Voices

This definition of anti-Semitism has been too stretched for too long

BORIS PASTERNAK

HEROES & VILLAINS

Birkin triumphs as victim of a timeless war story

First Night: Women of Troy The Olivier Theatre

Dear Boris Pasternak: Now your great-niece is coining it from the Diana book, I bet your wish you'd packed in the poetry and 'serious' novels lark and done an expose of Stalin's missus instead

I WANT TO offer you my sympathies. Never in your wildest dreams could you have imagined your masterpiece Doctor Zhivago selling 75,000 copies in a day. Yet your great-niece, Anna, who has never even written a book before, succeeds with her first attempt.

Centrefold: Roeg to nowhere: The ups and downs of Theresa Russell's husband

In 1990, Nicolas Roeg appeared on BBC2's Moving Pictures programme to bemoan the fact that his (then new) film Cold Heaven was languishing without a distributor. Four years on, the situation remains unchanged, though the NFT's Roeg season, entitled 'Stranger in a Strange Land', brings a chance to see this film, as well as his recent cable-TV adaptation of Conrads Heart of Darkness starring Tim Roth as Marlowe and John Malkovich as Kurtz.

Underrated: Queen of the stock-in-trade

Ah, the British jobbing actress: what a glorious creature] She may never attain the highest rungs of stardom (though there is Emma Thompson and there was Julie Andrews) or be sold as a sex symbol (though there is Greta Scacchi and there was Julie Christie) but she embodies virtues beyond the price of rubies. She is able to turn her hand to all things: light comedy, heavy drama, musicals, sketches, a multitude of accents. She has no contempt for the popular; the popular (a nice little sitcom, a soap opera) pays the rent and subsidises those ill-paid forays into the theatre, to essay Pinter, Shakespeare and Ibsen. She has a sense of humour about herself too. She must. Her parts are, more often than not, attendant on the leading man and even these will shrink after 30, a disgraceful waste of a precious national resource: just as experience is making her better and better, her opportunities become fewer and fewer. She has her pride, but she values common sense. Asked to narrate a children's series, adorn a panel game or appear in an ad and she will smile and crisply answer, 'Yes'.

Captain Moonlight: Return to lender

CONNOISSEURS of letters to newspapers signed by resonant collections of the great and the good will have noted a real corker last week. It demanded that the Elgin marbles should be returned home forthwith as a tribute to Melina Mercouri and was signed by 29 British actresses, including such relishable billtoppers of compassion as Francesca Annis, Frances de la Tour, Dame Judi, Julie Christie and, naturally, Emma Thompson. The Captain, I can reveal, has not been idle in this area. I am trying to persuade the Egyptians to ask again for the return of notable artefacts, including the Rosetta Stone and the beard of the Sphinx. The charming Aya Kamel, cultural attache at the Egyptian Embassy, has undertaken to get the view of the Antiquities Authority in Cairo. Unfortunately, the Authority was closed for the al-Fitr holiday, but I should know by the week after next, or the week after that. Any other country that wants anything back, just get in touch.

The Location Hunters: A look that lingers in the Venice mist: In dark alleys off the Grand Canal, Frank Barrett rediscovers the sinister beauty of Nic Roeg's film, Don't Look Now

The woman in the video shop cast an expert eye over my rentals record card. 'You've got a thing about Don't Look Now. This is the eighth time you've taken it out. You, er . . . um . . . must like it,' she said.

A dip in the porn channel

MY CAREER as a merchant of pornography was brief, but satisfying and lucrative. When I was in the first year at secondary school, it was my incredible good fortune to find, in the alley where we used to smoke and train-spot, the instruction slip that comes with a packet of Durex; I knew immediately that what I had was worth something, and so it proved. For two days or so, there was a queue of boys at my desk before registration and at break-time clamouring to read the astonishingly frank advice: 'Unroll over erect penis. Put the condom on before there is any contact between penis and vagina.' Erect] Penis] Vagina] Contact] Between] These instructions were so hot that even the prepositions smouldered] My class-mates (and then year-mates, and then school-mates, as word spread) goggled, and giggled, and gasped, and shook their heads at the sheer . . . filth of the document; in our moral universe, the soppy naturist magazine Health and Efficiency was as disgusting as it had previously ever got. I didn't charge people for a look, but in the end I sold the thing outright (for much more, somebody told me, than the price of a three-pack), and in any case you couldn't put a value on the respect and esteem that was temporarily mine.

Long after the stardom, another twist: Mark Lester was the child star of Oliver] who asked for more but never got it. Now he's starting a new career as an osteopath. He talks to Martin Whittaker

MARK LESTER was the Macaulay Culkin of his day. He shot to international fame at the age of 10 in the title role of the 1968 film Oliver], made a fortune, travelled the world, and was mobbed by teenage fans.

FILM / Director's cut: Renny Harlin on Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now

THIS is a very silly example because it has nothing to do with my movies, but the first scene that pops into my mind is the love-making scene in Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now. It's a scene that had a very strong impact on me because of the unusual way it was shot and edited. It's not unusual today; today everything has been done or tried. But when I first saw it, when I was about 13 years old, it really blew my mind. Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are making love, and it has been intercut with them getting ready to go out and putting their clothes on. It was a very unusual and beautiful way of shooting a love scene. Powerful and tender, and at the same time artful and non-exploitative. That to me said, hey, here's a film-maker who's an artist and has an idea behind what he's doing. There's always the pedestrian way of doing things and having a vision behind things. I always hoped that in my movies I'd be able to do that kind of concept thing, instead of doing things the pedestrian way.

OPERA / Heaven can wait: Stephen Johnson on Jonathan Harvey's Inquest of Love at the ENO

WE ALL know that one man's meat is another man's poison. Could it be equally true that one man's Heaven is another man's Hell? Jonathan Harvey loves the idea of eternity as a kind of cosmic son et lumiere - bathed, no doubt, in those floating pastel shades beloved by all true Steinerians. Others may think he's welcome to it, that it's struggle and pain that give meaning to fulfilment, and that without them even eternal bliss may begin to pall after a while.

RADIO / Too much of a good thing

THEY WERE in love. In the soft warmth of an Indian night he asked her to marry him. At the water's edge, the ancient marble palace shimmering behind them, they glimpsed a boat gliding across the lake. It contained all that was needed to complete their rapture. Beneath a white parasol reclined a lady all in pink . . . Hang on, just a minute. Pink? Not the very famous lady in pink? And yes, indeed it was she, the queen of romance in person, come to bless their union, Barbara Cartland herself.

FILM / All white on the night: In the first of a short series on seasonal themes, Sheila Johnston considers snow in the movies, and offers a how-to guide

Nobody ever said that there's no business like snow business. In Christopher Guest's Hollywood spoof The Big Picture, the bright young film-maker played by Kevin Bacon arrives in Hollywood with a sombre emotional drama set in a snow-locked country cabin. But, as compromise closes in on him, it becomes clear that his idea stands . . . well, a snowflake's chance in hell. The studio's D- boys and girls hone the script into something more commercially acceptable, and his concept melts away into Beach Nuts, a bikini- clad comedy.

THEATRE / PFacing up to the truth: Paul Taylor reviews Billy Liar at the Oxford Playhouse.

As we know from film of the period, life in the north of England in the late 1950s was conducted exclusively in dingy black-and-white. Colour, like the principle of international modernism or the idea of having dinner in the evening, had yet to be invented up there. So, once you've read the book and seen the film, it's always a slight shock to be confronted with a polychrome version of Billy Liar, many though these have been over the years.
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