Open To Interpretation

The Arts

Parents are getting older. They’re waiting longer to have children and, it seems among my friends at least, are having trouble conceiving. Or as my doctor put it bluntly, ‘a geriatric pregnancy is one occurring after 35.’ I only mention this because I’d forgotten that when my mother started giving her oldest son advice she was extremely innocent and unworldly. The norm was to give birth around 21 or 22, which meant you would be teaching children while still in your twenties.

We have to assume our narrators are reliable. This idea was brilliantly upturned by Iain Banks in ‘The Wasp Factory’, a book my agent refused to represent on moral grounds.

My mother loved the arts but had little direct experience of them. Thinking back, this shows particularly in the way she used to sit on the end of my bed and describe books, films and plays to me, something she always did as there was no point in trying to talk about the arts with my father. Here are a few of the synopses I remember.

Anna Karenina – ‘A spoiled woman is so selfish and dissatisfied that she throws herself under a train before anyone else can punish her.’

2001 – A Space Odyssey – ‘Earth people set off an alarm that triggers a giant baby to attack our planet.’

Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple – ‘An evil Satanist is tricked by Jesus into becoming a Christian.’

Stevenson’s Travels With A Donkey – ‘A man gets mistaken for a tramp because he uses a sleeping bag and has a fight with a donkey.’

Bambi – ‘A skunk falls in love with a deer whose mother is murdered.’

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom – ‘Unreadably boring war story by a man who got a bit too friendly with Arab boys.’

The Wizard Of Oz – ‘You’re safer if you don’t go anywhere.’

Summer Holiday – ‘Some Teddy Boys illegally vandalise a bus and go on the run in Europe.’

Once you start seeing the world through a parent’s eyes  – especially through their favourite books and films, it alters your own perspective. Examples of what you or parents thought things were about welcome!

18 comments on “Open To Interpretation”

  1. Brooke says:

    Evita–“Blond woman, she sing, she sing, she die.”

  2. Ian Luck says:

    My mum told me about when she was young, her friend telling her rather staid parents about the movie they had just seen – ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea'(1954), and was getting to the bit with the giant squid. Mum said that her friend said:
    “…And this huge thing attacked them… And it had testicles twenty feet long!”

  3. Bob Low says:

    Your mum’s synopses are reminiscent of Lesley Haliwell’s gnomic summaries of classic films he obviously didn’t like. My dad had a similar knack for pithy, brief descriptions of films and books which usually concluded by him telling you how they ended, eg ‘That’s the one where they all die at the end’, or ‘That’s the one where it’s all happening in a computer’. After a while, I stopped asking his opinion of any films or books until I had seen or read them myself. It was safer.

  4. Nick says:

    Reminds me of the classic summation for The Wizard of Oz: “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.”


  5. Martin Tolley says:

    My mum:
    “You know that film. The one about the people, they went to that place up north. What’sisname was in it. And she was in it as well, you know, her that was in that other film, the one that had that tiny american bloke in it. He was married seven or eight times.”

  6. Peter Dixon says:

    My mum’s fascination was how people died. We’d be watching a movie and she would suddenly say ‘He died when he got a chicken bone stuck in his throat and choked’ or ‘She got her head chopped off in a car accident’. She was usually knitting at the time.

  7. Trace Turner says:

    My mother’s description of numerous books and films
    “Unpleasant people doing tedious things”

  8. John Howard says:

    Luckily for me my mum usually let us decide for ourselves what we thought. We then would discuss it and then agree to disagree. I did get lucky after she had been to see Hard Days Night with a family friend and subsequently bought the album. Not long after the album purchase my brother and I went to see the film and I obviously raved so much about it that I got given the album to shut me up. Then was born a Beatles anorak.
    A bit off topic; but my fathers’ favourite trick when I asked him what a certain word meant that I had come across whilst reading was to tell me to go and look it up in the dictionary and then come back and tell him what it meant. I thought this was a mechanism to make sure I actually went and found out but many, many years later my mum told me that half the time he didn’t know himself so I was educating both of us..

  9. Helen Martin says:

    My Mother and Dad were thirty when I was born so almost 40 when they started talking about books other than the lot I had already accumulated and there was only one theatre within easy driving. My Dad took my brother and I to see 20,000 Leagues though and came home discussing the possibilities of having a life underwater like that. We saw Bridge Over the River Kwai. too. so a war discussion after that, fairly general, but I was reminded that a movie is fiction and not to generalize characters. Regardless of their beliefs they “brought us up”.
    Dad was rather taken by Alvin Toffler and by the Nazco Lines. I’m not sure how those go together but I think he was becoming rather depressed about the way the world was turning out. Mother would ask if I had read a book before she expressed an opinion, except when I met my first sex scenes (and very mild they were when I checked them years later) in Sigrid Undset. I made some remark about it being embarassing and she just looked at me, “But those are classics!” As if you couldn’t be bothered by anything in a classic. Our high school library had remainders of an old neighbourhood library so we had Baroness Orczy and The Man in the Iron Mask and very little new stuff at all due to lack of funding. I reread Undset later and wondered with my Mother what had bothered me.
    They both encouraged the reading except when Mother wondered if I’d ever get my nose out of a book. She was the one that suggested I offer to organise and acquisition the little neighbourhood library we were building. So it’s all her fault, although she paid for it with 35 years of volunteering at that library. It had a huge edition of Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers I remember, but not Buddenbrooks or any other Mann.

  10. Roger says:

    “We have to assume our narrators are reliable. This idea was brilliantly upturned by Iain Banks in ‘The Wasp Factory”
    Unreliable narrators go back a long way before that. Two of the most subtle – in very different ways – come from the 1920s – Nick Carraway in “The Great Gatsby” and the famous book by Agatha Christie – but they go back at least as far as Daniel Defoe.

    “Unpleasant people doing tedious things”
    You mother would not have liked Robert Hamer’s cinematic ambitions then, Trace Turner: “I want make films about people in dark rooms doing beastly things to one another”. Not something he could do at Ealing Studios.

  11. snowy says:

    A two hour search for a piece of winter-sports equipment.
    Bar-owner fails to catch a plane.
    A failed attempt to steal some gold: cliff-hanger ending.
    Three men in a boat go looking for a big fish.
    Space truckers pick up something nasty.
    Estranged husband visits wife at Christmas, discovers unwanted guests.
    The unsinkable; sinks – eventually.
    Robinson Crusoe: In Space!

  12. Andrew Holme says:

    As teenagers we can never imagine our parents as teenagers. After I saw ‘Wages of Fear’ ( now ‘The Sorcerer’) at the cinema in the Seventies, I rather pompously explained to my working class Northern Dad how it was a remake of an old French classic. He replied, ” yes, I remember watching the Clouzot film when it came out. I was 16 and I sneaked in. Brilliant film. You should check out ‘Les diabolique’. “

  13. Peter Tromans says:

    That film, young guy with Irish surname meets a woman. He doesn’t apologise and she dies. Half the audience are only too pleased; the other half cries.

  14. Ian Luck says:

    A review of ‘Titanic’ in a music magazine was on the lines of:
    “The female half of the audience was there for the love story. Their boyfriends were there to see Kate Winslet in the nude, and watch Leonardo DiCaprio drown.”
    Whatever. Here’s a tip if you want to see a movie about the Titanic – don’t bother with ‘Titanic’. Watch ‘A Night To Remember’ instead. It’s a far better movie.

  15. Wayne Mook says:

    My dad’s favourite phrase while watching a film was, “I’m not having that.” Even my young niece uses this now firmly entrenched family phrase. Depending how bad the scene is there maybe an added word.

    right Snowy lest see how many I can get,

    Citizen Kane.


    The Italian Job.



    Sink the Bismarck! (or more likely Titanic.).

    The Shining.

    The Martian. (or the 1964 film, Robinson Crusoe on Mars.)


  16. snowy says:

    Well done Wayne, [I was thinking of the latter for no. 6].

    No. 7 isn’t the one I was thinking of, [I’ll give you a slight clue; think ‘unexpected rocket launcher – sad tank’]. [I’m sure you know it].


    Peter, You utter rotter, it took me days to work out yours. [smiley whot-not]

  17. Ian Luck says:

    I love ‘Robinson Crusoe On Mars’! An odd little movie, directed by Byron Haskin. It looks superb, and the survival information used by the main character, Kit Draper was genuine NASA survival material. Filmed in Death Valley, the skies were tinted, post production, giving a rather eerie look to the whole. Although there is a largely fanciful nature to a lot of the movie, I always liked the nods to the original story, and things like Draper’s frustration about his ‘Mother Ship’, the frame of the MGP-1(Mars Gravity Probe -1),
    which orbits within sight, each day, taunting him, almost, as he knows it’s still full of gear he could use to remain alive a bit longer. As it has no fuel, though, he can do nothing (although he does destroy it by remote control so that the malignant alien slavers don’t find it).
    The other thing that impresses me is that the movie shows him easing his hunger and thirst, and finds a way to generate oxygen, but doesn’t shy away from his mental distress caused by months of loneliness – his friend, and co pilot Dan McCready having been killed escaping from the MGP-1. It’s a great movie, and well worth watching, even now.

  18. Wayne Mook says:

    Die Hard.

    It is one of my favourite Christmas films along with It’s a Wonderful Life, which makes an odd but satisfying double bill.

    Agree Ian some of the older SF films really are worth watching again.


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