Arts notebook

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The Independent Culture
The meeting of Westminster councillors that banned the film Crash from central London this week was itself a fascinating piece of theatre. There deciding on whether to allow this cult movie house room in Leicester Square were 69-year-old antiques dealer John Bull, chairman of the licensing sub committee, and eight colleagues, some of whom also looked suspiciously over retirement age.

"It doesn't exactly look like a cross section of Westminster citizenry," Chris Auty, the 39-year-old whippersnapper executive producer of Crash, whispered nervously to me in the public gallery, looking equally nervously down at his jeans and brown suede shoes. Auty had prepared an impassioned plea for the councillors. But as he told how he had read JG Ballard's novel Crash at Cambridge, where it was on the mandatory reading list for the modern English novel, and how he felt "the very meaning of `love' was under assault in the world of car-TV-telephone-fax", one began to feel he might be playing to the wrong audience - an audience that probably wouldn't give a licence to the modern English novel if it had the choice.

The clash, cultural and sartorial, between the antiques dealer and the movie producer was a worthy plot, but every good movie needs a sub-plot and a scene stealer. It came, starlet-like, in the shape of the committee's youngest member, Labour councillor Kate Wilkins, a throwback to the much missed militant feminist days of the early Eighties. Voting against the ban, she explained that she did so only because she thought the film too tedious to deserve all the publicity and was fed up that "as usual in an art film, it has women taking their clothes off".

This is an interesting thesis, which I suspect may contain an underlying truth. Where would the recent history of European arthouse cinema be without the aesthetic exploration of women's underwear? Ms Wilkins tells me that in her viewing both for Westminster and as a private art film watcher, she has become something of an expert on this. "The women in these films always wear suspenders, which they don't in real life," she says, "and, sure enough, in Crash they're wearing suspenders. Nine and a Half Weeks, that was another we watched. All these films come with pretentious waffle about being art, and they're all shot in strange colours or soft focus but, at the end of the day, there's some attractive women naked while the men never take their trousers off. And the films are always made by men."

Discuss.

Two pieces of non nudity film news: Roger Mitchell, who directed the BBC's version of Jane Austen's Persuasion, will soon be named as the director of Notting Hill, the follow-up by comedy writer Richard Curtis to Four Weddings and a Funeral, likely to star Hugh Grant. And, in a far more unlikely comedy pairing, we can also expect to hear shortly that Kenneth Branagh will be starring in the next Woody Allen film. Allen has approached Branagh, whose last role as Hamlet should have prepared him for the off- screen introspection sessions he can now expect.

Would you stop the car to pick up some over-aged teddy boy, guitar over his shoulder, must be well into his fifties? Me neither. Grow up, get a proper job, then you might be able to afford a car yourself. Paul McCartney's promotional film for his rather good new album involved being filmed hitchhiking in Hastings. Embarrassingly, no one stopped for the poor old chap. All those years The Beatles complained they couldn't live an ordinary life. And all the time they could have been ignored as easily as the rest of us.

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