I was a huge Elton John fan as a teenager. I had all the albums, lots of the singles and a large poster of Elton in over-sized star-shaped glasses on my bedroom wall. So it was with great anticipation that we saw ‘Rocketman’, the new EJ biopic. So what’s it like? Well, in summary, the beginning (child protégé to blossoming musical genius) is heart-wrenching. The middle bit (meteoric rise to global super-stardom and descent into rock star excess) is, well, middling. And the finale (reformed addict to legendary national treasure) is foot-tapping joy. Elton’s no-holes-barred lifestyle and multiple neuroses are laid bare – delivered by ingenious scene-stealing fantasy sequences set to his best-known songs. And, there’s no ‘straight-washing’ either to placate the censors in less enlightened lands. It’s all out there in sequin-studded, piano-beating, coke-snorting, vodka-swilling, bed-hopping glorious Technicolor.
Taron Egerton as the Rocket Man is perfect, capturing, though not caricaturing, Elton’s mannerisms, shyness, petulance, sulkiness and explosive presence – both on and off stage. And his voice ain’t bad either. The film is good, rather than great, entertaining rather than profound. My only real criticism is, while Elton’s pain is front and centre – honestly told – it’s a tad self-absorbed with little insight into the hurt and mayhem caused to others by the swirling emotional tornado that is Elton Hercules John. But, I’m still a fan.
We were planning to see Bohemian Rhapsody, the new Freddie Mercury biopic. But the reviews have been decidedly mixed, despite Rami Malek’s astonishing portrayal as the Queen of Queen. It’s been said that, as producers of the film, the surviving members of the band all come across as a bit too saintly. Of course, they’re not saints. Nobody is. And Freddie’s sexuality has been sanitised, presumably to appeal to the widest international audience possible. Freddie’s excesses are well-documented. His AIDS-related death was awful and, for me, profoundly affecting. I remember it all too well. I once saw Freddie at a gay club back in the day, surrounded by his acolytes. There was nothing ambiguous about Freddie. So we decided to give the film a miss to avoid the disappointment. Instead, we lunched at Bishop’s, one of Norwich best indie restaurants. The meal was courtesy of the staff at the village surgery where Liam earns an honest crust. We’d already had our joint birthday treat at the newly opened Ivy Brasserie. But you can never have too many birthday treats, can you?
A short while ago I shared this image on Facebook. It was a whimsical tease about the sartorial obsession the religious establishment have with funny hats, as if a silly head covering confers gravitas and wisdom. The idea being that if atheists could come up a millinery gimmick to get them in the papers, they might get taken more seriously. It was a joke, obviously. Not so to someone. A couple of days later, the picture and associated comments disappeared quicker than a South American political activist. Where did it go? Why did it go? Who knows? But then, a few days on, the post miraculously re-appeared. I know it was probably some Faceache anorak in hipster whiskers and top knot but I like to think it was divine intervention.
Nothing slaps you about the face better than God’s wrath in 3-D. I’m a sucker for a Hollywood style Biblical epic, particularly as the fairy tales of the Old Testament lend themselves to stunning special effects. So when Ridley Scott’s ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ was released, I was front of the queue. For the most part, the movie delivers on spectacle, making up in drama what it lacks in depth. The plagues sequence is particularly delicious as the God of Moses teaches Rameses a thing or two about divine power. The film has dumped the preachy gravitas of the Cecil B Mille’s 1956 ‘The Ten Commandments’. Christian Bale’s doubting Moses is much grittier than Charlton Heston’s pulpit-style rendition and is better suited to today’s more secular age. Depicting God as a ten year old boy is either inspired or daft (I’m still not sure which). Having the child resemble Damien from ‘The Omen’ is masterly.
According to the BBC, the film has been banned in Eqypt because of ‘historical inaccuracies’ (sorry?) – partly because the movie depicts the Hebrews slaving over a pair of pyramids (the construction of which ceased centuries before the alleged great escape). I’m glad to see that the religious censors are on the ball and standing up for the truth.
If ever there was cast-iron evidence for limiting the number of terms in the top job, it’s the Prime Minister of Turkey’s current spat with Twitter, an unedifying squabble that makes Erdoğan look autocratic and self-serving. Is the Twitter ban on or off? Who knows? Are the tweets about Erdoğan accurate? Who knows? Twitter is in good company. Lazy censorship is the norm in Turkey. A ban on YouTube has been on and off for years. Facebook may be next. Erdoğan doesn’t like selfies. It’s all rather pointless as anyone with a little technical savvy can circumvent the ban with relative ease.
Something dangerous happens to those who sit at the big desk for too long. The seduction of power can be unhinging. Like the absolute monarchs of old, some start to think that they personify and embody the nation they’re supposed to serve and to insult them is also to insult the nation (something that is a crime in Turkey). Erdoğan doesn’t respond well to criticism and uses politically appointed judges to punish those who cross him. And it’s not just Turkey. This imperious tendency can happen even in so-called mature democracies. Think Margaret Thatcher and how she became more regal and dictatorial with every year of her reign. God knows how Her Maj coped with those weekly chit chats. Who was giving an audience to whom?
Wiser heads know when to leave the party. Take Nelson Mandela, a great example of a dignified exit and even the ever-shrewd Tony Blair knew when the game was up. Not so for our power-crazed Erdoğan. In 2011, he won an unprecedented third consecutive election making him the most popular and successful Turkish leader since Atatürk. But there was a problem. The Constitution barred him from serving a fourth term as Prime Minister and that historic victory could have been his swan song. But the wily old Erdoğan wasn’t about to let the small matter of a Constitution pension him off, he simply changed it.
In August, Turks go to the polls to choose a directly elected executive president and guess whose name will be at the top of the ballot paper? The chances are Erdoğan will win, maybe by a smaller margin, but with a majority nonetheless. I don’t expect today’s local elections to upset the political status quo either. I do expect more authoritarianism and more paranoia, a prospect that doesn’t augur well for political pluralism in Turkey. And so back to the Iron Lady. In the end, it was her own who got rid of her, not the electorate. Maybe, just maybe, there’s a lesson here for Erdoğan.