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At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘300’, 26 April 2007

300 
directed by Zack Snyder.
December 2006
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... having some foreknowledge of Henry V’s stance at Agincourt (‘We will light a fire that will burn in the hearts of free men for all the centuries yet to be’) invites the faint-hearted – i.e. those not in favour of certain death – to leave him. They do leave, in their thousands, muttering things like ‘I’d be crazy not to,’ ‘I’ve got my ...

Red Stars

John Sutherland, 6 December 1984

Wild Berries 
by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, translated by Antonia Bovis.
Macmillan, 296 pp., £8.95, September 1984, 0 333 37559 9
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The Burn 
by Vassily Aksyonov, translated by Michael Glenny.
Hutchinson, 528 pp., £10.95, October 1984, 0 09 155580 9
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Fellow Travellers 
by T.C. Worsley.
Gay Men’s Press, 249 pp., £9.95, September 1984, 0 907040 51 9
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The Power of the Dog 
by Thomas Savage.
Chatto, 276 pp., £9.95, October 1984, 0 7011 3939 0
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The Fourth Protocol 
by Frederick Forsyth.
Hutchinson, 448 pp., £8.95, September 1984, 0 09 158630 5
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The Set-Up 
by Vladimir Volkoff, translated by Alan Sheridan.
Bodley Head, 397 pp., £8.95, September 1984, 0 370 30583 3
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... he lives in Washington, jogs four miles a day, and greatly admires the Jefferson memorial. The Burn, which is proclaimed his masterwork, was written over the period 1969-75, but never published in the USSR. It’s hard to see how it ever could have been. The novel (evidently composed as an angry private journal) is a fantasia on the theme of the lost hopes ...

Smoked Out

McKenzie Funk: Travels in the Apocalypse, 7 February 2019

Firestorm: How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future 
by Edward Struzik.
Island Press, 248 pp., £22.99, October 2017, 978 1 61091 818 3
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Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change 
by Ashley Dawson.
Verso, 384 pp., £20, October 2017, 978 1 78478 036 4
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Seeds on Ice: Svalbard and the Global Seed Vault 
by Cary Fowler.
Prospecta, 160 pp., £29.99, September 2016, 978 1 63226 057 4
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Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration and Homeland Security 
by Todd Miller.
City Lights, 272 pp., £7.99, September 2017, 978 0 87286 715 4
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... smoke blots out the colour of the houses and the hills, rendering everything in grayscale, a slow-burn diminution of the way life here used to be. On the afternoon the boys and I arrived the town and the Rogue Valley where it sits were surrounded by nine separate wildfires. The next day, Ashland registered the worst air quality in the United States: 321 on ...

Beetle bonkers in the beams

Michael Wood: Tony Harrison, 5 July 2007

Collected Film Poetry 
by Tony Harrison.
Faber, 414 pp., £20, April 2007, 978 0 571 23409 7
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Collected Poems 
by Tony Harrison.
Viking, 452 pp., £154, April 2007, 978 0 670 91591 0
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... in Harrison’s comment on ‘the sad poetry world’ in Collected Film Poetry. ‘I’ll burn my books,’ he says to his father in another poem. But this is itself a quotation from a book, a desperate and too late promise from a fictional character. And there isn’t really a bind here. ‘The Arts’ are suspect because they believe too thoroughly ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Inside Man’, ‘V for Vendetta’ , 11 May 2006

Inside Man 
directed by Spike Lee.
March 2006
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V for Vendetta 
directed by James McTeigue.
March 2006
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... explained that the idea belonged to his co-author and illustrator David Lloyd. ‘We shouldn’t burn the chap every November 5th,’ Lloyd wrote to Moore, ‘but celebrate his attempt to blow up Parliament!’ Moore says two thoughts occurred to him when he read this. ‘Dave was obviously a lot less sane than I hitherto believed him to be, and . . . this ...

Defence of the Housefly

Dinah Birch, 14 November 1996

Letters of Emma and Florence Hardy 
edited by Michael Millgate.
Oxford, 364 pp., £45, April 1996, 0 19 818609 6
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... Florence was struck with uneasiness after one particularly edgy bout of discontent: ‘I hope you burn my letters. Some are, I fear, most horribly indiscreet.’ But her husband was by then the most famous literary man of his age, and Florence’s letters were not for burning. They might, after all, be worth something. Neither Emma nor Florence could come to ...

Vampiric Words

Ruth Bernard Yeazell, 26 May 1994

The Hunger Artists: Starving, Writing and Imprisonment 
by Maud Ellmann.
Virago, 136 pp., £7.99, September 1993, 1 85381 675 2
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... anymore,’ the 57-year-old Fonda announced, explaining that after two decades of ‘going for the burn’ when she exercised and of binging and purging when she ate, she had decided that there was something unhealthily obsessive about her relation to her flesh. Social critics troubled by the fact that the last twenty years have also seen a dramatic rise in ...

Hoo-Hooing in the Birch

Michael Hofmann: Tomas Tranströmer, 16 June 2016

Bright Scythe: Selected Poems 
by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Patty Crane.
Sarabande, 207 pp., £13, November 2015, 978 1 941411 21 6
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... life and time and place. At best, maybe, in the single-sentence lines especially, with his cold burn and primary diction, a stragglier version of the Austrian Georg Trakl: ‘The jacket threadbare as a wolf pack./The face like a marble slab./Sitting in the circle of his letters in the grove that rustles/with scorn and error,/the heart blowing like a scrap ...

Catching

Michael Hofmann, 23 May 1996

Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew 
by John Felstiner.
Yale, 344 pp., £19.95, June 1995, 0 300 06068 8
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Breathturn 
by Paul Celan, translated by Pierre Joris.
Sun & Moon, 261 pp., $21.95, September 1995, 1 55713 218 6
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... Poems and published by North Point in 1986, was made by Katharine Washburn and Margret Guillemin. Michael Hamburger has published translations from Celan in increasing volume since a 1972 Selected from Penguin; Poems of Paul Celan, containing work from every one of Celan’s nine volumes, is published by Anvil and Persea. All the English editions – except ...

Sacrifice

Frank Kermode, 14 May 1992

The Gonne-Yeats Letters, 1893-1938 
edited by Anna MacBride White and A. Norman Jeffares.
Hutchinson, 544 pp., £25, April 1992, 0 09 174000 2
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... Mother is called Mary or Dana or Bridget or the Captain of the Armies of Heaven is called Lug or Michael? Why, Willy, it was you yourself who taught me these things.’ In this respect, Maud Gonne belonged to a period in which a good many emancipated women, or women desiring emancipation, combined a passion for social or national justice with an interest in ...

Diary

Michael Ignatieff: Canadian Elections, 1 November 1984

... a wounded warrior’s greatcoat and his fierce yellow eyes in the corner of the shed seemed to burn a hole in the dark. When we went out for a walk before bed, the temperature was 35 degrees below zero. The sky was clear and blue in the moon’s glacial stare. We slipped and slithered along the highway, afraid of what the cold can do to flesh, afraid of ...

At the Met

Michael Hofmann: Beckmann in New York, 16 February 2017

... public prosecutor, and one can see why: the rugby hooker’s build, the robust skull, the cold burn of the eyes, the wide, extravagantly downturned mouth (so perplexingly reminiscent of the late ‘my mother-in-law’ British comedian Les Dawson). Somehow, I am always drawn to these short, pyknic or mesomorphic creators, whether they are ...

California Noir

Michael Rogin: Destroying Los Angeles, 19 August 1999

Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster 
by Mike Davis.
Picador, 484 pp., £18.99, June 1999, 9780330372190
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... son of the Southern California interior who has proposed ‘The Case for Letting Malibu Burn’ (Malibu is the exclusive Los Angeles neighbourhood lodged between mountains and beach) has met his match in the form of a retired Malibu realtor who goes by the nom de plume of Brady Westwater. Westwater offers Los Angeles as ‘The Millennium City; an ...

Making movies in England

Michael Wood, 13 September 1990

My indecision is final 
by Jake Eberts and Terry Ilott.
Faber, 678 pp., £17.50, June 1990, 0 571 14888 3
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... a source of vision, rather than of funds or themes. Still, it is distressing to see so much energy burn away to waste, and so much money frightened off. The realm of film finance, this weird zone where hard-headed folks put heavy money into fantasy, gets narrower every day, and so our films get narrower too, endless repeats of a handful of recipes. However, we ...

Yossarian rides again

Michael Wood, 20 October 1994

Closing Time 
by Joseph Heller.
Simon and Schuster, 464 pp., £14.99, October 1994, 0 671 71907 6
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... that was Snowden’s secret. Drop him out a window and he’ll fall. Set fire to him and he’ll burn. Bury him and he’ll rot, like other kinds of garbage. The spirit gone, man is garbage. That was Snowden’s secret. Ripeness was all.’ The grisly, tasteless, literary gag is perfectly placed. No metaphorical maturity here; tragic dignity turns to ...

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