A collection of short stories and journalistic commentaries depicting my simple life
and how I fit in with the modern day universe of our times

            The scene is a well known television studio set up for our favourite, most up-to-the-minute arts programme. The presenter, hunched over his desk and wearing a tidy modern velvet suit and matching smile, is a young looking Melvyn Bragg. Melvyn has a well-developed air of cool sophistication, a very well-developed line of intellectual critique, and an exceptionally well-developed set of adenoids.

            It is this - or rather, it is these - that gives (or maybe give) him the somewhat nasal speech which has become the badge of his success. So popular is his voice now, that several young trendies who had their adenoids removed in childhood have been seen dashing up and down Harley Street, pleading for adenoidal transplants. For some reason there has been a curious lack of donors. However, this is all by the by, for while we have been describing Melvyn and dilating on his Para-nasal lymphoid tissues, the titles of the programme have finished and Melvyn addresses his fans...

            "Haddo. Later in the prograb we'll be talking to Dadiel Baredboib about his dew recordig of Gershwid's orchestral arrangemedt of the popular sog 'Shide on Harvest Bood'. But first we look at the latest in a series of filbs about the vietnab war.”

            (For the benefit of those who may be slightly hard of reading, and my computer’s spell checker that has just suffered a complete nervous breakdown, we shall continue this reportage as if Melvyn were speaking proper English.)

            "In the wake of such important and socially conscious films as Coming Home, The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now comes the new potential block-buster, Sweetness and Light. It is, as savage and violently disturbing as its predecessors, and is directed by Francisco Maria Eisenmonger – a youngish director who received astonishing critical acclaim for his searing and semi-documentary film about homosexuality within the American Mafia, The Fairy Godmother.

            His new film, Sweetness and Light was shot on location in Borneo and has so far cost the producers an astonishing 37 million dollars. It tells the story of a group of soldiers drafted into a Supply Platoon near the Haiphong Delta just after the Tet offensive. Their job is to deliver a relief supply of saccharine tablets and torch batteries (the sweetness and light of the title) to a beleaguered garrison run by an insane, sadistic colonel, portrayed in the film by Liza Minelli. On their journey the soldiers run out of emergency supply order-forms and are captured by representatives of a large North Vietnamese department store. They are interrogated by an equally sadistic insane Viet Cong general, played with extraordinary virulence by the recently unemployed through his failure in the UK general elections, Lembit Opik, and are taken to the department store where they are forced to play Russian Roulette by the store detectives in the furniture department. The effect that this has on the young rookies leads the film to its inevitable, tragic, explosive, poignant and incredibly expensive ending.

            Earlier this week, I went to see Francesco Maria Eisenmonger at his luxurious Californian home, and I asked him first whether his family back-ground had helped him deal with the complex moral issues involved.”

            We now cut to a piece of film shot by the side of Eisenmonger’s massive swimming pool. The first thing we see is the back of Melvyn’s intellectual and deeply thoughtful neck. Beyond that we see Eisenmonger, hunched over, wearing a leather bomber-jacket and dark reflective sun-glasses. He is intense, hesitant, conscience stricken and yet, at the same time, very, very wealthy. He appears to be thinking hard about what he is about to say. He also appears to be smoking an expensive cigarette that has no writing on it.

MELVYN: Has your family background helped you deal with the complex moral issues involved in this film?
EISENMONGER: Oh. I think so. Yuh. My mother was a Sicilian Catholic and my father was a Jewish transvestite and I ... er ... think that gave me a unique combination of Permanent Guilt and Original Sin. With ... uh ... I guess ... (he looks vaguely around him) ... uh ... heavy sexual overtones.
MELVYN: How do you view American guilt about the Vietnam War?
EISENMONGER: I think the American guilt about the Vietnam War is like ... uh ... I guess ... (he looks vaguely about him again) ... I guess it’s like the water in my swimming pool.
MELVYN: It gets up your nose you mean?
EISENMONGER: No, I mean it starts out fine and clean until people start pissing in it. And you know, that’s what makes your eyes sting – it’s not the chlorine or nothing, they’ve done tests that can show that, you know. I think that’s what happens to everything in America – above the water-line everybody seems to be laughing and clapping their hands and having a ball and all that, and all the time, below the water-line, they’re killing the fish and causing all kinds of eye damage. That’s how I see the ... uh ... American predicament right now, and that’s why I always wear goggles when I go out.
MELVYN: You had many problems during the shooting of Sweetness and Light, didn’t you?
EISENMONGER: Yes we did.
MELVYN: Were those problems simply due to the scale of the production?
EISENMONGER: I think ... er ... maybe. Overall we had eight transport battalions, four hundred ten-ton trucks and half-tracks, six C5-Galaxies, two hundred F1-11’s, and five Marine platoons with their big choppers. Oh and their helicopters too ... har ... har.
EISENMONGER: All in, we had maybe 250,000 extras to play the American army.
MELVYN: Where did they all come from?
EISENMONGER: Iowa. We ... uh ... hired the whole of Iowa for the filming and shipped them all to Borneo. You know Borneo looks a lot like Vietnam ... or at least ... it does now.
MELVYN: There were terrible stories about the filming – it was said that hundreds of the actors and extras were very unhappy...
MELVYN: ... and that many of them paid you in gold for the privilege of setting sail in flimsy boats back to Iowa; and that many of them sank or arrived back in a pitiful state.
EISENMONGER: I think there are a great deal of human stories in any war ... picture.
MELVYN: Did any of them – as was alleged – actually play Russian roulette on the set, causing several deaths?
EISENMONGER: Russian roulette? Uh ... I guess not. I know that on the North East corner of the set they ... uh ... had a lot of ... uh ... Russian Salad. But Roulette, no. Some of them played Russian Whist – like Russian roulette only using marsh-mallows instead of bullets and pillow cases instead of guns. It’s a lot safer. And it takes longer ... forever even ...  And I guess it’s very dull ... Yuh. (Long pause...)
MELVYN: I see. After the Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, don’t you think everybody might be getting fed up with the Vietnam War?
EISENMONGER: I hope not. I hope not. I hope not. Yuh ... I ... uh ... hope not.
MELVYN: You hope not.
EISENMONGER: I ... uh ... hope not.

We return to the studio and Melvyn back at his desk...

            “Francesco Maria Eisenmonger, there – christened by iconoclastic Hollywood as the one film director even gynaecologists look up to. Well, we’re going to take a break there now – join us again, in a few minutes.”

We see the commercial break starting. We wonder whether to join him in a few minutes. We think that, on balance, we probably won’t. We think that we’ll probably polish the spoons instead.

THE SOUTH BANK SHOWSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend


  1. Anonymous said...
    Love it, love it all.
    Keep up the good work!!
    stephie said...
    ambitious and well done !

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