kenny hodgart

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The grand-guignol of Brand-Perry

This article appeared in The Herald

It is comforting in these days of belt-tightening to know that money can still bring about happiness. No doubt the priggish among you will feel that Russell Brand and Katy Perry are wrong to be having such lavish wedding celebrations in India, and that they should have given their money to charity instead. But their very presence in Rajasthan – where at some point during four days of festivities, Brand will ride in on a white horse, escorted by elephants and camels, for his nuptials – will surely delight the locals.

The spreading of joy and plenitude around the world is, in any case, a nice way for the couple to begin their new life together, especially given that, at least to my knowledge, neither of them has previously shown an interest in doing anything for the benefit, enlightenment or general gaiety of humankind.

Well, OK, I don’t know very much about Perry. I seem to think her song I Kissed A Girl And I Liked It was being blamed a while back for a new wave of “ironic” lesbianism (ironic in so far as it was for the benefit of boys) among over-sexualised teenage girls. But Brand is a singularly grotesque individual: ubiquitous, over-exposed in profile and attire, and rather less funny than a dose of the clap.

That would seem to me to be all there is to say about him, but there are those who continue to insist that he is, in fact, a man of great comic genius. Often the fact that he has bedded many women will be trotted out by female fans as a kind of recommendation, along with the implication that men who dislike Brand are motivated by jealousy. The point, I think, is that we should all accept him into our hearts and fancy him.

I do have my own theory, however, that many of his boasted-of conquests merely wished to take the man home and soak him in a good bath before scrubbing him down with Jeyes Fluid. In any case, he claims he cannot remember most of them, which is understandable as he was probably gibbering on about himself before, during and after any conquests. At least the Indians won’t understand mockney.


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A king for our times

This article appeared in The Herald

There is always pressure to say something rude about Prince Charles. Just as mocking George Bush still guarantees the most witless of comics a captive audience, it is the surest way for journalists to get a readership on their side. But aside from the fact that our future monarch is a very opinionated man and therefore capable of antagonising the majority of his merciful subjects on some matter or other, it must be allowed that he does possess that distinctly royal ability to lead by example.

It would seem that the era of obscenely cheap clothing is currently threatened. Sure, there may yet be vast armies of the malnourished lining up to work an 80-hour week for the kind of money you or I might grudgingly give a work-mate for running the marathon, all so that people in wealthier countries can go to a discount store and buy a pair of jeans for three quid. However, increases in VAT and shipping costs, coupled with a weaker pound, mean that clothing and footwear prices have started rising for the first time in 18 years. And with “fair trade” clothes gaining in popularity, the worm may be turning.

This is where old Chas comes in. Not only has he taken a moment from muttering on about Gaia to tell readers of American Vogue that they should go back to wearing wool and eschew the kind of throwaway garments which invariably end up in landfill sites, he has even donated some of his own corduroy trousers to Oxfam.

Happy the man who alights on said trousers. Charles was named World’s Best Dressed Man by Esquire magazine earlier this year, and not without good reason. Here is a man who cares not a jot for fads – his double-breasted suits, his dandyish waistcoats, his fogeyish Oxford lace-ups, all are “investment” pieces, which can be worn for decades on end and repaired as and when necessary. Charles’ attire has never been out of fashion, because it was never really in fashion.

Admittedly it is women who have driven this mania for more and more clothes, gripped as many of them appear to be by the mistaken belief that owning as many pairs of shoes, regardless of quality, as Carrie from Sex and the City will make them more desirable.

But one cannot expect the Prince to make this point. His mother and 50% of his future subjects are women, and he has martyred himself enough.

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The crying game

This article appeared in The Herald

There was, apparently, more crying on The X Factor this week. Quite a spectacle: Cheryl Cole, a former winner on the programme, and a young woman named Cher Lloyd – who has “got through” – keening away together like a pair of infant marmoset monkeys. In other news, there will be tax hikes due at some point.

Crying is like a form of punctuation on television nowadays. People cry if they win something, or if they don’t, or if they come last. They cry if they like the fuchsia the makeover team has done their living room up in, or if they hate it. They cry for no rhyme or reason, and to show that they are capable of it.

It is the same in sport. You may very well have seen the Spanish goalkeeper crying when his team scored during the World Cup final and satisfied yourself with the explanation that he is Latin. But the fact is our own athletes currently in Delhi for the Commonwealth Games will have put the drainage system there under considerable duress before they leave.

Tears are, in short, all the rage. It may be that the death of Princess Diana started everyone off by divorcing embarrassment from emotional incontinence, but the New Labour years were marinated in the latter, as is evident in the torrent of memoirs they spawned. Even as early as 2000, Andrew Rawnsley, in one of his many books, was telling us about a Downing Street weepathon after Peter Mandelson’s first resignation: “[Alastair] Campbell, himself blubbing, gave Mandelson a hug.”

No doubt it can be argued that tears are a sign of one’s emotional intelligence, or that the old stiff upper lip approach lacks a certain humanity. But there is a difference between real tears of sorrow and tears at some check to one’s ambitions, which are merely childish.

Churchill, it is said, frequently shed tears in public but, then, a combination of war war and strong drink is perhaps likely to have that effect. I have otherwise always held it to be an article of faith that, whatever their other failings, Conservatives do not cry at trifles. When others around her snivel and sob, therefore, I would expect Ann Widdecombe, who is currently appearing on television’s Strictly Come Dancing, to maintain her sangfroid and simply look bewildered. But we shall see. Perhaps she will agree to serve one of Ken Clarke’s community sentences if she fails.

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Pictures of Italy

This article appeared in The Herald

Of all the reasons to like Italian films from the early 1960s, good as any, I think, is that they are so very cool. Dapper-looking chaps are all-too-often framed through a lens of suspicion in Anglo-Saxon films of the post-war era, but the characters portrayed by Marcello Mastroianni and Alain Delon (okay, he’s French, but he was in Michelangelo Antonioni’s l’Eclisse in 1962) seem almost the pitch-perfect existential response to our own era of media saturation, civic disillusionment and cultural tedium: bored, detached, intellectual, they occasionally act disgracefully, but at least they know how to wear a suit.

Before you dismiss my analysis as entirely superficial, however, let me tell you about the women. Claudio Cardinale, Monica Vitti, Jeanne Moreau (French, again): all are visions of classical Italianate beauty. But their foibles are those of modern, bourgeois women. And this leads me to my point – Antonioni and Federico Fellini broke with the conservatism of both right and left in Italy by daring to depict female sexuality per se. Fellini’s La Dolce Vita was branded immoral and the Vatican tried to have it banned, while both men were hammered by leftist critics, who thought films ought only to show women being doughty.

These filmmakers deal with the lives of an affluent middle class, whose Italy, born of the post-war economic boom, is consumerist and glamour-obsessed. If capitalism is the enemy in, say, La Notte (Antonioni, 1961), the malaise is not material but spiritual. Individuals drift, unfulfilled, in and out of the action, aimless voyeurs.

Mastroianni, in La Notte, plays a writer who attends a party thrown by a tycoon and almost cheats on his wife with the host’s daughter. In 8 ½ (Fellini, 1963), he is a filmmaker with “director’s block”. Along the way there is all manner of ennui and moral ambiguity to contend with. But man’s alienation in the modern world was never so appealing.