Thinking About Film 2: Unreal & Over-Familiar

The Arts

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.

28 comments on “Thinking About Film 2: Unreal & Over-Familiar”

  1. chazza says:

    It’s becoming very hard to see a film in the cinema which isn’t produced by an American studio. Gone are the days of the Academy and Cinecentre who had the audacity to show foreign films. I am beginning to detest the sound of the all-encompassing American accent..

  2. Helen Martin says:

    Which American accent? The South (all 2 doz. of those accents?) the Midwest? The the North East (all those NewEnglanders? the Pacific Northwest (including abutting Canada) Hawaii? Alaska? No, you mean that indeterminate mid-Atlantic urban, television announcer voice. You go through the same thing in Britain but there’s a defiance in the regions. Sometimes I miss what Vera or her officers is saying, Happy Valley likewise (although I don’t usually watch that. My husband complained that the actors in “Rocks in His Pockets”, put on locally, couldn’t decide which part of Northern Ireland they came from.
    In places where there are so many different ways of speaking it becomes a bit difficult to decide and even more difficult to put the desired accent in the moths of the actors.
    The movie “The Lighthouse”, set in New England but filmed in Nova Scotia, should be interesting from that point of view. Not only is it seaside New England but it is set in the mid 1800s. They built a complete lighthouse for that film, by the way, not brick or cement but sturdy because actors (well, two actors and sometimes a mermaid) had to be safe on it. The director pointed out, too, that the weather wasn’t dubbed. If it was raining then it really was and the wind played itself, no stand in helicopters or wind machines apparently.

  3. Ken Mann says:

    Sally Hawkins part in Godzilla King of the Monsters is bigger in the novelisation, implying that some of her performance was lost in the edit. and yes god help me I did read the novelisation. I was impressed than she and Ken Watanabe were giving committed performances in that film, which some of the rest of the cast were phoning it in. Nice to see the spirit of Peter Cushing living on.

  4. Brooke says:

    “…Do American males..?” If you mean US males, then I answer yes to both questions.

    “…silent women listening to voluble men…” Just like real life. In my field there is a famous in-depth, multi-year study high lighting how pervasive (and dangerous) is the silencing of women. The project focused on “cross-organizational collaboration” (?!) in high stakes events. Interpretation: defense and intelligence teams face off against “terrorists” teams. Teams are mixed gender with equal levels of expertise. There were numerous explanations for why the “terrorists” consistently “won.” But a psychologist noted the crucial difference: males on the “good guys” side ignored input from their female team mates, experts though they were. Even telling them to be quiet. And so we march on.

  5. snowy says:

    Brooke, would you favour me with a link/reference/citation for that study? I’m curious, [in – oh! – so many, many ways!]

  6. Brian Evans says:

    Helen, I have trouble with “Vera” as well. Not only is the accent of the North East of England/Newcastle one of the most impenetrable of the British accents, even to the British, but the sound is not very clear and I often have the sub titles on.

    The books are much better, though I like the way Brenda Blethyn portrays her.

    Apparently the 1969 film “Kes”, set in Lancashire, went the rounds in the US with subtitles.

  7. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    Kes was set in Yorkshire, not Lancashire.
    The Barnsley dialect – not just an accent – might need subtitles on the other side of the Pennines.

  8. Brian Evans says:

    I wondered who would be first to spot my deliberate mistake. Well done you! I’m biased-I was born in Liverpool when it was still in Lancashire. As someone once said-the only good thing to come out o’Yorkshire is t’road to Lancashire.

  9. Brooke says:

    Snowy, I’ll have to find the study on my drive. If you research Harvard Business Review, Hackman, Why Teams Fail, I think you’ll find a succinct summary–it won’t give you explicit gory details, but you’ll get the idea.

  10. snowy says:

    Got it! Or at least interviews outlining same.

    [According to Prof. Hackman’s definitions I’m a ‘deviant’… he’ll never know quite how right he was!]

    Thank you.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    It takes a brave/foolish person to enter the Lancashire/Yorkshire battle. Where is Liverpool now if it isn’t in Lancs and how did it get there?

  12. Brooke says:

    Snowy, you and I are in the same boat. Cheers.

  13. Brian Evans says:

    Liverpool is now in Merseyside, which also includes the Wirral Peninsula which used to be Cheshire, and Southport where I live now which was Lancs. There were a lot of changes to counties around 1971 or 72ish, around large cities. A lot of people were not happy about them.

  14. Wayne Mook says:

    It’s back in Lancs, (it was Merseyside) the Greater Councils exist in parts but Manchester can be thought of as back in Lancashire, too. You can use both as part of the postal address (really it should just be Manchester). Greater Manchester Authority is an amalgam of 10 local authorities but a conservative government took away their county status, it was a conservative government that created them. Although Warrington never moved back to Lancashire from Cheshire, especially when they want to sell their houses. Things like the Greater Manchester Public Transport Authority (and Executive) still exist. There were 2 others London and ? (here’s a clue the 4th one was conservative.)

    So transatlantic is new rada voice. That figures.

    I remember at a Roses Cricket match (one day game) at Old Trafford, the Lancashire fans singing at the Yorkshire fans, ‘What’s it like to lose a war?’ Good to see old rivalries forgotten.

    Apropos of nothing, I met some old friends, and was told in Monton (an area of Eccles, Salford.) it’s one of the areas on the rise even being gentrified no less; a house on a terrace row, 2 up 2 down, whose street ended on a now missing railway, not only did it go for a ridiculous amount but is now called an ‘Industrial Cottage.’ You can rebrand anything.

    Wayne.

  15. Jan says:

    Monton always was a BIT posh. I could see it being gentrified Worsley is getting twinked up as well isn’t it Wayne? Or did that already happen?

  16. Brian Evans says:

    Southport is still in Merseyside, in the Borough of Sefton, much to the annoyance of the locals.

    We used to drive to Eccles a lot years ago and I can remember Monton Green station standing proud on the embankment. I can also remember the coal pits with the small containers of coal going across the East Lancs Road on raised wires. I don’t know what the contraption was called and would be interested if anyone could enlighten me.

    For the record, despite coming from Lancs, I much prefer Yorkshire, esp the Dales. My paternal grandmother came from Richmond and I have spent loads of time in the town over the years as a result.

    You can always tell a Yorkshireman, but you can’t tell him much.

  17. snowy says:

    Brian, it is an interesting if slightly very niche question. Generally they are ‘Aerial Ropeways’, but and there are many buts, dialect and customary names can vary, suppliers had various trade names and the kit can be described by function instead of form. There are probably a dozen names and none of them wrong.

    Eg. the one at the end of ‘Get Carter’ is an Aerial Conveyor.

  18. Brian Evans says:

    Thanks Snowy. Now you mention it, I remember the one at the end of “Get Carter” As a child they used to fascinate me partly as there was something slightly eerie about them. I have no idea why I thought that though.

  19. Ian Luck says:

    Brian – things like that are definitely eerie. I knew someone who was seriously freaked out by electricity pylons. I showed him a photo I had taken standing directly under a pylon, and he said that it was the most frightening thing he’d ever seen.
    I never liked the Forth rail bridge. The sight of it in a book would make me jump, and send a chill of terror through me. I never knew why. Maybe there’s something about girder work that is inherently terrifying. The gantries on pitheads used to bother me, too. Odd, isn’t it?

  20. Wayne Mook says:

    Parts of Monton were a bit posh Jan, but the road was 2 rows of terrace houses ending with a fence that backed onto the railway, so was noisy and very working class. A friends aunty lived there.

    Merseyside and Greater Manchester still exist with transport authorities and police force but the actual councils themselves were disbanded so the locals in each area can use either on their address. So I do enjoy telling people from Sale they live in Greater Manchester not Cheshire.

    Lancashire was always more industrial than most of Yorkshire, even Cheshire had it’s salt mining, plus being on the west of the hills we do get more rain. A lot more of Yorkshire is unspoilt, and most of it is on the East side of the hills so is drier, Hud is west so is wet, not too far from Rochdale really.

    Wayne.

  21. Brian Evans says:

    Ian, I can understand the pylon thing and perhaps the Forth Bridge which may be to do with vertigo. Have you ever seen or crossed the Tay Bridge? I find that very creepy knowing what happened. What is particularly chilling is that the concrete struts of the old bridge are still sticking out of the water, running parallel with the new bridge.

  22. Ian Luck says:

    I have seen the Tay Bridge, Brian, and the pier remnants are a stark reminder of the tragedy. I think it is the weird shape of the Forth Bridge I find so troubling – it’s on the cover of a compilation album by the Scots band, The Skids, and I nearly never bought it because of that. But pylons never bothered me – I worked on a site where there were several old pylons awaiting demolition, and took photos from underneath, looking straight up. An odd view. There was a 1970’s TV show for children called ‘The Changes’, and, like a lot of shows of the time, seemed to be made just to give children nightmares. The premise is a breakdown of society, as some force has stopped all machinery from working, and a compulsion has come across people to destroy machines, and roll life back to a pre industrial age. I watched it again a few months ago, and it’s properly dark, not kid’s fare, at all. On the opening credits, things are shown in negative, including pylons. They look incredibly sinister.

  23. Helen Martin says:

    Brian, my husband calls those things aerial bucket lines. I’ll bet there’s a different name all over.
    You can always tell a Dutchman but you can’t tell him much. Bet everyone’s got their favourite for that one, too. Perhaps it’s that classic substitution joke as “you can always tell an ethnic but you can’t tell him much.”

  24. Ian Luck says:

    I like the musicians’ joke:
    ‘What is the difference between a Drummer, and a Drum Machine?’

    ‘With a Drum machine, you only have to punch the information into it once…’
    And:
    ‘What do you call someone who hangs about with musicians?’
    ‘A Drummer.’

    Grossly unfair, seeing just how skilled most drummers are, but it still makes me laugh.

  25. Brian Evans says:

    Ian,

    (Q)-What do you call 100 accordions at the bottom of the Thames?

    (A)-A start.

  26. Ian Luck says:

    Brian – what is the difference between an accordion and a trampoline?

    – You take your boots off to jump on a trampoline…

  27. John Griffin says:

    Lived as a child close to County End, a line in the road that marked the end of Lancashire and the beginning of the West Riding of Yorkshire. It is in the village of Lees, a north-eastern suburb of Oldham. The Oldham Borough buses used to turn round there, not licensed to operate in Yorkshire. Then in the 70s along came Oldham Metropolitan Borough and the border moved some 8 miles east onto Saddleworth Moor, almost exactly where searches were conducted for the Moors Murder victims. NOBODY local recognised the change, and even to this day people in the villages of Uppermill, Greenfield and so on have letters addressed to West Riding, Yorkshire, even with an OL postcode. My stepfather was, of course, a border guard.
    I had to explain to someone the other day that the reason I didn’t speak like Brian Cox (an alumnus of the same school) was that he came from the South of Oldham, and I from the area where the accent was barely modified West Riding (as spoke by England Rugby 10, George Ford).
    As a curiosity, this is the same tiny bit of the world that makes beef suet pudding simmered in special cloths, “rag pudding”, eaten with chips and gravy.

  28. SteveB says:

    It‘s when you watch Snow White cartoon in Bulgarian in a cinema in Sofia that the real global power of US culture hits you

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