Friday, January 25, 2002

Friday? Friday? Where, in the name of my dear departed dog Bess, did the rest of the week go? It seems like only an hour or two since I last posted an update to First Season Journal and shared with you my far too emotional and overwrought reaction to "Blackhawk Down" and other things Ridley Scott-related. Now, it is the very end of another week and I've not had so much as a glance at a PC or ran my heavily-calloused fingers across a keyboard. Strange times, children, strange times.

Just had to recommend the current WH Smith DVD offers over here in the UK. At this time of writing, your favourite high street news vendor are offering a crazy deal on MGM "Special Edition" movies - Your £19.99 will buy you the likes of "Rocky", "The Silence Of The Lambs" or the newly-remastered "Terminator", which is fine enough, but you can also pick from a selection of back catalogue titles which are entirely FREE, GRATIS, and UNPRICED to you, the hard-pressed film-buying punter. Naturally, being James Cameron's entirely uncritical lapdog, I lunged at "The Terminator" and snagged a copy of "Stigmata" into the bargain - Hey, it was free! And there's a neat Natalie Imbruglia music video into the bargain, where you can see everyone's favourite chirpy girl-next-door popstrel in full-on Gothette garb. Worth a couple of quid of anyone's hard-earned, I would say...

Wondering whether I should make a run out to my favourite Rep cinema, York's peerless City Screen, to check out the latest David Lynch mind-twizzler, "Mulholland Drive". It's finally playing in the THX theatre there and I can only imagine what an Angelo Badalamenti score would sound like in such a palace of cinematic delight, let alone what Lynch's movies play like in an actual cinema - I'm part of the generation who has experienced Lynch purely through the VHS and now DVD releases of his catalogue.

Have you seen the new print ads for the film, by the way? There's one in today's "Guardian", which gives a series of clues to look out for in "Mulholland Drive", most of which do that typical Lynchian thing of asking questions which lead to questions and suggest a whole bunch of noggin-bashingly intense subtextual issues which must surely have the Film Studies crowd doing handstands at Uncle Dave's continuing predisposition towards unknowable, playfully cryptic surreality.

And then, I've got to go and see Cameron Crowe's "Vanilla Sky", if only to see whether everyone's favourite helmer of affable romantic comedies can pull together the seemingly all-too-disparate threads of mind-expanding SF, button-pushing, contemporary romantic drama and big-budget Tom Cruise star vehicle to realise a half-way coherant night's entertainment. I mean, from the looks of the trailer, this starts off in typical, impeccably-observed Crowe territory - Beautiful people, the way we love and work today, a fantastic score of classic and current rock music - and then heads directly into the kind of mind-funking bizarritude that we've come to expect from happy, smiling, bearded wunderkind David Fincher (Seriously, I'd pay money to see him direct an Adam Sandler flick - wouldn't you?). The words "Paradigm Shift" don't begin to do the elements of "Vanilla Sky" justice - I've got to see it.

More babble on Saturday - Whether it will be any good or not is anybody's guess.

Keep It Unreal

Patster Hiroprotovitch

Sunday, January 20, 2002

Just a swift update today, to inform you that I won't be able to write anything on Monday the 21st, mostly because I don't have access to a PC and I will probably be recovering from the daunting task of returning to work after a blissful holiday period. It's been a blast taking the better part of January off, but the real world beckons and I must listen to it's ugly Siren call.

After updating this page yesterday, I got to thinking about a lot of the reviews of "Blackhawk Down" that I've read in print or heard on radio programmes here in the UK. The Critical consensus seems to be that Ridley Scott's technical prowess is admired, but the moral aspects of the film's worldview are pretty much frowned upon - Very few critics have the nerve to actually come out and say it in their reviews, but the underlying subtext is that people have found "Blackhawk Down" to be a profoundly racist film and one which is, as a consequence, pretty damned suspect and which has a hell of a lot of explaining to do.

So, to get things straight in my own head, I elected to go and see the film again at my local theatre on Saturday night.

I guess it won't surprise you to learn that I don't think that "Blackhawk..." is a racist movie - Rather it is one which comes from an avowedly First World viewpoint and is certainly guilty of reducing the Somalian people to bit-part players in their own story. This is obviously really dubious, but probably the only way that this film was ever going to be made.

Without wanting to diminish Ridley Scott as a filmmaker, it is doubtful that he would have directed the story of the Mogadishu crisis if it had focussed exclusively on the downtrodden and brutalised citizens of that embattled city. His films have, by and large, been genre pieces which subvert the expectations of viewers and rely on his skills as a visual stylist and eye for exacting production design to create a world. When you think of Scott's defining films, you tend to think of the holy trinity of "Alien", "Blade Runner" and "Gladiator". And hardly any of those classics - I know that "Gladiator" is barely two years old, but it rocks and this is my page, so I get to call it a classic. Blame my overcaffeinated blood stream and the fact that First Season is a wholly extemporised op-ed piece of writing - are set anywhere near our own time or world.

Off the top of my head, I would have to say that his less interesting and unsuccessful films are set in locations and amongst people that we can easily relate to: I'm thinking here of the fairly pointless "G.I. Jane" (A career nadir for him), "Black Rain" (Another film dogged by accusations of racism, this time relating to the somewhat limited, sketched-in depiction of Japanese characters) and "Someone To Watch Over Me" (NYC looks gorgeous, but it's a slight, flimsy romantic thriller). Of his other pictures set in our immeadiate lifetime and world, I'm almost certainly alone in appreciating his "White Squall", an underseen true story best described as "Dead Poet's Society" set aboard a yacht in the Caribbean, which becomes absolutely gripping when the titular storm front hits the boat and allows Scott to craft a disaster sequence every bit the equal of those depicted in "The Perfect Storm" and even "Titanic".

Caroline Goodall's final scene in the movie is one of my favourite moments in her underrated acting career - And shares the same duality between terror and beauty which makes Scott's work so invigorating to see in a huge cinema auditorium, with the best sound and vision possible.

I'm off on one again, I fear, so I should really drift back to "Blackhawk Down" and my point that whilst Ridley Scott would certainly helm an adaptation of Mark Bowden's non-fiction bestseller about the horrific, failed US Army Ranger involvement in Mogadishu in October 1993, I doubt that he would make a film about the situation in Somalia prior to UN and US involvement - "Blackhawk Down" is, ultimately, an action picture. And Columbia Tri-Star, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Scott himself have been surprisingly circumspect in selling the dramatic aspects of the film and not the fact that the film is ultimately a visceral, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride, with a patina of political sub-plotting which disappears after the first forty minutes have elapsed. Think the first fifteen minutes of "Saving Private Ryan", extended to almost two hours.

I find myself actually wanting to know more about the history of Somalia and to fill in the gaps that both Mark Bowden's book and Ridley Scott's film haven't been able to provide, which is hopefully a reaction which at least some of the audience for both will experience - I can hazard a guess at why the Somali militia felt the compulsion to take up arms and attack a military presence which they must have seen as an invading force who would eventually control their blighted nation, but I don't know anything like the whole story. I'm not about to be an apologist for the presumed best moral intentions of the most powerful country in the world, but I refuse to toe the line espoused by the anti-Globalist mindset who see America as the root of all evil - Why the hell would you want to replace one simplistic line of dogma with a slightly more fashionable variety.

If this movie is about anything, it's about the guys who flew into Mogadishu on a Sunday afternoon in 1993 and tried to stop a half-assed gang of murdering thugs and gangsters from starving their fellow countrymen into submission. They at least attempted to do the right thing, regardless of what their political superiors agenda might have been. The Rangers and Delta soldiers who died on that day had a courage that I don't think I could muster, and one which their smugly complacent critics probably won't ever have to contemplate.

Ultimately, I don't know where the demarkation line is and how to assert which side of the political line I fall on - I suspect that life in more complicated than following the left or right path - And no, that doesn't make me a fan of Tony Blair's 'Third Way' non-option, but someone who wouldn't claim to have any of the answers, no matter how long I live.

Maybe the answer is that are no good answers in life for anything. Just some basic truths and best intentions. And the aftermath of the decisions that we make and try to live with.

Patster Hiroprotovitch

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