Review 2006: Finale

Lisa asks:
Which famous 5 people, dead or alive, would you invite to a dinner party. What would you eat/drink ? What entertainment would you lay on for the 6 of you afterwards?

That's a bit of poisoned chalice isn't it? I mean there I am trying to think my way through everyone whose ever lived ever and whoever I pick there's sure to be someone saying: 'What? You'd rather spend an evening with Alexander Graham Bell and Debbie Harry when you could have had dinner with Gershwin and Donna Summer? There are also the smart answers like all of my friends, the cast of Friends, The Beatles plus one (not Yoko) or The Comedy Store Players.

In an attempt to finally drag this Review 2006 back into the realm of being a Review of 2006 and to put some limits on my choices, I'm going to pick five people, a meal and entertainment that have had some relevance to my life in the past twelve months with the added restriction of not including anyone I actually know, and that includes email correspondence (just so that no one and everybody feels left out). Here's then who'll be at my imaginary New Year's Eve party.

First to arrive might be old school Hollywood screenwriter Robert Riskin. Earlier in the year during my film course I selected an essay question which at its heart talked about auteur theory and particularly the extent to which director Frank Capra's style was defined through his own personal choices, by the types of stories he was making or his collaborators - actors, producers, production designers and in this case screenwriters. His main collaborator throughout the majority of his career was Riskin and although it was Capra's name was above the title in such works as Mr. Deeds Goes To Town and American Madness it was Riskin who was the engine and looking over the printed versions of his scripts, very often the stylistic devices and storytelling quirks were Riskin through and through, the populist small everyperson making it big being the primary example, but also the repeated device of what looks like a downer ending becoming somewhat good by the end, but with not necessarily every character issue being resolved.

The complication lies in the fact that once Capra and Riskin parted, those same devices still cropped up to the extent that one of Riskin's first films with a different director Magic Town feels like a Capra film even though it was directed by a jobbing studio director without the same cache (William Wendell). It's a reverse of the Mr. Smith Goes To Washington model, with Jimmy Stewart as a city slicker and pollster going into and falling for a small town that is apparently statistically perfect. The authorship of the film is . . . obscured but what I would want to ask Riskin is how close their collaboration was and if in fact he should, like I presume many screenwriters, have taken more of the glory at the time than he did.

But Riskin, despite what you would expect, was a bit of a party animal and although he almost always got the job done he had something of a reputation for the booze. The man had a personality too. Apparently, after the falling out over the nightmare that became Meet John Doe (for which Capra could never decide on an ending) he waved a blank piece of paper in Capra's face and said: "Put the famous Capra touch on that!". He was also, let's not forget, married to Fay Wray for thirteen years and also worked on Broadway during one of the golden periods so he had some kind of an exciting life.

Assuming she can find the time, I'd next invite singer Madeleine Peyroux in from the cold. I was given her 2004 album Careless Love last Christmas and it kept me company during the long wintry university commuting. I mentioned on the blog that some of the tracks sound like Christmas morning and they still do and express that feeling of excitement then melancholy that its all over for another year. I bought her first album 'Dreamland' recently and although its stylistically different, her voice still had that well worn quality, the haunting sound of a life lived. She was like the gateway drug to other jazz and blues music and here I am months later listening to Diana Krall, Stacy Kent and Nina Simone.

Even through we're the same age, her life couldn't have been any more different. Born in Athens to what she once described as hippy parents. After moving to New York with them, after they divorced her Mother took her to Paris were she was discovered at the age of fifteen, joined a band and was touring Europe at about the time I was trying to get my head around quadratic equations in Mr Singer's GCSE maths class. In 1996, the year I graduated from university first time around her brilliant first album Dreamland was released to such critical acclaim and was apparently a massive hit at the time but she didn't want to deal with any of that. So she returned to Paris and went busking again, giving the odd café gig under an assumed name.

Another album came in 2003, a collaboration with her ex-boyfriend that went sour, the results of which are is still going through the courts and in 2005 she disappeared again - that was my introduction to her - seeing a report on BBC News in which her record company were essentially putting an appeal out for her whereabouts. She turned up not that long afterwards hiding back in New York and of late she's been on tour in the UK. I missed her concert at The Phil after a range of calamities related to me not knowing in time, so it would be nice to see her at the table next to Riskin so that I could pull a Christmas cracker with her and suggest a few ideas for her next album. I'd love to hear what she'd do with Daniel Johnson's Come See Me Tonight.

A few minutes later, Tim Berners-Leecredited inventor of the World Wide Web should arrive. It seems only right that I should be able to give a drink to the man who created the medium through which I'm posting this, especially since having designed it, he made the technology and methods freely available for other people to make lots of money. It's funny to think that I began my undergraduate degree at university just two years after the first web page went online and by the third year I was already writing my first report about how search engines work (the original Webcrawler and Excite!)

He also developed the first hypertext systems (the term was coined by Ted Nelson who I've already met), which is the other reason for his invite because he indirectly led to my dissertation topic over the summer, defining Hyperlink cinema as a genre. After watching many, many films and reading many, many books I eventually came to the conclusion that actually there might be a genre, but that it was big enough a topic that it could never be resolved in the fifteen thousand or so words I was given to attempt an answer so for me it remains unresolved. For the uninitiated, you can usually tell a hyperlink film if there are multiple storylines in multiple locations about a diverse set of characters. So Short Cuts is but Parenthood isn't and neither is 21 Grams if you actually bother to pay attention to the story being told.

When Elizabeth I steps across the threshold, she's not what I expect although I didn't know what I was expecting. The problem with historical figures is that our image of them is developed from numerous books, documentaries, paintings and films. It's difficult for me not to think of Elizabeth I as being like Glenda Jackson or Cate Blanchett or Mary Anne Duff or even Helen Mirren when those were all interpretations of a real figure who is nothing like any of them or somewhere in between. The version visiting is still so young though and the Spanish Armada is a few years in the future so she's yet to really prove her worth to a people who it is my impression venerate her as the Gloriana but still have their doubts.

Of all the historical figures I've encountered this year, it's Bess whose made the biggest impression both through catching up on various films and dramas and Simon Schama's summary of her life in A History of Britain. It's probably a weird comparison, but like Madeleine she was an independent woman but had to make many, many sacrifices in the name of her country. Although history has cast doubt on whether she was truly a Virgin Queen, more than many monarchs of the period she had to make so many decisions in relation to state and family that the emotional toll would be enormous.

I supposed I would want to invite her in order to see through the pop culture references to see what the real woman was like. You can never imagine royalty as people like us even when they're doing fallible things. Would she enter with the regality intact and impeccable behavior or take the opportunity to relax at least for this one night? Perhaps I've got Miranda Richardson in mind when I imagine her waking up on New Years Day with a splitting headache in a Shakespeare's Globe t-shirt having spilt red wine down the front of her dress, moaning that she's got to go back to court and can't face the look on Burley's face when he realises what she's been up to.

If Douglas Adams arrives late I can't blame him. In a terrific piece of bad timing, he's writing The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy at the same time as script editing Doctor Who. He looks harished and could probably do with a night off. I saw Adams for the first time this year giving one of the best pissed night out stories ever in which he and a friend went to Paris uninvited during the filming of my favour classic Who story City of Death. They drank their way around the city until everywhere had closed and then tried catch a flight to Berlin because they knew of another bar that might still be open there. I'd invite him just hear that story again, and also so that this younger version of him can hear Tim describe what'll be happening with the internet in his future.

Frankly, Douglas is still missed and it's such a shame that he wasn't here to see the Wikipedia which is probably exactly what he expected the h2g2 website to become even though that never gained the same currency globally. It would seem strange if a proportion of the contributors to the Wikipedia didn't have Hitchhikers at the back of their minds, this opportunity to create store of knowledge, usable by anyone, telling the story of everything. The media spends far too much time criticizing its accuracy when really it should be praising the fact that its now possible to find a reasonably comprehensible description of most subjects, which, and this is important, can be corrected instantly if needed. It's proved invaluable during the writing of this article, if only to get a sense of the people.

My big food discoveries this year were musaka and jambalaya and I'd definitely serve these for dinner, along with choices of Caesar salad, chicken in breadcrumbs and chili con carne (calling ahead before hand to check if anyone was a vegetarian or didn't like spicy food). For starters I'd have tomato soup made from scratch with real tomatoes and close with a choice of mince pies or Christmas pud. I'd do my usual with the wine - visit OddBins and pick something with a colourful looking label (which even though I know nothing about wine seems to work most of the time) but I'd also offer choices of water and fruit juices. Unless anyone wants a beer (in which case, oh yes, again, I'd call ahead).

For the closing entertainment, I'd ask my guests to all pick some songs and cds, bank them up on an ipod and we'd play Trivial Pursuit to the small hours or until we got bored with not being able to answer the questions. Bob and I should be good with the film questions, Tim and Douglas with the technology, Madeleine with the music and Liz with the history questions (since miraculously none of them would be about anything before the 1580s). I suspect it would be a great leveler and like Glenn Gould once said (I'm paraphrasing) you can really get to know more about a person by asking them about subject for which they're not famous.

And as the dawn came we'd sit on the balcony of my flat and wait for the new day.

Happy New Year!


  1. Anonymous11:38 am

    I hate to nitpick, but didn't Ted Nelson coin the term "hypertext" back in the 1960s?

  2. You're right he did -- I've just corrected it -- it's because in an earlier version I'd invited Ted Nelson then realised I'd already met him and when I was rewriting I forgot to change the phraseology. Thanks John.

  3. Anonymous3:59 pm

    Wishing you many happy posts!

    Happy New Years!