All My Soho Loves
Office girls in white shirts and black skirts and patent leather heels standing in doorways taking cig breaks. Bar Italia spivs, corrupt club football on a large screen, postcards from Amalfi on the wall. Camisa & Son for Parma ham, olives, and cheese. Nino's Salon and its glass door pin-ups and Audrey Hepburn cut-out (4ft high). Angelucci's coffee beans. A fat plate of spaghetti in La Centrale; chain-smoking waitresses, your own wine. Lambrettas in Little Italy. Downstairs in Harold Moores records (they're not his) discussing the Hutton Enquiry, crowded by classical vinyl. Chefs squatting on milk carts, smoking in damp alleys. Berwick street fish stall with swordfish, squid and spratts. The one next to it, selling tacky Russian dolls and Soviet souvenirs to idiots. The Duke Ellington tip, or Blackmarket's bangers. Snow-capped Soho Square, this Wednesday evening. King prawns in Chinatown, not chopsticks ("I want to eat!" "Stab 'em, O!"). The strip club door girls, old UK garage tapes, vivid lipstick. The Agent Provocateur girls, on lunchbreak, uniform covered up, make-up immaculate. The Quentin Crisp fops, not the body builders. The market stall men, when they get down to a game of poker, all sat around a wooden box. Maison Bertaux: reading until 8pm, eye the continental boho crowd with disdain or lust, depending. Clocks, lights and chains: clogged metal in W. Switch & Co. Paving stones and iron lamps on Meard Street. Portuguese women in St Patrick's, singing broken plain chant in ropey unison; swathes of dying light, candles. Jean Cocteau's mural in Notre Dame (just off course, but there in spirit). An Off License on Old Compton Street: ask them for any spirit or wine from anywhere in the world (Polish Brandy?) and they will go to the back and get it. The school with the roof-top playground. Dankness and decay kept at bay by the spirit of the old village. You have to search to uncover the secrets of this maze: a mental slant can reverse the malaise. It's worth the endeavor. Everywhere is rich, otherwise poetry is a pox.
It is entirely romantic (small 'r') but not a romance. The ease of it does not even defy explication; there's nothing - absolutely nothing
- to explain. It's lovely the way every convention is set up to get these two unlikelies into a (ridiculous) clinch that would destroy the dynamic. For example, the ending moves like pure Hollywood Romance (like the end of Crocodile Dundee
, the 'grab love before it departs on a train' trope: "Tell him I love him!" "She says she loves you!" "Mick, I love you!"). When he catches her the great clinch is - a hug, a clasp; contact, reach, and rapport, not passion or sex. Because that's not it: the point is an alliance of the lonely and the complexity of a chance bond. The point is: a tentative and trusting connection between time and place. When he whispers into her ear you don't need or even want to know what he says. That moment of privacy and contact in a crush of a city (Tokyo streets a choppy torrent of vehicles and bodies; an irruption of neon, plasma screens, holography). I like the way Murray's eyes convey the full strain of loss and longing, but Johansson's look almost indifferent until the last moment. The charm of their connection and isolation outside of each other is precisely a transfiguration of the lonely
. And what makes the lonely beautiful is a kind of quiet fortitude and a strength of mind allied to acute perception, sensitivity, desire, and nerve. The film romances loneliness despite itself; the lonely even feel it - loneliness is
Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola, 2003)