David Lister: Don't encourage politicians who want to be film buffs

The Week in Arts

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Never mind solving the problems of Greece and the eurozone – Nicolas Sarkozy has learned a far more valuable lesson in life: if you want to impress as a human being, hold forth on films.

The French President has apparently been mugging up on movies to impress visitors to the Elysée Palace. To improve his cultural credentials he has obsessively watched entire oeuvres of some of the greatest directors in a single night. This is the man who was once mocked for praising Sylvester Stallone and cinema farces.

Now artists and actors are being invited to cultural soirées to discuss Alfred Hitchcock (Sarkozy has watched 15 of his films back to back) Fellini, Lubitsch, Kubrick and others. Curiously, the French President doesn't seem to have yet included the French New Wave in his studies, but then 15 Hitchcocks on the trot followed by a couple of Fellinis can leave you a little tired. I wouldn't be surprised if he surreptitiously put on a DVD of Rambo to come down.

Let's not knock it. Our own leaders have little if anything to say about Kubrick, Hitchcock or Fellini or films and the arts in general. Nevertheless, I fear that if President Sarkozy thinks that after his studies he can relax, he might be mistaken. At soirées and dinner parties he can certainly now be a film bore with the rest of us, but unfortunately something tends to go awry when politicians try to be movie buffs.

My favourite example will always be the occasion when the then Conservative arts minister Stephen Dorrell was at the Cannes film festival, which that year was honouring the divine actress Jeanne Moreau. Mr Dorrell wanted to add his tribute and did so, praising "a great Frenchman". People have been guillotined for less.

And, as every arts reporter knows, there is no finer sport than asking a new Culture Secretary, "What was the last film you saw?", knowing that the answer will be either a film that was released three years previously or an unsuitable downmarket offering or a pretentiously upmarket one. It's a no-win.

We want our politicians to enjoy popular culture, but we also want to feel that they are at one remove from it and can't really relate to how the rest of us spend our evenings. And as President Sarkozy must surely discover, there will be no shortage of guests eager to catch him out and give a knowing wink to a fellow guest on the other side of the table followed by a phone call to Le Monde. However much Sarkozy studies, however many screenings he has, there will come that awful evening when he confuses a Fellini with a Pasolini or Tippi Hedren with Grace Kelly, or says "The Clockwork Orange" instead of A Clockwork Orange.

A lot can go wrong after a couple of bottles of claret. When you're a politician it's sometimes better to keep your private passions private.

Things to do at a gig when you're busy

I thought I was taking a risk a couple of weeks ago in expressing frustration at people talking non-stop at rock gigs, even through the most intricate musicianship and delicate ballads. But the expected barrage of abuse didn't arrive. Instead, your emails suggest that there are a lot of readers who wish those around them would listen and shut up.

My problem occurred at the Roundhouse in London during a Paul Simon concert. One reader, Maggie Dyer, says her experience at that venue has caused her never to go there again. Philip Adams asked a group in front of him at Bryan Ferry whether they had come to chat or see Bryan Ferry. "Both" was the response, which is honest at least. My favourite email, though, came from a reader signing himself simply Dave, who recalled the time when "a bloke next to me started shouting his shopping order to, I presume, his wife into his phone."

I suppose one has to applaud the multitasking.

Shouldn't ugly sisters be, er, ugly?

Fairy tales are global, but boy are there cultural differences. Watching Laurent Pelly's delightful production of Massenet's opera Cendrillon at the Royal Opera House, it was evident that this French version of the Cinderella story was markedly different from our own. Leaving aside the fact that at 41 the American soprano Joyce DiDonato brought a disconcerting maturity to the role, it was more disconcerting that one never actually saw her being bullied, and that her stepsisters were tall, blond and not unattractive.

One should always welcome cultural differences, but when one sits in the audience harbouring a bit of a fancy for the ugly sisters, there's something wrong somewhere.


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