Tales from the Red Carpet

Film award season is upon us. I must admit to a passing interest in the BAFTAs and the OSCARs in spite of myself. I’m not a fan of the hype, the ‘loviness’, the millions of bucks chucked at those whose earnings are already millions of bucks, the horrible, fawning adoration and blitz of papparazi resulting in tabloid, red carpet effluent. Then there are the ceremonies themselves; the over confident, self-congratulatory smugness of whoever is hosting, the simpering and the tearful gushing of the winners. On occasions there is a glimpse of a plucky loser as the camera pans around the glittering audience, applauding with as much generous enthusiasm as they are able to muster.

Sometimes I will have seen one or two of the nominated films. If this is the case it will either have been due to having read the book or because something about the story has grabbed my attention. This time I have seen ‘Room’, drawn by the fact that I’ve read it and that Mark Kermode, a reliable BBC critic gave it a ‘thumbs up’. Having initially been interested to see ‘The Lady in the Van’ I am now deterred by the [again reliable] remarks of my writing group members, who declared it ‘awful’. This is disappointing, in view of the fact that the writer, Alan Bennett is a national treasure.

This year I am intrigued to see that traditional story-telling appears to dominate the selected movies, rather than over-blown productions salivated over for their special effects. I can see no virtue whatsoever in resurrecting tired old Star Wars. Give me some gritty drama and a brilliant story and I’m happy-oh and the acting has to be plausible.

Of course, a film is about more than the plot or the acting. There are costumes, photography, direction, locations, ‘stars’. But for me the overriding element is always story line and while I am inevitably compelled to see a movie about a book I’ve read I will always come away knowing the book was better. Yes, ‘Room’ the movie was excellent and the best actor award well deserved but the book got into my head in a way that seeing the images never could.

I’m always surprised by how many people have no interest at all in fiction and I’ve a sneaking suspicion that most are of the male gender, but I may be wrong. Throughout all the years of my previous life as a teacher I never once encountered a child who didn’t love stories. What happens during the transition to adulthood to turn some people off reading them?

 

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Reading Life

                Reading habits differ as much as tastes in TV or music. There are those who do not read at all, choosing to derive their entertainment from the screen. There are those who eschew books in favour of newspapers, magazines or manuals. There are those who consider fiction beneath them and opt for worthy non-fiction. Then there are issues of class or generation.

Years ago I was quizzed by a gentile, elderly great-aunt-in-law as to what my preferred ‘light’ reading tastes were and I responded with more enthusiasm than prudence, eagerly blurting out a long list that included lurid thrillers, shallow romances, juicy, explicit murder mysteries and science fiction. Her stony faced response was an impressive put-down as she shared her leisure time favourites- Jane Austen, George Eliot-and for more vicarious pleasure, Charles Dickens. I refrained from inquiries about her ‘serious’ reading choices, fearing I may have already become so far out of my depth my feet had floated out from underneath me.

I was a voracious reader as a child; the child who could not be torn from a book for anything, not to help with the dishes, to lift her feet for the vacuum cleaner or for sleep. There were books I longed for, having heard them serialised on the radio [a joy children are deprived of these days]. The Christmas morning I awoke to find that Santa had left a hardback copy of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ on the end of my bed is my most memorable. I still have it, along with many other beloved childhood novels- Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows and Eleanor Farjeon’s beautiful take on Cinderella, ‘The Glass Slipper’.

As a teacher of young children I managed to squeeze in enough time to indulge my enjoyment of children’s literature by regular readings of my own favourites as well as theirs-Roald Dahl and Dick King-Smith included. It was gratifying to see them coming in with their own prized copies of these novels, even those whose ability was not quite, yet, up to the task of reading the stories themselves.

Then there are the film versions. I have never been able to shake the compulsion to see a film version of a book despite knowing from experience that it is never going to match the depth and pleasure of its print original.

Even now that I am approaching my dotage I still come across novels that captivate me to a point where I become evangelistic about them, urging others to read them and feeling vastly disappointed if the response does not match my own. D. C. B Pierre’s ‘Vernon God Little’ was one of these. I eulogised ad nauseam over it but found no one to share my enthusiasm. When my frustrations at the dearth of post book analysis became overwhelming I joined a book club, only to find that within the narrow confines of those who enjoy fiction novels there is the same mismatch of tastes.

But whatever is read, one truth remains. The written word is the most wonderful invention known to man!

The Worst of Both Worlds

The film, ‘The Life of Pi’ has been given nine BAFTA nominations. I went along to see it this week, curious from having read and adored the book, and was thrilled with the film adaptation, so the nominations, as far as I am concerned are justified.

                Whilst in the cinema we were subjected to the usual run of trailers for coming films, including the also nominated ‘Les Miserables’-a film of a musical of a book. Hmm! How has this fashion for making films from stage musicals become so popular? Is there really such a dearth of original stories and ideas that producers and directors are forced to plunder the West End theatres to come up with new projects?

                I have to confess to an enduring dislike of ‘musicals’. I am usually able to become absorbed enough in a good production and story to forget I’m watching a play, but my suspended disbelief hurtles to the floor with a stinging ‘ouch’ the second that anyone bursts into song. There are a few notable exceptions [‘My Fair Lady’ comes to mind] but any performance tagged with the loose term ‘show’ is an out and out no-no for me. Eulogies for ‘shows’ such as ‘Cats’, ‘Phantom’ or the cringingly nicknamed ‘Les Mis’ commonly praise the costumes, the set and the spectacle. Fair enough-if that is what one goes to see.

                Don’t get me wrong. I love good music and regularly attend live performances of a variety of genres. I also love a well written, directed and acted play and would certainly be inclined to see a lot more of these if there were more on. [Those of us who live in the sticks don’t have easy access to the plethora of cultural delights London offers]. But good, plain drama is a rarity, probably due to the number of ‘shows’ doing the rounds instead. ‘Shows’ are worthy vehicles, I’m sure, but to me it is dumbing down culture-a presentation with humdrum writing, mundane music and so-so acting.

                Worse still are the ‘shows’ being made into films! Watching the trailer for ‘Les Mis’ I felt, why not make a serious, non-musical movie from the book [as in ‘Life of Pi’…I shudder to think what a mess that would have been in musical form]. The last simple film of the story was in 1982, a French, made-for-TV version.

                There is a wealth of new writing, and under-represented writing out there. Come on, producers and directors! More plays and films of books please! [But cut out the singing].