Saturday, July 8, 2017

There’s we Brits, all dull, common or garden Anglo-Saxon empiricism, and there’s the exciting adventurous French, all chic away-with-the-fairies rationalism (‘I think, therefore I shall tell you all about it a great incomprehensible length, my intellectual life, my unusual sex life, the bearing it has on my intellectual life . . .’) and when a certain kind meets another certain kind, the outcome is rarely fruitful or happy

Years ago - 28 if you’re asking - I went with the film critic (and education correspondent) of the South Wales Echo, a film producer friend of his and another friend to spend a week in Roscoff, in Brittany, at the Celtic Film Festival. The film critic was Dave Berry. At first I couldn’t remember his name and googled ‘South Wales Echo film critic’ which led me to an obituary in the Independent. Dave, it seems, died seven years ago.

I last spoke to him in the 1990s and promised to drive to Cardiff to meet up again, but, as almost always happens with such promises, it was never kept. Dave was a one-off, one of the nicest guys I’ve known in and out of the business, and he was always good company. May he rest in peace. But all that is by the by.

The film producer was a Richard Staniforth who was visiting the festival on business, trying, as it seems film producers always are, to drum up money for whatever production he and his company at the time (Teliesyn) wanted money for and to network. And I should add that Richard was - is - most certainly no film industry wannabe and has made an interesting career for himself.

When I was working for the South Wales Echo (as a sub-editor from February 1986 till halfway through 1989) in Cardiff, the city was growing a vibrant film industry which, as far as I know is thriving. The BBC makes many of its productions there and the city has been the birthplace of many films, although I’m not sure whether its long-hoped-for role as Hollywood on the Taff ever really came to anything. But it wasn’t for want of talent or trying.

Sadly, I can’t remember the name of our fourth companion, but I do recall he was, I think, the Echo’s district reporter in Porthcawl. He and I just went along for the ride, French food, a drink or three and to see some films.

The Celtic Film Festival now calls itself the Celtic Media Festival - the name is sexier, I suppose - and this year held its 38th festival at the beginning of May on the Isle of Man. It’s first festival was held in 1980 in the Western Isles (it says on the website - I didn’t happen to know that) and the one I attended with Dave, Richard and Mr X was its 10th.

The four of us took off from Cardiff and headed for Plymouth in my reasonably beat-up Austin Allegro which sounded as though it were on the brink of falling apart because the bearings in one of the front wheels had disintegrated, but I had been assured that despite the alarming racket it made, it wasn’t dangerous and the wheel was in no danger of falling off. From Plymouth it was just a short six-hour hop across the channel to Roscoff.

In those days the festival was still true to its principle of providing a platform of ‘Celtic’ films, although even then money was making itself felt and the qualification of somehow being ‘Celtic’ was already being stretched. At the festival the following year in Gweedore, Donegal, which I also attended, there were already rumblings from some that admittance to showing a film which was ‘Celtic’ was already being stretched beyond what many thought was acceptable, and I don’t doubt that last May on the Isle of Man films and whatever was deemed to come under the catch-all term ‘media’ had strayed pretty far from the original ideal.

Accommodation was available at three prices - 50 francs for the week, 40 francs and 30 francs if I remember - and I opted for the cheapest level and rather think I stayed in a more interesting hotel than did Dave and Richard who found themselves in some anonymous Euro hotel. My hotel, on the other hand, was old and sported pipes and staircases going everywhere. I prefer asymmetrical houses which have staircases, both long and short, going everywhere and I have not objection whatsoever to naked pipes, even ones which bang a little when you turn the shower on or flush the lavatory. There was, of course, none of that in the Euro hotel.

We all pretty much went our own way after an evening meal together on the first night in the restaurant of the Euro hotel, but it was memorable for me because it was the first time I had eaten monkfish, and boy was it nice. You might not know it, but the French have a way with cooking and long may it be so.

I can’t remember which films I saw, except one called, I think Elephant, which was a rather mystifying Northern Irish production. It consisted of quite a few shorts one after another, all showing the same thing: a man would meet up as though by appointment with another man and would then be taken somewhere and shot dead, apparently willingly and compliantly.

It was all very puzzling and, I suppose deep, and most certainly was some kind of commentary on the number of IRA killings going on at the time. I remember that I, for some reason, took to timing each segment of film and discovered each was exactly 30 seconds long. Why I really don’t know. And I also remember that a swimming pool featured in it, though again why I have not idea.

Another film I remember was also in another sense odd. Well, at least, I thought it a bit odd, and it most certainly baffled me. It was quite short, about 20 minutes, and consisted of nothing but shots of sailing dinghies and small yachts tooing and frooing on a lake. Some were in long shot, some in medium shot. And that was it. What it was all about, I can’t say, although I think I can say it was probably not some subtle commentary on the number of IRA killings (and I am bound to admit that other terror groups were available, notably Loyalist paramilitary groups who could match the Provos killing for killing no bother).

I’m sure I saw other films, but certainly no others now come to mind. And as I was neither attending the festival as a producer (like Richard Staniforth) networking and, I suppose, hoping to make deals, or as a film critic (like Dave Berry, who apart from being a dead nice, very down-to-earth guy - he was from Lancashire - had an encylopaedic knowledge of film and wrote a respected book, Wales and Cinema: The First Hundred Years), I just spent every day of the week mooching around.

My day would probably start getting up late, finding a bar for a late-morning cafe au lait, deciding which offering of film I would watch, chatting to whoever I fell into conversation with, then, I suppose - I suppose, because I really can’t remember a great many details - meeting up with one or two of the others, having a meal, then boozing the night away till 2am. As the week

A Frenchman or a Brit? You decide


went, we would find ourselves in someone’s hotel room or other, often mine in the old creaky building I had found myself in, chatting some more and drinking some more. Once, I remember, some old Scot, who must have been at least in his 70s came along to my room with several others and we enjoyed a 60 per cent proof malt he had brought along.

On the last night a gang of people were again in my room and I found myself semi-flirting with a very attractive Frenchwoman. I am one of those guys who is not particularly shy with women, especially after a drink - which is certainly not uncommon - and as dawn broke we were - I think, this is supposition, though I have no reason to doubt it - the last two there and were necking. (I love necking, though again that doesn’t distinguish me in any particular way.)

Everyone was leaving that day, so at about 7am I walked her back to her hotel - again, I think - and told her I would like to see her again. She said she would like to see me again, too, so I asked her for her phone number. She gave it to me. It looked a little unusual, so I asked her where she lived. New York, she said. And, dear reader, I did see her again a few months later.

. . .

The woman was a Rozenn Milin and one aspect of her character is really what brought me to write this entry.

The other night I started watching the film The Moderns by Alan Rudolph. I have seen it before, years ago, and I have seen other of Rudolphs films, although by no means all, and enjoyed each one immensely. He has a very sly, dry somewhat satirical humour and it is no surprise that his career began working as an assistant director for Robert Altman. So how does Rozenn Milin fit in? Well, I was thinking ‘I like Alan Rudolph’s films’ and then Rozenn came to mind.

I didn’t ‘go out’ with her for very long at all, although our association lasted pretty much for about 12 months before it petered out, and we saw each other about five times. I went to visit her for a week in New York (and the new tops I had bought for the trip were rather crushingly described by her as ‘making me look like a guy from New Jersey up in the big city’ - I paraphrase only lightly) and I don’t doubt she had a point. Then she twice came to stay with me in Cardiff where I as working. And finally I went to visit her twice in Paris where she was temporarily based. (I think it was twice because we stayed in two different flats. Perhaps we stayed in two different flats on my one trip. Crucial? Er, no, not really.)

In many ways Rozenn was remarkable in that she spoke English and Welsh as well as French and Breton. She spoke English with an American accent, but spoke it very well indeed and I assume she also mastered Welsh well, particularly as it was related to Breton. She turned 30 while we were ‘seeing each other’, and I use the quotes because to be frank it never really got off the ground as ‘a relationship’.

The reason I mention her here is not to ramble on about yet another ‘relationship’ which led nowhere, but because of a trait Rozenn had which was a tad irritating and which would surely again come to the fore were I to meet up with her and mention that ‘I like Alan Rudolph’s films’. She would then certainly demand to know which of his films I had seen and once I admitted I hadn’t, in fact, seen them all, she would most certainly suggest that I couldn’t then really claim ‘to like Alan Rudolph’s films’.

She had a very high regard for herself, once referring to ‘my (i.e. her) adventurous life’ and, to be honest, she was adventurous. When she left New York, where she had lived for several years, and came to visit me in Cardiff (and dump quite a few of her belongings for safekeeping), she took off again, on her own, for several months in Pakistan. It was the high self-regard I didn’t

If I bloody catch you thinking, you little toerag, there will be hell to play


and don’t much like, in her or anyone else. I was about to write that she suffered from a certain kind of French intellectual arrogance. I’m sure such arrogance is not restricted to the French. especially a certain kind of intellectual arrogance, is not restricted to the French, but they do seem keen on making it their very own. There seems to be the general feeling that only the French are capable of thinking and that if any Englishman manages it, well, it was basically a fluke, one not to be repeated at any time soon.

On another occasion I happened to observe that all too often translations don't, can't even, work, however good they are. ‘Lieu commun’, she countered, which piqued me (and you are well entitled to point out that just how much it must have piqued me can be gauged that I mention it now, 28 years later. You would, though, be wrong, because by then I had already realised I was dealing with a ‘French mind’ and that kind of dismissal was only to be expected).

So there you have it: I like Alan Rudolph’s films, but if you take Rozenn’s hardline approach and insist that no one can make that claim unless and until they had seen all his films . . .

. . .

I must confess that if one of the reasons why that particular relationship went nowhere, it was because I realise, in hindsight, that we were not a good match in many ways, and that probably puts it mildly. She always insisted that all I wanted out of life was to meet a good woman, settle down and have a family.

Well, there was a little truth in that, certainly, and however piss-poor my marriage is (it is piss-poor, though I have to say, that is largely not my fault, but I’ll leave that for another time, if I even write about it at all), in one way I feel happier than I did in that I now again have a home after close on 30 years when I felt horribly rootless and didn’t feel at home anywhere. But that was not the whole truth, and it did irritate me considerably.

I also disliked a certain competitive element in her make-up, a tendency to try to trump the whole time. Still, all that is now history. What, me like Alan Rudolph’s films? Get away!

. . .

I don’t mean to belittle Rozenn’s achievements which are certainly greater than mine. She had begun her life after graduating as a presenter of French regional television in Britanny, then decided she wanted to be an actor which is why she went to New York. Later she helped to set up and ran a Breton language television company, though I gather it didn’t thrive and finally folded, by then reduced to screening loads of important US television films.

I was in touch with her again briefly about eight of nine years ago after I came across her Facebook page and left a message asking her to get in touch. She did, many months later, and I gathered that her life is still adventurous and that she had, I think, just returned from a stint at the French embassy in Tokyo where she had worked as some kind of artistic attache.

We exchanged emails and I then asked her to read my novel - the one and only one, so far, I know, and I’m always banging on about it, but I do actually rate it - and give me her opinion. What’s it about, she asked. I responded that I couldn’t really tell (and still find it difficult to put it into words). Try, she said. I told her that I couldn’t really be expected to say in a few short sentences what had taken my more than 60,000 to write.

She didn’t respond.

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