Friday, 30 May 2014

Street Art Exmouth Style (Part 4)

STREET ART EXMOUTH STYLE (Part 4)


"Together - we will love the beach, we will learn and teach. Change our pace of life, we will work and strive. 
Go west - sun in wintertime, we will feel just fine. Where the skies are blue - go west - this is what we're gonna do."
Pet Shop Boys - Go West.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

You Cannot Live As I Have Lived And Not End Up Like This - Terence Blacker

YOU CANNOT LIVE AS I HAVE LIVED AND NOT END UP LIKE THIS. 
THE THOROUGHLY DISGRACEFUL LIFE & TIMES OF WILLIE DONALDSON - 
TERENCE BLACKER

Well, that's a title and a half for a book is it not? Before picking up this biography I'd never heard of Willie Donaldson and I put it down to being perhaps a generational thing, that he was simply before my time. But then after reading of all the people whose lives had crossed with his and the number of them whose names I knew - many of them household names - I realised this couldn't be the reason. Generations bleed into one and other and continue bleeding, sometimes haemorrhaging so age and time become meaningless. No, for some reason Willie Donaldson had fallen beneath my radar but thanks to writer Terence Blacker this has been rectified and Willie Donaldson's name is now up there with his peers, tarnished but twinkling mischievously in the cultural firmament.


Being the only son of the chairman of a shipping dynasty, Donaldson was born into privilege and at the age of 27 on the death of his father he inherited the equivalent of around £3 million in today's money. Having studied at Cambridge he already had a substantial amount of contacts within the arts which included Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Malcolm Bradbury and Bamber Gascoigne among others. With his newly inherited wealth he launched himself into being a theatrical impresario which set him on a course to meet a host of other rising stars and movers and shakers of that period. This was in 1957, a time of a great sea change within Britain when the old guard were under attack from a new wave of artists clamouring for social and cultural change.
He produced the landmark satirical revue show Beyond The Fringe featuring Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett; as well as financially supporting the launching of the careers of Spike Milligan, Marty Feldman, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and - apparently - Bob Dylan. Guests at parties he held at his home included Susan Hampshire, Cleo Lane, JP Donleavy and Susannah York; and amongst the women he dated was Sarah Miles and Carly Simon.

All very impressive but there was something at the core of Donaldson's being that wasn't quite right or at least, not quite the same as those he was mixing with. Donaldson not only had a predilection for prostitutes and porn but also an almost self-destructive urge to fail. For all his life he had been extremely rich, his father bankrolling him for practically anything he chose to do and because of this he placed no real value in money at all. He was a free man who was able to see beyond the ghetto of wealth and to realise that more satisfying pleasure might lie elsewhere. The paradox he failed to come to terms with, however, was that money was actually his ticket to an escape from money.

By the end of the following decade after a string of bad investments, bad business decisions and fatal generosity Donaldson was bankrupt. Free of all his money he was free to start all over again with a whole new life and after visiting the legendary Shakespeare & Co bookshop in Paris he set off for Ibiza to open his own secondhand bookshop, to cater for the jet setters and hippy aristocracy who were starting to live there. Just over a year later, however, he was back in London; penniless and destitute.

One of the few bridges he hadn't burnt was one leading to an old girlfriend who since leaving his employ as a secretary had become a call girl. Donaldson moved in with her and became her kept man, or as Donaldson called it, 'a ponce'.
He wrote up the story of his time living in a brothel - or rather, the flat he shared with his girlfriend - which was duly published, and so was born Donaldson as a humorous writer. He had found his vocation. From there he went on to write a number of comedy books culminating in the creation of a character called Henry Root, an 'irritating patriot and over-enthusiastic defender of traditional values' who wrote 'unwelcome letters of support or protest to the famous and self-important'. Donaldson's book - The Henry Root Letters - became a number one bestseller and one of the most successful books of the 1980s. Subsequently he wrote a number of follow-up books and became a columnist for various newspapers, causing many to admire him - "What we are talking about is a genius," said publisher Mike O'Mara "He was the wittiest man I have worked with including Peter Ustinov and Barry Humphries." - and many to despise him - "This appalling little shit," said Private Eye.

Through his writing, Donaldson was waging a one-man war against the pompous, the smug, the privileged, the hypocritical and the conservative. Senior policemen, politicians, newspaper editors, judges, business managers, Esther Rantzen, Leslie Crowther, the Queen, Margaret Thatcher, etc, etc; all fell victim to the right-wing ridiculousness of letters from Henry Root - and all replied sincerely. What Donaldson was doing was years ahead of his time; pricking the bubble of celebrity and inauthenticity and paving the way for satirists and comedians such as Chris Morris and Sacha Baron Cohen.
He was still, however, not content and his appetite for self-destructive failure had not mellowed, so with an echo of Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolf, he became at the age of 50 a regular user of crack cocaine. With equal measures of despair and delight he descended into an underworld of crack dens, armed Yardies, perverted sex and Will Self; culminating in another bankruptcy in 1996. Whilst managing to give up Will Self rather easily, his crack cocaine use continued for almost another 20 years.
Throughout this period he still continued to write, producing more comedy books and a regular column for the Independent newspaper; all the time being vilified by some but praised as a national treasure by others. Finally, at the age of 70 Donaldson was found dead in his rented flat in Fulham; his computer still running and logged on to a lesbian porn site.

With his passing (and on reading this book) the question arises as to whether Donaldson's was a life wasted? Without question he squandered his privileged upbringing and the wealth that came with it but then also without his privileged background he would never have had the connections with the people who collaborated in his successes. Would he ever have been published, for example, were it not for his contacts in the book publishing industry?
Should he have followed his father into the shipping business? It would have made for a far more secure life but would it have been a fulfilling one? Probably not but then being a crack fiend for 20 years didn't bring him much joy either.
What then, is a life not wasted? What examples might be given? What is the criteria? Who is to judge?
By all accounts Willie Donaldson was an extremely entertaining man. To some he was a genius. If nothing else, he led what might be called an 'interesting' life. A helter skelter mad ride that fathomed hell and soared angelic.
And I'm pleased - through Terence Blacker's book - that I've now made his acquaintance.

Reprobate. Crackhead. Genius.
John Serpico

Friday, 23 May 2014

Incendiary - Chris Cleave

INCENDIARY - CHRIS CLEAVE

I'm not really sure why I chose to read this particular book. I mean, it was no trouble at all as it's fast paced and actually very easy to get through but after finishing it I couldn't decide what it was about it that irked. But then it dawned on me what it exactly was: fucking everything.


Incendiary by Chris Cleave was published in 2005 and prior to its release a poster campaign was launched advertising its forthcoming availability. This included posters on the London Underground designed in a mock front page newspaper style depicting the London skyline in flames and boasting the headline question 'What if?'. The day after the official launch party for the book (wine and nibbles to celebrate a story of Londoners being blown to bits), British-born radical Islamic suicide bombers set off their wares on a bus in Tavistock Square in London and on the London Underground causing death, destruction and mutilation. For real. Suddenly an advertising campaign for a book about London being bombed by Muslim terrorists became the most insensitive promotion in living memory and 'What if?' became the most stupidest question in the world. Needless to say, the posters were hastily took down.

Before I go any further, it's useful to know a bit about the author and where he's coming from. Brought up in Buckinghamshire, Chris Cleave is an Oxford graduate who at the time of writing the book was a journalist at the Daily Telegraph. He now writes for The Guardian. That's all we need to know, really.

Incendiary is written in the form of a long letter to Osama Bin Laden from an unnamed, working class woman whose husband and child have been killed along with a thousand other people in a suicide bomb attack at an Arsenal vs Chelsea football match. She's at home on her sofa shagging a journalist from the Telegraph (don't ask) when she sees it all happen live on television and from there on she spends the rest of the book in a state of shock.
Whilst attempting to make her way to the Arsenal stadium to search for her family she's involved in a car crash and ends up in hospital where she's visited by Prince William, onto whose shoes she vomits. The woman's husband had been a police officer in a bomb disposal unit so on leaving hospital she heads for New Scotland Yard where she's offered a job as an administrative assistant by her husband's old boss. On returning home, she enters her flat only to be greeted by the sight of the Telegraph journalist shagging another woman on the same sofa again. The woman's wearing nothing but pink stilettos and is shouting "Fuck me you posh bugger I deserve it, it's all I'm good for" whilst the journalist is calling her a "dirty working class slut".
The journalist's name is Jasper Black (no relation to Conrad Black, former owner of the Telegraph) and the woman in pink stilettos is his girlfriend, Petra Sutherland, who also writes for the Telegraph as a 'lifestyle columnist'. Jasper becomes a drug addict (cocaine, of course) whilst the two women become friends who go out shopping together for clothes. In the meantime, the newly widowed woman starts sleeping with her husband's old boss who reveals to her that the security services knew in advance that the Arsenal stadium was going to be bombed but didn't prevent it happening as it would have revealed to the bombers that they were under surveillance, making it far more difficult to prevent an even bigger bombing that was supposedly being planned.
The woman takes this information to Jasper and Petra who, seeing it as a massive scoop, take it back to the Telegraph. The story is never printed, however, due to it not being in the national interest. So, Jasper ends up being shot dead by a police sharpshooter, Petra gets promoted at the Telegraph, and the woman ends up stacking shelves at Tesco where she starts writing her letter to Osama.

Incendiary has gone on to be published in 20 countries and has been turned into a film of the same name starring Ewan McGregor, which is all well and good but it does make me wonder. You see, the book has been sold as being about the bombing of London by Islamic terrorists but actually much more than this the book is about class.
There are just four main characters: The police boss who is the dutiful worker obeying his orders, Jasper the journalist who is middle class, Petra the girlfriend columnist who is upper middle class, and the unnamed narrator who is working class. All these characters are written and presented in such a clichéd, stereotypical manner that it feels like the book has almost written itself. The journalists (particularly Petra) are depicted as obnoxious, self-serving elitists and who or what Chris Cleave - a middle class, Oxford-educated Telegraph journalist himself - bases this on is anyone's guess? But it's the depiction of the narrator - a working class woman from Bethnal Green, in the East End of London - that is the most irksome because she's depicted as conforming to every white, working class stereotype imaginable. She's not very bright, she's illiterate, unsophisticated, she wears Nike tracksuits - she even eats fish fingers. She's Harry Enfield's Waynetta Slob caught up in world affairs. She's the chav pikey ned demonisation of the white working class in novel form, written without irony or humour.

So it makes me wonder: Has Chris Cleave ever actually been to Bethnal Green or has he perhaps just driven through it a few times with his car doors firmly locked? Has he ever actually met anyone who's working class or has he simply watched every episode of Shameless? Does he believe his depiction of a white, working class woman is authentic? Do his publishers? Did the producers of the film of the book? Do his readers? If they're middle class (as almost for certain his publishers and the film producers are) then the answer is probably 'Yes'. If they're working class then they're horribly wrong and have bought into the myth that is peddled by the likes of the Daily Mail and the Telegraph.

It may come as a shock to some but in actual fact working class women (and men) are extraordinarily myriad and diverse in their character, their outlook, their appearance and their sensibilities and it might be hoped that an intelligent, Oxford-educated person like Chris Cleave would know this and to have the wherewithal to not fall prey to stereotypes forged by the conservatism and the prejudice of the right wing press.
But then wait a minute. Chris Cleave was a journalist who was writing for the right wing press. So the circle is drawn. Everything makes sense.

Incendiary is relatively well written but it's also crass, obvious, insensitive, insulting, shallow and pretty obnoxious. It irks. Chris Cleave is probably a really nice bloke but he's also a disrespectful idiot who in all likelihood is really proud of himself and of this book that he's written.
But he's wrong. And horribly so.
John Serpico

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Under Exmouth Skies (Part 2)

UNDER EXMOUTH SKIES (Part 2)


"With water surrounding me I am wide open. Reaching forever."
Moby - Into The Blue

Friday, 16 May 2014

After Dark - Haruki Murakami

AFTER DARK - HARUKI MURAKAMI

If as once described the past is a foreign country where they do things differently, does this mean Japan is a whole other planet where they do things in ways that cannot be understood? With the advent of the Internet and the surfeit of information available these days, as well as the effect of global cross-cultural pollination this should no longer be the case though it could be argued that whilst the benefits are obvious, these advances have also made the world a whole lot weirder.
In the blurring between reality as presented by new technology and illusions of popular imagination, new spaces are opening up that allow strangeness to flourish. Science is looked upon to provide us with all the answers but the world is still rife with ancient memories that flow beneath our civilizations like buried rivers and it's when the new meets, merges or clashes with the old that the world can stop making sense. It is into such areas as these that Japanese author Haruki Murakami treads, writing of the joining of Western and Eastern cultures and the surreal and the unexplainable as though they were all one and the same.

Murakami is Japan's most successful and best known novelist abroad and it's of interest to stop and wonder for a moment why this might be? How many other Japanese writers could you even name? Yokio Mishima? You may well have seen a film based on one of his books or even seen him in a film but have you actually read anything by Mishima? I suspect not. So what is it that Murakami is doing to appeal to readers in both the East and the West on such a massive scale?
Would it be too much of a cliché to suggest that Murakami might actually have his finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist?


At just 200 pages long, Murakami's After Dark is the relatively simple story concerning a series of events taking place over the course of one night involving a disparate group of people whose lives become irrecoverably entwined. It starts with a lone girl sat reading a book in a restaurant who is interrupted by a boy on his way to his jazz band practice. The boy recognises the girl as being the sister of a girl who had once caught his eye due to her extraordinary beauty. After talking for a short while the boy leaves only for the girl to be interrupted again by a woman entering the restaurant seeking her help. The woman is a friend of the boy and she's been told by him that the girl can speak some Chinese. The woman is the manager of a 'love hotel', where people - mostly young couples - go for short-stays and where prostitutes meet with clients. A Chinese prostitute using one of the rooms has been badly beaten up by a client and the hotel manager needs someone to translate as the prostitute doesn't speak any Japanese.
The girl agrees to help and goes with the manager to talk to the prostitute, who she discovers has not only been beaten up but also stripped of all her clothes and possessions. They contact the gangsters who the prostitute works for and the manager gives them a photo of the client taken from their CCTV, knowing that they will hunt him down and mete out some very special punishment. All the manager asks is for the gangsters to inform her when they have caught him.

The client who has beaten up the prostitute is just an ordinary Japanese office worker and Murakami gives no explanation as to why he might have done it. Among the clothes and possessions he has taken from the prostitute is her mobile phone which he leaves on the shelf of a late night convenience store. By chance, the boy who had first interrupted the girl in the restaurant enters the store and hears the phone ringing on the shelf. He picks it up and answers it, only to hear a gangster's voice on the other end warning him that he'll never get away, no matter how far he runs.
"We're going to get you." the voice says "You might forget what you did, but we will never forget."
The boy puts the phone back on the shelf and hurries from the store, only for it to ring again a short while later, this time being picked up by the store assistant who is told by the same voice that he also can run, but he'll never be able to get away.

Meanwhile, conversations are held throughout the book between the different characters telling of their past and current lives, their dreams, their hopes and their desires. All laced through by Murakami with references to Burt Bacharach, the Pet Shop Boys, Jean-Luc Godard movies, obscure jazz records, and Japanese lady wrestling.

Running concurrent with all this is the story of the girl's beautiful sister who was the link between the girl sitting in the restaurant at the start of the book and the boy interrupting her whilst on his way to band practice. The girl's sister is in a deep sleep and much to the confusion of doctors has been in this state for the last two months. The unplugged television in her room starts up of its own accord and she is being transported to and throe between her bedroom in the outside world to another room inside the television screen, whilst all the time being watched on both sides of the screen by a man with no face.
Murakami presents this as something that is simply happening quite naturally and like the client's violence toward the prostitute, offers no explanation for it. In a similar fashion, at one point the client is depicted looking at himself in a washroom mirror at his office. When the client turns away and exits the washroom, his image in the mirror remains, staring back out and rubbing its cheek with its hand as if checking for the touch of flesh.

Murakami's trick is to juggle all these themes, visions, subjects and ideas with consummate skill and ease, conjuring up a view of the world that is quite unique but which has struck a chord with millions of people. Whether it be by accident or design, he has plugged into a popular psyche and is communicating with readers on a level most other authors can only dream of. Whenever a new book of his is now launched, throughout the UK, Europe and America bookshops open at midnight for the event as people queue to purchase a copy. The last time anything similar happened was for the Harry Potter books.
Murakami is considered to be one of the most important writers of the modern age and if only for this reason - if you've never read anything by him before - he demands your attention.
John Serpico

Friday, 9 May 2014

Street Art Exmouth Style (Part 3)

STREET ART EXMOUTH STYLE -
THE PHOENIX

Yet another example of street art Exmouth style, this time up on the Exeter Road hung up outside reputable drinking den The Phoenix.
It's not been an easy life for this particular establishment as some years ago there was a fire there that was almost the ruin of the place. But just as the name suggests, it managed to pull itself together and then rise from the ashes like a... phoenix.


The pub sign, then, is an obvious choice. It's a very clear painting and as phoenixes go it's a good depiction of one. There's no mistaking it for an Exmouth seagull, for example. I do feel, however, that they're missing a trick here.
Does anybody remember Pat Phoenix, the actress who played Elsie Tanner in Coronation Street? She was the street's 'siren', always luring middle-aged men into her bed and was the bette noir of Ena Sharples? Always had a cigarette between her fingers and always in the Rovers Return? As a television character she was a British institution, absolutely associated with pubs and gossip and general working class life. Do you see where I'm going with this? Her last name was Phoenix...

If nothing else, re-branding The Phoenix with a new pub sign - a portrait of British television icon Pat Phoenix - would be a tourist attraction and pull in a few more customers. It certainly wouldn't lose any. It would put the pub on the map as it would be a news item that journalists everywhere would happily report on. It could bring in coach-loads of old Coronation Street fans journeying down from the North to pay homage. A shrine could be set up in a corner to her, or at least a bit of information about her for those too young to know. The Powder Monkey has information on its walls about Nancy Perriam, so The Phoenix could have the same about Pat Phoenix. Does it matter that there's no obvious Exmouth connection there? Does there have to be? There could be a beer named after her - "A pint of Pat Phoenix and a packet of crisps, please". It sounds perfect.

It's a no-brainer.

Legend. Icon. Institution.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The Man Who Fell To Earth - Walter Tevis

THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH - 
WALTER TEVIS

A man walks into a jewellery store in a tiny town somewhere in Kentucky. He's very peculiar looking; tall and thin and wide-eyed like a bird, with albino white hair. He sells an 18K gold ring and gets sixty dollars for it. He knows he's been cheated but he doesn't mind as he's got hundreds of other rings just like it and what's more important is that he now has some actual money.
A year later we find him entering a lawyer's office in New York with plans for nine electronic and photographic inventions to be patented. His aim is to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible. Five hundred million dollars within five years to be exact.
When next we meet him he's the reclusive head of World Enterprises Corporation and he's a multi-millionaire, ensconced in a very special research project: The building of a space ship.


The Man Who Fell To Earth, written by Walter Tevis and first published in 1963 is the novel on which Nicolas Roeg's 1976 film of the same name starring David Bowie is based. Though Bowie is brilliantly cast and it's the best film he's ever acted in, on first viewing (and thereafter, even) it can be somewhat confusing due to Roeg's rapid fire editing and non-linear style of telling a story. Whilst the film is visually stunning, the book is much more coherent and for this reason is much more satisfying.

The name of the entrepreneur building the space ship is Thomas Jerome Newton and he's an extraterrestrial from a planet called Anthea. He's been sent to Earth because after countless wars his own world is on the verge of extinction. There are just 300 of his kind left and they have limited fuel supplies, dwindling food stocks and hardly any water. Their plan and their only hope is for Newton to gather materials on Earth to build a space ferry that can be despatched to their planet to bring everyone else back to Earth.
As huge and as ambitious this project is it's not, however, the only problem that needs to be resolved. By picking up television and radio signals from Earth the Antheans have been monitoring and studying humankind for some time and they believe that Earth is set on a course for destruction, being brought about through the proliferation of atomic weapons and impending all out nuclear war. If they're to make Earth their new home then they need to put a halt to this race to war or else what would be the point in coming here? They would simply be escaping to a planet that has even less time left than their own.


Newton is a stranger in a strange land, and whilst building his empire and developing his space programme he comes to realise that the television broadcasts from which he has studied mankind have only told half the story. People, he learns, are far more complicated and far more terrifying than he at first thought and what with their tangle of emotions, their curious foibles and their desperate loneliness are actually very difficult to deal with. He becomes enveloped in self-doubt, and whilst finding solace in alcohol he starts to wonder whether spending too much time with humans might actually send him and his fellow Antheans insane.

As he starts to fall slowly apart, sinking ever more deeper into alcoholism he is of superior intelligence to know that all the time he himself is being monitored by FBI and CIA agents. Finally, in a moment of weakness (or perhaps lucidity?) Newton confesses all to his scientist friend, perhaps knowing - though it's not actually stated - that the agents are listening in. He is duly arrested and subjected to all kinds of medical tests and examinations before being allowed to go free purely due to politics - it's an election year and the President doesn't want Newton's arrest and imprisonment used against him by the opposing political party.
From X-rays being beamed into his overly sensitive alien eyes his sight, however, has been ruined and Newton has been left blind. But even more tragically, his mind has also been ruined and Newton has now been left more human than alien.
The last we see of him he is drunk and blind and sobbing, knowing that Earth is doomed and knowing that there is nothing whatsoever to be done about it.


A recurring motif throughout the book is Pieter Brueghel's famous painting 'The Fall of Icarus'. At one point, Newton discusses the painting with his scientist friend and points out that in the picture the sun is half-way below the horizon which means it must be late in the day. As the sun was at noon when Icarus flew too close to it and fell, it means that Icarus had been falling a long way and for a long time. He must have been falling since noon.
Is Icarus symbolic of Newton? And is Newton symbolic of Icarus? Well, of course. Newton is the man who fell to earth. And so too is Icarus.

On another occasion, Newton ponders over the class divide in American society and wonders if the working class might have the better part of the social arrangement? Though less wealthy, they seem to Newton to be less haggard and less lost than the middle class. Alluding to Brueghel's painting, it's the workers in the field - the farmer at his plough, the shepherd with his flock - who are the larger, more prominent figures, suggesting it's actually they who are the most important, not Icarus.
Those same figures in the painting are shown as doing nothing to save Icarus from drowning. They're all otherwise engaged and in fact, are failing to even notice him as are the sailors on the nearby ship, summed up (and quoted in the book) by Auden's poem about the painting: '... the expensive delicate ship that must have seen Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.' Similarly, nobody tries to stop Newton from drinking so much and nobody comes to his aid when he's arrested.
Ultimately, Icarus is not the main point of Brueghel's painting - it's what's going on all around him as in the workers at their tasks, as he drowns in the sea. And likewise, Newton is not the main point of Tevis's book - it's what's going on all around him as in impending nuclear war, as he drowns in alcohol.

A curious thing about The Man Who Fell To Earth is the involvement of David Bowie. It must be remembered that Walter Tevis wrote the book in 1963, thirteen years before the film was made and Bowie was cast as Newton. In the book, Newton needs to get his space ship built within five years as this is how long the Antheans anticipate there is left before war will occur. One of Bowie's most well known songs, released in 1972 and the opening track of the Ziggy Stardust album is 'Five Years' in which he sings "Five years, that's all we've got". In 'Starman' on the same album he sings "There's a starman waiting in the sky, he's told us not to blow it cos he knows it's all worthwhile". Then there's 'Space Oddity', 'Life On Mars', 'Ashes To Ashes' and even the creation of his Ziggy Stardust character itself. It goes on. His album 'Low' is comprised of music that was meant to be in the film though in the end not used. It's sleeve is a shot from the film as is the sleeve of his 'Station To Station' album.
It needs, then, to be asked: Did Bowie read Walter Tevis's book years before his rise to pop stardom? If so, did it give him ideas? Was it just sheer coincidence that Nicolas Roeg cast him as Newton? Does Bowie owe his whole career to Walter Tevis?

Gentle, calm, methodical, visionary. Influential.
The Man Who Fell To Earth by Walter Tevis is a very good book indeed.

The Fall of Icarus - Brueghel
John Serpico

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Dog Day Afternoon - Patrick Mann

DOG DAY AFTERNOON - PATRICK MANN

"Attica! Attica! Remember Attica!? Attica!"

So shouts Al Pacino's character in the 1975 movie Dog Day Afternoon as an army of New York policemen train their guns on him. Al Pacino and his partner played by John Cazale have just held up a bank but it's all gone horribly wrong. The bank was holding very little money and now they're surrounded by police 'wanting to kill them so bad they can taste it', so Pacino is now demanding a million dollars and a jet airliner to fly them out of America in release for the bank staff they're holding hostage.
Outside of the bank not only is there all the armed police but also television news crews, photographers and reporters, along with hundreds of spectators. Pacino is the centre of attention and in shouting out 'Attica' he evokes the memory of an incident a few years earlier when in a bid for political and civil rights inmates of a New York prison rioted and took prison staff hostage. The police responded by firing volleys of tear-gas into the prison and then going in with all guns blazing. In the end, 42 people were killed including 7 of the guards that were being held. Official reports at first stated the inmates had murdered the guards by slitting their throats but this turned out to be a lie. Everyone - inmates and guards alike - had actually all been shot dead by the police, sparking outrage throughout America.

For all fans of the movie this scene of Al Pacino shouting out 'Attica' is the most famous, his shouts being cheered and applauded by the spectators outside the bank but met with embarrassed and shameful silence from the police. And apparently, the whole scene was improvised. It wasn't actually in the script as such and it doesn't appear in the book but then it doesn't really need to as there's plenty in Patrick Mann's novelization of Dog Day Afternoon that makes up for it.


The film is without question a classic, capturing both Pacino and Cazale at the height of their acting powers but the book is also very well written though quite different from the film in many ways. The film's main premise is that Pacino is robbing the bank to pay for a sex change operation for his boyfriend but in the book this isn't the main storyline at all. Pacino's character - in the film called Sonny but in the book called Littlejoe - is robbing the bank in a bid to escape to a better life away from joblessness, suffocating and detested family, an unhappy marriage, as well as to help his boyfriend have a sex change.
Littlejoe is a fantasist but what he does in the book - far more successfully than in the film despite the Attica scene - is to hold a mirror up to everything and everyone around him. From his parents, his wife, his boyfriend, his associates, the police, the media, the banks, the general public, society, prejudice, morality, politics, and Vietnam. He reflects everything back on itself to show it in a truer light and being set in New York in the early 1970s it's an interesting time for this to happen.

In the book, Littlejoe mentions Attica but only in passing whilst advising his hostages that the biggest danger to all their lives was outside on the street in the form of the cops and FBI waiting there.
"Get it through your heads" he tells them "They kill too".
His point is practically proved when he releases one of the hostages only for that hostage to be almost blasted to bits by the police armoury outside before being thrown to the pavement, a police shotgun pressed to his eye, handcuffed and then hauled away.
"There," says Littlejoe to the remaining hostages "there's your law".

The crowd of spectators seem to be on Littlejoe's side as they mock and deride the police and cheer and applaud for Joe but that's only until his boyfriend dressed in high heels and make-up is brought to the bank by the police causing the crowd to realise that Littlejoe is actually gay. To cries and shouts of "Faggot drag queen!" and "Burn the faggots!" the prejudice of the crowd erupts. The revelation of Littlejoe's sexuality, however, suddenly brings out a whole new crowd onto the street bearing banners and placards reading 'Gay is beautiful' and 'We love you, Littlejoe'.

It's all very fast-paced and slickly written, pulling in new ideas and scenarios effortlessly and very subtly. At one point in the book Littlejoe is sat in a bar listening to the conversations going on around him:
"Every president is a thief. Every prime minister and king is a crook."
"Who are you to go against the rest of the country, something special? We elected him President. So he's a thief president. But, shit, he's our thief."
"... and it's thieves like you who want a thief in the White House. Otherwise his ass would've been out of there so fast it'd make your head spin."
"You better believe it, buster. Thieves like me and fifty million others. Why should we elect some honest square to front for us? We want somebody just like us, and boy, have we got him."
"What about the honest people?"
"Let 'em wake up and join the show."
Though not mentioned by name, it is, of course, Nixon that is being discussed.
The interesting thing, however, is that whilst Littlejoe is an unscrupulous thief, adulterer and ultimately a bank robber, he is actually trying to be a good person but all he can see is hypocrisy, lies and double standards. So what hope for him, then? What hope for anyone?

Dog Day Afternoon as written by Patrick Mann is a novel based in part on the screenplay written by Frank Pierson; the film being directed by Sidney Lumet who encouraged his actors to improvise and stray from that script.
Frank Pierson won an Academy Award for his script, Sidney Lumet was nominated for Best Director and Al Pacino nominated for Best Actor.
It's probably about time the book was recognised now too.

John Serpico