University of Otago in Australia (sic) analyzed 24 Bond films and concluded that the martini-swilling secret agent suffered from “chronic” alcohol use disorder.

It was apparent from the books that the drink was using Bond.

How a pompous middle-ranked bureaucrat, given to writing long-winded boring memos, who spoke French frequently as way to show off, and spoke Italian badly, and smoked 70 cigarettes a day, could be made into a glamorous agent is the stuff such as dreams are made on.


©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2018. All Rights Reserved.



The death of Bernardo Bertolucci this week motivated me to watch The Conformist again. Having seen it several times its qualities never diminish. In the obituaries, Last Tango was cited for the controversy, but The Conformist is a more enduring work.

A large measure of the film’s reputation is due to the technical production, the design and editing, and most of all, to Storaro’s photography. Their realization stems from Bertolucci’s cinematic rendering of Moravia’s book which is a superlative example of adaptation and screenwriting.

Moravia’s style is poised, with long qualifying sentences and multiple clauses, building on observations. It dissects and analyzes. A faithful representation of the novel might have been turgid.

As Bertolucci turned prose into shots and scenes, he kept true to the book, but did not follow it absolutely. It is more active and switches between past and present to reveal the lead’s quest for normality.  He also added material that was not in the book, but which worked for the camera. Even with the addition of the sequences that are not Moravia’s, it holds true to the author’s aims.Conformista Disprezzo

Another adaptation, Godard’s Le Mépris (Contempt) has an attenuated link to its novel, Moravia’s Il Disprezzo. Contempt is almost like a jazz reworking of the material. Coltrane’s My Favorite Things might be an analogy. Where Godard riffs in his way of that period, the film draws on selected ideas from the original book.

The degree of alteration occurs in many facets to the story, although not between the novel’s fictional movie producer, Battista, and Godard’s own difficult relationship with the real producer of Contempt.

The producer’s insistence on displaying Bardot’s carnality compromised the film’s artistic integrity. The original film poster makes that abundantly clear. Godard spun the producer’s exploitative demands within his aesthetic style. It is, however, unlike Bertolucci’s auteur interventions in The Conformist which are better affiliated with the original work.

I read both novels many years after seeing those films for the first time. I think both are significant, and highly readable, books. For me, of the two, Il Disprezzo resonates more strongly. Narrated in the first person, Moravia’s forensic psychology layers the novel and his syntax is perceptive, examining the people, society, the demonstration of power, and the fractured relationship at the center of the book.

As a film, Contempt is personal, mirroring Godard’s failing marriage at the time. As adaptation and writing, Bertolucci’s The Conformist is a perfect complement to the novel.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2018. All Rights Reserved.



Last week Die Welt asked whether younger people would accept a man as chancellor now that Angela Merkel had plotted her political exit. When Margaret Thatcher lost her leadership British media posed the same question.

In the minds of editors, young people, those who have had no other experience of a dominant politician, are potentially unable to adapt to new tribal leaders. Merkel’s name had been turned into a verb which indicates longevity and familiarity, but that doesn’t mean an inability to move on.

Transitioning from a female leader to a male one it seems is novel, disruptive, and difficult. That proposition could be true in Australia where the leadership revolving door spins like a jet turbine but otherwise it is unlikely a different woman – or man – in charge is incomprehensible.

Die Welt’s article suggests a wider question as to whether we are suited to change or locked in with the status quo, condemned in a way, to being country and western singers, (and English mid-market newspapers); sentimental about the past and decrying anything new.

That change is always good is an article of faith which we adopt from an early age; through years of schooling and the phases of a career and, perhaps most pointedly, in the personal development industry. To its proponents, it is a sufficient reason itself.

During the period of transition, change and transformation, is rarely easy. The economic record provides vivid examples of the often difficult experience of those who missed out relative to the winners.

And in the arts too there are innumerable stories of writing, painting and music that were mocked and rejected for the changes in style they represented and challenge to the contemporary conventions of artistic expression.

If change is so good, it’s not obvious to most of us at the time. The stubborn are naturally resistant to change. For those more amenable to doing things differently, it is not necessarily desirable. It requires reinforcement to remind us of the benefits.

In this ending of an era in Europe, the people who deserve sympathy are the writers and comedians who depended on Die Angela. With her departure, satirists and comedians will have to find another European politician to fill out a sketch show. They only have a short time to find one.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2018. All Rights Reserved.


A political drama-comedy premiered last week. The lead was a lurching AI bot.

Despite the claimed sophistication AI uses language in simple semantic protocols. This became evident when the two protagonists, Boris and Theresa, swapped lines and swiped at each other even though neither was in the same room.

Nevertheless, the walking-on spectacle was seen as a triumph by some, akin to the entrance of the Queen of Sheba.  To many others it was ludicrous. Opinions are always divided with comedy; humor is personal and subjective.

I feel especially annoyed having heard that Swedish song twice last week. It is frequently played in shops and markets, and, no doubt in multi-story garages; its shimmering banality is perfect gebrauchsmusik while buying onions and carrots, or galvanizing the waverers over Brexit policy.

It compared with a series of political satires-sitcoms, and if it seemed like a Spinal Tap moment, it was. We should be grateful a miniature Stonehenge wasn’t lowered to the stage while July from Holst’s Planets played. One of them, Theresa most probably, might have danced around it, as Boris keeled over.

The song and staggering act is reflection of the influence of reality TV and political satires. Audience familiarity made it conceivable to present a politician attempting to sashay to a forty-something year old song as a self-deprecating gag. It implies the smug inside jokes TV presenters have with their viewers.  The staleness of the conceit was ideal for an older audience.

The overall impression is that politics has emulated Hollywood: imagination and creativity is unnecessary, it simply takes proven creative “solutions”, in this case sitcoms such as Veep, and presents them in familiar tropes which are likely to work in particular situations.

The astounding thing is that the stunt was seen as authentic, in fact as a return to vigorous authority. But just as high concept movies play well across diverse demographics, the effects disguise the emptiness.

It’s said that the public are disengaged from politics, but why would they be otherwise when they are given bad sitcoms, using 40 year old sketches and props. With shows like Veep, good writing and casting is essential to maintain a high standard. In the show business of politics no such quality control looks possible.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2018. All Rights Reserved.


A single aperitif before lunch and one before dinner is a phrase spoken by F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hemingway’s Hawks Do Not Share.  It is a refrain, a self-promise, uttered by Fitzgerald as he tries to conform his drinking to a socially acceptable degree.

Hemingway helps Fitzgerald with compassion and understanding, but in between the lines and over time, the refrain seems forsaken. There is the air of ancient tragedy to Fitzgerald, of a flaw in the man which determines his fate.

Hemingway observes his friend with benevolence tempered by distance.  He knows Fitzgerald’s alcohol abuse is a barrier. Despite Hemingway’s own prodigious drinking the extreme egoism of addiction reduces all others to mere servants, which is what Hemingway became in one journey with Fitzgerald.

Nearly a century later there is evidence that alcohol consumption is falling. While livers are safer, this era has other curses, perhaps more discreet and insidious.

Narcissism is one that is reported to be increasing. At first, the behavior may seem whimsical: such as believing that they exercise a direct effect in the world (manifesting), when coincidence would be a rational explanation; or, believing the always great predictions in fortune tellers’ forecasts. Occasionally it is funny, such as denying facts.

Testimonies by people who have seen their partner, their boss, or a friend, acting in a pattern which overtly, or implicitly, suggests the ego has gobbled its host are disturbing. The less charming instances more manipulative, arrogant and even cruel.

For the megalomaniac, evidence, logic, are only for prosaic minds. Their exotic elixirs, regimes and rituals refine a special sense of self, one that is anointed. The megalomaniac’s meta-narrative is that there is a special goal, a talent, a unique understanding and ability which makes all conventional appraisal worthless.

A drinker can only reach that state of magnificence with alcohol.  The brain has a role although it’s unlikely to be equivalent with a megalomaniac’s experience of self-adoration.

It’s acknowledged that the self-esteem movement was an important turning point. Hyper- individualism, personal development, social media and celebrity culture, (celebrity culture is an oxymoron) have combined to cultivate this psychological malaise.

A single aperitif before lunch and one before dinner gave Fitzgerald the hope of normality. It was, as Hemingway records the phrase, a delusion and ultimately unsuccessful. As he tended to Fitzgerald, Hemingway knew that a gulf existed between them and genuine friendship was impossible. Those who know narcissists understand a similar gulf.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2018. All Rights Reserved.


Neither triggers nor alerts appear in Flaubert’s Dictionary of Received Ideas. The notion of such things, like the definitions in the dictionary, are contemporaneous. The entry for Wagner says, ‘sneer at his name and joke about the future of music’. Mention Wagner’s name now and the Shoah would be the received notion.


Nevertheless, Flaubert’s most famous novel now seems to have a trigger warning attached to it. This came about due to some brouhaha over Emma’s ability to be a competent mother and homemaker. It was based on a single objection and it’s unclear if it is permanently affixed.

An alert in a news broadcast to tell a viewer that they will be looking at corpses, or some other sight which is likely to cause disgust and anxiety, is a reasonable and useful caution.  In other circumstances, specifically for artistic works, it is less certain.

Whether to apply warnings, or not, makes many people fret. The left and right wings of politics utter atavistic reflexes about them; pondering their positions for guidance is not instructive.

Distinguishing alerts by type reflects the fact that artistic creations are products of the imagination. Fiction, like music, only exists in the sense of cohesive meaning, in the brains of the viewers and readers. By contrast, a news event is a fact in the world with real consequences. Blurring fact and fiction produces fallacies and blunts analysis.

The effect of such triggers leads to ersatz reading; diminishing critical insight. This is true both in the German definition of ersatz as a replacement and its usage in English as fake.  This phenomenon is common, as for instance in the evaluation of films on the basis of their social construction and representation.

Through German English acquired the word, philistinism. It was a Russian, Nabokov, who gave one of the best descriptions of it as much more than ignorant materialism. Nabokov’s discrete analysis of philistinism invokes Flaubert and his censure of conventional thought.

As with the Dictionary, Flaubert reflected his contempt for such thinking in his last characters, Bouvard and Pecuchet, who cannot comprehend the books they have read because they can only understand the literal and mundane. Likewise, disapproval of Emma Bovary for her inability to fulfill a duty is banal; an expression of philistinism.

If Flaubert’s dictionary was updated to reflect contemporary views of comparable ilk, it is certain that trigger warnings would be an entry, with the commonplace statement to illustrate how they ought to be uttered. In such a case an alert would be added to the dictionary itself.

©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2018. All Rights Reserved.