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.

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards.

BBC/ ITV Cradle Ltd/Matt Squire
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Is Danny Baker a “bona fide genius”? Not in his new show

The clichéd decade: Cradle to Grave and Danny and the Human Zoo reviewed.

I’m not qualified to rule on whether or not Danny Baker is, as the newspapers insist, a “bona fide genius”; I gave up listening to the ever more blokeish BBC Radio 5 Live a while ago, and I’m too young to remember the supposedly fantastic pieces he delivered to the NME back in the day (I read that they were even more amazing than those of Tony Parsons, which is saying something, isn’t it?). But I can tell you this: his new autobiographical comedy series, Cradle to Grave (Thursdays, BBC2, 9pm), displays no evidence at all of his talents, brilliant or otherwise. Anecdotes that just peter out. Jokes that fail to hit home. Misplaced nostalgia. Honestly, what’s the point? If you want 1974 – and quite a lot of us seem to, if the performance of Jeremy Corbyn is anything to judge by – you’d be better off treating yourself to a box set of the eternally satisfying Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?.

The series, co-written with Jeff Pope, is based on Baker’s memoir Going to Sea in a Sieve. It’s 1974, and Danny (Laurie Kynaston) is a randy teenager who still lives at home in good old Bermondsey with his ducking and diving docker dad, Fred, aka Spud (Peter Kay), his kindly mum, Bet (Lucy Speed), and his older sister, Sharon (Alice Sykes). A voice-over tells us, in effect, to forget all about the nasty old three-day week and to consider instead the warmth of lovely south-east London. How decent its people are, how eager to try out newfangled consumer goods such as the continental quilts Spud has pilfered and which now fill the hall of his tiny house like clouds. (Correct: he’s basically Del Boy, minus the Robin Reliant, the cocktail bar and, fatally, the workmanlike jokes.)

The denizens of Bermondsey are not, you understand, quite ready for the new world. In this part of London, bomb sites remain, merrily sprouting buddleia and pink willow herb; men are men and women are women. Spud is horrified to discover that his daughter’s new boyfriend wears – wait for it – white plimsolls, though not quite so horrified as Danny is to find a stranger’s ­penis flapping exuberantly against his cheek when he goes up west to see Hair (needless to say, our Danny was in search of naked girls, not sweaty blokes). If you find this kind of thing funny and (I can hardly bear to write the words) “heart-warming”, then you have seven weeks of bliss ahead. Who knows? Perhaps the characters will go on to debate the virtues of the various flavours of Old English Spangles. But I can’t believe that many people will be so easily pleased. Those who are old enough to remember the Seventies will know that the best of the decade’s own comedy was ten times more sophisticated than this, and those who aren’t – those who have never had anything other than a duvet on their bed, and can locate a naked female or even a flapping male member with just one tap of their mobile – will simply watch something altogether more grown-up on Netflix.

Kascion Franklin (centre) on BBC1. Photo: BBC/RED

Unfathomable BBC scheduling (is it having some kind of John Whittingdale-induced nervous breakdown?) treated us to two doses of 1974 as the summer limped to an end. The second loving spoonful came in the form of Danny and the Human Zoo (31 August, BBC1, 9pm), an almost-biopic drama in which Lenny Henry told the story of his painful start in comedy.

My TV critic colleagues have all been most respectful but, lovely as Kascion Franklin’s performance in the lead role was, I couldn’t altogether get with the show. Unlike Baker, Henry certainly wiped the Vaseline from the lens: his version of the Seventies was clear-eyed, particularly in the matter of racism. But his tendency as a writer is to tell rather than show, which becomes wearying, and the narrative he offered us – success on the New Faces talent show, followed by the self-loathing that came of joining the Black and White Minstrels – wasn’t exactly unfamiliar. An unscrupulous manager with bad hair; parents who think their son should get a “proper” job but are secretly oh-so-proud; Mud’s “Tiger Feet” and Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” on the soundtrack: such TV clichés really should be illegal by now.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses