Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Virgin and the Gypsy and Almost Famous

Yesterday evening, February 27th, 2009, on a TV channel I cannot remember, there was a showing of The Virgin and the Gypsy, based on the novel by D H Lawrence. As A young man in the early 1960’s I had read some Lawrence. In 1960 I acquired Sons and Lovers and had seen the film staring Dean Stockwell and Heather Sear, but cannot remember the film being shown again, although I did see both television serializations by the BBC in 1981 and 2003.

Kangeroo is one of least known works and I cannot remember anything about the story. The Trespasser was his second novel and apart from knowing this from a note on the back piece alleging that the female character is one of the most interesting of all his female characters, I also have no memory and do not believe I have read the novel again since it was acquired in 1961 as part of the reprinting by Penguin of many of his works to mark the thirtieth anniversary of his death. The Rainbow was acquired later in the 1970’s and it was not until 1961, a year after the original complete text was published that I acquired my copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover with its introduction by Richard Hoggart. The book was made into a film in 1955 which was banned by the Catholic Church in the USA, and then Sylvia Krystal starred in the 1981 version. I have also seen a French made film in 2006 which won an award at Cannes.

In 1969 Ken Russell produced his film, The Rainbow and then later Women in Love in which Glenda Jackson won the Academy Award for Best Actress. I will leave to another day, perhaps after re reading the novels I possess, writing about D H Lawrence in any depth, but for now I will mention that it is important to see a photograph of him as beardless young man and then the familiar portrait with one and which goes a along way to explaining his personal sexual orientation, and in his early travels he visited Monte Cassino in Italy and Malta, and he also taught as a school master at Croydon, a town three miles from my childhood home. It is important to also remember that in addition to his twenty novels and short stories he created twenty plays and books of poetry, including some collected editions after his death, sixteen works of non fiction, including four travel books with one on Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious and that he was also an artist painter. He wrote a prolific number of letters with seven volumes published and that some sixty books have been created by others on his life and on his works, sometimes devoting a book to a book.

The Virgin and the Gypsy commenced life as the main short story in a collection of the same name. Two young women return home from a residential finishing school in Paris, and home is a vicarage set in the countryside close to water in what the girls call the north but is in fact said to be the Midlands. Their father is the divorced, his wife having run off, hence having the custody of the daughters and the home is shared by a vicious and unloving grandmother and an equally censorious unloving married sister of the vicar whose husband is severely hen pecked but shows traces of rebellion and his true nature. One sister is willing to adjust to her new life and has gained a position which takes her out of the home and she is at ease in the local society but takes to heart the criticism that the daughters have too much of their mother in them for their own and anyone else’s good. The other sister has an unfulfilled passionate streak who longs to experience forceful sexual passion. She is pursued by an uneducated and unsophisticated son of a local industrial millionaire, but takes up with married Honor Blackman who has moved into community on honeymoon with her officer lover who she intends to marry when his divorce is arranged. She is attracted to their uninhibited life style, and which include the man doing his share of the housework. She is the virgin and the gypsy is married with children, also an uninhibited and passionate couple where the wife tells fortunes and the gypsy is brooding and masculine and makes things to sell with his hands.

Maurice Denham plays the angry and frustrated Anglican vicar who is ambivalent towards his daughters, tending to be protective but unable to talk about their mother and finding it difficult to reconcile his feelings with his Christian beliefs. I had professionals experience of interviewing two vicars whose wives had left for other men and in both instances the issue was the custody of children as part of divorce proceedings. It was as a consequence of these experiences that I first understood the difficulties married churchmen can have over their marital relations and their parenting, but also the problems for their female partners and their children although these days the converse is likely to apply to some female clergy and their families. The issue is wider, children of teachers who are unenthusiastic about learning, children of police who are anti authority, children who are pacifist of servicemen and so on.

At Ruskin I also saw at first hand the interaction between brooding ex miners, steel workers and such like who also had brains and female Oxford undergraduates especially those studying English Literature and their DH Lawrence! Before Ruskin I had found that young women were always willing to talk and sometimes cry on my shoulder but I was always you are like a brother. I thought I was nice and some of those they went with unscrupulous users. Such is was and is life! Alas it was several years more before my situation changed.

And the film? The Gypsy saves the Virgin when the local dam collapses and gets his reward and then she goes off to London with the emancipated couple.

Earlier in the day the surprise was the film Almost Famous, the semi autobiographical Cameron Crow film which was not successful at the box office but which received four Oscar nominations and won the award for Cameron for original script. It is a good film as well as being the best portrait of life as a sixties rock band

The undoubted star is the performance of Patrick Fugit then 17/18 playing a 15 year old who becomes a rock reporter for the magazine Creem run by Lester Bangs, played in the film by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Patrick was recommended by his drama teacher for the part and was immediately recognised as looking appropriately young, awe struck and inexperienced of life, yet bright and observant. Cameron had wanted to make this film for some time but met with no enthusiasm until his success with Jerry McGuire. His mother was hired to assist both with the Frances McDormand and to ensure that the character played by Patrick came close to how Cameron’s mother remembered his adolescence. Mrs Crowe by any standards is a remarkable women who worked as a Psychology professor and family therapist, a peace activist and for worker‘s rights and who performed skits around the house and was known to go to work on occasions wearing a clown outfit. She would not have been phased when school identified her son has having attention deficit, hyper active problem or when he graduated from High School at fifteen having been two years younger than the rest of his class through the latter part of the education system.

At high school he had started to write reviews for the house magazine and by 13 he was writing for an underground newspaper, the San Diego Door which had employed Lester Bangs who went on to edit the National Rock magazine Creem. Cameron maintained contact and commenced to write for the magazine. In the film his work came to the attention of the Editorial staff of Rolling Stone without realising he was such a young and inexperienced person although it is understood that they did have direct contact and did know he was only 15 when they first employed him as a contributing reporter and he was given the opportunity to interview Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and the members of Led Zeppelin

At the age of sixteen Cameron was sent on a road trip of three weeks with the Allman brothers band and he interviewed the whole band and the road crew. He also adopted the approach of sitting unobtrusively observing what went on and Greg Allman became concerned that there was more to this young man being a reporter, insisting on seeing identification to prove he was not a police officer. He confiscated the recording tapes and it was only after representation to the President of their recording company, the tapes returned and the story published. This experience formed a core element of the film story.

Because existing music writers did not take to the hard rock bands, Cameron had an almost clear field in interviewing bands like Led Zepplin, The Eagles, King Crimson, Linda Ronstadt and Rory Gallagher. Cameron became a member of the full time staff as Contributing and then Associate Editor but when at the age of 20 the weekly moved from the West Coast to New York Cameron decided to leave although he has continued to contribute throughout he rest of his life to date.

There are several aspects of this experience which he decided to incorporate into the fictional story. The first is the approach of his mother who gave permission for his road travels on the strict understanding that he phoned her daily, avoided drugs and did not get into trouble. It is understood that splendid moments in the film when she communicates her position to hotel staff, musicians and the “Band Aid” Members are closer to the truth than might be assumed.

For the uninitiated, the “Band Aid” are not the groupies, often under age who often were more interested in having a tally to boast about rather like autographs, but young women, still often under age, who loved the music and provided the band with on the road comforts if wives and long standing girl friends were not available. They also enjoyed the use of drugs as well watching the concerts from the side stage. How far girls were sold between bands as one tour ended and another started I have no idea although in the film that three girls including Penny Lane are bet on a the twist of a card is believable.

Penny Lane, real film name Lady Goodman, who is said by Cameron to be an amalgam of girls that he knew. In the early sixties when campaigning and then at Ruskin, I knew several who had similar personalities, including one encounter when I was out for the day with a female friend friend, I met an artist I knew from the CND movement who said he was going to Mexico as Europe was dead, artistically speaking, and invited her to go with him, although they had just met and she hesitated and nearly did. In the film Penny decides she is going to Morocco for a year and asks Patrick playing Cameron if he will go with him and he nearly does. The aspects of Penny which Cameron wrote and Kate Hudson captures brilliantly is the sense for free spirit, I had another female friend friend who went off on her own to India for six months in between sixth form and university, and another who had dropped out of her undergraduate place at Oxford University to have a child and was off to Marrakesh. At one level there was no fear, a wonderful sense of being alive and joy which they shared with everyone and anyone and yet there was also intense and loyal affection which was more often than not abused. They would and did survive whatever their circumstances and the contrast between them and the often inarticulate and uneducated young girls in care, sometimes reported to the authorities as being out of control by their parents, and who ran off getting into one disastrous relationship or life style after another, could not be greater.

Cameron has disclosed that he lost his virginity early on and the scene in the film also struck me as authentic from direct knowledge of some the young women observed although in my instances I was over twenty one.

The Allman Brothers and other bands of the period become Stillwater, a newish group with some success on a road tour by coach who graduate to private planes after an upgrade in management and who regarded the embedded journalist with considerable opposition and hostility, denying the authenticity of his story at first. The scene when one of the band goes off in the search of real real and accepts an invitation to attend a drugs and sex party held by ordinary teenagers who feed him excessive quantities of acid and encourage him to jump when he considered flying of the roof of the house also has authenticity as does the greater part of the film, hence its critical success.

I only experienced the 2 hour version of the film and will look out for the extended version which has an additional 40 minutes. There are some 50 music tracks of which 17 are included in released sound track album which won a Grammy for compilation soundtrack. On the successful album are Simon and Garfunkel America, The Who, The Beach Boys, Rod Stewart,(seen live) the Allman Brothers, Elton John Led Zepplin, David Bowie(seen live), Cat Stevens, Clarence Clearwater, Thunderclap Newman and Nancy Wilson, Cameron’s wife. Other on the film sound track are Black Sabbath, Sleeleye Dan, Dr hook, Chicago, Neil Young, Jimmi Hendrix, Deep Purple, Fleetwood Mac, Buddy Holly, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, and Jethro Tull. The film also won a Golden Globe for Best Musical/Comedy.

I wrote this while listening to my favourite Tina Turner Album, Only the best: The Best, Private Dancer, I can’t stand the rain; What you get is what you see; What’s love got to do with it, Steamy Window, Nutbush Windy City, I don’t want to lose you, It takes two, Look me in the heart, Let’s stay together, Better be good to me, Way of the world, Typical Male, We do not need another hen, Addicted to Love, Be Tender with me Baby, Love Think and I want you near me.

I did not go for the weekend shop until 5 and at first I thought I and left the recharged battery too long before the road trial. I delayed going out because I had to wait in for a delivery of white card from staples having managed to get a reduced price which works out a £5 including delivery and a free sports bag with water bottle, headband and small towel. I decided on making a second visit to Tesco on the Newcastle Road in he hope that they still had packs of the 100 grams of salami for £1. Alas it must have been old stock prior to the devaluation of the pound against the Euro. Given the information that eggs are not the cholesterol hazard previously believed I bought six eggs for 82 pence and yesterday I notice that adjacent was the offer of 15 for £1. Where is the logic in this? I also found two toffee Cheese cakes(frozen) at £1 each and grapes cheaper than Azda. I stopped at Lidl on the way back for 200 grams of salami for £1.68, not the Italian quality I am used to but it will do. Lidl has a selection of special offers every Monday and Thursday sometimes food but also clothing, household, officer and entertainment. This time I noted a gill for only £12.50 which I had seen advertised before but not in stock. This comprises a large griddle plate which can also be used as a keep warm plate and then under the rings can be fitted up to eight small pans, each capable of taking an egg, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, ham and such like. Given eh price I decided there was little loose as my existing double quick grill had lost its coating and had become more difficult to clean, while this grill looked easier although was more fiddly and would take longer to cook. I left until Saturday to clean and use. I called in at Azda on the way home as I wanted to stock up on tinned veg, a lettuce, some meats. Until recently I had not seen any Southern fried chicken pieces as available at Morrison’s, but this time there was an offer of two carton for £5 each comprising seven pieces, providing four meals of three and four pieces which I usually enjoy with baked beans. For Sunday there is roast Pork Joint and for Saturday a nice think piece of peppered steak part of four pieces for £7, of which three went into the Freezer with the chicken. I remembered the re stocking of tinned vegetables. I have gone on off the small frozen packs for the time being, but I forgot the tinned rice. I bought a sweet melon and remembered the food bags for fridge or freezer. I had forgotten to supply the four pieces of Mackerel before putting in the freezer so had to defrost having two as a main meal and letting the other cool to fridge for a salad over the weekend. My one sin was to buy two packs of diet coke sugar and caffeine free, 16 cans for £4.

I had not accomplished as much work as planned given the other interest, including the result show for American Idol, but it felt a good day.

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