Friday, January 07, 2011

Isherwood, The Cinema and Sumptuous Books


Christopher Isherwood's star has been in the ascendant for most of this last year because of Tom Ford's beautiful film of A Single Man and Nicholas Hoult's beautiful bottom which featured in said film a number of times. The first editions of Isherwood's first books have always been expensive but it's interesting to follow the effect of the film on the first edition price for the previously inexpensive A Single Man - perhaps, on average tripling the asking price.

I should not pass any comment on the film because I have consistently claimed for all my adult years that I have absolutely no critical faculties when it comes to film. I nearly always walk out of the cinema happy and content, having enjoyed a couple of hours of action or drama or comedy... only to turn to my friends as we leave to find them spitting celluloid feathers about how ghastly the film was. It's become such a thing between some of my friends and me that, by unspoken agreement, I never offer my opinion.

I am reading one of Isherwood's books at the moment, Lions and Shadows, in this gloriously tatty NEL paperback edition: it's a fictionalised autobiography of the 1920s when Isherwood was stumbling through school, Cambridge, early adulthood and even medical school, on his way to becoming an author. Imagine my joy, therefore, when I stumble across the following assessment of Isherwood by one of his Cambridge friends:

"He pointed out, quite truly, that as soon as I was inside a cinema I seemed to lose all critical sense: if we went to together, I was perpetually on the defensive, excusing the film's absurdities, eagerly praising its slightest merits."

The friend, Edward Upward (Chalmers) in the book and Isherwood, fast friends for years, made a game between them of the fictional village of Mortmere, a place of horror and wonder under the surface of English country life. I was delighted, having read the entertaining account of how the stories were written to discover that they were, eventually, published (more of which at the ever wonderful Bookkake), but in Lions and Shadows perhaps the most wonderful part of the whole business are the:


"utterly fantastic plans for the edition-de-luxe: it was to be illustrated, we said, with real oil paintings, brasses, carvings in ivory or wood; fireworks would explode to emphasize important points in the narrative; a tiny gramophone sewn into the cover would accompany the descriptive passages with emotional airs; all the dialogue would be actually spoken; the different pages would smell appropriately, according to their subject-matter, of grave-clothes, manure, delicious food, burning hair, chloroform or expensive scent. All copies would be distributed free. Our friends would find attached to the last page, a pocket containing bank notes and jewels; our enemies, on reaching the end of the book, would be shot dead by a revolver concealed in the lining."


Brilliant! Isherwood deserves to be more widely read and if all it takes to prompt a wider audience is a flash of Nicholas Hoult's bottom then all to the good I say.

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