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Gilbey on Film: who cares about Warren Beatty?

Our film critic spots a publicity stunt

Called upon by City Limits magazine (if the name doesn't ring a bell, ask your parents) to describe his perfect night out, that old romantic Mike Leigh gave a laconic response: "Food, film, fuck."

No excuse, after that, for a lucky lady being squired around town by the director to harbour any illusions about what was on the table. Although you do have to ask: food then film, Mike, and then straight on to the episode of transcendent intimacy? Surely you want the film first, so you can discuss it over grub before putting the cherry on the cake, as it were. Otherwise you run the risk of squeezing the precious post-movie discussion into the bus ride home -- not a problem if you came all the way from Inverness to the Truro Plaza for your big night out, but rather less relaxing if we're talking a brief hop across town.

What you want to avoid at all costs, I'm suggesting, is having any unfinished business and nagging questions intruding where they're not welcome. Nothing puts the dampener on a volcanic torrent of passion quite like one of the participants demanding at an inopportune moment: "And give me one good reason for the continuing employment of Gerard Butler. Go on, just one!"

I was reminded of Leigh's words by the brouhaha over the new biography of Warren Beatty. Now there's a man who would have a marginally different response to the City Limits question. Peter Biskind, author of Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America, has estimated that Beatty slept with 12,775 women. So I'm guessing that, unlike Leigh, the actor would pass on the food and film. (Not hard to believe. Anyone who saw his last movie, Town and Country, will testify that his interest in cinema is kaput.)

Am I alone in hearing news of this headcount and not really giving a... well, a single one of those things that Beatty did with nearly 13,000 women? It's all priceless publicity for Biskind, a savvy writer, and will doubtless sell more copies of a book that's illuminating about the movie industry. But like most tittle-tattle, this revelation doesn't deepen our comprehension of what's on the screen -- although in Beatty's case it may go a small way toward explaining what isn't. (He is, in cinema at least, the supreme underachiever, the classic example of making a little go a long way.)

I can't recall a single example of beneath-the-duvet gossip that enhanced my understanding of a film, or of anyone's talent. The chief value, as in all such instances, is in the mountains of material it provides for gag-writers, such as these pertinent thoughts from readers commenting on the blog of former sitcom scribe Ken Levine:

"Beatty's address book was so big it had its own address."

"13,000 women? That can't be right. He must have counted one twice."

"Say what you will, Warren Beatty has definitively improved on counting sheep."

"At last we finally know what caused the Great Chalk Shortage of '92 -- it was all those marks on his bedroom wall."

"Some women complain that that Beatty was distant, frustrating, and never really gave them what they wanted. And those are just the magazine interviewers."

"Given the current US population, if you don't know who your father is there's a 1 in 24,142 chance it could be Warren Beatty."

Ryan Gilbey blogs for Cultural Capital every Tuesday. He is also the New Statesman's film critic.