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Photo by Beata May on Wikimedia CommonsEvery so often comes a film that finds itself the subject of much earnest discussion – not with regard to the subject matter nor to any particular individual performance, nor even because of the use of some dazzling new studio trickery – but rather because it represents a significant advance in the film-maker’s art.

Such a beast is Christopher Nolan’s film of the miraculous evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk in 1940.

‘Dunkirk’ has caused much comment and in the case of the critics this has been overwhelmingly favourable – the great majority being of the view that this is a noteworthy piece of film-making that lends new perspective to an historical event.

In this case I am with the critics. I think that ‘Dunkirk’ is a brave piece of film-making.

Consider:

Nolan determined to make an epic film about this major historical event which featured some 400,000 troops on the allied side alone, along with in excess of 800 vessels, without resorting to the use of CGI. The film also lacks entirely the uber-realistic blood and gore that has become a staple of modern war films; it features very little dialogue and no backstories for any of the characters; it has no scenes showing those in command on either side directing the engagement and no enemy combatants are seen at all until the very final scene.

Bear in mind also that this is a Hollywood film about a battle that not only featured no Americans (Nolan also insisted that the cast be entirely British), but which was actually an epic defeat!

As though all of this were not enough, Nolan’s script is also divided into three elements – the action on land, the evacuation on water and the aerial battle over the beaches. These elements – each of which flows across the entire film – take place in three different time-frames. The land action encompasses a week – the naval component covers one day in the evacuation – and the aerial action takes a mere hour. The three strands overlap at the climax of the piece, which of course means that the viewer sees the same action from multiple points of view.

The effect of the decisions taken by the director is that the film captures in a visceral manner just a little of what the experience of being on the beaches at Dunkirk might have been like. No individual’s story is more important than any other. No-one on the beaches knows what is going on, and nor can they imagine the wider picture. All that they know is that if they are to survive this calamity – for which no training can possibly have prepared them – they must fight against all the odds. The film has been described as ‘immersive’ – and that perhaps best sums it up.

The commentarists on the InterWebNet – those driven to add their voice and opinion to any and every matter –  have been less generous. Complaints include a lack of historical accuracy; an inadequacy of scale; the omission of important characters, events or even themes (including gripes concerning the under-representation of nationalities, races and genders!); the incomprehensibility of the narrative to those not familiar with the history and the supposed incompetence of writing which does not indulge in the usual tropes – well defined characters with revealing backstories and emotionally engaging story and character arcs.

We are all of us entitled to our views – of course – as we are to express the same. It does seem to me a little perverse – however – to apparently willfully miss the point in quite such a manner. To sit through Nolan’s impressionistic work and then to cavil that it is not the film that one wishes the director had made is perhaps – and only a little facetiously – somewhat akin to wishing that Van Gogh had possessed a camera with which he could have taken a few snaps of some sunflowers!

Exaggeration – naturally – entirely for effect!

Anyway – five stars in my book…

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film-70638_640Regular readers of this blog will know that the Kickass Canada Girl is a huge film buff. More than that she is also a great enthusiast for the whole cinema-going experience – VIP seats – buttered popcorn – the whole shebang! Before moving to the UK she was a frequent and regular visitor to her local multiplex and it didn’t much matter (within limits, naturally) what was showing. She just loved the whole adventure.

When the Girl arrived in the UK she hoped to replicate the experience here, but her efforts to that end were hampered by two discongruous factors. The first – that cinema-going in the UK is simply not on a par with its North American counterpart – might just have been overcome had it not been for the second – which is that I am quite the lousiest person with whom to share a visit to the palace of dreams.

It’s not that I don’t like films. I do – though I am, it must be admitted, what might be considered a ‘picky customer’. I would claim rather that I have high standards – but let’s not fall out over such niceties.

No – the problem is that I don’t much like going to the cinema. To be precise – and at the risk of coming over as exactly the sort of irritable old f*rt that I indubitably am – the real issue is that I don’t much like other cinema-goers. There’s more to it than that – of course – but a visit to the movie house rarely leaves me with a warm glow where my fellow man is concerned.

The Girl and I visited the cinema over the Easter weekend – to see ‘Side Effects’ as it happens (not bad at all – picks up appreciably in the third act – but I still don’t care much myself for Soderbergh’s signature ‘distance’). I pretty much missed the first twenty minutes or so, however, because I was struggling to get over the effects of the ‘pre-film’ to the point that I could achieve the requisite suspension of disbelief.

These are just some of the things that set my teeth on edge:

  • The 40 minutes through which one has to sit of adverts and trailers for films that one is never going to want to see – all edited using the sort of strobe-like effects that could induce seizures, whilst being played at ear-drum piercing volume…
  • Having then to put up with all those who chose not to sit through the above fighting their way through to their seats in the darkness – just as the main feature is starting…
  • Those who then – having thus entered late and forced their way through to their seats – spend a couple of minutes standing up in front of other people – taking off coats, hats, scarves etc – before finally settling…
  • Those who – having been responsible for the above – then hold a barely whispered conversation for the first 10 minutes of the film until someone ‘politely’ invites them to shut the f*ck up
  • Those who see nothing wrong with being responsible for the seemingly endless cacophony of coughs, sniffs, indelicate mastication, crunkled confectionery wrappers and so forth…
  • Those who insist on purchasing industrial sized containers of popcorn which they then – 1) eat a third of noisily over an extended period whilst alternately slurping indiscriminately at vast vats of ‘coke’ flavoured ice – 2) spread another third over the floor to be trodden into the carpet – 3) finally abandon the remainder in a veritable wasteland of personal detritus for some other poor sap to clear up…
  • Youths who – 1) put their feet on the seat in front and keep kicking one in the back – 2) go to the washrooms en mass every 20 minutes or so – 3) purchase wholesale quantities of confectionery to throw at other people in the dark – 4) leave noisily 10 minutes before the film ends…
  • Those most irritating people who insist on getting up, putting on their coats, talking noisily, pushing their way along the rows and leaving the auditorium the very second the film ends – regardless of the fact that some of us want to sit in the dark watching the credits and absorbing what we have just seen

I could go on – but I feel the Girl’s eyes on the back of my head (metaphorically) giving me a disapproving glare – so I will quit whilst I am (notionally) ahead.

 

When we lived in Buckinghamshire we belonged to a rather splendid film club which rented the screening cinema at Pinewood Studios on weekend evenings. There was a bar – large comfy seats with loads of legroom – an absence of commercials and trailers – an audience with a certain demographic – and an atmosphere most conducive to the celebration of celluloidal confections.

Sadly – since we left we have heard that the studio has terminated the film club’s lease. Really most short-sighted of them…

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For English chaps of a certain age – those who were in their mid-teens at the turn of the decade from the 60s to the 70s – memories of those inevitable teenage romantic ‘crushes’ on the unobtainable will more than likely number amongst them some such pertaining to that most English of actresses – Jenny Agutter.

I was sixteen in 1970 when Lionel Jeffries’ adaption of E. Nesbit’s classic – ‘The Railway Children’ – premiered before Christmas and I and countless others fell immediately in love with this luminous young lady. The following year’s ‘Walkabout’ (actually filmed before ‘The Railway Children’) showed us Ms Agutter in an altogether different light and we were smitten afresh – though this time in an markedly more adult manner!

‘The Railway Children’ is one of those films that I am happy to watch time and time again, admiring not just the radiant Ms Agutter but also the beautiful evocation of Haworth, the Yorkshire village whose parsonage was home to the Bronte sisters. The film’s ending still packs the same emotion punch as ever and I – naturally – still dissolve in time-honoured fashion. The film was shown again last weekend on one of the myriad Freesat stations by which we are routinely teased with the illusory prospect of there being something worth watching on TV. I stopped – I sat – I watched – I blubbed!

It was not, however, my intention that this post should be merely a eulogy for the lady. As it happened I had thought that I would catch another showing of the film a couple of months before, only to find – once so engaged – that I was watching a wholly different movie. It seems that ‘The Railway Children’ was ‘remade’ in 2000. This new version also featured Ms Agutter, but this time playing the mother of the character that she played in the original.

What interested me about the remake was that though much of the script was almost exactly as before – not surprising given that a significant proportion had been extracted directly from the dialogue of the novel – this film was no-where near as good. Familiar scenes seemed to lack the sparkle – the detail – of the original, and even Ms Agutter had lost some of the quality that shone through in Jeffries’ version. I fell to wondering why they had gone to the trouble – and expense – of remaking a film for which a perfectly good rendition already existed.

This, naturally, set me thinking about remakes in general. I know why they are made, of course – for the money! – but it seems to me a great shame to produce an inferior remake of a much loved – even iconic – film rather than trying something fresh. How many remakes can you think of that could complete with – let alone better – the originals? Yes there are a few – but then again…

Please do feel free to nominate remakes of your choosing, either as complete turkeys or – perhaps rather more rare – the occasional hit. For what its worth I consider the remake of ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ to at least be able to hold up its head in the presence of the McQueen/Dunaway version, but when it comes to ‘The Italian Job’ – I shudder! What were they thinking? The original is nothing if not a tongue in cheek examination of the death of deference in the swinging sixties. The remake is – well – nothing!

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