Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Smiert spionen

On the instructions of my younger brother, the advice of my brother-in-law, and because I'd always meant to anyway, I've been reading more John le Carre, and pursuing Harry Palmer on DVD.

Funeral In Berlin is fab, though without John Barry's music, it lacks some of the cool of The Ipcress File. Also, the back of DVD case gives the whole plot away. The stark ruin on Berlin, contrasting drear on the East and devil-may-care fun on the west, really beefs up the atmosphere - though making the London scenes a bit dull.

I'll seek out Billion Dollar Brain next, but won't bother with the two 90s films, which I remember lacking the essential style and verve of the 60s films.

The spy genre really suffered as a result of the cold war ending - I still reckon James Bond films would be better if they were set back in the 1950s. You can just imagine Q's latest, incredible gadget: "Information is stored on this shiny disc, and read by a beam of light we call a 'laser'...".
"[Latimer] had made a corner for himself in what was known as the 'Mad Mullah Department,' studying the intricate and seemingly indecypherable web of Muslim fundamentalist groups operating out of the Lebanon. The notion so beloved of the amateur terror industry that these bodies are all part of a superplot is nonsense. If only it were so - for then there might be some way to get at them! As it is, they slip about, grouping and regrouping likes drops of water on a wet wall, and they are about as easy to pin down."

John le Carre, "The Secret Pilgrim", p. 178.

The Secret Pilgrim attempts to reconcile the cold war past with the unknown future of the intelligence service. It's the autobiography of Ned (James Fox's character in the film of The Russia House) - from an over-eager young intelligence officer almost killing the wrong man, to a cynical and world-weary negotiator glad to retire from a rampantly corporate world. The final episode, where Ned tries to appeal to Sir Anthony Bradshaw's conscience on the small matter of his "having HMG by the balls" is a precursor to The Constant Gardener, which I'm about four fifths of the way through now.

The book, recently made into a film, is about a a mild-mannered government employee investigating the savage murder of his wife, and carrying on the work she began to expose a gross, corporate conspiracy in the medical world. It's interesting that in this, the intelligence service seems to be in the pocket of the profiteers, and are - unlike in Smiley and Ned's day - the villains. I'm not quite sure I understand why,
"Where there's tuberculosis, you suspect AIDS... Not always, but usually."

John le Carre, The Constant Gardener, p. 252.

Will have to ask one of my clever, medical friends...

I've also been reading the first volume of Queen and Country, which updates the excellent Sandbaggers telly series, which I got through last year. Tough and gutsy like it's original, it does show some basic errors with London geography and idioms - though I'm told these get improved on later in the run.

Also reading Y: The Last Man, which is cool, too. Hoorah for good comics.

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