To the casual observer, Michael Mann appears to make stylish but conventional genre films. A closer look reveals a filmmaker who occupies a strange position in American cinema. One who works within the Hollywood machine yet also outside of it. Mann’s films may tick many genre boxes, but through their conviction, beauty and uniformly wonderful casts, they also tap into feelings and concerns not realised in typical genre pictures.
Birdman ended and the credits began. I watched the names of the cast and crew for a few seconds, before slowly getting up and exiting the auditorium. As I walked down the stairs, through the foyer and towards the door, things retained their sense of the ordinary, their levelness.
EXT. PARK – EARLY EVENING A London park in autumn. Ducks float in fountains. Leaves blow in the breeze. A vast white tent is visible through the trees. Inside that tent is an art fair. INT. ART FAIR – EARLY EVENING An evenly lit, and exactly white-walled gallery stand. CONCEPTUAL ARTIST (young man, worried expression) is having a conversation with HOLLYWOOD ACTOR (drug-addled, sex symbol).
Like Celine Dion and Michael Jackson, she had a gift that could never be bought – the gift of absolute pitch. If you threw Clara a song, she could play you back the notes by ear. She could do this on the piano at the age of two, because she was a v-i-r-t-u-o-s-o. And when she was four, she stood up on a table and breathed rapid hellfire from behind the chin rest of the devil’s instrument.
I’m house-sitting for a friend. I’m doing it very gladly as this house is considerably nicer than mine. It has AC, my house doesn’t. And it’s high up in the hills offering spectacular views of the low, sprawling mass/mess of Los Angeles. Certain landmarks are easy to make out.
The rumours are true. I am but a disembodied head – the virtual made flesh. I, Neil Sean of the Metro newspaper’s The Green Room, Sky and Fox News and Travelodge’s former writer in residence, sprang forth from the lager-addled mind of an overworked subeditor with a hacking cough that could wake the comatose.
I, too, have suffered through Mary J Blige’s A Mary Christmas. She looks like Tito the Chihuahua from Oliver and Company on the album’s cover, pensive and forlorn, and super-imposed onto a department store’s “Meet Santa” photo set.
I saw Tracey Emin in a pub once. It was in Spitalfields in London. She was standing by the bar, sipping red wine and surveying the room, her head rotating at irregular intervals like a broken lighthouse beacon. I remember she was drinking out of a very small glass. She was talking to the landlady of the pub, who is considered something of an institution, but who I find rude and slightly mad.
As my eyes move up from my book, I spot a dead ladybird – wings spread wide – floating gracefully in the residue of some blue watercolour in a little jar amid shards of gold glitter. I feel a sudden urgency to fix this fragile beauty in pixels as it unfolds in front of my eyes. Perfect composition by coincidence. Snap.