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At the Movies

Michael Wood: From ‘Alien’ to ‘Covenant’, 15 June 2017

Alien: Covenant 
directed by Ridley Scott.
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... The date​ of the story in Ridley Scott’s new alien movie is 2104, ten years after the messy, murderous events that put an end to the previous prequel, Prometheus (2012). True to the tradition of the franchise, virtually the whole crew of a spaceship is wiped out in both films. Alien (1979) ended with Sigourney Weaver’s voice saying into the ship’s log: ‘This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Behind the Candelabra’, 4 July 2013

Behind the Candelabra 
directed by Steven Soderbergh.
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... or settings, we shift from a gay bar to a movie set to a modest California home; a young man, Scott Thorson, played by Matt Damon, is taken to a Liberace show in Las Vegas, meets the great man backstage and is invited to lunch the next day. Thorson is star struck, dazzled by Liberace’s piano playing, especially when he doubles the tempo in his ...

‘Mmmmm’ not ‘Hmmm’

Michael Wood: Katharine Hepburn, 11 September 2003

Kate Remembered 
by A. Scott Berg.
Simon and Schuster, 318 pp., £18.99, July 2003, 0 7432 0676 2
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... even when she’s supposed to be falling for the mush; and with Hepburn . . . Well, this is what Scott Berg’s vivid and subtle memoir is all about. Berg, the biographer of Maxwell Perkins, Sam Goldwyn, Charles Lindbergh and (in the works) Woodrow Wilson, first met Hepburn in 1982, when she was 75, and was a close friend until she died at the end of June ...

How the sanity of poets can be edited away

Arnold Rattenbury: The Sanity of Ivor Gurney, 14 October 1999

‘Severn and Somme’ and ‘War’s Embers’ 
by Ivor Gurney, edited by R.K.R. Thornton.
Carcanet, 152 pp., £7.95, September 1997, 1 85754 348 3
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80 Poems or So 
by Ivor Gurney, edited by George Walter and R.K.R. Thornton.
Carcanet, 148 pp., £9.95, January 1997, 1 85754 344 0
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... Most loyal and protective of Gurney’s many friends, Marion Scott wrote after one of her regular visits to the asylum: ‘Ivor is so heart-breakingly sane in his insanity.’ Letters, reported conversation, music, poems all attest to the fact. He was trained and already admired as a composer before enlistment; in the trenches poetry had occupied him more and more and, when he returned afterwards to music, the poetry continued ...


Max Hastings: Letters from the Front, 10 September 2015

... for three years as an infantry officer in France. In 1975 he was moved to write to the historian Michael Howard by exasperation with Paul Fussell’s newly published The Great War and Modern Memory. Fussell, an American critic and veteran of World War Two, suggested that what had happened to those who fought in France was so uniquely dreadful that it defied ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘District 9’, 8 October 2009

District 9 
directed by Neill Blomkamp.
September 2009
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... job as man in charge of the aliens’ relocation – a move that makes nepotism look bad, as A.O. Scott said in the New York Times. But these are just bad guys: the really evil guys are the Nigerians who have set up an empire of organised crime in the aliens’ camp: they sell cat food to the inhabitants as if it was caviar, deal in weapons and inter-species ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Only God Forgives’, 29 August 2013

Only God Forgives 
directed by Nicolas Winding Refn.
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... policeman is the fellow to do it. The best line in the movie goes to Crystal, played by Kristin Scott Thomas with nasty vulgar authority. She talks tough, bosses everyone around, insists on the superiority of her dead son over his pathetic younger brother, and generally expects to get what she wants. When Julian tells her what Billy had done, she says ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: Katharine Hepburn, 5 March 2015

... explain to her what the phrase ‘Vive la différence’ means. As if she hadn’t always known. Scott Berg, thinking of a later Hepburn movie, makes a fine, understated remark: ‘It was ultimately difficult for an audience – to say nothing of the star herself – to accept Katharine Hepburn as somebody who had truly lost her mind.’ The Philadelphia ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Blade Runner 2049’, 2 November 2017

Blade Runner 2049 
directed by Denis Villeneuve.
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... spared, is also a replicant has fuelled thousands of discussions, and has the backing of Ridley Scott, the director of the first film. But that was not what the initially released version suggested, and if the second film seems to settle the matter categorically, we can still wonder whether this decision counts outside the second film’s narrative. This ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: 'Marriage Story', 2 January 2020

... to know so well what it means to leave their fantasy roles behind, to be bereft of magic. A.O. Scott, thinking not only of this movie, recently said of Driver that he was like a jigsaw puzzle with too many pieces. This is how he manages to be a cipher when needed (in BlacKkKlansman, say) and a person who in Marriage Story knows how to combine arrogance and ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: Marlene Dietrich, 17 December 2020

... saving James Stewart’s life. In The Spoilers she uses her charms to lure the bad guy (Randolph Scott) to his doom. These gestures make us think again about what it is she has that looks like innocence but isn’t.Let’s return to The Scarlet Empress for a moment. One of the first things we learn from the credits is that it has ‘a supporting cast of one ...

Patriotic Gore

Michael Wood, 19 May 1983

by Gore Vidal.
Heinemann, 203 pp., £7.95, May 1983, 0 434 83076 3
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Pink Triangle and Yellow Star and Other Essays 1976-1982 
by Gore Vidal.
Heinemann, 278 pp., £10, July 1982, 0 434 83075 5
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... a bungled invention. Vidal knows this very well, and speaks, in Pink Triangle and Yellow Star, of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald wanting not to go into movies but ‘to live as if they were inside a movie. Cut to Antibes. Dissolve to the Ritz in Paris.’ But Vidal himself has a perfectly clear sense of the real as real. ‘A movie is a response to reality,’ he ...

He Couldn’t Stop Himself

Michael Kulikowski: Justinian’s Wars, 21 March 2019

The Codex of Justinian 
translated by Fred H. Blume, edited by Bruce W. Frier.
Cambridge, three vols, 2963 pp., £450, May 2016
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... Justinian’s Code has now received its first viable English translation (the 1932 version by S.P. Scott worked from an antiquated Latin text and ought to have been pulped on publication). The new one, admirably curated by a team led by Bruce Frier, is based on a draft made by the Wyoming justice Fred H. Blume (1875-1971) that had languished in manuscript for ...

Michael Gove recommends …

Robert Hanks: Dennis Wheatley, 20 January 2011

The Devil Is a Gentleman: The Life and Times of Dennis Wheatley 
by Phil Baker.
Dedalus, 699 pp., £25, October 2009, 978 1 903517 75 8
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... so forth – but their influence is hard to spot in his work, and given that the first volume of Scott Moncrieff’s translation of A la recherche didn’t appear for another five years, acquaintance with Proust seems out of the question. Tombe complimented his disciple on his prose: ‘Your style is excellent, and graceful,’ he told him in a ...

The Nephew

David Thomson, 19 March 1981

Charmed Lives 
by Michael Korda.
Penguin, 498 pp., £2.50, January 1981, 0 14 005402 2
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... of Hungarian nerve, social bluff and show-business instinct once commanded the British cinema. In Michael Korda’s telling, however, the panorama of picture-making is not always alight with understanding or information. The author may have been born on the night in 1933 when his uncle Alexander Korda’s first great success, The Private Life of Henry ...

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