When truth and its showbiz cousin collide
04 April 2008
The shaggy media millionaire and poet Felix Dennis has just confessed to murder. In a newspaper interview with Ginny Dougary, he told of an event, some 25 years ago, when a man he knew behaved so badly and violently towards a woman and her children that Dennis decided to take action. “In the end, I had a little meeting with him, pushed him over the edge of a cliff,” he recalled. “Weren’t hard… I killed him. That’s all you need to know.”
At the time, Dennis was happy for this boast to be on the record but later he retracted it as “hogwash”, claiming he was drunk and suffering from the side-effects of prescription drugs when he talked to Dougary. Nonetheless the interview, murder and all, has been published. Dennis, rather sensibly, has let it be known through a spokesman that he will not be suing. The police are said to be uninterested.
Did the murder take place? Or was the old scallywag goosing up his own interview with a bit of fantasy violence? Nobody, it seems, particularly cares. At a time when the distinction between conventional reality and versions of “reality” presented as media entertainment are becoming increasingly blurred, it is the story that matters more than any kind of boring, objective truth.
Book publishers spotted this trend some time ago. What readers have always wanted is a story but today they are more demanding. Fiction is no longer quite enough. The dangerous edge of real pain, suffering, fear and, of course, redemption is what is needed. So memoirs, abused childhood, Holocaust survival, terrible experiences in the criminal underworld, are what sell. Significantly, when some of the stories turn out to be fake – and a distinct whiff of exploitation hangs over the entire genre – public enthusiasm abated not one whit.
On the occasions when real life collides with its dodgy showbiz cousin, there is only one outcome: fakery wins every time. This week has seen the resolution of an intriguing legal battle between a New Yorker called Jeffrey Lemerond and the film company that produced Borat. In a staged incident, Lemerond was provoked by Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat character and lost his temper. The scene appeared in the film and in its marketing. Lemerond argued that someone going about his daily business should not be subjected to international humiliation and ridicule and have no redress against those making money out of his embarrassment. No dice. A judge has thrown out the case, concluding that the sequence was “newsworthy”.
But there are still a few people who cling to the old-fashioned idea that things that are filmed are not necessarily more important or significant than the quiet, small stuff of everyday existence.
A mayor in Chile has caused amusement by disrupting the production of the new James Bond film in his town of Baquedano. No film company, he said, should have the right to take over an entire town, banning people from the streets and enforcing its rules with the help of special forces and water cannon. Portraying a Chilean town as Bolivian, “even in a fictional film”, could cause misunderstanding and difficulties in real life, he said.
This man should be invited to the next Oscars ceremony to remind those bigheads of the media that, in spite of their best efforts, the world is not yet a film set. According to Carlos, Daniel Craig, as the great James Bond, was rather less than heroic as the mayor made his unscheduled appearance. Bond fled. Now and then, reality has the last laugh.
No problem with this Maria
Anyone who believes that the best kind of music is not primarily classical, jazz, or pop, straight or experimental, old or new, but simply good music, should try to get down to London Bridge, where the extraordinary Maria Friedman is appearing at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
With the help of a razor-sharp 11-piece band, Friedman, left, sings a genre-busting selection of songs from composers as various as Henry Purcell, Randy Newman, Suzanne Vega, Stephen Sondheim, Kate Bush and Jacques Brel. It is the kind of intense, intimate evening which the fringe theatre does best – a joyous, moving celebration of love, life and, above all, music. She is there until 4 May.
* Yet another revered British institution is under threat. The construction worker, with his cheery wolf-whistle of appreciation at passing women, has been deemed to be out of step with 21st-century life, by none other than the building company George Wimpey.
“Savvy and sophisticated” women visiting a Wimpey home are likely to put off by navvies whistling at them, according to the firm’s marketing director. Their partners may find it insulting. There will probably be outrage. Surely, it will be said, savvy, sophisticated women and their sensitive menfolk can look after themselves.
But, as Wimpy has recognised, the wolf-whistle is not innocent. It is an expression of power, and has an undertow of menace. It is the building-site equivalent of City firms requiring women to visit lap-dancing clubs to prove they are “one of the boys”.
The only worry is that Harriet Harman, nanny to the nation, will introduce yet another piece of clunky government legislation, the Sexual Harassment by Whistling in Public Places Bill.