Philip Hensher: Why go to a concert if all you want to do is film it? You should be dancing...

Share
Related Topics

The offer was, to someone of my age and culture, irresistible. Madonna was touring with a show in her old, grand style. I'd always kicked myself for not making the effort to see the great Blonde Ambition tour, nearly 20 years ago now. She was coming to Zurich with a show called Sticky and Sweet. Forget the off-putting title; for once, we were going to get on the train and go and see the woman Rupert Everett calls the Funny Little Thing do what she still does best.

She's been going for a quarter of a century now, and we've stuck with her through thick and thin. I would never quite trust somebody of my age who didn't have a ready answer to the question of what their favourite Madonna track was. Mine – this really dates me, I'm afraid – is "Vogue", from way back in 1990. I'm not wild about her rock-chick phase; we honestly didn't care much for the whole Cockney geezer nonsense; and she should just give up trying to make films. Who cares? We were going to see Madonna.

I hardly ever go to rock concerts – I could just about count the ones I've been to on one hand. Photographs of rock concerts have started to look odd to me. Whenever the crowd was caught by the camera, what it caught was hundreds or thousands of camera lenses staring back. It always looked, from some photographs, as if George Michael, or whoever, was throwing himself into the whole experience on the stage. What the audience was mainly doing was concentrating on staying very still to take exactly the same photograph, in hundreds, later to post on flickr.com. But that had to be an illusion.

It turns out not to be. Afterwards, we made rather merry with the nature of an almost incredibly slow Swiss crowd. "Look at me," I said to Zav afterwards, pulling a Protestant face. "I'm a Swiss accountant at a Madonna concert." It was certainly disconcerting to be the only two people for dozens of yards in any direction dancing to "Vogue". On reflection, it probably wasn't because they were Swiss. It was mostly because they were taking photographs.

Nothing really prepared me for the culturally mediated nature of the modern rock concert. The tiny real figure, the size of your smallest fingernail, interacts with video screens, both reproducing and instigating the performance. The audience plays its own part by not abandoning itself to the Dionysiac, but transferring it, in the first instance, into a machine. From there, a bespoke record of what you never responded to in the first place may be uploaded or downloaded on to the appropriate website. I'd rather dance.

Anyway, Madonna was terrific, and I look forward to telling anyone who will listen, in 20 years' time, that I saw her in what still looks like her prime. Of course, people may say in 20 years that they know, they've seen the bootleg footage. There are, as I write, 2,540 films on YouTube of the tour, which started only a week ago. Can anyone explain what it really added to anyone's enjoyment of the evening, to film it?

Taylor's novels cursed by film

Anyone who loves Elizabeth Taylor – no, madam, not the actress, the novelist Elizabeth Taylor – will have heard the news of a new film of her 1957 masterpiece, Angel, with mixed feelings. It stars that always interesting actress Romola Garai, left. It is directed by one of the most intellectually engaging of French directors, François Ozon. What could go wrong?

Angel is an almost perfect novel, a really clever blending of tones, a mixture of irony and fascinated sympathy as it portrays the long career of a trashy Edwardian novelist. When you read it, you reflect how difficult it must have been to bring off, how easily it could have gone wrong. For it to succeed once, in print, is more luck than we really have any right to expect. To hope that it could succeed a second time, in a different medium, is just tempting luck, and a failure might very well put one off a much-loved book.

There seems to be a bit of a curse falling on films of Elizabeth Taylor's books. A film made as long ago as 2005 of her wonderful Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont with Joan Plowright, no less, in the lead, has never found a UK distributor.

Ozon's film, alas, has had some very unkind reviews, so I might spare myself that one. Could I recommend to filmmakers in search of less intractable material Taylor's beautifully balanced 1968 novel, The Wedding Group, about a rebellious grand-daughter of a barely disguised Eric Gill?

Don't clean your lawnmower while smoking

An unusual but perfectly genuine story came my way this week. A lady from an Australian backwater called Mount Gambier was cleaning her lawnmower when it burst into flames. On being questioned, she revealed that she had been cleaning her petrol mower while smoking.

On being further questioned as to why it was that the worst damaged occurred to her bedroom, she admitted that she had been cleaning the lawnmower in that unexpected place. This allowed the local newspaper to begin the story with the unforgettable sentence: "A Mount Gambier woman has warned the community against cleaning lawnmowers in bedrooms while smoking."

Lauren Goldsworthy's experience has, you see, been of use to the wider "community", and an unusual health and safety breach seems unlikely to occur again in these exact particulars.

The happy ending is, however, being questioned by some people in the Mount Gambier lawnmower-cleaning community, who have unkindly pointed out that Ms Goldsworthy has a conviction for arson. "I swear," she said, "this time I did not do it. I was convicted of arson when I was 18 because I set fire to a curtain in the house to get help." This column believes her. If you seriously wanted to burn your bedroom down, there are, surely, easier ways to do it than by lugging a petrol mower upstairs, lit fag in mouth.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home