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Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Vague (What was that film with that guy?)

I used to watch MAD TV back in Canada, and one of my favourite sketches was of the game show Vague. (Check it out. It’s very funny.)

Q: Who was that guy who did that thing?
A: The guy with the hair.
Q: That’s correct!

I remembered it recently when I got a composition from a student of mine. They were supposed to write a review of a film. I have corrected the grammatical errors.

The film is full of action and suspense. It is a mystery story with many strange things. The actors in the film, who are the French woman and the man, are searching for something very interesting and strange. But they are not alone in the story. The police are searching for them because they believe that they are the people who killed the person in the museum. Moreover, these two people are being followed by others who want the same strange thing, because it is interesting to them.

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Hearing what we want to hear

In the beginning of The Conversation, a couple are walking around in a large square, and their conversation is being recorded by a surveillance team. The central character, played by Gene Hackman, hears the man say, “He’d kill us if he got the chance.” He, like the viewers, is sure that the emphasis was on the word “kill” (which was probably how you read it), but at the end of the film, through a bit of cheating in the sound editing, we realise that what the man had really said was, “He’d kill us if he got the chance.”

The first time you see the film you aren’t sure if your memory isn’t playing tricks on you. Were you wrong in assuming that he said, “He’d kill us if he got the chance”, or did they re-record the words? (If you watch it on video or DVD, you go back and check, but the film was made in early seventies, before people could do such things.) You wonder if the context actually affects how you hear it. If so, who’s to say that the second time you’re hearing it correctly? The first time I saw it, it seemed like a subversive joke.

Not long after I met C. and fell in love with her, she decided for a number of reasons that we shouldn’t see each other any more. She could see where things were heading, even if I had not openly expressed my feelings for her yet, and the feelings were reciprocated to some extent. But things were complicated, for a number of reasons, some of which wouldn’t be apparent till years later. So she decided the best thing would be for us not to see each other, not even as friends. I was a very determined young man, and very much in love, and I was shattered by her decision. It made no sense. It was illogical. It simply could not be. Later that day, she agreed to see me again, to hear me out.

I poured my heart out to her, more than I’d ever done before. I was still an effusive teenager, and a lot of what I had to tell her wasn’t really relevant. I simply needed to open up and reveal myself and tell her I loved her.

When I had told her, she sat stunned. “But you don’t know me,” she said, and I asked her how that could be. She shrugged, and I could see that I had won. She took me into her arms and told me she could see more of me.

I clung to those words for months, even though I saw her very rarely for almost a year afterwards, while she finished her Master’s. I gave her the time and space she needed, or thought she needed, and I waited, remembering her words as if they had been a promise.

But then doubt began to set in, and one day it occurred to me that she might not actually have meant that she could see me more often, but that now that I had opened up and revealed so much of myself to her, I was more clearly visible to her. I can see more of you. It seemed like such a strange thing to say to somebody, and I began to think she can’t have meant either possibility. Surely a person would have phrased both sentiments differently. There might even have been a third meaning, which I could not determine. Had I ever understood her at all?

The more I thought about them, the more her words changed. I tried to remember the tone of her voice, the expression on her face. I searched for clues, but each time I revisited the scene, it would be a little different. And now, when I recall it, so many years later, the only things that present themselves when I try to remember are the couch she sat on across from my chair, the coffee table between us, the darkness outside the window, the framed print of Monet’s waterlilies on the wall. She and I are not there at all — just two manikins that would probably resemble us if I could see their faces, if their faces didn’t melt away every time I tried to look at them.

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No More Culture

In Greece, the word culture often has negative connotations. There are two words for it. The Greek one, politismos, which also means civilisation, and is used quite generally, expressing approval. It’s the latinate form of the word, cultura, that seems to be synonymous with pretentiousness. One gets the sense that certain aspects of culture don’t fit well on the Greek, make him feel uncomfortable. And I’m not talking about peasants or people who actually have no interest in such things. I’m talking about people who seem, at first glance, to be young intellectuals and who cultivate a stance of hip irony. There is a coolness to the stance, a populist distrust of elitism (another dirty word), and a pleasure taken in debunking what is viewed as pretentious. Certainly there’s no shortage of pretentiousness in the world, but this is an easy target, and time weeds it out anyway. The distrust I’m talking about is for culture in general. It’s as if they think no one in his right mind would listen to classical music, for example, unless he wanted to create a certain effect, make a certain impression. You see no evidence that they have understood the notion that culture, like beauty, can be difficult. Why bother? they seem to say. Who do you think you’re fooling?

One of the greatest consolations in my life is the Third Programme of the state radio. I listen to it all the time. I can spend a day or two by myself in here, with it as my only company. It’s better than anything I ever heard on the CBC back in Canada. When she comes over, N. often gives me a ribbing about it, mocking the voices of the announcers. “They sound as if they have no contact with the outside world,” she says. “They’re in a world of their own.” Often she changes it to one of her favourites, or I change it when I know she’s coming. We listen to ROCKFM or RED, and although I enjoy them too, I get no sense that anything I hear — not the music, not the announcers’ voices, not the commercials — reflects anything in the outside world, except perhaps its aspirations. I hear none of the sincerity that comforts me on the Third Programme, the very thing that to other people would seem to be pretentiousness.

A few weeks ago, N. and I went to see The Constant Gardener with a couple of friends. We enjoyed it more than any film we’d seen in a while and wanted to talk about it for quite some time afterwards. We knew the story was fictional, but we also knew that it could very easily be true. These were not just metaphors. We know how much we exploit the Third World, and nothing in the film surprised us. But it was a beautiful film that allowed us to see into the lives of the countless people who suffer so that we can have our drugs or our running shoes or whatever. A scene that has stayed with me more than any other is near the end, when a warring tribe attacks a village. Fiennes and Postlethwaite and some UN workers board a small plane to escape, and Fiennes is trying to bring along a young girl who was an assistant to Postlethwaite. The pilot, an African, tells him they can’t take her. Only UN representatives and employees can board. Fiennes tries to argue against logic: What does it matter? She’s just one girl, her family is dead, if they leave her she might die. The pilot tells him him if she’s lucky she may make it to a refugee camp. But there is nothing they can do. This goes on all the time, and they can’t save everyone. The girl, who’s been listening, knows what’s going on, and bolts from the plane before it takes off. We last see her running along the plane as it takes off, waving and smiling. It all seems to be a game to her. Look at me run! she seems to say. She smiles or even laughs, as all the other Kenyans in the film do, as if to say, If we did not smile, if we did not laugh, we would go mad. You would drive us mad.

One of our friends, C., did not enjoy the film. She had not been in the best of spirits and had had to be cajoled into coming out by our other friend, M. Standing outside the cinema, we were trying to decide where we could go for drinks, but she said she was going home. She didn’t feel like staying out any longer. The film had clearly upset her. M. apologised for dragging her out to see it. C. assured her that, on the contrary, she’d enjoyed the film.

But on Monday, at work, she said she didn’t want to see another film like that. “It was very good,” she said, “but next time, no culture, please.”

Which struck me, of course, as an odd thing to say. What catch-all phrase has culture become, at least for her? Anything that makes you think, presumably. Anything that reflects unpleasant realities about the world outside. Anything that tries to make you look at your part in the collective guilt.

It reminds me of when the garbage begins to pile up in our streets because it isn’t being collected. You smell the stuff and wonder how long the damned garbage men are going to be on strike. Then you learn that they’re not on strike, but that the people who live in the poor suburb of Ano Liosia, where the landfill site is, have blocked the way and are not allowing the garbage trucks to enter because life has become unbearable for them. You try not to breathe as you go past the overflowing bins on your street and try not to imagine what it must be like out in Ano Liosia. You only want someone to clear it all away, to make the problem of where all this garbage is going to go vanish again. You feel sympathy for the residents of Ano Liosia, but, really, enough is enough.

And then you learn that 170,000 tons of sludge will be taken far away where we won’t have to to deal with it again. To Sudan. To be used as fertiliser, even though its use for that purpose is prohibited here.

How’s that for sweetness and light?

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The AFI 100: How Many Have You Seen?

I couldn’t help this one. This is the AFI‘s list of the best 100 American films of all time, although I don’t know what The Third Man is doing in it, since it’s a British film (and has been voted the best British film of all time).

This “bold ’em if you’ve seen ’em” has been started by Edward Champion (DrMabuse). He’s seen 96 of them. I’ve only managed a measly 89.

1. CITIZEN KANE (1941)
2. CASABLANCA (1942)
3. THE GODFATHER (1972)
4.
GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)
5. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)
6. THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)
7. THE GRADUATE (1967)
8. ON THE WATERFRONT (1954)
9. SCHINDLER’S LIST (1993)
10. SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (1952)
11. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
12. SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)
13. THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957)
14. SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)
15. STAR WARS (1977)
16. ALL ABOUT EVE (1950)
17. THE AFRICAN QUEEN (1951)
18. PSYCHO (1960)
19. CHINATOWN (1974)
20. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975)
21. THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940)
22. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
23. THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)
24. RAGING BULL (1980)
25. E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982)
26. DR. STRANGELOVE (1964)
27. BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967)
28. APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)
29. MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939)
30. THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948)
31. ANNIE HALL (1977)
32. THE GODFATHER PART II (1974)
33. HIGH NOON (1952)
34. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)
35. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)
36. MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969)
37. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)
38. DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)
39. DOCTOR ZHIVAGO (1965)
40. NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)
41. WEST SIDE STORY (1961)
42. REAR WINDOW (1954)
43. KING KONG (1933)
44. THE BIRTH OF A NATION (1915)
45. A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951)
46. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)
47. TAXI DRIVER (1976)
48. JAWS (1975)
49. SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937)
50. BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969)
51. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940)
52. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (1953)
53. AMADEUS (1984)
54. ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930)
55. THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)
56. M*A*S*H (1970)
57. THE THIRD MAN (1949)
58. FANTASIA (1940)
59. REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955)
60. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)
61. VERTIGO (1958)
62. TOOTSIE (1982)
63. STAGECOACH (1939)
64. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977)
65. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)
66. NETWORK (1976)
67. THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962)
68. AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (1951)
69. SHANE (1953)
70. THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971)
71. FORREST GUMP (1994)
72. BEN-HUR (1959)
73. WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1939)
74. THE GOLD RUSH (1925)
75. DANCES WITH WOLVES (1990)
76. CITY LIGHTS (1931)
77. AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973)
78. ROCKY (1976)
79. THE DEER HUNTER (1978)
80. THE WILD BUNCH (1969)
81. MODERN TIMES (1936)
82. GIANT (1956)
83. PLATOON (1986)
84. FARGO (1996)
85. DUCK SOUP (1933)
86. MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935)
87. FRANKENSTEIN (1931)
88. EASY RIDER (1969)
89. PATTON (1970)
90. THE JAZZ SINGER (1927)
91. MY FAIR LADY (1964)
92. A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951)
93. THE APARTMENT (1960)
94. GOODFELLAS (1990)
95. PULP FICTION (1994)
96. THE SEARCHERS (1956)
97. BRINGING UP BABY (1938)
98. UNFORGIVEN (1992)
99. GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1967)
100. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY (1942)

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