Talking Movies

April 10, 2012

On Saying What You Mean: Part I

I’ve been infuriated lately by language getting trapped in some Orwellian nightmare so here’s the first of three blogs that will dissect evasions and contradictions…

Trevor Johnston is something of a cult hero of Paul Fennessy and mine for his delirious ability to find some reason to watch even the most drivelling of films when he’s writing programme notes for them. But his take on Jo Nesbo’s Headhunters in the IFI programme this month infuriated me because of its internal contradiction, which seems to me to exemplify an entire system of thinking that is lazy and inherently ridiculous.

Aksel Hennie’s roguish, Steve Buscemi-like protagonist is about to have his life turned into a Coens-style ultra-black comedy, as confident director Morten Tyldum piles on the eye-watering moments. Head-spinning plot twists are not in short supply, yet we never lose sight of the story’s basis in male emotional fragility. A Hollywood studio has optioned it, but their version won’t be anywhere near as dark and sinewy as this.” (My italics)

Um, mightn’t it? Suppose the evil Hollywood studio were to persuade actual Steve Buscemi and the actual Coens to actually make this film that so resembles their shtick? Would that film not be equally as dark and sinewy? Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo after all improves on the Swedish version by using his substantial clout to introduce more texture and a slower pace so that you watch a mystery with compelling characters rather than sketched-in characters dashing thru a thriller plot. Furthermore I’ve written extensively about how Let Me In improved on Let the Right One In by making it bleaker and removing the disingenuous happy ending and manipulative bogus ambiguity of the original film. The idea that Hollywood is one vast undifferentiated garbage machine has to be got rid of, as does the notion that anything filmed in a foreign language is instantly intelligent and brilliant. It’s a lazy generalisation, akin to the hilarious motto ‘Anything said in Latin sounds profound.’ But more than that a whole mind-shift needs to happen, because it’s ridiculous to speak in tongues and dream in Hollywood when it comes to discussing cinema. The shorthand that we use to discuss cinema comes mostly from Hollywood and the movies that people love for the most part come from Hollywood; and I mean this globally, not just in Anglo-American land, look at DVD stores’ catalogues in South East Asia. Johnston uses Hollywood movie-making as reassuring reference points for a good foreign movie; before slamming Hollywood’s tackiness. It makes no sense…

Some weeks ago Anonymous attacked the Vatican’s website and left a very confused message about their motives. I’ve been hunting about for a version of that statement that didn’t look like it was either written in Italian or translated into English by someone who was illiterate in two languages because I want to give Anonymous the benefit of the doubt. I finally pinned down a reasonably coherent diatribe purporting to be from Anonymous on the International Business Times website’s report on the incident. The Vatican was attacked for preaching absurd and archaic doctrines, they said, in a rant that covered everything and anything; “You have burned books of immense historical and literary value, you barbarously executed your fiercest detractors and critics over the centuries, have denied universally deemed valid or plausible theories, have led the unwary to pay to get access to paradise with the sale of indulgences”, and so on; before ending on the muted note that the attack was “not intended to target the true Christian religion and the faithful around the world” but was aimed at the “corrupt Roman Apostolic Church and all its emanations”. Hmmm. Well, no, that doesn’t really make sense. The Church is not a different entity to the Faithful, indeed the Church Militant on earth is only part of a wider church incorporating the faithful departed who make up the Church Triumphant. So, to attack the doctrines defined by the Vatican is to attack 1 billion Catholics as being utter idiots. Which is exactly what Anonymous meant to do, only it seems that having written the bolshy part someone thought better of calling over 1 billion people utter idiots, and put in a weak semi-retraction. But this is the conduct of a weasel…. If you have the courage of your convictions then say what you mean. If you want to say that Catholics are stupid beyond belief for what they believe then say it. Don’t savour hurting Catholics by ridiculing everything that they believe, and then weasel out of responsibility for the pain you gleefully inflicted by saying that technically your words didn’t apply to Catholics just the Church. If you want the benefit of hurtful words, admit that you used them hurtfully. I had no firm opinion on whether the cyber criminals were courageous crusaders or not before this attack, but now I think they must be classified as cowardly creeps.

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