Sunday, July 15, 2001

Hugh Hefner and Richard Burton / You've got males

Hugh Hefner

You've got males

Testosterone was everywhere with Richard Burton denying his inner luvvie, Hugh Hefner defying time and Jeremy Clarkson caressing aeroplanes
Hot Wax BBC1
Reputations: Richard Burton BBC2
Speed BBC1
Table 12 BBC2
Kathryn Flett
Sunday 15 July 2001 23.54 BST

'In many ways, these September years are the happiest time of my life. I truly mean that. It's the combination of a tremendous sense of satisfaction at a life well lived, looking back at the childhood, loving the boy who dreamed the dreams and recognising that the dreams came true beyond anything I could have imagined... and sharing in a wonderful way with Kimberley and the children.'
This was Hugh Hefner, speaking to me at the Playboy Mansion in late April 1997, when he was still married, the garden was littered with kiddie detritus, the Grotto smelled fusty from neglect and the signs on the driveway read 'warning: children at play'. The interview was eventually scheduled to run in The Observer on the first Sunday in September and I was halfway through writing it when a princess died in a car crash and Hef was put on the backburner.
A few months later my then editor suggested we update the story: Hef's marriage was now over and he was quite his old self again, clubbing with a new generation of hip young acolytes, including Leonardo DiCaprio, and getting frisky with the first clutch of the now infamous live-in 'girlfriends'. The signs in the driveway had been switched to 'warning: playmates at play'.
I spoke to him on the phone and he was, to say the least, giggly about the shift in his lifestyle. If I had been speaking to any other 72-year-old, he would have said 'well, hey, if an old guy like me can still pull half-a-dozen blondes, why the hell shouldn't I die smiling?'. Hef didn't go quite that far - he is the Playboy of the Western World, after all - but the inference was there.
I kicked myself that I hadn't picked up on the signs the previous year. At one point Hef had let slip that Kimberley spent most of her time with the kids in another house over the fence because the mansion was less of a family home than an office. I didn't blame her: the place crawls with staff, the kitchen is the size of a works canteen and the decor is timewarped, so if Kimberley had managed to stamp any of her own personality on her husband's home then it was hidden well away from the eyes of a journalist.

I was, then, keen to watch Ruby Wax's encounter with Hef, partly to see if he had changed (which I doubted - aside from a conveyor belt of blondes, Hef doesn't much like change) and partly because, to my surprise (and, I'll fess up, pleasure) we had hit it off big time. Still, I suspected he was like that with all the girls.
And so he is. This being Ruby, Hef barely got a word in edgeways, but whenever he did he seemed to be enjoying himself ('What's my best opening line? "Hi, my name's Hugh Hefner"') and Ruby patently adored him. She also achieved something I'd not had the nerve to manage (and regretted just as soon as the taxi was heading back down the drive): she got into his bedroom. Aside from the three bottles of baby oil strategically placed next to the bed, it turned out to be very unsexy and cluttered with videos (far less likely to be blue than they are to be Billy Wilder).
Of the 'girlfriends', Ruby spent most of her time with the brightest one, Kathy, who was funny and smart, as opposed to, say, Regina ('this has been my dream since I was, like, six'), who looked like Faye from Steps and couldn't manage too much joined-up talking. They all live an absurd life, of course, but (sorry, Hef) I don't think as many demands are made on their favours as the boss might like us to think, so it's probably as good a finishing school as any other for an animated Barbie with predictably blond ambitions.
'Are they using you for fame?' Ruby wondered. 'To some extent,' he replied mildly. 'And you don't mind?' 'I don't mind at all!'
Well, why on earth would he? Hef told me he'd never had therapy but, if he hasn't done it already, I'd dearly love Anthony Clare to get him On The Psychiatrist's Couch. Therapy by media he enjoys, I think, because if, out here in the real world, we're all happy to believe that Hef is happy, then that makes Hef - the cartoon posterboy for Having It All - pretty damn happy too.
Richard Burton had it all but, unlike Hef, he didn't enjoy it because he felt guilty. BBC2's Reputations didn't add much to the widely held perception that the man squandered his talent and sold his soul to keep Liz in diamonds as big as the Ritz, but it was entertaining and showed us that Burton's biggest problem, aside from the missus and the drink, was the fact that he just wouldn't give in to his talent and allow himself be a full-blown luvvie: 'After all, the fundamental basis of being an actor is to make money,' he'd admitted in an interview of the kind publicists won't allow stars to give any more. 'I do it because I rather like being famous, I rather like the best seats in the plane and the best seats in the restaurant.'

I was, then, keen to watch Ruby Wax's encounter with Hef, partly to see if he had changed (which I doubted - aside from a conveyor belt of blondes, Hef doesn't much like change) and partly because, to my surprise (and, I'll fess up, pleasure) we had hit it off big time. Still, I suspected he was like that with all the girls.
What with Hef and Burton (and that glorious Wimbledon final - the best since 1981 in my book), it was a mighty good week for testosterone TV. And nestling neatly alongside all the other big boys and their pneumatic toys came the biggest, most swingingest Richard of them all: Jeremy Clarkson. The glib, smug chat shows I would gladly leave the country to avoid watching, but give the man something penis-shaped in burnished metal and he almost quivers with emotion. Like Hef's unfettered obsession with his inner child, I find Clarkson's own fetish oddly touching. And more terrifying than even that admission, sometimes I feel the same way. I once spun a Formula Ford 360 off a track while taking a bend and sat on the verge, gurning with joy and adrenaline, steaming at the ears and vowing to get a race licence - if not in this life, then the next.
And - I'm out and proud! - I also have an abiding passion for very small, very fast, very dangerous, politically incorrect fighter planes (I've even made Airfix models. And I'm sure I shouldn't have shared that with you.) Thus I have enjoyed every nanosecond of every episode of Clarkson's Speed while, obviously, fully intending not to review it under any circumstances. But then last week's edition was a corker, from Clarkson driving, at 215mph, what looked like an oversized coffin on the Utah salt flats to his loving appraisal of the Lockheed SR71, the fastest plane in history - NY to London in 114 minutes. Oh, yes, please! Inside a hangar, Jezza gently caressed a retired Lockheed: 'As you watch it creaking and bleeding you get the impression that it's alive, that it's organic. And when you touch it, it doesn't feel like it's made of metal, it feels sort of vulnerable, like you could hurt it...' Well, I was practically in tears.
The best drama of the week was perfectly pitched for the average summer viewer's distracted attention span, successfully compressing the arc of an entire relationship into a mere 10 minutes - and I doubt Hef can manage that, even on Viagra and autopilot. Table 12 is a series of short films set, unsurprisingly, at the same restaurant table (the delightful Observer local, Moro, in Exmouth Market, for the record) and the first, Settling Up, starred Daniela Nardini as a journalist interviewing and flirting with a fledgling pop star, played by Paul Nicholls. Five minutes into the action and they were already living together and arguing. Three minutes later they had long since split, he was about to marry someone else and Nardini was revealing she was pregnant with his baby.
Another 10 minutes and we'd have covered the child's wedding, his early onset of Alzheimer's and the publication of her memoirs. I loved it. The acting and direction were perfectly pitched and paced and the result was a proper story, far more engaging than whatever Stephen Poliakoff might achieve over several hours.

Monday, July 2, 2001

Bruno Schulz / Murals illuminate Holocaust legacy row

Bruno Schulz

Murals illuminate Holocaust legacy row

Israel has taken the last work of a young Polish Jew from a town now in Ukraine 
Ian Traynor in Drogobych
Mon 2 Jul 2001 09.45 BST

When the Nazis massacred 230 Polish Jews in the ghetto of Drogobych on a cold November day in 1942 the Gestapo agent Karl Günter gained particular notoriety.
His victims that day included two young women and the writer Bruno Schulz, whose slim literary output evokes a magical, grotesque place and era which vanished in the Holocaust.
The Polish reporter Ryszard Kapuscinski describes Schulz's murder in Imperium, his travelogue of the disappearing Soviet Union, published in 1998.
"Pilgrimages are made to Drogobych because this is where the writer Bruno Schulz lived, created, and died," Kapuscinski wrote. "On the street Karl Günter, a Gestapo agent, shot Bruno Schulz. Günter had a small woman's pistol."
Almost 60 years after what became known locally as "Black Thursday", Schulz and his madcap depictions of Drogobych life have come back to haunt this pretty, provincial town. It was in Poland between the wars, and is now in Ukraine, and has a vibrant history of central European Jewish culture and its counterpoint of visceral anti-semitism.
When he died Schulz, who taught drawing at the local boys' high school was painting fairytale scenes on the walls of the bedroom occupied by the five-year-old son of the town's Gestapo chief.Long sought and then forgotten, the murals were found in February under the peeling pink emulsion in the pantry of a flat belonging to a retired Russian communist party apparatchik.
Within months they were gone: lifted from the walls and taken to Israel. Their removal caused an outcry and an anguished debate about ownership patrimony of the legacy of Jews lost in the Holocaust.
"The Israelis say the paintings belong in Israel. The Poles say they should be in Poland. But the authentic place for these paintings is Drogobych," Benjamin Geissler, the Hamburg film-maker who found them, said.
Alfred Schreyer, an elderly Holocaust survivor, retired violinist and former pupil of Schulz pupil, agrees.
"Schulz was born here, he worked here, he lived here, he died here. These paintings should remain here," he said.
Mr Schreyer's father was gassed by the Nazis at Belzec in Poland, his mother was shot in the forest outside Drogobych, and he himself ended the war in Buchenwald concentration camp.
Alerted to Geissler's discovery, experts from Yad Vashem, Israel's central Holocaust memorial and museum, arrived quietly in Drogobych in March to examine them, aided by Mark Shraberman, a Ukrainian Jewish archivist who worked in the regional capital, Lviv, before emigrating to Israel in the 90s.
They returned in May, got access to the pantry, painstakingly prised the murals from the wall, and spirited them away to Israel.
"It must be emphasised that Yad Vashem worked openly and with the full coordination of the local authorities," Yad Vashem said in a statement.
The Poles, who regard Schulz as a great Polish writer, are livid.
The Ukrainian secret police are investigating. The Ukrainian government has lodged protests with the Israeli government, which has not replied.
Schulz's reputation as a pioneer of Polish modernism rests on two small volumes of short stories published in the 30s: The Street of Crocodiles, also known as Cinnamon Shops, and The Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass.
He was also a prolific caricaturist and painter: more than 300 of his works are on display in a Warsaw museum.

The Kaluzhny family, the present occuopants of the flat, merely shrug at the fuss about what they regard as the sub-adolescent scrawls of an unknown writer and painter.

"This flat was privatised, it's our property, we can do what we want," Nadezhda Kaluzhnaya said
"No one told us these paintings were valuable. They're not even paintings, just smears on the wall.
"It would be different if they were frescoes, Italian, Michelangelo or something."
The five fragments of mural depict a princess, two dwarves, a horse and carriage: scenes from Grimms' fairytales painted on the orders of Felix Landau, the Austrian Nazi and war criminal who oversaw the murder or deportation of 15,000 Drogobych Jews under the Third Reich.
"The coachman in the carriage has the face of Schulz himself," Mr Schreyer said. "That's characteristic. He often puts himself in his paintings."
Landau, a junior SS officer, was a notorious sadist with a penchant for the fine arts.
He was convicted as a war criminal in post-war Germany and released after serving 15 years of a life sentence. He died in 1983 in his native Vienna.
The 100-year-old villa where the Kaluzhnys live was the police headquarters when Warsaw ruled here between the wars. It became Landau's home when the Nazis took over in 1941.
Some say a famous scene from Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List is based on Landau's bestiality in Drogobych: from the villa balcony, he would amuse himself by taking pot shots at Jewish slave labourers working in the orangerie across the street.
And when the Nazi looting of Drogobych was in full swing, he needed a local Jew "with perfect written and spoken German" to catalogue the art works and valuables being plundered.
Schulz fitted the bill. He survived a little longer by being given a German pass enabling him to move in and out of the ghetto.
When Landau learned that he was also a painter, he commissioned Schulz to decorate the walls of the nursery of his son Wolf-Dieter.
But Landau's subordinate Günter nursed a grudge against his boss for shooting a Jewish man Günter employed as his private dentist. Günter took his revenge by killing his boss's painter.
The former nursery is now a tiny storage room off the Kaluzhnys' kitchen, where Mrs Kaluzhnaya keeps her pickles and garlic, and fruit and vegetables from the garden.

On May 19 the team from Yad Vashem arrived in the pantry and spent three days chiselling the murals carefully from the walls.

"I got a phone call from Kaluzhny on May 23," Mr Schreyer said. "It was an idiotic conversation.
"Kaluzhny said: 'I've given them the frescoes.' I said: 'How could you do that?'
"If he'd called me a day earlier, I would have made sure they wouldn't have got across the Ukraine border with them.
"I said: 'They probably paid you a lot of money.' He said: 'Not a kopeck.'"
According to the Kaluzhny family, the Israelis originally offered $3,000 (£2,140) for the Schulz works. Local rumour has it that they got $100.
But Larisa Artemchenkova, their daughter, insists that they gave away the murals for nothing.
"We just wanted to be left in peace. There was talk of making a Schulz museum here, and where would my elderly parents go then?"
She then offered an inspection of the pantry walls. For a price.
"What do you think Jews would charge?" she smirked.
Yad Vashem insists that Jerusalem is the appropriate place to exhibit works of art left behind by the Nazis' Jewish victims, particularly given the anti-semitic history of places like Drogobych.
"Who cares about them in Drogobych?" the Jewish Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer, said to the Warsaw newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.
Indeed, there is little in Drogobych to recall its Jewish past, or its most famous son, apart from the big pre-war synagogue, a powerfully eloquent monument to neglect, amnesia, and anti-semitism: the building is an abandoned, foul-smelling wreck of rubble, broken glass and rotting timber used by down-and-outs for shelter and others as a public toilet.
"It's right that the paintings have gone," said Lyubov Vasilkin, a researcher at the Drogobych history museum.
"Bruno Schulz suffered under the Germans and it's right that he should be immortalised in Israel."
But it is the manner of the paintings' leaving that distresses many people. And despite the Ukrainian government's protests, it is assumed here that government officials were complicit in their removal: an illegal act, since no pre-1945 work of art may be taken out of the country without a licence.
"The removal of the 'fragments' of sketches was conducted with the full cooperation of the Drogobych municipality, and it was and still is clear to Yad Vashem that the Drogobych municipality was aware of the laws in its own country," the Yad Vashem statement said.
The Israelis plan to restore the murals and exhibit them in a new Holocaust museum opening in 2004.
"I was actually in Israel when the paintings were taken," Geissler said.
"I was talking to people at Yad Vashem about establishing a Schulz museum in Drogobych. They said nothing."
Except for this statement: "Yad Vashem has the moral right to the remnants of those fragments sketched by Bruno Schulz ... The correct and most suitable place to house the drawings he sketched during the Holocaust is Yad Vashem."