Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fifty First Dates is an allegory in which Adam Sandler is God. Discuss.

The last time I was sick I saw two movies - Legends of the Fall and Fifty First Dates. I've sort of meant to write about them for years since, and re-reading Chesterton's "Ethics of Elfland" has set the contrast between the two of them clashing and gyring in my mind again.

I don't mind fiction in which the characters do stupid things, or evil things. I don't mind it if bad things happen to them. But I like to think that there is a person inside the character doing those things for reasons that make sense to them at the time, and I like to think they react to the bad things as that person would react. I didn't get that sense in Legends of the Fall at all. The characters were just ciphers carried along by events. None of them seemed real. A loyal, good-hearted fellow becomes a sociopathic libertine; a vivacious, competent woman becomes a suicide: well, these things can happen to people, but in Legends of the Fall they just seemed like automata following a script, not real people who had undergone terrible transformations. I thought perhaps the characterisation might have been botched by trying to compress a really long story into a short time, and that the film had been adapted from a sprawling vast novel where these transformations made sense: but wikipedia told me it was based on a novella. A novella!

It was a meaningless, deterministic, pagan, fatalistic dance of chaos. The characters were remote unknowable inhuman things, like the fairies of W. B. Yeats.

Fifty First Dates is the opposite. Instead of a series of events that tumble the characters along, the characters make the same essential event happen over and over again. There was a continuity in the character of the woman whose memory is wiped clean every night; I had the feeling there was a real person there. The same with the man who is in love with her. Things happen: but the story is about the audacious and vital way the characters respond to those things. They seem to illustrate perfectly the exultation in repetition, the joy in the ordinary amazing wonderfulness of everything, that Chesterton talks about.

"Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say 'do it again'; and the grown-up does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening "Do it again" to the moon."

Even the crudities of Fifty First Dates were of a piece with Chesterton. He would probably have liked them if he had been born into our time. They breathed the democratic spirit and the love of life. They were not more crass than Shakespeare's. It is the elitist anti-democrat and dry intellectual in me that shudders at them.

It was a thoughtful, profound story. And a fairy-tale, yes. The characters were humans, reacted like real humans, and did the whole range of things real humans do.

Monday, May 14, 2012

There are little people moving inside the box

Having been sick for a few days, I have spent a lot more time watching movies than I usually do – via the movie-streaming option that the Xbox suddenly acquired for no reason.

I thought the Tintin movie was true to the spirit of the original. When I try to remember scenes from it, I can easily remember them as frames from a Tintin comic. So it must have been doing something right. A loss on pedant points: from the cars and the newspapers and the general style it is obviously set in the 30s or 40s. Or possibly early 50s; I am bad with placing cars in their proper time period. Anyhow, before the decolonialisation of Africa. But there were at least two brief glimpses of globes showing Africa with post-colonial political boundaries. This bugged me. Parenthetically, the post-Versailles political map of Africa with the northwest mostly one big green splodge looks more natural to me than the ones I have lived with all my life – Africa is too artificially chunked into unaesthetic bits about the same size, ugly like a political map of the United States or Australia is ugly. The old one was better. The contiguous parts of Francophone Africa missed a chance by not opting to be one big country, I think. That country would have been a player. The world would care what the position of an 'Etats Unis d'Afrique' was, much more than they do for the combined positions of all the little countries it is broken into instead.

I watched the newest X-Men movie, about the early days of Professor X and Magneto. It had a nice clear-cut narrative that I thought better than that of the other X-Men movies I've seen and a five-second scene with Wolverine that was worth the price of the download. While in Argentina Magneto orders 'una cerveza' in an outrageous Cathtellano lithp, rather than using the Hispano-American pronunciation. I am not sure whether this is a loss on pedant points or a cunning win on pedant points hinting at his European background and why the other men in the bar then start talking to him in German. I didn't like the bit where the token black character dies, ostensibly heroically, just another hapless man of colour ending up as cannon fodder in whitey's schemes. I hate being ineffectual myself and for some reason I especially hate seeing black men being ineffectual in fiction. Maybe I am too touchy. This sort of thing just seems to happens in movies a lot. I should see if there is a TV tropes page for it.

In 'Kingdom of Heaven' there was also a token black character who was killed early on. But, at least there were no battle scenes where Orlando Bloom 'snowboarded' down a hill on a shield. This is a lesson to Peter Jackson: it is possible to resist the urge to do this. I was impressed with how historically accurate the film was. Not in absolute terms: if it had been a movie set in the Napoleonic Wars that was as historically dodgy, I would have felt the urge as a pedant to tear it to shreds. But that far back, the bar is so low, it was really pleasing.

I was checking on Guy de Lusignan in Wikipedia to find out if he was as really as much of a witless blackguard as he is made out in the movie (hint: no) when the dearth of female characters in the movie hit me. There is Princess Sibylla the love interest, another love interest who is only seen in flashback and has no speaking lines, and Saladin's sister, who has one line in Arabic. That's all. But, in real life, there were plenty of other female characters that could have been written in: Sibylla's half sister Isabella, who would later be Queen of Jerusalem herself; Sibylla's mother, Agnes of Courtenay, who seems to have played a very active role politically (though it is possible she died shortly before the events of the movie); Maria Comnena (mother of Isabella and later wife of the real Balian of Ibelin). They all have interesting life stories on Wikipedia - which also tells me they have been portrayed in various interesting ways in previous historical fiction. It would have been easy to construct a feminine indoors Levantine world of intrigue to contrast with the masculine outdoor French world of whacking each other with swords. Would have been interesting. But I guess the movies was long enough as it is. Oh, and Sibylla didn't just have the son who ruled as Baldwin V: she had two daughters by Guy de Lusignan, Alice and Maria, who don't appear in the film.

Hmm. So it seems one effect of being sick may be to make me more sensitive to the treatment of women and minorities in fiction. Interesting.

One more thing I have watched is my DVD of the first season of 'Ijon Tichy: Raumpilot'. I am used to every DVD I own having a dozen subtitles in all sorts of languages- if I ever want to watch Winnie-ther-Pooh with Icelandic subtitles, or Hebrew, then I can – so I just assumed that this TV series I got on ebay from Germany would have English subtitles. Nope. No subtitles at all- not even German ones, which would help my really lame language skills along. Most of it just washes over me. Once in a while I get a complete sentence. Sometimes it is even funny, and then I laugh. Hurrah! It may be just as well since maybe if I understood it better I would chew my own wrists at the liberties the adaptation has taken with the original. For example, they have given Tichy a holographic companion. But she is a really cute chicky-babe, so that is alright.

The style is interesting. As the original stories make no attempt to be real science fiction, the sets make no attempt to be real science fiction sets. The spaceship is transparently a tiny flat, with most of the action taking place in the kitchen. The aliens are transparently people with wigs and foam-rubber snouts. The planets are obviously made of aluminium foil. But, the holographic companion is fit into this obviously faux world with picture perfect CGI artistry. It is a style I did not take to at once, but it is growing on me.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Time passes...

Hey, where did those years go? Seven years since the Day After Tomorrow.

There are four chief obstacles to grasping truth, which hinder every man, however learned, and scarcely allow anyone to win a clear title to knowledge: namely, submission to faulty and unworthy authority, influence of custom, popular prejudice, and concealment of our own ignorance accompanied by ostentatious display of our knowledge. (Roger Bacon, 1266)