- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Real police

“[John] Mortimer’s own work will live on, both in the arts and in the law. As a campaigner he helped to achieve abolition of the death penalty and of the censorship of the theatre by that doltish establishment figure, the Lord Chamberlain. The cases he took as a barrister, defending ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn,’ ‘Oz’ … are credited with abolishing censorship of the written word (although Page Three appeared in the Sun shortly after his victory in the Oz appeal).

“It is interesting to consider how his insights, expressed in his plays and books, influenced progressive law reform. ‘Rumpole of the Bailey’ had a particular impact on the reception by juries of police evidence. It came at a time - the late 70s - when the Vaudeville routine of the police ‘verbal’ was still in vogue. Hardened villains, immediately on their arrest, would always say ‘It’s a fair cop, guv’ or ‘You’ve got me this banged to rights this time’ or make other incriminating remarks. At least, police would tell this to juries as they read from their concocted notes. …

“‘Rumpole of the Bailey’ presented a different picture. It showed how bent or overzealous police could secure convictions by forensic trickery. I remember the talk at the defence bar at the Bailey during the first series of Rumpole: we credited the series with the new willingness of juries to acquit in such cases. In due course, the law was changed and all police interviews had to be tape recorded or video taped.”

- Geoffrey Robertson, writing on “How Rumpole helped John Mortimer change the world” on Jan. 16 in the Guardian

Bush movies

“Beyond those two series, there have been two other trends in film that would and should be associated with the Bush era.

“The first and less offensive trend has been the explosion of willfully stupid Will Ferrell/Vince Vaughn/Ben Stiller films, such as ‘Old School,’ ‘Zoolander,’ ‘Dodgeball,’ ‘Anchorman,’ or ‘Talladega Nights.’ All of these movies have, at their core, a ridiculously stupid character who remains oblivious about their stupidity throughout the movie.

“While one can see certain political persuasions eager to associate this kind of character with George W. Bush, it does not translate as well as one would think. Bush displayed many negative traits - including a lack of curiosity - but stupidity was not one of them. Furthermore, on screen these characters somehow remained endearing. Again, this does not describe George W. Bush.”

- Daniel W. Drezner, writing on “Eight Years, 300 Spartans” on Dec. 18 at Culture11.com

Felix culpa?

“What is it about Felix Mendelssohn that so habitually slips the mind? For most of the 19th century, Mendelssohn was considered the equal of Beethoven and Bach. For much of the 20th, his music was known to at least as many listeners as the Beatles - if not the Anglican hymn O for the Wings of a Dove, then the obligatory Wedding March. His violin concerto is the saccharine test for every virtuoso and his Scottish Symphony is that country’s best-known musical evocation. …

“Yet one senses in Mendelssohn a certain inhibition that stopped him some inches short of greatness. He did not, for instance, extend the capacity of the orchestra or piano in any form. The grandeur of his oratorios, the full-throated volume, cannot quite compensate for the absence of raw passion. Felix Mendelssohn was trained from infancy to be polite to the banking classes. … He was not prepared, as Beethoven was, to go to the very edge of experience, beyond conventional expression. It may also be that as a Jew, albeit Christianised, he was unwilling to frighten the cavalry horses.

“For all that we know of his very public life and works, the inner Mendelssohn remains a psychological mystery. It is 35 years since anyone published a biography and there is much that a new century might help us put into context.”

- Norman Lebrecht, writing on “Whatever happened to Mendelssohn?” on Dec. 17 at La Scena Musicale

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