Monthly Archives: July 2017

Isabelle Huppert a Woman of Extraordinary Talent

French film star Isabelle Huppert, 64, has received a multitude of awards, including a Bafta for the Lacemaker and a Golden Globe for Elle, Paul Verhoeven’s controversial film about rape, for which she was also Oscar-nominated. She lives in Paris with her film director husband, Ronald Chammah, with whom she has three children.

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I interviewed her in 1987 to include in my book Women. Here what she told me, listed under the various headings that were used in my book.

The Early Influences:

I was the youngest of my family, so I guess my older sisters and my brother and parents influenced me, because I was raised as the baby, and that lingered for quite a long time. From my father, I learnt integrity and a sense of certain values and morality, and from my mother, will and energy and lots of positiveness. I don’t know if we were brought up to be independent. We were brought up to be curious of everything very early; we travelled, we went to foreign countries when we were very young, and I never felt any big pressure on me. I always felt that I was going to be free to do whatever I wanted.

Advantages and Disadvantages:

America is a very hard country. I can imagine how much you have to fight, and it’s probably difficult to fight so much and be feminine at the same time. Probably the French are better at this little game. In America, I think a lot of women become threatening for men, although I think both sides are rather traumatized. There is much loneliness in the United States, and it’s so competitive you have to make money. Here, in the Old World, there is still more sensuality, and, you know, we let it go. In America, you can’t let it go.

Motherhood:

I always wanted a baby, from the age of eighteen or twenty, but for several reasons I had to delay. I thought I was not ready: physically and psychologically unable to have a baby. But I always wanted one. And it’s very hard for me to figure out that it’s possible not to want one. From a moral point of view, I perfectly understand: it is not a necessity. But, for me, it was. It was an obsession.

Motherhood has changed me. It’s not that it changed, boom, in five seconds, right after the baby was born, but there was a mental change, and I can tell from how people view me now. It altered everything, my perception of life, my perception of being an actress. It’s not that it solved an issue, that’s not it. Before I had a child, I was very jealous of women who had children. Now that I have one, I am very jealous of all women who have another child; I am obsessed with having another child. There was an English film I loved, The Pumpkin Eater with Anne Bancroft and Peter Finch, directed by Jack Clayton, and made in 1964. It’s a wonderful picture, because it’s one of the only films I’ve seen dealing with that obsession. In the film, the woman keeps having children, one after another. She loves the children but it’s anguishing because it’s as if she constantly needs to be filled. The process of having a baby, certainly in my case, was the same process as doing a role. When you are an actress, you give life to a role; and when you are a woman, you give birth to a child. There are no words to describe how elated one feels when one gives birth. It’s the oldest thing in the world, yet it’s surreal. There are actually no words.

Relationships:

I don’t mind sometimes being an object woman; there is something passive in the way a woman has to be seductive and likeable, and if you are not like this, then you miss a lot. It is a pleasure for a man to see a woman like this, and it is a pleasure for a woman to behave like this. It doesn’t mean you have to be exploited. That’s something I feel very much, being an actress. Professionally, I behave like a big girl, but artistically I know that deep down between a director and an actress there must be that strange relationship of being passive, and being led by the director, and if you are not like this, there can’t be a relationship, you can’t be an actress. Being an actress depends on this.

In a recent interview withe The Times Magazine she says:

I feel French and I feel European. I think that when you feel both, the stronger and closer it makes you. England is already an island – Brexit closed the bridge for us. We were sad in France.

I totally share her feelings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

Can it possibly be that Brexit is making people unaware of anything other but the nagging feeling that nothing else matters until a looming divorce takes place for better or for worse, and then life could possibly return to a lost normality, according to those who believe that grass is greener on the other side.

Our literary output has, as a result of this unholy obsession with Brexit, suffered as a consequence of a propaganda campaign from both sides of the equation whose motives alienate the other and make common sense a thing of the past.

The choice is restricted between those who take the High Road and abandon their humanitarian dogma for a more selfish view of the individual who seek to gain no matter what. And the rest of us, who believe in the destruction of an unequal society and are determined, come what may, to grab the privileges that have evaded them for so long as a result.

Where do we go from here is the topical question that baffles the learned amongst us, whose middle road is out of tune with a majority of people who view the world through spectacles that are tinted with brain-washing that has invaded our global societies, to cause mayhem and instability in every walk of life.

Look around you and you fear for the outcome, for the tentacles of dangerous change is now the leprosy that devours everything in its path and rumbles on unhindered, as if to say ‘I am here to get you!’

What a terrible thought for the day. But hold on. Perhaps this is a nightmare scenario that I am trying to evict and has no bearing whatsoever on the validity of the situation…

A MORE INNOCENT TIME?

The recent brouhaha about the sexual antics on various TV programmes reminded me of a time, not that long ago, when a suggestion that wives sucked their husbands’ toes was ridiculed as if we had faced the end of civilization.

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In 1987 Quartet published a book whose reception provoked a response that was never intended (though that ancient adage about no publicity is ever that bad does apply in the publishing trade). The hilarity arose partly because of its subject and partly because of the identity of its author, who happened to be married to David Stevens, then the press baron of Express Newspapers who had been created a life peer as Lord Stevens of Ludgate. Melissa Sadoff, as she called herself, possessed an inherited family title from central Europe and was, formally speaking, Melissa, Countess Andrassy. The book she had written was Woman as Chameleon: or How To Be the Ideal Woman. It was the very antithesis of feminist doctrine, aiming to teach women ways to keep their marriage exciting by pampering their man and acceding to his every wish and whim. Melissa was flamboyant in her views and Lord Stevens gave the impression of taking his wife’s attentions in his stride. She described the treatment she gave him in rather embarrassing detail, which opened up an opportunity for the critics to have a field-day in leg-pulling. ‘Grovel’ of Private Eye immediately dubbed Melissa ‘Countess Undressy’ and claimed to have suggested the book after hearing her speak about her husband’s ‘Ugandan preferences’. He was able to quote her verbatim for his own purposes.

‘There is nothing,’ she says, ‘that can be called perverse between husband and wife so long as it relates to the husband’s need and the wife’s willingness to do it.’ I have advised her to put it all on paper with a view to publication in book form. I tell her that my friend the seedy Lebanese parfumier Mr AttullahDisgusting could well be interested, as he is currently obsessed by all aspects of the Ugandan situation.
Two weeks later ‘Grovel’ followed through with the latest development:

As I suggested, the Countess Undressy . . . is to write a book of Ugandan hints, which will shortly be published by the swarthy Lebanese sex-fiend Naim Attullah-Disgusting. The ‘Countess’ will not mince words when she describes how she sees the duties of a wife. ‘Always kiss your husband’s body, starting from his toes,’ she writes. ‘After kissing his toes and sucking them, proceed to kiss every inch of his legs . . . ‘She should then perform the oral act. Many women feel an aversion towards this form of sex . . . Women who feel this way need to be asked what they would prefer – to have their husband go to a prostitute for such a service?’ (What’s the oral act? © Norman Fowler ’87) (That’s enough filth. Ed.)

The launch for Woman as Chameleon was held on 10 February, with ‘Londoner’s Diary’ of the Evening Standard citing the toe-kissing routine before asking ‘a pale, nervous and uncomfortable’ David Stevens, ‘Well, does she always?’ He had to confess that he hadn’t yet read the book, and didn’t intend to do so till he’d sifted through the reviews. ‘Otherwise I might be embarrassed.’

The nearest the party came to being risqué was when Jubby Ingrams’s (the daughter of Richard Ingrams, and who worked at Quartet) shoe was removed from her foot by an admirer with a view to kissing her from the toes upwards. Ms Sadoff rushed over to intervene. ‘No,’ she cried with a Transylvanian lilt. ‘It must be the other way round.’

Henry Porter in the Sunday Times ‘Notebook’ judged David Stevens to be ‘rather more reticent about his home life’ than was his wife.

I would estimate that this book . . . is going to cause considerable embarrassment to Mr Stevens . . . None the less, he has taken steps to purchase the serial rights if only to keep it out of the hands of the Daily Mail group, which naturally was keen to enhance his discomfort by publishing extracts like this: ‘Become your husband’s own prostitute . . . if your husband is in his study, workroom or garage in the wintertime put on a sexy slip, wrap yourself in a coat, slip on suspenders, black stockings and surprise him wherever he may be.’

Unfortunately the fun and games of the press diverted attention from the rest of the book, which threw many a light on relationships, friendships, motherhood and divorce, with sound philosophical reflections. Melissa was of Hungarian origin, a talented concert pianist and an accomplished hostess. She was perhaps a shade over the top in her enthusiasm, but being an eternal optimist her heart was in the right place. In retrospect, I believe she deserved more praise for the book than she ever received. Throughout the merciless lampooning from Private Eye and the barrage of snide sarcasm aimed by the rest of the press against the book, which inevitably earned the displeasure of the feminist lobby, she remained in control and outwardly unaffected by it all.

Her husband, despite the newspapers’ determination to embarrass him, was extremely supportive. He did not seem to be in any way phased by the teasing of friends over the rumpus caused by some of the book’s intimate passages. Sadly, only two years later, Melissa died when she got up in the middle of the night to eat a peach and choked on the stone. I was in Los Angeles at the time and was woken to hear the dreadful news. It left me feeling very emotional. I had grown to like Melissa immensely. Her colourful personality and boundless zest for life were her enduring strengths and ensured she could not be easily forgotten.

A LITTLE OF WHAT YOU FANCY DOES YOU GOOD…

I have always assumed that making love is good for your heart but apparently only if you are a man. As men rarely require much encouragement to indulge in a night of passion they can now insist that it is the purposes of health that drive them to do it on a regular basis. Scientists have revealed that enjoying regular sex could be the best remedy for avoiding killer heart disease – although somewhat unfairly, only for the male of the species. Making love several times a week can slash levels of homocysteine, a chemical in the blood that can trigger cardiac problems, a study found. But women do not get the same benefit because their sexual arousal is less dependent on a healthy blood flow, experts said.

Men who enjoy regular sex sessions often have better circulation and healthier blood vessels, which help prevent a build-up of homocysteine. Coronary heart disease is Britain’s biggest killer, with around 73, 000 a year dying from the condition. Doctors have long suspected that frequent sex can reduce the risk of heart attacks. A previous study found that intercourse twice a week halved a man’s chances of blocked arteries, compared to those indulging less than once a month. But until now there has been little scientific evidence to explain why a healthy sex life protects against illness.

The latest findings published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine are the first to reveal the link with reducing homocysteine levels. The chemical is a vital building block of proteins, and occurs naturally in the body, but excess levels, which can be caused by poor diet, are thought to damage blood vessels supplying the heart – raising the risk of a deadly clot forming. Previous studies have linked high readings with a 66% increased chance of dying from heart disease, as well as higher risks of stroke, Alzheimer’s and cancer. Researchers from the National Defence Medical Centre in Taiwan tracked more than 2000 men and women aged 20-59. Analysing blood samples, they compared homocysteine readings to the frequency with which volunteers had sex. The lowest traces were found in men claiming to have sex at least twice every week, while the highest readings were found in those restricted to less than once a month. But in women, there was no significant variation.

Researchers are now calling on doctors to advise male patients at risk of heart disease to have more sex. They wrote in their report: ‘A good quality sex life, frequent sex and libido are all related to health in the middle-aged and the elderly. Increased sexual frequency could have a protective effect on general health and quality of life – especially in men – so doctors should support patients’ sexual activity.’

Dr Mike Knapton of the British Heart Foundation said the study produced an interesting result but did not prove regular sex reduced homocysteine levels. He added: ‘A relationship does exist between sex and heart disease risk; Checking your blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as keeping active and not smoking, remains the best way to ensure a healthy future.’

I, however, am convinced that having regular sex for both men and women is essential for a healthy life, as long as it is backed by a regimented lifestyle devoid of addictive habits which harm the mechanism of the body in the long-term, among which excessive food intake is perhaps the most damaging.

THE BRIAN SEWELL I KNEW

In February 2000 I interviewed Brian Sewell for my book Dialogues which was published the same year.

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This first encounter signalled the birth of a friendship which culminated years later into Quartet becoming his publisher until the very end of his life in 2015.

The experience of it all, was mutually uplifting and will always be remembered as an adventure of great warmth that defied Brian’s reputation as cantankerous, opinionated, snooty and disdainful of popular culture, unwilling to compromise on artistic matters that he often viewed with personal severity but always armed with a compelling knowledge that established him as one of the great art critics of his generation.

His journalism was equally biting and thought provoking.

 

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The current TLS review of The Orwell Essays, published by Quartet recently in a paperback edition, hails the articles in the book as ‘refreshingly honest, fearless, insightful and humane for which Sewell was awarded the Orwell prize in 2003.’

The book is riveting and destined to become a collector’s item. Be the first to start the ball rolling and encourage others to do the same for Brian is a rare breed of men that alas, are hard to find these days.

http://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/private/journalism-brian-sewell/

MUSIC AND HUMANISM

Daniel Barenboim’s extraordinary address to the audience at Sunday’s Prom after his conducting of Elgar’s Second Symphony with the Berlin Staatskapelle reminded me of my interview with another wonderful musician. There is general agreement that Yehudi Menuhin was not only a great musician but also a great human being. I had already been in contact with his father, Moshe, when Quartet published our controversial book by Jonathan Dimbleby with photographs by Donald Mcullin,The Palestinians , and was interested to hear the son’s views on some of the issues involved. My lead-in to the subject was a question about Wilhelm Furtwängler, who had remained in Germany and continued his career as a conductor almost till the end of the Nazi era. As a result he had been much criticized. Yehudi Menuhin’s assessment was both eminently sane and full of insight.

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A very great conductor and an absolutely clean man, no question of that. He stood up for Hindemith, he protected a great many Jews, helped many out of Germany, and himself had to escape towards the end of the war. He happened to conduct the orchestra when some of the German leaders were there, but we can’t expect everyone to behave in the same way. Sometimes it takes more courage to remain in your country than to leave it. Those who stayed suffered a pretty bad fate, and those who came out, after all, escaped. Yet there was this feeling of superiority among those who escaped, thinking that they showed great determination in leaving it behind. I would say, Jew or Gentile, you can’t blame those who stayed, you can’t blame those who escaped. It’s just the way things went. But Furtwängler himself was a man of integrity. The anti-Semitism I have seen in my lifetime has had a psychological impact on me only to the extent that I know it is important to maintain the dignity of the Jew and to avoid a kind of behaviour that might prompt a response. The caricature of the Jew is the businessman with the big cigar, who does exist sometimes. They can be charming and interesting people. What bothers me sometimes is that they are a little like desert flowers. When they have only a drop of water they blossom. They make the most of the opportunity, as they did in Germany before the Nazi days, when they occupied extremely powerful positions. That must have created a certain amount of resentment. Of course, it gives no excuse for anti-Semitism, but you can understand it. The Jew does not stand out in Italy or Greece, nor would he in China, since the Chinese are far cleverer at business than the Jews. There are so many different types of Jew, but traditionally people have fastened on the Jew who is obviously different from them. But there are so many that are in no way different. It’s like the problem of the black in the United States. There are almost a majority of blacks that are nearly white, and no one bothers about them. It is true that the Jews are far too sensitive, though they have perhaps been sensitized by history. They are too ready to imagine an insult; they are not prepared to give enough leeway, even to allow for a certain misbehaviour; and it is part of the psychology. One can understand that too, and one must understand it. They have to compensate for certain established assumptions. If it’s not one thing it’s another. If it’s not religion, it’s jealousy or it’s race. Yet it’s none of these things actually. It’s simply that people are nasty and want to condemn anything if they can find a little difference; can say that hair is frizzed instead of straight or there’s a detectable accent. Then they pounce on it. Unfortunately the Jews have come to Israel with the narrow aim of making themselves an independent nation, to a large extent disregarding the environment and the rest of the world. They didn’t come to establish a nation with the Palestinians and a wonderful federation (though now they realize that perhaps they should have done). They came instead with the pure desire to establish a Jewish state to the exclusion of everything else. They did it very successfully, but they did it ruthlessly, and probably the sense of fear is equal on both sides. I feel that the only solution lies in a federation, totally equal, as in Switzerland. If both have an equal title to the land, what else can you do? Meanwhile there is something cruel about all of us. We are capable of the most horrid things, especially if we have suffered them ourselves.

Yehudi left an indelible impression on me: a shining example of goodness and humility. I felt much the same as I listened to Barenboim’s plea for tolerance, internationalism and cultural diversity.

A TIME FOR REALITY

 

I really can’t understand why we have suddenly forsaken reality and, despite clear signs, still adopt the illusion that the United States and Great Britain have what we so often referred to as ‘a special relationship’.

If you had turned your television set on last weekend and watched Donald Trump’s warm behaviour towards the young President of France during the US President’s ceremonial visit to Paris, there would have been no doubt in your mind that Britain was no longer in the forefront of American thinking. And yet we seem to believe we expect their backing when the chips are down, especially now when we have deliberately antagonised the entire European continent in our handling of Brexit.

Yet still the majority of our newspapers are egging on the British public to back a divided government, without a proper majority, to be bold, unrelenting, hovering in every direction, hoping for a breakthrough against impossible odds. Bravado in this case amounts to a short sightedness, too juvenile to bear fruit, and we refuse to let any reason or dignity prevail, which might ultimately work to our advantage.

For we in Britain have always had the knack of great diplomacy, plus the knowledge and competitiveness in every field and it would be a disaster if we continue and become embroiled in tacky and irresponsible vocabulary; particularly from our Foreign Secretary who has become the Joker in a pack of cards, and no longer worthy of his now inflated status – certainly not material for any future prime minister.

I believe the press has a duty to stop all propagandist twaddle and act responsibly for the benefit of the nation as a whole. It is then that a rallying call would make such a difference and save a confused situation which has so far nowhere to go.