Readersforum's Blog

December 7, 2011

War Horse painting turns Morpurgo’s ‘black lie’ into a white one

Joey, the equine star of Michael Morpurgo's War Horse, has been retrospectively painted by the artist Ali Bannister. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian

To please fans, a painting of Joey, Michael Morpurgo’s equine hero, has finally been hung in Iddesleigh village hall.

By Steven Morris

For years, fans of the Michael Morpurgo story War Horse have made the pilgrimage to the village hall where – according to the author’s note at the start of his book – a “small dusty painting” of his equine hero hung.

They came away disappointed. The hall at Iddesleigh in Devon, not far from the author’s home, did exist but there was no picture – until now.

On Wednesdaya painting of Joey the horse, commissioned by Morpurgo to turn what he called a “black lie” into a “little white one”, was finally hung almost 30 years after the book was published.

Morpurgo said: “The author’s note is an invention – it’s how I wanted the story to start. For 30 years people have taken it literally.

“For 25 of those years just a few people turned up at the village hall to see the painting – which didn’t exist.”

But since the National Theatre’s production became a huge hit, the trickle increased. Once Steven Spielberg’s film version of the story is released later this year in the US and in the UK soon after, a flood of new enthusiasts are expected to arrive in the village.

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October 27, 2011

War Horse, the exhibition – a parable of our senseless, violent times

Handspring's astounding puppets from the play War Horse will be on show at the National Army Museum exhibition. Photograph: National Army Museum/CLY

Michael Morpurgo’s classic is the basis of a National Army Museum exhibition tracing the history of the real war horses.

By Maev Kennedy

Of more than 120 books Michael Morpurgo has written, War Horse is not his favourite – though he concedes his epitaph will read: “Michael Morpurgo wrote Steven Spielberg’s War Horse.”

His story of the horse commandeered from a Devon farm and shipped to the great war, followed by the boy who loved him, has become a phenomenon, dwarfing the rest of his works: a bestselling children’s book now bought by adults, a box office smash hit play for the National Theatre in London and on Broadway, the Spielberg movie due for release within few months, and now an exhibition at the National Army Museum in London.

“I’m very fond of the book, and it is my wife’s favourite – she really loves horses, and she likes the fact that its origins lie in Devon, in the place where we live. But I probably like Private Peaceful best [also now being filmed] and I love the ones which really set children’s imagination soaring like Kensuke’s Kingdom. But there will be people who think I never wrote anything in my life except War Horse.”

The book was hardly an overnight success: it was published in 1982, did not sell particularly well. Morpurgo spent years trying to turn it into a script before concluding that a story which begins in rolling Devon fields and moves on to tank battles in the Somme, was unfilmable and still less stageable.

“I am delighted but quite surprised at how it has now taken off, and why that should be now is an interesting question. I’m afraid it’s the times we are living in. People are seeing the bodies of young soldiers coming home again.

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October 24, 2011

Michael Morpurgo: ‘Our problem is that we feel superior to animals’

Bestselling children’s author Michael Morpurgo speaks about Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of War Horse at the inaugural Telegraph WordUp! Festival in Dulwich.

BySameer Rahim

When the BBC presenter Clare Balding introduced Michael Morpurgo at the inaugural The Telegraph WordUp! Festival she did not stint on praise: not only was he one of our great children’s authors, but “one of the greatest tellers of stories for any age”. It is part of the etiquette of such events to make the star author feel special – but sitting among a crowd of 300 enraptured children (and not a few adults) it felt like it could be true.

Morpurgo was talking about the latest incarnation of War Horse, a book first published in 1982 that was turned into a hit play at the National Theatre and is now a film directed by Steven Spielberg (released this January). The American director and his wife keep horses, said Morpurgo, which is one of the reasons they were interested in the story of a Devon boy who travels to the Western Front to try to find his beloved horse Joey. “It was a moment of history,” said Morpurgo, “when it was animal against steel and bullet and tank”. After the trailer was screened the person sitting with me whispered: “It’s going to be a real tear-jerker, isn’t it?”

“Our problem is that we feel superior to animals,” he continued. He spoke movingly about how children have a natural connection with animals that adults brought up to fear them lack. In the course of his admirable Farms for City Children programme that he runs with his wife Clare, Morpurgo has seen young people boldly take eggs from hens and instinctively bond with horses.

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October 23, 2011

How could they do this to Tintin?

A dearly loved friend: Tintin with the Thomson twins and Snowy Photograph: © Hergé/Moulinsart 2011

Hergé’s comic-book hero is one of the great creations of the 20th century. Which makes Spielberg’s film version little more than murder, says one lifelong Tintin fan.

By Nicholas Lezard

Coming out of the new Tintin film directed by Steven Spielberg, I found myself, for a few seconds, too stunned and sickened to speak; for I had been obliged to watch two hours of literally senseless violence being perpetrated on something I loved dearly. In fact, the sense of violation was so strong that it felt as though I had witnessed a rape. I use this comparison not as a provocation or to cause unnecessary offence: I am using it in honour of a very good joke made by an episode of South Park, in which the cartoon’s children watch the final Indiana Jones film and are so traumatised by what they have seen that they go round to the police station and try to get Spielberg and his colleagues charged with the crime. “What they did to poor Indy. They made him squeal like a pig.” The tragic irony of this is that it was Hergé himself, Tintin’s creator, who, a few weeks before his death in 1983, anointed Spielberg as his preferred director to make a Tintin film; and this after he had seen, and loved, as we all do and did, the first Indiana Jones film.

The sense of outrage is palpable, and even after two days I find myself moved to pity; to pick up my shuddering, weeping copy of Hergé’s The Secret of the Unicorn, cradle it in my arms, and whisper soothingly to it that everything will be all right; but all the time knowing that, after this, it won’t be; nothing will be the same again. The forces of marketing, and of global idiocy, will see to that. But I will try to make things better as well as I can and remind you of some of the things that made Hergé’s original one of the consistently great works of art of the 20th century.

The elements are simple: a boy, or boy/man; his dog Snowy; and, in later books, his gruff sidekick, a quick-tempered alcoholic old seadog called Haddock; and a deaf, absent-minded professor called Calculus. Tintin, with or without the others, rights wrongs, rescues the innocent, uncovers dastardly plots, goes on mind-boggling adventures; even, in one book, to the moon (a scientifically accurate adventure conceived some 15 years before people actually walked there). All executed in cartoon form, but in a style grounded in meticulous attention to detail and respect for veracity.

The books grew in sophistication: Tintin’s first appearance in 1929-30 was a black-and-white rudimentary anti-Soviet potboiler, little more than propaganda; there then followed a trip to the Belgian Congo, which is childishly but still blush-makingly racist (yet still hugely popular in the post-colonial country); yet by the final completed work, Tintin and the Picaros (1976), Tintin is sporting a CND symbol, and helping, albeit with reservations and only on condition of non-violence, a group of not-quite-explicitly leftish guerillas gain power in a despotic Latin American country. It’s a long learning curve.

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October 11, 2011

‘Why I’m betting £85 million on one cartoon reporter and his dog’: Steven Spielberg brings Tintin to the big screen

I was struck by Hergé's illustrations... Without knowing one word of the language, I understood the whole story,' said Steven Spielberg of Tintin

By Steven Spielberg

Hergé’s comic books have sold millions… but filmed versions have all been turkeys. Here, the mastermind behind Raiders Of The Lost Ark and Jurassic Park tells Live why that’s about to change

I don’t speak or read French. In 1981, when I saw a review of Raiders Of The Lost Ark in a French magazine, I didn’t understand what any of it meant.

But I could see one word all over the place: Tintin. So I got the review translated into English, and in a very nice way it said that Raiders was a homage to Tintin’s creator, Hergé.

It suggested that I must have read all of the Belgian artist and writer’s books. In fact, I’d never even seen a Tintin book in my life.

So I asked my assistant to go out and buy me a Tintin story, and she chose The Seven Crystal  Balls. It was in French – they weren’t translated in the U.S. then – but even though I couldn’t read the text, I was struck by Hergé’s illustrations. They were so evocative of storytelling, plot and character relationships that by the end, without knowing one word of the language, I understood the whole story.  I bought all the Tintin books.

I discovered that Tintin is a tenacious young discoverer and investigative reporter. His passion to achieve or uncover a mystery inspired me. I admired how nothing will stop him, and how he has this amazing relationship with the most unlikely partner, Captain Archibald Haddock.

Together they’re the yin and the yang: Tintin is the straight man, Haddock the fall guy – he’s the one who gets cold and drunk and lights a fire in a lifeboat, not realising it’s going to burn a hole in the boat and they’re going to sink. Hergé’s sense of humour was very close to slapstick and the silent movies. The detectives Thomson and Thompson are comedic characters, a double act like Laurel and Hardy.

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March 7, 2011

DreamWorks lines up WikiLeaks film based on Guardian book

DreamWorks studio – founded by Spielberg, Katzenberg and Geffen – has bought the rights to WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy.

By Xan Brooks

Steven Spielberg’s Hollywood studio looks set to oversee WikiLeaks: the Movie after securing the screen rights to WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy, the book by Guardian journalists David Leigh and Luke Harding.

Reportedly conceived as an investigative thriller in the mould of All the President’s Men, the film will be backed by DreamWorks – the studio founded in 1994 by Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.

Leigh and Harding’s book charts Julian Assange’s life and times, from his itinerant childhood through to the creation of the WikiLeaks website in 2006. It also provides the inside story of Assange’s explosive partnership with the Guardian and the release, last December, of more than 250,000 secret diplomatic cables.

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January 21, 2011

War Horse the musical helps make Telegraph Hay Festival extra special

An orchestral performance of War Horse will be one of the highlights at this year’s Telegraph Hay Festival, part of a line-up that includes one Hollywood star, four Nobel Prize winners and the leading lights of the arts world.

Actors work life-size puppets in the London production of War Horse. A musical version of Michael Morpurgo's story will be staged at this years Telegraph Hay Festival Photo: ALASTAIR MUIR

The literary festival, which runs from May 25 to June 5 in Powys, Wales, promises to be the most eclectic yet.

Michael Morpurgo’s work will be a musical version of the First World War drama that has delighted theatre audiences and is being turned into a film by Steven Spielberg….read more

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