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So Hard to Handle

John Lahr: In Praise of Joni Mitchell, 22 February 2018

Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell 
by David Yaffe.
Farrar, Straus, 420 pp., £20, October 2017, 978 0 374 24813 0
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... Hendrix noted in his diary after their first, brief meeting. ‘She just knocked me on my ass,’ David Crosby said after hearing her sing ‘Both Sides, Now’. ‘It was the highest quality of songwriting. I liked her better than Dylan.’ Crosby briefly became Mitchell’s inamorato and produced her first album. Leonard Cohen, another influential early ...

Complicated System of Traps

Michael Wood: Geoff Dyer’s ‘Zona’, 19 July 2012

Zona: A Book about a Film about a Journey to a Room 
by Geoff Dyer.
Canongate, 228 pp., £16.99, February 2012, 978 0 85786 166 5
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... are not the end of the book. We turn the page and read a quotation from the American novelist David Markson: ‘Or was it possibly nothing more than a fundamentally recognisable genre all the while, no matter what Writer averred? Nothing more or less than a read?’ We can take the question as referring both to the described movie and to the describing ...

Dastardly Poltroons

Jonathan Fenby: Madame Chiang Kai-shek, 21 October 2010

The Last Empress: Madame Chiang Kai-shek and the Birth of Modern China 
by Hannah Pakula.
Weidenfeld, 787 pp., £25, January 2010, 978 0 297 85975 8
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... although she is one, an avenging angel.’ Rita Hayworth, Shirley Temple, Ginger Rogers, Ingrid Bergman and Mary Pickford joined a committee to welcome her to Hollywood, where David O. Selznick sponsored an evening in her honour during which the Los Angeles Philharmonic played ‘The Madame Chiang Kai-shek March’. (As ...

No more pretty face

Philip Horne, 8 March 1990

Emotion Pictures: Reflections on the Cinema 
by Wim Wenders, translated by Sean Whiteside and Michael Hofmann.
Faber, 148 pp., £12.99, November 1989, 0 571 15271 6
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Scorsese on Scorsese 
by Martin Scorsese, edited by David Thompson and Ian Christie.
Faber, 178 pp., £12.99, November 1989, 9780571141036
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... with the decline or disappearance of the main series that flourished in the Sixties, the era of Bergman, Fellini and Godard. Secker had Cinema One and Cinema Two; Lorrimer did Classic and Modern Film Scripts; and Movie magazine, through Studio Vista, produced a couple of dozen Movie Paperbacks. These mostly gave way in the mid-Seventies to the theories of ...

Touching the music

Paul Driver, 4 January 1996

Stravinsky: Chronicle of a Friendship 
by Robert Craft.
Vanderbilt, 588 pp., £35.95, October 1994, 0 8265 1258 5
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... aware of the difference between a ‘life of purity’, such as he found exemplified by the poet David Jones when visiting him in a Harrow lodging-house with Stephen Spender, and the ‘many lives of pastiche’. But he is aware of the origin of his woes. From 4 October 1953: ‘My deepest problem. I have changed families and at a terrible cost substituted ...

Being that can be understood is language

Richard Rorty: H.-G. Gadamer, 16 March 2000

... is dead. There are many distinguished analytic philosophers, particularly admirers of Kripke like David Lewis and Frank Jackson, who are unabashed physicalist metaphysicians. They think of themselves as continuing the struggle against mystificatory nonsense that Thomas Huxley waged against Bishop Wilberforce, Russell against Bergson, and Carnap against ...

The Last Witness

Colm Tóibín: The career of James Baldwin, 20 September 2001

... of adolescent boys who are part of the church. It ends as follows: All during the trip home David seemed preoccupied. When he finally sought out Johnnie he found him sitting by himself on the top deck, shivering a little in the night air. He sat down beside him. After a moment Johnnie moved and put his head on ...

What kind of funny is he?

Rivka Galchen: Under Kafka’s Spell, 4 December 2014

Kafka: The Years of Insight 
by Reiner Stach, translated by Shelley Frisch.
Princeton, 682 pp., £24.95, June 2013, 978 0 691 14751 2
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Kafka: The Decisive Years 
by Reiner Stach, translated by Shelley Frisch.
Princeton, 552 pp., £16.25, June 2013, 978 0 691 14741 3
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... brilliance and annoyingness are perfectly bound. Often​ his character recalls both Larry David and Bertie Wooster. Many are the plans that Kafka makes in a manner that ensures their eventual unmaking. Over five years he courts, engages, un-engages, re-engages but never marries Felice Bauer, a woman with whom he spends less than 15 scattered and not ...

Who had the most fun?

David Bromwich: The Marx Brothers, 10 May 2001

Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx 
by Stefan Kanfer.
Penguin, 480 pp., £7.99, April 2001, 0 14 029426 0
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The Essential Groucho 
by Groucho Marx, edited by Stefan Kanfer.
Penguin, 254 pp., £6.99, September 2000, 0 14 029425 2
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... picture, I am sure that the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don’t know whether I could, but I certainly would like to try. You claim you own Casablanca and that no one else can use that name without your permission. What about ‘Warner Brothers’? Do you own that, too? You probably have the ...

The Sound of Voices Intoning Names

Thomas Laqueur, 5 June 1997

French Children of the Holocaust: A Memorial 
by Serge Klarsfeld.
New York, 1881 pp., $95, November 1996, 0 8147 2662 3
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... one would expect from any collection of pictures, except for the jarring and very public Star of David which feels eerily as if it had invaded the private space of the pictures without its bearers having noticed. There were 1536 such pictures in the first, 1994 French edition; 1834 in the 1995 edition; another 497 in a January 1996 supplement; and a further ...

I’m an intelligence

Joanna Biggs: Sylvia Plath at 86, 20 December 2018

The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Vol. I: 1940-56 
edited by Peter Steinberg and Karen Kukil.
Faber, 1388 pp., £35, September 2017, 978 0 571 32899 4
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The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Vol. II: 1956-63 
edited by Peter Steinberg and Karen Kukil.
Faber, 1025 pp., £35, September 2018, 978 0 571 33920 4
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... she told her mother, but took solace in Frieda’s lalala, in typing Ted’s play and in the Bergman movies they were showing at the Everyman in Hampstead. ‘We’ve had a sprinkling of clear invigorating blue days this week & I’ve had Frieda out in the park while I sat on a bench and read this week’s New Yorker,’ she wrote to her mother on 9 and ...

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