arts notebook

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The Independent Online
Question: Which world leader is a closet movie buff? Answer: President Bill Clinton. That should relax America a little. After all, some of his predecessors have had far worse fetishes. It seems the President retires to his private movie theatre in the White House at least once a week, sometimes with the family. And his taste is a notch above the latest Hollywood fare. Shine was one private showing he raved about to friends, anticipating its critical acclaim.

According to Clinton's friend, the American producer Harry Thomason, whose film Sling Blade has an Oscar nomination, the President "sees more movies than most critics watch, with screening rooms at the White House and Camp David. The family watches many double features." Thomason adds, admittedly not exactly disinterestedly, "The movie he has been pulling for now is Sling Blade, since both he and Billy Bob Thornton are from Arkansas." The phrase "pulling for" is an interesting one. Not exerting undue pressure on the upright gentlemen and ladies of the Academy Awards Committee, I trust.

Sling Blade is the story of a retarded Arkansas man released from an asylum for the criminally insane to return against his will to society. Billy Bob Thornton, it should be explained, is the film's writer, director and star and was a surprise nomination for Best Actor in the Oscars. Before becoming an actor, he did actually work on a Clinton highway crew in Arkansas, clearing brush, with a sling blade.

Thornton, who still lives in Arkansas, remains friends with the President. His latest directorial venture is filming Primary Colors, the thinly disguised novel about Clinton's early days with a protagonist who was volatile and not always faithful to his wife. In a spirit of true southern friendship, Thornton consulted his chum in the White House to get his blessing before taking on the movie adaptation of the book. Their discussion remains private. But Thornton loyally admits to having "toned down the book a bit".

"So how did you get into acting?" just occasionally produces a memorable response. It did at a recent awards lunch when I was seated next to Ricky Tomlinson, the bearded Liverpudlian who gave a searing performance in Jimmy McGovern's TV dramatisation of the Hillsborough disaster, and who is shortly to star in the film Mojo alongside Harold Pinter in a rare screen role. Tomlinson told me that he was one of the Shrewsbury Three (an all-but-forgotten episode during the Heath government in which three building workers were jailed for illegal picketing in 1972). He was the shop steward and served two years in prison. When he came out he was blacklisted by the building trade and made his living doing stand-up comedy, something he had fantasised about in jail.

He still does regular stand-up to the accompaniment of his banjo and assorted hecklers, in Liverpool's Atlantic pub. He didn't have his first acting role until he was 40, and walk-on parts led eventually to roles in Brookside, Cracker and Hillsborough. Actor, wisecracker, banjo player and one-time political prisoner ... why the chat show circuit hasn't discovered this guy is a mystery.

Lisa Anderson, the music industry consultant and eminence grise behind this week's Brit Awards, at least found that organising the bash this week did not cause her to throw up with nerves, as she has done on two occasions in her career. One was when she was appointed MD of RCA Records, the first woman to rise so high in the industry.

The other was when Richard Branson told her to go to court to give a character reference for Johnny Rotten. Mr Rotten was up for assault. She looked at the two six-footers he was supposed to have hit, looked at five- foot-six Rotten and told the magistrate: "He couldn't possibly have done it. He's so fabulously, gloriously weedy." Rotten got off, Lisa was promoted and punk died.

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