Richard Mayne

Richard Mayne is the author of The Recovery of Europe. He was awarded the Scott Moncrieff Prize for his translation of Jean Monnet’s Memoirs. He has worked for the European Community since 1956.

These are intolerable: A Thousand Foucaults

Richard Mayne, 10 September 1992

Dryden’s gibe at the brilliant but wayward second Duke of Buckingham could be applied, with reservations, to Foucault:

A man so various, that he seemed to be

Not one, but all Mankind’s Epitome.

Stiff in Opinions, always in the wrong;

Was everything by starts, and nothing long.

He was certainly just as volatile. In his twenties a Stalin-quoting Communist, he later blamed the CP for...

Unmasking Monsieur Malraux

Richard Mayne, 25 June 1992

‘He’s the one great epic novelist of the revolution to come that never came.’ ‘All of a sudden, after the war, his novels seemed to me to have no literary value whatsoever,’ ‘I find them naff.’ ‘In L’Espoir he is immersed in the action and that makes his art great,’ ‘He was a fake: he always pretended to be what he was not.’ ‘He was in love with danger, with adventure,’ ‘He was one of the most religious men I ever met.’ ‘He was always speaking about fraternity, about the masses, but no – he was an aristocrat: he was deeply an aristocrat, a man of the élite.’ ‘I think probably from his childhood, which he hated, he had to forge a sort of mask. He needed that.’’’

Seven Euro-Heresies

Richard Mayne, 26 March 1992

A French friend, puzzled by Britain’s behaviour in the European Community, recently resorted to an alarming metaphor. ‘It’s as if you had boarded the plane without checking where it was bound for – and now you keep trying to divert it, or jump out in mid-air.’’

Gangsters in Hats

Richard Mayne, 17 May 1984

One minor pleasure of growing up is being allowed to buy sweets ad lib. The same applies to thrillers and detective stories. But there’s a difference. Few dieticians or gourmets would recommend or gravely evaluate competing brands of candy: yet ‘popular culture’ – including comic strips, trash films, junk videos, and rock music – is reviewed and criticised nowadays alongside opera, chamber music, paintings, novels, poems and plays. The main reason is probably media hype. A second is nostalgic self-indulgence – finding pretexts not to put away childish things. A third, perhaps, is semantic slippage, eliding the difference between ‘a culture’, in the anthropological sense, and ‘culture’ tout court. When millions enjoy something, the interest it arouses need not be aesthetic. George Orwell saw propaganda in boys’ weeklies and ‘the worm’s-eye view of life’ in seaside postcards. He was hardly concerned with Frank Richards as a novelist or (despite his essay’s title) the art of Donald McGill.–

President François Misprint

Richard Mayne, 1 April 1983

Mitterand? Miterrand? Miterand? The misprints enhance the mystery. A Socialist President with Communists in his Cabinet but a foreign policy more ‘Western’ than General de Gaulle’s. A Fourth Republic politician, mauled by disappointment, who fought back, reorganised his party, and defeated all his rivals at the age of 64. A dour, saturnine figure, heavy-browed, with a high domed forehead, firm folded lips, and eyes like wet pebbles. ‘Florentine’ his enemies called him, thinking of long knives and Renaissance alleys. His friends speak of warmth and impulsive generosity, wit and passion, behind the lonely mask.

Bogey Man

Richard Mayne, 15 July 1982

There are too many myths about Camus. One of the most persistent, first propagated in Britain by Cyril Connolly’s Introduction to the 1946 translation of L’Etranger, was that he ‘played a notable part in the French Resistance Movement’. The much-photographed figure in a trench coat, with Humphrey Bogart features, certainly looked like Hollywood’s idea of an underground hero. In fact, Camus derailed no more trains than Sartre. What he did do, from the winter of 1943-4 onwards, was help the Resistance circuit ‘Combat’ with its clandestine newspaper of the same name. But this had been started three years earlier by Henri Frenay, and even when Camus joined it he only gradually assumed a leading editorial role.

The Tarnished Age

Richard Mayne, 3 September 1981

Fourteen inches by 11, and weighing six pounds 13 ounces, David O. Selznick’s Hollywood is less a coffee-table book than a coffee table without legs. Its credits ape a blockbuster movie’s: ‘Executive Producer: Robert Gottlieb – Associate Producer: Martha Kaplan’, etc; and its first page opens like cinema curtains on a wider-than-Panavision main title modelled on Gone with the Wind. A good half of the book is pictorial – playbills, posters, designers’ sketches, views of Hollywood, facsimiles of memoranda and old newspapers, publicity stills and frame enlargements, pages of shots from David Selznick films. All it lacks is a disc in the binding with a score by Dimitri Tiomkin.

Off-Screen Drama

Richard Mayne, 5 March 1981

You’d think it would be prime-time viewing. A Frenchwoman, a survivor of Hitler’s death camps, helps an ingenious young Dutch Socialist to outwit the Scrooge-like Establishment. Hundreds of millions of pounds are at stake. The rank-and-file defy the mighty. Law confronts power. Three Governments risk being taken to court.

From Script to Scream

Richard Mayne, 18 December 1980

S. S. Prawer is Taylor Professor of German Language and Literature at Oxford. Robert Phillip Kolker is Associate Professor of Film Studies (in the Department of Communication Arts and Theatre) at the University of Maryland, College Park. But don’t let the insignia fool you. Both gentlemen, I suspect, are movie fans at heart. Their books are certainly most alive and energetic when analysing specific pictures, virtually frame by frame.

Traffaut’s Heroes

Richard Mayne, 4 September 1980

Why do we feel protective about François Truffaut? No one else in the old New Wave brings out the parent in us. Godard we either hate or admire, a disturbing influence gone solitary. Rivette and Resnais remain austere masters, full of mystification. Rohmer makes beautiful reflective films behind glass. Malle and Chabrol can take care of themselves. Vadim had it coming to him. But Truffaut! With each fresh film we hold our breath as at the school sports. Will he make it? Will he do himself justice? Sotto voice, will he let us down?

The Schoolmen ride again

Richard Mayne, 15 May 1980

As good new films grow fewer, books on the cinema multiply. Is critical attention the sign of a dying art? Or is it that more films now merit scrutiny? It’s tempting to think that they do – until we remember how many critics anatomise trivia, how much trash still accumulates, and how often this month’s masterpieces turn into the schlock of yesteryear. No: the fact is that movie critics have changed.



26 March 1992

Anne Deighton (Letters, 23 April) asks why I use the term ‘Euro-Heresies’ to describe seven British objections to ‘ever closer union’ in Europe. Partly, I admit, to provoke: but mainly because they echo, in a plausibly contemporary form, some of the fictions about European unity that were peddled in the Fifties, usually but not exclusively in Britain.Take the ‘heresy’...

Big Wheel

17 May 1984

SIR: A printer’s gremlin made my piece on gangsters (LRB, 17 May) unfair to Dashiell Hammett’s record, or his imagination. The stolen property he claimed to have recovered when working as a Pinkerton detective was not a Ferrari wheel, but a Ferris wheel – a more spectacular haul, or boast.

Frozen Freedom

5 March 1981

SIR: In your last issue, I may have puzzled a few readers by seeming to say that some Labour candidates for the European Parliament wanted to ‘free’ its powers. In the proof, the word read ‘freee’. Need I add that what I wrote was ‘freeze’?

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