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Posts Tagged ‘Movies’

There are obvious difficulties in running. One is looking like a proper twit in the running gear. In my new running top, I look like a day-glo condom. I suppose if I were a man, I’d find it gratifying to know that at least I looked like the extra-large kind. Then there’s finding the time in your day for it. And the weather. When you fall as often as I do, you need to be particular about running on clear, dry surfaces.

But a key difficulty is motivation. It can be hard to get excited about. Puffing your way around interminable bypasses (inching ever closer to the coronary kind). Turning increasingly disturbing shades of purple as you haul yourself up a hill. Being lapped by octogenarian dog walkers. Why would you want to do that?

Here are some things I think would transform my relationship with running.

1. A cable car to get me up that deceptively steep hill near my house. Seriously, it’s just a small bit of infrastructure. Surely some frivolous hospital building project could be mothballed for a bit?
2. Roadside hammocks.
3. Roadside cappucinos.
4. Roadside defibrillators.
5. Roadside Robert Downey Jr shouting “you totally rock those curves, girlfriend.”
6. Robert Downey Jr shouting “wow, that bright yellow is totally doing it for me, you really can work that polyester.”
7. Knowing that Robert Downey Jr is at the finish line handing out bars of chocolate.
8. Knowing that anybody is at the finish line handing out bars of chocolate.
9. A seasoned triathlete puffing and panting as I overtake him and then begging me to slow down.

As much as I’d like to think otherwise, it’s fair to say that No. 9 is the most unlikely scenario in my case. The triathletes have nothing to fear. No ironman is ever going to quake at the sight of me running, or doing much else (except maybe advancing on the chocolate at the finish line). Sigh, I’ll have to settle for Robert.

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The Olympics lift the spirits of a nation, but they can also crush the spirit of an individual.  There comes a point in everyone’s life, I suspect, when they must accept that they will never mount the podium and have a piece of metal handed to them by some Francophone bureaucrat from the IOC.  That is dismaying in itself.  But you have the additional indignity of watching an array of prodigious cherubs winning gold all around them to really compound your sense of loss.  There is nothing quite like seeing a Chinese teenager winning gold in the 4 x 100 Artistic Clean-and Jerk Greco-Roman Bantamweight Road Race Medley to make you feel like your best years are behind you.  Because compared to that Chinese child, they certainly are.

Despite my quadrennial loss of self-esteem, I decided to embrace the Olympic spirit.  And so I remedied another cultural oversight on my part, which is to watch a film I’d never seen, namely Chariots of Fire.  Or, in the spirit of the IOC, Les Chariots de Feu. As a seasoned runner myself, my not having seen it is a shocking oversight.  Even my Present Husband was aghast, and you’d think there’d be precious left for him to be aghast about after all these years.  Just shows you that being married to a cultural neophyte brings endless novelty to a relationship.

Chariots of Fire really is a trip back to a simpler era characterised largely by tweed and religious fervour. You could use words like exhort and splendid and no-one would snort derisively.  And the sporting standards of the day bear no resemblance to our modern industry.  Motivational aids? Gilbert and Sullivan coupled with brisk anti-Semitism.  Your backroom team?  And old Italian guy.  High tech equipment?  A bit of chalk to draw a starting line. A trowel to dig the holes at the starting line where you feet go (a silver trowel, of course). A pocket watch.  The team transport?  A train followed by a rickety ferry.  A crisis of conscience about running on the Sabbath?  A team-mate, content with his silver, gives up his place in his heat on a Thursday just to see you run.  Performance enhancing drugs? Tobacco.

Happy days.

Nonetheless, the spirit of Chariots of Fire has changed very little.  Athletes today face many similar challenges – maintaining a gruelling training schedule, combining that training with work and so on.  (Well, Eric Liddell seemed to be holding down a job.  Certainly persuading his disapproving sister to take on the mission in China in his stead was a full-time occupation in itself.)  And something else that is true of sport to this day would be the clash of commitments and values that it can  set off.  Of course, few athletes today are bothered by the prospect of running on the Sabbath.  A runner today is more likely to struggle with his endorsement of Nike forbidding him from racing in an event sponsored by Adidas.

Chariots of Fire is an inspiring film.  Makes me want to get out running myself.  Except I too am experiencing a clash of commitments and values.  Between wanting to go out and run and wanting to stay here and drink a lovely bottle of sauvignon blanc.  The remarkable Lord Lindsey, athlete and bon viveur of Chariots of Fire, could reconcile the two.  Sadly for international athletics, I cannot.  And that, as much as anything else, is why the Chinese teenagers get the medals and I do not.

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Watching the film Titanic is not a new experience for me, so I’m cheating on this one.  But I’d like to be ‘on trend’ for once.  Because of the centenary of the sinking, everyone else is talking about the ship so I thought I’d re-visit the film to see if my views have changed since I first saw it in 1997.  Also, it’s another stall while I work up the courage to watch a Stephen King film like I said I would.

Spoiler Alert: The ship sinks in the end. Plus, my views haven’t changed.

What is the allure of the sinking of the Titanic above, say, the Lusitania or any other vessel?  Lots of things. It was probably one of the first tragedies of the media age.  There were a lot of photos and there was plenty for the burgeoning mass media industry to write about.  And of course there was the rigid social stratification of the boat. But be honest, who doesn’t hanker for the simpler era when the lower orders knew their place?  Which is to say, below decks, behind locked gates, de-loused and after you in the queue for the lifeboats.   But mostly I think the allure stems from the sheer folly of the enterprise.    It’s difficult to avoid the sense that you could go back and prevent the terrible tragedy.   Watertight compartments not being quite watertight enough (or some such).  Heading out into the deep blue yonder without enough life boats.   Increasing speed despite iceberg warnings.  Not filling the lifeboats to capacity when evacuating.   Not turning the lifeboats around fast enough when the ship was gone.

But of course, deep in the recesses of your mind, you can’t help but wonder what would have happened if you had been there yourself.  Who would you have been?  The cheery, welcoming, social transgressive, Molly Brown?  The honourable but tortured ship designer, Thomas Andrews?  Or the brave, resolute Benjamin Guggenheim?  He dressed in his evening wear and sat stoically with his valet waiting for death , saying “No woman shall be left aboard this ship because Ben Guggenheim was a coward.”   (Although personally I would have let the valet take his chances)  Or maybe Ida Straus, who refused a place in the lifeboat to die with her husband, Isidor.  And this they did, holding hands at the waves swept them out to sea.  I suppose we all like to think we would have behaved honourably – eschewing a place on the last lifeboat in order to save countless shivering orphans, somehow surviving the sinking by sheer dint of personality (and also the foresight of having put on warm attire).

Whatever about the actual Titanic, surviving James Cameron’s 1997 epic film of the same name is an ordeal of its own.  Let me be positive and say it is a sumptuous achievement visually and technically.  And it brings the brutality and inhumanity to our understanding of the events.  The sinking of this boat is not a genteel affair.  People die cruelly, barbarically and arbitrarily.  Nonetheless, it is a fairly dreadful film in so many ways.  Chief among them is the dialogue.  My favourite was “Rose: You see people/ Jack: I see you.”  That just needed a “peekaboo” to complete the absurdity.  Equally absurd are the cyphers walking around masquerading as fully-drawn characters.  Although, maybe I’m being unfair.  Maybe all rich people are emotionally fossilised.  Maybe all Irish people are cheery, musical drunks who are embracing of cultural diversity.   Just because I myself am not musical, who’s to say?

I have no idea what I would have done aboard the Titanic, but I do know what I would have done had I been on James Cameron’s ship.  I would have kicked the boy Leo into the briney deep and rushed headlong into the warm, sultry embrace of one Billy Zane Esq.  Because this is the most absurd part of the film for me.  Thomas Andrews  (and, by the way, Worst. Northern Ireland Accent.  Ever.) seemed to think Rose was bright and observant, but clearly the girl couldn’t see what was staring her in the face like a looming iceberg.  In what reality does a girl wade through the freezing, rapidly-rising Atlantic waters to save Leonardo di Caprio when there is a warm, dry and preposterously gorgeous Billy Zane up on deck happily bribing his way onto a lifeboat on your behalf?  You may call it amoral venality, I call it a healthy solutions-orientation.  What’s not to like about that?  You’ve only got to stay with him as far as the lifeboats, you ninny!

Let’s pause for a moment to contemplate the loveliness of the man again.

Ahh…..

I can ponder it all I like but the fact remains that had I been on the real Titanic I wouldn’t have got within forty fathoms of the first class deck.  It would have been steerage for me and my kind, cheerily dancing the night away with the huddled masses yearning to be free.  And then huddling in the rapidly rising stern and then finally huddling on a piece of flotsam, facing into the ugly reality of my own imminent demise.  But that’s still a more attractive prospect than watching the film Titanic again.

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Film classifications should be expanded.  In addition to, say, “Suitable for audiences aged 15 and over” or “Contains strong language and nudity,” there should be other warnings.  Films could be preceded by notices such as “Less Enjoyable than a Root Canal” (my suggestion for The Ice Storm) or “Insidious mind-rotting consumerism dressed up as female liberation” (Pretty Woman) or “Watch with the sound turned down” (Titanic).  Other suggestions of mine would be “Have you seen Tootsie and Kramer v Kramer?  Then you’ve seen this already” (Mrs Doubtfire) or “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ‘em all” (any James Bond film).

Of course you can see how the movie studios might not appreciate this level of helpfulness.

And many films should have a warning that says “You are ruining a cinema classic by watching this first.”  The absence of this warning is the reason I watched Apocalypse Now and Citizen Kane in the wrong order.   Ditto The Truman Show and Citizen KaneNow I find I’ve watched Rear Window and any number of films the wrong way around.  If only I had a time machine.  I would return to my younger self as I was about to enter a cinema to see Manhattan Murder Mystery and scream Don’t do it! Eighteen years from now you won’t appreciate fully the remarkable cinematic achievement of Rear Window.”   It wouldn’t be solely altruism, though.  I’d also use the opportunity to tell my younger self to buy shares in Apple.

So, as you’ve doubtless spotted, I’ve yet again addressed a gap in my cultural life, this time by watching Alfred Hitchcock.  Rear Window is another example of a very prescient film.  It foretold our modern atomised urban landscape where many people don’t know another soul.  It laid bare the modern dilemma of the dual career couple trying to reconcile their conflicting lives.  And yet, in other ways, Rear Window is so out of touch with modern life that it becomes a window, if you’ll forgive the pun, on a quaint and distant past.  A guy plays piano all night and nobody complains?  I don’t think so.  With the standard of sound-proofing in some modern apartments, he’d annoy his neighbours just by rustling his sheet music.  A crime is committed and the police are there in seconds?  Eh, no.  In Rear Window 2012, Lisa would have been murdered twelve times over in Thorwald’s apartment while the police were still stuck in traffic.  A photographer and a policeman are best buddies?   That would be part of the Levenson Enquiry today.   A dog is murdered and everyone goes quietly about their business?  No, today there would be a mawkish shrine with flowers and balloons.  Probably a book of condolences and a Facebook tribute page.   A married couple sleeping outdoors?  They’d have their own Youtube channel.  And then lying on a balcony would become an internet meme like planking or owling.  Ditto “Miss Torso” – she would be a viral sensation.  Don’t even get me started on what would happen if a single, childless guy sat at his window all day looking out at his neighbours through an array of cameras.  Sex. Offenders. Register.   And, my personal favourite, an insurance company paying for a nurse to come to your home every day?  Purr-lease!  The only insurance staff to visit your home these days are wearing suits and stern expressions and telling you that your water tank bursting was an act of God and isn’t covered by your policy.  In a modern re-telling, Stella, the home-care nurse, would have to be replaced by a pizza delivery guy with poor interpersonal boundaries.

Nonetheless, Rear Window is a very pleasant way to spend an evening.  My only addition would be a film classification  warning that said “May contain scenes inconceivable and preposterous to anyone under fifty.”

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