John Walsh On Monday: Invasion of the Killer Carpet Slippers

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The Independent Online
ARE YOU fed up with Eyes Wide Shut yet? Can you stand any more of those slightly-out-of-focus stills of Tom and Nicole snogging in front of a mirror with that effortful, for-God's-sake-no-tongues-we're-married air of qualified passion? Can you read any more outpourings from ex-friends of the late Stanley Kubrick, about what a cold, heartless shit he was, what a chilly visionary with his mad eyes and exiguous beard, how heartlessly he used people with the endlessly deferred promise of cinematic glory ("I have the whore's consolations: whatever I am, he chose me; he chose me; he chose me. How many reasons is that to be happy?" - Frederic Raphael, the screenwriter).

How much longer can you wait to find out the movie's Big Secret. Do Cruise and Kidman actually have it off on-screen? (An old chestnut in the history of movie speculation - we wondered the same thing about Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Don't Look Now, about Bruce Willis and Jane March in The Lover, about Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange in The Postman Always Rings Twice.) Is the film an inspection of the wildest shores of human sexuality? Does Tom Cruise really swan around in a Vivienne Westwood frock? Is it the first intellectual blue movie? What's all this stuff about the masked-orgy scene?

I suspect we're all a little weary of being tantalised, teased and trailered, subjected to the protracted foreplay of hints and half-reviews. Warner Brothers, which produced the movie, has refused to let critics see previews except for a favoured handful like the guys in Time magazine, who were then sworn to secrecy about the content, while publishing a four-page cover story about everything except What Happens in it. Oh for God's sake. You want to know the plot? Right then. Eyes Wide Shut is a comedy thriller with science-fiction overtones in which Dr William Hartman (Cruise), a former physician turned tightrope-walker in a travelling circus, who, while performing in a Wyoming backwoods town, falls in love with Alice (Kidman), the local barfly, after watching her regale the company with Janis Joplin numbers at Krazy Kath's Karaoke Bar. They emigrate to England, set up home in Wandsworth, and have a baby which is stolen by aliens from the planet Encripticon II. Their attempts to retrieve the infant are thwarted by shady Detective Chief Inspector McTaggart (Billy Connolly) so they enlist the help of a hilariously inept Bermondsey gumshoe called Sid (Danny De Vito, cast against type) who, with his on-off girlfriend Norma (Catherine Zeta Jones), discovers the existence of a sect of orgiastic Dorothy Squires fans led by Obi-Wan Sinatra (Pete Postlethwaite) bent on ridding the planet of mobile telephones. Alice gets her kit off, Hartman spends a lot of time brooding in front of a black monolith, the baby mutates into a galactic sheep and the film ends with a shoot-out in the Millennium Dome.

That's what I call a plot. And remember: you read it here first.

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"IT WILL be banned," said Tony Blair on Question Time, "We will get the vote to ban it as soon as we possibly can." He was, of course, speaking of fox-hunting with hounds, an issue that has raised its head again as if the PM had learned precisely nothing from the vast Countryside March last year. What is mildly concerning is how naturally the word "ban" came to the lips of this liberal-left intellectual, how firm was his quiet assurance that he can get things banned any time he jolly well wants to, how readily he gave in to the creepy questioner with the Hollywood- producer haircut in the back row, how smoothly he prevaricated about the vote on Michael Foster's Bill being "blocked by the Opposition and the Lords" (it was "blocked" by neither) and how coolly he assured the studio audience that their view would prevail, once a few inconveniently wrong-headed voters were effectively squared.

Were my impressions clouded by drink or fatigue, or did Mr Blair sound just a teensy bit like a benevolent dictator? Not a dictator with a PC conscience either - I didn't get the impression he cared a toss for the feelings of foxes or huntsmen one way or another - but a man with some tactical politicking to do, in order to keep some mutinous party elements quiet. If there needs to be some strategic banning done around here (his words seemed to say), the PM will make it happen. And with a single stroke, the whole vivid, centuries-old spectacle of the British hunt will be gone, and with it a whole crucial infrastructure of stock breeding and point- to-point racing.

What is enraging, apart from the casual nature of the Government's projected suppression, is their playing to the lowest sympathies of the anti-hunt lobby: their weedy fastidiousness, their pale oh-dear- that's-not-very- nice-is-it bloodlessness as they set out to ban an activity that's the last word in excitement, vigour, speed, colour and thrill.

An image from Spain has been popping up in my head all weekend: that of a massive Pamplona bull, horns the size of Harley Davidson handlebars, rounding a street corner, with its massive snout barely millimetres away from a running man in white shirt and trousers and red neckerchief and sash. It's a fantastic sight, a moment of feral symbolism - man, the intelligent animal, turning himself into prey for the purely animal, two tons of unstoppable aggression set against 12 stone of immaculate Hispanic nimbleness.

It's a terribly dangerous activity for both species. The bulls are killed later on in the bullring. But the men sometimes die too - 13 runners have been wasted, and 200 others hurt by angry bulls since the tradition started in 1924. Obviously someone should ban it. Mr Blair certainly would, had he any jurisdiction over the Spanish. The International Fund for Animal Welfare clearly would. But would you? Or would you concede that some things simply because of their power as image and symbol - should stay beyond the reach of interfering bureaucracies and anthropomorphic hand wringing?

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THE DEPARTMENT of Trade's report on accidents in the home makes interesting reading. They sent a gaggle of interviewers to hang out in casualty departments and find out through what circumstances a patient is compelled to visit the local hospital at 3am with a bathroom tap protruding from his skull or a Hoover extension from his bottom.

Astonishingly, it turns out that the most problematic object in your house is not the chainsaw, the electric breadknife or the family bull mastiff, but the humble slipper. You thought slippers were mild-mannered things, a little elderly and venerable and without obviously aggressive natures? Think again. They're killers. Soft bedtime footwear accounted for 27,771 injuries in the home in 1997. All over the country, people are falling down the stairs because of threadbare slipper treads, standing on garden forks, being impaled on nails, smashing their toes on hard chair- legs and being attacked by slavering dogs with a thing about tartan.

Other malevolent clothing items in the report were, predictably, high heels and, less predictably, tights and socks (6,287 accidents) and wellies (2,070). (You've got to watch out for socks. You look after them for years, give them a good home, wash them a few times, think they're part of the family. Then one day, out of nowhere, they turn on you...)

But I confess my imagination lies down and admits defeat when it comes to the odder mishaps so soberly recorded by the DoT. Like the disastrous bidet experiences that left 237 patients waiting (presumably not seated) in the nation's Accident & Emergency Rooms. Or the 828 ill-advised encounters with beanbags - presumably resulting in suffocation, or beanal chokage or spinal abrasion from excessive sprawling. But what kind of injury do you suffer at the hands of a pocket calculator? (Atrophied Index Finger? Inept Addition Rage?). What spooky Venice-carnival scenario is suggested by the news of 256 "mask injuries" in a year. (Were they I-can't-get- it-off injuries, or fainting-related mishaps suffered by the spectators?) People falling off bathroom scales (118 accidents) I can relate to, since I do it myself all the time, usually accompanied by cries of "15 stone! Aaarrrggghh!" but what happened to the 532 people who were injured by measuring tapes? Did they press that little black button once too often and find a coiling metallic snake, 9ft long and thin as a razor blade, rapidly de-coiling back into their trembling hand?

Inevitably, smut will raise its ugly head in any domestic survey, and here it is in plain view at last: "374 underwear accidents". A rather bald statement that conceals a seething maelstrom of sexual misadventure. Just think of the million variations on flesh entrapping zips, bra-strangulation, thong-up-the-butt misery, suspender-belt weals.

Yeech. You'd think our unmentionables had it in for us. But the Department of Trade has anticipated such a reflection. "Articles such as clothing are recorded as being `involved' in an accident," saysthe report, "There is no imputation of cause or fault." Well that's a relief. One is glad to know that one's boxer shorts don't set out to do one harm. If they did where would it all end? Items of intimate apparel would start appearing on CCTV, caught in the act of robbing a building society...

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