Thinking About Film 1: Too Much Sugar


A maid leans out of an upstairs window, calling to the lady of the house, who is in the garden clipping roses.

MAID: Oh Ma’am! I’ve swallowed a safety pin!

LADY OF THE HOUSE: Oh so that’s where all my safety pins go.

A Victorian cartoon illustrating very British humour. We don’t do sentiment but we love a bit of effortless cruelty, which is why we struggle with the Millennial mindset (although I have to say that I rather enjoy them. Recently my Millennial barber said to me; ‘Are you ready to embark on your hair journey?’) – their world is just too holistic and nice.

Cruelty, though. I’m thinking of HH Monroe’s ‘Saki’ story ‘Esmé’, about the two women who go fox hunting and accidentally catch a hyena which promptly eats a ‘Gypsy child’ and then gets run over. The rider lets the driver think he’s killed her dog and gets a diamond brooch out of him. It’s very modern. BTW, a handful of previously uncollected stories has now appeared in a separate Saki volume, for all you fans.

Cruelty, as André Breton observed, is very close to surreality, which makes it very modern in a world where the American president suggests building a wall in Colorado. But it is a better reflection of life than sentiment for the simple reason that in fiction people are more interesting when they are unthinkingly cruel rather than when they are actively kind. But reflecting real emotional truths rather than patronising sentiment or pat sermonising doesn’t mean sacrificing the grand and spectacular.

Films like Lars Von Trier’s ‘Breaking The Waves’ and ‘Melancholia’ are filled with painful, very realistic moments, yet transcend them to take in the epic and fantastical. François Ozon’s films are every bit as radical and outrageous as Pedro Almodovar’s, and utterly unique. They also manage to tell a great many stories without people biffing each other up, something one gets tired of after adolescence.

Sentiment is easy to manufacture; a swell of the orchestra, a falling tear, and old photograph re-examined, and it’s even cheaper and lazier than the jump-scare. It belongs to the early days of cinema, when comedy was a pie in the face and love was a clinch beneath an apple tree.

I’m intrigued by the astonishing films of Kornél Mundruczó, who made ‘White God’ and ‘Jupiter’s Moon’, both films with fantastical elements, both thrilling adventures, both unbearably realistic and true to the spirit of life as it’s lived today. ‘White God’ has a cute little girl and a lovely dog and is still not sentimental. Such films are minority fare for no other reason than that they are in another language. When Hollywood films arrive in Spain they are dubbed into one-size-fits-all South American Spanish, so that children grow up thinking Hollywood films are in a partially different language to the one they speak.

What’s an action movie like when you take out the sentimental wallowing? You’d lose the last half hour of ‘Lord of the Rings’ for a start!

4 comments on “Thinking About Film 1: Too Much Sugar”

  1. Roger says:

    My hair embarked on a journey and left me behind years ago.
    ‘Esmé’ has been around for years – is it an earlier version in the previously uncollected stories, perhaps? What’s the collection called? Munro was a correspondent in Russia and eastern Europe for the Morning Postin the 1900s. I’m surprised no-one has reprinted his despatches. It’d be interesting to see what he thought was happening.

  2. admin says:

    I wasn’t suggesting ‘Esmé’ is in the collection – which is called ‘Saki: A Shot in the Dark’.

  3. Roger says:

    Off to the bookshop then…

  4. Ian Luck says:

    ‘Hair Journey’? I think if my barber said that, to some of his usual customers, he’d probably get offered outside. My goodness, how twee. That’s only a few stops down the line from: “Does he want a little cutty-wutty, then?”. Within living memory, my barber was still asking freshly-shorn blokes the immortal question: “Something for the weekend, sir?” A brilliant, and endlessly sarcastic barber I used in the 1980’s retired, simply leaving a note on his door one day, that he was going fishing, and didn’t intend coming back. Ever. I think that if the phrase “Hair Journey” had been said in his shop, he would probably have coughed hard as he was using a straight razor on that person. Being subject to Male Pattern Baldness, and not being vain enough to be bothered by it – a zero cut every time, and then a run over it with a razor at home, I can truthfully say that most of my hair headed in the general direction of ‘away’ many, many years ago.

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