Category Archive • Movies
January 28, 2005
Two more Twin Towers movie sightings

I've just had an idea for a regular series (although I promise nothing) of postings here. I love those Twin Towers, and I want to start writing about movies more often than I have so far here, so here's the plan. Every time I spot the Twin Towers in a DVD, I will pause it, photo it, and shove it up here.

Two things may happen. One, as I say, this may kick start me into writing about movies more than I have. But two, maybe a picture will start to form of how movie makers used to use those towers. What else happens when we see them? What do they seem to mean? And so on.

SidewalksofNewYorkTTs.jpg   NewJackCityTTs.jpg

Click on these two clictures (a word I'm hoping you first read here) to get the full pictures.

On the left, forty seconds into Sidewalks of New York, is the Twin Towers bit of the first sighting of the character played by Edward Burns (who also auteured the entire movie). He is being interviewed by an offscreen voice about his sex life. The Twin Towers are kept in shot, or very nearly, although out of focus, throughout this interview, bits of which, alongside interviews with the other main characters, intersperse the entire movie.

Which I enjoyed. The characters are pretty enough to be pretty, but real enough to be real. Perhaps the most telling plot point concerning Burns' rather gloomy view of life in New York is that only one child features in the entire thing, namely the child that the Rosario Dawson character conceives, by mistake and without telling him, with the Edward Burns character. Rosario Dawson then leaves New York, or at any rate says that she will. New York, Burns seems to be saying, is not a place that makes children. Too expensive. Everyone too fussed about their careers. Two many New Yorkers just don’t want kids.

Stanley Tucci plays a character for whom, in both appearance and behaviour, the phrase "love rat" might have been invented. Dennis Farina plays a man whose advice about cologne proves unsound. Cologne on the balls proves you care, says he. It proves he's weird, says the lady confronted with it. Penis size also gets an airing. In general, this is a movie with a lot to say about male insecurities and confusions, as well as female resentments at what swine men are.

If you love Woody Allen's New York movies, there's a good chance you'll like this, and for the time being Mr Burns seems able to choose his romantic partners in a manner that leaves his dignity in place.

Well-known actors love being in movies of this sort, for they queue up to be in them, half a dozen at a time. They get to talk and act and create character, instead of being upstaged by special effects or having to act opposite mysterious computer animations that only get put in afterwards. They don't have to kill people, or to die, or spend any time hanging from ceilings..

On the other hand, if you find semi-realistic movies about Relationships tedious, what with today's people having it so easy and being so cosseted that they can sit around all night long discussing their Relationships, unlike their grandparents who had depressions to survive and world wars to fight, well, one of the characters says that.

And, on the right is the very first frame of New Jack City, the rest of which I have yet to see, because, having just watched Sidewalks of New York and noted the Twin Towers, this was when I got the idea for this series (although I promise nothing) of postings. I should imagine that the people in this movie get to do lots of killing of one another and have little time to think about Relationships, although I could be quite wrong.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:33 PM
January 03, 2005
Entering the age of obscurity on DVD

When classical CDs first hit the shops, I recall anti-capitalist whingers saying that it was all Brahms and Beethoven symphonies, but nothing obscure and interesting, and generally capitalism screwing up. I knew that things would eventually change, and they did, with a vengeance. There is now virtually no limit to the music you can get on CD. Oh, there are some gaps still to be chased down and filled, but the choice of stuff you can now get is fantastic compared to the bad old days of records and cassettes.

With DVDs, I have been eagerly anticipating similar bounty. New big distribution movies of course all now come out on DVD, and I presume that quite a few more go straight to DVD after only the most casual distribution in the cinemas if any. Although I further suppose that you might have to know where to look for such oddities.

Better than that is that the best movies of the pre-DVD era, starting with the most popular ones like Casablanca and It's a Wonderful Life and all the Fred and Gingers and the James Bonds. This part of the job is now well underway. Although, I'm still waiting for DVDs of the classic Ryan O'Neal, Barbara Streisand screwball comedy What's Up, Doc?, and of Metropolitan, to show up in HMV Oxford Street.

And then of course there are all the ancient TV shows that you can now get on DVD. Those are already in HMV in strength.

Nevertheless, most of what I have seen available on DVD has been pretty mainstream, not really all that esoteric or obscure.

But now, however, comes news of something that I would rate as genuinely off the beaten track.

This is from the a latest DVD issues leaflet that fell out of the this week's Radio Times:

Silent Shakespeare

CLASSIC SILENT DRAMA These early film adaptations of Shakespeare's plays feature a new score by composer Laura Rossi. As well as the first Shakespeare film - King John (1899) – the collection also includes: The Tempest (1908), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1910), King Lear (1910), Twelfth Night (1910), The Merchant of Venice (1910), Richard III (1911). DVD extras include: filmed introduction and commentary by Judith Buchanan, sleeve notes by Nicci Gerrard, bibliography.

Never heard of those last two.

And that's my point. Silent Shakespeare? What on God's earth is the point of that? Well, I guess they have the words stuck on at the bottom, so maybe not so bad. But even so, weird. Learn more about it here.

In five years time? Or ten? It'll be a new world.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:39 PM
October 30, 2004
Making a film over a long period

By all the accounts I have read (including one that I swear I read by Alice in Texas but cannot now find), and certainly by this one, Jarmusch's movie Coffee and Cigarettes is mostly very dull.

Although, these bits sound fun:

The only two episodes that generate any comic energy from the premise are the most non-Jarmuschian. In one, Cate Blanchett plays both a star called “Cate Blanchett” and, under a long black wig, her loser cousin Shelby in a strained encounter in the lounge of her hotel. The loser cousin is a laugh, but Cate as “Cate” visibly struggling not to condescend or provoke is a miniature masterpiece. Miss Blanchett pulls off single-handedly what most of the double-acts never quite manage – two people meeting for coffee and never connecting. She’s topped only by Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan’s scene, in which the actor “Alfred Molina” requests a meeting with fellow Brit “Steve Coogan” while he’s visiting Los Angeles. Alfred says he’s a huge fan of Steve and Steve replies that “obviously” he’s “aware” of Alfred’s work. Molina says he asked to meet for a reason and slides a manila folder across the table. “What stage is this at?” Coogan demands. “Is it greenlit? Is it a treatment?” So Molina explains that it’s not a project, it’s just that he was doing some genealogical research and discovered that they’re cousins – they share the same great-great-great-grandfather, and that’s pretty amazing and exciting, isn’t it? Maybe they can hang out, get to know each other. Coogan doesn’t think so.

This encounter is the only one that has any narrative resolution – indeed, for Jarmusch, it’s almost an O Henry twist. And Molina’s rueful big-heartedness, which anchors the scene, is almost the antithesis of a Jarmusch performance. One notes also the curious fact that, in a movie about coffee, the most effective episode features a couple of tea drinkers. “Shall I be mother?” offers Molina, sweetly offering the pot. “I’ll be my own mother,” mumbles Coogan dourly. That may be the best exchange in the picture.

Coffee and Cigarettes was filmed over a long period, which makes it a boring film done very interestingly, I think. By the sound of it, the various mostly very boring episodes in it only involve a succession of cameos by different people. But why not have the same people coming back again and again throughout the making of the movie, getting gradually older?

If practised more regularly, this method could solve the problem of movies where a succession of actors who look very unlike each other form a queue to play the same alleged character. Answer: have the same actor play the same character over a period of thirty years.

The trick would be to have a flexible story, with the possibility of dramatically expensive special effects which could be added towards the end, after you have filmed the earlier scenes cheaply and on the basis of which you raise the money for the final expensive climaxes. You could start with your cast aged about ten and doing cheap things, and then they could get older and do gradually more dramatic things. Of course, with growing children involved, the legal situation would have to be sewn up very tight, and the story might have to be about bolshy teenagers rather than biddable ones. Like I say, duck and weave, scriptwise.

How about a bunch of kids lost in space in a small and nasty (and hence cheap) space ship, finally contriving to find their way back to (final scene – very expensive) civilisation! The excitement and with it the cost per frame would build slowly, as and when the money for the later scenes was raised. The Anabasis, in other words, with the sea at the end being expensive and special effecty, but most of the film being claustrophic and cheap.

As cameras get cheaper, and as a steadily increasing proportion of humanity dreams of being film stars and film directors, this will happen more and more often I think.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:10 AM
October 29, 2004
Here come the Fifth Element cars!

I'm busy lashing up a TransportBlog posting, following on from this Samizdata posting about air taxis, and in connection with that, I want this image ….

5thElementCarsS.jpg

… up here, so I can link to it from there. Click to get it lots bigger.

The Fifth Element (and by the way these storyboards are worth a look if you are the arty type) has always struck me as a hugely under-rated movie, from the urban futurology point of view. It deserves, from that point of view, at least equal billing with Blade Runner, which I believe is only liked as much as it is because it says (with the usual absurdly short and impatient SF timeframe – it's set round about now, as I recall) that the weather is about to become permanently horrible.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:42 PM
October 28, 2004
Michael Jennings on why the same people get all the parts

AshJuddS.jpgI have a programme called Skype running on my computer, which means that Michael Jennings can send me emails and invite immediate conversation. Here is his latest, on the subject of yesterday's posting about films stars etc.

Hmm. Just reading your culture blog. It has of course been noted by many people that Hollywood casting agents are always casting the same small number of actors because they have themselves seen very few movies and have very little imagination. One thing to be said for Quentin Tarantino is that his movies are always interestingly cast because he has seen more movies than anyone and he remembers good performances in obscure seventies TV series and the like.

Which is probably a better explanation of what I was writing about than I offered.

Picture of Ashley Judd there. She appears in lots of films, and in this case I agree with those myopic and ignorant casting agents. No wonder she looks so smug. I even like it when she is miscast in rubbish, as often happens. (New Hollywood job description: Miscasting Agent.)

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:39 PM
October 27, 2004
Alice on Troy and on how there are more Stars nowadays

Alice (back in Texas again?) was not that smitten with Troy, which I haven't myself seen and have no plans to see, until I take a look at it on the telly (if that is convenient). My favourite reason she didn't much like it was this one:

… in history, everything was brown, because colours cost too much, and this is dull on the eyeballs, …

See also The Gladiator. But I don't think it's that colour costs too much. I think it's that colour makes everything look not like XXX BC, but like XXX BC as filmed in 1960. and you wouldn't want that.

Later she says this:

Also I am worried about the small number of people who keep acting in every single movie I watch these days. There don't seem to be enough actors to go round. Half the cast of Troy looked like they were also in Lord of the Rings, and playing the same characters as well. Just dying your hair and removing the elf ears is not enough to make us think you're someone else, Orlando Bloom. We know who you are. And we know Brad Pitt is a crazed egomaniac, Sean Bean is Captain Sharpe, and all those dark wide-eyed feisty girls who look like Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley are actually the same person as each other.

I don't think it was always thus: there used to be Stars and Everyone Else. Now there is a whole (albeit small) Acting Class. …

I don't know what I think about that, or even if it is true. Surely the old Stars were just as much the same from film to film as anybody is now.

I wonder if it is anything to do with getting older. When you are young (I realise that Alice is quite young now, but in the past, I surmise, she was even younger), you see a few Great Stars, and lots of old people. As you get older, you see more Stars. When you reach a hundred they all look like Stars, and there is no Everyone Else who are, compared to you, not Stars.

Plus the Stars don't look as great as those old Stars did, when you were a kid. Everyone just just looks like ... Everyone Else. The Stars merge into a great big acting company. But it's you, not them.

Just a thought.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:06 PM
October 24, 2004
Looking gorgeous in pictures

For reasons of my own I need to display a cinema poster, which I saw in the tube yesterday.

I have been watching L'Appartment (silly me - I completely missed those Hitchcock references - he likes it too) and this has given me a taste for French Romantic comedies with gorgeous and fascinating women and adoring but decidedly ridiculous not to say ugly men (I wonder why), and, well anyway, here is another that looks promising.

CommeUne ImageS.jpg

Something about how 'society' (i.e. me and you and everybody) attaches too much importance to looking gorgeous in a picture, a point made (I'm guessing) by making lots of gorgeous pictures (i.e. a movie) about a particularly gorgeous woman …

Jaoui.jpg

… (and god help anyone who wasn't gorgeous who was up for that part), and others of the kind of gorgeous woman who can be made up to look non-gorgeous, with done-up hair and glasses, which can then be undone and taken off. …

MarilouBerry.jpg

IMPORTANT NOTE: All these french actresses have distracted me from doing an Important Posting about the play I saw last weekend. I now have no time to do the review of this that I promised in the previous posting. The instructions at the top of that posting about what to do if I did not post this posting immediately are now inopperative. I will try to do the review over the weekend. It's my blog and I'll procrastinate if I want to.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:52 PM
October 15, 2004
Richard Dreyfuss – miscast as Richard Dreyfuss

Last night I watched American film actor Richard Dreyfuss on the Frank Skinner show, doing the one part above all parts he for which is most completely unsuited and most grievously miscast, himself.

I guess a lot of actors get their start desperately trying, and failing, to play themselves. There they are, aged, I don't what, four? – and they look in a mirror or something one day and say oh god, how am I supposed to do that? They work and work at the role, trying out different versions until the audience likes it.

Many of them get themselves down pat very quickly, and then go on to further triumphs in other roles, doing other people. Almost all of them arrive at a passable version of themselves eventually. But I reckon Dreyfuss has never mastered himself. As soon as he starts in doing himself, you (and by that I mean I) want to curl up in a foetal ball and jam blotting paper in your (my) ears. All those ludicrously over-pronounced syllables, and studied juvenile-isms, which get ever more embarrassing as he gets older.

When he's in movies there are directors around to say, Richard, it's too Dreyfussy, please do it again. Try to act normal. Plus, he does other people in order to find temporary escape from being himself. That's how it looks to me. (Dreyfussy. New word to describe a particular sort of bad acting.)

There are other actors like this, I think. In the past, when faced with such people, I just switched off. Now, I can talk back, by blogging.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:54 AM
September 24, 2004
James Lileks agrees with me (again) about the music for Where Eagles Dare

James Lileks writes about the music for Where Eagles Dare as if he's the only person on earth who loves it. But, Lileks, you are not alone.

He offers two snatches of it on mp3: here and here. Click and be patient.

And hullo. It seems that Lileks has been on about WED before, and that I have linked to him before about it.

RAT. Ta-ta-ta-ta TAT.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:11 AM
September 22, 2004
How Vaughan Williams travelled from modern London to ancient Israel

RVWSymphonies.jpgTonight I am listening to: A London Symphony by Ralph Vaughan Williams. And I have chosen the mono version done by Sir Adrian Boult with the LPO, from this boxed set of all but the last of the nine RVW symphonies.

I do not offer a general review of this lovely piece, with an exhaustive explication of exactly what makes it so lovely. I just wanted to make what I hope is one interesting observation.

I refer to the second movement, "Lento", and in particular to the lovely tune in this second movement, which we first begin to hear (on this particular recording anyway) at about 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

To me, this tune could have come straight out of the sound track of a Hollywood biblical epic. It would have sounded completely in place had it occurred, not in a piece celebrating London, but in a story celebrating the life of, e.g., Jesus Christ. I'm thinking in particular of the scenes in Ben Hur where Jesus is seen, but only, by us cinema viewers, from behind. We see that archetypal hair-do, evocative of all that is magnificent and history-changing, yet at the same time consoling and loving, but only Charlton Heston gets to see Jesus' face. It's been a long while since I've seen this movie, and heard the actual music that Miklos Rozsa wrote for the Jesus scenes, but I do definitely seem to remember them sounding very similar in atmosphere to this London Symphony tune.

There is, by the way, a distinct whiff of similarly Israelite harmonies in Vaughan Williams' glorious Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, and, for that matter, also in the original Tallis anthem which that piece was inspired by.

And now, that tune has come and gone. The third movement is back to the hustle and bustle (and also the Georgian stateliness) of London, as if Israel had never been thought of.

All of which leads me on to wonder about this whole musical nationalism thing. We are constantly told that particular harmonies evoke particular national moods or national landscapes. I wonder. I suspect it may be pure association caused by the constant placing together of certain sorts of music with certain sorts of imagery and certain sorts of national myths and stories, the actual connection being accidental. Had the music chips landed only somewhat differently, Dvorak could have sounded unmistakably Italian and Tchaikovsky unmistakably Finnish.

That the music of Vaughan Williams of all people made me think of ancient Israel rather than of ancient or not so ancient England is a particular irony, because RVW of all people is credited with creating an "unmistakably" English sort of sound, the one dismissed unkindly by Elizabeth Lutyens as cowpat music. (Scroll down to the start of para 2 of the review linked to.)

So: Vaughan Williams. Unmistakably English, except when he sounds unmistakably something completely different.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:34 PM
September 20, 2004
Fake but accurate

Instapundit caught this, but maybe you missed it.

Here's another (real but inaccurate) snap (from the DVD on my TV) of that scene:

SallyFakeButAccurateTV.jpg

And the people who made this delightful movie? Democrats and Kerry-persons the lot of them, I'll bet.

I wonder if this meme will catch on. It deserves to.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:46 PM
September 09, 2004
A tale of two posters

I spent most of my blogging time this evening concocting this, so only time for a quicky here, in the form of a snap taken in the Underground of a movie poster:

ShaunPoster.jpg

I like this poster a lot, if only because of the cricket bat. How often do you see cricket bats in movie posters? And wielded by the leading man?

But there is another reason to pay attention to this poster, which is that it illustrates an interesting trend. Look carefully. This is not an advert for the cinema release of this movie. It is an advert for the DVD and the video. I remember being very struck when I first noticed this trend, which has surely only happened since the arrival of DVD.

Here, by way of contrast, is the poster for the original cinema release. No sign of that splodge of yellowness. What's that about?

ShaunPoster2.jpg

That was to be seen a lot on phone boxes. Which makes sense, I think you will agree.

Interesting that the DVD poster makes great play of quotes from the critics, the way the cinema poster doesn't. Presumably this reflects the fact that the adult stay-at-home audience is the one that buys the DVDs and adults pay more attention to critics. I certainly find that I do, now, as I get more … mature.

Prediction In a few years time, DVDs and DVD players will have got so good that cinemas will in many cases simply be big DVD playing rooms, with both domestic machines and cinemas using the same software. Why not? Under the influence of the copying menace, movies will get more numerous, but on average "smaller", with the big hits being surprise successes rather than big blockbuster pre-crafted smash hits of the sort that will immediately attract piratical attention.

Michael Jennings will be giving my next Last Friday of the Month talk, on the 24th, about the impact of new technology on the workings of Hollywood, and although he may not talk about this particular matter (what with the impact of new technology on Hollywood being such a huge subject), I will try to remember to ask him about this. He has already told me that in his opinion the copying of big movies is done by treacherous Hollywood insiders (in a manner that Hollywood doesn't like to talk about) rather than by people sneaking into cinemas with cameras (the story Hollywood prefers).

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:37 PM
July 23, 2004
Adulthood in movies

I found this posting, about teenagerdom, and the comments attached to it, interesting. I was particularly diverted by this further reflection from the writer of the original posting, Michael Blowhard. Comments had veered into the adultness of film actors, and Michael said this:

… And how about manliness and heroism? They seemed to have a moment or two in the sun after 9/11, but we seem back to distancing ourselves from them again. I grew up an irreverent Boomer, thinking performers like Charlton Heston were a joke, for instance. All that squareness, that granite jaw, the posing ... It seemed to beg to be ridiculed and I was willing to do the ridiculing. These days, I find myself missing that kind of thing, and admiring the people who could once do it. The only kind of heroism we seem willing to swallow (in popcult, anyway) is cartoonish heroism, it's-all-a-big-joke-anyway heroism. Which I think is kind of tragic. These days I watch an early Heston movie thinking, Good lord, the fact that he was able to do that, with conviction, and put it over, and people were able to accept and enjoy it - why, that's really great! There aren't many performers who can do that today. I don't like Costner much, but I do find myself cutting him some slack just because he seems determined to do squaresville heroism. Doesn't do it very well, but credit for trying. …

KevinCostner.jpgI agree about Kevin Costner, and actually like his acting rather more than Michael B seems to. Costner's problem is finding roles where what he wants to do is what they want done. I think one of his more successful movies weaving in and around these themes is Robin Hood Prince of Thieves>, which is all about the difference between stroppy rebelliousness and true adulthood. The Crusades, interestingly, are identified in that movie as a kind of adolescent tantrum, which ended in tears in the manner of a drunken teenage car expedition, but on a grander scale of course. However, while Costner is trying to be a serious grown-up, he finds himself up against a state of the art cartoon villain in the form of Alan Rickman's Sheriff of Nottingham.

Costner would probably be denounced at places like this as nothing but a wallower in political correctness. The anti-crusades stuff in Robin Hood plus the fact that in Robin learns about adulthood, maturity, etc. from a far more civilised black man. And of course there was Dances With Wolves and JFK. His constant striving after adulthood would get lost in the anti-PC complaining. But this would be a classic political box error. Political correctness is left wing. Trying to be grown-up. If you try to do both, nobody sees it because nobody wants to. Kudos to Michael for breaking out of the boxes.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:43 PM
July 21, 2004
One star in the Radio Times but not that bad

Just to say, I watched all buit the beginning of a movie called Maybe Baby on Monday night, on the telly. Of this, the Radio Times (in the person one Jason Caro) had this to say:

MaybeBaby.jpg

For his debut as writer/directo, Ben Elton tries – and fails – to step into the winning comedy shoes of erstwhile Black Adder partner Richard Curtis (Notting Hill). Revolving around Hugh Laurie and Joely Richardson's attempts to have a child, this clichéd, caricatured and dreadfully acted tale has all the wit, sparkle and profundity of a 1970s Confessions movie.

… which is pretty much what I recall the critics saying when this first came out. But I found it quite entertaining and more than quite involving. In my opinion the problem was not the actors, or the script, but the directing. Time and again, what looks like bad movie acting is actually a bunch of perfectly fine movie actors doing exactly what the director told them to do, and above all doing it more slowly than their instincts would have dictated and than a better director would have demanded. This didn't bowl along with nearly enough zip, and time and again the acting was over-emphatic. But the script was fun, and once you had discounted the slightly leaden style, it was fun to watch. Yet the RT gave it only one star. When I think of the dross that they award two, three and sometimes even four stars to, I think this was overdoing it.

Could the fact that the odd spot of piss was extracted from the BBC by Elton's script be part of the reason for the animus against this movie among those who decide these things? I doubt it, but maybe. Although, it was shown on BBC1.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:30 PM
Pausing American Splendour

I've just started to watch American Splendour (no link – google your way there if you want to, but I'm busy watching it and I don't want to jeopardise the Purity of my First Response), and this is the first Definitely DVD movie to have come my way. By this I mean (a) you need to own it, and (b) you can't possibly get top value from it without regular use of the pause button.

Many of the early shots are of cartoons, and the editing went past them before I had time to read the captions. So: go back, pause.

Many of the frames make excellent pictorial decorl when paused. Here's what looks to be one of the key moments of the entire movie. This is when the central figure is first shown with a cartoon bubble over his head. Idea!!!

AmericanSplen1.jpg

All good movies (and I rather think that this one is going to be very good indeed – one of my recent top favourites) about Creative Types seem to have one of those Creative Moments, when they Crack It. "You've cracked it!" says Mrs Pollock in Pollock, with some addition swearing if I remember the moment correctly, when Pollock finally gives up doing pictures of stuff and starts splashing and dripping his paint about, just like the real Pollock eventually did. "That's it, that's the sound", says Mrs Glenn Miller in The Glen Miller Story. It's the magic moment when our hero finally hits the trail.

What a splendid country America is. You get your chance to do this kind of thing. And if you succeed, they make a movie about you.

Actually, it turns out, maybe he's not a cartoonist, just the guy who did the words, while his pal Crumb takes it away and illustrates it. We're in the Restaurant. "Wow man. You'd do that?" Apparently so.

I'll keep you posted.

By the way. I did buy this, ex-rental. Sight unseen. Inspired purchase at £7.99. As Woody Allen says, the public just gets a feeling about a movie.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:08 PM
July 20, 2004
Katherine Hepburn snapping in Venice

From the far off days when there weren't nearly a billion of them. Katherine Hepburn in Summertime (1955).

HepburnMonkey.jpg

Rossano Brazzo waits nearby, contemplating his moves.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:49 PM
July 18, 2004
Partying – film reviewing – internetting – photo-ing

On the Friday before last, I attended the talk already referred to here given by David Carr at the Evans home, and present also was Amanda Oliver, who mentioned afterwards that she had written a review of The Barbarian Invasions. I missed this the first time round, despite having myself seen the movie and having enjoyed it and admired it a lot, and despite the fact that Amandas' review was linked to at the time by the Reason Hit and Run blog. Either that or I read the review but didn't clock that she was who had written it. Her piece is very good, and a model of what a review should be. That is, she tells you what she thought of it, but gives you enough information to be able to tell whether you would be likely to share her opinion. My Samizdata piece, by comparison, is a muddle. It started with how wrong some Guardian bloke was about the movie, and that, if present at all, should have been at the end. Live and learn.

AmandaT2s.jpg

That's Amanda Oliver on right. This is one of the best photos I've taken recently. The redness is real, not Photoshopped, the walls being all red, which means they turn all light bouncing off them red. I'm in it once again (which Scott Wickstein will like – see his comment here – although I'm probably far too easy to spot for his liking), and Patrick Crozier looks on, all unaware that he's in it too. Patrick and I are blurred, while Amanda is sharp (or as sharp as my camera and your screen can between them contrive) which is as it should be. Click on it if you want it larger.

If you find my relentless photo-blogging wearisome, you can, as stated in the bit linked to above, blame my friend Gerald Hartup. He made a point at that same gathering of telling me how good some of my photos are.

GeraldH1s.jpg

I wonder what he thinks of them now. Gerald has a most interesting face, and I always seem to get great pictures of him. That was taken on that same evening. With flash this time, which changes everything.

The Internet combines very well with partying, doesn't it? You go to a party, and learn of some interesting internetted item, and can google it as soon as you get home. Without the party you wouldn't have heard about it, but without the internet, reading it would be a nightmare of clumsy snail mail correspondence that would probably not be bothered with.

And now tonight, another party means that I need to post the picture of Amanda, because she will be there tonight again too. Having delayed posting it all week, I now have an excuse. Also, a reason, because she might have asked me tonight why I didn't use it (still might), what with emailing her to say can I?, blah blah.

The Barbarian Invasions is now out on DVD. I will buy it when its price comes down to a tenner or less.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:58 PM
July 16, 2004
Movie review redirections

Two movie reviews you might want to know about. First, Alice (now in Texas) reviews the Kill Bills, for 2 Blowhards, no less.

And strictly second, yours truly saw School of Rock last night. More entertaining than educational, but at least entertaining.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:13 PM
July 08, 2004
Professor Ken Minogue is now a drama critic

I could probably afford the occasional trip to the theatre, but the prospect does not appeal. And what definitely does not appeal, because this I definitely cannot afford, is to acquire the theatre habit.

But for those who would appreciate regular theatre criticism from an elegantly conservative viewpoint, there is now Professor Kenneth Minogue to turn to. He is now this blog's theatre correspondent.

Here's a taste of his recent review of a recent Globe Theatre production of Much Ado About Nothing:

Thespians in Britain have long since taken up a moral doctrine in which the identities of actors must be subordinated to a generic humanity. By something like a kind of brainwashing, we are to be trained barely to notice and certainly not to respond to the physical identity of the actors. This may be politically admirable, but it makes for terrible Shakespeare, and often for feebly spoken verse. Physical details are important. Falstaff has to have a pillow in his belly, Helena must be taller than Hermia, and a Richard III calling 'A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!' from the turret of a tank (as happened in a recently film) cannot but bring one up short. The effect of this kind of political correctness at the Globe is just to make its performances look like end of term productions.

The polite but deadly skewering is a Minogue speciality.

Picture of the skewered production:

MuchAdo.jpg

A quibble though. Is Minogue perchance referring to the (relatively) recent Ian McKellen film of Richard III? Maybe he isn't. But if he is, then that line was – according to my recollection – spoken not from a tank but from a jeep, the wheels of which were rotating futilely in the mud. Richard's cry sounded a little odd, but not illogical. A tank was (memorably) involved at the beginning of this movie, when a tank smashed through the wall of a library, again very effectively. In general, I loved that McKellen Richard III. Cursory googling reveals no Richard III movies since that one.

If it was another movie that Minogue was thinking of, my apologies. If I'm right that it was this particular Richard (and that it was a jeep) then the point that Minogue is making is still a good one, even if imperfectly illustrated.

Later: yes. I have the McKellen Richard III DVD. I checked. It was a jeep. But the wheels were not stuck in the mud. The jeep was just stuck futilely over a concrete overhang, denying the back wheels any purchase on the ground beneath.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Professor.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:41 AM
July 07, 2004
Vermeer for sale

VermeerVirginals.jpg This picture has been sold at Sotheby's for £14,500,000, so Channel 4 News has just informed us, moments after it happened.

It's a Vermeer, "Young Woman Seated at the Virginals". But apparently it's not a very good Vermeer. Originally she was wearing a different shawl. Dear oh dear.

The thing about the art market is that the price reached by a painting is the price that the second most extravagant art lover in the world on that day is willing to pay, plus a little bit. It takes two, baby.

Vermeer, by the way, is the man whom Colin Firth played in Girl with a Pearl Earring, which has just come out on DVD.

At present it is in Blockbuster for £19.99, I think it was. But it will soon come down.

Two people willing to pay anything to buy a DVD does not a DVD market make. It takes more than two, baby.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:10 PM
June 27, 2004
Culture is a game of two halves

An interesting cultural angle from Michael Jennings, writing about the European Football contest for Ubersportingpundit, re the fact that, now, all the big countries (England, France, Germany, Spain, Italy) are out of it:

Meanwhile, the tournament sponsors and advertisers will be unhappy. Most of the population of Europe come from countries that are out of the tournament. Most of the star players commonly used in advertising are headed for the beaches of the Mediterranean. On the other hand, Hollywood will be happy. This kind of tournament eats into cinema admissions quite badly, but now people will once again be going to the movies.

And this posting by David Carr is quite funny too. Did you know that before he became a sit-down comedian David Carr used to be a stand-up one?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:42 PM
June 22, 2004
Tonight I will be watching Klute

Tonight one of my favourite movies, Klute, is on BBC1 and I will be watching.

I realise that quite a high proportion of the readership of this blog, consisting as I'm guessing it does of anti-lefty Americans, is unable to appreciate anything involving Jane Fonda. But all that Hanoi Jane stuff rather passed me by at first, and by the time I acquainted myself with it, I had reached one of the conclusions about Jane Fonda which I am still at, namely that she was a fine, fine movie star.

Being a movie star is a hard job. The phrase often used of our Royal Family – "They earn their money!" – springs to mind.

Just giving a really good performance in the movies you end up doing is only half the battle. The other half is choosing to do really good movies. And what I admired about Jane Fonda was that she talked her way into being offered, and then did, some truly interesting movies.

A lot of them were, you might say, reprises of what I imagine she herself thinks of as her life story. In the typical Jane Fonda movie, if there is such a thing, she goes from decorative bimbo at the beginning to much better educated and much more knowing and thoughtful - but still decorative, and if anything rather more so – Superwoman by the end.

The tendency for women in the movies is to be a judge, and a prize, and a sidekick, but not a central protagonist. She decides that the hero is indeed a hero, despite what he may himself feel. She rewards the hero with … herself, and having helped out in the action in a strictly junior capacity.

One of my favourite classic bimbo performances is by Erica Eleniak in Under Siege, which I quite often mention here as a favourite of mine. What's clever about that character is how completely she is introduced to us as bimbo diversion, being literally that in the fake show that the rock musician/terrorists fake up at the start. Eleniak literally jumps out of a cake! So the fact that she has to shoot people makes for genuinely interesting action. But, definitely a bimbo.

Fonda, at a time when bimbo was often all there was, made a point of doing something rather more than this. She whipped up publicity to that effect, and then, having contrived to be offered the kind of more interesting parts she wanted, she then did them very well. Yes, it generally involved left wing politics, but that doesn't guarantee a bad movie or uninteresting action. I particularly liked The Electric Horseman, which she did with Robert Redford.

klute.jpgWhat is clever about Klute is the twist it gives to the pure-as-the-driven-slush, deeply sentimental, romantic movie.

The best romances have to have dreary and spirit-sapping realities for the two lovers to overcome. Both their external circumstances and their own un-attractions to each other have to be real, otherwise all you get is sentiment and contrivance and nothing else. You have to feel that they deserve their romantic finale, or, try as you may, you cannot suspend disbelief. Rather in the stupid way that men like me feel that if we eat lots of tremendously healthy food we are then allowed to eat an equivalent amount of junk food without harming ourselves, romantic movie fans feel that the more obstacles the lovers overcome, the more they are entitled to end up happy ever after.

And Klute really piles on the misery. Bree Daniel, the Fonda character, starts out as a money grubbing, emotion dodging, drug abusing, orgasm faking whore with a heart of ice. And Donald Sutherland, the eventual object of her affections, is just far too ugly and boring to be a regular leading man. But he brings other virtues to the romantic table - the main one being, well, virtue - and, after quite a bit of further sexual complication, the ice is eventually melted. And what is more, he (the Klute of the title) does this not by livening up and becoming more of a swinger, but by infecting Bree, as it were, with his old fashioned romantic values.

One of my favourite Klute moments actually comes in a different movie. Night Shift is about another boring guy who hooks up with another whore, although this is altogether lighter fare (nobody gets murdered) and the whore's heart is golden from the start. The leads are played, very well I think, by the guy who used to be the Fonz (Henry Winkler) and the actress who got her big break in Cheers (Shelley Long). Eventually they go to bed, although actually they get the ball rolling first in a bath. We see them lying there, decorously covered by a fur coat, as I recall, having obviously … got the ball rolling already. Silence. Then Winkler says: "Did you ever see the movie Klute?" No, says Shelley Long. The Winkler character then recounts how, in Klute, Jane Fonda has the most tremendous orgasm, in the middle of which she snatches a look at her watch, and "you just knew she was faking it". Hey, says Shelley Long, "I don't wear a watch."

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:58 PM
June 20, 2004
When the music starts …

I love that moment in train movies when the train finally starts, and with it, the music.

CruelSea.jpgYesterday I watched The Cruel Sea on the telly, and to judge by that, it's the same with ship movies. I realised that I was actually watching this movie properly for the first time in my life, because the beginning was completely new to me, even though I know the book well. Exquisite stuff from a young and beautiful Denholm Elliott as one of the officers, squaring up with silent contempt to Stanley Baker's bullying First Lieutenant ("And don't you forget it!"). Then as later, this superb character actor could make putty out of star actors, for as long as he was allowed to be in it. (He got drowned a little later.) Anyway, when, after the introductions and a spot of training, they finally sailed off to war for real, the music started, just the way it does when the train starts up in The Silver Streak or in Murder on the Orient Express.

There are quite a few symphonies which work like this as well. The music starts at the start, of course it does. It has to. It's music. But it doesn't go anywhere. It merely establishes itself, pitches its tent, takes control of the ship, packs all the passengers into the train, introduces itself to itself, so to speak, often with quite a fanfare, but with no sense of motion, of going anywhere. And then when that's all done, the music really starts, that is to say, it starts out on the journey that will be the substance of the symphony. Two symphonies especially spring to mind – Elgar One and Mahler Two –and I'll bet that if you listened to them, you'd pick the exact moments that I'm talking about.

With classical music, this sense of a journey getting under way is often achieved with a change of key, with further changes as further progress unfolds. With movies, the simple fact of music itself is often the announcement of the beginning of the real journey. Either way, these are precious moments. (I seem to recall writing here about the corresponding moment in The Dam Busters, when Barnes Wallis finally cracks one of his model dams and the water (and the music) suddenly gushes forth. But I've had a look through the archives, and apparently this is my first mention of this classic moment.)

I had a date later in the afternoon, and wasn't be able to watch all of The Cruel Sea. But it has been out on DVD for a while and I will get it if the price is right.

I wrote most of this posting while The Cruel Sea, what I watched of it, was still in progress, and noted down in particular the Jack Hawkins line: "… how to die without wasting anyone's time …". That sums up a whole generation – doesn't it? – the last of them leaving us only now. This was a hell of a journey, in other words. The phrase "face the music" suggests itself. For us, that's Fred and Ginger. For them, that too, but also rather more.

The Cruel Sea even managed to make Donald Sinden sounds non-ridiculous. Now there's a first, or maybe a last would be more accurate.

Also, while googling for links, I learned that Alan Rawsthorne did the music. I like Rawsthorne's music. He was, I believe, one of those Communists whose views about world politics (if not about the local misfortunes that may have given rise to them) I loath and detest, but whose approach to art I like a lot. I particularly recommend this Chandos disc of his piano concertos. And if you follow that link you will also find, just below, info about the Naxos disc of (almost) the same pieces, also very good.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:57 PM
June 19, 2004
Porn music … and another Twin Towers sighting

Is it just me, or is the music that they attach to soft porn movies an abomination? I would love soft porn if they didn't switch on ghastly wallpaper music as soon as the sex begins.

Like now for example. The sex has just begun. So, obviously, I have switched off the sound track. But until they began it they were having a really nice conversation, and although I'm guessing they aren't now saying very much, I could be wrong, and the thought bothers me. Also, they were presumably making the occasional sound of a more real sort.

Although, I must tell you, when they don't interrupt with wallpaper music, but do keep the actual sounds that the participants are making, that can be extremely disturbing. I've just seen the latest Jack Nicholson movie, the one where he falls in love with his latest girlfrield's mother, played by the not-as-young-as-she-was but still-doing-not-half-badly Diane Keaton. And Nicholson makes extraordinary groaning and snuffling noises, like a pig. I think these were the same noises he made when he played the Devil in The Witches of Eastwick, although my memory could be playing tricks on me about that. But I've definitely heard this noise somewhere before, and I am pretty sure it was Nicholson again, and that the setting was diabolical.

Wow, this particular soft porn movie just had a really great view of the Twin Towers.

To explain the significance of this image, I have to tell you a little about the plot. Basically, Our Handsome Hero has lucked into a job as a sex therapist counsellor type person. He has already done several sessions, if you know what I mean, and I know that you do. Well, two minutes ago Our Handsome Hero just recruited his Handsome Friend to help him share his workload, if you know what I mean … reprise. And that was when they showed the Twin Towers.

I think I know what they meant.

Read through the above, I realise that Jack Nicholson is better at getting sex and at doing sex than I am. And maybe my mistake has been not making pig noises.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:23 AM
May 28, 2004
Michael Jennings on why more and more movies now open everywhere at the same time

Michael Jennings has another of his fascinating blow-by-blow accounts of business in Hollywood lately, this time about this year's "Summer Movie Season". (He explains what that means.)

He makes many interesting points, as he always does in these pieces (which could well end up as a quite successful book, it occurs to me). I've not yet read all of this posting, but have already been especially diverted by the trend Michael notes, towards Hollywood movies being released at the same time all around the world:

One other thing that has been happening this year is what is often called "day and date" international programming. Traditionally, films were released in the US first, and would be rolled out throughout the rest of the world over a period of months. This is now happening less and less for big movies. Films are being released on the same weekend in most major markets. There are two reasons for this. The first is that Hollywood as always is afraid of piracy. Certainly they are losing some money to pirates. Once upon a time I was frequently offered illicit CD and VCDs and VHS tapes when walking down the streets of Asian cities, but if I wanted them in developed countries they would be harder to find. These days I cannot walk down Oxford Street in London without encountering someone selling illicit DVDs of movies current in the US that have probably not been released in the UK yet. Releasing movies in large swathes of Europe and Asia on the same weekend as in the US certainly reduces the window in which this activity is profitable, and this is the main reason given for the fact that there are now simultaneous worldwide releases.

But in reality this is more of a symptom than the cause.

The fact is, the world is rapidly becoming one global media market. …

Michael then digresses to the anachronistically chaotic problems faced by TV signals when trying to gain acceptance for themselves in countries which, technically, they can reach with ease, but which are political defended against them. But that is, as I say, a digression. The big picture story here is globalisation.

… Traditionally movie producers have managed to segment advertising campaigns and everything else into these national markets, but it is working less and less. Publicity campaigns now cross borders at high speed. Teenagers in Australia know by Friday afternoon whether a movie just released in the US is any good. People read reviews from foreign newspapers' websites. If there is a delay between release in the US and release elsewhere, the media buzz may have died by the time the fim gets there. People on British websites such as this one might be writing for largely American audiences, and it is counterproductive if the movies they are talking about are two months old in American terms. All this means that segmented national releases no longer work. And Hollywood is learning to deal with that. (If simultaneous worldwide releases are going to happen, one of the chief problems is expense and logistics. It costs a lot to strike that many prints of celluloid, and getting them around the world is expensive and time consuming. Thus this trend is also an impetus for digital distribution and projection systems to come into being to facilitate this that is not really there for the domestic market. This is particularly so in rapidly developing countries where there are no large networks of existing conventional cinemas already. And indeed we are seeing this, particularly in China, where quite a large network of digital cinemas has been built in the last couple of years).

In any event, this makes writing about the summer movie season much easier for me, since I can now see most of the movies at the same times the Americans do. Of the first five big summer releases this year, four of them have or will be released in the UK within two days of the release in the US. …

I like living in this kind of world, and resented the previous one, where Hollywood stars would turn up on our chat shows and have to wrench their tired minds back to their previous movie but three. And I bet the stars prefer the new world order too. This way, they only have to do their marathons of chit-chatting for the media just the once for each movie.

More importantly, I like the idea of a world in which I have that bit more in common than I used to have with a random guy I meet who lives in China or Turkistan. We already have some things in common of course, most notably major historical events, like 9/11, or, from an earlier time, the assassination of President Kennedy. We have the big sporting events, of course, like the Olympics and the soccer World Cup. The Millenium happened at more or less the same time everywhere, which was also fun. But "history", and also sport, tends to get editorialised locally. I like the idea of an entire movie, with its particular point of view, being shown everywhere, un-"explained" by local middle men.

Of course, so far, these Global Movies have all been made in America. But interestingly (and I can't recall where I've been reading this because I've been reading it in all kinds of places – maybe Michael Jennings has talked about it too) these Global Movies are almost as much of an attack on indigenous US culture as they are on everyone else's culture. All slam bang action, and "universal" themes, with no excessively local references to confuse the Turkistanians.

Nevertheless, for all its dangers of lowest-common-denominator vapidity, I like the idea of a global fuss being made about a movie, even a bad movie, at the same time everywhere. That way I can have a nice little chat with a Turkistanian tourist in London about why, no, I won't be bothering with the latest Tom Cruise either.

Of course "Globalisation" has been gradual, and has been going on for a long, long time, at least since the electric telegraph was first got going in 1842, and this is just another little step in that long, slow, faltering trend, with its numerous local and localist interruptions and counter-reactions (stimulated into existence by the very fact of Globalisation). Nevertheless, as the Jazz Man on the Fast Show says: nice. (What's the Fast Show? Never mind, it's a local thing we have here.)

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:33 PM
May 26, 2004
Getting what I paid for … including Lawrence of Arabia

Yes, over the last few nights I've watched my way through Lawrence of Arabia on DVD.

This was one of three DVDs I hired from Blockbuster - £5 for three, for a week. On the whole, this arrangement is not quite the bargain it may seem. The idea is that, as ancient DVDs accumulate on their shelves, and as most of the people who really, really want to see them have seen them, they hire out their back catalogue for longer, and for less. The competition from the Mom and Pop Everything Including Videos And DVDs shops has also stirred Blockhuster into action.

Trouble is, for the time being anyway, they've overdone the price cut.

Basically, this is such a "good deal" that there aren't any rentable copies of the majority of the DVDs the pretty covers of which are on display. This means that it takes a long time to find three that appeal. And when you do, what with there only being one copy of each movie they are liable to be in a seriously scratched state, such that they not infrequently won't play properly all the way through, which is extremely irritating. My advice to Blockbuster would be: get this system working properly by having a decent number of copies of each title, and in decent condition, and don't waste your money on national TV advertising until the product is worth bragging about. Hard selling a duff product is a textbook way to build bad word of mouth. The idea is excellent. The execution, at any rate its manifestation in my branch (the Warwick Way branch) of Blockbuster, is not good.

This deal has, though, caused me to rent weird little foreign movies (to make up the three) which I wouldn't otherwise have given a second thought to, which hasn't been all bad news. There are usually a few of those available.

And it also caused me to take another look at Lawrence. What a movie! I had no idea. I thought I had seen it, but I never take in what is happening in a movie the first two goes. Plus I was obviously far too young to grasp even approximately what was happening the first time around. It is humiliating how much I learned about Lawrence – who he was, what he was, what he did, when he did it, where he did it, etc. etc.

I realise that liberties were taken with the mere facts. Real Lawrence was a midget, O'Toole Lawrence was a giant. The American journalist was called something quite different. Only the facts were changed. But the rough outlines of the story are presumably approximately as told in the movie, and I didn't really know these at all, I now realise. I spent quite a bit of time poring over an Atlas, and was very grateful for the extra information on DVD number 2 which explained the routes of Lawrence's various journeyings.

LawrenceofArabia.jpg

One particular thing I didn't know about this movie until now was that Robert Bolt (he of A Man For All Seasons) did the script for it. It showed. That man had a real knack of summarising great gobs of history in one line of dialogue. I think Bolt's contribution helps to account for what was, for me, the most interesting aspect of all of this movie, which was the way it so continuously held my interest. More and more these days, I find my mind wandering during movies. Lawrence held my interest throughout, and I clockwatched during it only to register how long it had been going on without me clockwatching, if you get my meaning. I always knew that it looked great, with all those mountains and mirages and Arabs cavalry charging with big flags. What I hadn't realised was how engagingly the actual story was told. All the feuding between different brands of Arabs had been pretty much lost on me the first time round, as had the scenes in Damascus towards the end, when Lawrence's Arabs storm into Damascus but then get bored with politics, city life, etc. and bugger off back to the desert.

But the pictures obviously helped, a lot, in fact I've since read that David Lean had to be sure that the pictures would work before he started seriously to make the movie. Freddie Young, I think they said, was the Director of Photography, and he was a Big Cheese, yes? I remembered some of the great visual effects (blowing out the match and cutting to the desert, Omar Sharif riding out of the mirage) probably because these get rehashed endlessly on the television whenever Lawrence is talked about. But there were many more visual glories that I had quite forgotten about. That every frame was concocted with the care of an oil painter is obviously a huge part of why I constantly wanted to see what happened next.

All that, plus another couple of really pretty good movies, called Slap Her She's French and Dirty Pretty Things which, the latter especially, were also above average in my opinion, for a fiver. And not a scratch on any of them, enough to matter. This time, I got my Blockbuster special offer money's worth. And they don't have to be back until tomorrow.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:15 PM
May 23, 2004
Ah … Police Academy …

I'm watching Police Academy on the TV. This is one of the all time great movies, destined to grow and grow in esteem as the decades role by. It abounds with superb comic creations, none finer than Commandant Lassard, the magnificently un-policemanlike figurehead of the Academy, played by the sublime George Gaynes. "I'm trapped here?" – "Well yes, we all are."

And who could forget the black man (Michael Winslow) who imitates police cars and games machines and electric razors and horse noises? Then there is the amazing Tackleberry (David Graf) who draws his gun when confronted with a cat stuck up a tree, and who is distraught when "there was gunplay, and he missed it". Or how about the guy who whimpers wordlessly when his car is wrecked.? I never get tired of that bit. And as for the blond instructress, Sergeant Callaghan, played by the glorious Leslie Easterbrook. "Come at me with an imaginary knife." "Do I have to?" "Yes you do." Whatever happened to her? Still working away, it would appear.

The Crumpet Interest in Police Academy is played by none other than Kim Cattrall, she of Sex and the City fame.

Police Academy is the pinnacle of Steve Guttenberg's career. (If there are other pinnacles in this career, I am not aware of them.) His contribution to this movie is easy to underrate. He adds a welcome touch of charm in general and Gay Innuendo in particular (as when he inserts himself into the end of the Blow Job scene), without overdoing it.

The movie reviewing classes don't like this movie, because beneath and beyond all the mayhem and comic foolery and Chaucerian bawdy and the extraction of piss out of excessively militaristic young men with hair that is too short, it ends up endorsing the Rightness of Law and Order. Scum are Scum, and Good Upstanding Policemen are needed to control them. The movie ends with a grand parade, in which the entire caste graduates triumphantly.

The subsequent manifestations of Police Academy (Police Academies 2 to 6) tend to rehash the best jokes in the original one, and are not quite as great, although still good fun I think. But these have somewhat delayed the inevitable critical consensus to the effect that the original Police Academy is right up there with Citizen Kane, Some Like It Hot, Lawrence of Arabia, The Battle of Algiers, The Godfather and Carry On Up The Khyber.

And now, the Blow Job Scene …

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:59 PM
May 18, 2004
The Eternal Whatsit of the Whosadaisy

Last night I went to see The Eternal … … the one with Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet How amusing to give a movie about memory loss a title that is impossible to remember.

Anyway, as I say, for all those of you with short term memory loss, it's about memory loss, and there is lots of pot and whiskey swirling and swilling about in it, and I haven't done any of the first or nearly enough of the second to really empathise with the main characters. The way I see it, this is one of those movies that romanticises and makes "real" the mental malfunctions of a particular bit of the lowlife subculture, in this case the one where people with enough brains and education to know far better nevertheless inflict brain damage upon themselves with drugs and booze. The romantic pretence embodied in this movie is that instead of just forgetting stuff, the characters decide to forget particular stuff, and there are Mad Scientists with Computers who do Frankensteiny things in reverse to their brains to make them forget stuff. Now I'm no computer expert, but it is my clear understanding that they have not yet reached this state of advanced mental destructiveness, where you can put a helmet on someone and then just chase their conscious mind around in their brain with scanners and zap whatever they then think about. The techies have a bit of a way to go before they can do that. I further surmise that when they do get to be able to do this, the people doing it will be quite well paid and inhabit buildings where people have security passes and advanced degrees, to say nothing of anti-drugs and anti-booze employment policies. Nerds in bedrooms don't pioneer things like this while remaining in their bedrooms.

So, I didn't believe in the various premises of the movie for one moment. Or perhaps it was that, on account of not liking the movie enough, I spent a lot of time analysing it, instead of just enjoying it.

I normally don't like Jim Carrey. Too manic and selfish and self-referential. For similar reasons, I didn't like Jerry Lewis or Jack Lemmon, although I did love Jack Lemmon's taste in movie scripts and two of my all time favourites have him starring in them – The Appartment and Some Like It Hot. Jerry Lewis, on the other hand, had crap taste in scripts and was himself crap, which made everything very easy.

But I liked Carrey in this. He cooled it down and behaved like a normal person (the way Jerry Lewis eventually did in a few less crap late movies), which under the circumstances was a rather peculiar decision but there you go, that's actors for you. Maybe, like John Hurt in Alien, Carrey reckoned that there was no point in him trying to upstage the real star of the movie, which was the Special Effects department. But I don't like Special Effects as much as I used to. As one of my cinema companions said, there was a nice movie in there in among all the craziness, starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet, having a romance, which she would have liked to see. Me too.

The Two Nerds I just found annoying. The movie itself was apparently created by two real nerds named Kaufman and Gondry. I suspect these two real nerds of having done far too much dope and booze themselves, and that the Two Nerds were a fantasised self portrait, with the socially dyslexic and mentally damaged selves of the two real nerds kitted up to look like movie stars, in this case a fattened up Mark Ruffalo and the little one in Lord of the Rings. Both were ludicrously miscast in my opinion, especially the little one.

The boss of the Two Nerds, played by Tom Wilkinson, was likewise unbelievable. He seemed entirely sane, other than the small matter of what he did for a living and who he did it with, when the part surely called for a Mad Professor type.

And there was the basic problem with this movie, for me. A completely unbelievable scenario was created, and then you were asked to Take It Seriously, the way the Tom Wilkinson character did. I just couldn't do this.

Some of the memory loss effects were quite good. Things disappearing in front of your eyes, etc. But on the whole, I was underwhelmed. In a world of drug addled movie makers and drug addled movie goers, I felt left out. I didn't hate it, definitely not. A lot of it was quite fun. Kate Winslet is nice, after all. So, I might give it another look when it comes around on telly.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:19 AM
May 01, 2004
Walton finally wins the Battle of Britain

In the latest Gramophone (paper only) comes news that:

A new DVD release of The Battle of Britain will reunite the film with the original soundtrack by Sir William Walton.

Walton was initially commissioned to compose the score for Guy Hamilton's 1969 film depicting the decisive serial conflict that took place in the skies over southern England in 1940. Although recorded, it was replaced by a score commissioned from Ron Goodwin, with only Walton's Battle in the Air sequence remaining. One explanation for the decision is that Walton's score was not long enough to fill an accompanying soundtrack LP.

In 1900 Timothy Gee, who as the film's assistant music editor worked closely with Walton, tracked down the original recording to the garage of Eric Tomlinson, the recording engineer. He then persuaded MGM, who are releasing the DVD, to restore Walton's music to the film.

He recalls that many people working on the film opposed the decision to scrap Walton's score. 'I think it is now more in tune with Guy Hamilton's concept of the picture,' he said.

I thought I did some blogging about this, but haven't been able to disinter any. But I do vividly recall instantly noticing the Walton music when it cut into the original version of this movie, and being very impressed. Although, I think Goodwin's music is also very good, especially the triumphant German march at the beginning. (I did find a posting about Goodwin's music for Where Eagles Dare.) Would that this were a straightforward replacement of rubbish by gold. Alas, not. Still, I'm looking forward to this DVD. (here and here are links to more on this topic.)

As for the film itself, it's another of these real events with made-up people jobs, which I really really wish they wouldn't do. (Think Charlton Heston in Midway. Urrgh!) I mean, if you can have the likes of Dowding, Park and Leigh Mallory for real, why not the real pilots, and maybe a real wife or girlfriend or two? I suppose there are all kinds of legal and confidentiality reasons, but all the same, when I see a historical movie, I want it to be as accurate as possible. I don't want to be learning things that ain't so. A lot to ask from the movies, I know. At least with these TV drama-stroke-documentaries which lots complain about but not me, they try to get things accurate, and when they can't because it isn't known, they say so.

Despite all that, I do love The Battle of Britain, made-up pilots, no William Walton, and all. It even has Laurence Olivier in it, and I still like it. That's rare for me.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:30 PM
April 23, 2004
Quota quote

Busy day, so only time for a quota posting. This time not a photo, but a snatch of dialogue from Office Space, remembered well enough to get the essentials of the joke, but probably not.

Google: "Office Space" and "He's really good", and I have the exact quote for you! All hail the Internet!

PETER: Maybe I should go see that doctor. He did help Nancy lose weight.

MICHAEL: Nancy's anorexic.

PETER: I know. He's really good.

Ha!

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:15 PM
April 20, 2004
Thoughts on The Godfather

Speaking, as I was in the previous posting, of DVDs, I'm two thirds of the way through the Godfather triology (no links – you know the one I mean), on DVD.

The second one had a really strong "deleted scenes from the real movie" feeling about it. I don't share the widespread opinion that Godfather 2 is the greatest movie in general and sequel in particular ever made. I thought half of it was those deleted scenes, and the other half was a rather slight anti-capitalist Americans Being Evil in Central America movie, that every star seemed to want to do one of in those days, usually starring a journalist or a photojournalist. The Godfather is, in short, one movie, not three. There is The Movie. There are the extra bits. There is the Al Pacino versus the Jewish Guy bit, which is as small and mundane and stitched on as the Real Movie is big and remarkable and of itself. And there is 3, which everyone says is nonsense, and which I'll let you know about when I've sat through it.

What is remarkable about Godfather, I think, is that it is a European Art Movie and an American Gangster Movie, all in one. There is no dramatic tension. You know from the very start what is going to happen, even if you've never been told (which is most unlikely). What there is is superb cinematography and production design. It's just one amazing oil painting after another. And the cars …

I mean it about the dramatic tension, and the oil paintings. The remarkable thing about this movie is that time and again, you are not shown how whatever just happened was actually arranged. The horse's head just shows up in the guy's bed. Rival mafiosi just get shot. Only the bit where Michael gets the gun from the toilet is gone into in any detail, and even then, we learn nothing of how exactly the gun got there in the first place.

In the normal mafia movie, the James Caan character would be the central figure. But the whole point of Godfather is that the James Caan figure is not the central figure. Too impulsive. Too eager to do something. Not willing enough simply to let nature take its course. So the James Caan guy does not get the top job when Marlon Brando retires. The passive Al Pacino character, the one who just sits in the corner quietly, and later at his desk quietly, and allows most things to just happen, gets the job. And the active, impulsive, James Caan guy gets killed, because of his desire to act. He gets lured into the open and gunned down. The one action that Michael takes being the decision to kill the cop. "Where does it say you can't kill a cop?" Like the perfect poker player, Micheal Corleone sits and waits, and then plays his ace, himself.

The eldest brother, on the other hand, is so inactive that he never does anything. He lets things happen to him and nothing else. Which eventually does for him as well.

Great movie.

Some time ago, I seem to recall them showing on British TV a re-edit of the first two parts of Godfather with everything in chronological order, with those deleted scenes reinserted in their correct place in other words. That I would like to have. Failing that, a bit of paper with all the scenes itemised, starting with a de-Hyman-Rothised G2, then the Real Movie, but with Michael's first marriage from G2 interpolated, then (if you want it) Hyman Roth. Next time, that may be how I do it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:27 PM
More on the impact of DVD

There's an interesting article by Sharon Waxman in the New York Times about the importance of the DVD market to Hollywood, which includes speculations that DVDs may be changing the content of movies.

LOS ANGELES, April 19 — The other day the chairman of 20th Century Fox, Jim Gianopulos, said he got a call from a lawyer friend. The friend said it was an anniversary of the firm and asked where he could get 100 DVD copies of the cult Fox movie "Office Space". The film made only $10 million at the box office but has become a hit on DVD. No one at Fox pretends to know why, but the film's success is another big drop in the river of DVD cash now flowing into Hollywood's coffers.

I'll tell you why. They thought it was crap. But the word of mouth disagreed.

No one in charge at Fox would have spotted Office Space. They are bosses. They were the ones being sent up. They should have asked their nephews and nieces in their twenties with crap jobs like the jobs of the people who work for them. (No use asking the people who work for them, because a truthful conversation in such circumstances would have been impossible. "Uuuuuuurrrrrrrrgggggghhhhh I'm gonna need you to come in Sunday to tell us what you think of this uuuurrrrrggghhhh movie … so if you could be here at 7am that would be uuuurrrrrgggghhhhhh great", or whatever is the equivalent in Hollywoodese.)

Not since the advent of the videocassette in the mid-1980's has the movie industry enjoyed such a windfall from a new product. And just as video caused a seismic shift two decades ago, the success of the DVD is altering priorities and the balance of power in the making of popular culture. And industry players, starting with the Writers Guild, are lining up to claim their share.

There's good cause. Between January and mid-March this year, Americans spent $1.78 billion at the box office. But in the same period they spent $4.8 billion – more than $3 billion more – to buy and rent DVD's and videocassettes.

Little wonder then that studio executives now calibrate the release dates of DVD's with the same care used for opening weekends, as seen by Miramax's strategic release of "Kill Bill: Vol. 1" a few days before the theatrical release of "Kill Bill: Vol. 2." (The DVD made $40 million its first day out.)

Studios now spend comparable amounts of money on DVD and theatrical marketing campaigns. Disney spent an estimated $50 million marketing the "Finding Nemo" DVD last year, said officials at Pixar, which made the film. It was money well spent. The DVD took in $431 million domestically, about $100 million more than the domestic box office. DVD has resuscitated canceled or nearly canceled television series like "The Family Guy" and "24," and has helped small art movies like "Donnie Darko" win rerelease in theaters. It is also beginning to affect the kinds of movies being made, as DVD revenues figure heavily in green-light decisions and are used as a perk to woo craft-conscious movie directors.

I think DVD is one of the reasons I'm starting to feel this way about movies.

The piece ends thus:

What no one knows is how long the windfall will last, whether DVD is a consumer bubble that will burst once the studios finish releasing the films and TV shows in their libraries, or whether it will remain a strong current in the entertainment industry profit stream.

"Right now the studios are making money hand over fist," said Mr. Lesher. "But in five years when you can download a movie as fast as a song, that will go away."

Mr. Gianopulos disagreed. DVD's will last "because of the uniqueness of that experience," he said. "It's no longer 'I saw that movie.' It's 'I saw that movie, now I'm going to see multiple dimensions of that movie.' That's why you want to own it."

I'm with Mr Gianopulos, provided they make them cheap enough. (I bought Office Space for £5.99.) For a fiver a go, I'll keep on buying these things. For more than a tenner, forget it, except if they are Whit Stillman movies.

For more erudite commentary on the above, await the comment(s) here of Michael Jennings, or read these Samizdata pieces.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:40 PM
April 18, 2004
Nice poster shame about the movie

I won't be seeing the movie because it's not (any longer) my kind of thing, but I do (still) love these huge movie posters. How much would they be paying per week for a spread like this?

vanhelsing.jpg

This one was photoed last week, right under where the Eurostars come and go in and out of Waterloo.

Looks like tosh to me. But I'm glad to see Kate Beckinsale keeping busy. That must be her in the poster.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:23 PM
April 15, 2004
9/11 the movie?

Yes, I did a Samizdata posting today called Could someone do with 9/11 what Mel Gibson did with the crucifixion?

My answer is: probably not. Reason: we've already seen it.

Commenter number one agreed, and rammed it home by supplying the link to this.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:29 PM
April 07, 2004
Quentin Crisp – quoted at Alice's and the rescuer of John Hurt

I'm guessing that not all of my regular readers are regular readers of Alice Bachini. (And vice versa of course.) If so, had I not linked to them, they might have missed these Quentin Crisp quotes, of which this one is my favourite:

I simply haven't the nerve to imagine a being, a force, a cause which keeps the planets revolving in their orbits and then suddenly stops in order to give me a bicycle with three speeds.

And my personal favourite Crisp quote of all, if I remember it right, goes something like this. He was accosted in a bus or some such public place by a group of belligerent young men, or it may have been a belligerent middle aged lady, who asked, belligerently, "Who are you???" His reply, clearly much used and like his appearance something he prepared earlier:

Who indeed?

A few more Crisp quotes here.

You get the feeling that, provided he was all kitted up, Crisp liked being photographed. In fact I believe he regarded being photographed as a kind of public service. (Crisp was also a quite good graphic artist, which I didn't know until now.)

Which reminds me that, in Britain (and elsewhere?), many of us fondly remember the TV play called The Naked Civil Servant, not least because it kick-re-started the acting career of John Hurt. This was shown in the days when starring as a very obviously homosexual homosexual would be "career suicide" for a leading man of the Hurt sort. Said Hurt at the time: "What career?" He has been interestingly busy ever since (most recently as the star of the TV Alan Clarke Diaries.)

Not long after doing Crisp, Hurt got the on-the-face-of-it completely non-Crispian part of the bloke from whose stomach the Alien first emerged. I wonder, did he get that part because he had played Crisp? Did the John Hurt persona, from The Naked Civil Servant onwards, suggest a normal looking guy who harboured a monster within?

Now they're all at it. The last time I observed Michael Douglas at work, he was doing a turn on Will and Grace as a gay police detective. The publicity profile of a leading man cannot now be said to be complete until some suggestions of gayness have been sprinkled into the mix.

This obviously means that Western Civilisation now teaters on the brink of collapse. But doesn't it always? Isn't that part of its charm?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:01 AM
March 30, 2004
I'm starting to like art movies

Yes, I'm starting to like the kind of movies that critics like. The other day I watched a movie starring Juliette Binoche, and was not disgusted.

Partly it was that the Juliette Binoche character was busy actually doing something worthy and virtuous, in this case being a good wife (as it used to be called) to the man she loved. But the best thing about watching the movie was that I had no idea what exactly was going to happen next, and this I found enjoyable. It used to be that what mattered to me was agreeing with what was happening. Whether what was happening was predictable was less important, so long as I approved of the message. But now, I find, predictable virtue, however virtuous, is predictable.

Or take another art type movie, which I'm now in the middle of, on account of the copy of it that I hired from Blockbuster disintegrated into digitally random rectangles and eventually ground to a complete halt. (Someone had been performing experiments on it to see how much sandpapering a DVD can take, before it grinds to a halt.) This is Eyes Wide Shut, with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The Cruise character is boring, and the Kidman character's only virtue is the flawlessly excellent appearance of her naked body, the nakeder the better. Everything else about her is appalling. But, what are they going to do next? And who with? And what will these people say to them? The last thing that happened was a bereaved woman saying that she didn't want to marry her fiancé Carl and go and live in a different part of the USA, because she was in love with Doctor Tom Cruise. Silly woman. But, my God, I didn't see that coming. And I have no idea what the rest of it will consist of. It's like "Reality TV" only much, much more interesting.

Talking of Reality TV, the thing that used to annoy me about art movies was that the events described in them tend to be utterly irrational and senseless and pointless, in a word, European. But the great virtue of irrational and senseless and European is that you can't crack the code and see what's coming next. American movies are purposive, on the side of virtue, against vice, inspiring, and they tend embody the proposition that virtue can and should triumph over vice, which they do by duly displaying said triumph. And the problem is you can see it coming a mile away. (The scary movies follow different rules, but they are still rules, as the Scary Movie movies have gone to great lengths to explain. Scary movies scare me, and I never watch them, apart from An American Werewolf in London because it has Jenny Agutter in it.)

And I think another reason why I am starting to prefer art movies is that, like the movie critics, I have seen enough American type movies thank you and don't want to see any more per month than I now do. Time was when I saw about one per month, and that was fine. But with the coming of Blockbuster DVDs I am liable to see more like one a week, or one every few days, and one American type movie every few days is too much. In short, my intake of movies is starting to be like that of the movie critics. They, poor things, have always had to watch about six American type movies every day, and they got fed up with this years ago and have for decades been yelling: please, no, stop with the virtuously happy endings and give us insane movies about mad women played by Jennifer Jason Leigh having sex in smashed up cars in car crashes. That's obviously an extreme manifestation of the syndrome, but I'm beginning to feel the same early symptoms, which involve not despising Juliette Binoche as much as I used to, and reading the opinions of critics quoted on movie posters as an actual guide to my future DVD hiring decisions.

Blockbuster have very sportingly provided me with another copy of Eyes Wide Shut, and another week to watch it. This second one looks as if experiments have been conducted with jam rather than sandpaper, but so did the Juliette Binoche one, and that played fine. Come to think of it, there is an extra dimension of edge-of-seat-excitement with all this in the sense that not only do you not, with Blockbuster DVDs, know how it will end, but whether it will end at all. Although, I suppose that some would regard that as a drawback.

There may be all kinds of reasons why I find I like these foreign movies, but the thing that triggered all this was simple economics. Blockbuster have a deal where you can rent three DVDs for an entire week, for only a fiver. Good deal! But the bad news is there are very few decent American movies, by the time all those other damn people have rented them out. Which left only the foreign language crap, i.e. stuff with subtitles, and other stuff which might as well have subtitles for all the sense it makes. So, I decided to give the foreign crap and pseudo-foreign crap a try. And, it's not completely crap.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:18 PM
March 25, 2004
Go Kris Marshall!

This chap is going to go far. He is pictured here with Zoe Wanamaker, in one of those sitcoms that the critics disapprove of very strongly because it is so nice, but which the public (which includes me) thought was great fun, what with it being so nice, and also funny, called My Family.

myfamily.jpg

The chap in question is called Kris Marshall, and Nick, his creation in My Family (Zoe Wanamaker plays his mum), was a work of genius, right up there in the comic universe with Vicky (yer bert no bert yer bert no bert) Pollard.

Kris Marshall is now starring in an ITV series called Murder City, which is set in London and which I dip into now and again for the pictures of the snazzy new buildings, bridges, etc.

Murder City is tripe so complete that I have no words to describe how complete this completeness, from the tripe point of view, is, other than to say that it is completely complete. And the character played by Kris Marshall is the most ludicrous creation I have paid any attention to on TV for a very long time. The plots are beyond preposterous. The scripts are beyond parody.

Yet, Kris Marshall will emerge from this grotesque morass with his reputation unblemished, if only because he has proved himself willing to do absolutely any old complete tripe that anyone puts in front of him, and to do it in a manner so far over the top that he can look down on the battle and see the airplanes fighting each other, never mind the soldiers on the ground.

His performance in Murder City reminds me, in this respect, of the character played (Oscar winningly) by Richard Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl, who is an actor, and who is made to play a gay Richard III, and who then gets given a film part by Nicol Williamson on the grounds that if he is willing to do that he is obviously willing to do anything.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:16 PM
March 16, 2004
Crime and Punishment - and cheating

Yesterday evening I gave a speech about culture, etc., which seemed to go well enough. However, during it, I overheard myself say something which I had never heard myself say before.

This was in answer to a question about which was my favourite movie, and which was my favourite novel. I started by saying that, thank goodness, we don't have to decide.

But one should not entirely dodge such questions, and I found myself replying that two of my favourite films were: Some Like It Hot, which appears on lots of people's lists of best movies ever: and: a far less well known darkly comic thriller called Into The Night. If you follow that link you will find that perhaps this is one of those cult favourites that lots of people like, on the quiet. I'd forgotten that the cast is so full of movie directors, which is a sure sign of cultness.

Metropolitan never got a mention.

But next came the bit that I really wasn't expecting. I said that as I get older I realise that there are great things (I think I mentioned the "towers of Chicago"), and great works of art, that I will never experience, great novels I will never read. And I then said that of the novels that I have not yet read, the one I am most determined that I shall read, before I die, is Crime and Punishment, by Dostoyevsky.

And that's true. For some reason I have got it into my head that this is one of those artistic pinnacles that I simply must find or make the time to scale. Someone or something seems to have convinced me that this is one of those great works of art that I simply must not go to my grave in serious ignorance of.

Where did I get this notion from? I really don't know. Just a lot of people telling me that it is supremely great, together with the fact that it is not that enormous, by the standards of Great Literature.

My procedure when wishing to acquaint myself with great works of literature is not to just read them, but rather to grab hold of as many movie of TV adaptations of the work in question, and get a rough idea of the story, and of the main characters, into my head. Then, I dip in among the book itself, as if doing a jigsaw puzzle, assembling a bit of the picture here, and a bit of it there, and gradually joining up the bits until I have the whole thing read. After which, if I really like it, I continue to dip.

This is because I find literature really, really difficult to read, in the manner enjoyed by its first readers. Without visual aids like these, I just haven't the patience, the attention span, or the sheer concentrated application to get through these things. Even the longest and most intractable piece of classical music (a Wagner opera for example) only lasts a few hours. A great book can occupy me for weeks.

I suppose the truth is that I don't like literature very much. I admire it. I realise that it matters, and I want to at least experience the occasional literary masterpiece, just to know how that feels. But the process of ploughing through hundreds of pages of prose while trying nevertheless to keep in mind exactly who all these people are and what they have all been doing is beyond me.

Perhaps I am actually a very slow reader. Maybe that is my problem. I don't know. But one way or another, my choices are, either find out about these great books with the help of the twentieth century movie and TV industries, or: remain for ever in ignorance of them.

Commenters are of course free to inform me that I am mistaken about the nature of my own pleasures and capacities, and that I would greatly enjoy reading right through this or that great novel (without any help from Hollywood or the BBC), based on the notion that because the commenter enjoyed reading this great novel, so would I,if only I were to do it. But the comments I now actively seek are suggestions for who has done a really good (movie or TV - available on DVD) adaptation of the one and only Crime and Punishment.

I've just done some googling in connection with C&P, for the first time, and I rather think that this might help.

Maybe it is cheating, but in this particular matter I either cheat, or flunk entirely.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:59 PM
March 15, 2004
Afterlife as the brain's last throw

Yesterday on Channel 5 TV they showed one of my favourite stupid – I'm not proud of it but I love it – movies: Splash (scroll down the list on the left), starring Tom Hanks and Darryl Hannah, and I've just noticed something in this movie which I had never properly noticed before.

Just before Darryl Hannah as the mermaid makes her first appearance, the Tom Hanks character has, basically, been drowned. He has been taken out into the sea in a stupid little boat, then abandoned. Then he falls out of the boat, and the boat turns round and smacks him on the head and he sinks downwards into the depths of the sea. So everything from then could just be a pre-death dream.

I'd forgotten that scene. As I recalled it, the first time we see the mermaid, as a grown-up I mean, is when she shows up next to the Statue of Liberty.

Come to that, the Tom Hanks character's whole life after first meeting the mermaid when he's a little kid could all be a pre-death dream, before he drowns as a little kid. Everything Tom Hanks does in that movie could be a hallucination.

splash1.jpg

As a devout atheist I cannot take seriously the notion of an afterlife. It seems to me pure wish fulfilment. You only have to look at a dead body. But I do suspect that this delusion has a basis in reality. It makes sense to me that, when facing death, the brain would expend what last remaining energy it has doing what it does best when not being helped by the body, namely hallucinating. And it also makes sense to me that the physical events associated with these final experiences might last only a few real world seconds, so to speak. After all, we can have dreams which in real world time last only a few moments which pack a mass of experience into them.

Another movie which quite explicitly makes use of this idea is The Last Temptation of Christ, in which a whole alternative life for an uncrucified Christ is imagined by the very Christ who is actually being crucified.

I'm sure there are many other movies embodying similar notions, but cannot now think of any, and in any case have no time now to ruminate upon them.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:22 AM
March 14, 2004
Colin McFarlane

My friend Kevin McFarlane, who wrote the Libertarian Alliance publication with one of my most favourite LA titles ever (Real Socialism Wouldn't Work Either), emails as follows:

ColinMcF.jpg

My brother has just got a part in the next Batman movie, due for release next year. It will involve at least a week's filming in Chicago. You can also see him next week on the BBC, in If... Things Don't Get Better.

Colin McFarlane is now a regular face on British TV. I found the picture of him here, where there is more information about his career, at any rate during the nineties.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:01 PM
March 12, 2004
Friedrich Blowhard on art as the violation of reality

I'm afraid I can't read everything the 2 Blowhards produce. But this definitely struck a chord, on the subject of fantasy in art. Friedrich Blowhard had just been with his pre-teen daughter to see a film aimed at the pre-teen market, because the events in it were (presumably) the stuff of pre-teen fantasy. Friedrich was knee-jerk scornful, but then thought about it a bit more:

But as I was leaving the theater, and starting to smugly dismiss this as merely a piece of commercial wish-fulfillment, I suddenly had a disabling thought: is it really fair to dismiss any movie - or any work of art - for being nothing but an unrealistic fantasy? What is it supposed to be - a realistic fantasy? To the extent that one’s emotions are involved, don’t elements of fantasy, of projection and of sympathy invade the act of watching even a surveillance camera tape?

Granted, I suppose it is possible to dismiss a film or a work of art for the sin of being somebody else’s fantasy - presumably, somebody who is a lot less cool, mature and worldly than you - but this judgment seems to me to include a great dollop of hypocrisy, not to speak of arrogance. I suppose it would be possible to dismiss a work of art as an incompetent presentation of somebody else’s fantasy, but if it’s not your fantasy, how would you know how well it was executed? So I guess that leaves us with one final case--the offending work of art is an incompetent presentation of your fantasy - which is, oddly, never the way people present such a critique. No, such critiques - usually delivered by people with very strong superegos - tend to focus on the insufficiently reality of the artwork.

I’ve never known what to make of this criticism, exactly. I mean, if reality is what one is after, why consume art at all? It seems to me that deliberately suspending reality, oiling away its frustrating, friction-filled bits, is one of the great pleasures of art, perhaps its central pleasure. (I will grant that it is often gratifying, somehow, if this contravention of reality is kept highly specific and concrete, while permitting the normal laws of reality to run undisturbed through the rest of the work. But focusing too closely on this secondary pleasure - what one might call the journalistic aspect of a work of art - is to overlook the real joy that the crucial, central violation of reality gives us.)

I would have lost the brackets from that last bit. Otherwise, hear hear.

And I also liked this comment on the above from David Mercer:

You just nailed on the head why I can't stand 'literary fiction': what's the point, there is no suspension of disbelief, it's all re-hashing the real world.

There are other reasons why I don't like modern literary fiction, but that is definitely part of it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:50 AM
March 04, 2004
A movie review and a weird building on Samizdata

I've recently done a couple of cultural type postings at Samizdata.net/blog, in the form of a longish review (including an attack on a stupid Guardian review), of The Barbarian Invasions

barbars.jpg

… and of a shorter bit about this building:

spaceslug2.jpg    sluginside.jpg

Those pictures of it were got from here, and thank you to the Black Triangle man for commenting ("It grows on you") at Samizdata and including the link to these. On the basis of these photos, I said that I didn't like the look of it. But these Black Triangle pictures make it look more appealing.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:34 PM
March 03, 2004
Jennings defends the New Zealanders

Yes. Michael Jennings comments on this post, thus:

I actually didn't mind all the dreary New Zealanders making speeches. The main reason I felt this is because their story is as good as it is. The story of how Jackson started filming members of his family running around waving axes at one another and ended up making movies for hundreds of millions of dollars that grossed billions of dollars and won eleven Academy Awards on the same evening is an immensely inspiring one and is a great story for him. But it is a great story for most of the other people as well. 21 people won Oscars for The Return of the King last night, and almost all of these have been working with Jackson for a long time as he has slowly been putting his film-making crew together. A number of them have been with him since Bad Taste, and a large portion since Heavenly Creatures. And oh boy, have they come a long way. And boy, do they all deserve their awards.

I wasn't doubting their expertise, or diligence, or general stick-at-it-ness. Well, only a very little. And I quite see that technicians can't be expected to make great Oscar speeches when the actors were all making such repulsively bad ones. So, fair enough.

I think the actors put me in a bad mood.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:49 AM
March 01, 2004
Oscar night

I was up all last night (i.e. this morning) watching the Oscars, which is odd because I cannot stand listening to the average Oscar acceptance speech, and have to switch over to another channel until whichever ghastly gushing American who is being given it has been lead away in tears. So why do I switch back, and carry on watching? I guess I just love a contest in which other people's dreams are crashing down in ruins, but not mine. (I often watch the Eurovision Song Contest voting, but would never dream of subjecting myself to the songs.)

I am a total patriot about Oscars. They should all of them be won by British people, every year, simply because we British are the only ones who know how to accept these things without making everyone's toes curl with embarrassment. By that standard, last night was a very bad night indeed. The Scottish Annie Lennox got one for a song she'd written, and although she sang it splendidly, her acceptance speech was sickeningly American.

scoppola.jpgEven the man – and I'm using the expression very loosely – who won the Best Actor prize spoke as if about to burst into tears at any moment, and I had to switch to NHL ice hockey or motorbiking or whatever it was (neither of which I normally pay any attention to) for the next three minutes. And as for Renée Zellweger and Charlize Theron, well, I can see why Oscar audiences contain so many people sympathetic to gun control, or there would surely be many Oscar Night murders during accceptance speeches. All Americans seem to behave like this, except the splendid Sofia Coppola (Best Original Screenplay - the one in the picture), who behaved with definitely detectable dignity. And thank god for Billy Crystal, who also knows how to keep some kind of control over his emotions.

I wonder, is everyone in the world a total patriot about Oscars? And are they total patriots for the exact same reason as I am, which is that their fellow countrymen are the only people who know how to accept Oscars in the proper manner, and all those bloody foreigners are an embarrassment/turn-off/cringe/absurdity/choose-another-bad-abstract-noun?

Do Americans find British Oscar acceptance speeches as vilely cold and heartless as I find American Oscar acceptance speeches vilely undignified and emotionally incontinent? Do American actors, when accepting Oscars, collapse in a puddle of gratitudinous sobbing on purpose?

With LOR3 (although actually what was being congratulated was the totality of LORs 1-3) doing so well, we also got to see lots of dreary New Zealander technicians making speeches. Their problem was that they sounded so pathetically apologetic. We're not worthy! We're not worthy! That was the vibe they gave off. NZers know how to look worthy winners of the Rugby World Cup (although they have rather lost the trick of actually winning it), so why can't they accept Oscars as if they think they deserved them? (Ghastly thought: maybe when the All Blacks do finally win the Rugby World Cup again, their captain will break down in tears.)

One of the better jokes of the night was when a lady getting Best Foreign Film expressed her gratitude that LOR wasn't eligible in this category. You had the feeling that a lot of not necessarily very brilliant little boats were lifted up by the LOR tide, and that some good ships were sunk by it.

I agreed with Ronnie Ancona, one the BBC commentary team taking up the slack during the US TV commercials, who said that they didn't have enough song and dance razamatazz type numbers, and in particular they should have had more dancing girls. True. However, my favorite (properly prepared I mean) performance was just Jack Black and a Very Tall Bloke singing a song called "You're Boring", the tune of which is apparently played at the end of every acceptance speech, but which, as they proved, also has lyrics. Jack Black has now entirely replaced the late John Candy as Hollywood's official Senior Fat Man.

Michael Jennings has more.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:56 PM
If we had better memories we wouldn't enjoy movies so much

Last night (now being the small hours of the same night) they showed the movie Starship Troopers on Channel 5. This is loosely based on Heinlein's SF novel of the same name.

I really enjoyed myself. Right at the start were the words (I'm approximating) "voting is violence", spoken by a man who clearly knew what he was talking about. (It was the tough bald flying instructor in Top Gun.) How often do you hear that truth nailed down in a movie? And so it went on. The truth about war – its recurring necessity, its recurring ghastliness, its recurring cock-ups, and the fact that it is very concluded by the time Christmas first comes around – was relentlessly presented. By the end of Starship Troopers, our side were only just getting seriously stuck into The Bugs, and The Bugs were most inventively presented and suitably scary. Only the extreme beauty of the lady soldiers was somewhat implausible – although even that might come true in the future, which is where this was set, what with genetic engineering and so forth. And of course I enjoyed that too. There was even Denise Richards, doing what turned into the screen test for her subsequent turn as a Bond Girl, and what's not to enjoy about that?

star002.jpg

But now here's the odd thing. I'd seen this movie before, when it first came out on video, yet almost everything in it this time around came as a surprise. I remembered the very rough outline of the plot. But how it all happened, and who exactly made it all happen, and what they said while making it happen – all this came as a constantly intriguing surprise.

So, in order to really enjoy a favourite movie watch it about once every five years, and between showings try to put it out of your mind. If you have a memory like mine, this won't be all that hard.

Which is why this posting is called what it is called.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:19 AM
February 12, 2004
easyCinema.com

I'm watching a fun little TV documentary about easyCinema.com. Stelios Haji-Iaonnou is trying to do to movie distribution what he has already done to the airline business. He wants to do no frills cinema. He did good business for the first few nights, but then it flagged. Basically, Stelios hasn't had a mega hit since easyJet, despite several tries, in such things as cars and internet shops.

I mostly watch DVDs now, which I rent at a slowly decreasing price from various local shops, including Blockbuster Video. From Monday to Thursday, I can rent three non-current movies for a week, for £5 the lot of them. Not that there's much worth renting, but much the same applies in the cinema from where I sit, and nowadays I never see anything I can't wait a few months for.

But, to speak up for Stelios, in the days when I used to go to the cinema a lot it always used to puzzle me that they didn't go in more for differential pricing. One week you'd be sitting in a near deserted cinema. The next week you'd be queueing all round Leicester Square. Why didn't they knock the price down for the slow sellers, and shift the product? No computers to do the sums? Certainly Stelios would be nowhere without computers, not just for him to do his sums, but for all of us to buy his tickets.

Here's the What's on page and here's the Locations page. So far, it's only Milton Keynes.

I suspect that the real problem for no frills cinema is the rise and rise of home cinema, which has all the frills you can imagine, including such excellent extras as a pause button. I suspect Stelios may have arrived in the movie business a decade too late.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:07 PM
February 06, 2004
Friendly film music

From tonight's Friends:

Chandler to Monica: "What are you singing?"

Monica to Chandler: "It's Bolero from Ten."

Chandler to Monica: "It's the Ride of the Valkyries from Apocalypse Now."

Chandler was right, naturally.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:40 PM
January 29, 2004
How Classical Music lives on in the cinema

Norman Lebrecht is a desperate doom-spreading protagonist for the future of Classical Music, and in this piece from earlier this month he tries to persuade himself that it is doing okay. I, on the other hand, note Classical Music's travails, confident that nothing this huge could possibly disappear without trace or subsequent influence.

And classical music does remain enormous in its cultural presence. Says Lebrecht:

… According to three Classic FM surveys, 15m people in Britain have a liking for orchestral music. About half of them listen to classical radio ...

Lebrecht is desperate to entice some of these millions into concert halls to sit through concert performances. Why? Don't know. He just is. Doesn't want his orchestral pals to have to switch to tele-marketing, presumably. And, live music is good for you, presumably. Drums and guitars bad, like carbohydrates in the Atkins diet.

Me, I'm coming to regard the future of Classical Music not as a desperate struggle, but as an obvious fact. It may not be a fact which keeps five London Symphony orchestras is permanent business, in fact if it did I'd be amazed. And rather disgusted, because that would be bound to involve a hell of a lot of subsidies from unconsulted taxpayers and shareholders. But survive it will, in some form, and since it will survive, it is bound to have creative consequences.

Perhaps the most interesting immediate after-echo of classic Classical Music is to be found in film music. While the official classical composers disappear into their various never never lands of atonalism, and then minimalism, and now … I can't remember, but I had it written down on a scrap of paper and I'll let you know … While the official classicals are off, you know, doing their feeble feeble things, and giving their first and last performances of each other's feeble feeble pieces, the ancient voice of the symphony orchestra continues to blare forth in the background of epics like the Lord of the Rings and Matrix movies. Those moments when classical music is at its most rock and roll, so to speak, such as the Dies Irae in Verdi's Requiem (or for that matter the Dies Irae in Britten's War Requiem), or the rhythmic string patterns of the more aggressive tank warfare music in Shostakovitch's symphonies, have resulted in a whole new epic style of film music making. I hear it every time I browse through the DVDs in EMI Oxford Street. Guitars do not jangle. Drums are often quiet. No, that's an orchestra doing that. Strange creatures with funny ears say portentously platitudinous things, and fifty violinists and violists and cellists are fending off the dole in the background.

I prefer listening to Verdi's actual Requiem, Britten's actual War Requiem, and Shostakovitch's actual symphonies, to listening to all the various film scores that have been influenced by such music, so I'm probably not the best person to be discussing the nuances of the work of John Williams or … all the other guys who write rather like John Williams. I can only offer small snatches of musical recollection from among my years of movie watching.

Consider 2001: A Space Odyssey. You really don't have to be very musically well informed to know that the music Kubrick chose for that was classical. Who could forget the rocket slowly inching its way towards the huge space wheel to the sound of the Blue Danube? But by the time I heard that, I had already been transfixed by the music Kubrick had already used at the beginning, that amazing thing with the drums and organ and brass. Wow, I thought, that was really something. It turned out, of course, to be Also Sprach Zarathustra, by not-Johann Strauss, that is to say by Richard Strauss. The music for 2001, or more precisely the feeling about music that 2001 tapped into, was crucial to the future of Classical Music because what it said was: Classical Music has a future. It will go to the stars in our space ships, alongside drinks machines, video-telephones and the boredom of interplanetary travel. (In the Alien movies, they hibernate. Me, I'd stay awake for longer, and listen to the complete Haydn string quartets or the complete Bach Cantatas.)

Or consider another movie from long ago, called The Lion in Winter, the one in which Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn played Henry II and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine. The music for that was done, I just happen to remember, by John Barry, who cut his cinematic musical fangs on early James Bond movies. Twang twang bang bang doo-wop doo-wop. But faced with the job of evoking the dynastic rivalries of twelfth century Anglo-France, Barry resorted to a more classical idiom. It had the rhythmic insistence of pop, but he got a chorus and an orchestra to actually play it. I am not claiming that this was any sort of musical landmark, with ripples spreading onwards and outwards I'm just saying that this is typical of what happens when cinema composers want to step beyond the pop they got started in, or the contemporary action adventures they then move to when they get too old to do pop. When they want to evoke a bigger, older, more universal, more future-proof world, they reach for the classics.

Although, I just did some Lion in Winter googling, and the film is now held in higher regard by others besides me than I realised. So maybe it was a musical influence, and not just a musical symptom. Not much is said about John Barry's music in the stuff I've seen, but I remember it as having a huge effect on the atmosphere of the film, and accordingly a huge influence on the success of the film as a whole. And if that's so, then the other musicians will definitely have noted this.

And hello (googling "John Barry" as well as just "Lion in Winter" this time), what's this? Apparently John Barry got an Oscar for it. That would definitely have been noticed by the other musicians.

Whatever. What I'm saying is that thanks to Lions in Winter, Star Wars, Matrices and the rest of them, the basic musical grammar of classical music will go on being pounded into new generations. It won't go away. Universality equals Beethoven, is the subtext of all this. And since when did people ever turn their backs on universality.

There's a lot more going on with the non-death of Classical Music than mere film music, but that will do for today.

Expect comment from Michael Jennings, who really does like his film music, but oddly, has no fondness for traditional Classical Music itself.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:10 PM
January 19, 2004
When art forms mature

Alan Little says they don't make movies like they did thirty years ago, and asks: do art forms have a life cycle, and are movies at the end of theirs?

Is it just that any art form quickly mines out the worthwhile ideas that are within its reach and then has nothing left to say or do? There’s certainly a strong case for arguing that with, say, western classical music – a couple of hundred years of sheer exuberant wonder from circa 1700 to 1900, then picking over the remains? Or the "literary" novel. And mass communications may make the process faster – jazz lasted, creatively, from the 1920s to at the latest the 1960s. Maybe cinema just managed a decade or so more than that at both ends and is now a zombie art form too. I hope not.

I found myself itemising all the great symphonies written since 1900, in a comment on this at Samizdata a few weeks back, and I amazed myself. The big surprise for me was discovering how many Mahler symphonies date from after 1900, which I had not appreciated until now. Number 4 onwards, I discovered. Until now, all I'd done was listen to these monsters, not read the sleeve notes. So the "picking over the remains" phase can still be amazingly impressive. Gustav Mahler is a fine example to think about, because many contemporaries thought his stuff derivative and decadent and self-consciously knowing and just generally rubbish, in lots of the ways that art is rubbish when it's done by people who know everything that has been said for the last two hundred years and are scraping the barrel for new things to say. What those contemporaries missed, I'd say, was the depth of feeling under all that kitsch and cleverness and which demanded all the kitsch and cleverness in order to express itself.

Also, despite things now seeming so lively to us until 1900 at least, I bet you there were people just as clever as Alan Little saying in 1850 or thenabouts that whatever they called classical music in those days (music?) was already zombified. Come to think of it, didn't Wagner say pretty much exactly this about "Jewish music" of the Meyerbeer, Mendlessohn variety? Mastery of surface forms and formulae. A big nothing where the real depth ought to be. Wasn't that what he said?

Wagner appallingly overdid his protestations that Jewish artists were/are uniquely incapable of depth, but I do think that he had a point. Could it be that as an art "matures", it gets easier to do basically second-rate, formulaic stuff that nevertheless is sufficiently satisfying and well-produced to keep the manufacturers of it in business. Indeed, maybe that's what "maturing" means. People learn what a core audience will tolerate, and how to fake greatness for them, and they then serve it up year after year. Meanwhile there is at least as much truly great stuff still being done, but it is harder to find and takes longer for posterity to dig out and celebrate.

I don't think that this model explains the decline (and I think it was decline) of "classical music" in the late twentieth century. What happened there was more like a recoiling in disgust from the established forms and a conscious refusal to churn out formula stuff and pay the rent. What wouldn't they now give for a Meyerbeer! I'm not sure if Alan is right about art forms getting mined out, but the late twentieth century classical bosses certainly believed this themselves. Sadly, they were unable to find any other forms that were remotely as popular as their old ones. The Pop industrialists (Jazz, then R&R, now … whatever the young people call it these days) were way ahead of them on that, and they still are. (I think "classical" might catch up, but that's a whole different post.)

Getting back to movies, maybe posterity will decide that Steven Spielberg was a basically formulaic hack, a movie Meyebeer, whose work served to create an impression of general movie zombietude in the minds of people like Alan Little (and me also, I rather think, although I was much impressed by Schindler's List), but that other less mechanically done stuff (Wagner before he got noticed, Schumann) was still being produced, under the radar so to speak. In general, I have the feeling that your average Hollywood movie maker now knows, one way (Quentin Tarantino) or another (Mr Average Movie Exec), too much about too many past movies, and spends too much time either "homage"-ing (Tarantino) or churning the formulae (Mr AME).

There's now an interesting little flurry of appreciation in my corner of the blogosphere being stirred up around Whit Stillman 's movie Metropolitan, a flurry provoked by this piece, and to which I have been contributing. This is obviously a movie which thousands now adore, yet it still can't be bought in London on DVD. (Stephen Pollard said in a Samizdata comment: expect it any month now.) Is this perhaps the kind of movie that posterity will dig out and celebrate more?

This posting started off as just a little something to deal with the fact that I'm busy this evening, and need to get my daily duties here out of the way. So I did my little nod to Alan, and the idea was to leave it at that. Nice one Alan. Then it got out of hand, basically when I found myself disagreeing, and in general, you know, thinking about it. Which is just what Alan himself said later in his posting.

Hmm. This started out as something throwaway to write on the train after a weekend of being ill, and is heading towards altogether more mentally strenuous territory of "is the phase space of possible art forms getting mined out too?", and "what is art for anyway?", which I don't propose to even attempt in the remaining ten minutes of my journey to work.

This second little Little quote above makes we want to ramble on some more here about how I also often sit down, as in this case, to do a short post and end up doing a long and profound one instead, and to ruminate upon the goodness and badness of setting yourself the task of doing something every day, and what sort of writers benefit from such rules, and what sort do not, blah blah. But like him, I will cut it short and leave that stuff for another time.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:00 PM
December 24, 2003
The movies you love to watch are the ones that deal with your central agenda

Interesting thoughts about gangster movies, from Alice Bachini.

It's obvious from everything she writes that Alice is more interested in morals than she is in money (this being her basic complaint about the gangsters), which would explain her relative lack of money and superabundance of morals. She wants more money. Don't we all? But only so that she can stop having to worry about it. Morals she thinks about anyway, whether she has to or not, and if someone gave her a billion pounds, she'd think about morals all the time. She'd only think about money insofar as money can also be a moral issue. Is it fair that I have so much? – What is the morally correct way to spend it? – etc.

I had an interesting discussion the other day with Perry de Havilland, also about movies and preoccupations, which he said he would write about on Samizdata. But he is either busy or not in a Samizdating mood now, so I'll write up the conversation instead.

I asked him what he thought of the latest LOR movie. (I won't be seeing this, but I have no problem listening to people talk about such things.) He said it was very good and admirable, and he really liked it and everything, but that it didn't stir his soul.

His actual expression may have been the much overused "rocks my world", I fear. People really should stop saying that. It was too vivid and individual an expression when first used to work as a regular unoriginal expression for regular unoriginal people to be using every twenty minutes. It grabs my attention in a way that I really resent and feel is deeply undeserved.

Anyway, he didn't absolutely adore LOR3. Then we got talking about other movies that he does like. Memento in particular. And LA Confidential. And then we changed the subject completely and talked about philosophy, and words like "truth" and "epistemology" got used a lot.

At which point I speculated that maybe the reason he adores Memento and LA Confidential but did not adore LOR3 is that Memento and LA Confidential are both about mysterious situations in which the truth – who the bad guys are and what they are up to – is absolutely not obvious, while in LOR3 the situation is clear and the only question at issue is whether the heroes can deal with it. Bingo. In LOR3 the problem is not who the bad guys are and what they are up to. That's all clear, apparently. The problem in LOR3 is whether the good guys, who know exactly who they are, are up to the task they face, morally speaking. Do they have the endurance and fortitude and ability to stick it out and see their way to victory?

Now Perry has done all that, in his Balkan past. "Knowing who the bad guys were there was a no brainer!" Now he is on a quest for truth, and for an understanding of all the various means of arriving at it and identifying it. He is interested in any movie where the agenda is: What the hell is going on here? The mere character, or lack of it, or growth of it, of the people seeking to answer this question is of secondary importance.

Perry himself is satisfied that he is a good guy. The foundations of his character are secure in his own eyes. (For whatever it may be worth, I agree with him.) The agenda, for him, is to make better sense of the infinitely mysterious world out there. In the words of Michael Caine's Alfie: What's it all about?

Part of Perry's present blogging problem, if he has one at all, may be that whereas the agenda for Perry is: Perry making sense of the world; the agenda for Perry is not: Perry immediately telling the world as and when he finds it. First things first. First get to the complete and final Truth. Then announce it. Do not announce confused and even dead wrong versions of the Truth in the meantime, the latter process being a downright interruption of and corruption of and distraction from the former. Which is a great pity because Samizdata is definitely better when he joins in.

I will also deal at a future date with the expression "no brainer", which I also hate.

My own preoccupation, just now and for as long as I can remember and from the moment I learned to talk, is and has always been finding the exact right words to nail things down, so that I can impress the hell out of and energise (and impress the hell out of) other people. Sometimes I wish devoutly that it were otherwise. How convenient it would be to be obsessed with money, how comfortable to be obsessed with domestic comfort.

My preferred method for saying clever things is not to think in silence for days until the perfect phrase comes along. It is to fling masses of phrases every day at the verbal dart boards I have surrounded myself with, and to hope to get a regular stream of quotable and permanently useful bull's eyes. This, I think, accounts for my intense dislike of wallpaper wrecking darts throws like "rocks my world" and "no brainer".

By the way, Stephen Pollard has a list of his favourite movies up at his blog, and the overlap with my list is very high, in the sense that I like a lot well over half the ones on his list. I suspect that he's in a similar phase in his life to me, i.e. searching for the perfect phrases for things by trying out lots. Both his list and mine have characters who are trying to say what is going on around them with the perfect phrase, by saying a lot and hoping that the best of it is clever. I was particularly chuffed to see Metropolitan on his list. If your preoccupation is with, e.g., doing the right thing rather than saying it, you would find Pollard's list, and mine, insufferable.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:44 PM
December 22, 2003
This blog posting opens globally now

Good piece in today's NYT about the trend towards big Hollywood blockbusters opening simultaneously all over the world rather than dribbling into separate national and regional markets over a period of months. This stops piracy, and cuts marketing costs. A staggered release starting in the USA stirs up interest elsewhere which is then met by the pirates if locals can't immediately see the thing in their local cinemas. A worldwide media blitz and a worldwide opening makes more sense.

And in the days of the Internet, serious media blitzes are almost impossible to prevent becoming worldwide.

Also, if Hollywood knows that the word-of-mouth – and the word-of-Internet – is likely to be bad, as was the case with Matrices 2 and 3, a worldwide release gets bums on seats everywhere in large numbers before the w-o-m and w-o-I kicks in.

Result? The latest Lord of the Rings movie took in a quarter of a billion dollars in its first five days.

The global village is getting ever more global.

It makes sense to me. We all saw Saddam captured at the same time, apart from Alice. People everywhere can all read the latest on Brian's Culture Blog as soon as I've done it. Why not LOR3?

(By the way, the w-o-m for LOR3 seems to be good. Jonathan Ross likes it, anyway. Personally I shall wait until it is out on DVD and then not see it on DVD either.)

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:15 AM
December 13, 2003
Drown all the French

Last Thursday night I finished watching Krzysztof Kiewslowski's Three Colours Trilogy. Here are my conclusions. I thought of polishing them and sticking them up on Samizdata, but decided not to because that would be too exhausting. So here, all crude and immediate, but delayed, they are:

Blue is a boring story, worse than boringly told. This is a terrible film. Had it been on TV it would have been off in about ten minutes max, and that would have been that, Blue, White and Redwise. To think that brainless posh bimbo Juliette Binoche actually boasts in an attached interview that she found being in Blue more "interesting" than being in Jurassic Park. She spoke proudly of this decision as being a big influence – a path chooser as it were – on her career. I'll say.

Particularly dire is the fact that one of the leading characters in Blue is a composer, and we hear some of his music. This is always a mistake. It wasn't the kind of music such a person would produce. It was the kind of music a film music composer thinks that such a person should have produced, i.e. tuneful and upliftingly cliché ridden. But this was for a classical concert organised by the European Union. Tuneless slop would be the order of the day, so tuneful and uplifting slop is completely unrealistic. The actual composer of this stuff was a guy called Preiser, who also did all the real film music for the other two films.

White is an interesting story, quite interestingly told. Although maybe after seeing Blue, anything would have seemed okay.

Red is a quite interesting story, boringly told.

The only interesting or likeable major character in the three of them is the Pole, Karol. He marries and annoying French actressy type woman, and she dumps him because he is so poor he can't perform sexually, but he goes back to Poland, gets rich, and has his revenge. All the French characters in Blue, White and Red are decorative, boring, stupid, narcissistic and pointless, and doing utterly pointless things. They have very tiny brains (although in their tiny-brained way they do not realise this), and they occupy these tiny brains entirely with making themselves miserable. Sadly from the cinema audience point of view, they do this, what with their brains being so tiny, e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y. At the final end of the story there is a ferry disaster, which all the major characters turn out to have survived. Only Karol should have. The rest should have been drowned.

By the way, it isn't just that concert in Blue - which in typical Euro style never actually seems to happen, or is at least heavily delayed – that is being paid for by the EU; this entire set of films was made with the help of EU money. This strongly suggests to me that the European Union is doomed. Who but doomed idiots would pay for things like the things in these films to be said about them?

Why are all the French characters so intolerable? I can think of two possible reasons. First, Kiewslowski hates the French and wants to present them as boring idiots, and loves only his fellow countrymen. Second, my preferred explanation, Kiewslowski is himself an idiot, and imagines that the way his French characters behave is somehow elevated and meaningful, rather than stupid.

The European Union money aspect of the situation makes more sense with this idiotic-friendly interpretation of Kiewslowski's attitude to the French, which is strongly shared by many French persons of the European Union sort, I surmise.

Kiewslowski lavishes expensive state-of-the-art camerawork on these French persons as they go about their pointless existences, and thus the effect of watching Blue and Red is of having been kidnapped and imprisoned in a photograph exhibition, where all the captions consist of boring gibberish. Except, it's far, far worse than that, because you have to trudge through the exhibition at a set speed in a set time, reading all the stupid captions, and viewing all the stupidly pretty photos in a set order and for only a set time. My mind kept wandering. If I hadn't been able to rewind to find out what, if anything, had just been said, I would have got completely lost immediately.

In a way, these films are prophecies of the contrasting fortunes of France and Poland during the years following them. France has stagnated prettily. Poland has bounded ahead, crippled only by its amazing unwillingness to accept how much better it is doing than France, and pathetic belief that it must grovel politically to France. Why? People like Kiewslowski is my guess.

I know what you're thinking. Why the hell did I subject myself to this insane ordeal? Well, I kept hoping that things might improve, and during White, after a miserable first half hour spent in France, things moved to Poland and they did. Karol the Pole had a meaningful life, and he got on with it, and what is more he got on with it at a cinematically acceptable speed, giving the stupid French film star woman he had married the comeuppance she deserved. (Why she ended up on the ferry I didn't get. She should have stayed in prison.) Maybe Red would be as much better than White as White was better than Blue. To the end I lived in hope. After all, White proved that this man could entertain (he's dead now thank God), when he was in the mood to do so. That's the first reason I kept watching.

Second, insofar as most of it was rubbish, I kept watching because I knew that, what with me being a Culture Blogger, I would soon have the pleasure of informing the world of this fact. A misery denounced is still a misery, but it's a lot less of one.

Third, I have long been prejudiced against "Foreign Language" films. "Foreign Language" films, by the way, are not just films in a foreign language. They are films which either are in a foreign language, or which might as well be in a foreign language for all the sense they make. Look in Blockbuster under "foreign language", and you'll see just what I mean. English as a foreign language is not just something you can teach to Japanese students. English as a foreign language is the language of critically acclaimed and important films, full of meaningful (a critic-speak word meaning meaningless) camerawork, which happen to have been made in English, due to a commercial oversight by the people who normally ensure that such films only get made in real foreign languages.

Anyway, as I say, I acquired a prejudice when I was a peer-group-dominated undergraduate at Cambridge University against critically acclaimed meaningfully meaningless films, attending many such films, pretending to like them and only later realising that I thought they were mostly rubbish, and I wanted to check out whether my prejudice was still justified. Recently I've been noting a tendency in myself to become grown-up in my movie tastes, and not to like bad American movies either. What was happening? Was I becoming a continental European? Luckily I'm not, but I wanted to check it out.

Also, when some idiot at a party says to me: So, you hate meaningfully meaningless foreign language films do you?, when was the last time you saw one? – I want to be able to say that I saw one this century and that it was indeed rubbish. Blue certainly fitted that scenario.

A final word on all that critical acclaim. It's my understand that this three films were indeed critically acclaimed, and at the time they were emitted in the mid-nineties, I read some of this acclaim. But I made sure I read none of it this time around, googling the thing only to find out which order to watch them in. I will now look at this acclaim, because I expect it to confirm several more prejudices I have, this time not about movies so much as about movie critics. I promise nothing, but stay tuned.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:34 PM
December 11, 2003
Photoshop meets speed cameras

speedcam.jpgThese people fear for the future of speed cameras, and not in a good way.

The reason I'm putting this picture here is that I wanted at first to put it up at White Rose, as an example of the direction speed cameras are heading in, ho ho. But I am forbidden to upload pictures to White Rose. I can only put up words there. Which is probably the wisest arrangement.

So then I thought, I'll do a small bit at White Rose, and then link to b3ta.com, where I found this picture. The trouble with that is that nothing ever stays put at b3ta.com and they don't let you link to individual pictures. Or if they do, I don't know how.

So then I thought, I know, I'll stick it up here, and then link from White Rose to here, while giving b3ta.com their credit by linking to them also.

So now I have to explain why this is cultural.

I could just refer you to the slogan at the top of this blog. But I think that there's a little more to say than that. This set of pictures does make the point that computer programmes like Photoshop have opened up a whole new world of popular art (of a sort that the people at b3ta.com specialise in), of such things as kittens with the heads of eagles, famous paintings with moustaches and added captions, celebrity morphing combinations, and, as here, adulterated signposts. How Stalin would have loved it.

Actually, as I think may already have been commented here when I said something similar here a while ago, Stalin would not have loved Photoshop, because his rearrangement and deletion effects depended on people not realising that he was doing this sort of thing, and now everyone does realise.

Changing the subject, I'm now two thirds of the way through Kieslowski's Three Colours. I thought Blue was tripe, and considered leaving it at that. But I gave White a go, since I'd already got it out of Blockbuster, and I'm glad I did because it was much more amusing. So, I'll definitely be viewing Red between now and 10pm tonight when it has to be back in Blockbuster.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:31 AM
December 10, 2003
Arty movies

They're showing LA Story on BBC 1 TV. I love this movie. Most attempts to combine Hollywood standard issue wackiness with extreme, educated self-conscious artiness make we want to …pause while I invent really crushing put-down … not watch. But for some reason LA Story works (and I've just learned from following that link that Steve Martin wrote it). I own it on DVD, yet I'm watching the broadcast version now. Can't help myself.

For extreme educated artiness, you need look no further than the rehash of the Hamlet graveyard scene, with Rick Moranis as the gravedigger. This ought to be first movie written-and-directed-by Doomed Loser stupidity at its most doomed. Yet I like it. It all adds to the sense communicated by the movie that Los Angeles is one of those Great Creative Cities, in the middle of its Great Creative Moment. Most of the scenes are pure Los Angeles, based on knowing the place, or at any rate knowing it as I imagine it. The talking signpost, the rollerskating in the art gallery, the driving twenty yards to see somebody, the twirly shop assistant (a wondrous creation by Sarah Jessica Parker of Sex in/and The City fame) called SanDeE* who is learning to be a "spokesmodel", the fact that Steve Martin's starting out girlfriend is a gift purchaser, the restaurant run by insane authoritarian Germans who are far too inquisitive. That graveyard scene fits into all that without any spot-the-join misjoining, seamlessly, by which I mean no more seamed than the material around it because this movie has about one seam every twenty seconds. Steve Martin's desperate, aspirational wackiness has never had a better setting. Victoria Tennant got a lot of flack for her effort in this movie. Something to do with her being a hopeless actress, as I recall it. I love her in this. More fun quotes from this movie here.

Gotta stop. Watching LA Story now is completely crazy, because I have three videos from Blockbuster on their new three for a fiver for a week offer, which have to be back this Thursday which is now tomorrow. Trouble is, they're not regular fun movie-movies, they're seriously arty movies, with Steve Martin nowhere in sight. Three Colours Blue, White, Red, directed by someone famous and foreign and unpronounceable. The movie equivalent of having to read War and Peace by the end of the week. I have to start in on those, now, and I may or may not keep you informed. At least there's Juliette Binoche involved.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:18 AM
November 23, 2003
Death imitates art

On Friday I picked up on a Dave Barry link to a story about how a portable phone went off inside a coffin.

Now, it seems that life, or rather death, was imitating art:

... a very funny 1999 French film (yes, they can be funny, despite their fascination with Jerry Lewis movies) called La Buche began with a scene in which a ringing cell phone at a funeral gets everyone digging their cell phones out until they all realize it's coming from the coffin. I remember laughing out loud when I saw, wondering how long it would be before it happened in real life. Now I know.

Busy weekend. And Monday's stacking up too. So culture vultures may have to feed elsewhere for the next few days.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:10 AM
November 18, 2003
Alice on Frida

I don't plan to be seeing the movie Frida until I can sample it on TV, but there's an interesting short posting and comment exchange about it over at Alice Bachini's.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:13 PM
November 09, 2003
Movie meanderings

Gabriel Syme didn't like Matrix 3 either.

The only good moment in the film is during the fight between Neo and Agent Smith who angrily and hatefully asks Neo the big WHY. Why does he fight him, why does he fight at all?! Himself, other people, duty, honour, or even something as insipid as love? The answer is Because I have a choice.

And. you. dear reader. have. a choice. of not. going. to see. the film.

So that's a no. And as he also mentions, he also didn't care for M2.

I'm waiting for Love Actually to be a rentable DVD and am now brooding on a spoof combination synopsis of Love Actually and Kill Bill, called Actually I'd Rather Kill Sandra Bullock, written and directed by Quentin Curtis. In this, Hugh Grant goes on a revenge spree to kill everyone who had anything to do with his film career to date, which only happened because he fell into an Upper Class Forgetfulness Coma and a succession of comedy script writers and producers with no consciences then decided, all unknown to him, to turn him into a Romantic Lead. It climaxes in a huge fight with Julia Roberts, in which Hugh says: "What I want to know is: Why does there always have to be an American actress in it? I'm fed up with American actresses." Pow, bang, swish, etc. That's pretty much it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:25 PM
November 07, 2003
Lileks on Matrix 3

James Lileks reviews the latest Matrix movie in today's bleat. I wish I could just rip off bits of writing as good as this, in among doing a real job. At present I'm seldom managing much of either and if that doesn't change on both fronts at some point between now and my death I will not die very happy, I can tell you.

JL didn't care for Matrix 2:

I thought it was a ponderous, boring mess. Sure, it had a certain buzz, but so does a beached flyblown whale carcass. The metaphysics were sophomoric, the acting stiff and pained, the action without consequence or drama. The FX, while amazing, were just a demo reel for new CGI programs. Nothing meant anything. Why should I root for Zion? The machines had built this enormous civilization for themselves, and the guys down in the Rave Hole hadn’t even figured out how to make decent shoes. …

I’m kidding, but not by much. …

And he follows that with a fine description of why I didn't even bother with Matrix 2 and probably won't bother with Matrix 3 despite all the good things he goes on to say about it:

That’s how I felt before I saw the film. Zero investment. So I paid my five dollars and prepared for that unique sensation you get in modern movies: being bored while battered repeatedly in the head.

Exactly. Matrix 3, and for that matter Kill Bill (bored while having your head chopped off by the sound of it), is why television was invented. You can start watching it, but if you don't like it you can stop and immediately do something else sensible, without surrender the money or the evening you paid to own it or rent it or whatever, because you paid nothing.

Nevertheless, JL loved M3:

I loved this one. Yes. Yes, I did. Chalk it up to the same reasons I enjoyed SW: Episode 2 – low, low, low expectations, matinee time frame, need for diversion, juvenile love of spectacle, guilty indulgence in sci-fi nonsense. But it’s a better movie. It looks and feels more like the first than the second. There’s 62% less pontificating. Smith is Smithier than ever. Yes, some of the death soliloquies take a day and a half; yes, every war cliché is on parade with its pants down; yes, yes, yes. Yes there’s the council of Sonorous Robed People discussing the imminent extinction of humanity with all the passion of some suburban selectmen debating a sewer extension; yes the future of the species depending on someone manually piloting a blimp through a drinking straw at 2394 MPH instead of turning it over to the computer; yes yes yes. Yes the final scenes don’t exactly make sense - how did Neo do that? What exactly did he do? What happens now?

Doesn’t matter. …

… because the final fight was very good, apparently.

Also, Alice Bachini approves of Kill Bill. See here, here and here.

Key Alice line for me:

But if you can't handle ultra-violence, don't even bother. You'll throw up.

So I'll be sticking with my chick flicks. Plus, I've been listening to Mendelssohn's Italian symphony on the digital radio, conducted by someone they're calling "Marine" Alsop. Digital radio continues to be wonderful.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:51 PM
Sex scene body doubles actually

There's a mostly negative review of the new BritRomCom Love Actually in the New York Times.

There is, however, this enticingly positive little description of a scene which could surely have been the basis of an entire movie:

The funniest and most winning on-the-job romance bubbles up between two people (Martin Freeman and Joanna Page) who work as body doubles on a movie set, miming explicit sex scenes in the absence of the prudish stars. As their naked bodies go through the motions, the two of them chat mildly about traffic and the weather, …

Interesting that the scene that the NYT guy picks on is the one with the least famous actors in it.

I predict that the price of the DVD will begin its slide from extortionate to ultra-bargain just after Christmas, and get to the bottom of the slope pretty quickly.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:38 AM
November 05, 2003
More about the grunge look

I've had a busy day and am about to have a busy evening, doing something else. So instead of writing lots of stuff, let me do a shameless (the word always used when people are a bit ashamed) link back to one of my better (I think) Samizdata pieces on a cultural theme, called Art as aftermath, which I think may go some way to answering Patrick Crozier's kind comment on this piece here, about the grunge look in recent movies.

The gist of it is that art not only foresees the future, as Patrick notes; it also harks back to the past. It even does this when the past is miserable and the present is happy. Maybe the reason movies are drab now is that the recent past for lots of people has been drab, partly because of their imperfect housekeeping skills.

Re-acquainting myself with "Art as aftermath", it occurs to me that part of the grunge look may be a trickle down effect from high art. The masses don't get much about posh art, but they get that it is gloomier than popular art, and so, paradoxically, "popular" art has itself gloomier, because it now aspires to being posh art itself. The idea that movies are posh art has always been popular among movie makers. Now that idea has itself become popular. Ergo, movies got gloomier. Yes, I'm sure that's part of it.

Plus, I wonder if there's some artistic law that says: when a war ends you get grunge popular art. Film noire - after all, black not just in colour but in moral and pyschological mood – followed the end of World War II, and I'm sure had something to do with it. Perhaps the dislocation and uncertainty of no longer having a shared purpose? The rise of grunge in the cinema coincided with the end of the Cold War. Maybe that had something to do with it.

In that comment referred to above, Patrick Crozier mentions Bonnie and Clyde. I'd say that B&C is a fine example of a movie whose grim and amoral mood is not matched by the extreme beauty of the look of the movie. Indeed, I'd go as far as to say that this contrast is what the movie itself is all about. In terms of everyday reality, both Bonnie and Clyde are squalid little failures. But they feel as if they've triumphed. So that would make it a key transitional movie, from straight happy-ending optimism to the later grimness. In a way, B&C does have a happy ending, in the form of Bonnie getting that poem published in a newspaper. Says Clyde: "You know what you've done? You've made me someone." And then they get gunned down. Maybe that movie encapsulates the ethic of the post sixties generation: artistic success please, and if that means a mere life that is nasty, brutish and short, so be it. We'll do whatever we have to do to "be someone".

I don't have time for all this, and I certainly don't have time for any more. Have a nice evening.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:01 PM
November 04, 2003
A very special effect

Something tells me that it won't be long before this kind of thing and this kind of thing get combined.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:28 PM
November 01, 2003
"De-Hollywoodization" from Hollywood as well as from the BBC

Last night, winding down from being Mein Host at my last-Friday-of-the-month evening, I watched a Steven Seagal biff-fest (The Glimmer Men), and I noticed yet again how grim and dark the colours are in the average action movie with lots of stunt men in the credits is these days. This is not an isolated circumstance. Grim, noir-in-colour gloom seems to be the visual order of the day these days. Indeed, when I bought a TV a few years ago, I really looked at the colours of what I was seeing for the first time, and I thought that there was something wrong with the colour balance. Where were the blues and pinks. It was all yellow and dark grey.

The point was rammed home yet again by a review in today's New York Times of a recent BBC TV Doctor Zhivago which has just been shown in the USA. The reviewer, not unreasonably, compares this, as he calls it, "De-Hollywoodization", with David Lean's famous 1965 movie version:

Lean's gloriously vivid colors are gone, replaced with more realistic Russian shades of gray and brown. The film director's sweeping, chimeric landscapes have been ruthlessly reshaped: the sparkling palace of crystal and ice where the lovers seek refuge is once again a drafty old dacha. …

Even Lara, described in the novel as "fair," is a dirty dishwater blond.

And it's true. The abiding memory for me of Lean's Doctor Zhivago is not grimness and misery, but all that joyous colour photography of melting snow and spring flowers, despite the fact that this is a movie set in one of the grimmest times and places in all of human history.

If glossy colour is what you mean, most Hollywood movies now are "de-Hollywoodizations" also. Compare the opening battle scene in the recent Gladiator with the battle scenes in something like El Cid, or that naval battle in Ben Hur that simply makes you want to go on a Mediterranean holiday, just like if you were watching Audrey Hepburn visiting that part of the world. Okay Gladiator was Germany and El Cid and Ben Hur were further south, but is Germany really that smoky and depressing? Even battles and Russian revolutions looked up-beat and sparkly in the sixties. Now, if things look sparkly, it's irony, as in American Beauty, or a knowing "homage" as in the latest batch of romantic comedies that hark back to those Doris Day/Rock Hudson glitter fests.

I can remember Cold War movies with the likes of Lawrence Harvey done in the sixties where they even managed to make places like East Berlin look colourful and exotic. The conversation in the foreground was turning cynical and drab, but the photography was still sixties New York advertising first generation wow-isn't-this-just-so-much-prettier-that-black-and-white? Remember how they used to boast about whichever colour photography system they'd used – filmed in "Panavision" – filmed in "Technicolor".

Now, even space travel is grim and depressing. As I remember it, one of the first movies to reflect this new grunge-grimness aesthetic was the second of the Star Wars movies, the one where all the goodies, human and humanoid, get dumped in a rubbish skip. Then followed the Alien movies, all damp and darkness. Now they're all at it. Watching something like that weird one where they all die at thirty starring Jenny Agutter and Michael Yorke, where although the text is grim the subtext and visuals remain happy and upbeat (and it must be admitted rather cheap), is to switch back to a wholly different world, of shiny buildings and sparkling green grass and glittery interior decor. Logan's Run, that was it.

I think part of it, as I say, is first generation colour photography, and the film makers celebrating what they could finally do with their new toys, and then their successors wanting to do something different. But I think the generational dramas within film-making reflect contrasts over time in the world out there.

In the fifties and sixties a whole generation of people came into their inheritance in the form of lovely houses with lovely wallpaper and lovely furniture and happy smiley kids. But the happy smiley kids then faced a problem, when they grew up. What were they supposed to do with their lives? More of the same? There followed a sour grapes generation, who couldn't repeat the same domestic successes that their parents achieved, and who wanted to be told that they didn't have to. This all these grungy movies do. The world's not like that? The world is a grim and depressing, dirty and drippy place, and it's all we can do to stay alive! Aging Generation X couch potatoes can look at their drab and seedy surroundings and say, well, it may not be Versailles, but nor is it the prison colony in Aliens 3.

Grunge world is not true. In fact it is every bit as much of a fantasy world as sparkly Doris Day New York Advertising world. But it is comforting.

Now I'm going to watch some Keanu Reeves thing in the things exploding genre. I wonder what the grungometer reading will be on that one.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:33 PM
October 31, 2003
Office Space

Last night I watched Office Space. I remember having loved this movie when it was first hirable on video and I hired it. Now I own it on DVD. It was only £5.99.

And it's great. The running gag is that the heroes and heroin of the story are all being bossed by people who refuse to admit that bossing is what they do. "If you could do that, that would be really great" – instead of "Do that." Also, our hero, instead of having just the one boss, has eight of them (which is an easy mistake to make if you think that you don't have any bosses in your organisation at all) all of them asking our hero in the space of half an hour about the same trivial little mistake.

This is a highly stressful sort of regime to be subjected to. The superficialities of niceness are all being dumped on top of you, but in a deeply nasty and dishonest way, and your natural reflexes are thus screwed around with something chronic, the way they aren't by a boss who is honest about being that.

This movie is a throwback (in a more modest and Good First Movie way) to those fifties black and white Jack Lemmon movies, most notably The Apartment, in which a vast floor full of slaves slave away at desks, only now instead of desks it's cubicles. The moronically insincere language ( "Buddy boy!!") has changed, but is just as moronically insincere. Instead of pushing pens, the slaves push buttons on computers. But it's the same universe all over again.

The McGuffin, as I believe Alfred Hitchcock used to describe it, of this movie is the moment when a hypnotherapist (a) tells our hero to stop worrying about anything and just do whatever he feels like doing and to generally enjoy life, and then immediately (b) drops dead of a heart attack, which (c) leaves our hero in the (a) state permanently. That sets everything in motion, and creates a further string of great comic effects, as when he tells the complete truth about his job and how hard he does it and how he feels about it, to some visiting consultants.

Lumbergh, the Ghastly Boss, played by Gary Cole, is a truly wondrous creation.

Plus Jennifer Aniston is in it. She plays a character who is likewise neck deep in bullshit as the price of having her stupid waitress job. Her torment is that her boss wants her to wear lots of stupid badges, but won't just tell her to. Instead of simply obeying orders, she has to "express herself". Eventually, of course, that's what she does.

If you could watch Office Space, that would be really great.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:58 PM
October 23, 2003
Twin Towers in the movies update

Googling "Twin Towers in the movies" got me next to nothing, but I've just tried "Twin Towers" "Movies", and up came this, listing no less than eighty six movies in which the Twin Towers appear.

workgirl.jpgAll the ones I've been able to think of appear in this list, which gives me some confidence. If I'd not found, say, Family Man in the list, I'd have known at once that it was woefully incomplete, but there it is. Yesterday in my googlings I came across a picture of Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, with the Twin Towers in the background, but what I didn't realise until now was that the Twin Towers featured in the publicity poster. (The picture I found was simply a cropping of Melanie Griffith, with the Towers but without all the propaganda.) And there's Working Girl that is in the list also. Michael Jennings mentioned in a comment on yesterdays post that AI features the towers. And that's there too. So this list may well be pretty much complete.

Hollywood seems to have been rather baffled by the events of September 11th 2001. What is the appropriate response? Ignore? Do one of those multi-star epics about it all? Do stories "set" in the disaster, so to speak, with the disaster central to the story, but the story not being any explanation of the disaster? Do movies about people warning against terrorism and being ignored? So far there's been little response, other than a hasty shifting of the scenery for the first Spiderman movie, and such like.

But as this list of sightings of the Twin Towers in the movies shows, Hollywood was fascinated by these giant buildings while they stood. Hollywood was (and is) fascinated by New York, and New York was dominated by the Towers.

Speaking for myself, and I suspect for many others too, I loved those towers, but until those maniacs knocked them over, I didn't realise how much.

I still think that a coffee table book along these lines would be an excellent idea. But until today I didn't realise if anyone had even got to work on the subject, so maybe the book already exists too, and I just haven't heard about that either.

If it does exist, or if someone's working on it and it's due out soon, I'd buy it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:27 PM
October 22, 2003
A publishing idea: The Twin Towers in the movies

Those Twin Towers. They were everywhere in the movies, I tell you. I'm watching X-Men, the original one, made in the year 2000, on TV. There's been an historical flashback bit, and seconds into the "and here we are back in the near future and in colour" bit … another sighting of the Twin Towers, in a big picture pinned up in a teenage bedroom.

Has anyone done a book about the Twin Towers in the Movies, itemising every shot of them in every movie that got general distribution, between the time when they were built and the time they were knocked own? Someone should.

My favourite book in this XXX-in-the-Movies genre was called "Cluck!" and was subtitled: "Chickens in the Movies". I can only remember one chicken of significance, which was the one chased by Rocky to improve his footwork, in the original and best Rocky movie.

I've just googled "Twin Towers in the movies". I got this feeble apology for a list. And I got this.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:49 PM
A French film without an ending

This site was out of business all of yesterday afternoon and evening, because Hosting Matters was kaput.

It's now the smallest hour of Wednesday, and I'm watching one of those delightfully pointless French films with one guy and three girls he has to choose between. He is somewhat weak and somewhat selfish and more than somewhat indecisive, and consequently, without particularly meaning to be, somewhat cruel. I know a young man almost exactly like him, in appearance, in behaviour, and in the fact that the girls just queue up to be tormented by him. The actresses all have bigger bums than you expect of actresses, which makes them look like real people, which I like. All they've done is walk about, and talk. No expense has been incurred, all expense has been spared, which I also like, although everything looks great because the setting is the coast of Brittany, which I like a lot. Because it's not Hollywood, you can't tell what's going to happen next. I'm enjoying it, even though it has subtitles, which I hate. Oh bugger, it's just finished, and nothing was decided.

Am I now allowed to say I didn't enjoy it as much as I did, until it stopped? I fear not.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:52 AM
October 19, 2003
Otherwise engaged

Busy weekend, obsessing and writing about rugby, and also spending a great gob of time watching Whit Stillman's movie Metropolitan, one of my all time favourites. So, not a lot here, in other words.

Various websites I've looked at have described Metropolitan as containing lots of sitting about and talking about nothing. There is indeed lots of sitting about and talking, but it is not about nothing. It is merely about things that most people can't be bothering with, but which some people can, like writing, downward social mobility, and so forth. Also, in extreme contrast to your average Hollywood non-left-wing movie, people say interesting things about once every two minutes instead of about twice in the entire thing. I hereby nominate Metropolitan as a key blogosphere work of art, because in it the heroine falls in love with the hero entirely on the strength of what he has written.

I also did a bit yesterday about plastic surgery, another of those pieces which began as something for here (or for here) but which ended up on Samizdata. This painful picture is of the British actress Leslie Ash, who used to look like this but who now looks like this:

LesliAsh.jpg

The horror, the horror.

In the rest of my blogging time today, I'm going to try to write something More Serious for Samizdata.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:53 PM
October 06, 2003
Jennings on parental connectedness

Continuing the technology theme, I liked these reflections a lot, from Michael Jennings, on the difference that communications technology makes to the texture of everyday life.

Michael's parents have email, and now read his blog to stay in touch. My surviving parent does not have email, and never reads this, or this, or for that matter this. Huge difference, to echo and adapt Julia Roberts when shopping in Pretty Woman. Huge.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:53 PM
October 04, 2003
How Doctor Theatre temporarily cured Quentin Tarantino last night

There was a vivid illustration of the curative power of theatrical performance last night on the Jonathan Ross Show.

Quentin Tarantino was being interviewed (most entertainingly by the way) about his latest movie, Kill Bill. He and Kill Bill star Uma Thurman were in the middle of a huge and hugely strenuous Euro-tour to boost the movie. You know the stuff, thirty interviews in one day, giving the same answers to the same questions (as sent up in Notting Hill where Hugh Grant asks on behalf of Horse and Hound if there are any horses or hounds in the movie he's asking about, which turns out to be set in space).

Anyway, Tarantino's throat had gone. It was all he could do to make much of a noise at all, although he managed, and even seemed to enjoy things. At least Ross' questions were not the usual ones, and added some excellent analysis of the yellow tracksuit with black vertical stripes at the side that Uma Thurman wears in Kill Bill. Apparently it was what Bruce Lee was seen in during the very last piece of movie-making he ever did, and Ross even owned a costume just like it, which his wife had given him. He shown some photos of himself thus adorned, to the apparently genuine amusement of Tarantino and Thurman . So Tarantino seemed to be having a good time, but he was still struggle to say things.

taranthu.jpg

ANYway. At one point in Tarantino's performance, he did an imitation. I wasn't paying much attention so I missed who it was or why who it was was saying what who it was was saying. But get this. Tarantino's voice was suddenly working full blast! It was quite amazing. And then when the imitation had finished, he went back immediately to croaking and choking, as if nothing had happened.

Usually when you see a performer thus afflicted, you either get him in "real life" (or what passes for real life with such people) and he can hardly say a word. Or you get him on the stage, and hear everything, and never realise that there's much of or even any problem. So for us theatrical civilians to witness this contrast on nationwide TV was really something. We've all heard about this thing, those of us with any interesting at all in theatrical performance. But it's not something we usually get to see and hear for ourselves.

Having TV on in the background, as wallpaper, is an underestimated form of entertainmnent, in my opinion. The chat show is a format which can be particularly effective as entertainment when taken or left in this way. At its worst the chat show is abysmal, wall to wall clichés and lies and insincerities and tedia. At it's best it can be truly sublime.

thurman1.jpg

As for the movie itself, it scares me. Blood everywhere, apparently. But the stills they're hawking around are wonderful, especially this one above, which you can see full size here. I also like this one of Thurman and Lucy Liu having a fight. Liu looks like your granny, doing her limited best but doomed. Very comical. It's the costume, but also the gawky way she just happens to be looking at her (presumably) soon-to-be executioner.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:13 PM
September 28, 2003
Frodo and David

This is a picture I should have added to the earlier posting about Michelangelo's David. It's … well, you know exactly what it is. It's Frodo from The Lord of the Rings, as enacted by Elijah Wood.

frododav.jpg      mdavidsm.gif

Alice Bachini has dropped by, and she says that what these faces both communicate is that courage is not not feeling fear, but rather feeling intense fear but nevertheless dealing with it, courageously. We all expect that of little teenage Frodo, but that's what I also saw in David. Plus, they have extremely similar faces, I think.

To begin with, this posting will only have the one picture, of Frodo. When someone has taught me how to put two pictures next to each other, there'll be Frodo and David.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:38 PM
September 27, 2003
Enhancement

Today I wandered around near where I live, taking photos with my new little camera. Some things I had in mind to photograph, like the new half finished Sainsbury's that is open on the ground floor but still under wraps from the third floor and upwards. Other pictures were serendipitous. A Rolls Royce decked out for a wedding, and eventually also the bride. An entirely accidental but very successful picture of the friend I was with, in the bottom right hand corner of one of the Sainsbury's photos.

And there was this, which is a Philippino Travel Agency:

celestr.jpg

The tile of this photograph is: Heaven on Earth.

My friend observed that one day I will photograph a violent crime being committed, but that I will only realise that I did this when I see the picture 100 percent size on my computer screen and see the evil deed being done. In my friend's version of this story, it's American college students here on holiday who take the picture, and Foul Play is only Suspected when they get back to the USA and show their holiday snaps on a big screen.

Here's the right hand upstairs window, original size:

celestw.jpg

I know, nothing untoward there. No Philippinos doing bad things there. But there could be. Ah, the secrets of the big city.

Was there not a very arty film made in the sixties starring David Hemmings and Vanessa Redgrave where this was the plot? Yes. Blow Up, it was called. And there are those scenes in Blade Runner where Harrison Ford subjects a photograph to successive enlargements and enhancements.

Enhancements I can't do. But my pictures are pretty huge and quite detailed to start with. (The camera says "3.2 megapixels" in proud red paint on the front.)

Now I'm watching TV, and its Law and Order. They're analysing a video recording of a gay party. Go here, enlarge, enhance, just like in Blade Runner.

It's in the culture, I tell you. How long before I too can do enhancement? I probably already can, did I but know it.

STOP PRESS: I could have seen this first, but I didn't, I truly didn't. Radio Times, tonight again, BBC1, Blow Out starring John Travolta:

Movie sound man Jack Terry records a car accident while working on a horror film, but suspects foul play. Widescreen.

Ah, "suspects foul play" again. It never loses its charm.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:52 PM
September 22, 2003
Virtual community

No time for profundity (i.e. excessive length). Just time for a quick rumination on the strange places that human instinct takes the solitary but connected human in these electrical times.

Do you often watch movies on television or listen to music from the radio, at times of their choosing, not your own, which you already own in a form that you could play to yourself at a time of your own choosing?

I first noticed this odd syndrome when I caught myself listening on Radio Three to a recording of Elgar's First Symphony which I already owned on CD. And not only was I doing this, but a fact to add is that my CD player makes far better sound than does my radio.

Last night, which was what reminded me of this, I watched large chunks of one of my favourite movies, The Right Stuff, which I already own on DVD, on television.

rightstf.jpg

It occurs to me that these two works, Elgar One and The Right Stuff, are rather similar. Both embody the confidence of a Great Power at the height of its power, and with an undercurrent of nervous laughter caused by the uneasy feeling that maybe it won't last. Both are very public pieces, especially the Elgar. And I've chosen a picture from The Right Stuff to illustrate this post which also captures the public importance of those First Seven astronauts. The Right Stuff is at least as much about the supreme social niche that those men briefly occupied in American society, down there on the ground, and about the earthly society they inhabited, as it is about their astronautical achievement. As Dennis Quaid's grinning Gordo Cooper says, he's got all manner of deals going, and a "free lunch from one end of America to the other", and all this before he ever ventured into space. And who could forget the scene where John Glenn, played so beautifully by Ed Harris, proves that, at least for that brief shining moment, he and the other astronauts between them outranked the Vice-President of the United States?

And of course those rocket expeditions were immense public events.

So both the Elgar and The Right Stuff, being public pieces, are the sort of things you want to witness at a public event. So is that why I wanted to witness them on the radio and the TV? At least I join a virtual "event", instead of it being a private event of my own, as the next best thing to a real public occasion.

Or is it that if there is a major terrorist incident in some big western city with huge loss of life, I want an emergency news bulletin to interrupt the proceedings and tell me about this straight away? This can't happen when you listen to a CD or watch a DVD, and in this respect the public media are an improvement. Do I want the potential connection with History, should a slice of it erupt while I'm watching or listening? Closer, maybe.

Is it simply that I'm human, and as such, am a social animal? I simply like to huddle together with my fellow humans. But actually huddling together with fellow humans brings me slap up against their imperfections, and mine in their eyes. In the sort of audiences I am usually a member of, they aren't the people I'd really like them to be. And I'm very rarely the person I'd like myself to be. But if I listen to the radio or watch it on the telly, I can imagine my ideal audience, and be an ideal member of it. I think it's more like that. Sociability without all the bother and sweat and annoyance of actual socialising. The idea of other people, as opposed to the actual fact of them. Mankind, rather than other people.

Forgive me. I profounded on rather more than I intended to.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:51 PM
September 19, 2003
Mark Steyn on Schindler's List

I wrote my reaction to Schindler's List here immediately after seeing it and while still heavily under its immediate influence, and it knocked me for six. So I'm pleased and somewhat relieved to learn that another writer, Mark Steyn, far heavier in weight and more experienced in writing about movies than I, when he saw Schindler's List way back in 1994 when it first came out, was also much impressed. I thought there might be some joking around from him about what I soon learned was a made-up ending, and generally some ironic distancing. But not a bit of it.

Steyn made a particularly good point about the exact nature of the evil that was the Holocaust. I possess one of those little snippet books, which has the bit about the Holocaust in Paul Johnson's History of the Jews, in which Johnson makes the same point. It was the combination of bestiality and bureaucracy, of savagery and system, which made the Holocaust so uniquely hideous.

Gradually, you understand the film’s decision to adjust Thomas Keneally's original title, Schindler's Ark. What separates the Germans from trigger-happy goons in a hundred banana republics is the system: the bureaucracy, 'the paperwork', as a dozen Nazi officials sigh wearily in the course of the film; the grotesque thoroughness of District B and Department W and the Business Compensation Fund regulations. Schindler and his Jewish accountant fight Nazi paperwork with their own list, the names of their factory workers.

I think it was this doggedly official way in which Nazi Germany set about murdering people, making use of all the techniques of civilisation to be barbaric, that goes a long way towards justifying the now conventional Western view that the Holocaust inflicted by the Nazis upon the Jews was uniquely barbaric, and in particular more barbaric than the slaughters of Stalin and Mao. Those Russians and Chinese were, you know, not quite in control of themselves. They weren't quite human, more like wild beasts. They, like their victims, were swept up in an ideological frenzy. But Germans! How could they do such a thing? How could they be so cold-blooded, so thorough, so detached and so organised about it all? They used the very same stuff – paperwork – that they used to create their greatest achievements (music, literature, science) to commit their greatest crime. In this respect, the Holocaust really was unique.

There is of course a big slice of racism in this attitude, and also a big slice of anti-anti-Communism. Murdering millions of people is not so bad if it's in a good cause, blah blah. But let's just say that this time the anti-anti-Communists, scum though they undoubtedly are, have had some genuine truths to work with here, along with all their lies about how uncool it is to keep banging on about Communist holocausts.

Steyn also picks up on another detail from Schindler's List that I'd forgotten – likewise a use of something you normally associate with civilisation at its best – to murder people.

The real face of evil is the German soldiers, after the Cracow massacre, combing the ghetto with the remorseless doggedness of petty officialdom, their stethoscopes pressed to the ceilings just in case there's anyone still breathing up there. A system which transforms the stethoscope into an instrument of death and issues it to its infantrymen: in denying the Jews’ humanity, the Germans killed their own.

I've been brooding lately on anti-Semitism, Hollywood, Christianity, Christianity (apparent collapse of in Britain), and such matters, and it seems to me that one of the Big Events of our time is the replacement of Christ's Crucifixion by The Holocaust as the Central Act of Cruelty and Suffering of our – now post-Christian – civilisation.

Is this act of cultural transformation, like Hollywood, the Crucifixion (Gospel version), etc., some kind of Jewish Plot? If so, well done the Jews, I say.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:46 PM
James Lileks agrees with me about the music for Where Eagles Dare

And I'll repeat that with links. James Lileks agrees with me about the music for Where Eagles Dare:

Okay: red meat: "When Eagles Dare" is out on DVD! It’s notable for many reasons – Clint Eastwood appears to reduce the German army by 8 percent, for example. The fight on the cable car is still a nail-biter. Dick Burton cashes his paycheck with particular pleasure. But what I really love about this movie is the theme, which is perhaps the best 60s WW2 theme, period. I bought it for 99 cents at the downtown Fargo Woolworth in the cutout bin. Haven't heard it for years. I could sing every note.

Jawohl (sp).

However, as a wise commenter at the Barnes and Noble site linked to above reminds us, and in particular reminds anyone who is thinking of having another war against Germany, killing Germans is not actually as easy as this film makes it appear.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:03 PM
September 11, 2003
Leni Riefenstahl

There's a obituary article about Leni Riefenstahl by Jonathan Petropoulos for the WSJ.

Her involvement, however involved it was exactly, in various Nazi atrocities, and her complicity in the horrors she observed and navigated around, is dealt with in this article, but the last two paragraphs present a surprisingly positive picture of this woman:

Ms. Riefenstahl had such charisma, intelligence, and talent that she won over many who were anything but Nazis. She was honored by a retrospective of her work at the Film Museum in Potsdam in 1999. When she turned 100, those attending her birthday party in Feldafing on Lake Starnberg included renowned mountain climber Reinhold Messner and Las Vegas animal trainers Siegfried and Roy.

The woman who charmed Hitler, danced with the Nuba, took up scuba diving in her 70s, and was rescued from a helicopter crash in the Sudan at age 97, possessed bedazzling qualities. No wonder Jodie Foster is working on a film about her. It's unlikely to be the last. Leni Riefenstahl, with her strength, talent, complexities, and problems, will continue to fascinate in the years to come – probably for longer than her 101 years.

That's a slightly odd way to end an article about one of the most important and influential propagandists of the Third Reich.

Nazi Germany was, among other things, a detestably criminal regime, but it wouldn't have been remotely as evil as it was had it not succeeded in making use of so many of the brightest and best Germans of its time – best in the sense of most effective and most attractive and glamorous. Making use, that is to say, of people like Leni Riefenstahl. And she, like so many other talented contemporaries, let it happen. That's the most important thing about this woman, and that should have been there in the concluding paragraph, it seems to me. She did a great deal more for Hitler besides charming him. Next to the word "fascinate", I'd like to have seen another word like "appal".

Here's another link, to a site with some photos of Riefenstahl, including some of her with Mick Jagger and his then wife, whom she'd been photographing. Well well, I never knew that. It figures. Master of stadium impact, Neuremberg Rally equals rock concert, etc. etc. I guess she was always more concerned about appearances than about morals.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:43 PM
September 05, 2003
On what Hitler did to classical music by loving it

Today's New York Times has a review of Taking Sides, which is about the interrogation of the German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler, just after World War 2.

… Unlike Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer, conductors who fled Germany during the Nazi era, Furtwängler chose to remain. Wooed by Hermann Goering and Joseph Goebbels, the man thought by many to be the world's greatest conductor allowed himself to be lionized by the Nazis and lived a privileged existence. Such was Furtwängler's status and importance to the Nazis as a high-minded trophy that he wasn't even pressured to join the Nazi party.

Furtwängler conducted the Berlin Philharmonic at Hitler's 53rd birthday, but ingeniously devised a way to avoid saluting the Führer. The radio announcement of Hitler's death was accompanied by Furtwängler's recording of Bruckner's majestic Seventh Symphony.

I haven't seen this film myself, but this review got me thinking once again about the love affair between Nazi Germany and classical music. A few months back I did a Samizdata posting about this. It started as a relatively light-hearted observation to the effect that an amazing number of film villains (most notably the ultimate recent film villain Hannibal Lector) love classical music. But by the end of the posting I was saying, much more seriously: it was the Nazis. They were the ones who connected classical music to villainy.

The movie pointedly compares the solemnity of German high culture with the boisterousness of American popular culture in back-to-back scenes of a German concert audience listening silently to Beethoven in a soaking rain that pours through a bombed-out roof, and American soldiers jitterbugging to a swing band playing "Route 66." The implication seems to be that the Germans' silent reverence for Beethoven is similar to their acceptance of the Nazis' agenda, which warped elements of the same mystical romanticism into national hero-worship of a tyrant and his symbols.

"Classical" music is now pretty much a living corpse. Lots of people still love it, but we love it on the same basis that earlier generations would read and love Greek plays or Latin poetry. And I'm thinking, would classical music be in such an advanced state of museum-itis, so to speak, if the Nazis hadn't been doing their worst while worshipping the stuff.

It wasn't that everyone suddenly decided that this music was wicked. It was just that it was no longer possible to say that it was definitely morally uplifting. Before Hitler, classical music was moral. After Hitler, it merely sounded moral. After Hitler, music like this couldn’t be composed to say the deepest and greatest things any more. It no longer rang true. Not to potential composers, anyway. When Hitler dies and they play Bruckner's Seventh (which is magnificent music, by the way, truly magnificent), Bruckner's music can't ever have quite the moral stature that it had before. From then on, if you're a composer, you're going to say to yourself, whatever else I do, I mustn't try to write Bruckner's Tenth. Deep feeling. Massed strings. Long, grand, slow movements. Tempestuous finales. Urrgh. You can almost smell the Zyklon B.

As I say, I don't think the audiences saw things like this, in fact we know they didn't. But the composers just couldn't keep on as if nothing bad had happened to classical music. It was as if there was a fifty-year-long, partial strike. And now the message – the non-message, that is to say – is finally making its way through to the audiences. In Germany in particular, the "classical" story has been especially arid and desiccated. How could it possibly have been otherwise? And without Germany going full tilt, classical music could only be a shadow of its former glory.

Meanwhile, the classical music equals villainy equation swept unchallengeably through the popular culture. Many of us might have wanted to challenge this stereotype. But how could we? It was too close to being true.

Okay there were lots of other things going on. Electronic guitars, microphones for singers, shortening attention spans, the emancipation of the electronic media, teenagers with serious pocket money, the Baby Boom. Little things of that sort. But it really didn't help that Hitler loved this music. It really didn't.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:56 PM
September 01, 2003
Jennings on Hollywood's lousy summer

There is a big piece about how Hollywood did over the summer by Michael Jennings, for Samizdata. And how did Hollywood do? Well, put it this way, the piece is called Thoughts on Hollywood's lousy summer. So: lousy.

First paragraph:

It is the end of August, and the Labor Day holiday weekend is here. This is considered by the film industry to be the end of the summer movie season. Since Steven Spielberg invented the modern blockbuster when he made Jaws in 1975 (and due to the near-coincidental arrival of air-conditioning in most movie theatres), this has been the most important season for the Hollywood film studios. I am going to be mildly self-indulgent and give the readers of Samizdata a lengthy overview of what I think happened to Hollywood this summer, largely from a business point of view, but also from a creative point of view. This is going to be much longer than a normal Samizdata article, but I am assuming that my editors will indulge me just this once. Or maybe I shall receive what is known in Samizdata speak as an "editorial spanking". We shall see. However, I think most of the following is quite interesting.

As do I. The rule with Jennings is simple: if the subject interests you, you'll probably learn a lot that you didn't know, and you are recommended to read it. I am interested in the doings of Hollywood, and I did learn things. For example, I didn't know that Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle was a flop until now. I also learned more about the economic significance to Hollywood of DVDs.

If Jennings is right, and Jennings is always right about factual matters, then things don't seem to have changed much since the late nineties, when William Goldman wrote The Big Picture.

Or to put it another way, 9/11, for Hollywood, seems to have been a dog that didn't bark. When it happened, there was much talk about how it might change how Hollywood did things, and also that it might change what people wanted to see. But so far, apart from a bit of furniture shifting for Spiderman, no change. Jennings doesn't, unless my memory is fooling me, mention the phrase "9/11" even once. Before 9/11, people liked movies they liked, and disliked movies they disliked, and it's been the same since.

The only drearily factual thing I can sometimes do better than Jennings is spelling. He had Jim Carrey as Jim Carey, until I used my Samizdata editing super-powers to correct that.

Such blemishes aside, and speaking as a Samizdata regular myself, I thought this was a very classy piece of writing. Occasional long pieces of this sort, I think, only add to Samizdata's weight, punch, clout, significance, presence, and general formidableness.

I also agree with Jennings about the lovely Claire Danes – Juliette to DiCaprio's Romeo, and before that the star of the excellent My So-Called Life.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:03 PM
August 30, 2003
William Goldman and the death of Hollywood that isn't really

I recently bought a copy of William Goldman's book of Essays entitled The Big Picture, and sub-entitled Who Killed Hollywood?, for 99p. All hail the collapse of the Net Book Agreement, even though the politics of that collapse was all wrong. (If a publisher wants won't sell any more books to a bookshop, on account the bookshop is selling them at a price the publisher doesn't like, that should be the publisher's right. As with everything that happens in British politics, this was a European Union thing.)

Anyway, Goldman. It has lots of good bits in it, of course it does. This is the guy who wrote Adventures in the Screen Trade. This paragraph, for example:

When I was nominated for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, I watched the awards at home, in New York City, on the tube. Why didn't I go? Because I thought I'd lose, because I was obsessed with the Knicks' first championship run. But also this: The Oscars were not such a deal then. But they sure are now. When I was a kid, novels were important, theater was important, movies were our secret pleasure. Now, movies are the center of our culture. And the Oscars are the central awards.

I am fond of coining laws. Not laws you have to obey; laws you already do obey, and which I'm just pointing out. I'm especially proud of this one, which is two thirds of why I mention this. I still have fond hopes for this law. But the Micklethwait's law that is relevant here is the one that goes:

The quality of a twentieth century man-made object is inversely proportional to the frequency with which the word "art" was slung around during its creation.

Well, this sounds good, but I wonder if it is actually, er, true. I doubt if William Goldman would agree. Perhaps I need to refine the law and say that for the creators to be thinking of themselves as artists is good, but for critics to be agreeing is not good.

During the Old Days of Hollywood, the creators definitely thought they were artists. Why else would they call their enterprises such things as "United Artists"? But the wider culture was divided, if Goldman's observation above is right, into those who thought that what Hollywood did was silly candyfloss and those, like Goldman, who thought that it was profoundly pleasurable candyfloss. Any "art" being done in the cinema was, in the view of the critics, being done by Europeans.

Goldman has a couple more nice paragraphs about that syndrome:

In case anyone gets the idea I'm anti-Hollywood – the reverse, actually, but in any case all is not lost – the worst movie of the year was neither American nor new; it was Contempt, the revival of a Jean-Luc Godard films from the '60s. I would rather have root canal than sit through it again. (And remember I wrote Marathon Man – I'm not your calmest guy in the chair.) Contempt is endless pretentious garbage.

Of course, the critics thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread. The most disgraceful piece of writing I've come across this year appeared in the New York Times. An incoherent multicolumned rave by one Philip Lopate. I have never met him,. know nothing about him, but he's writing a book of film criticism.

So here's what I think. When an artist says it's art, to himself, this puts him on his metal. But when Philip Lopate agrees with him, that's when the trouble starts. That's when he starts to think: whatever I do is art, so I can do whatever I like, no matter how appalling.

(You get a similar syndrome in sport. When a sportsman believes himself capable of sporting genius and works like hell to achieve it, he sometimes does. But when they then tell him he's a genius, watch out. That's when he may decide he doesn't have to work at it any more. If I am any sort of blogging "artist", then my "art", such as it is, is rooted in my ability to get and keep your attention, and I must never forget this. If you think I'm an artist, keep it to yourself.)

But what Goldman says of Hollywood now (in the late nineties, that is to say) is that it has lost its artistic ambition. It's now run by people for whom money is the reason they do it, instead of just one of those things you need to do this particular art. The films are "product". Those Jewish ex-rag-trade eccentrics with their altered names and tyrannical habits who founded Hollywood and ran it until the nineteen fifties were true artists, in their own eyes, which kept them shooting for the heights, and often attaining them.

Then, in about nineteen seventy something happened. Those fancy critics, having trashed and at best patronised Hollywood throughout its early years, finally decided that it was Art after all. For eighteen months between nineteen seventy something and nineteen seventy something plus two, Hollywood creatives were given unlimited money to throw at whatever "art" it occurred to them to create. When those budgets were mostly lost, the accountants then decided that this art stuff had to stop. From then on: Jaws – which was the film that signalled (if not caused) all the recent damage that Goldman writes about.

Me, I'm not sure that I agree. I do agree that Hollywood does different stuff now, stuff that is crafted to appeal to teenagers all over the planet rather than to folks of all ages in America. All this talk about how "Americanisation" has conquered the world in the form of things like Spiderman 2 is the wrong way round. Spiderman 2 is as much the world conquering America as vice versa. Goldman describes all this, but gets in a bit of a muddle, because he confuses change with death.

Like Goldman, I personally don't care for such films as Spiderman 2 any more, and prefer quieter, more conversational and less blood-bespattered stuff. I also now find myself liking Brahms chamber music a lot more and Brahms orchestral music a little less. But this is because I'm getting older and quieter in my tastes, not because Brahms orchestral music is any less good than I thought it was when I was twenty. But this doesn't mean that Spiderman 2 is necessarily any less artistic than a Brahms string quartet or The English Patient. It's just a rather different art, is all. Not one that Goldman or I now care for.

Goldman points out that foreigners are now providing an increasing proportion of the profits of Hollywood blockbusters, and Americans less, and seems to think that this is bad news, from a business point of view. No, it's just business. And now that those fancy East Coast critics, prodded by Goldman, are back to despising Hollywood, the updated version of Micklethwait's law ought now to be kicking in and making those blockbusters really impressive, and I suspect that exactly that has been going on for some time now. While Oscars are handed out to foreigners making mediocre conversation movies for grown-ups, Hollywood is (if the law is right) cranking out Blockbusters that will last for ever.

A lot of it is politics. The blockbusters are all about fighting in very unrealistic ways, true. But they also embody lots of ideas. That these ideas are often communicated in half a line, after ten minutes of solid, wordless (and hence multi-national) mayhem, doesn't mean that they aren't ideas. But many of these ideas are unwelcome to those fancy critics, so they call these movies "mindless". A lot of them are anything but mindless.

I should stop now. Attention spans, and all that.

Just a final thought, which is that I think that this already probably-too-long posting does something to explain why I think that arguments about just what is and is not "art" can be so important. This is a word which has consequences. If something is thought of as art, that matters, and influences what is then done. Art, the word, causes the roofs of houses to leak. Art, the word, causes movies to be boring. Art, the word, causes paintings to be ugly and pointless, and plays to be boring and incomprehensible. It is a word worth arguing about.

In the piece I've just linked to, Aaron Haspel says:

The modern religion, as Tom Wolfe beat me to pointing out, is art, which has become the highest term of praise for anything at all. A well-played bridge hand, a well-placed insult, a nice-looking ashtray are all "works of art." Except they aren't, and neither is architecture. Art is art, and non-art is non-art, and never the twain shall meet.

I disagree rather severely with those last three sentences. But the question What Is Art? is one that I entirely agree with Haspel in taking seriously.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:47 PM
August 27, 2003
On changing how things are by starting with how they look

My friend Alice is battling away to make her blog look nicer. Good luck to her. And I feel that this is a quite profound comment on how a lot of us feel about the role of aesthetics in everyday life:

Yes, this is drivel. As soon as I get my new look, everything will change.

She's talking about the blog, not herself. But something very similar could be said about the relationship between how well you you talk and how good you look. (Improve your speaking by getting a new suit.)

Things are a shambles. But as soon as we can make them look nice, they will be on the mend. Start with appearances, and reality will follow. There is much truth in this.

In armies, a classic way (see the movie Patton starring George C. Scott) of turning loser soldiers into Real Soldiers is to start by making them look like Real Soldiers. Start with the appearance of things. Next thing you know, they'll feel like Real Soldiers, and before you know it they'll be Real Soldiers, and fighting like Real Soldiers.

Many – including me, here, I'm sure, often – speak of beauty and good-lookingness as being entirely separate from everyday Real Life and its struggles. Not so.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:45 AM
August 21, 2003
I liked Linda Hamilton's make-up last night on the telly

It's only a small thing, but a thing nevertheless. Last night I was watching a nothing movie with Charlie Sheen in it. Which is rather tautological, because Charlie Sheen is such a bad actor. I saw another Charlie Sheen movie (which was still great despite him because it had Denise Richards in it) where he spent the whole thing reminding me of something, and I only later worked out that it was that actor who played Loo-tenant Weinberg in A Few Good Men, who did a skit performance of a Really Slow and Portentous News Anchor Man who is famous (in America) for being really Slow and Portentous, in a movie called The Opposite Sex which also had the brunette skinny one from Friends in it who changed her name by adding her husband's surname to her own name when she got married which actresses should never do, I think. That's how bad Charlie Sheen is. He acts, for real, like someone else's send-up of a Slow and Portentous News Anchor Man.

(Denise Richards is a classic example of an under-rated actress. People confuse the fact that she plays bimbos so very cleverly and entertainingly with the notion that she, Denise Richards, is a real life bimbo. She is actually a terrific comic actress. But let that pass. This posting is about Linda Hamilton, and only about Denise Richards in passing.)

Anyway, acting opposite Charlie Sheen in this nothing movie was Linda Hamilton, no less. She who is the mother of the Saviour of Mankind in Terminator 2, and who then married the Director of it who then did Titanic (incidentally Titanic star Leonardo DiCaprio (and what a piece of crap this is, don't you think?) only has to get a bit older and he'll look like Bill Clinton), but then they divorced for some reason. She who is hit by an earthquake in Earthquake (I think that was her) alongside the latest James Bond before he was James Bond. (Denise Richards on the other hand, acted alongside James Bond when he was James Bond. I had not forgotten about that.) No, it was a volcano, but it wasn't called Volcano.

I really like Linda Hamilton. Think how much less bad Dangerous Minds would have been if Linda Hamilton had played the ex-Marine school teacher, instead of Michelle (Grease 2) Pfeiffer – whom I also adore and who may for all I know actually be an ex-Marine, but to me she does not look like one. (The real person Michelle Pfeiffer enacted in Dangerous Minds actually looks a bit like Molly Ringwald. Strange. I never figured Molly Ringwald for a US Marine. Or maybe, she looks more like the actress who played the photographer in the much derided but I think quite interesting Perfect in which Jaime Lee Curtis played a swimmer/aerobics instructor. Anne De Salvo, that was her. But not so much in this photo.)

Anyway, the small thing. Linda Hamilton and Charlie Sheen were being chased around Washington and its surrounding areas by the US government. Incidentally, the assassin in this movie was also the assassin in another movie (a much better one) which was also on TV last night called The Hard Way, which is the one where Michael J. Fox plays a movie star and James Woods plays a hard-driven New York cop. More tautology. I mean, when do you ever have soft-driven New York cops in movies? Who is that guy? The assassin I mean. (His name is Stephen Lang. You can't ask rhetorical questions in blog postings. Blog postings have links. To do links, you have to find them. And if you can find links, you can find who played the assassin in some idiot movie, in about half a minute. I went to a site about the nothing movie, and I found the cast list.)

Anyway, the small thing. Linda Hamilton was being chased.

Most actresses being chased around in nothing movies just go where they're put and run where they're told to run and they say whatever nonsense they have to say. But, they insist on their make-up looking flawless throughout all this foolishness, as if out to dinner in a fifties Dean Martin movie or something, despite being attacked by dinosaurs or submarines or space aliens for about a solid week of mayhem. Which only makes everything look about five times sillier than it would have looked anyway which was pretty damn silly to start with.

Linda Hamilton, however, while being chased around Washington and surrounding areas, played a woman who was not, as you probably wouldn't be in such circumstances after about the first four hours of being chased around, wearing any make-up. And that is how she really looked. I've probably seen a female lead in a silly film played as un-made-up before, but for the life of me I can't remember when that would have been.

Of course, Linda Hamilton, the actress, was wearing make-up, on much the same basis that I presume Charlie Sheen, the (bad) actor, was also wearing make-up. But my point is, she genuinely and truly looked as if she wasn't. She looked like a woman who was simply too busy to doing with make-up, what with people firing rockets at her out of helicopters and such like. Which made everything look only about half as silly as such things usually do.

Good for Linda Hamilton, is my point. I don't know everything about how Hollywood operates, in fact I know hardly anything about how Hollywood operates, but it is my understanding that if a star actress doesn't like the way her make-up looks they redo it until she does. Star actresses have make-up approval. So Linda Hamilton let this happen. I was impressed. Smart woman. She would never make the mistake of suddenly calling herself Linda Hamilton Titanic Director's Surname. (I know: Linda Hamilton Cameron.)

Although, now I think about it, Charlie Sheen was quite amusing as Pheobe's submariner boyfriend in Friends, where they both got chicken pox.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:55 AM
August 20, 2003
Speculations

A great way to edge your profile in the blogosphere in the upwards direction is to do one of those links to a Samizdata posting that turns the bit where it says "TrackBack [0]" to "TrackBack [1]". Noticing such a circumstance (and making it go now to "TrackBack [2]") at the top of Dale Amon's posting about SpaceShipOne (which I have a soft spot for simply because it photographs so prettily), I backtracked my way to a blog called The Speculist, which is about the onward march into the wild blue future yonder of technology. Whenever Samizdata gets too gloomy about the European Union, income tax, UK gun control, etc., this will be one of the places I go for optimistic refreshment about life's possibilities.

My favourite posting there at present, edging the one about DNA computing into second place, is this one about Chinese human-rabbit hybrids.

Hollywood must be told about this. The pitch: The Fly, only instead of a fly it's a bunny. The Bunny! Jeff Goldblum with fur and whiskers (which he has already practised doing in the outstanding Earth Girls Are Easy), winning an Olympic sprinting medal and then disappearing into a hole in the ground. Maybe not.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:12 PM
August 18, 2003
The economics of CDs and DVDs

This Guardian has a story today about how the Internet, instead of wrecking the music industry, is reviving it, by forcing it to lower its CD prices.

But the economics of the Guardian piece is all over the place. Success is defined as total money spent, which, now that people are spending the same amounts of money on more and cheaper products, is holding up. Profits are falling, says the story, but that doesn't matter.

Oh yes it does. The record companies may be shifting their existing product at fire-sale prices, but these numbers won't encourage them to record new stuff.

For the time being, they can still make some money with their biggest selling pop artists. But the future of the music industry remains uncertain.

I've been noting the fall in classical CD prices for some time. I can't help noticing that sellers of CDs are now aware that one of my alternatives is to get hold of a copy of the CD in question by borrowing and copying it. The morals of this may be as wobbly as the Guardian's economics, but wobbly morals, unlike the grim certainties of economics, don't stop things happening. The basic, low-as-it-gets price for a quite decent but long available classical CD is just £. This compares very favourably with the bother of copying. That's what I paid, for example, for a very decent recording by Maria-Joao (sprinkle Spanish squiggles to taste) Pires, of Mozart's piano concertos 13, 14 and 23. Before ubiquitous CD burners, this would have set me back £3. at least.

It's the same with books. The price of books very exactly reflects the bother of photocopying from a legitimate copy, both in terms of how easy it is to get hold of a copy, and how easy it is to actually photocopy it. Not very, which is why remaindered books can still fetch several quid, despite their low tech nature – in fact because of it.

What's holding CD prices up, still, is that there are still plenty of listeners out there who can't be doing with this internet malarkey and still want to have an entirely separate system for music to the system they have for internet surfing or emailing or doing their homework. I'm one of these neanderthals. Soon we will all be dead. As we die, the Internet will gradually mutate into one vast, free, jukebox. For many it's that already. But not me. I like CDs. I like the idea of owning music, in the form of an object for each clutch of pieces. I feel about CDs what an earlier generation felt about LPs and what an even earlier one than that felt about 78s.

But I'm noticing that with movies my psychology is different. The knowledge that truly high definition movies for the home are yet to arrive, and the fact that a favourite movie does not immediately demand to be watched four more times (while a treasurable new CD demands exactly that), all make me less bothered about owning movies on DVD. If their purchase price resembles the cost of hiring, I'll buy. Over about twelve quid, forget it.

It doesn't help that DVDs come in ludicrously space-consuming boxes. At some point, I might seriously consider switching all the movies I do own on DVD into CD-type jewel cases. I mean, what nincompoop thought, after the electronics industry had sweated blood to get the info boiled down into a beer mat, that the way to package DVDs was to make them take up as much space as possible. I guess, what with VHS tapes, they were just addicted to big fat rectangles.

Plus, I suppose when they introduced DVDs they reckoned they'd charge forty quid for each one and that the average punter would own about twenty of them in his entire life.

But we punters are smarter than that. We know that the marginal cost of copying a movie is zero, near enough, no matter how many gazillions they may spend making the damn movies in the first place. We always knew, having watched the price of CDs drift downwards over the last two decades, that DVDs would soon move downwards too, and if they are still asking twenty quid for a favourite movie, to hell with them. We only buy a quarter as many of the damn thing. Ergo, DVD movie prices have plunged a lot more quickly than CD prices.

Soon there will be DVDs in the charity shops, just as there have long been quite decent CDs there.

The longer term future of both music making and movie making will become much more dispersed, and diverse. More will be done by people who just want to make music or make movies. Money will still be just as important, but in a different way. The typical customer of the new age will not be a passive listener or watcher, but an active creator.

A bit like blogging. We don't make money with our blogging. We are the customers – for bandwidth, for blogging software, for cameras and flash cards so we can decorate our blogs, for designers who can tart up the look of our blogs, for nicer screens, for nicer speakers to play each others' tunes.

The new age, in other words, will not be an age in which canned music and canned movies make the money. What will make the money will be the cans and the canning equipment. The instruments.

That's enough. Probably already too much. Sorry if it was all too boring and obvious.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:12 PM
August 07, 2003
The best DVDs

I remember once reading a great P. J. O'Rourke piece in, I think, Republican Party Reptile, about what sort of cars handle best. The best car, handling-wise, said P. J., is a hired car. Hired cars can be made to do things that your own car is simply not able to do, with you at the wheel.

And I'm here today to answer the question: what sort of DVDs are the best DVDs? And the answer is borrowed DVDs.

Number one: Borrowed DVDs don''t cost you anything.

Number two. They don't occupy any shelf space. When you've finished watching them, you take them back.

Number three. If you start watching a borrowed DVD and it is garbage, you paid nothing for it, so you have no obligation to yourself to watch it. You can just stop. If you hire a DVD or worse, buy a DVD, without realising that it is garbage, you then have the problem of how to get your money's worth. With a borrowed DVD that's not a problem. You can watch it anyway, and write a sneering blog posting about it (that's if you are a blogger), and take it upon yourself to tell all your friends of the DVD's demerits. Or you can stop.

Number four: You can watch it whenever you like. You borrowed it from a friend. He's already watched it, or he wouldn't have lent it to you. So, you can hang on to it for as long as you like. You don't have to take it back to Blockbuster by 11 pm tomorrow evening, or even 11 pm the day after tomorrow. You can keep if for days, weeks even. You can watch it whenever you feel like it. And if you really like it, you can wait a week, and watch it again. In particular, you avoid being in a position where you are watching what turns out to be a two hours ten minutes DVD (but you don't know this until it ends) when you have one hour and fifty minutes to get it back to the video shop. This is a really bad situation to be in. It spoils everything.

Number five: If you really love it, more than is really healthy, to the point where you want to be able to watch bits of a favourite DVD every day for the rest of your life, you can always go out and buy the DVD for yourself. Borrowing doesn't mean that this isn't allowed, later.

I'm sure if I thought about it some more, further advantages to watching borrowed DVDs would occur to me.

None of the above applies to classical music CDs. These it is necessary to own. Music is not like a movie. If you love a piece of music you want to listen to it seventeen times, and simultaneously live your life, while occasionally stopping your life and jumping about and waving your arms when the really good bit comes around. And you want to be able to do this at any time, day or night, for the rest of your life. There's nothing unhealthy about that. That's normal. Once you've decided you like a particular music CD, that means you want to own it.

Which explains, changing the subject somewhat, why movies, despite being massively more complicated and expensive to make, are nevertheless cheaper to buy than music. Music we have to have, and therefore they have us by the private parts with it. Movies, we can borrow, return, and meanwhile live without. They're always there, and obtainable somehow, by some means. So with movies, we have them by the private parts. They can only sell movies for twenty quid to people for whom twenty quid is nothing, or for whom instant ownership is essential. Most of us will only buy for a tenner or less. The economics supply/demand graphs are different for movies compared to music. Demand, I think I'm saying, is less intense, and in particular more "elastic", for movies. I knew you'd be excited.

Put it this way. If all my friends all agreed that Barenboim's Brahms First Piano Concerto is wonderful (which we don't of course – I'm the only one of all my friends who gives a toss about this recording), we would all have to have a copy of it. But if we all agree that Casablanca is wonderful, as maybe we do, one copy will do for all of us.

(Of course, whatever you think of the morals of the matter, the business of all of a group of friends each having a CD copy of something has recently got massively easier. See music industry, collapse of.)

Memo to self. Make list of all my DVDs and circulate to my friends. Or, I could blog the list, with helpful comments about the more obscure items, and then send an email to my friends, informing them of their special status.

Further memo to self. Do blog posting about how the definition of friendship changes as the things that friends are for change with changing trechnology. Now, friends are people to borrow DVDs from, and to lend them to. What have friends been in the past? What will they be in the future? Actually, that's pretty much it.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:17 PM
July 30, 2003
I do love the blogosphere

Inspired by Jim of Jim's Journal's comment (on the subject of the movie Pushing Tin) on the posting immediately below, I have just done a piece for Transport Blog about transport based movies generally.

Jim, any chance you could be persuaded to go over there and elaborate on what your brother-in-law said about air traffic control?

Also, as another consequence of this to-ing and fro-ing, I read Jim's latest journal entry, and posted and commented upon a relevant bit of it here.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:50 PM
Reflections on the Twin Towers in the movies and on movie acting – why facelessness can be a virtue

The other night I watching a rather silly movie called Pushing Tin, which is about insanely neurotic air traffic controllers – in other words the exact sort you do not ever want to be controlled by. As I say, rather silly, even if the background facts it all sprang from so insanely may have been accurate, for all I know. Anyway, my point here is that the very first shots of the movie, and the very last shot of all, right where it said The End, all had New York's now famously absent Twin Towers in them.

Like – I'm guessing – literally millions of others, every time I have watched a movie since 9/11, I have kept a special eye out for those towers, and it is astonishing – truly astonishing – how often they appear in movies. In Woody Allen's Manhattan, they even appeared in the title graphics, as the two ts of Manhattan.

American movies being American movies, any "symbolism" involved in such shots as these is kept at arms length. It's there for the movie buffs, but no character ever steps forward to explain it. That sort of self-consciously artistic art is not allowed in the American art of popular movie making. Nevertheless, those Twin Towers definitely meant a lot, to a lot of people.

If there had only been one Tower, as I seem to recall there once was before the second one got built, I seriously doubt if it would have been missed that much. It was the way there were two of them that really got to people, and made everyone miss them so. (Question: what would have been the reaction if only one of the towers had got knocked down?)

Often the Twin Towers appear for the simple reason that when they existed, they were the most striking feature of the New York skyline. They didn't symbolise anything. They were just there, along with the rest of the city.

But on other occasions, it seems to me, the Twin Towers were used in movies to evoke and to symbolise and echo that most elemental of human experiences, the partnership. As I say, I can't quote you chapter and verse where someone actually says this, but that's how it looks to me.

Usually, that partnership is the one that dominates movies (and especially the kind of soppy chick flick movies I generally like best), the partnership between a man and a woman. But I don't think that what makes the Twin Towers such an appealing representation of human partnership is to do with sex, or romance, or not in the superficial sense of those notions. The Twin Towers were not about sex, or about romantic dinners for two. I think what was appealing about the Twin Towers was their absolute and uncompromising equality.

Underneath all truly effective partnerships, sexual, romantic or any other kind, there lurks absolute equality. Sexually you may be different. What you each do during the day may be different. But a true partnership is a partnership of equals. And those two towers were absolutely equal.

This was emphasised by the extreme blandness of the shape of each tower. The Twin Towers spoken to the inner essence of the human experience, rather than to its outside idiosyncrasies. This is what souls look like on Judgement Day. Faceless.

Take those other Twin Towers, the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. They are equal as well, but they is so much else going on with them, and above all so much in the way of surface decoration, that they don't have anything like the same universality or innerness – not to me. Also, they are holding hands in a somewhat co-dependent way, which for me slightly spoils the universality of the partnership symbolism. The Twin Towers stood entirely separate, structurally. Each was utterly self-supporting. Yet there were both were together, manifestly sharing life together. Perfect Partners.

Stay with me.

There is also something rather faceless about the most successful film stars. Often their faces are nothing remarkable, and the most characteristic thing that the most successful film stars often do with their faces is: nothing. They simply present them, blankly, "facelessly", and onto that blank the audience projects its own concerns and interpretations.

Modern architecture. Faceless. Modern movie acting. Also "faceless".

Old time acting (British theatrical acting): full of frills and gestures, to get its message across to the folks in the top row at the theatre.

New style movie acting (American): no frills. The face is so huge that it doesn't have to do anything. It can just be there. It communicates effortlessly, by erecting a blank slate upon which the audience scribbles its emotions.

Old time architecture: … New style architecture: …

The idea that the facelessness of big modern architecture might actually be a major part of its appeal is not one that I have ever spelt out to myself in so many words, yet I do believe that it is so.

I'd never thought of this stuff quite like this before, and I'm sure I'm not the first. But interesting, I think.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:25 PM
July 28, 2003
On the difference it makes to be watching things alone

James Lileks has a lovely description today in his Bleat, about watching the movie Devil in a Blue Dress, which is particular good about the particular joy of watching the thing on a computer, and being able to freeze frame, and internet search for the details of a movie that was shown being shown, in the original movie. Lileks describes all that better, so read him.

What all this also points up, it now occurs to me, is that watching a movie on your own is also a different experience again. If you are watching on your own, you can decide two minutes in that you don't want to watch it after all. You can freeze frame to take incoming phone calls, you can freeze frame if the ball game playing silently on your TV (the DVD being on your computer screen) suddenly springs to life with a big home run, or in my case a wicket or a burst of dramatic slogging. You can just freeze it, and make yourself a cup of coffee.

Now that DVD players and TVs are so very cheap, more and more people are presumably watching movies on their own.

Which leads on to another point, which is that if you watch a movie on your own you don’t have to justify your choice to anyone. You can watch porn, or old Scharzeneggers. I can watch soppy High School Romances or Fred-and-Gingers or tapes of recent England rugby triumphs – while also doing something like blogging – and if other people think that's daft or tasteless or ridiculous, fine, they can watch something else and simultaneously do something else. Unlike me, Lileks is a family man, but he also likes his time alone to watch his preferred stuff.

Personally I value this aspect of home viewing far more than I value a million dollars worth of high techery to do the sound and fury of Terminator 5 at the cinema, or for that matter the equivalent kit for five hundred quid for all the family to watch at home, when that also arrives, which it may already have done for all I know or care. My "home cinema" is plenty big enough for short-sighted little me, given than it is only twenty inches away from my eyes.

Narrowcasting, I think they call this.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:41 PM
July 26, 2003
The effect on movie-making of being able to see movies again and again

Michael Blowhard links to this New York Times piece about the inexorable rise of what it will eventually make sense to call home cinema.

Movies routinely make more money (sometimes twice as much) on video than in theaters: "8 Mile," starring the rapper Eminem, earned $117 million at the box office and $130 million on DVD and cassette; "Drumline" $56.4 million and $84.7 million, respectively; "Barbershop" $76 million and $102 million; "One Hour Photo" $31.6 million and $72.6 million.

(Given how bad I am at numbers, god bless copy and paste to enable me to serve up these without pain.)

I'm a bit surprised that there hasn't been more said about the influence of the home video market on the content of movies.

The big change for me is that you can now watch movies again and again, and that changes the experience, especially if, like me, you often have trouble getting all the subtleties of a plot the first time around. My enjoyment of A Few Good Men, a classic old-fashioned but quite complicated courtroom, would have been be nothing compared to what it has been, if I'd only been able to watch it just the once.

Maybe video tapes have masked the effect. They are so clunky that they were only ever going to be a stopgap until something adequate and silvery and shiny came along, but their effect has perhaps been to disguise any major impact that the punters actually owning movies might have on the movie-making business. It happened too gradually to be obvious. I'm sure the movie-makers themselves have noticed all kinds of differences, obvious and not so obvious.

But what have been the consequences of home video?

Well, I don't know. That's why I'm asking.

But here's a speculation about what might be in the pipeline, which is movies that make virtually no sense until you've pretty much memorised them, and are massively denser and more information packed than your average movie is now. I personally have to struggle to stay awake through the movies of Peter Greenaway. Only the music amuses me. But I've an idea that his movies – I'm thinking especially of one called Prospero's Books (which is an adaptation of The Tempest, I believe – yes) – fill this particular bill.

Because surely one of the big impacts of owning a really nice version of a movie as opposed to merely being able to watch it once in a cinema or bash your way through a hard-to-access VHS tape, is that we can now contemplate movies in the way we only used to be able to contemplate a big and detailed still painting, or a photo.

Or a novel. Imagine what a different art form the novel would be if you were only allowed to access it by listening to it being read allowed at a public performance, once.

Go to rush. Going drinking with all the other London bloggers. Sorry for any typos. Tell you what. Don't scrutinise this. Just read it once.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:50 PM
July 14, 2003
Jennings on movies (again) – Jennings as a potential Brian's Culture Blogger – blogging as public emailing

I may or may not be going to a gathering of bloggers at the House of Commons this evening, so, if only not to have to worry about getting back in time to do something here before midnight, here's a quick link to another Michael Jennings movie piece, this time a dissection of the latest Hollywood mishandling of a comic-book theme.

One day soon, Jennings will get himself a paid job that is worthy of his considerable abilities. But, at this point, will he be able to sustain himself as a personal blogger?

I, meanwhile, may likewise become entwined with the real world in the months and years to come, and what may then become of my ability to blog daily? It is with this in mind that I am pondering trying to turn Brian's Culture Blog into a group effort (and ditto my Education Blog). Jennings might be worth asking.

The requirement's for fellow Brian's Culture Bloggers are: (1) You can in my opinion write well, (2) you are ideologically sympatico – I am doing this for political propaganda reasons, not just as a culture fan, (3) it would help if you didn't have identical cultural tastes to me, but that's not asking much. Jennings quite likes what he calls the "best" modern art, define pretty much in the way the official Modern Art art critics define best. This is not quite my attitude. So that's a plus. The advantage to Michael is that he could post here at will, but would not be burdened with the burden of having to post here everyday. Me ditto.

I know what you're thinking. Why couldn't he swallow me, instead of vice versa? Answer (one of many), because I use MovableType, and he uses that other thing. This way, he can become a completely MovableTypist, and can leave his blog as a Blogger archive. (Well, it's worth a try.)

And before anyone else says it, having a group blog named after someone called Brian is no problem, I've decided. After all Old Moore's Almanac is not entirely written by Old Moore. Alice's Restaurant, of the old hippy song fame, had other people eating in it besides Alice. ("You can get anything you want – at Alice's restaurant" as I recall.)

It's typical of me that I should send an email to Jennings in the form of a blog posting. I have not yet mentioned any of this to him face-to-face. But then again, I believe that blogging is all part of the breaking down of the private/public distinction. What's the worst he can say? No, get lost you fascist imperialist bastard. Big deal.

No doubt one day I will make something public that I really, really wish I hadn't. But it hasn't happened so far, and I'm over 50. My problem has never been getting people to stop prying, it has been getting people to pay attention.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 04:57 PM
July 11, 2003
Michael Jennings on 12 Monkeys

When the question that Michael Jennings is answering is one you want answered, he's an outstanding writer. So, if the question you want answered is: Michael, can you please tell me something about the movie 12 Monkeys?, go to Michael's blog now to read your answer.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:19 AM
July 10, 2003
God save the Queen

There's a good piece of culture blogging over at Alice's, about how her generation sat around listening to that Punk Rock music and baaaad-mouthin' their country. (And who am I echoing there? Answers please in the comments section.) Also, there's good stuff about hippies, as exemplified by Neil of the Young Ones. Alice has all the links you'll need.

Did I ever tell you that when I lived in Newcastle during my Youth, I wore thick NHS glasses, and when I took my regular trousers to the cleaners I wore my thin ones, and the youths of Newcastle would yell "Ha way Elvis" at me, which was odd because I do not look at all like Elvis Presley. Question mark. Maybe, maybe not. Anyway, one day I had the shock of my young life when I saw a giant cardboard cut-out of myself, wearing thin trousers, in the window of a record shop. Elvis Costello.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:48 PM
June 26, 2003
Grease 2 are the words

Last night I watched Drew Barrymore chattering to David Letterman and a could-be historic moment happened, which is that DB revealed that she and the other two Charlie's Angels ladies (that would be CD and LL) had been singing songs from Grease 2 down Mexico way, during their "world tour" to promote Charlie's Angels – Full Throttle. Charlie's Angels – Full Throttle can look after itself:

The Charlie's Angels stars are returning to the big screen again, battling forces of evil with the world's most advanced technologies, including the Sony Ericsson T616 mobile phone.

To hell with that. It's the Grease 2 angle I'm interested in. Could there be a buzz starting to resurrect this much maligned and neglected little movie? And does saying that make me gay? Probably in many eyes and on many gaydar screens, but I made my decision about whether I was going to allow that kind of thing to bother me during the long dark era, now definitely over, of Abba neglect.

If you want to delight Michelle Pfeiffer, tell her she was great in Grease 2. Which is true, she was (look for "Stephanie Zinone" in the meet the cast bit). But, and this would be the source of all that malignancy and neglectfulness, her leading man was abysmal. Then as now, still (in ridiculous TV soap operas etc.) he called and calls himself "Maxwell Caulfield". Now Maxwell Caulfield was the hero of J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, the novel of choice for a whole generation of cogitating ne'er-do-wells, and if you draw attention to yourself with a name like that, you'd better be able to live up to it. Maxwell Caulfield 2 couldn't. His singing in Grease 2 was a movie-destroying atrocity. Plus he's a hopeless actor.

[EMBARRASSED UPDATE: That paragraph is stupid, because the hero of Catcher in the Rye is, as commenter number one Michael Jennings points out, not Maxwell Caulfield but Holden Caulfield. So not such a silly name then. But whatever he's called he's still a bad actor and an atrocious singer. No excuse to offer. Just wrong. When you blogger in hole, dig no more, climb out, brush off dirt, hope everyone soon forget.]

Which was a real pity, because the best songs in Grease 2 were great. Best of all was probably the number during the opening credits, called (I think) "Back To School", sung by the Four Tops. Whenever I see Four Tops greatest hits CDs I look for it, but never find it. Why is that? It was great. And who could forget "Rockahula Luau"? – not that I ever knew how to spell this in the first place, but if you know the one I mean, you'll know the one I mean.

Think pink.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 01:32 PM
June 24, 2003
Reflections on "Big Brother": the total surveillance society and the prescience of popular culture

In a characteristic Samizdata posting, Perry de Havilland regrets the modern use of the phrase "Big Brother" to describe reality TV shows, and harks back to Orwell's original coinage, with grim pictures of CCTV surveillance cameras outside primary schools, and of propaganda for CCTV cameras in the form of big posters in the London Underground.

All this anti-surveillance thinking over at Samizdata is connected to the recent launch of this new blog, White Rose which will be concerned with civil liberties and "intrusive state" issues. I've already done a couple of posts there, the most substantial of which concerned organ donarship, and I intend to contribute many more similar efforts. The boss of White Rose is one of my closest friends.

However, I have long been nursing heretical thoughts about this total surveillance stuff, which it makes sense to put on a "culture" blog rather than on a politics blog. Because what I think is at stake here is a sea change not just in state surveillance, but in the culture generally. What is more, it is a sea change which places programmes like Big Brother right at the centre of what is happening.

Personally I don't watch Big Brother, or any of its various derivatives. Nor, to my extreme relief, do I feel any need to keep up with the soap operas. I recall reading a book years ago which described TV as the ultimate "psychic energy sink", and although I watch a hell of a lot of it, I think that's right.

However, I do think that Big Brother (the TV show) deals with a real question, a question worth reflecting upon. And that question is: what happens to, you know, life, when there are TV cameras trained on it twenty four hours per day? What happens to manners? What happens to the rules of how we ought to behave? What happens to the judgements we make of other people? When we see someone we know, and perhaps later meet up with, masturbating on camera, or scratching his bum, or having a seriously bad hair day, or cheating (maybe, hard to tell) on his wife, how should we then conduct ourselves?

These seem to me to be questions well worth preparing ourselves for.

Big Brother is closely linked to the also much complained about "cult of celebrity".

But the "cult" of celebrity – which is really just being extremely interested in the lives of celebrities – seems to me to reflect the exact same pre-occupations as the reality TV shows. Celebrities are the people who are already enduring total surveillance. Their triumphs and agonies as they either try to dodge the cameras, or as they make rude finger gestures at them, or else as they try to be dignified when on them, are a taste of what the rest of us may have to be deciding about in years to come. Now the Beckhams, tomorrow it'll be us on camera. How do the Beckhams handle it? How will we?

Popular culture is often dismissed as trivia and nonsense, by the guardians of "culture" in the more elevated sense of that word. But then these same guardians look back on the trivia and nonsense of earlier times, and suddenly they see that those despicably low-browed masses were actually dealing with deadly serious questions which the entire world and its various Presidents and Prime Ministers are now having to deal with in deadly earnest.

Take all those slam bang adventure movies of the nineteen eighties. I recall a wonderful fake cinema trailer done by some British TV comedians which advertised a movie called, simply, "Things Exploding". Ho ho. And it was true. The collective sub-conscious did seem to be unnaturally obsessed with (a) huge and dramatic bangs, and in general, disasters of all kinds, and (b) how people should react to them. Well, in the era of Al Qaeda, this suddenly doesn't seem quite so moronic and down market, now does it? Suddenly the world is filled, for real, with, if not an abundance of actual bangs, then at the very least the vastly heightened fear of such bangs, in official and respectable circles.

I believe that the exact same pattern will unfold with total surveillance. The "official" debate about this takes the form of saying either that we've got to have it (the government line), or that it's creepy (White Rose).

Meanwhile the masses are off on a quite different tack. Instead of arguing about whether it should happen, they have simply accepted that, just like all those big bangs and disasters, it is going to happen, and for them, the question is: how do we live with it?

I believe that the masses are right. I have no problem with trying to help my White Rose friends in what they are trying to do with occasional postings, for I certainly believe that the matter of how total surveillance is done is extremely important. But I am with the masses in pretty much believing that it will happen. To ask how we can stop it is futile. What really matters is: how will we live with it?

To put it another way, the important discussions about total surveillance are at least as much Brian's Culture Blog matters as they are White Rose matters.

End of part one. As so often with blogging, you blog away for twenty minutes, setting the scene and clearing away the undergrowth, as it were, for what you really want to get stuck into. But when you have, and are ready to get seriously started, you have actually finished a perfectly decent posting, which it makes sense to draw to a close.

If I want to pursue this, and I really really do, I will, but not here and not now.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:55 PM
June 18, 2003
Peacemaking and temper keeping

I'm watching what I think is a rather under-rated movie, The Peacemaker, which stars George Clooney and Nicole Kidman.

What I especially like about this movie is that the two lead characters, Clooney and Kidman, would in most versions of such a movie story, have had at least one all-out slanging match by now (I'm about a third of the way in), before duly bonding and going after the bad guys. But although they've had several chances to scream and yell at each other, they haven't taken them. Which is entirely right, given the sort of people we are asked to believe that they are, top notch anti-terrorism folks doing ultra-high pressure work. An inability to control emotions under conditions of argumentative stress would not be a (non-) quality that you would want such people to have. They argue their conflicting cases forcefully, but they never let it get personal.

Which also means that they avoid another thuddingly predictable action movie cliché. Instead of consummating their personal relationship, the happy boy-gets-girl-girl-gets-boy ending has them embarking upon such a relationship.

I particularly liked the establishing-of-character scene in which a lady politician lists all the rambunctious and criminal things the Clooney character is alleged to have done while stopping some poison gas finding its way from Russia to Iraq. "Yes ma'am, that is correct." In general, the Clooney character is very convincing, to my eye.

The weakness of the movie is that it has a deeply unconvincing villain. Who – yes, you've guessed it – loves his classical music.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:20 PM
Gateshead – new glories and old horrors

Here's a collection of fun photos, taken at night, of the Tyne bridges in Newcastle (including the new Gateshead Millenium Bridge), and the Sage Gateshead, which is a new music centre under construction.

The Millenium Bridge doesn't go in a straight line across the river, it goes in a big curve. This means it takes longer to walk across but it also means that it can simply be lifted up into an arch when tall boats want to go under it. Brilliant.

The Sage Gateshead (an ugly form of words but that seems to be how you speak of this thing) has been designed by Foster and Partners. It has two concert halls, which will, we are assured have excellent accoustics, and a glass outer skin which will afford an excellent view of the Tyne. I believe that both claims will prove to be true.

There are some who hate this sort of thing. Anti-traditional modernity for the sake of it, blah blah. Well my "blah blah" tells you what I think of that kind of talk. I love this stuff.

I haven't seen the Sage Gateshead, but I think it looks very promising. I did take a close look at the (outside of the) Swiss Re Building in London and I love that, and love also what it has done for the London skyline.

Big public architecture is just getting better and better, as enticing now as it was soul destroying a generation ago. I used to live in Newcastle, and the most visually striking thing in Gateshead in those days, judging by the view of it from across the river, was the multi-story carpark from which Michael Caine threw one of his many victims in Get Carter. This particular one was the one to whom Caine said, famously:

"You're a big man, but you're in bad shape. With me it's a full time job, now behave yourself."

My favourite line from that film, however, was when a rather posh architect, observing some Caine induced mayhem, said to his pal, quietly but anxiously, words to the effect: "I've got an awful feeling we're not going to get our fee." Norman Foster he was not.

There's a big new Sainsbury's supermarket rising up behind its wrapping just near where I live, towards Victoria Sation, in Wilton Road. I can't wait to see what that looks like also. I tried googling for an architect's impression but could find nothing. So, wait and see, eh?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:34 AM
June 09, 2003
Nice but not-talked-about movies

The other night they showed a movie on BBC2 called Pie in the Sky, about a young guy whose passion was traffic broadcasting. His hero (played by John Goodman) was a broadcaster who could, from his helicopter, sense as if by instinct the motions of the traffic, forthcoming jams, etc., and by issuing some profound instructions to the journeying motorists, could unscramble the mess and see everybody home quckly and safely. When the Goodman character came to work drunk, our young hero got to demonstrate that he too possessed this gift.

There was plenty of sexy romance, involving two of my favourite actresses, Anne Heche and Christine Lahti (separately I mean), Heche being his first-love-next-door (literally) and Lahti the older woman who takes him in hand, lucky boy. The one name I didn't catch was that of the actor playing the young guy himself. (Here's the movie website, and his name's Josh Charles.)

One of the pleasures of movie fancying is discovering lesser know movies that you really like, and then watching them gradually become established as really nice movies that lots of other people turn out to like also, and seeing them get four stars in the Radio Times and start to creep into those lists of people's all-time favourite movies, even though when first shown they seem to attract no attention. What I mean is, they attract the opposite of the sort of jibber-jabber that now surrounds the very mediocre (by all accounts – I've not seen it and don't intend to) Matrix 2.

Here are two more movies that I would place in that category, of delightful, but not often talked about, or not in my vicinity: Into The Night (starring Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer), which is a romcom/thriller and Some Kind of Wonderful (written and produced by John Hughes, starring Eric Stoltz), one of those high school romcom/class warfare teen movies, but just done really well, and very charmingly.

Of course it could be that being a London libertarian, all I ever get told about are special effects, SF, slam bang, "I'll be back" movies, and that somewhere else in the politico-social landscape is a great hubbub of girlie conversation about non-special-effects type date-movies of the sort I find I like more and more.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:18 PM
June 05, 2003
Where Eagles Dare

There just about to show Where Eagles Dare on Channel 5, and what with my digital reception being state of the art but my taping of digital being as crap as ever, I'm going to watch it and, more to the point, listen to the start of it.

For how did they pre-announce ("after the break") this movie? Why, with a single ra!-ta-ta-ta-tat! from a drum of course, because the music that starts this movie is as unmistakable as Ravel's Bolero. The film is junk, pretty much, with a plot the Clint Eastwood surely doesn't understand to this day. But oh those opening credits, a mixture of militarised and Wagnerised Elgar (Enigma Variations in particular) on the rest of the orchestra, and Nazi oppression (i.e. scary but with artistic flare) from the drum section. It must have been on the strength of this music that Ron Goodwin was chosen to replace William Walton, no less, as the composer of the music for The Battle of Britain, unless I have my dates in a twist and it was vice versa.

Lion growling. And here it is. Blue mountains. And now the drumming starts. Red gothicky Germanicky lettering with the opening credits. Heaven. Pure heaven. I'm extremely glad that Hitler didn't invade my country, during the years just before I was born, because I just might have made a great little Nazi. As it is, I'll never know, thank goodness.

The one other thing worth mentioning about Where Eagles Dare, unless you are obsessed with those ski-lift/microbus thingies or with the German actor (who actually ran away from Hitler in 1939 but spent the rest of his life playing Nazis in English language movies) Anton Diffring, is that it is where Broadsword Calling Danny Boy got their name. Richard Burton says that into his radio set, a lot.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:25 PM
May 31, 2003
Why I hate Jerry Maguire

Jerry Maguire is a key movie. I admire it, but I hate it. It's well made. Tom Cruise doesn't do badly made movies. I hate it because the central message, embodied in the change of emotional style demanded of Rod Tidwell (played by Cuba Gooding Jnr.) by the universe in general, and by Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) in particular, is one I abhor.

This movie preaches the same message, of what to me seems like emotional incontinence, that Princess Diana – or perhaps I mean the Princess Diana industry – preached and still preaches here in Britain. Old fashioned (stuck up) stoicism is out. Emotional display is in. Self control is out. "Honesty" and "authenticity" are here. Although just how authentic the acting out that goes on nowadays actually is, I choose to be skeptical about. I prefer people who do brilliant things on a sports field to exchange solemn handshakes, not to go crazy and kiss each other and dance about like mad things.

I also believe that the good god of evolutionary biology gave us brains to judge, repress, distance ourselves and generally keep control over our emotions. This is because our emotions conflict with each other. Indulged in without thought or judgement, they lead us to catastrophe. If they control us, instead of us controlling them, situations that would merely be situations become instead emotional battlefields, and can do incalculable damage and cause incalculable pain. I associate emotional incontinence with poor, unhappy people, and I believe that their emotional incontinence is, above all else, what makes them poor and unhappy. They don't live their lives. Their lives live them.

It is all this that sportsmen like Tidwell are paid to encourage. Every time a Rod Tidwell throws an emotional tantrum of joy after scoring a touchdown, the message goes out to the people: let your emotions flood through you. Don't repress. Don't think. Feel.

Do you feel like throwing plates at your wife. Go ahead. Throw them. Be honest. Show her your true "self", located in your rage rather than in your thinking brain.

If Tidwell is to get the money on the scale he wants for himself and for his family, he must learn to celebrate like a fool when he scores a touchdown, waggle his hips, and generally go mad. He really, really doesn't want to, and I really, really don't want him to. I'm watching it all again, on Channel 4 TV, because I like Renée Zellweger, and none of this has yet happened, but it is going to. And the arguments from JM about how as a player he is all head and no heart, etc., are persuasive stuff.

The above paragraphs are not just my thoughts, they're more like my feelings. Think of this as a plate flying through the air.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:39 PM
May 14, 2003
A different way of doing battle movies

Watching TV back in France the night before last, I saw a lot of flagwaving for an any-night-now showing of Pearl Harbour, the movie starring Ben Affleck and (as I recall) Kate Beckinsale. I didn't see this movie and I don't plan to. I don't like battle movies which mash fact and fiction together the way this one does, and as do others such as The Battle of the Bulge and Midway. Midway featured a particularly annoying character played by Charlton Heston, called "Matt Garth", who dragged in a sub-plot involving a Japanese daughter-in-law. The real Midway had quite enough all-American heroes involved without them having to fake up another. And The Battle of the Bulge was likewise populated with "composite characters". Either the battle is background, in which case fine, the real story is something else and you can fake it all you like. Or it is the foreground, in which case spare me the fictional sub-plots.

The other thing that upsets me about these high-concept high-tech super-special effects low-accuracy battle movies is the shocking waste of all those special effects. All that military expertise about which guns they used and what kind of noise they made and what sort of uniforms everyone was wearing. Why waste it on a soap opera movie? It must be heartbreaking to do all that technical stuff and then watch the movie people piss on it by changing the uniforms to make them more filmic and more appealing to the teen market, and change the noise made by the guns because it isn't noisy enough or is too noisy, or make all the action occupy less physical space than it really did so that it can be more conveniently photographed. Above all what is the point of a movie which gets some Nazi general's uniform spot on, but which gets him, the general, completely wrong so that some bankable actor can be accommodated into the project?

Meanwhile, another art form is sneaking up on the rails, in the form of the historical documentary, fronted by a story teller, and fleshed out with scenes acted out by actors, in a very rudimentary fashion and in a way which is now careful not to treat on the toes of any of the big actors with names you've heard of. Here there is at least an all round attempt to get the story exactly right. Of couse different story tellers will have a different take on the story, but there's none of that "only the facts have been changed in order to tell the story better" nonsense that you get in the "real" movies. Nothing is deliberate made up. There are no Matt Garths fighting at Midway or tiny tank battles pretending to be the Battle of the Bulge.

What I wish I could see would be one of those TV story tellers fronting high-tech super-special-effects tellings of the stories of these battles. That way I'd get to see not just all those totally accurate weapons doing whatever they did, but I'd get someone at the front telling me what the hell was actually going on, and why this set of guys won and that set of guys lost. Let's see the action, and the maps with the moving arrows, explaining why that particular bit of action was so important. If you watch The Battle of Midway you get the general idea that the USA won against Japan by sinking a bunch of aircraft carriers, and by a guy in a dressing gown breaking some codes, but you don't get what an almighty god-damned fluke it all was, how absolutely and totally amazing the story of that battle really was. That you can only learn now from reading a book. That you can only learn from a narrator.

Why were there no maps for us to look at during A Bridge Too Far (which was about the Arnhem campaign)? And why couldn't it have been a real historian doing a detailed and accurate voice-over, instead of some Swedish actress doing a totally bogus bit of voice-overing only at the beginning and the end. Well, maybe the map for the Arnhem campaign is so simple that they could do without it, and just have people talk us through it. But Midway? The Bulge? Most other battles ever fought? If all they show you is bangs and shouting and killing, then that's all you'll get. You may say: oh, maps will make it all too clear. Real warfare is confused. In real battles you don't know what is happening, or what happened.

But a good narrator is perfectly capable of making that point. And I already know that if you die in mid-battle, you don't get to hear the result. I know that. I just think it would make a whole lot more sense to have a military historian fleshing out the details of what it all means and meant than having Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale playing two made-up people having a love interest.

Economically, it could work. Special effects are getting better all the time, and so potentially a lot cheaper without embarrassment. Good documentaries, both military and historical generally, are getting ever more popular, partly because there are so many more old people around than there used to be. Documentaries are getting easier to finance in the age of the DVD (a particular important product for oldies who don't get out so much), just as lots of other kinds of video material are.

All that's missing right now is the open-hearted acceptance that this way of telling stories is a reasonable one.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:57 PM
May 07, 2003
Titus on telly – and thence to France

I have to get to Stansted airport tomorrow morning, and thence to Southern France for a week. It is midnight, and I have yet to pack, so what am I doing? Why, I'm watching television of course. I've been ambushed by a film version of Titus Andronnicus, a Shakespeare character whom I do not even know with any confidence how to spell, let alone tell you the fate of. And it's terrific. Especially the music which is as sinful and jazzy and fascistic as you could ever hope for - with a touch of Lloyd Webber about it if I'm not mistaken, and none the worse for it.

Talk about sex and violence. It has it all. Should Shakespeare be banned?

I'm in France for a week, but it is not impossible that I will still be able to manage daily posts on cultural matters. The south of France is bursting with culture, and my hosts are computerised.

So, come here in hope, but not in certain expectation. (Listen to Shakespeare and soon you're talking it.)

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:32 PM
May 05, 2003
The Hunt for Red October - not an anachronism

They showed The Hunt for Red October on BBC1 last night, which is based on the book of the same name by Tom Clancy. I love this movie. I don't believe that Sean Connery has ever looked or will ever again look so good in a movie. Something about that grey wig just seemed to suit him perfectly. The world's first Scottish Lithuanian. And I don't ever remember enjoying Alec Baldwin so much as this either, before or since.

I'm in a rush to hit my daily deadline so I'll keep this brief.

It is sometimes said that movies like Red October are an anachronism, now that the Cold War is over. This was said of this movie as long ago as 1990, by the Washingon Post. Here's the first paragraph of that review:

"The Hunt for Red October," the new Sean Connery movie based on the Tom Clancy novel, is a leviathan relic of an age that no longer exists. It's also a leviathan bore, big, clunky and ponderously overplotted. And that it lurches into view as a Cold War anachronism is, in fact, the picture's most fascinating feature. It makes it irrelevant in an astoundingly up-to-date way.

And briefly, what I want to say is: bollocks. This really is a thoroughly despicable pro-Bolshevik meme, which deserves to be trampled on a lot more than it is.

Was The Dambusters an anachronism merely because it was made in 1954 yet still portrayed the people who flew in the dams raid as having done a brave job? Are all historical novels, for goodness sakes, anachronisms, merely because the events they portray and maybe celebrate are now dead and gone? You have only to ask questions like these for the answers to be obvious.

So why do people say this about films like Red October? Because (a) they didn't approve of the battle being portrayed and celebrated, but (b) they haven't the pure stamp-on-your-face brass to say so straight out. So, instead, they say that it is out of date, in the same way that an Osborne computer would now be out of date for doing your company accounts.

But a good story is a good story, no matter when it is set.

Soviet Russia was an abominable horror story, and all the brave men and true who together saw it off (people like most of the characters in Red October) deserve the eternal gratitude and admiration of civilised people now and for ever. As my friend David Carr says:

Never forget. Never forgive. Remain vigilant and, above all, never ever, ever apologise for fighting back.

There should never not be Cold War movies.

As this Washington Post review illustrates, one of the ways that the pro-Soviet and anti-anti-Soviet tendency tried to snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat was by saying that this particular war was over before it actually was. The Cold War only ended in 1991, when communism was officially ended as the basis of the government of Russia. The USSR's Cold Warriors and their useful idiots had been declaring the Cold War over, and any movies that told the truth about it to be anachronisms, ever since they devised the policy of Detente, the purpose of Detente being to win the thing for their side by persuading the good guys to declare themselves the winners before they'd won and to give up.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:55 PM
April 30, 2003
Bloody critics

One of my favourite radio shows is the BBC Radio 4 evergreen Quote Unquote, and last Monday evening they had a round devoted to performers trashing critics, a favourite theme of quote recyclers. Asking an artist about critics is like asking a lamp-post about dogs, ha, ha. That kind of thing.

I wonder what the film-maker in question would make of this, from the ever droll Mark Steyn, dissing his latest effort, a would-be thriller called Trapped:

Purely by coincidence, the other day I happened to be re-watching Suddenly, Lewis Allen's 1954 thriller with Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, James Gleason, Nancy Gates, etc. Frank hadn't quite fully emerged from his pre-From Here To Eternity slump, which is part of what makes the film such fun: instead of palling around with Crosby or Kelly and romancing Kim Novak or Rita Hayworth, one of the great icons of the 20th century is pulling his weight in an ensemble piece with reliable Fifties B-movie types. He plays, like Bacon does, a somewhat unstable type leading his accomplices through a plan that's perfect on paper. As in Trapped, his victims quickly get the measure of him and start messing with his head. But Suddenly is far more secure in its sense of itself. Unlike Trapped, the one-word title isn't just a lame generality pulled off the shelf: it refers to the setting - the sleepy small town of Suddenly, California. You get the feeling it would never have occurred to the makers of Trapped to set it in Trapped, Oregon. They don't think that way, and their clumsiness is perhaps the film's saving grace. An efficient thriller about child kidnapping would seem disgustingly manipulative and exploitative, but Trapped is so incompetent those are the least of its worries.

Very droll.

And how about poor old George Clooney's outburst at a televised press conference not long ago when some Euro-journo called his recent rather boring remake of Solaris rather boring.

Memo from Brian's Culture Blog to Hollywood: Don't remake good films. Remake bad films, i.e. films that were not done properly the first time around and about which a teacher might say "Not good enough, do again." "That's a classic, do a remake!" makes no sense. Memo from Hollywood to Brian's Culture Blog: By Jove, Brian's Culture Blog, how very right you are, we'll change our entire remake procedure from now on.

Well of course Hollywood would never say such a thing. If it deigned to say anything at all, it would probably say: Stop pissing on our lamp-posts you Euro-prick. And what I'm here to tell you today is: Hollywood has a point. (Besides the point, I mean, that the original Solaris was all in foreign and had subtitles which means that no one normal will have seen it and that a remake for the benefit of normals makes perfect sense.)

No matter how clever a put-down of a film may be, and no matter how lame the original film may be, there is something disproportionate about the time and effort that goes into the film, and then the time and effort that doesn't go into the put-down. I mean, I haven't even seen that Solaris remake. I haven't even given the thing the time it takes to watch it (although I understand that the time it takes to watch it is considered by many critics who have seen it to be one of its bigger problems), and yet here I am, smugly consuming an entire four and a half irreplaceable minutes of my life by dragging my typing fingers up and down almost half an inch per keystroke to complain about it. What I'm saying is, even as I poke my ounce of fun at George Clooney, I sympathise with him. He went on to say to his press conference tormentor something along the lines of: If you thing my film's so bloody bad you bloody well make a film, instead of just standing there like the jerk you are complaining about mine. Fair point.

Making a film must be like conducting a military operation where you deliberately put yourself in mortal danger in order to entertain the viewers at home better and have to fight the final battle a hundred and sixteen times. The film that Mark Steyn was denouncing apparently climaxes in a scene where the leading characters chase each other around, shooting at one another, in a multiple vehicle pile-up type crash on a motorway. That must have involved an awful lot of effort. They must have spent about a month running about in among tomato-ketchup smeared wreckage to get those few minutes of film. And then along comes Mister Smuggo Mark Steyn and, in one of the three world-syndicated articles he wrote that day, he says: Sorry Kevin Bacon, not as good as Frank Sinatra. Go and stand in the corner. Your film, Bacon, is not sure enough in its sense of itself. You can see how Bacon might want to put some real bullets in his gun and turn it on Steyn and cover him in real tomato ketchup if you get my meaning.

Additional memo from Brian's Culture Blog to Hollywood: After a decent interval consider doing a remake of Trapped. Call it Oh Shit, and set it in Oh Shit, Nevada.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:47 AM
April 23, 2003
Movies with great scenes versus a great movie

I'm rushing to finish this, so I've no time to do any thinking now, only the time to jot down something I thought earlier.

Last night I encountered on TV a documentary about film-maker Woody Allen. In it, Allen made a rather startling confession. He's a sports nut, he said, and if of an evening there was a conflict between going to the ball game he had tickets for, or doing that extra shot of the scene that would get it just perfect, instead of merely okay, he'd as likely as not go to the ball game.

Now okay, this was probably Allen trying to sell himself to TV land as an all-round okay guy with his feet on the ground, who definitely does not do weird things to his adopted children. But it might explain something, which is that when I say I like Woody Allen's movies a lot, what I really mean is that I like a lot of the scenes in Woody Allen movies.

There's the scene where Goldie Hawn recommends haute cuisine as the way to improve the atmosphere in prisons, and the scene in the same one where an adolescent boy gets smacked on the head and becomes right wing. There's the scene where he inserts Marshal McLuhan into a cinema queue to help him win an argument with a fellow queue-er. There's the scene where he chats up Diane (Annie Hall) Keaton, with subtitles which say what they're both thinking. There's the scene with the aliens who "like your early funny ones". There are the scenes where the Greek Tragedy chorus in Mighty Aphrodite sings show tunes, and the scene where the same chorus gets answered not by Zeus, but by the answering machine of Zeus. And who could forget the Volkswagen Beetle which starts first time after about three centuries?

Each favourite scene is unique and uniquely memorable. But the movies just merge into each other in memory, and often I can't remember which Woody movie "that great scene where …" was actually in, which can make digging them up and re-enjoying them rather tricky.

What this says to me is that Allen is a hit-or-miss kind of movie-maker. As he himself famously once recommended, he keeps on showing up, in his case showing up with another movie, and another, and another … So every so often he hits the bullseye. But the bullseye seldom takes the form of an entire movie.

Maybe if he wasn't such a sports nut he might have hung around at work and made more movies that were entirely superb, rather than just superb in flashes.

After that Woody documentary, I put John Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate on my DVD machine, and suddenly I was watching the real thing, a movie that is superb and superbly memorable in its entirety. When I first saw it, the nightmare scenes hit me for six, but every time I watch this movie again I'm struck not only by the excellence of the scenes I had already registered as excellent but by new stuff of equal excellence. This time, I found myself noting with particular pleasure the facial close-ups, and the skill with which all the faces are lit and photographed. I don't know the name of the director of photography or the lighting boss, or even if they are two separate people, but whoever he (they) is (are) he is (they are) very, very good at it.

As is so often the case with movies I admire, the political message being put in front of me is one I utterly despise, and the message of The Manchurian Candidate is that both sides fighting the Cold War were as bad as each other, and egging each other on – that Joe McCarthy was as bad a person as Joe Stalin. In MC the two sides are actually conspiring together! Bollocks. If our most serious Cold Warriors had been hand in glove with their psychopath monsters (i.e, them in their damned entirety), how come our guys went to all the bother of actually winning the Cold War instead of merely keeping it going indefinitely?

But to hell with that. Maybe half the people who made this movie spent their lives in well-deserved (because morals trump art in my book) Black Listed obscurity. Maybe they were trying to sell me an ideological piece of nonsense. Maybe, morally and politically (as opposed to artistically), Top Gun is worth ten Manchurian Candidates. And I just don't believe for one second that "brainwashing" could ever be made to work half that terrifyingly well. But again I say, to hell with that. The Manchurian Candidate is a great, great movie.

With a DVD player you can do something you never used to be able to do in a cinema, or even on an old-style video like mine with any great effect. You can freeze on one frame. And if you do this at random during The Manchurian Candidate you always get something beautifully composed and photographed, and just downright memorable. The thing is uninterruptedly superb from start to finish.

Whoever the guys were, aside from Frankenheimer himself, one thing I do know. They were willing to skip ball games to get their scenes absolutely right.

Damn. Did more thinking. Now I'm late.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:16 PM
April 20, 2003
Happy Easter!

This is another quota fulfiller, so stop now if you think that stupid.

Today I semi-watched one of my favorite silly films on TV, Turner and Hooch. This is the one about a dog that witnesses a murder and has to be chaperoned by Tom Hanks. Hanks is a very tidy policeman, and the dog is a slob who trashes Hanks' house. Hanks is a good actor. Often he plays a slob. Whoever he plays, you believe it.

Later in the evening they played another favourite of mine, The American President, which I have on tape and have watched quite enough already for this decade. In this film Michael Douglas plays a President with Clintonian policies, but without Clintonian domestic morals. He is widowed. He gets himself a sweet girlfield who stays the night, and both his Republican opponent and large tracts of the USA react as if he had got himself a blowjob with an intern in the Oval Office. All the stupid behaviour of Republicans that really happened, plus all the dignity of their man that didn't, in other words. Preposterous. And at the end, President Michael Douglas goes for a huge cut in globe-warming gases and a hugely more repressive anti-gun law, egged on by that little weasel Michael J. Fox, who I thought was a Republican, in public anyway. Dream on guys. The romance is a model of mundane plausibility when set beside the politics of the thing. But Douglas and Annette Bening are both charming and I still enjoy it.

In the later TV version of this movie, The West Wing, done by the same gang of people I strongly suspect (lead by Aaron Sorkin?), the President does Behave Badly, unlike Michael Douglas in The American President. I guess there was too much derision aimed at the movie for their comfort. But this time the President's Bad Behaviour takes the form of covering up, not a sordid sex life, but a Terminal Illness, which is much more profound and dignified. That way, all the same White House manoevrings can be recreated, but in a less depressing cause.

The American President still running, so to remind me of it for this I'm listening to Michael Douglas' big press conference speech at the end, and oh, the Democratic joy of it. He is as morally upright as Clinton wasn't and as verbally fluent and felicitous as Gore wasn't.

"We've got serious problems and we need serious people. ... My name is Andrew Shepherd and I am the President." And now he's got the girl. Aaaaah!!!!

Well, these people are entitled to their dreams. They lost the next Presidential election in a dead heat, and now they are having to live with the nightmare that is George W. Bush jnr. Now he really is serious. And for real.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:59 PM
April 19, 2003
The Rainmaker and a video that won't do digital

Another of the perfunctory sort of posting now. It is the Easter weekend, after all.

I'm watching a movie called The Rainmaker, which is based on a John Grisham book, and it's terrific fun. I can't wait to see how it turns out, and in half an hour it'll be finished. It's set in The South. There are lawyers lawyering away, quite a lot of the time in court. One of the them is the lizard faced Jon Voight. Our Hero's slimy dustbin robbing sidekick is Danny de Vito, no less. The plot is enough to make you believe that America needs more lawyers like Our Hero, to do battle with all the bad lawyers. It's a hymn of praise to the Ambulance Chasing profession, and as well put together as any propaganda movie I've ever seen. Punitive damages, of £50,000,000, and as big and bad and just all-round wicked a pack of rich fatcat capitalists as you could hope to meet, only of course these bad guys have skipped town with all the money.

So next time an American criminal sues an American householder for slipping on the American householder's loose tiled roof while he was robbing the place, that's okay, okay? The lawyer was Danny de Vito, and he's Only Doing His Job. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. How about that?

Okay so how come I don't just video it and watch it later, and give you my considered thoughts on seriously cultural matters? Well, I have this new digital box attachment to my TV, and it's only thanks to that that I'm watching The Rainmaker at all, because it's on BBC 8 or some such thing. But now here's the catch. My video can't handle digital stuff. Why? Ask Jennings. Jennings?!?!?! You just can't get good help these days can you. He's obsessed with cricket I tell you, obsessed. Still, at least he eventually answers the questions.

This changes my culture, which as you are all beginning to learn mostly comes out of electric boxes rather than out of proscenium arches or from concert platforms. My culture has now gone back to being ruled by the clock and the TV listings, and by agonised choices between this and that (given that I can't tape one and watch the other nearly so often as in the old analogue days. Plus the unvideoable digital stuff spoils the very bad reception analogue stuff that I could tape and watch later, which bolts me even more tightly to the original schedule. Combining all that with daily blogging duties is not good. Ah, poor me.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:54 PM
April 16, 2003
Earnest in earnest

On Tuesday night I watched the DVD of the recent movie adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest. I enjoyed it very much, and I feel I now understand this play far better.

Until now, most of the productions I've seen of this old warhorse have played it in comic irony overdrive, with every line spoken with exaggerated knowingness by an actor who reeks of actoring, with the audience laughing along partly because it is indeed quite witty, but also out of a sense of patriotic duty. So full of quotations dear.

Well, these people played it in dead earnest.

At the end of Earnest there is what passes for a happy ending. In many productions, you think: what idiots, being taken in by this piece of ridiculous theatrical engineering. Are we now expected to clap these idiots? No way are these absurdly stupid and frivolous people, any one of whom would sacrifice a finger for a laugh, all going to stay married. So it's a good thing it's only the Windsor Rep, or maybe a posh film with that maniacal actress woman doing Lady B, and it's only a stupid play and it doesn't matter.

But the characters in this movie were very different. They were their own engineers. They knew that their "society" was an elaborate social construct that required from them their unrelenting willingness to accept the unacceptable and to believe the unbelievable.

The steely determination of Judy Dench's Lady Bracknell suddenly made sense. This is a woman who would no more tolerate an unsatisfactory marriage than a structural engineer would tolerate an unsatisfactory bridge design. She does not indulge her feelings ("a ha-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ndbag!?!?!?!?!"), she keeps them under iron control. A handbag. Hm. Instead of throwing a tantrum, she seeks clarification. And when it comes, but is unsatisfactory, she doesn't burn any bridges or indulge in any theatrically exaggerated fits. She simply declares the marriage off. But, she does it with the emotional self-control of the top diplomat that she is, a diplomat who knows that even the most final cuttings off of relations can be subject to revision at a later time, as of course later happens.

Her change of what for a want of a better word I'll call "heart" at the end, when those £130,000 in The Funds work their magic on her and make her appreciate what a very suitable wife Cicely Cardew will be for her Algy, and thus that Jack Worthing, who can refuse to allow Cicely to marry until she is thirty five and who uses that as a bargaining counter, is after all an acceptable spouse for her daughter, comes across not as shallow money grubbing, but as the judicious revision of policy in the light of new evidence of the sort which, I don't know, might have prevented World War I. She knows that Algy is a worthless fraud, and that without money to paper over the cracks of his character any marriage he is entangled in is doomed. She also knows that any friend (and in the end brother) of Algy's is probably an enemy of her daughter, but she silently redoes the sums and for Algy's and her family's sake, she accepts Jack marrying her daughter Gwendolen.

She even tolerates Jack pretending at the end that his real name is Earnest. I don't remember this being a lie in the original, but maybe I just wasn't paying attention in any of the previous productions I've seen, on account of them being so stupid.

This production uses the magic of the cinema to spell out the seething cauldron of fallen manhood and the absurd sentimentalities of romantically deluded womanhood that "society" is there to concrete over, something which all those earlier productions skated over, usually by having such unconvincing men in the lead roles. Algy and Jack are shown in their London haunts at the beginning, and there are lots of parts for aspiring actresses, if you get my drift. The pre-Raphaelite reveries of Cicely are shown with fantastic imaginary changes of costume, with Cicely as the Lady of Shallot and Algy as, literally, a knight in shining armour. Lady Bracknell herself is shown in her pre-society days dancing on the London stage, waving her bosoms and being for real one of the people she will later guard her children against. These are conflicting agendas that society must hold in balance, and which the ending of the drama must bolt together. Does this movie, I wonder, signify a dawning respect for Victorian values, and a belated appreciation by the movie-making classes that hypocrisy, aside from being a vice, also has its virtues?

The black joke of an ending where all present agree to tie up the loose ends into one great public lie is not a new device, of course. I once upon a time acted in a university production of John Webster's The Country Wife, a restoration comedy in which an hour and a half of mayhem and debauchery ends the same way. And think of the final scene of Beverley Hills Cop, in which the final shoot-out with the bad guys is solemnly re-scripted into an acceptable scenario for the benefit of the supreme police boss, when he finally arrives, all the dust having settled. "Is that true?" asks the supreme police boss when the lie is presented to him and he t once recognises it for the lie that it is. "It's what will be in my report," says his hitherto immaculately by-the-book underling. Earlier in Beverley Hills Cop, the Eddie Murphy character sets this final scene up by talking about an earlier lie of his which his pals didn't stick with. Remember that bit? "I just want to say that this lie was working. It was a good lie. It would have worked."

I thought this Earnest to be well cast throughout. Dench, as I say, is Dench, a huge force no matter how softly she speaks. Colin Firth and Rupert Everett as Jack and Algy are well contrasted, which you don't always see, Jack being suitably earnest and Algy being Algy. Frances O'Connor and Reese Witherspoon are also a good pair. Witherspoon's English accent is not wholly un-American, but I didn't find myself minding that much. Perhaps Cicely was originally an American herself. I seem to recall other reviews talking of some of this cast being "out of their depth", but I thought it all went swimmingly. My only quibble: I thought Miss Prism looked a bit too old. Her romance with Tom Wilkinson's Chasuble, who, opposite a younger Prism, would have been very convincing, appeared ridiculous and stagey and was accordingly, I felt, the one wrong note. Otherwise, recommended.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:55 PM
April 13, 2003
Brit adverts and Brit-directed movies

There's a big spread in today's Sunday Times about a new All In One Take TV advert for the Honda Accord. Apparently they needed over six hundred takes to get the one take that got it right. And because of that, the Sunday Times is giving them more square inches of free advertising, and now so am I.

This advert is an improvement over the ones with babies being born in hospitals, in a televisually appealing way (as if). At least they are fetishising and fantasising about the bits of the car doing odd things, rather than fantasising about the lives of the fantasy couple who represent the lifestyle aspirations of their target demographic, which always pisses me off. That's probably because I feel excluded, and that's probably because I am excluded. I'm not in the market for any sort of car.

British TV advertising is a strange, strange thing. It costs a fortune. US TV advertising, by comparison is cheap and cheerful and straightforward, or so I'm told. We sell cars!!! Buy one!!! They're good, and cheap!!! Come and get one!!! British car adverts, by comparison, are like mini-Hollywood films. I've always assumed this to be something to do with there being a car cartel, which promises itself to charge far too much for each car, and then semi-breaks ranks by spending absurd sums on adverts, on account of the profit per car sold being so huge.

I've also been told that because British TV advert censoring is centralised, you only need one advert for the whole country, while in the USA you have to bash your way past every little local politician from the towers of Manhattan to the Grand Canyon and beyond. There are advantages, I guess, to not having real local government, which in Britain we don't. It's a nationalised industry, only disguised as local.

Advertising has been one of the great cultural influences of Britain on the world in recent decades. They’ve been showing a documentary in recent days on BBC4, which is one of the free digital channels, about that generation of advertising whizzes who masterminded the switch in Britain from dull old black and white adverts which told you the product and the price and where to get it, to groovy colour magazine and colour TV adverts which were like guessing games directed by Frederico Fellini.

It spurred these people into creative action that one of the products they made a particular stir out of selling, Benson and Hedges cigarettes, were something it became illegal to advertise by conventional means, such as saying they were nice to smoke or stylish or sexy. Art was all they were allowed. Surrealism for the posters, and fully fledged mini-movies for the TV adverts.

One of these whizzes, David Puttnam, is now a New Labour Lord. He said he felt bad about how so many of the products that they all sold in their younger days were bad, like cigarettes and cars, instead of virtuous like New Labour. But of course later he did advertise New Labour. This network of movers and shakers, having done regular advertising, then took over political advertising. "Labour Isn't Working" was one of theirs. And now, I dare say, their various minions are producing the equally popular range of "The Conservatives Are Simply, Simply Ghastly! I Mean, Really!!" posters.

Several of these Brits, who started out directing TV commercials, now direct for Hollywood, or try to. One of them is called Parker, and most of the others are called Scott. One of the Scotts directed Top Gun, which is one of my favourite movies, because it fetishises jet airplanes and their pilots, and how these things together helped to win the Cold War by winning secret battles with the Russians over the Indian Ocean. Personally, I was in favour of all that and I still am.

And a Scott also directed Alien, unless I'm mistaken, although Alien wasn't mentioned. Alien, I think, illustrates the virtues of these people most vividly, which is their extreme attention to the minutest details of visual appearance and visual atmosphere. When they apply this approach to cars or cigarettes, you think: oh for heaven's sake, it's only a car, it’s only fags. Even Top Gun is only jet airplanes, which not everyone reckons to be worth all that Scottery. But science fiction in the cinema stands or falls entirely by how real it looks and feels, and benefits hugely from the Scottist attention to detail.

Contrast Alien, with the (I think) ridiculous Star Wars movies, ridiculous (in this particular respect anyway) because, as the Alien posters subsequently explained, Nobody Can Hear You Scream in space, and by implication, nobody can hear a spaceship flying past your spaceship either. I remember the Alien movies as one of the first serious attempts to explain how squalid and grubby and damp, but also how quiet, actual space travel would likely be. When a major part of the point of any movie you are producing is that it should look right and feel right (and provided but if you have a lot of money to spend) then send for one of these Brits. I think Blade Runner also came from the same stable, did it not? Wasn't that a Scott movie too?

Jennings will no doubt clarify all the factual vaguenesses and confusions in the above paragraphs, in your own time please Michael. I thank him in advance.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:53 PM
April 08, 2003
Pleasure versus art - thoughts on a list of favourite films

Over at 2Blowhards they have one of those lists of films that various people like.

I too am fond of Police Academy, Turner and Hooch, Top Gun, Every Which Way But Loose, The Truth About Cats and Dogs, to mention five that are on their list.

I also like a lot – let's see now – Under Siege (Seagal, battle ship), The Sure Thing, that one with De Niro and Fonda where De Niro finally learns how to read (which would explain a lot), Notting Hill, Clueless, LA Story, The Battle of Britain, The Manchurian Candidate, It's A Wonderful Life, City of Angels (until Nicholas Cage stops being an angel), Moonstruck, About Last Night, The Dam Busters, A Few Good Men, Dave, Overboard, Groundhog Day, all the Fred and Gingers, The Apartment, Some Like It Hot, Pretty in Pink, 16 Candles, Some Kind of Wonderful, Klute, One Hundred and One Dalmations (original cartoon version), Get Carter (Caine – haven't seen the much despised Stallone one), Patton, When Harry Met Sally, Sense and Sensibility, The Electric Horseman, The Day of The Jackal, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Bull Durham, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Stardust Memories (the only Woody not available on DVD for some damn reason), the one with Sarandon and Spader where she plays a oldish but still sexy waitress, The Owl and The Pussycat, The Glenn Miller Story, Six Days and Seven Nights (not sure about the numbers there – it's the one where that lesbian does a fine turn as a hetero (it's called acting)), What's Up Doc, The Train, Flay Away Home (goose rescuing), Into The Night (Pfeiffer and Goldblum), The Family Man, Legally Blonde, the one with Joe Pesci as a dodgy lawyer with the girl friend (Marisa Tomei?) who turns out to be a car expert, Down To You (the gorgeous Julia Stiles), Ten Things I Hate About You (ditto), and Eyes of Laura Mars, to name but some. Oh, and Godfathers 1 and 2. They're good too. Schindler's List was also impressive. And there are lots more that I've forgotten. Yes, add the Edward Fox playing General Horrocks bits of A Bridge Too Far.

(If you like your film titles italicised or emboldened or inverted comma-ed, then I suggest you download this piece and do the job yourself.)

In my list there is a clear bias towards romance, comic or otherwise, with occasional random deviations into violence.

I'm struck by the general absence of special effects. The point there being that I only seem to watch those films once, however much I admired and enjoyed them that first time. Terminator 2 impressed the hell out of me, but now that I can watch it whenever I want, I don't seem to want to. Two other films that I hugely admired when I saw them but don't much relish seeing again are Witchfinder General and The Last Valley. Too scary. In general, I don't like horror. I find it horrifying.

This is not an invitation to my seven regular readers to bombard me with their seven lists of the films they like. They can if they like. I won't delete such comments. But that's not my real point here.

No, my point is: this distinction which I have tended to knuckle under to, but am starting now seriously to shake off, between my "official" list of "great" or at least "good" or "decent" movies that I want you to know that I like, and the actual list of the movies that I actually do like. You think I'm insane for liking The Owl and the Pussycat, or for omitting that black and white one that everyone includes about the French Resistance (and in general for not having any subtitles in my list, not even Amelie), well … my list is my list. Think what you like. Tend to your list.

You know the kind of lists I'm objecting to. The ones in the Sunday newspaper Culture Sections with Citizen Kane at the top and The Godfather 2 near the bottom (even better than Godfather 1 blah blah) and three foreign ones you've scarcely heard of, apart from them being in lots of lists, and just one frivolous one or maybe two, picked with a pin from a list like the one I've just supplied. After all, I am a human being as well as a film critic!

And then there is the unofficial but true list, of the ones the guy actually likes. Mostly smash and grab, or mostly porn, or mostly Catherine Z-J because he is fixated on her but would never admit it in company.

The 2 Blowhards list both challenges and perpetuates this distinction. On the one hand, it is a list of pleasures. This is not the Official Citizen Kane At The Top List. On the other hand it is a list of shameful pleasures. But why shameful?

Looming underneath and towering beyond all this is the distinction between on the one hand, pleasure, and on the other hand, in the completely opposite corner, pleasure's mortal foe, ART. Love-it-but-shouldn't versus ought-to-love-it-but-don't. In other genres: pleasurable reading versus literature, or fun music versus Proper and Serious Classical Music which I really ought to listen to more blah blah.

My list contains quite a few Officially Very Good films, such as recur on other Official Lists, like Some Like It Hot, The Manchurian Candidate, It's A Wonderful Life, and the Godfathers. But most of them wouldn't be allowed in any but tiny numbers on one of those Official Lists, not if I wanted to keep my job as a film critic.

Some of my favourites are, I know, flawed, and I just like them despite their flaws. But others strike me as a great deal better than that. I love them, and I expect Posterity to pay such opinions more attention than it pays them now, if you get my drift.

To put it another way, I think that, of the many posterities out there waiting to have their various turns as Posterity, there is at least one which thinks that Some Kind of Wonderful and Into The Night are better art than Citizen Kane. I'm not saying it's right, mind. I'm just saying.

I'll feel free to change my list without warning. It's there to help me decide what to watch; it's not the boss of me or of my viewing habits. That's an important pleasure principle: never get stuck with what you've told yourself you like, any more than you should get stuck with what others have told you is art.

The 2 Blowhards, one of them anyway, will agree with almost all of this, despite that "shameful". I know, because, this time in a literary setting, he flat says so, here. And it a lot of other places too, is my distinct recollection. If I get him right, this bogus distinction between pleasure and art is one of the major leitmotifs of his entire blogging mission.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:22 PM
March 17, 2003
Schindler's List - Hollywood does the Holocaust and quite right too

Last night I saw the film Schindler's List for the first time. It was shown on BBC1. Here are some reactions, roughed out immediately after it finished, and then cleaned up today.

For starters, I share the opinion of the Oscar awarding classes. I disagree with their decision to wait until this film before giving Steven Spielberg any Oscars, but not to have smothered this film in Oscars would have been very wrong indeed. And they did, of course.

What I particularly liked about this film is that for once, the immense apparatus of a Hollywood Mega-Production was applied to a task of comparable scale and significance to the scale (but insignificance) of the average Hollywood Mega-Production. It was recording not the adventures of some fantasy hero dressed in a circus costume. (I've just recently also seen Spiderman, and was underwhelmed, although no doubt that's just me.) Rather did Schindler's List record a small something of what the massacre of the Jews in the 1940s looked like and felt like, before all direct memory of these events had died with those who witnessed them. The money was not spent on big stars. It was not even spent on colour film. It was all of it spent communicating something of the scale of the ghastliness involved, and it was spent communicating this ghastliness in all its ghastliness with all the skills that Hollywood possesses.

I've seen as many cheap and perfunctory recreations of the Holocaust as I want to, thank you, with a few absurdly plump actors hurrying quickly into obviously non-gas chambers, their most intimate organs respectfully hidden from us. This time, dozens upon dozens of actors must have spent many days running about stark naked in among other actors dressed in military uniforms, and in the most undignified manner possible, because that's how it originally happened. This nudity – full frontal, private parts routinely revealed for quite long stretches – was, as the Hollywood saying so often goes, entirely justified by the needs of the story being told. Trouble was taken to find some people who looked sufficiently thin when naked. All this must have cost a fortune, or I damn well hope it did. But the Holocaust and its millions of victims deserved the full Mega-Budget treatment just this once, and I salute Steven Spielberg for having contrived this mighty memorial.

The sheer brutality of how the Germans involved behaved also needed to be nailed down on celluloid before all direct memory of that likewise died off. There have of course been books by the lorry load about these horrible events, but very few holocaust films, I think, and none that have been as technically polished and factually convincing as this one.

I wouldn't want to see Hollywood Holocaust epics every three years, and I don't say that Hollywood Mega-Productions should only be Mega-Profound and Mega-Worthy. I'm not saying they should never make Spiderman, etc. And I quite agree, before someone else says it, that Spiderman and the rest of them often also deal with weighty moral issues – "With great power comes great responsibility!" – even as our hero swings through the caverns of New York in a red and blue diving suit. But I'm glad that Hollywood also managed to make Schindler's List.

The film was characteristically Hollywood also in that it had a happy ending, and it was none the worse for that. It found a heroic saviours in the persons of Oscar Schindler and of his bureaucrat sidekick Itzhak Stern, and it found heroic survival in the form of the thousand or so Jews whom Schindler was able to rescue from the jaws of death, by stuffing death's mouth with money instead. The film did this partly because it did indeed all happen, and it did it partly because those are the Hollywood Rules. Schindler's List wouldn't have been nearly such an effective memorial if no one had wanted to see it.

But at the same time Schindler's List was, or so it seemed to me, a more than somewhat bitter reflection on the Hollywood tradition of the happy ending. Before we were allowed to witness our heroic rescues, the horrors were piled on with terrible and of course entirely appropriate savagery.

But then when the melodramatic rescues eventually came, they were as absurdly happy and fortuitous and heroic as the earlier scenes had been absurdly horrible and evil.

First we saw the senior Nazi of Krakow, Amon Goeth, shooting randomly selected Jews with his telescopic sights rifle from the balcony of his newly constructed villa, which was so ludicrously cruel that it could only have been true. And at the end we watched all the Schindler women – the men having already been saved – being taken by train to Auschwitz, and taken naked into what they (and I) assumed in terror to be a gas chamber, only to be given a shower of water, and then absurdly rescued by the absurdly heroic Schindler and taken away, again by train, from Auschwitz and reunited with their menfolk. And that too was so crazy that it also could only have been true. The final scenes of Schindler's List are as melodramatic as all hell, but you feel that Spielberg has earned the right to his melodramas by his unflinching presentation of the earlier horrors, and that we the audience have earned the right to our little pound of Hollywood Happy Ending, to soften all the earlier blows we have been forced and have forced ourselves to witness.

I got the feeling that Spielberg himself may have identified, albeit in a small way, with Schindler himself, in that, like Schindler, Spielberg started his career by making pots of money and honing his skills as a contriver of big events (in his case films), and then he collected together as much of his money and his skills and his friends' skills and as much time as he and they could spare, and threw them all at this film.

Spielberg took some some outrageous artistic risks, such as having a little girl wear a red coat and having some Jewish ceremonial candles at the end also in colour. Risking the wrath of critics with extreme gestures like that takes real nerve. He couldn't have been sure that Schindler's List would be either an artistic and critical success, or a commercial success, and if it had failed on either count Spielberg's career might have been severely damaged. But he went ahead with the film anyway, and made it the way he wanted to make it – without major stars, black and white with a few red bits, mega-budget, "arty" yet by the end shamelessly, not-a-dry-eye-in-the-house over-the-top emotional.

I intend no disrespect to Spielberg when I say that I suspect him of consciously comparing his own relatively mundane circumstances with those of his hero. I do not accuse him of making a vainglorious comparison. Identifying with a hero is what we have heroes for. We all do this. If we don't, we should. Good for Spielberg for following Schindler's example if that is what happened.

And maybe Spielberg is comparable to Schindler in another way. At the end of the film we see Schindler breaking down in tears and berating himself for having chucked away so much money during his life, and for the fact that consequently he could only afford to save as many Jews as he did save. ("That car, that's two more people! Why did I keep it?") I wonder if Spielberg sometimes now lies awake thinking: if only I'd done it better, if only I'd had the money to hire that guy for longer and to reshoot that scene, and had found a way to include that ghastly episode as well without wasting too much time, and … Don't worry Steven, you did your best. You made a great film. The job you set yourself was done. Maybe not perfectly, maybe not Citizen Kane, Gone With The Wind brillilantly, but very well.

I'm very glad I got my TV reception digitised, because this has seriously improved my TV picture quality. Black and white films seem to suffer particularly from a blurry image. Like all great films, and I do believe that this is one, the way it looks is vitally important. All great films look uniquely like themselves, the exact way they needed to look to tell this particular story.

And I'm glad too that I have this little blog – so small as to be hardly more than a private journal – to record a few of my reactions to this film, which, I think, gives the lie to the claim that Hollywood isn't making great films any more. I'm not sure I'd have wanted to parade my humdrum little opinions about these matters in front of the 2,000 (and rising) per day hit rate of Samizdata. The low hit rates that blogs like this one get are usually regretted by their blogmasters, but I think that a low hit rate can have its advantages. You can think things through in relative privacy. You can think aloud, but not very loudly. Had I only had Samizdata to try to write this stuff for, I might not have written it at all. As it is, this little blog will give me and anyone else who cares about me a slightly better record of my safe and dull little life than would have been the case otherwise, just as Schindler and his Schindler Jews and all the other Jews now have their big nod of recognition and remembrance from the global cinema industry.

I missed the first few minutes. If only because of that I'll definitely be on the lookout for the DVD of Schindler's List, but will be hoping not to have to pay too much. I also possess the original novel by Thomas Keneally, and may even read it any month now, now that I will be able better to keep track of who everyone is.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:44 PM
March 13, 2003
12 Angry Men and some other Americans complaining about them

Last night I put a piece about the Ethan Hawke Hamlet over on Samizdata, because Samizdata needs stuff now that is not about that non-war that has been not-starting lately.

Samizdata has a lot of readers, and a lot of commenters, and there were quite a few comments about Hamlet movies. Branagh is boring. Branagh is great. Hawke is great. Hawke is dreadful. Mel Gibson is not good. And so on. The interesting comments explained why they thought X sucked, or why they thought Y great. The silly ones just said it. Steven Den Beste, for example, who is worshipped by many citizens of the blogosphere, and often does write excellent stuff (about the non-war that has been not-starting) produced one of these oracular gobs of abuse denouncing Hawke, but gave no clue as to what he objected to about the man's performance. I'm not saying these all these folks aren't totally entitled to their contrasting opinions. It's just that "X sucks because I say so" is a rather boring opinion.

Sometimes "X sucks" can be funny. If the usual style in some particular writing venue tends towards high-falutin' over-elaboration, then the occasional unadorned "X sucks" can be a refreshing contrast. But Samizdata is not such a place.

Anyway, given that I haven't been writing about Hamlet movies here when I might have been (but instead put it elsewhere) let me import some fine film criticism by Aaron Haspel from another blog, this time about another favourite movie of mine, 12 Angry Men, starring Henry Fonda.

I shouldn't have done it, I know, but last night I watched 12 Angry Men again on television. Its principal interest is sociological. It preserves in celluloid a representative collection of liberal stereotypes circa 1957 — bloviating bigot Ed Begley, Lonely Crowd adman Robert Webber, hypersensitive slum-dweller Jack Klugman (looking positively fawn-like, if you can believe it), neurotically precise broker E.G. Marshall, short-fused martinet Lee J. Cobb, broad-minded and tolerant architect Henry Fonda. What is it with Hollywood and architects anyway? How come they always get a free pass? Why are there doctor and lawyer jokes in store, but no architect jokes?

Partly it's politics of course. Architecture at that time was becoming heavily left-wing not just in the sense that architects themselves were tending to be heavily left-wing, but in the more profound sense that architecture itself, that stuff they did, was becoming the literal, physical, concrete embodiment of socialist centralism, and a literal physical attack on individual, bourgeois freedom.

But there's more to it than that. Architects do have this ultra cool vibe radiating from them. Did I mention that I once tried to be an architect? Yes I did. Why? Because I wanted to be cool. It wasn’t that I especially loved designing buildings, and I hate the actual process of actually designing buildings – doing all that work I mean. It was simply that when people asked me what I did, I wanted to be able to say: "I'm an architect", and then bask in their inevitable admiration. When I was trying to do it, architecture had a very high drop out rate, and I reckon that's one of the reaons. People like me loved the idea of doing it, but hated actually doing it.

Adds Haspel:

If I ever write a screeplay, I'm going to make my villain an architect, out of sheer perversity.

Nothing perverse about that. It's a good idea.

Haspel then goes on to argue that the accused in 12 Angry Men was actually guilty, despite Henry Fonda persuading the other eleven to acquit him. And the two commenters on the piece so far both agree:

… Kid was guilty as hell.

And this, from Jim Valliant:

Our "hero" Henry Fonda is also guilty of gross juror misconduct. The knife he produced in the jury room was not presented as evidence at trial. The prosecution never had a chance to rebut this new evidence, and the defense (perhaps knowing that the prosecution had the complete statistics on the knife) may have intentionally NOT introduced this defense. Fonda's misconduct was not only illegal and against the judge's specific instructions (which Fonda had presumably sworn to follow), it was very unfair to the prosecution – and the truth.

I like that.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:37 PM
February 24, 2003
Big ideas and how to have them – target readers – and the silliness of the sound in Star Wars

Reading this piece by Alice today (the archiving is up the spout, so just go there and scroll down) has only made me that bit more confused, because everything she says about the wisdom of having long term goals and hanging on to them is true, but I'm still struggling to clarify the long terms goals I have for Brian's Culture Blog. Alice told me yesterday that she thought that as soon as this blog was going, it would just pour out like something horrible from the rear end of an unkindly fed farm animal (not her words but that was the thrust). Yet it hasn't happened. Maybe this is the turning point. Don't know. What am I trying to achieve here? Okay so I know about Mies van der Rohe (see below). But who else cares that I know and what I know about such persons? What am I trying to do?

Is it spreading libertarianism by proving that we libertarians are dead cultural really, and don't only like Star Wars and heavy metal? But the more I think about this, the less I care about it. It really doesn't matter if libertarians only like Star Wars. What matters is whether they (we – and that might be a clue, that I put they instead of we) are right about how the world should be.

So is it me trying to prove that I like other things besides Star Wars? Actually I don't much like Star Wars at all, any more. I find now that I can't allow myself to get excited about movies where sound is portrayed as travelling through a vacuum. The people who made these movies (or the people who told George Lucas how he was going to have to make these movies, or whatever) were not, when they started out, being serious. It's one thing to get something wrong because you forgot it, or didn't realise that people in those days never wore clothes like that, or that the date of that was whatever it was rather than what you said. It's quite another to get it wrong on purpose, and not care, the way they did with all the noises in Star Wars. But so what? Who cares what I think of Star Wars? Why on earth do I think it matters?

One thing I do know is that it's not me in general, because I in general am writing all kinds of things for other blogs, even as I still struggle with this one.

Tip for writers, which I am now trying to apply to myself. When you are suffering from writers block, which in a moderate form is what is afflicting me here. Try to get it clearer in your mind who you are writing for, and what you are trying to say to them. For example, when I was only writing pamphlets for the Libertarian Alliance, I would often get this wrong to start with, and find that I couldn't write whatever it was. Then I would refocus on my audience, and restate to myself what I wanted to say to these particular people, and when that was done, suddenly out it would all come, and the job would have its back broken in about an hour and a half.

It often helps, when writing something, to actually put at the very start who you have in mind as your target readership. If you are writing for hardcore libertarians, and trying to say something to them, then put that. If, on the other hand, you are aiming the piece at the "intelligent layman", again, put it, and if the hardcores get bored with all the obvious things you are saying to these uninitiates, tough, you've already dealt with that. Once you've put that, you can then get on with writing for the people you are writing for.

But who are my target readers here? I don't yet have it clear in my mind.

Maybe I'm the target reader. Maybe that's the obvious point I'm missing here. Maybe all I really want is a diary that I can read in ten years time, to tell me what I was thinking about just now, and to hell with the rest of you people. Maybe that's the story here.

Final thought. I recently read what I thought was a very good book about How To Have Ideas (called, if I remember it rightly: How To Have Ideas – something along those lines anyway). It said that you have ideas by first doing lots of good but open-minded thinking, where you struggle as best you can to lay out the problem, and to hurl as many notions down on the table that might be steps towards an answer.

Then, and this was the intriguing bit, you forget about it. You think about it, then forget, and do something else. And then, in its own seet time, the answer to what you were previously agonising about presents itself to you.

I'm still at the hurling of ideas onto the table stage with this blog. And maybe that's what I should do for the next few weeks, just fling postings up here, written in all kinds of different modes and aimed at all kinds of different fantasy target audiences, until suddenly – ping!!! – I get it clear what I'm doing.

Anyway, enough for now. That may or may not have helped, but the How To Have Ideas book said that at this stage in the process, all ideas are okay, however confused or however seemingly wrong.

I've just read the first comment from "emma" on Alice's piece, and she says more pithily something a lot like what I've just said.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:44 PM