David Lister: A kiss is just a kiss – even for starlets

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The Independent Online

The best story I heard this week was told by Penelope Cruz at the London Film Festival premiere of Woody Allen's latest, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. In the movie, Cruz and Scarlett Johansson share a kiss.

Cruz said she was nervous on the morning of filming the scene, but when she came on the set she saw that Allen was staring at a stain on his hand and wondering what it could be. He couldn't concentrate on anything else, and the cast and crew advised him to seek treatment to ease his mind. He went off to see a dermatologist and returned to tell the cast: "Unfortunately, everything is OK", an appropriately Woody Allen way of putting it. They then got on with the scene. As she performed the kiss, Cruz looked over nervously at Allen behind the camera to see what his expression was, and there he sat, still staring at the small stain on his hand.

I like that about Woody, almost as much as I like the statement from the film festival this week that he would not be at the London premiere as he never travels in school holidays. A septuagenarian worried about taking his kids out of school and more concerned with the back of his hand than two of the most beautiful women in the world kissing is someone who merits a place in, well, a Woody Allen film.

Others seem far more worked up about the Cruz/Johansson embrace. A Google search on the kiss finds more than 400,000 entries. It is described here as "steamy", there as lacklustre, here "molten lava hot", there "the least sexy thing you can ever imagine". Actually that last description comes from Scarlett Johansson. I'll leave it to Penelope to debate that with her.

But what is strange is that there are so many varieties of description and so much discussion of this one kiss. And the film isn't even on general release yet. One female friend told me angrily, in relation to the director, that the kiss was a typical middle-aged man's fantasy. I'm not sure I agree. Young men have that fantasy too.

Besides, Woody, as Penelope Cruz tells us, wasn't that interested when it came down to it. So why are so many others? Had Cruz or Johansson kissed a man, there would have been infinitely less blogging, infinitely less anticipation. It is pretty bizarre that even today a kiss between two women excites such fascination, but maybe for film-makers that's good news. There's still one thing in a sexually liberated world that can excite comment. That a kiss should be the last taboo is startling.

"People will be blown away and even shocked," reported the New York Post. I particularly like that one. Being shocked is higher up on the Richter scale now than being blown away. I want Vicky Cristina Barcelona to be shown at a conference of sociologists, and maybe they can tell us why an all-female kiss still arouses controversy and more. It's beyond the scope of us arts commentators.

Woody Allen, I suspect, felt none of the prurience. Ever the professional film-maker would have seen the kiss as a cute marketing tool, as well, of course, as being part of the story. Anyway, he was probably more interested in phoning home to see how the kids were getting on with their homework.

And the film itself? It's a smashing return to form, funny, neurotic, painful, sexy and searching. And it has the witty dialogue that the new James Bond film so sadly lacks. Perhaps Woody Allen's last hurrah should be to direct a Bond movie. Then Daniel Craig would really know what being angst ridden was all about. And Woody (who played Jimmy Bond in the 1967 spoof Casino Royale) could really break new ground by getting him to kiss a fellow male spy.

Oh no, my namesake is back

I am apprehensive about the series Red Dwarf returning to TV. The last time it was on, I had a strange breakfast. As I was munching my toast, I opened a letter which began: "Dear David Lister, I love the way you paint your toenails." That certainly grabbed my attention, as did the fact that it came from New Zealand. Further surreal fan mail followed.

After a little investigation, it emerged that this was mail directed to the character in Red Dwarf who shares my name. Some bureaucrat without a brain at the BBC had found my name in the corporation's files, and was forwarding all my Red Dwarf namesake's fan mail to me.

So, with a new series starting, I would like all in the BBC personnel department to know that I am not him; he is not me; I have never painted my toenails, and for the duration of the series I would like to eat my breakfast without any alarming interruptions.

Payback time for Branagh fans

Kenneth Branagh has withdrawn from directing Jude Law in Hamlet for the Donmar next year, and the Donmar's artistic director Michael Grandage is stepping in to direct. Ticket-buyers are getting a good deal here. Grandage is, in my opinion, one of the best directors working in theatre today.

Nevertheless, the Donmar has offered full refunds to anyone who has bought a ticket for the production, and is disappointed that they won't be seeing Branagh's vision of the play on stage. This is a commendable gesture for Grandage and the Donmar to make. There have been many occasions over the years when changes have been made in a creative team prior to a production opening, but I cannot recall a single instance of refunds being offered. Now that the precedent has been set, I am sure that audiences will in future be quick to insist on a refund when a director withdraws.

Audiences should be grateful to Michael Grandage. Whether other producers will be, I'm not so sure.