Thinking About Film 2: Unreal & Over-Familiar
Stars make love fully dressed and shrug off bullets as if they were mosquito bites
One of the problems with present-day entertainment is that Hollywood long ago won a determined and heavily funded cultural war. American lifestyles dominate global TV and film to the point where we hardly see anything else. I’ve watched too many films set on the US west coast, watched too many angry men firing guns, fighting in bars and coffee shops, attending Little League baseball games and standing on empty beaches thinking of the past. Accompanying these visuals is maudlin sentiment; lachrymose buckets of it ladled over everything. Do American males really harp on and on about their high school years? Do their partners really obsess about weddings and stare tearfully at old videos of their families?
I want to see stories from the Congo and Luxembourg, Adelaide and Madrid – it’s a big world but you could be forgiven for believing it consists of Central Park and Santa Monica. Local films don’t get overseas releases because Hollywood controls the theatres. Ironically, Netflix has allowed in more world cinema than my local arthouse cineplex.
As a juror for world cinema the first thing I notice when I see lots of films from the rest of the planet at this time of year is that hardly any of them feature guns, and the women have proper speaking roles. In the absurd ‘Ad Astra’, Liv Tyler plays Brad Pitt’s wife and has so little dialogue that she could have been played by a mime.
After a while it becomes fascinating to watch Hollywood films and study the silent women listening to the voluble men. They act as hard as they can with their eyes, do things with their hands – but their mouths remain unscripted.
The brilliant UK actor Sally Hawkins gets to stand on the sidelines in ‘Godzilla, King of the Monsters’ while men talk rubbish about alpha waves, before being promptly bumped off by falling debris. Of course, Guillermo del Toro gave her a non-speaking role in ‘The Shape of Water’, but deliberately so.
Below, she is given an actual speaking role as the annoyingly optimistic Poppy, attempting to draw out her angry, miserable driving instructor from Mike Leigh’s ‘Happy-Go-Lucky’.
The biggest problem is that tentpole movies have no space left for actors. Played out on green-screen there’s no wiggle-room for real performances. I asked Ewan McGregor what it was like filming ‘Star Wars’ and he told me the only physical preparation he had for many shots was his hair extension. Under the demands of modern sensation-entertainment there’s no room for human emotion.
I feel as if I’ve experienced the cinema century from terrible British comedies on static stages, through the growing pains of issue-cinema and the end of censorship, to thought-provoking thrill rides and then silly ones, and finally to the franchised and censored (films being far tamer now than they ever were in the seventies). For Hollywood, sex and violence are weightless and free of consequence. Stars make love fully dressed and shrug off bloodless bullet wounds as if they were mosquito bites while home entertainment is revolutionising the way we experience stories.
If the Marvel universe has replaced the dumb action flick of old, that’s a good thing. If you’re going to be unbelievable, be unbelievable and big.