Posts Tagged ‘adaptations’

TELL NO ONE (Ne le dis à personne): Canet, 2006. Fr.

I recently saw an old post on the best surprise lesbians in mainstream films and TNO cropped up.  They were referring to Kristin Scott Thomas’ Hélène and her relationship with the protagonist’s sister Anne. The writer was celebrating the fact that the women’s marriage is utterly unremarkable- it isn’t a plot point, none of the characters have to ‘deal’ with it, there is no great moment of exposition. After Ellen also had this to say.

So I got to thinking, why are they gay? Did the writers just think ‘meh, why not?’ But then it became increasingly obvious that, in order for the narrative to succeed as it does, they had to be that orientation.

Main man Alex is best friends with his sister-in-law ; they lunch together and have an easy rapport. True, he could easily have been great friends with a brother-in-law, but the dynamics are different in exclusively male relationships. Had there been two men meeting to covertly discuss online activity, it would have seemed exclusive and conspiratorial- a cabal of masculinity- to Anne’s detriment. Their exclusion of Anne would have taken on, whether inadvertent or not, a patina of chauvinism, of male superiority, which the characters and situation do not warrant. These are educated, sophisticated, middle class Francs; the gender war is not of their world.

So why not have him be best friends with his brother’s wife? Well that’s problematic on two fronts: If Alex is spending so much time alone with a straight woman then, whether intended or not, there will always be a suggestion of sex. We will question the pair’s motives, instead of focusing on their engagement with the central mystery. Knowing that both parties are assured in their mutual lack of attraction allays the anxiety of their alliance and prevents any shadow of doubt over Alex’s devotion to Margot.

Then there’s the matter of the conspiracy around which the film centres. ***SPOILERS below***

Would Margot have confided in a brother-in-law in the way she trusts Anne? I’d wager not, not least because a man most likely would not have reacted in the same way. Obviously this is a generalisation, but a more likely male response would be to lead with force in the first instance, rather than waiting to plot an elaborate entrapment. Anne’s lack of action, and years of silence I cannot explain in terms of gender behaviour though. It is significant that Alex never comes to Anne during the film, though he trusts Hélène implicitly. He also knows Hélène can keep this information from Anne easily, and without guilt.

So, by logical deduction, Alex’s confidante must be the wife of his gay sister. (Well technically, he could ally himself with the husband of his gay brother, but that would preclude that casting of the estimable Kristen Scott Thomas and again, would bring a machismo to the film that would not benefit the characters or the story.)

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More of a telly post than a filmy one- again, but it is all long form, screen-based popculture and I’m trying to differentiate The Noctuary from SL. More on Downton Abbey soon to come over there.

My AS Film Studies tutor always tried to impress upon us that each film is a ‘CULTURAL ARTEFACT’, every celluloid submission reflects and represents the society and era in which it is made- even if the content is ostensibly concerned with a near or distant past, future or part of the world. This is perhaps a bit of a stretch, but the evidence suggested that there was more than a grain of applicable theory in it. To use an inept metaphor. His favourite example was how Hitchcock’s adaptation of The Thirty-Nine Steps spoke of pre-war anxieties about fascist Europe.

I mention this because, subsequent to having this idea ingrained in my critical mind, I have been pondering the significance of the rash of backwards-looking British dramas of late. With the new series of ITV’s cracking rendering of early-century manners and mores upon us, now in the midst of the Great War, what are we trying to say to ourselves?Cast of ITV's Downton Abbey

With The Hour [which I entirely failed to watch, despite downloading all the episodes from iPlayer], the Beeb’s misfired 60s kitsch-and-conspiracy series, opening up dramatic lines of enquiry into our increasingly activist Cold War media, (to poor viewing figures and decidedly ambivalent critical response), it seems that period of our past isn’t salient to the collective conscious at present. America’s continual nostalgic love affair with the 50s and early 60, so well served by the much-vaunted Mad Men, continues apace though; The Playboy Club amongst others garnering a high profile, with its promise of more glossy, stylish misogyny and unfettered Capitalism.

Colin Forth in The King's SpeechThe nation capturing if uninspired The King’s Speech and Auntie’s attempted revival of Upstairs Downstairs [To continue without the venerable Eileen Atkins, alas] dealt with the ailing Upper Class’ internal malaise and uncomfortable proximity to fascism and even Nazism. The Hour’s Romola Garai (no stranger to period projects) also starred a couple of years ago in appeasement thriller Glorious 39 with strangely beautiful Eddie Redmayne [Andrew Garfield-alike and shrewd chooser of roles. I’d love to see those two play brothers with Harry Treadaway.] SpThe Night Watch BBCeaking of Treadaway, he gave a lovely turn in the woefully insubstantial The Night Watch last month. With such sound and complex source material and a reliable history of success for Sarah Waters adaptations, The Beeb really could have thrown some cash at this- or at least afforded a more appropriate runtime. The format of the novel very clearly lends itself to three hour long episodes. As it was, we were simply left with a nuance-free précis, albeit an impeccably cast one. With the exception, that is, of leading lady Anna Maxwell-Martin, entirely misplaced as Kay.

Wartime tales of ordinary Brits are so commonplace as to be virtually irrelevant to a discussion about fictional reflections of current concerns [I mean never, ever forget, but it is really time we got over it], but recent offerings The Night Watch and 2009’s (also exquisitely cast but narratively insufficient adaptation) Small Island have at least proffered a perspective from typically under-represented subcultures beguiled and let down by the promise of social progression that wove itself through the war effort.

The  Night Watch- Duncan and Fraser

With austerity, rioting, a callous and oblivious Tory government, endemic social stratification and a demonised and disenfranchised youth in mass unemployment, a slew of films and programmes full of 60s activism, 70s social seesawing and general strikes and 80s boom and crippling bust seem inevitable; those times are far back enough now to be scrutinised, rather than skimmed for mere nostalgia- and there are clearly lessons we’ve failed to learn.

Back to the Abbey (never seen monk mind you- don’t think wet cousin Matthew counts) and it seems women really ran the households in those days and Society, for the most part. With our emancipation has come a loss of gumption, an inability to guide the affairs of man; what with them now being our affairs I suppose. There has been an alarming backslide amongst women of my generation, afraid of being labelled ‘Feminists’, wanting our modern men to be macho and commanding, asking our fathers for our hands in marriage, before said fathers ‘give’ aforementioned daughters ‘away’ at the altar. I can’t even begin to express my despair and disgust at educated, socially advantaged young women in a progressive First World country, demanding to be made chattels and passed from the possession of whatever man happened to impregnate her mother into the ownership of anyone else who happens to own a penis. Never mind what’s in it for you ladies.

Harking back to my opening comments on cultural artefacts, I couldn’t say whether the series seeks to chastise modern women for wasting their emancipation or celebrate the fact that we no longer need to subvert established power structures. This is clearly a time for introspection, I feel. The tenth anniversary of the 11th September and all that ensued is inevitably instigating that, but more recent events should be a more potent catalyst to take a long hard look at our national character and the values we uphold. On the heels of Boardwalk Empire making its way across the Atlantic, followed by Mildred Pierce, perhaps this isn’t a strictly British (or rather, English) phase of reflection, though self-analysis isn’t really the US way. I don’t really know what we’re trying to say to ourselves yet, only time will tell.

Andrew Garfield as Jack in Boy AITV repeated their 2009 drama Unforgiven last night in advance of the Hollywood remake with Mrs. Brad Pitt herself in the lead role, so it seemed time to bring this post off the back burner. When I started writing it Jon Venables had yet again been in the news, still generating vitriolic hatred on the message boards. With a public e-petition calling on Parliament to debate reintroduction of the death penalty, a frank and thorough examination of justice and what it means to be a civilised society is clearly urgently needed. If recent events have demonstrated anything, it’s that we have let go of our values. As the men and women who fought the war, physically or tactically, the ones who can remember what we lost and the hundreds of thousands who sacrificed their lives, pass away in greater numbers every year, the British sense of justice and the essential characteristic of valuing human life above all else is being diluted and dissoluted. [Technically not a word, I know. Sx] I’d been holding back on the article because I have two examples of the following and was holding out for a third, for a pair does not a trend make. Nevertheless:

Channel 4’s adaptation of Boy A and ITV’s Unforgiven are thematically similar in their contemporary examination of people released from high security prisons after serving a long sentence from a young age. Both deal with the consequences of a youth spent in incarceration and reveal the facts of the original crime episodically across the runtime.

What caught my attention about these programmes was the lone ranger role forced upon the protagonists and the stark juxtaposition between what had been taken from them and what the public still expected. Both dramas force the viewer to question the nature of justice in a free and fair society. (more…)

Disco Pigs: (Sheridan, 2001. ROI)

****Some spoilers****

I saw DiscoElaine Cassidy and Cillian Murphy in Disco Pigs Pigs on video many years ago, sourced at great length from the depths of my county library service, and I liked it but I was a little bewildered by some of the actions and motivations of the characters.  After not thinking about it for eons I was recently making a list of British and Irish films to blog about and this little flick came to mind. I was wondering how to track it down  when utterly coincidentally I was staying over at a house blessed with Freeview [that’s digital/cable type channels not available on terrestrial television- for overseas readers] and chanced upon it on Film4 at some unsociable hour. With the wisdom and emotional maturity that come with great age, it made far more sense this time round and my intervening Film Studies training meant I could appreciate the form far more.  I think this is a film people should see in adolescence and again in early adulthood; it’ll probably tell you something about yourself, or at least about your evolving understanding of people and the great intensity of youthful emotion.

Disco Pigs was written by Enda Walsh, based on her play of the same name and is a two-hander featuring my two favourite Irish actors, Cillian Murphy and Elaine Cassidy, (two of the Emerald Isle’s most bankable big screen exports, both of whom have transcended the Republic since, for better or worse) in their fresh faced days. Last seen in The Dark Knight and US horror serial Harper’s Island respectively, Murphy gets a dress rehearsal for his schtick as the intense and introverted Irish rake here, at his leanest and most wired- full of adolescent energy, while Cassidy does that distant wistful-yet-mischievous thing she does best. (more…)

WATERSHIP DOWN  (Martin Rosen, 1978. UK)

 Typically and perhaps misguidedly promoted as a children’s film, presumably because it’s an animation featuring rabbits; but that is where the Disney similarity ends. There is real darkness in this film, beyond the ‘mild peril’ of Pixar or the sad -but-not-shocking demise of Bambi’s ever-cited mother. You don’t even need to scratch the surface to reveal a seething pit of misogyny and deeply troubling gender politics. Arguably this is typical of the late seventies moral backlash against sixties’ liberation, (although that was more of an American trait) but no matter what the rationale, if we are going to  sit children in front of these films, we need to question the messages we are exposing them to.

That said, Watership Down is known as a seminal film for a reason. The animation is idiosyncratic and distinctively stylised, with emphasis on pictorial representations of the declining British countryside. There is unapologetic moralising which is clearly lacking in some of the more lightweight animations produced subsequently, though the conservationist point is slegdehammered in towards the end. This is definitely an instance where I’d advise watching with children on first viewing as, violence and atypical quantities of gore aside, there’s certainly plenty of content they may not understand. Fiver’s fits and visions can be frightening and the totalitarianism the pilgrim rabbits encounter could well be bewildering to children raised in liberal democracies (such as they may be).

So, while accessible to children, this is a film I’d strongly recommend to adults. I didn’t see Watership Down till I was in my twenties, though most of my peers had encountered it in childhood and I still took a lot from it. For older viewers there is far more to be read in terms of allegory and criticisms of political regimes and rampant ‘progress’ (in this case industrialisation.)

Some of the soapboxing may be a little hard to swallow and the inherent attitude to women is troubling, but overall this is a strong film and a welcome variation to the sanitised dross often delivered under the rubric of ‘family movie’.

WATERSHIP DOWN (Martin Rosen, 1978. UK)

***Full Spoilers***

(more…)

Jurassic Park: Unabashed Propaganda

(Spielberg, 1993. US)

***FULL SPOILERS***

 

You may be forgiven for incredulity, but there is a powerful irony at play in the inherent messages and values of Jurassic Park. Bear with me, I’ll prove it.

Let’s start with the figurative. Dinosaurs are, of course, a well-exercised and widely accepted metaphor for the past, for obsoletion, for the blundering remnants of bygone times and values. Now hold that thought.

 

Okay, to the meat of the issue. What, precisely, was this groundbreaking, blockbusting CGI and animatronic tubthumper trying to say?

 

We begin with a child-hating curmudgeon palaeontologist fellow (Dr. Alan Grant), his conscience: the blonde haired, blue eyed botanist assistant (read: latent love-interest), and the all-American moppet grandchildren of park creator and billionaire bampot John Hammond. That’s our core cast. Surrounding them, amongst others we have the brooding and cynical serial divorcee mathematician and chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm; Genarro, the token Soulless Lawyer who is endowed with all the character depth of Random Totty or Gay Best Friend; Nedry, the weaselly, thieving double agent and two named but expendable park employees.

 

These predictable and reliable stock characters duly carry out their duty thus:

 

In the beginning, Man was proud and arrogant and thought himself God. But he was Dickie Attenborough so he can be excused for the mistake. He is joined by a host of generics on his island of atrocity against nature. The woman out of the David Lynch films shows how compassionate and nurturing she is by forgoing the safari trail of godless wonder, in order to assist the vets with a sick triceratops. The remaining assortment of obvious victims and potential survivors continue upon their merry way. Almost immediately technology, on which the entire enterprise is woefully over reliant, fails them spectacularly. This is due in part to sabotage by the weaselly double agent. It’s okay though; he’s killed horribly- blinded by a venom-spitting dilophosaurus. How apt. Cos he couldn’t see the error of his ways. Couldn’t see…Moving on.

 

The Soulless Lawyer promptly abandons the children to a T-Rex attack in order to save himself and is duly despatched by the aforementioned beast. Sitting on an outdoor toilet, to the great amusement of my six year old classmates at the time of release. Oh the indignity. Master Chaos is gravely wounded in punishment for his serial defilement of the sanctity of marriage. He, however, heroically redeems himself by luring the T-Rex away from the hapless moppets and is thereby permitted to live. For the time being at least.

 

Meanwhile, back on the farm, Granddad God meets up with Mother Earth and they set out in a Jeep to rescue everyone. When they get there though, everyone has inconsiderately left. Eventually they find Master Chaos and bring him back to base. Oh, the island is being lashed by a fierce tropical storm too. This is in no way to be interpreted as a manifestation of the wrath of an omnipotent Judaeo-Christian deity. So the bone collector and the moppets are forced, by some convolution or other, to spend the night together up a big tree, where he (reluctantly) watches over them in a Protector fashion. They are awoken by gentle, giant, herbivore brontosauruses, which is nice. He then tells moppets Precocious and Pantwetter all about Brontos and encourages them not to be afraid of the creatures. This is carried out in a Nurturer type way. All of the above lead to inadvertent ‘bonding’ and other such Hollywoodisms.

 

As they wend their merry way back to ’safety’, Mother Earth and The Expendables are heading through ‘Raptor’ (which is Yankspeak for velociraptor) territory in order to restore power to the base, re-electrify the fences, seal the doors and generally restore man-made order to this inexplicable resurgence of animal anarchy. Daddy Bear and the cubs are going cross country, Pantwetter is up a fence. In painful slowmotion all the fences in the park are reactivated. His comes on and the current throws him to the ground several metres away. It’s okay, he’s fine. Doctor Grant comes over all concerned and comforts him. Aaw. Sadly, yet heroically, The Expendables sacrifice their lives for the preservation of the Main Characters.

 

 Eventually Daddy Bear, Mother Earth and the moppets are thrown together in the control room where they overcome peril through teamwork. Pantwetter is no help whatsoever, but they let him off.  Then Granddad God and Master Chaos rock up in a Jeep, Dickie having presumably patched old Jeff up en route. They drive to the waiting chopper and everyone lives happily ever after. Warms your cockles does it not?

 

So what have we learned?  The child-hating alpha male is forced to dredge up his repressed paternal instincts and protect his involuntarily adopted brood. He also notices that a very good woman, who happens to be rather younger and more attractive than he is, loves him, possibly against her better judgement. So he sensibly opts to love her back. As a result of this they all manage to survive a seemingly insurmountable threat against harsh odds. Hurrah for the nuclear family! It can bring civilisation out of the prehistoric [That would be those metaphor-riddled dinosaurs] and save society from its bleak, permissive future [reckless cloning practice*]. Those who threatened the stability or completeness of the unit, those who did not prioritise family values, were swept aside by the double edged sword that is the cruel indifference of nature and man’s undoing by his own design.

 

Therein lies the aforementioned irony. While dinosaurs are traditionally a metaphor for the past [Still holding that thought? You’ll need it now], for archaic values, their creation here- through genetic tomfoolery- means they actually represent perversion of nature and that traditionalism of which Republicans are so fond. Their existence is therefore anathema to good Americanism and the destruction they wreak, the threat they pose to Daddy and the moppets, an indictment of contemporary attempts to reimagine the family. It is only by uniting as a monogamous, heterosexual nuclear unit that our heroes are permitted to survive**. Learn this lesson heathens, learn it well!

*I’ll admit that is a weeny bit tenuous, but go with it, I do make good on the point I’m labouring towards- honest!
** What happens to their actual parents is anyone’s guess.