French film

After extolling the virtues of French cinema a few days ago (see earlier) I had the pleasure of watching Bon Voyage the other night, the new film from Jean Paul Rappenau. He only makes a movie every few years because he takes so long to pick and set up what he really wants to work on, so it’s always an event for cineastes. Rappenau, of course, directed my favourite film and best movie of all time, Cyrano de Bergerac back in 1990 as well as The Horseman on the Roof with my beloved Juliette Binoche.

He again uses the magnificent Gerard Depardieu as a cabinet minister taking up on an affair with the incandescent beauty of Isabelle Adjani (well into her forties and still one of the most stunning women on the planet – can’t believe her perfume house dropped her for a younger woman. Good complexion always wins out regardless of age). Adjani plays a femme fatale movie star who manipulates the men around her but finds events moving too fast as France lurches into war and finds itself over-run rapidly by Hitler’s forces in a matter of weeks.

Rappenau re-creates a glowing nostalgiac vision of the 40s, without being syrupy, beautifully photographed with, as always, great attention to detail and mise-en-scene. A secondary plot has the lovely (where do the French find these actresses???) Virginie Ledoyen (best know to English-speakers as the girl from The Beach) as a gamine, nerdy student assitant trying to help her professor to escape to Britain with his heavy water experiments while the fleeing French government, including Depardieu’s minister, flail around in panic and ghastly German agents move amongst them… Utterly wonderful and the sort of film that everyone will love and come out feeling great after. In Hollywood hands it would have been syrupy, but Rappenau is a master and working with the best.

Groovy

Groove on some Goldfrapp tunes while watching animated ‘toons on Atom Films

The Angry Young Wanker

Another mini-flick on Atom Films. Angry Kid in the irresistibly-titled Angry Kid: Wanker. You know you want to watch it! A chance for our American cousins to find out exactly what a wanker is and why we Brits treasure it as one of our finer terms of abuse. Or should that be self-abuse. Just watch your mouse doesn’t get clogged up from your hairy palms.

From missions to the moon to animated discussions of wanking, all in one evening. Am I diverse or what, people?

Giant steps are what you take…

…Walking on the moon. So sang Sting and the Police back when I was but a bright-eyed young lad. This afternoon at work I met a man who really did take giant steps on the moon when I was a boy. Mister David Scott, multiple degree holder, ace fighter pilot, astronaut and commander of Apollo 15. He dodged death flying with Neil Armstrong on Apollo 8.

He’s just co-authored a book, the Two Sides of the Moon, with legendary Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first man to walk in space. And when I say walked, this was as basic as it got – no fancy MMU (Manned Manoeuvring Unit – that’s a jetpack to you and me) in those days. Alexei basically clambered out of a tiny tin can and dangled by a rope miles above the Earth, travelling at thousands of miles per hour. When the phrase ‘the right stuff’ was coined to describe the pioneers of space exploration in the 60s and 70s they weren’t kidding. Alexei was training to be the first man on the moon, but obviously the NASA lunar missions beat them to it, despite the enormous (and for many years secret) efforts by the Soviet’s astonishing Chief Engineer (a man who the fictional Scotty would gladly have shaken hands with I think). He was, however, honoured by the great Sir Arthur C Clarke by having the Russian spaceship in 2010 (the sequel to 2001) named after him.

Both men came together in the 70s when the NASA and Soviet space programmes briefly united during the Cold War, their ships meeting in Earth orbit and docking, a procedure which sounds pretty simple to most of us but is fraught with problems. Two completely different engineering systems and training systems which have to meet and link 100%. Any failure of the docking collar could mean death for all onboard. And these craft have to manoeuvre miles above the planet while orbiting at thousands of miles per hour. Still sound easy? It was a potent symbol of international co-operation between explorers and scientists during a period when east and west faced each other with thousands of nuclear warheads primed for a few minutes notice. And it pioneered the way for the present space station being built by several nations. No longer just a matter of national prestige this sees humans going into space as representatives of their species, not as flag-waving nationalists, slowly turning the staged but noble rhetoric of the original Apollo missions into a reality: “we came in peace for all mankind.”

I would have loved to have time to talk to him, to ask him what it was like, but his schedule only allowed him some brief moments to sign some stock and chat quickly while he did so. Naturally I’ll be having one of those signed copies for my collection and I’m sure I’ll have a review in a few weeks on the Alien. I’ve met many people in my years in bookselling, from relatively unknown local writers to 20th Century cultural icons like Quentin Crisp. But this was something else, something remarkable, exciting. These men and their comrades were my heroes when I was a boy. Today I had an enormous privilege. Today I shook the hand of a man who walked on the Moon. Today I shook the hand of one of my boyhood heroes.

Yes, you could say I was over the Moon.