Wednesday, 11 February 2009

The Damned United - David Pearce

I've previously posted on my respect for Brian Clough and my loathing for Leeds United. I have been meaning to get around to reading this book since it was first released in 2006 and with the film coming out shortly I decided that the time had come to finally read it.

The books selling point is that it is a fictionalised account of Clough's tenure in charge of Leeds United. In actuality the book is far more than that and is effective a fictionalised account of Brian Clough's entire career up to leaving Leeds United.

The tale is told in two ways with the "present day" events of Clough at Leeds being intertwined with flashbacks to Cloughs career from the day he suffered a crunching tackle (which bar a few games ended his playing career) up to the point where he takes the Leeds job.

The "present day" sections are narrated from the perspective of Clough and told in the present tense. The "flashbacks" are narrated in the second person perspective and in the past tense; presumably again as though written by Clough (although they could also be from the perspective of Clough's arch enemy Don Revie).

I read the book in two sittings and it is a real page turner. By and large an understanding/appreciation of football is totally unnecessary as the story is a character study. That being said there is or course an extra enjoyment to be had from the book if you do have an appreciation for the game. In particular there are several moments when you find yourself grinning along to Clough's expressions of contempt for the dirty, cheating, Leeds team. Similarly the somewhat bleak end to the book, with Clough being ousted from the job, is offset by the knowledge that Clough was yet to achieve his greatest successes whilst the Leeds team was proven to be all washed up.

As a character study the story is successful, if not altogether accurate. The Clough of the book is a chain smoking, foul mouthed, vitriolic, nervous alcoholic. In real life Clough didn't smoke, he didn't swear anywhere near as much as the book would have it and the level of alcholism presented in the book simply isn't believable in the context of the time when the book was set (it may well have been accurate if set in the 80s). Similarly some of the examples of man management and team talks presented in the book are more Barry Fry than Brian Clough. Clough had much more tactical awareness than is portrayed, or even hinted at, in the book. As such there were occasions where I felt that what I was reading, although immensely entertaining, was a version of Clough built around common perception of the man, rather than the reality of the man. There are also moments where dramatic licence goes a little too far for the sake of drama (Clough walking out into a rainy night screaming "What have I done" after leaving Derby).

Ultimately though for every stray step, there are 5 or 6 where the author nails it. I particularly like the little moments where Cloughie thinks about his family or enjoys a bit of home life. This is a side of the man that is never really mentioned in the media, but which season the book to excellent effect. There are also the moments where you really feel like you get a real feel for the drive and determination of the man and for what he overcame to achieve his successes.

Similarly there's great fun to be had in the way that the book captures the needle between Clough and Revie and the way that the Leeds team are portrayed as a rouges gallery of football villainy.

Not a perfect book then and certainly not a book that can be considered to be any kind of biography, but an excellent read nonetheless.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

W.B. Yeats - The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Monday, 2 February 2009

Random thoughts on Batman: The Dark Night

Not exactly topical I know, but I've just watched the DVD extras for the film. Obviously the film itself rocks in a major way. Although it is not quiet as great as general opinion would have it be.

Watching the DVD extra's however I am convinced that this film is a major leap forward in how action movies will be made. In terms of film making technique it stands with The Lord of the Rings trilogy as being the major film making achievement of this decade. I was amazed at just how many of the "stunts" and "special effects" were actually real. For example the scene of the Joker's lorry doing a vertical 180 weren't the result of model work or CGI. They actually flipped an articulated lorry 180 degrees! And the test footage for Batman's dive off the building in Hong Kong has to be seen to be believed.

Also the bit in the film where the hospital was blown up... Yup they blew up a real building for real. There's no model work at all and hardly any CGI. Basically what you see is real, even to the point of a Ledger walking away from an exploding building. All real. Although biggest bollocks award still goes to Sylvester in Greatest Show in the Galaxy because (1) he didn't get rehearsal and (2) he wasn't expecting the explosion at all, whereas Ledger was.

Back to a couple of thoughts on the film itself. Firstly the cast, brilliant in the first film, even better in the second. This is mainly the result of the recasting of Rachael. Katie Holmes was the weak point in the first film being badly miscasted. She was too young looking for the role she was playing and rather wooden to be honest. That's not to say she can't act, she was utterly brilliant in Dawson's Creek, but she just couldn't do that role. Maggie Gyllenhaal is far more convincing and will be a loss to the franchise should there be a third film. It also has to be said that she was immensely fit. Her politics in real life are spot on too.

Gary Oldman deserves a million billion awards for being almost totally unrecognisable as James Gordon. This is how good he was, I didn't even realise he was in Batman Begins and I then spent most of this film trying to work out why he seemed familiar.

Heath Ledger. Yes he was fantastic, but I'm not sure that he was definitive. I think its open for another person to better what he did. Indeed I think Nichelson handled the humorous stuff better than Ledger. Also I remain totally bemused at what the guy did to himself in real life. He was married to Michelle Williams and had a beautiful kid. And left them for a freakin Olsen Twin before overdosing!