Wednesday, 30 July 2008

In the Salle Richelieu

It was my second visit to the Comedie Francaise but my first evening performance. The play was Cyrano de Bergerac and I'd prepared myself by re-reading it in French. I didn't expect to follow every word at performance speed but reckoned I could get by with a decent knowledge of the text.

Before the play, we ate at a small bar-restaurant named after Ragueneau, the pastry-chef in the play. The internet site through which I found it claimed that the restaurant was on the site of the original patisserie but there was no attempt at "authentic" decor or recipes. However, there were quotations from the play in the menu and house wines from Bergerac.

The performance began at 8.30 - late by British standards. I wondered if everybody would be dressed up but, so far as I could tell, no-one in the audience had dressed to be seen or to show off their wealth. Parisiens take more care with their clothes but there was no great difference between theatre clothes and clothes for the office or metro. Nor was it evident - as it often is in British theatres - who would be sitting in which part of the theatre. The audience was a group of people united in their interest in the performance and that was all. It was much more relaxed than attending the theatre in Britain.

The setting, however, was extravagant and luxurious - all white, red and gold with chandeliers. The bar was the grandest place of all but, in the interval, it was full of people drinking soft drinks from cans and water from bottles - the few wine-drinkers were in a small minority.

I'd splashed out on mid-price (26 euro) tickets, which bought seats in the centre of the front row of the first balcony. It gave an excellent view of the stage and was more comfortable than a seat at the side - and this mattered since the performance lasted nearly three and a half hours. I wanted to soak up every bit.

I've written a little about the production elsewhere and it's hard to sum up my feelings, especially since the play came from a theatrical tradition with which I'm not entirely familiar. But Michel Vuillermoz was a magnificent Cyrano. He was less romantic than others I have seen and more comic - but in the end seemed the most credible too.

Strangely, part-way through the performance, I noticed how white the cast was. (That hadn't, I think, been the case when I saw the Fables of Fontaine.) I don't know whether this was usual in France (though Peter Brook's productions suggest otherwise) or whether the cast just happened to be all white in this production. But it seemed strange in the light of my theatre-going in England - and not, I think, true to either period to which the production referred. The play even has a brief, one-line appearance by d'Artagnan, whose 19th century creator was not white.

There was a long succession of curtain calls and it was nearly midnight before we left the theatre. It was cool as we descended into the metro - still quite crowded. Even well after midnight the buses were running on time in the suburbs beyond the periphique.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Punishing the poor

It's depressing to read the message boards and comment columns. So many people blame all the country's ills on "scroungers" and the unemployed. The current financial crisis has nothing to do with unemployment. As economists point out, current problems, such as the rising price of oil, are causing unemployment.

There are other causes too. Ending student grants forces poorer students into debt or work - often debt and work. Nearly half of students work during term-time, averaging just under 20 hours a week - and they work in vacations too. That's a huge pool of cheap labour ripe for exploitation - often working for mimimum wages (or less) at unsocial hours and too desperate for cash to complain about working conditions. Many schoolchildren are working too and, while they're under 18, they don't get the minimum wage.

When I was unemployed, I told myself I'd remember how it felt. It's hard to recapture the hopeless depression that takes over after just a few weeks or the tiredness caused by a trek from shop to shop, hunting for reductions on bread, rice and lentils. I recall the desperation of wanting to afford a tiny luxury - a postcard or a small Christmas decoration - and the pride I felt in not letting friends and family know that I could afford so little.

I can still remember the mixture of suspicion and contempt from one member of benefits staff, who thought me both too clever and too lazy. I was six months pregnant at the time and she managed to imply that pregnancy was another example of my fecklessness, telling me that my intention to breast-feed when the baby was born showed my lack of commitment to the world of work. I was summoned back for a detailed interview about my circumstances, which culminated in a long argument about my travel expenses. I got the expenses and benefits in the end, at the cost of a great deal of self-confidence. Only the knowledge that I needed money for the baby kept me going in the gap between temp. work and maternity pay.

The Labour Party used to stand up for the unemployed. I chanced on a web-library of Scottish Labour election leaflets - appropriate for this week with the Glasgow East by-election set for Thursday. I found the election address of Agnes Dollan, who was standing for Glasgow Springburn ward in a Glasgow City by-election of 1921. One of the key paragraphs is headed "Our Workless Brethren" and reads:

The condition of the unemployed in the city must be our first concern. Over 70,000 men and women are unable to obtain work, and their homes are shadowed by sorrow and poverty. Thousands could be employed in the building of houses, and on other schemes of civic welfare, if the State would give grants to finance these schemes. If the Government could afford £30,000,000 for warships, it can afford to finance work for the unemployed. The State must accept full responsibility for unemployment so that occupation or maintenance can be provided for the workless.

The election address goes on to guarantee that the unemployed of Glasgow will not be evicted and that the unemployed will be given the same moratorium on debt as was provided to bankers at the beginning of World War I.

Today, the New Labour government is talking about getting the unemployed into work, but the language is all about force, threats and punishment. The jobless will be ordered to work - first clearing litter and cleaning graffiti in community projects and then at unspecified full-time jobs. This will affect almost all the 4.6 million people who are unemployed and claiming benefits - only those with the most serious disabilities will be exempt. I suppose we'll get used to seeing gangs of the sick and dying peeling chewing-gum off city streets.

I don't know whose jobs will be given to the unemployed but I hope the government remembers its own minimum wage laws. Apparently the new rules will include an opportunity for private companies to profit.

It looks as though the new regime will be piloted in Glasgow - but there won't be an announcement until the by-election is over. I wonder what Agnes Dollan would have made of adviser, David Freud, "investment banker and government welfare adviser," who seems to be behind the new scheme.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Production lines and freedom

I was lucky in the other papers in my session at the conference. My paper wasn't a very good fit but the two other papers were ones I would have chosen to hear. I managed to go first - I was anxious about the media files but they played perfectly - and then settled down to listen.

The other papers were on class and Marxism - but not class from a Marxist perspective. One looked at the ways in which Marx was read and understood in the 1880s and 1890s - and how Marxist ideas were interpreted and modified in novels and other writings of the time. I didn't take many notes but I hope the speaker will let me see a copy of her paper. I'd like to consider how interpretations of Marx influenced the slightly later writers Robert Tressell and Ethel Carnie Holdsworth.

The other paper took as its starting point the film of Alan Sillitoe's novella, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. The speaker considered the ways in which Sillitoe's young male heroes asserted their freedom through various acts of resistance, as well as considering the way Arthur Seaton, in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, remains free in his mind while working on the Raleigh production line. This led into a consideration of the way Jean-Paul Sartre interpreted freedom and the suggestion that Sartre saw workers as full human beings, with freedom to think, act and resist. The paper was further enriched by the way the speaker drew on his own experiences from the freedom of a working-class childhood to his sense of not really belonging when he studied for his first degree.

Quite rightly, the discussion centred around questions of class and I wished I'd done a paper on working-class writing to fit more with the panel's themes. I also wished I'd persisted with reading Sartre's La
Nausée (Nausea).

The ideas from those papers haunted me for the rest of the day. At the final panel, a discussion of Shakespeare moved into a more general discussion of Literature, Humanism and universities. I found myself getting annoyed as speakers suggested that academics in literature departments had a particular grasp of ethics because of their subject, and found myself speaking out. I tried to draw the distinction between the responsibility to act ethically, which academics share with all human beings, and the special skill which literature academics have, which is the analysis of literary texts and the construction of arguments. Academics may be ethical but this is part of their responsibility as humans and not related to their skills, qualifications or job.

I found myself talking about Franz Jagerstatter who was executed for refusing to fight for the Third Reich - he was more ethical than any academic I've met but this was because he knew how to act rightly in a crisis. He didn't seek or expect fame and he didn't spend his life reading, analysing and publishing books. I can't remember if I went on to point out that a university's cleaners, porters and cooks may be far more ethical than its academics - I hope I did.

At the reception afterwards I was challenged for some of the comments I had made during the conference, though some people also supported my comments on ethics. A few people were concerned that I didn't reckon the study of English Literature was ethical in itself. Even more were concerned with a quick comment I'd made earlier. When one speaker - an enthusiastic scholar and teacher - suggested that she did her job for love not money, I remarked that I did it in order to be paid. For some reason people find that idea very shocking. Of course I enjoy teaching and reading, thinking and writing. But I'm still an employee. I work for money. I wouldn't do my job if I wasn't paid.

But perhaps I write this blog for love. It costs me nothing except time. And it's free to whoever wants to read it and comment.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Auden, Quixote and 1963

I'm going to use this post to give a rough account of some of the ideas I discussed in my paper. I don't know if it's particularly interesting to readers who don't share my particular academic interests but I like to think there are a couple of points that might interest people.

I began planning my paper with a very general idea of what I was going to talk about. This isn't unusual. The subject of the conference was literature and humanism. "Humanism" is a difficult word because it means different things in different contexts. However, advance publicity suggested that the conference would focus on the human element in literature and the way in which humans can and should value on another. When the call for papers reached me, I thought about Auden's ideas and the way he cared about human relationship and dignity. Then I started thinking about the way he refused to take up heroic positions and my ideas focussed around a title: "Auden's anti-heroic humanism." At this point my mind was ranging over the whole of Auden's work. There are numerous people on quests and missions but, even in his poetry of the 1920s, these tend to conclude in failure. When he appears in his own poems, Auden may see the necessity of action, but he never presents himself as a heroic resister. The nearest he gets to the heroic pose is in the poem "Grub First, Then Ethics," in which he's concerned to get a good dinner before resisting.

That was getting pretty broad, so my proposal for the paper suggested that I would look at three kinds of writing: those based on the theme of the quest, elegies and opera libretti (which Auden wrote with his partner, Chester Kallman). I knew that was still too broad but it gave me a starting point.

There were months between writing the proposal and starting work on the paper. I decided to begin with the opera libretti so took down the huge, expensive volume from my shelf to look for a starting point.

I began by looking at the familiar - the Paul Bunyan libretto, The Rake's Progress and the two libretti for Henze. But, as I browsed, I found myself looking at Auden's Don Quixote lyrics and wondered if they would form a good starting point. And they took me to the year 1963, when Auden and Kallman were contracted to write the lyrics for Dale Wasserman's TV play, I, Don Quixote which was to become a Broadway show with the title Man of La Mancha. The collaboration ran from November 1963 to February 1964, when it broke down. And Auden's lyrics were mostly written in November and December 1963.

So I began to look at the Quixote lyrics, wondering why the collaboration failed.

Auden was an extremely experienced librettist who had been writing lyrics for songs since the 1930s. He was used to working collaboratively with dramatists and composers - he even collaborated with Bertolt Brecht on a version of Webster's play, The Duchess of Malfi. He liked writing lyrics and was usually very flexible in following the requests he received - for instance, rewriting lines so that they would be more singable. At the same time, he had strong ideas of his own.

Dale Wasserman gave his own account of what happened. There were two points of conflict. Auden wrote a song for Don Quixote ("The Song of the Quest") which didn't include the phrase "the impossible dream", as Wasserman wished. And Auden refused to write an ending which endorsed Don Quixote's quest as heroic and necessary.

In terms of Broadway success, Wasserman was right. The song "The impossible dream", first sung by Richard Kiley, was a huge success. And the reprise of the song at the end of Man of La Mancha was doubtless enormously effective. But I wanted to work out why Auden said no.

The decision came partly, I think, from Auden's view of humanity. When he started work on the Quixote lyrics, he had just finished work on the libretto for Hans Werner Henze's The Bassarids. This was a version of Euripides' play The Bacchae and its major concern was the role of irrationalism in the contemporary world. You can get a flavour of the opera by looking at the video here on the Bayerische Statsoper site. (I wish I'd seen the production - I know the opera only from recordings.)

Auden had been considering the irrational for a long time. In a sonnet he wrote in 1936, he described the loss of belief in dragons and fairies and how, when belief in the irrational had ebbed away, "The vanquished powers were glad/ To be invisible and free" and "Struck down the sons", "ravished the daughters, and drove the fathers mad."

Auden also discussed irrationalism with Professor E.R. Dodds, a family friend who became Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford. Dodds edited the standard Oxford edition of the Bacchae and wrote a major book entitled The Greeks and the Irrational. He was also personally concerned with the effect of repressing irrational elements in human life, at an individual, social or national level. Auden and Kallman's work on the Bassarids libretto made them consider what dangers were presented either by irrationalism or by an approach which was overly-dependent on reason.

In The Bassarids, Pentheus, king of Thebes, is a man who denies irrational and human needs. He believes in an impersonal god and wants to act well. Repelled by irrationalism, he takes a vow to give up wine, meat and "woman's bed". He is right to be appalled by the god Dionysus but his horror at the irrational turns him into a tyrant as he commands the torture (to death) of Dionysus' followers, including a child. In the end, Dionysus draws on Pentheus' repressed desires and persuades him to dress as a woman and go to the mountains where the Bacchantes (Dionysus' followers) are drunk on wine and Bacchic ecstasy. He is torn apart by the Bacchantes and his own mother rips his head from his body. Dionysus remains unrepentant about the disaster he has caused.

According to the stage directions, the followers of Dionysus are very ordinary - one is identified as an American housewife dressed to undertake her chores. This brings the opera up-to-date and suggests a concern about America and the rest of the world in 1963.

Auden and Kallman finished work on the libretto in October. On 22nd November, as Auden was starting work on the Quixote lyrics, President Kennedy was assasinated. A week later, Jackie Kennedy asked Theodore H. White to interview her for Life magazine. In this interview she kept returning to the Broadway musical Camelot, treating her husband's presidency as a "shining moment" and associating it with the ideals of knights in armour. The idea of Camelot and knightly ideals - not to mention the glamour of lost causes - was in the air.

Idealistic dreams were also the currency of the day. Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, given to a quarter of a million marchers in Washington D.C. in August 1963, was carried on the television and widely reported in the newspapers. It came in the midst of a catalogue of horrors including the murder of Medgar Evers and the church bombing in Birmingham Alabama. Although the phrase "impossible dream" came earlier, I think it must have been given a new force and stronger meaning by King's speech.

No wonder Wasserman wanted the phrase "impossible dream" and hoped to convey ideals to the audience. But Auden refused. His "Song of the Quest" was about the individual, hopeless quest, although there was a suggestion that other questors might follow in Quixote's steps. It's full of references to folk tales and includes a brief reference to the poem "This ae night", which Britten had included, probably at Auden's suggestion, in his 1943 Serenade for Tenor Horn and Strings. And it ends, I'm pretty sure, with an allusion to lines from Byrhtnoth's speech in the Anglo-Saxon poem, "The Battle of Maldon." Auden, who was a Tolkien fan, would have known that Tolkien condemned the folly of Byrhtnoth in leading his men to certain death.

Auden was politically concerned. He supported civil rights and lamented the Kennedy assassination. But since the 1940s he had worried about the power of language to move masses of people to folly and wickedness. That's why he gave up lyric poetry, saying that if poetry was to be judged on its power to move its audience, Goebbels was the greatest lyric poet of all time. Auden feared the irrational as a particular danger in a rationalising age. He was cautious about the effects of words and music on readers and hearers. He wasn't likely to write an inspiring finale for a Broadway musical, which would leave the audience feeling good about themselves and united in the sense of their own virtue and courage. He was happy to publish and read two of the Quixote songs as "Song of the Ogres" and "Song of the Devil" but he avoided the myth of knightly strength and virtue.

Auden's "Song of the Quest" for Don Quixote acknowledges Quixote's heroism but takes him on a lonely, individual quest which is doomed to failure. He is not a model for humanity nor, in the horrid jargon of today, a "role-model".

Song of the Quest

Once the voice has quietly spoken, every Knight must ride alone
On the quest appointed him into the unknown.
One to seek the Healing Waters, one the Dark Tower to assail,
One to find the Lost Princess, one to find the Grail.

Through the Wood of Evil Counsel, through the Desert of Dismay,
Past the Pools of Pestilence he must find the Way.
Hemmed between the Haunted Marshes and the Mountains of the Dead,
To the Valley of Regrest and the Bridge of Dread.

Falsehood greets him at the cross-roads, begs him stay with her awhile,
Offers him a poisoned cup with a charming smile;
Vizor down, in sable armor, Malice waits him at the ford;
Cold and mocking are his eyes, pitiless his sword.

No man can command his future; maybe I am doomed to fail;
Others will come after me till the Right prevail.
Though I miss my goal and perish, unmarked in the wilderness,
May my courage be the more, as my hope grows less.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008


Reading books doesn't seem like real work. I remember when I started work on my Ph.D. (full-time, with a bursary!), I used to stop every so often with a sense of guilt that I was spending my time in a comfortable armchair, reading a book.

That was decades ago but I'm still surprised that reading books for study can be so tiring.

Of course, like everyone else, I read books for relaxation. I reread Agatha Christie, for instance so that I can wind down. But if I'm studying Agatha Christie, it's a different experience from reading for relaxation. I'm observant, analysing technique, making mental notes about context, trying to compare one book with another or thinking about how common ideas at the time are developed or denied in that particular Agatha Christie book. And my mind is working away, trying to organise - and test - a set of larger arguments. Reading for study is exhausting.

So is writing an academic paper. I was only doing a short presentation - 20 minutes - but the the reading and thought behind it occupied almost all my spare time and haunted my dreams. Not that I slept much. The night before I gave the paper I was down to three hours' sleep. I was still reading, thinking, writing and editing. I'll give you an idea of the contents in a future post.

I'm not convinced it was a successful paper. I'd have liked two clear weeks on it instead of a few days, evenings and odd hours. And the preparation was hampered by computer problems. I wanted to use a couple of video extracts and suddenly the computer on which I'd stored them refused to open.

A conference paper is a tricky thing to write. You can't know till you're there how much detailed knowledge the audience will have but some are bound to know much more than others. Academic conferences are packed with people with all kinds of esoteric knowledge - specialists in surprising areas. Speakers work hard at finding ways of conveying facts without suggesting they will be new to everyone in the audience. But because the papers are so short, they have to draw on a wealth of knowledge and thought. Any sentence may be questioned so every suggestion should be defensible. On the happiest occasions, people in the audience will suggest further ideas for developing a line of research.

For a week I thought I didn't have enough for my paper - then I realised I had too much. I kept taking ideas in different directions, then narrowing them down. Two days before the conference, I knew the shape of my paper and had prepared a 10-page hand-out. It was far too long, of course, but it gave members of the audience some material with which they would almost certainly be unfamiliar and would provide them, if they wished, with the opportunity to consider my ideas in greater depth.

The days I'd planned for writing the paper filled with meetings and administrative tasks. I missed fencing to work on my paper.

The day before the conference I made copies of the handout and tried to finish writing the paper between meetings at work. But there wasn't time to concentrate. At 2-o-clock in the morning of the conference, I fell asleep on the living room floor with the paper still incomplete. At some point I staggered upstairs, set my alarm clock for 5, and went to bed. At 5 I forced myself up and began to wonder if I could improvise the last two pages from the handout. I decided I was too tired. I had to write the paper.

I was still writing on the train. I got to work early. I finished writing the paper 5 minutes before the conference was to start, but decided to miss the first session so that I could check my video clips.

There were fifteen people in my panel, including the chair and speakers - exactly what I'd predicted. I had the right number of handouts. I played the first video clip, then started with a joke. The audience laughed. I went on and remember only the occasional stammer. I got to the end.

I'll write more about the conference later but, since then, I've been catching up on sleep. I still haven't caught up. But at last I've returned to the blogosphere.

Friday, 4 July 2008


I couldn't do that. I couldn't take an oath while crossing my fingers and believe that gave me an excuse to lie. That's what little children do. It's not proper for adults - certainly not for adults who become MPs and magistrates.

I'm disqualified from being either. Plenty of MPs and magistrates lie when they take the oath, or make a mental reservation that, if they had the chance, they would vote against a monarchy or call for a referendum to let the people decide.

I don't think I'd make a particularly good MP, though once I would have liked to stand for parliament. I briefly thought I could consider being a magistrate but didn't have to investigate further. I'm disqualified. If there were a referendum I would vote for a republic and that means I'm disqualified from a range of positions. I couldn't even join the police although, oddly, the Royal Navy is exempt from the oath of allegiance.

Of course, I can lobby my MP and ask him to vote for the abolition of the monarchy. But my MP was only able to take his seat after swearing allegiance to the Queen and her heirs. Moreover, even if he changed his mind and became an ardent republican, Members of Parliament aren't allowed to pass any laws affecting the Crown without the Queen's express permission.

There's criticism of royal expenses but, on the whole, the Queen is admired. I don't think republicans would win if there were a referendum to abolish the monarchy. Although I would almost certainly vote for abolition, I don't make a great deal of fuss about the matter. I have many more urgent political concerns.

Yet it irks me that I, and other honest republicans, are banned from so many posts simply because we would be unwilling to comence our public service with a public lie. It worries me that, were people to vote for an honest republican in such numbers that he or she were elected, the new MP would be banned from the House of Commons. And I'm really annoyed that MPs aren't allowed to debate this unless they first ask for the Queen's permission.

There's a simple petition on the Downing Street website which urges a change in the law. It asks that MPs and lords should no longer be required to swear allegiance to the Crown. In my opinion, it would be a good first step in making this country a proper democracy and opening public service to all who care about it. It would widen the choice for voters and put honest republicans on equal terms with those who swear dishonest oaths.

The petition closes tomorrow (5th July, 2008). It already has sufficient signatures to gain a response from the government. If you would like to sign the petition and receive that government response when the petition closes, click here. Monarchists can sign as well as republicans. The petition seeks honesty, responsibility in public life, and true democracy - that is, giving all the people the right to choose.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Batman or Spiderman?

When I was in my early teens, I fell for Superman.

Comics were banned by Mum, who encouraged "proper books." I expect she worried about the cost too. As they were banned, I enjoyed the occasional sneaky look at Bunty or, later, Jackie but I didn't always see the point, even though I looked at an old Girl annual again and again. Then the woman downstairs gave Mum a pile of comics for my brother, and it would have been rude to say no.

First of all, I looked at the English comics and was rather taken with Roy of the Rovers. Ididn't understand the rules of football but there was something in Roy's determination that gripped me. I'm sorry I didn't continue following his adventures. Compared to the predictability and childishness of The Four Marys in Bunty, Roy's life was uncertain and adult. He had a real job and suffered the risks of injury, unemployment and defeat. While the Four Marys lived secure lives, demonstrating their tolerance by including a scholarship girl in their number, Roy faced real anxieties in his touching attachment to Melchester Rovers.

But I was seduced away from Roy by the glamour of Superman. Or perhaps I fell for Superman's alter ego - the quiet, bespectacled, slightly clumsy Clark Kent. I don't think I knew who Superman was before I opened the first comic, and I was entranced by the shy outsider who could change costume in a convenient telephone box and defend "truth, justice and the American way."

By my late teens, I thought I'd grown out of superheroes. I'd even stopped watching repeats of Adam West as Batman, though I once caught a delightful episode in which the cowboy villains hid in the opera house and found themselves perfectly disguised by a production of Puccini's Golden Girl of the West. I was persuaded to watch Superman 3, which was a delight, but chiefly because of its lightness and humour. I left comic books and superheroes behind.

I hadn't registered what superheroes had in common - not just superpowers but super-damage. They were all orphaned outsiders, despised by the people around them. Even their super powers were a kind of damage, pushing them into danger, isolating them and causing prejudice. This is explored at its most extreme in The X-Men, which I discovered through the movie.

By 2000, superheroes were popular in cinema and my children were the right age to see the films. I rediscovered my love for superheroes, but now it was their vulnerability that moved me. As political debate was reshaped and often skewed by the events of 9/11, the cinema offered a choice between Spiderman and Batman.

Spiderman was young, poor and unglamorous, forced to design and launder his own superhero costume. He tried to save the world - or at least the people near him - while studying and working as a pizza delivery man. Attempts to save the world got in the way of his work, studies and love. The films explored New York so inclusively that the Twin Towers were digitally removed between the first cut and release - to avoid distressing the audience. But it was impossible to see the films without thinking of 9/11. The questions they raised - of responsibility, vengeance, love and guilt - seemed part of the new anxiety. And, as Spiderman, Tobey Maguire was the personification of anxiety, inadequate to the demands of a complex world but always doing slightly more than seemed possible.

Batman Begins was more plainly a post 9/11 film. Watching it for the first time, I began to wonder if the film was a piece of length anti-eastern, authoritarian propaganda. It wasn't. In the end, within the terms of the superhero genre, it was far more complex - and the casting of Christian Bale as Batman prevented the usual unthinking blend of admiration and sympathy for the super-hero. Christian Bale's record in films, from Empire of the Sun to American Psycho, ensures that audiences' first instinct is mistrust. This is a complex Batman in a difficult Gotham City - a film even darker than the one created by Tim Burton.

Like Spiderman, Batman has had a painful childhood. But, as Bruce Wayne, he is wealthy, powerful and adult. While Spiderman works, Batman cultivates his playboy image, aided by his devoted butler, Alfred. He can commission the gadgets he needs for his bat-identity. He can afford a batmobile.

I expect I'll watch the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight, if I get a chance. I've been gripped by the trailer and feel the familiar unease. It's the same team as Batman Begins. But I'd like to return to Spiderman. I wish I'd found an excuse - or time and money - to see Spiderman 3.