CRIES & WHISPERS

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The Independent Culture
REGULAR readers will have to forgive me for returning to the subject of The Piano. It's the best film I have seen in the cinema, rather than on television. Not everyone agrees, of course; if they did, I'd be out of a job. But it's a film that everyone who is interested in culture ought to see, even those snooty types who turn up their noses at the cinema while feeling the need to go to the theatre and the opera. So I was shocked to read Bernard Levin in the Times the other day.

He was musing on the latest of the dreary 'debates' involving David Hare, the playwright. Hare met Peter York, my distinguished colleague, at a party; York confused him with Edward Bond; Hare long-jumped to the conclusion that journalists don't take the theatre seriously. The obvious answer is, if that's how seriously the theatre takes itself, it doesn't need any help from us. Anyway, Levin made passing reference to various people and things in entertainment, including 'Jailhouse Rock' and Jane Campion. He claimed never to have heard of either.

If this was an affectation, it was a tiresome and pointless one. If it wasn't, it was a scandal: a leading columnist, purporting to be cultured, proudly informing his readers that there is a great film-maker he hasn't even heard of (and a great song too, but let that pass).

Ten years ago Levin was the biggest name in my trade. His columns were read so eagerly that even his reheated collections became best-sellers. Schoolteachers told their pupils to study him; I remember so taking this to heart that I wrote an essay in an Oxbridge general paper that was an attempted pastiche of Levin (luckily, the rest of my paper was so pompous, the examiners didn't seem to notice). O tempora, o Bernard.

LEVIN IS not the only person I feel angry with on this subject. A colleague went to see The Piano last Saturday at the MGM Tottenham Court Road. She loved it, and so did her husband. But in the shuffle towards the exit that warm, dreamy feeling you get at the end of a good film was ruined by a fellow punter, a woman who remarked that 'If I'd known I was going to watch two and a half hours of woman-abuse, I wouldn't have gone.' As total misreadings of movies go, this is world-class.

If you haven't seen the film yet, skip this paragraph. Those that have are baffled by two things. Why does Holly Hunter send Harvey Keitel a note saying he has her heart, when he can't read? And when he makes her a tin finger, why doesn't he stick a bit of felt on the tin, to stop it clicking when she plays the piano? Would it not succeed where an arranged marriage had failed, and drive her crazy? If anyone can explain, I'll be most grateful.

HAS the New Year ushered in a remarkable new spirit of co-operation between Radio 3 and Classic FM? I only ask because I have just received the 1994 Boosey & Hawkes music diary. This year it has been overprinted and has turned into the Classic FM music diary. The introduction, however, is still written by Nicholas Kenyon, Controller of Radio 3.

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