Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Hector Kipling and the Turner Prize

David Thewlis’ role in Mike Leigh’s 1993 film “Naked” remains one of my favorite performances by an actor. The film has little in the way of plot, the dialogue is rapid-fire, and most of it is improvised. Thewlis’ blistering tour-de-force take on the damaged drifter Johnny manages to make the character sympathetic, despite his introduction to audiences in a dark alley during the opening credits, committing rape.

Thewlis parlayed the awards and accolades from “Naked” into a number of roles in Hollywood, and is now best known as Lupin in the Harry Potter franchise. But other than an inspired cameo in the Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski” (as video artist Knox Harrington) his roles have not been particularly memorable.

8 years ago he signed a book deal and last week published his first novel, “The Late Hector Kipling”. Thewlis’ first-person protagonist paints huge portraits of people's heads but is plagued with self-doubts about whether giant heads are what the world needs more of. His conceptual artist friend Lenny Snook is nominated for the Turner Prize for a Cadillac filled with blood and a green, motorized coffin. Hector is jealous of the attention and envies his friend for his good luck of having a dead father.

While ostensibly a satire of the art world, and more specifically the Turner Prize (it was written during the controversy surrounding Tracey Emin’s win) the book’s real target seems to be fragile egos and dysfunctional friendships.

A lengthy excerpt can be found at

Here’s a short one:

‘No! No, no, no. Van Gogh fucking killed himself, he doesn’t get his own room.’
‘Sometimes he does.’
‘Only in fucking Amsterdam, or if there’s a retrospective.’
‘Everyone gets their own room if they’ve got a retrospective.’
‘That’s my point.’
‘Well, I don’t know, what the fuck, Hec? Because he’s spiritual?’
I do a little dance. ‘Spiritual? Because he’s spiritual?’ I say. ‘I’m fucking spiritual, but I don’t get my own fucking room.’
‘Maybe if you killed yourself.’
‘Maybe if I killed myself ?’
‘Yeah, Hec,’ and he smirks and straightens up his back, like he might have a point, ‘maybe if you killed yourself.’
‘Yeah,’ I say and stick out my gut, ‘or maybe if I killed you.’

Another attack on the big prize in yesterday’s Independent:

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