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Hello and welcome to The Culture Show.
This week, we're coming from the great city of Liverpool,
once dubbed the Venice of the North, where, a little later on,
I'll be joined by comedian and Liverpudlian Alexei Sayle
to explore an intriguing new show at the Tate
on the themes of vitality and mortality.
But first, here's what else we've got for you in tonight's show.
This programme contains some strong language.
Award-winning American author Richard Ford gives us a taste of the long-awaited new novel, Canada.
Miranda Sawyer is serenaded by musical comic, Tim Minchin.
And we premier an extract from the BFI's Genius of Hitchcock season.
We start with the master of horror, William Friedkin,
who returns to a life of crime for his latest film,
starring Hollywood hunk turned psychotic cop,
Matthew McConaughey, in the lead as Killer Joe.
Mark Kermode went to find out
if the film lives up to the gritty genius of The French Connection,
which made Friedkin's name all of 40 years ago.
It'll come as no surprise to learn I'm a huge fan of William Friedkin,
director of The French Connection, Cruising
and a movie which I've been telling everyone for decades
is the greatest film ever made, The Exorcist.
If you think that means I unconditionally love
everything he's done, you'd be wrong.
One of the things I admire most is his ongoing ability
to confound, infuriate, surprise and sometimes disappoint me,
with films like the silly killer-tree yarn, The Guardian.
And then, in 2006, something happened.
Having turned 70, Friedkin rediscovered his mojo.
The paranoid thriller, Bug,
was adapted from the stage play by Tracy Letts.
-Can you see it?
-What is it doing?
-My blood. Feeding off my blood.
-I'm saying it's feeding off my blood. It's a parasite.
Now he's re-teamed with bug writer Letts to make Killer Joe,
an uncompromising, jet-black comedy about a family of rednecks
who hire an assassin to knock off their estranged mother.
My payment is 25,000 in cash, in advance, no exceptions.
-Thought you said 20.
-I was told 20.
Is that a problem?
I asked you ten years ago, and you said, "I don't have interest in doing stage plays,"
and yet, with Bug, you rediscovered something
from your earliest, angriest days of film-making.
What is it that you rediscovered in Tracy Letts's plays?
He and I both believe that there's good and evil in everyone.
It's a constant struggle for our better angels and demons to prevail.
And we both see a lot of human behaviour as absurd.
Are you going to kill my mama?
'Central to Killer Joe is a mesmerising performance from rising British star, Juno Temple.'
I don't know.
-I was just curious.
My mama tried to kill me when I was little.
Tell me about working with Juno Temple. She's done a few features
but this is the first in which she's held a very central role.
-Tell me about her. How did you find her?
-I didn't know who she was.
Juno Temple sent me, unsolicited,
an audition video of herself playing Dottie,
with her ten-year-old brother reading off camera,
reading Killer Joe.
The minute I popped it into my computer and saw her audition,
I felt she was exactly what I was looking for.
She was a gift from the movie god.
She cared more about herself than her little baby.
She didn't love me like a mama should love a little baby.
She was happy, because she thought she'd done it,
and then I couldn't grow into something better than she'd been,
had ever been.
She hadn't done it. She didn't send me back to him.
I've seen every film you've made and they consistently disturb, confound,
confuse, infuriate - all those things.
In the case of Killer Joe, there is one particular scene
which has now become legendary,
involving a piece of fried chicken, which I thought
was genuinely one of the most repugnant things I've seen on screen in a long time.
-Do you want some chicken? We stopped by the K Fried C.
Sure. Help yourself. It's right here on the stove.
-Fetch it for him, would you, hon?
-Sure. White or dark?
You want a beer?
Would you set that on the table, please?
Without a spoiler, it's meant to be a humiliation
and an act of vengeance.
It's strange. It's weird.
I swear to you it is not in the film for shock purposes.
The fact that people are shocked by it, or provoked by it,
doesn't surprise me.
I'm never aware that something I've done
is going to have any effect whatsoever,
but what I try to do with the films I make
is at least have them be cathartic
in nature to the audience, because they are intense.
This is lovely.
Who would like to say grace?
What do you think are the sexual politics of Killer Joe,
in as much as what it says about the relationship between men and women?
I don't know what the hell you're talking about.
What do you mean? It says nothing about the sexual politics between men and women.
To answer your question, it isn't about that.
It's about those people in that situation, at that time.
I've been asked,
-isn't this based on some Greek tragedy that I've never heard of?
I think, as close as I can come to answering your question,
is to say that, in my view,
the story is about the fact that every little girl
everywhere in the world wants to be Cinderella,
and wants to get out of a horrible relationship
with a evil stepmother, or parents that don't understand her,
and she wants to find her Prince Charming
-to take her away and go and live in the castle.
And every little boy, at one time or another in his young life,
wants to be Prince Charming.
And Dottie is looking for her Prince Charming,
and he comes along, only he happens to be a hired killer... A homicidal maniac!
But she finds her Prince Charming.
HE CONTINUES TO FLICK LIGHTER
Of course we never discussed the possibility of a retainer.
Well, Billy, I have to say that, at this point in your career, you are as repugnant and powerful
as your first... Thank you very much.
You know how to sweet-talk a guy. You haven't forgotten that.
Thank you. It's always a pleasure.
Killer Joe is out this week.
Next, I'll be joined by the comedian Alexei Sayle
to review a bold new exhibition here at Tate Liverpool,
which brings together work by three different artists -
Turner, Monet and the American painter, Cy Twombly -
the common thread being that each produced some of his most radical work
during the twilight years of his life.
They say that with old age comes wisdom.
But so, too, does decrepitude
and a growing realisation that time's running out fast.
It's that bitter-sweet truth that lies at the heart of Tate Liverpool's new exhibition.
The idea is that by comparing the later works of three highly individual artists,
certain common preoccupations might emerge.
Personally, I've got my doubts about the show
because while we know about the links between
Turner's visions and Monet's impressionism,
the presence of Cy Twombly, an American working so much later,
seems like a little bit of a curve ball,
but I'm certainly intrigued.
Joining me to assess the perhaps surprising rewards to be garnered from old age
is Liverpool local and ex-art school student, Alexei Sayle.
He's had a long, fruitful career in the arts.
I want to see if, together, we can uncover some old dogs performing any new tricks.
So first important decision - stairs or lift?
I would run up the stairs, but in deference to you, we'll take the lift.
Not that we're feeling our age.
Age is just a number... that denotes biological decay.
So, Alexei, everybody knows you as a comedian,
but not many people realise that you love looking at art.
Yeah, I did five years at art school.
I served five years before the easel.
I don't have the same visceral response to painting
that I have to theatre or films.
Having said that, I've never been in a room with paintings like this before by myself. It's extraordinary.
I do get a completely visceral shock out of a picture like that.
There's smoke, smog,
there's mist, there's light.
I so much think that Turner in his 60s...
I mean, nobody had seen stuff like this before.
There was no art like this before.
It's just such a leap into the unknown.
How would a Victorian have felt looking at something like this?
He got absolutely slagged off in the press.
Ruskin, who's a great supporter of Turner,
thought that by the time he got to this stage in the career, he had gone mad.
Yet, painters of subsequent generations coming to this,
have gone, "Wow, he got there early."
-He got there early.
Almost the only person who really got Turner
You know, if we move to a Monet...
..you know, it could be a fragment of a painting by Turner.
It's funny. You like to think that you'd be the one person who saw the worth of it.
But I was thinking, when we were looking at that,
-I'd probably be one of the people slagging it off.
It's crap. It's rubbish.
-It's great material.
-He's gone nuts.
Monet, compared to Turner, what do you think?
There's a kind of prettiness, isn't there, about Monet.
-This is a much more beautiful arrangement of colours...
..whereas Turner is more visceral in the colours that he uses,
the pinks and blues that are the trademark.
So they called this bit of the exhibition Vital Force.
There's one of Twombly's last pictures. What do you make of it?
Does it say in the catalogue that this is the Monet shot?
..expungation of essential...
I read the same catalogue, I think.
There's this great phrase they've taken from a German psychoanalyst
called "Torschlusspanik", which apparently means "slamming-of-the-door panic" -
-in other words, "The door's about to close on your life, and this is what you do."
When I look at late Monet and late Turner,
I feel that I'm looking at artists who, as they're getting older,
have a more and more burning desire to tell US
what they saw in the world before the lights go out.
Whereas Twombly, I feel, is almost summoning himself up
to be alive with the picture.
And now...we've got dark walls
and Turner's sun suddenly starts to shine,
although it is a bit of a melancholy subject, this.
Do you know about this picture? This is the picture that he painted for the memory
of his best friend, David Wilkie, who was also a painter.
Turner, as he gets older, he becomes more and more wedded
to this idea that everything passes, everyone dies.
One age gives way to the next age,
so the age of sail gives way of age of steam.
David Wilkie dies, my friends are going,
and he's writing this melancholy poem called The Fallacies Of Hope.
It is a pretty good grand finale.
Monet nympheas - water lily painting.
People forgot how long he went on.
He painted this in 1916, in the middle of the First World War.
It's a shock when you see those dates, isn't it?
For me, this is Monet's breakthrough moment, really,
when he paints these pictures.
-Really? When he's nearly dead?
-When he's nearly dead, yeah.
All his life, he spent struggling with what he can do with Turner's big idea.
That light and changing light...
..is nature, that is what nature is.
In the water lily paintings, he takes that idea and makes it huge.
He expands it to the size of a mural
in a way that Turner never did.
This is Monet giving Turner to the rest of the 20th century,
and saying, "Look, it is all about light.
"Look at this light. Dive into it, bathe in it."
You can see that's where Twombly comes out of, with gestures and scribbles.
In that sense, the exhibition does succeed in joining the three figures together.
Will you come with me every time I go to a gallery now?
Because it's been much richer than...
When I go round a gallery, I go, "Er, that's quite nice."
But you've got all this stuff.
It's a deal.
And Turner Monet Twombly continues at Tate Liverpool
until October 28th.
Some people don't have to wait till old age to produce their best work.
After the phenomenal success of Matilda,
Tim Minchin's career has gone stratospheric.
Miranda Sawyer talks musicals, mega-stardom and megalomania
with the man of the moment
as he prepared to give his one-off Eden session in Cornwall.
MUSIC: "Jesus Christ Superstar" by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice
THEY SING ALONG
# Jesus Christ
# Superstar... #
Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
It's going to be playing in massive stadiums across the country.
You're playing Judas amongst a cast
that includes Chris Moyles and Mel C
and there's going to be a reality show competition
to find Jesus Christ Superstar.
Should be called Seeking Jesus, but it's called Superstar.
You became famous the hard way.
After a lot of work, in your 30s, what do you think
about people who just jump into a role? Which is what will happen.
If you get the role, off this TV show,
to sing one of the hardest parts ever written for musical theatre,
you haven't just stumbled on it!
You haven't been a lazy layabout for the last 15 years
who happens to have woken up one morning going,
"Oh, I can sing high Ds! I might pop on to a telly show!"
-The person who gets this role will have had their version of hard graft.
And also, Jesus Christ Superstar is about the idea
that Jesus became a bit of a popstar in his last months
and Judas is going, "Dude, you're being an idiot. We're trying to help the poor,
"and you're letting a prostitute rub expensive oil
"on your feet?!" So, the idea that we find Jesus on a popstar-type show
is quite meta
and quite ironic and I quite like it.
# ..Jesus Christ, superstar... #
-Are you ready for another bit of music?
See what we're doing here?
I think I know where you're going with this.
MUSIC: "Californication" by Red Hot Chili Peppers
You are now working with David Duchovny on Californication, is that right?
-How is that?
-It's good. It's one of those weird, lucky things.
My manager got this script across for this character
who's meant to be a megalomaniacal coked-up rock star.
Are you finally living the rock'n'roll dream
-as opposed to the rock'n'roll nerd?
-He is the person I mock.
-Look at the big sign, yay!
I'm surprised you're putting foundation on, given people will be a long way away.
I put it on because of how pink I get.
That's really why I started wearing make-up.
Eyeliner to highlight the eyes because my hands are trapped,
so it's my soul having expression,
and foundation because I get so pink.
So this mitigates beetroot-age. Beetroot-age.
Given you're spending a week in LA doing Californication,
and you're zipping back to do an Eden session,
how does that work?
I'm super tired now and can't quite believe I can do it.
But it's fine, it will be fine.
And more than that, it'll be fantastic fun.
When is that point, just when you step on?
Yeah. Literally, in my orchestra show,
when I come out from underneath the stage on a hydraulic lift,
sometimes I'd be squatting under the stage,
going, "What am...what am I doing?!"
You can feel like the most unfunny,
unentertaining person in the world and go on and have a cracking show.
Understanding that and shedding all superstitions
and all process. I don't have magic socks or magic process,
or certain warm-up, or anything,
and it's so fraying, cos you go, "Oh, well, see what happens," you know?
I hate saying "break a leg". What should I say?
Good luck, cos I'm free of superstition.
Of course. OK. Good luck.
It'll be good fun. Doesn't seem to be raining too hard, either.
# I believe a woman has the right
# To wear the clothes she likes
# Without being treated like dirt
# And I think we men are pathetic
# How we seem to use aesthetic
# As a measure of a woman's worth
# I'm ashamed on behalf of my sex
# For making women feel like objects... #
# ..Fuck, I love boobs, though
# I just really love them
# Fuck, I love boobs, though
# I just want to rub them
# They are just so jooby
# They make me feel groovy
# I would rather watch boobs than a movie
# I just really love...
# Yeah, boobs. #
Thank you so, so much for coming out.
Thank you very much.
Now to American author Richard Ford,
critically acclaimed for The Sportswriter.
He's been talking to James Runcie about his latest novel, Canada -
a tale of memory and identity that was 20 years in the writing.
"First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed.
"And then about the murders which happened later.
"The robbery is the most important part,
"since it set my and my sister's lives on the courses they eventually followed.
"Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first."
Richard Ford is one of the outstanding writers of his generation.
A Pulitzer prize-winnning author,
he's visiting Ireland to teach masterclasses in fiction
to graduate students at Trinity College Dublin.
And what lucky students, because Ford's short stories and novels
elegantly capture the mood of postwar America
and lay bare what he has called
the normal, applauseless life of us all.
His latest novel, Canada, is set in 1960
and tells the story of Dell Parsons, an American teenager suddenly forced
to leave home and make a new life for himself
in the lonely sweep of Canada's Great Plains.
It's a masterful novel that opens,
intriguingly, with a plot spoiler.
I thought it was just a garish thing to do,
to give the whole thing up, basically,
and say, "I'm going to tell you there are murders
"that are going to take place, bank robberies, abandonments,
"all kinds of things, and I will try to interest you
"in how and why they happen."
Why I did it, I didn't think it was anything but a good idea.
I thought, "Give it away...
"and then see what you can do."
Tell me about the writing,
because you've had it on the back burner for 20 years?
But I only had about 20 pages. I write in long hand.
I'd only written about 20 pages.
I knew it was going to be a story about a child
who was made to leave his parents
and go across the border into Canada, but I didn't know why,
so I had to invent what his parents could do that would necessitate
his leaving home and going to live with strangers.
So I invented the notion, well, rob a bank,
because having had a larcenist childhood,
it was always on my screen that maybe the moment will come
when I could rob a bank, so I got to rob one, virtually.
I never wanted to murder anybody,
so that came from some place else, I guess, in my dark little heart.
Isn't there a sense in the novel
in which the ordinary can become extraordinary,
or a moment can change, a life can change,
the border line between what is seemingly ordinary
and what is weird is very thin?
That's what my book is about, to some extent.
That's what Canada is about, which is to say the border between
very ordinary life and, in the case of my book,
about criminal life, a life that really takes you into the abyss,
that those two things exist almost imperceptively apart.
"How they passed that night together,
"the last before they became felons, there's no way to know,
"since my mother doesn't say in any detail.
"There's no template for such a night.
"They were alone in their sweltering cabin,
"they talked out the subjects they needed to talk about,
"or had any imagination for.
"Ordinary people would have waked up panicked at 2am,
"slick with the sweat, roused the person lying beside them,
"snapped on the table lamp and shouted,
" 'No, wait, wait! What is this we're doing?'
"It's very well to threaten these things, hatch a plan,
"drive to here and fantasise it'll work out, but it's crazy.
"We have to go home to our children,
"figure this out another way.
"That's the way reasoning people think and speak and act
"when they have a reflective moment.
"But it's still not what our parents did."
You write short stories. This is a long, big book
and it's told in an incredible amount of detail.
It almost feels like it's in real time.
I don't know that that's its best quality, frankly.
Well, you know, details in novels are words.
Being dyslexic, one of the ways I learned to read
was to seize on words, which is what you have to do.
You have to focus to read successfully
as someone who's dyslexic.
You have to close things out of your vision,
close things out of your mind, so I think I learned to do that,
to seize on words, because of how I was when I was young.
And then I began to think that, as Richard Hugo says,
that when language is just about communication, it's dying.
So, words have qualities, words have weight,
syncopation, hue, and I like those things,
and I think that readers read... the readers that I would like to think I write for...
read one word at a time.
If I can give them good words, that I'm pleasing them
that I'm giving them something for which the time spent is worth it.
"Once we were out of the hills, there were no landmarks,
"no mountains or rivers - like the Highwoods
"or the Bear's Paw or the Missouri - that told you where you were.
"There were fewer trees.
"A single low white house
"with a windbreak and barn, and tractor could be seen at a distance,
"then later, another one.
"The course of the sun would be what told you where you were -
"that and what you personally knew about - a road, a fence line,
"the regular direction the wind came from.
"There was no feeling, once the hills disappeared behind us,
"of a findable middle point
"from which other points could draw a reference.
"A person could easily get lost or go crazy here,
"since the middle was everywhere and everything at once."
Are you still frightened of writing?
Did I ever say I was frightened of it?
You needed fear.
Well, I fear failure. Absolutely.
I think that's probably my strongest motive.
Because when I started writing, when I was 24,
I had failed at several things at that point
and I didn't think I could endure another failure.
I'd been in the Marines and not really succeeded at that.
I'd been in law school and not succeeded at that.
So it always works on me, in that way,
that sense of, "don't make a mess out of this, please!"
Consequently, for better or worse,
up to now, I've never started a book I haven't finished.
I've never written a book that hasn't been published.
So, I... I guess I work out of the intensity that comes from fear,
fear of failure.
It doesn't seem to be shameful.
I mean, it's just me being honest.
-Richard, thank you very much indeed.
-Thank you, James.
Well, that's almost it for tonight.
If you're still looking for more culture,
try visiting The Space online.
Next week, we'll have actor Willem Dafoe,
photographer David Bailey
and the controversial architect Renzo Piano.
But now to play us out,
an exclusive extract from Alfred Hitchcock's debut feature film,
The Pleasure Garden, which has been lovingly restored by the BFI,
with music specially composed by Daniel Patrick Cohen -
just one of the highlights of the BFI's Genius of Hitchcock season
which runs at London's South Bank until October. Good night.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd