Sunday, 3 January 2016

Content, Themes And The Dream Factory

English: View of the clouds below from the cabin
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I recall part of George Michael's original spat with Sony Music was triggered by his sense of deep outrage at their insistence on referring to his music, his creative output, as 'content'. Railing against what he considered to be this most egregious phrase, our George was clearly onto a loser from the get-go.

Never a great movie buff, I have not disgraced a cinema in many a year, I prefer to watch my films on EK on the basis that a) I wasn't doing anything else for those 120 minutes, just sitting in an aluminium tube five miles up in the stratosphere breathing the foetid air expelled by some 500-odd other carbon-based lifeforms b) it's not costing me Dhs35 c) I can switch off (if not walk out) any time I want. This arrangement suits me fine, given that 99% of the films on offer on Emirates' impressive ICE entertainment system are clearly total drivel. The other 1% turn out to be mostly drivel on viewing. This is not, I hasten to add, because Emirates offers anything other than the brightest, spangliest, newest films out there. Rather, I suspect, it is precisely because they do.

On the flight to Blighty last year, I watched Guy Ritchie's 'Man From UNCLE', which was a stylish, if obvious and stilted, pastiche. There were many visual treats on offer, some annoying split-frame sequences and a exhilarating lack of intelligence, plot, wit and dialogue. This didn't stop the film from being mildly entertaining, a little in the spirit of an indulgent uncle finding the clunky piano playing of a favourite niece entertaining. I must hasten to add that I do not have a piano playing niece. Drums, yes, but the ivories have so far been thankfully untinkled.

I also watched 'Bridge of Spies', a Spielberg classic in which Tom Hanks plays Tom Hanks brilliantly. Mark Rylance puts in a wonderfully understated performance as Scottish-accented Soviet spy Rudolf Abel. There are some obvious bits that make you writhe in your expensive seat and threaten to upset your tray-table, but otherwise the film is a fine entertainment that underscores the obvious fact that our system was so much better than their system and we should Be Thankful For Our Great Democracy and the values we represent which are so much more fundamentally good than the other side's. It takes, of course, Tom Hanks' great humanity to bring this point home because our guys in authority insist on behaving in the same way as their guys  in authority. But I cavil - the film is well worth watching.

On the flight back I was horrified to find, despite it being not only a new month but a new year, the film selection hadn't changed. Having watched the only two films in the whole 70 million item catalogue that didn't look woeful, I was reduced to the prospect of spending eight hours staring at seat back, talking to my wife or something even more terrible. The comedy channel on ICE, incidentally, features no comedy whatsoever unless you are a protozoic life form whose brain has been replaced by expanding foam and who considers the very zenith of humour to be 'Family Guy'. And there's no 'Top Gear', of course. Damn. Not, you understand, that I consider Top Gear to be the best thing since sliced Hovis. It just gives gentlemen of my age hope that they could become rich and famous even this late in the game.

Reduced to sheer desperation, I watched 'Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials'. It might not be called this, but I can't be bothered to Google the title. I'm probably better off not wasting your time in describing the film much at all, really, other than to note that it's utterly shite on every level. There's a great deal of running around, peppered by people shouting 'Come on' and 'Hurry' frequently. There are swathes of rubbishy CGI victims of a virus who have been turned into zombies who screech and vomit black ink for some reason. The love interest looks like an anthropomorphic egg with a wig on and the baddies are called WICKED in case you didn't know they were really bad. I made it through to the end and sat back feeling guilty and abused, a little like that feeling you get when you've eaten a Big Mac.

I tried to watch Mr Holmes, which is about Sherlock Holmes as an old person. He's played by Ian McKellen, who looks a lot like a benign alcoholic tortoise with a very big nose. He's got dementia, which was last years' Great Theme for the entertainment industry. If you'd written a book back then about someone who can't remember things and thinks family members are there when they're not, you'd be quids in, mate. The film starts with a small boy mistaking a wasp for a bee, much to McKellen's dislike as Retired Holmes is, we find out quickly, a bee-keeper. I got to the third episode of forgetfulness and switched off, trying not to feel self-importantly angry because my father died of dementia and I didn't like to see it trivialised. I failed in this.

I also tried to watch 'Mad Max: Fury Road', which didn't go so well. I'm embarrassed to tell you I watched the original Mad Max as a teenager and loved it. It was the film wot launched Mel Gibson's career, a low-budget Australian sci-fi effort which went what I suppose we'd call viral today. Looking back at the original, it's amazing how much impact it had at the time, because it's incredibly clunky and low-key. But I recall how mad and, well, just 'out there' it was. The sequel was equally brilliant, adding a huge amount of pizzaz to the dystopian style of the original. By the time Tina Turna pitched, I'd fallen off the bus: style had eclipsed content and the whole point about the original Mad Max is it was a brilliantly and stylishly told story of brutality and revenge, not just a collection of shinies trotted out like a dumb game show's glittering prizes.

Fury Road isn't even that. It's just lazy, woeful pants. The trouble is, for a work of imagination ('content') to turn into something wonderful, it needs to be anchored in reason. Even dystopia needs reason - the trick, ask William Gibson, is to warp the reason and build tottering towers of suspended disbelief on that twisted logic. There was no reason on offer in this film, just a lazy freak show that reminded me more of Duffo than Gibson's vengeful cop. I got as far as the flying car with four drummers on the back and a CGI bloke playing a flame-shooting flying V on the front bumper before switching off. I was amazed, in retrospect, at my staying power.

I tried not to let myself be plunged into black depression. Looking out at the dawning sun over the dark cloud, I was in awe. So this is the best the Dream Factory can conjure up? The greatest stories mankind can tell itself? It likely is. It's probably my fault. I'm clearly out of step with everyone else.

Thank God for the Kindle. That's all I can say...


Hind Mezaina said...

Disagree with you on Mad Max Fury Road. Disagree x 10. And I know you will roll your eyes, but it's really not a film to watch on the small screen. Was amazed when they had Gravity - another one that must only be watched on the big screen.

Also disagree on Mr Holmes and even Man from U.N.C.L.E., but totally agree 100% on Bridge of Spies.

As for watching movies on planes, I tend to stick to the Film Club/Classic film sections - both Arabic and English language films. Till now, there's been a great selection and an opportunity for me to see films I've not watched before.

There used to be a good selection of documentaries, especially art/music related ones, but that stopped for a while.

If all else fails, I listen to New Order or Pet Shop Boys or the 80s synth playlist.

Alexander McNabb said...

It's clearly subjective, but I couldn't take MMFR at any price.

But then you's a film buff. You likes them things. I doesn't...

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