Sunday, 9 October 2011

Caught on Film

Those who like to watch films will be familiar with the debate over whether the size of the screen and the excellence of the sound system make any difference to the quality of the experience. My vote is a qualified “Yes, they do”. I tried watching Star Trek – the First Mission on the TV the other evening but I didn’t start to enjoy it until I projected it onto my big screen, turned up the surround-sound and was able to wallow in the special effects. I concluded that, if a film lacks qualities that are emotionally, intellectually or dramatically engaging, its only saviour is likely to be good, hi-tech presentation.

Meanwhile, in search of filmic fulfilment at the local cinema, I caught up with several new releases. Troll Hunter was the first, followed, in rapid succession, by Jane Eyre, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy...and Drive. The trailers for all of these films promised that they were un-missable (as they always do) and trailers are a very clever way of beguiling potential customers. There we are, sitting comfortably, thankful that the adverts have finished and anticipating something special. All they have to do is employ their well-practised skills of creative editing to produce a tantalising taste of what is to come.

I was duly hooked for these four, all of which have impressive production pedigrees: they are excellent right through from casting and acting, to lighting, camera work, sound-tracks and editing. But films also need to have content and context which is meaningful to their intended viewers. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy... is set in the 1970’s and based on the intrigues of the Cold War. It may have a perplexing plot (I haven’t read the novel on which it is based) but it does have an historical background which is familiar and a visual re-creation of the period which is accurate and evocative of times I have lived through. Some of these qualities might count for less with a viewer from a generation later but they were crucial for me.

Drive is a film with a background familiar to me in a different way: I have seen other films like it. The world of organised crime in Los Angeles is not my special subject and this film may or may not represent it accurately. I hope that the unremittingly extreme violence it portrays is a characteristic of the genre to which it belongs rather than a real depiction of a few days in the life of a minor criminal: but I don’t know and am therefore left suspended between fantasy and reality.

And who needs another version of Jane Eyre? Perhaps the cynical answer is that nobody does. But, since there are directors who feel the need, we may as well enjoy the fruits of their labour. It’s a love story which, historical setting apart, has universal appeal although, for me, the history adds layers of fascination to the story. I was able, within a few days of seeing the film, to visit Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, where much of the filming took place. Haddon Hall is one of those places which can so easily teleport us back through English history by the magic of its un-spoiled and enduring presence in the midst of altered environs. The concurrence of the place, the social history, the literary tradition and the love story make the film itself meaningful beyond its undoubted technical attributes.

In another tradition, Trolls - not those brightly coloured, cute little dolls that used to live on car dashboards and on the ends of pencils - are big, smelly, nasty creatures of Norwegian mythology. That’s all I know about them which is why Troll Hunter is a film best experienced in a hi-tech cinema with a very large screen and a monster sound system.  

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