August, 2002

The Response to Tragedy

Now this could be seen as quite contentious. Am I alone in thinking that the tragic events in Soham have been blown totally out of all proportion?

The events are outdoubtedly sad, and one hopes that the guilty people will be prosecuted and imprisoned. But from the moment the girls were announced as missing, right up until this moment, there have been some very disturbing side effects.

1. The newspaper rewards were grossly misjudged. Newspaper rewards are rarely paid out, and unfortunately can attract timewasters and “DIY detectives”. And the publicity they garner seems more likely to be for the papers’ benefit than social responsibility.

2. The possibility that those arrested may be unable to be fairly tried. Within hours of arrests being made the Mail on Sunday had published big articles with ex-boyfriends and girlfriends. Cue the usual, “but he was strange” type comments that always come with 20-20 hindsight.

3. The wrong paths that we were led down including the internet, and cars going to Newmarket (witnesses giving press conferences within hours of speaking to the police must surely be viewed with suspsion).

4. The minute’s silence at just about every sporting event this weekend. The BBC News on Saturday night began with footage of Premiership footballers, golfers, and even shoppers at Sainsburys, pausing for a moment’s silence. Not having been shopping at the supermarket on Saturday afternoon, I would hope that the supermarket concerned was a local Cambridgeshire one, and not across the whole coutry. Sport should pay its respects only when truly relevent. Arguably Man Utd since the girls were so obviously Man Utd fans, but this minute’s silence was akin to that paid after Sept 11. Sadly children are murdered far too frequently, but we cannot pay them all these respects repeatedly. I truly believe that sport should really pay it’s respects to deaths of beloved colleagues and former players, and also national tragedies. This was a personal tragedy – not a national one.

5. The rearrangement of TV schedules. We learn today that ITV are not going ahead with a Lorraine Kelly series in which the children of single mothers pick men for their mothers to go dates with. It’s inappropriate in light of recent events we are told. Was it any more appropriate before? When does it become appropriate again? The BBC postponed it’s heavily publicised mini series Messiah 2. It’s a grissly (if the first part was anything to go by) psychological thriller. But why is it now inappropriate? Will it be more so in the Autumn? I can fully understand it, if there are child murders or other elements of the story are too close to real-life, but otherwise, should all murder-mysteries be pulled? Today the BBC is reporting the sentencing of a couple of children who murdered a third over �10. Will this make the Six O’Clock News tonight, or even the local London news? Probably the latter, but most of the country will know nothing about it.

Is all this down the essentially irreligious nature of today’s society. In times gone by, people would have gone to church on Sunday and said prayers at the appropriate point in the service. We know that the Church is still important and many went to local services. But for the public at large, they have no opportunity to grieve, so they need their minute’s silence, even if the context is inappropriate.

And we mustn’t forget that this happened in August – a traditionally slow news period. Undoubtedly there was always going to be significant coverage in a case like this. But should Bush The Fool have attacked Iraq over this time, then I can’t help but think things would be different.

La R�gle du Jeu

So here’s another one that I haven’t seen. Some years ago, the film critic David Thomson wrote a piece in The Independent on Sunday Review section explaining why he loved this film so much. I tore out the article, but never read it, because the first line warned that I should watch the film first if I had never seen it. As I hadn’t, I didn’t read it.

Move forward a year or so, and I remembered the article, so one Friday after work I bought the video in HMV, Oxford Street. But it was a Friday evening, and I knew the prospect of me sitting down to watch a pre-war French film in black and white with subtitles was fairly remote.

I felt the guilt. Really I did. For a year or two more, the video sat forlornly in my bookcase, awaiting a play. This isn’t so unusual for me – I have a library’s worth of books that I’ve bought and not read. And there are more than a couple of videos and DVDs in the same position. There’s always something else to watch or read.

So move forward to yesterday, and revitalised by both the Sight and Sound list, and another David Thomson article, I put the video in on Sunday morning.

What a great film. I’m not going to try to describe the film, as others can do that better than I, but it has fabulous technique. There are so many key characters, and there is constant interaction between them all.

After watching the film, I went out to buy The Observer, and what do you know? Cameron Crowe had written a piece about why he thought it was so good.

One final question… Why is this not available on DVD?

Rio Bravo

Spurred on by the Top Ten List below, I decided it was time to get around to watching a couple of films that I’ve had on video for ages but unbelievably have never gotten around to watching.

There’s a game in David Lodge novels where academics in English departments have to name works of literature that they’ve never read – Hamlet, Pride and Prejudice, Moby Dick etc. The winner is the person who has not watched the most famous work. Hamlet normally does this.

So I get to do the cinema equivalent. I like to think of myself as fairly well versed in cinema, but here is one of those films that I just had not seen before. OK, it’s entirely probable that I was in a room somewhere when I was young and it was on TV, but that doesn’t count. Even the fact that it’s regarded as one of the best films by one of my favourite directors hadn’t prevented me from never having watched Rio Bravo before.

I suppose one of the reasons that I’d not seen it is that it stars John Wayne. I just never have been a big “Duke” fan. In fact I’ve probably gone out of my way to avoid watching him in films – they just always seem the same. He was, however, undoubtedly made for the Western. He plays Sheriff John T Chance in a small town over-run with the Burdette gang – and chance has locked up Joe, one of the brothers. With only Dean Martin’s washed-up drunk, the Dude, and Walter Brennan’s comic character Stumpy, Chance must wait until the US Marshal arrives with Joe locked up, and brother Nathan Burdette looking to free him. This is the classic set-up.

I’d never seen Angie Dickenson in such a good movie. Dean Martin too is excellent (although I’m not at all sure about the musical interlude). Then there’s Ricky Nelson as sharpshooter Colarado, and you have a classic western. I was hooked. Loved it.

Sight and Sound Top Ten Movies

Sight and Sound magazine, published by the BFI, have just announced their Top Ten Poll 2002. This has been published every ten years since 1952, conducted by polling film critics around the world. An additional poll among directors has also taken place for the last couple of times.

There has been some press comment (sorry no links) about how hackneyed this list is. Once again Citizen Kane tops both polls, although Vertigo seems to have run it a close second among critics. Yes it’s a little dull that it has topped the charts so regularly, but if it’s the best it’s the best and there’s nothing else to top it. Fashions have changed over the years, and will continue to do so, but until they change dramatically…

Another criticism thrown at it is the lack of recent films. The critics list only reaches 1974 with The Godfather Part II, while the directors get up to 1980 with Raging Bull. But can you name a film made in the last 20 years that would honestly merit its place? We can all name more popular films – Star Wars, ET, Titanic, Gladiator, Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc. They’re all excellent films in their own ways, but the best ever? Absolutely not. I think that it takes time to establish a film in a list like this, so possibly in 10 or 20 years we’ll see some more modern films filtering through – but what’s the rush?

Sunshine State

What can I say – I love John Sayles films. He undoubtedly has his own style of movie (at least the ones he directs himself), but they’re masterpieces that show elements of real world America usually avoided.

This film is much like Lone Star in it’s telling a story through several different families and groups of people, of different racial backgrounds, on a Florida island.

The film is quite long, and you can’t say that it totally wraps up every loose end, although you can see the way things are likely to go. And the ending certainly isn’t like the one in Limbo!

This kind of film is a rarity so enjoy it.

Nine Queens

Finally got around to seeing Nueve reinas yesterday, as London was being deluged by flash floods.
I absolutely love the con-artist film sub-genre. The likes of David Mamet’s House of Games or Stephen Frears’ The Gifters. The sort of film where you know that there’s a scam behind the scam but you’re not sure what it is. Well this is firmly in that vein. Juan earns a living by carrying out basic con tricks involving change and large banknotes (you’ve seen this done before), when he runs into Marcos who helps him out in a tricky situation, and then takes him under his wing for the pair of them to reap bigger rewards – his regular partner having disappeared. So we travel the streets of Buenos Aires seeing con after con, and meeting some of the characters that inhabit this world. I don’t want to spoil the story by saying much more, but this is a great film.