January 17th, 2021

I Spoke Too Soon

I wrote a few days back- in a conversation about Inception- that there was no gunplay in my dreams. But that was then...

Last night I was being pursued by a hitman. I was hiding behind a slender concrete pillar- too slender to offer complete protection- and I could see him at the far side of the park, standing in a crowd that was watching some kind of public performance or display. He had spotted me too and was pointing his pistol straight at me. I was holding a rifle but it was a toy and no use except to be bluffing with.

The Great Dan Leno

I watched the movie The Limehouse Golem last night. If you take it as a fever dream of late Victorian London- as filtered through Jekyll and Hyde, Dorian Gray and the Ripper mythos- it'll pass muster- but it hasn't got much to do with actuality. Douglas Booth has fun- and is fun to watch- playing the great comedian Dan Leno as a cross between Lily Savage and the MC from Cabaret- but enough survives of Leno's own schtick to make it plain he wasn't that kind of performer at all. He lived just long enough to make some sound recordings- they're available of line- (and God bless me- they're still funny)- but the persona that is projected there is dry, precisely spoken, subtle, diffident and not at all raucous or camp. He started out as a clog dancer and wound up as a character comedian and pantomime dame, with a line in social observation touched by surreality. Like all good comics he wanted to play it straight- in particular he fancied a shot at Richard III- and was never given the chance. The nearest we can get to a visual impression of the kind of thing he was up to is through the work of immediate successors like Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel. Like them he was a little man- playing- whether in drag or out of it- a quasi-innocent at odds with the world. Had he lived a little longer he'd have made movies himself- but he died at 43 in 1904 of workaholism tinged with alcohol. He put so much of himself into the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane that his ghost has been seen, heard and smelled there. Apparently his signature scent is lavender.

Does it matter that the movie so completely misrepresents him? Well, he was a great artist- and it's rather as though you made a movie featuring Picasso in which he's shown painting soup cans and making screen prints of Marilyn. Would that be acceptable? Only if you being deliberately disrespectful.