The Week in Arts: A novel solution to the problem of crime

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The Independent Online

The most curious moment in a busy week for the arts occurred a couple of hundred miles from the Saatchi and Whitbread parties in the unlikely setting of a police press conference.

The most curious moment in a busy week for the arts occurred a couple of hundred miles from the Saatchi and Whitbread parties in the unlikely setting of a police press conference.

The deputy chief constable of North Wales, Clive Wolfendale, made a statement that could yet make a footnote in the history of 21st-century cultural life. Mr Wolfendale blamed the large increase in violent deaths in his area on Tarantino films, notably the two Kill Bill movies. No great surprise there. Violence in films has been blamed for violence on the streets for years. It was what Mr Wolfendale went on to say that was fascinating.

"In today's society," he said, "more people are likely to spend their evenings watching a Quentin Tarantino DVD than reading Jane Austen. Perhaps we should not be surprised by the consequences. We need more Persuasion and less Kill Bill."

I can't claim to have studied the speeches of deputy chief constables across the country in any depth, but I strongly suspect that this is the first time that one of their number has publicly advocated the reading of Jane Austen. It is also interesting that Mr Wolfendale plumped not for the better known and more often filmed Pride and Prejudice or Emma, but for Persuasion. That book is one that Janeites will often name as their favourite. Perhaps Mr Wolfendale is a paid-up Janeite himself.

Certainly, he has this week moved the boundaries of police and public interaction. Will the police generally now follow Mr Wolfendale's lead and encourage the public - for safety reasons - to read not just certain novelists but named novels? Will young lads get a clip round the ear from the copper on the beat if they are found carrying Silas Marner rather than Middlemarch? A Home Office list of prescribed non-violent reading cannot be far behind, if we are to avoid bibliophiles coming before the North Wales judiciary for being caught in possession of a Bret Easton Ellis with three previous Elmore Leonards to be taken into consideration.

But while the practicalities of having police-approved novels don't bear thinking about, there is something about Mr Wolfendale's public advocacy of Jane Austen that is culturally significant. Up until now, the few references to the arts by police and politicians when discussing crime - or discussing anything - have been to popular culture. EastEnders can be mentioned as can Tarantino as can Eminem. But if a deputy chief constable can invoke Persuasion in a statement on law and order, then the framework of cultural reference for public statements by public servants has changed dramatically.

I do hope you're not talkin' to me

The film The Player contained a scene where a wannabe producer made a pitch to a studio for a sequel to The Graduate. The three leading players, Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft and Katharine Ross, were all still alive, he said. Though this was meant to be a satirical dig at Hollywood, I thought it not a bad idea.

But a story this week makes me pleased that they never risked souring the memory of a classic movie by showing up several decades later and several decades older. It has been reported that Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese are in talks about a sequel to Taxi Driver. True, De Niro needs something classy after a series of lightweight roles. But I hope actor and director think better of it. It will be hard to recreate the freshness and the shock of the original 1970s movie. Robert De Niro will undoubtedly revive the film's catchphrase, "You talkin' to me?". But what was a disturbing threat from a dangerous thirtysomething might seem a hint of oncoming deafness from a wizened sixtysomething.

¿ The man behind the Glastonbury Festival, Michael Eavis, has said tantalisingly that the headliners this summer will be "the best songwriters in the world today". As he isn't saying yet who he means, this can be a debating point for rock fans.

I'm guessing he's not thinking of Jagger and Richards, nor putting Paul McCartney on stage with Paul Simon, nor Bob Dylan with Leonard Cohen, nor Paul Weller with Snoop Dogg. Neither, I'm sure, has he scoured the globe for the best world music songwriters.

The truth, I suspect, will be more prosaic. My hunch is it will be Coldplay. But Mr Eavis's choice of words is provocative. Whoever it is that tops the bill, they now have a lot to live up to.

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