Christopher Bray

How The Sopranos changed TV for ever

‘Too many characters, too many plot lines, characters who weren’t very good at their jobs, and their personal lives were a mess.’ Thus the memo to the creatives behind Hill Street Blues. ‘It was like a blueprint for what made every show successful since The Sopranos,’ Kevin Spacey giggles to Peter Biskind. ‘If the NBC

The amazing grace of Bruce Lee’s fight scenes

Early on in Enter the Dragon our hero, the acrobatic Kung Fu fighter Bruce Lee, tells a young pupil to kick him. Needless to say, the kid’s kick comes a cropper. ‘What was that?’, Lee sneers, clipping the lad’s ear. ‘An exhibition? We need emotional content, not anger.’ Even at 12, when I first read

Beautiful enigma: Garbo’s mystery lives on

‘We didn’t need dialogue’, glares Gloria Swanson’s crazed silent picture star midway through Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard. ‘We had faces!’ She had a point. Even those of us who believe the movies weren’t really the movies until they had snappy dialogue (and no dialogue ever snapped the way Wilder’s did) have to concede that Swanson

Houdini looks bound to captivate us forever

Give thanks to the person who invented Venetian blinds, they say, or it would be curtains for us all. Curtains is mostly what people got at a Houdini show. He’d come on stage, be locked up or sealed in or tied down, and then the curtains would descend. They could stay drawn for an hour

David Bowie: the boy who never gave up

A few years ago Will Brooker spent 12 months pretending to be David Bowie. For several weeks he dressed up as Ziggy Stardust (gold bindi, maroon mullet, jumpsuit run up from old curtains), then as Aladdin Sane (blue and red lightning slash daubed across face), then as the Thin White Duke (black waistcoat, black eyeliner,

Hollywood’s invisible man

What do the following filmmakers have in common: Victor Fleming, John Ford, Henry Hathaway, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Ernst Lubitsch, Lewis Milestone, Otto Preminger, Josef von Sternberg, George Stevens, Charles Vidor, King Vidor, Orson Welles and William Wyler? I know, it’s a toughie — and it isn’t much less tough if you consult IMDb. But

Getting it in the neck

‘What!’, railed Voltaire in his Dictionnaire Philosophique of 1764. ‘Is it in our 18th century that vampires still exist?’ Hadn’t his Enlightenment rationalism seen off such sub-religious voodoo? Well no, mon frère, it hadn’t. In fact, here we are, a quarter of a millennium on, and those vampires are still with us. Films, rock concerts,

Been there, done that

Lucky bastard. Such are the words that come constantly to mind while you’re reading Clancy Sigal’s two volumes of posthumously published autobiography. Blacklisted as a (self-confessedly lousy) actor for refusing to name names in the McCarthy era, working as the agent for the likes of Peter Lorre, Rod Steiger and — sigh — Barbara Stanwyck

Wonder of Wenders

What know they of movies who only movies know? Wim Wenders’s latest collection of essays arrives at a time when the best-known film critic in England is unashamed to claim that tendentious tosh The Exorcist as the best picture ever made. Even though the slightest piece in The Pixels of Paul Cézanne is its title

Art and aspiration

When Adam Gopnik arrived in Manhattan in late 1980 he was an art history postgrad so poor that he and his wife-to-be were reduced to sharing a 9’ x 11’ basement with a bunch of cockroaches. But everything was going to be all right because Gopnik had his guitar with him and he ‘knew someone

Band of bickering brothers

There aren’t many downsides to being a film critic, but one of them is being asked to name your favourite movie. You bluster and bluff, and then cop out by saying the answer changes from year to year and sometimes from day to day. Then you read David Thomson’s new book and realise that from

A man with an agenda

What’s this? An autobiography by Stuart Hall? Wasn’t he one of the guys who put the Eng. Lit. departments out to grass by arguing that it was senseless to talk about fictional characters as if they were real people when the truth was that real people were fictional constructs? Indeed he was; but don’t go

Boy wonder

Back in 1978, a young and already successful Steven Spielberg told a bunch of would-be moviemakers at the American Film Institute not to ‘worry if critics like… Molly Haskell don’t like your movies’. Four decades on, and just in time to mark his 70th birthday, Haskell has written a biography of Spielberg for Yale’s series

Hitchcock’s favourite bird

‘The Birds is coming’ screamed the posters for Tippi Hedren’s only famous film. Well, the cats is coming in her memoir. More than half the book is given over to Shambala Preserve, the lion and tiger sanctuary that Hedren set up in California in the 1980s. If you want to know how to stroke a