art, screen

Sour Times

The Kardashians v OJ Simpson; All the President’s Men, The Parallax View, Charles and Ray Eames, Brainwashing and The Manchurian Candidate; Homeland and Making a Murderer 

Robert Kardashian was a Californian lawyer and businessman who died of cancer in 2003 at the age of 59. Kardashian’s children would grow up to be famous; largely for being famous. The Kardashian that shined brightest is Kim, who married ‘creative genius’ Kanye West in 2014 to become Kim Kardashian West.* 

The son of Armenian-American meatpackers, Kardashian was a close friend of OJ Simpson from the early 1970s. Following the murder of Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman in June 1994, OJ briefly resided at Kardashian’s house. (In fact OJ held a gun to his head in Kim’s childhood bedroom. Standing on the teenager’s patterned duvet, he threatened to shoot. She wasn’t there at the time.)  

When Simpson famously bolted to escape his pending arrest for murder, travelling down the freeway in a friend’s white Bronco (yet another American story becomes a journey), it was Robert Kardashian who read out his friend’s explanatory note to the news media, becoming overnight famous through association.  

At the start of the third episode of the TV drama series The People v. OJ Simpson, the actor David Schwimmer in the role of Bob Kardashian collects his kids from his ex-wife for an afternoon of ‘dad time’. Bob takes them for dinner at a popular spot in sunny Los Angeles. There’s a lengthy queue curling round the outside of the restaurant and down the approach stairs. Bob goes inside to the front desk to ask how long. When the staff recognise who’s wondering, they immediately fast-track the Kardashians to the best table in the room. 

All of the fellow diners fix their eyes on the Kardashian family. This does not go unnoticed by the younger members of the party, especially the 14-year-old Kim, who comments upon the attention. She articulates her thoughts with a precocious, drawly, gravelly, world-weary, seen it/done it voice. This guttural delivery, or ‘vocal fry‘, has come to be known as ‘talking like a Kardashian’. Kim’s younger brother Rob, also enthusing excitedly about celebrity, reminds the others how their mum Kris’s new husband – Bruce Jenner – already has a significant public profile. ‘Bruce is famous, he won the Olympics.’**  

Sensing that a moral issue is in play, Robert Kardashian puts down his menu and gently calls his children to order. Kardashian fears his kids being corrupted by the vulgar blaze of celebrity. He offers a heartfelt speech concerning true values and the importance of the real. ‘We are Kardashians. And in this family, being a good person and a loyal friend is more important than being famous.’ 

The camera swivels to a close up of Kim, who looks unpersuaded.

The sermon continues, ‘Fame is fleeting and hollow.’

Kim raises an eyebrow of doubt as she digs a straw deep inside her milkshake.

‘Fame means nothing at all without a virtuous heart.’

And there the lesson concludes.

Who could resist a contrary time capsule as good as this? You sense the glee of the screenwriters at a dramatic irony sent from heaven. Twenty two years later, Bruce Jenner is Catlyn Jenner, the most celebrated, most famous openly transgender woman in the world. Kim Kardashian, meanwhile, has 67.4 million followers on Instagram with 43.9 million on Twitter. Kim also has her own line of emojis, Kimojis, and an estimated net worth of $52.5m. The front cover picture for Paper magazine from 2014 of Kardashian rising naked from a black gown almost broke the internet – just like Paper predicted her bare, oiled bottom might. Twenty two years after, it appears Bob Kardashian’s sermon failed to stick.

Kim Kardashian rising naked out of a dress for
why always me?

The People v. OJ Simpson braids a double thread of fame through two generations. The ten part drama of a crime without punishment finds in real life the narrative patterns and thematic insights we usually expect from novels.

OJ Simpson was brought to trial for the murders of his ex-wife and Goldman. But despite the overwhelming incriminating evidence against him, the ex-football player was found not guilty at the conclusion of ‘The Trial of the Century’ in Autumn 1995. (Wikipedia says 100 million Americans tuned in for the verdict. They even televised Oprah Winfrey’s first reaction.)

Twenty years ago is a generational marker. Two decades down sees the start of the shift from memory to history. With this much space in time, we can begin to trace the early stages of nostalgia concerning what has gone. We also start to form a clearer picture of that which persists – and it isn’t always pretty. The People v. OJ Simpson not only takes us back twenty odd years to a place where an out-of-control celebrity culture was incubated, but where racist, brutal cops abused black urban males. Why couldn’t, why didn’t the past fix this?

The temptation with period drama is to mythologize, or tut wisely, or both – those suits, the dresses, those cigarettes. From Downton to Mad Men the past is a different country with funny ways of doing things. These well decorated, perfectly dressed period dramas stop time, preserving the past in soft amber.

OJ Simpson and Robert Kardashian played by Cuba Gooding Jnr and David Schwimmer
with Friends like these

While the People v. OJ Simpson takes care with the historical detail – the cellphones are quaint clamshell bricks of restricted performance, the cars and TVs clunky and square – period fidelity is not a leading objective. The drama explores not the breaks but the continuities from 1994-95 to 2016. This interest in connecting the decades is further realised in the casting of several key parts. 

As well as Schwimmer in the role of Kardashian, John Travolta plays Bob Shapiro, OJ’s first lawyer, while Cuba Gooding Jnr takes the title role of Simpson – delivering a laughing, labile, hard-shelled murderer with a mix of bathos and menace. 

What is striking is how the collective imagination reflexively connects these three actors with the mid 1990s and the iconography of OJ’s peak timeline.

John Travolta as Vincent Vega, Pulp Fiction
a Scientologist walks into a bar
In May 1994, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction launched at the Cannes film festival. The film became a cultural phenomenon, providing John Travolta with a mid-career revival in the role of hoodlum Vincent Vega. Although it had been many long years since disco and Saturday Night Fever, Travolta was back, suddenly sharp again, hip and on his toes as he famously mirror-danced with a black-bobbed Uma Thurman. 
Nineteen Ninety Four was also the year David Schwimmer first appeared in Friends as Dr Ross Geller, embarking upon a screen romance with Jennifer Aniston’s Rachel Green that would last a decade. They were on, they were off, back on again, then broken up once more… And so it went. Until finally they were back for good. (They were also, for a while, ‘on a break!’***) This romantic rollercoaster with jokes would stretch across 236 episodes. 

It’s been twelve years since Friends concluded, but the syndication of those 236 episodes continues – widely, daily, hourly. All around the world, Ross/Schwimmer is in our collective consciousness, parked somewhere in the middle of the 1990s. 
In the role of Bob Kardashian, Schwimmer slowly melts into a puddle of anxiety concerning the brutal double homicide and his best friend’s possible involvement. (In this sense he’s the conscience OJ lacks.) As best as Schwimmer manages in the role of Kardashian, a large slice of Bob’s angst is left-over Ross angst – it’s a legacy resonance.
Cuba Goodiing Jnr, Jerry Maguire
Show me the OJ!

The last time I watched Cuba Gooding Jnr was the last time I saw Jerry Maguire. Cameron Crowe’s mid-90s romantic comedy stars Tom Cruise and Renée Zellweger as the love match, with Gooding Jnr supporting as the American footballer Rod Tidwell. Tidwell is a doting, loving partner, father and son in need of one more big pay check before his final touchdown. Tidwell’s career resusitation features as Tom Cruise’s last chance of becoming a real mensch. Approximately the same time OJ Simpson was on trial for a brutal double homicide, his future screen version was chanting ‘Show Me the Money!’ 

Initially celebrity lawyer Robert Shapiro was OJ Simpson’s lead attorney. But over time Shapiro was elbowed sideways by Johnny Cochrane, a savvy trial lawyer who transformed OJ’s defence into a narrative of racism and conspiracy. 

Shapiro could’ve been written as a mid-sized character. But with John Travolta serving as one of the show’s producers, Shapiro plays a hinge role throughout the narrative; one that shimmies, struts and glides – anything but covering the ground the prosaic way that you or I do. (When Travolta dances – from Saturday Night Fever to Get Shorty – audiences like him again. When he doesn’t, they don’t.)

John Travolta, The People v. OJ Simpson
what will they say, Monday at school?

Travolta’s ‘look’ for Shapiro features a heavily ‘adjusted’ face, extra-terrestrial eyebrows and hair weaved from Vulcan Astroturf. The rug and face fixes of two decades past are always set to resemble theatre props better than subtle age-defying treatments. All part of the pre-digital innocence.****

Sarah Paulson, The People v. OJ Simpson

The look of lead prosecution attorney Marcia Clarke (Sarah Paulson) is the subject of negative scrutiny throughout the ‘Trial of the Century’. Clark’s clothing, make-up and hair is repeatedly ridiculed and declared a disaster by a vicious news media (both press and tabloid TV). The subtext is that this here career woman in her position of power – aka the ‘walking bitch’ – needs taking down some pegs. 

They say never change to please a bully. But Marcia tries anyway. When her boss says he can fix her up with some media handlers, she reluctantly submits. The hairdresser suggests softening her curls. At first Clark is delighted with the outcome. Until the trial judge, Lance Ito, makes a joke and she crumbles. 

Next scene, Marcia is stood in front of a grocery store news rack, scanning the lurid front covers of the tabloid magazines ripping her to pieces – ‘Marcia’s new scare-do’. She drags her shopping to the check out, where the clerk views the box of tampons in her basket as permission to make a joke – that OJ’s legal team sure are in for a rough week if Marcia’s got her period.

The major and micro-aggressions of the sexist culture pile on. Marcia’s first husband sells a picture of her topless to a junk magazine. Husband No2 pops up on TV accusing his ex of lying about childcare.

When one day Judge Ito abruptly declares an extension for the afternoon, taking the court proceedings into the evening, Marcia says she can’t stay late as she has to be home for her kids. But the defence lead Johnny Cochrane won’t allow this to pass. The whole thrust of his defence is to contest everything and so he lobs a cheap shot at Clark for taking her parenting seriously.

The camera dramatically swoops to the other side of the court room as Marcia finally pips. She turns fiercely on Cochrane to deliver a rousing speech in defence of all the single parents out there juggling career and home, and the viewer wants to cheer.

Sour Times, Portishead, Record Sleeve
take a ride, take a shot now

The camera frequently makes dramatic swoops through the series – it’s the drama’s single flashy indulgence. This isn’t sea sickness television – largely the screen remains stable and calm; it’s just every now and again the lens suddenly goes rogue, has a fit of tracking, or spinning, or soaring up over and above the protagonists – like a hawk with a GoPro.  

When the racist cop Mark Furman arrives to the courthouse on his day of testimony, he’s dramatically Steadicamed out the car, through a pack of paps, and into the building. Then it’s onwards across the lobby, down corridors, in the elevator, back out again, and into the courtroom, where he sweeps martially towards the witness stand. It’s like Napoleon arriving in Moscow, with such fanfare and flourish, that you ask is this guy some kind of hero, after all, really? The ironies in play are underscored with the soundtrack playing Portishead’s Sour Times thumping loud, ‘Nobody loves me, it’s true.*****

All the President's Men, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford
just a couple of Hollywood heartthrobs pretending to be newshounds

The screen stays sober and calm for the duration of All the President’s Men. Alan J Pakula’s cool thriller – based on Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s non-fiction account of the Watergate scandal – turns forty this year. Starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman in the roles of Woodward and Bernstein, te film was released into cinemas in April 1976 – little more than eighteen months after the collapse of the Nixon presidency.  

A child raised by communists, I was taught to know Richard Nixon as ‘Tricky Dicky’. My parents called this one correctly (we’re still waiting for global revolution, however). By the summer of 1974, Nixon faced impeachment in the aftermath of the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex in Washington D.C. The intrusion featured as part of a far larger scheme to bug and discredit Nixon’s political opponents during the election year of 1972.

Nixon stepped down as president in August ’74; to be replaced by Gerald Ford, who promptly granted his immediate predecessor a full legal pardon. (Many of Nixon’s staff went to jail over Watergate.) With All the President’s Men, as The People V OJ Simpson, we know how the story ends. And yet, watching the conspiracy unfold is still a thrilling experience. The tension derives from the forward momentum of a quest narrative, where two low-ranking hacks hunt the truth that slays the monster.

They find this truth in the shadows. Pakula and the cinematographer Gordon Willis paint a noir Washington that is grey, paranoid and oblique. Woodward’s clandestine meetings with Deep Throat – his anonymous government source for story leads – take place in a dark concrete car park, always in the middle of the night.

The film makes much of Woodward’s absorption into Deep Throat’s game of cloak and dagger. To initiate a meeting, the journalist needed to place a red flag in a flower pot on his apartment balcony. In turn, Deep Throat confirmed his attendance for their next rendezvous by leaving marks on page twenty of Woodward’s copy of The New York Times.****** Woodward would get a taxi across the city, then switch to another taxi, before walking the last bit to his final destination.

Deep Throat kept to the shadows, repeatedly urging Woodward to ‘follow the money’ – all the way to the president’s election campaign funding – if he ever hoped to grasp the scale of the conspiracy.*******

The drive of Woodward and Bernstein to net the big story is underscored with the usual grub street commonplaces – late hours, endless black coffee, Bernstein always puffing manically on a cigarette. Despite the smoking, Hoffman’s Bernstein still has enough vim to go rushing hither and thither: dashing up stairs, running in and out of elevators, sprinting across the vast, cluttered newsroom.********

There’s an energy to All the President’s Men drawn from the events being so recent to the film’s production. An extra lift of tension derives from a still-fresh sense of disbelief – that the president of the United States was just a cheating, lying crook surrounded by a team of very bad guys.

The story of a newspaper wrestling the world’s most powerful man out of office packs huge weight. The same enormity is absent from the recent Spotlight. The Oscar-winning film dramatises the campaigning journalism of The Boston Globe that made public the widespread child sex abuse by members of the Catholic clergy. The Spotlight news story knocked the Catholic church of its perch and as a result cardinals and bishops don’t look so scary any longer, sapping the film of tension or any deep sense of threat.

All the President's Men, Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford
needle in a haystack

There’s a visit to the Library of Congress early into All the President’s Men, as Woodward and Bernstein scour for a clue linking Watergate to the White House. They’re handed huge stacks of boxes of index cards to sift through (It’s 40 years ago – no databases). Slowly the camera pulls away from a tight close up of Woodward and Bernstein buried at a desk, to a broader view of the Library’s neo-classical main chamber, receding in dissolves into the high-domed ceiling of the vast building. As the library grows larger on screen, the two men get smaller, and smaller, until they’re merely distant specks so far down below. This belittling of the heroes is a key scene which re-states the huge scale of what they’re up to and who they’re taking on. But there’s something else. 

The heroes are made to appear small to underscore their vulnerability. But only much later in the story do the two investigative journalists face up to this danger, after Deep Throat advises Woodward they’re being tailed, bugged, and their lives are at risk. 

This absence of any awareness, or fear, seems so innocent. But also puzzling. The Watergate epoch was soaked in paranoia and blood. Woodward and Bernstein were digging up dirt just nine years after the Kennedy assassination and only four years since the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. I’d have been watching my shadow.

A conspiracy to kill prominent liberal American politicians is the narrative motor for The Parallax View – another Alan J  Pakula thriller from the 1970s.******** The Parallax View (1974) is a dark, winding, bleak and  demented tale about the existence of a deep undercover state, one that secretly holds all the real power. The blunt end of this dominion is an organisation called The Parallax Corporation that commissions political assassinations. 

At the start of the film a generic US presidential candidate is shot dead while campaigning at the Seattle Space Needle. Several witnesses to the killing die suspiciously over the next few years. Warren Beatty plays a journalist with a drink problem who goes digging into the story behind the deaths. A wild cat loner who struggles with deadlines and authority, Beatty fakes his death and creates a new ID. He then fabricates a high score in a psychopath test to infiltrate the scary Parallax Corporation.

The Parallax View, The Brainwash Scene
Warren gets a brainwash

At the Corporation’s Department of Human Engineering, Beatty is inculcated into the assassination programme via an exercise in visual brainwashing. In a large dark room, isolated in a chair, he is instructed by a hidden voice to watch a film featuring assorted trigger images cut with black and white intertitles. Love, Mother, Father, Me, Home, Country, God, Enemy, Happiness flip between warm, twinkling projections of family, community and America that are bright and reassuring. Gradually, then suddenly, the hypnotic film accelerates, turning violent and pornographic as the juxtaposition of images and intertitles becomes disjointed, intermingling Mother, Country and Enemy with disturbing depictions of death, pain, suffering and destruction.

In late 2015 I saw the film Think by Charles and Ray Eames in a darkened gallery in London’s Barbican. The Eames are primarily celebrated as mid-20th century West Coast designers of beautiful chairs and houses. They also made films for government and corporate clients during The Cold War. These films offered a vision of America, both for home and abroad, as a shining beacon and a superabundant force for good.

Think, IBM at The Fair, Charles and Ray Eames
you will feel a warm sense of wellbeing

Think was created for the 1964 New York World’s Fair as the main attraction for IBM’s giant pavilion. (The film is also known as IBM at The Fair). Think is a long multi-screen show which simultaneously projects linked footage (stills and live action) across fourteen screens, to create a complex flowing system of stories. The stories concern how systems work – from preparing the perfect dinner party to delivering the mail cross country; from urban planning to the intricacies of mass transit networks.

The visuals unfurl in a smooth medley of comforting things photographed beautifully – family, white picket fences, rocking chair on the porch, smiling farmers. The sun rises over a field of crops, there is a homecoming. In the city, gleaming modern buildings stretch toward a vast blue sky. We see modish interiors, stylish gas-guzzling Chevies, fast immaculate trains, and time-lapsed threads of commuters raised up on shining, safe escalators into a sunny American morning. The music is a bright, hopeful classical score from film composer Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape).

The Eameses’ multi-media installation projects were ground-breaking pieces, but they also feel like propaganda. In the dark enclosure at the Barbican I was immersed in a wash of retro corporate aspiration, a gleaming consumer fantasy. It was both seductive but suspicious. And then I remembered the hypnotic brainwash scene from The Parallax View, the anti-matter to the Eames’ mechanised heaven.**********

After being inducted into the The Parallax Corporation, Beatty waits for his first assignment. To fill the time, he stalks and shadows the stealth killers, sure he’s about to expose the conspiracy of the century with a scoop to hang the rest of his career on. But Beatty’s being played inside a much larger narrative he doesn’t comprehend. The closer he gets to the truth the more his identity blurs. Eventually he finds himself trapped – hunter captured by the game – standing in the wrong place with a sniper rifle that just killed a politician.

Laurence Harvey and the Queen of Hearts, The Manchurian Candidate
off with his head!

Twelve years before Parallax, John Frankenheimer directed an adaptation of Richard Condon’s novel The Manchurian Candidate. Laurence Harvey plays a former US prisoner of war who has returned home brainwashed and subliminally primed to kill a presidential candidate. The preloaded trigger is the Queen of Diamonds playing card. Once he sees the card, Harvey’s ready to murder and will have no memory of what he has done.

The narrative hinge of a re-programmed POW rigged for destruction was revived 50 years later for the TV series Homeland. A lost solider, Brodie (Damian Lewis), shows up after several years held captive by middle eastern terrorists. Brodie returns to the US an American hero, but also a changed man, ‘pulled apart’ according to Carrie (Clare Danes), his interrogator, then lover, through psychological, emotional and physical pressure ‘until there was nothing left but pain.’ Thereafter Brodie’s captors ‘put you back together as someone else.’

Clare Danes, Homeland, TV Series
my so-called TV career

A fear of mind control runs through film culture from German expressionist cinema to the Jason Bourne movies. (In the expressionist horror The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920), the sleepwalker Cesare is programmed to kill by a demon psychiatrist. In the Bourne movie series Matt Damon plays an amnesiac assassin at the core of a CIA murder conspiracy.) Nevertheless the early Cold War were prime years for brainwashing, both at the movies and on TV – from The Bamboo Prison to Carry on Spying, The Avengers and The Prisoner.

Michael Caine, The Ipcress File
specs by NHS

In The Ipcress File, the British secret agent Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) is subjected to brain conditioning torture sessions while held prisoner, featuring sensory disorientation, strobe lights and hypnosis. Palmer puts up a fight – he is the hero after all – but eventually succumbs, turning into a double agent for the other side. But who is the other side?

During the Korean War from 1950-54, a number of American soldiers were taken prisoner by the Chinese army. When the time came for their release, several GIs turned down the option of returning home to the United States. Twenty one ‘turncoat soldiers’ elected to settle in communist China. Many more prisoners signed confessions or made speeches condemning the US.

What had happened to these soldiers while held as prisoners? Had they come to see the world quite differently, converting to communism of their own volition? Why did more than thirty senior POWs confess to dropping chemical weapons on North Korea, even though they had done no such thing – were they confused or had they been brainwashed?

One 17-year-old US war prisoner reported a daily carceral regime of six or seven hours listening to lectures from his Chinese and Korean jailers – concerning the wealth of communism and the evils of capitalism. There would also be solitary interrogations and group ‘thought reform’ confessionals, where inmates owned up to their ideological impurities.

The psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton examined the stories of ‘brainwashed’ GIs in the Korean conflict. He concluded that ‘thought reform’ – as he described it – could lead to confusion in many subjects, or collapse the distinction between fantasy and reality.

States of Mind: Tracing the Edges of Consciousness, Wellcome Collection, London
Wellcome to my world

You don’t have to be a POW under pressure for fact and fiction to blur. At London’s Wellcome Collection the exhibition States of Mind lists a wide range of confabulations. The false memories range beyond the staple delusion of alien abduction. There’s the vivid still painful memory of a rotten dose of chicken pox the person never actually had; the family trip to Russia, when they actually went to Overstrand in Norfolk; being witness to a tornado on holiday when there wasn’t even a rain storm; or the woman who can’t say for certain if she slept with her best friend’s boyfriend before or after they become a couple.***********

Making a Murderer, Netlix

We are suggestible and prone to fabricate. It’s not a giant’s leap that false confessions can be extracted under pressure. In Making a Murderer (2016), the true crime documentary series from Netflix, the production of a false confession is chronicled in painful detail. 

The main storyline for Making a Muderer is the possible double miscarriage of justice suffered by Steven Avery of Wisconsin. But there is also a side story concerning Avery’s nephew Brendan Dassey’s prosecution for homicide. Only sixteen, clueless and disoriented, Dassey is browbeaten into confessing to murder. The process happens twice.

The first occasion is during a filmed four hour police interview, when two experienced detectives manipulate Dassey by feeding him their version of an alleged killing. The young man has no knowledge or grasp of the crime, but weary and trapped, he eventually gives back to the cops their own words and ‘facts’, almost verbatim.

Soon after, Dassey withdraws this guilty statement. But then his defence attorney’s investigator inexplicably forces the young man to ‘confess’ a second time. A long, slow interview reveals Dassey being browbeaten once again. Dassey has learning difficulties. He has plummeted into a scary upside down nightmare and has nobody on his side. First the police and second his misguided defence team – each powerful figures of authority – steer Dassey towards a fixed, albeit false, narrative with the promise and then they’ll leave him alone. Grudgingly he re-states the fake confession. (Dassey was sentenced to life in prison, with a chance for early release in 2048 — when he will be 59 years old.)

In concluding his study of captured ex-POWs, Robert Jay Lifton found that many subjects put their minds ‘into neutral’ in times of trauma, leaving them vulnerable to persuasion through insistent, repeated instruction. But Lifton resisted the idea that the POWs in Korea had been taken over, made into zombies somehow by ‘Eastern mind-benders’.************ Lifton also observed any thought reform to be superficial and short lived, that ex POWs soon resumed with their old ways of thinking once they returned to the USA.

The ‘turncoat’ soldiers got a mixed reception on their homecoming, reflecting the confusion in American culture at this time. Were the POWs victims, traitors, or just weaklings? The capitulation of captive soldiers was seen by some as evidence that America had gone soft; American males were no longer pioneers on the wild frontier, just quiescent organisation men, emasculated consumers filled up on pop culture.

Could it be several US soldiers collapsed under pressure because their brains had gone soft with all the consumer capitalism?

The American dream invites the subject to cruise the aisles and TV channels then make a selection. Implicit in any notion of choice within markets is the possibility for customer manipulation. Advertising depends upon the belief that selection can be determined. If ad culture can get people to buy through seduction and subliminal suggestion, then perhaps capitalism brainwashes us all.

The Manchurian Candidate, Laurence Harvey
and you may find yourself behind the lens of a large velocity rifle

* In an interview on the Bret Easton Ellis podcast, Kanye West explains why he rarely uses his preferred job description of ‘creative genius’ – because it’s ‘quite a lot to write out’ and also he’s not sure of the correct spelling for ‘genius’. ‘Ah, the irony,’ he admitted. 

** Bruce Jenner won the gold medal for decathlon at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. In an article in the New York Times in 1977, Tony Kornheiser described how Jenner, a lifelong Republican, ‘.. had beaten the Commie bastards.’ That in the context of Cold War ideological and geopolitical rivalry, ‘He was America… twirling the nation like a baton; he and his wife Chrystie are so high up on the pedestal of American heroism, it would take a crane to get them down.’ Who’d have thunk a triumphant Cold War superman would wind up one day on the cover of Vanity Fair in a ballgown? 

*** ‘We were on a break!’ The five words Ross will say on his death bed, clarifying one last time, for all the world, that he slept with the woman from the copy shop when he and Rachel were on hiatus, so he had nothing to say sorry about.

**** I worked in publishing in the mid 90s. My firm launched a new imprint of essays from culture critics and decided to give the series a design ‘look’ featuring the author’s picture on the front cover. There was one writer, sort of well known in some circles, who posted his picture to me from America (the actual photo, not a negative, and certainly nothing like a high res jpeg). Out of the padded envelope tumbled a small selection of his chosen pix. With all of them you could see globs of Tippex, where the writer had whited-out his blemishes. That’s writers, don’t really do Photoshop.

***** Furman’s vainglorious march to Sour Times and its raking zypher strings, slap in the heart of The People v. OJ, reveals that 1995 was a place in time broad enough to produce racist cops and a trip-hop classic. The next occasion Furman comes to court, it is in deathly silence. Exposed at this point as a Nazi racist cop who beats up innocent black males, he shuffles to the stand singularly hated by all sides in the room, even the judge. ‘Nobody loves me, it’s true’ has massively come to pass.

****** There were allegations Woodward made it up about the red flag in the flower pot – that his balcony couldn’t be seen from the street, with the view obscured by an annex building. Woodward pointed out that in 1972 the annex hadn’t been built yet. There were also rumours that the papers were delivered in bulk to Woodward’s apartment building, so how could Deep Throat know which copy of The New York Times to leave his message? Woodward countered that his copy of the paper was hand delivered to his door…. And so on.)

******* Deep Throat’s identity remained a secret for 31 years after Watergate, until it was revealed in 2005 that Mark Felt – a director at the FBI with a grudge against Nixon – was Woodward’s infamous insider source.

******** Dustin Hoffman was often to be seen running onscreen in this period of his career, as if it was written in his contract. From The Graduate through to Kramer vs Kramer, memorably with Marathon Man, Straight Time, even Tootsie. (The physicality of a virile hero? Or the destiny of a smallish man often being set upon and therefore running from danger?) 

********* The Parallax View is the second part of Pakula’s conspiracy trilogy. All the President’s Men is the concluding part. The first instalment is Klute (1971) a modishly chilly tale of upscale escort Jane Fonda helping an almost aphasic detective Donald Sutherland track down a missing person. The early 70s was a paranoid epoch – both at large and at the pictures, including The Conversation, Executive Action, Winter Kills, Cutter’s Way and Three Days of the Condor. 

**********  The Eames Office made four films as records of the Fair. This included IBM at The Fair, a single-screen impression of the actual multi-screen display that is well worth a viewing. There is also an attempted replication of the multi-screen experience of Think.

*********** The False Memory segment at The Wellcome connects to artist AR Hopwood’s False Memory Archive – a ranging cache of human malleability.

************  Despite Robert Jay Lifton’s public scepticism concerning mind manipulation, the CIA tried recruiting him to help set up their own brainwash programme. As Lifon puts it, the secret service ‘kind of brainwashed themselves’ into believing in the idea of a new secret military weapon. Later, the agency would experiment with regression therapies, truth serums and LSD in an ongoing bid to get ahead of cold war rivals in the new frontier of psych-ops.