IN an odd coincidence, I’d been rewatching Cleopatra (1963 version) starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton – one of my favourite films of all time – when the bombshell story broke of controversy over a modern remake.

I am, as ever, over-egging the pud when I say “bombshell”. But the story made the headlines on account of the Woke Inquisition complaining about an Israeli actress playing Cleo, and saying it should have been an Arab.

The complaint collapsed under a barrage of ridicule, when it was pointed out that Cleopatra was a Greek, as had been the Ptolemaic rulers of Egypt before her.

Now, I’ve no wish to comment further here on the woke interference, as I don’t want to be arrested in the middle of the night for hate crime. However, the hullabaloo reminded me that the 1963 Cleopatra had also been beset by endless hassles, such as massive cost overruns (almost bankrupting 20th Century Fox), a change of director, actors calling off, editing and script arguments, and personal scandals involving the stars.

The point is that I didn’t find this out until reading up afterwards. For me, the end product was still marvellous, as I’m sure the new one will be. Many critics panned the ’63 version, even criticising the sets which are the most fantastic ever created for cinema. They’re glorious.

But Liz Taylor herself described the movie as “vulgar”, and it’s true that, at over three (originally six) hours long, it sags a bit in the middle. Still, it remains a wonderful spectacle, a real cinematic achievement.

And while, of course, it takes a few historical liberties (something that will come as a surprise to those Scots who thought such things only ever happened in Braveheart) there was enough factoidery in it to make me read several books about Cleopatra after watching it.

I was so glad I hadn’t read any of the bad reviews and complaints before I watched the film. I came to it as an innocent. And that’s always the best way.

One terrific cinema experience I had was by just spontaneously coming off the street to watch One Flew Over Rhe Cuckoo’s Nest. Didn’t know anything about it. Of course, it was fantastic, and I’m sure it got overwhelmingly positive reviews.

But, even amid these, doubtless there would have been a few barbs and moans. And, if made today, loonies’ rights groups would be finding fault with it.

Reviews and the like – even in the Dumboworld that is Amazon – can colour the way you watch a film, often making the viewer more cynical about it. If you must read reviews, do so afterwards.

It’s truly sad there’s so much backbiting and bitchery around culture. In my youth, when I envisaged being a famous writer, I didn’t know anything about critics, and thought that to be a successful author was to be loved by all.

I saw myself, too, being right tweedy and smoking a pipe. I’d be sitting in my massive public library, a room as tall as a cathedral, full of leather-bound volumes on oaken shelves.

Instead, the tiny wee rooms of my condensation-soaked rural bungalow are full of second-hand paperbacks sitting on Ikea Billy bookshelves. I’m wearing an acrylic pullover over my T-shirt and, if I lit up a pipe, sprinklers would doubtless micturate on me.

I wouldn’t dream of writing a book now anyway. It’s not worth the hassle. Where should your heid be in relation to parapets, readers? Correct: below them. Thank goodness I use a ridiculous pseudonym when writing these columns.

I suppose getting to grips with criticism, cynicism and vested interests is all part of growing up. Growing up: that was my first mistake.

Dark Knight class

AN excellent new evening class is taking place at Glasgow Clyde College.

George Howie is your tutor on “History of the Batman”, a perfectly valid course of study. For, as George says, the Caped Crusader has “a huge fan base across the world”.

And rightly so. Batman isn’t a liberal wimp like Superman, who catches a torturer of kittens who was poised to wipe out the world with a thermo-nuclear weapon and tells him: “I’m letting you off this time. But promise me you’ll try to better yourself. Why not try taking up an evening class at Glasgow Clyde College?”

Batman is more like a cowled Jack Reacher, out to knee the neds in the nads. That sort of thing takes a bit of cash, as you’ll need a secret cave and a fancy car to dot aboot in. But, for a rich boy, Batman’s heart is in the right place. And so is George’s.

Mind you, the course prospectus adding “You will have the chance to ask questions in a safe welcoming environment”, gives the impression they don’t expect the class to include any actual heroes.

Five things we’ve learned this week

Dogs get tired of new tricks when they reach middle age, according to a study by Hungarian researchers. While puppies whizzed about to investigate bags, boxes and noises, middle-aged mutts just sighed and said: “Whatever.” Yep, we know the feeling.

When Chris Savage, of Portsmouth, couldn’t find a dental practice to take him, he pulled his painful tooth himself – after necking eight pints of Stella. His post-op remarks noted “the squelch noise as you pull it out”. Yick.

A cooling fabric for clothes is being touted as a replacement for energy-guzzling air conditioning. The material supposedly conducts heat away from the body while also repelling water. Sounds like “wicking” in outdoor gear, which many believe to be a fabrication.

A bone-crushing vulture from the Alps has been spotted on the roads of Lincolnshire, eating roadkill. The bearded vulture is thought to be the only known vertebrate with a diet consisting almost exclusively of bone. Isn’t nature ghastly?

Covid claimed a new victim: Chocolate Caramel Brownies (CCB). Added to Quality Street tins last year, it became a hit with gastronomes. Alas, shielding and lockdown saw the CCB sacrificed to keep factory production going. Still, we’ll always have Green Triangles.