love-among-the-back-desks in a symphony orchestra. To make it realistic, she is to undertake some intensive research with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. In December she'll join them, pen in hand, on a tour of the steamier stop-offs of the Spanish classical-circuit, 'to get some factually correct atmosphere', a spokesman for the orchestra informs me. Not, one hopes for the sake of RNSO members, too factual.


LAST WEEK I held a competition to win HMV's gala boxed limited editions of The Beatles 1962-1966 and 1967- 1970, retailing at pounds 26.99 each. All you had to do was identify a grave omission from one of the sets, and give reasons. The response has been spectacular. By Tuesday two postcards had come in, both in the same hand, and both about the same song - 'I Want to Hold Your Hand'. This would be a fine choice if it were not in fact on '62-'66. The cards began to flow on Wednesday, but some took issue with compilations by other groups. Clearly I should have spelt out that I meant these two. The deadline is now extended, to Monday 1 November.

Meanwhile, a tip from a reader in Hull. Makro, a cash'n'carry chain, is selling both sets (unlimited editions) at pounds 17.61. It's one of those places you have to become a member of, but I gather that is not hard. Buy both albums and you save pounds 18.76 on what certain high-street shops are charging. A clear case of: don't pay full price if you can help it.