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Film - The Oscars
By Norman Barry
The success of ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ at this year’s Academy Awards has lead to yet another hysterical round of ’The Brits Are Coming’ self-delusion. Like everything else these days, it spears that the British media can only reflect every event through a prism of nationalism. We can’t simply have sports heroes, they have to be ’British sports heroes’ we can’t have menus they have to be ’Great British menus’ we can’t have country walks, they have to be ’Great British country walks’ and so with Slumdog, a film financed and produced by British money and talent, yet a film of and about India, suddenly it’s an opportunity for the media to go all Ghandi once again! Look, the ’Brits’ aren’t coming! Hollywood ISN’T as even serious film critics would have us believe an ’Anglophile’ enclave, it’s a Moneyphile enclave. If a good French film, German film or Norwegian film got Yanky bums on Yanky cinema seats, then they too would receive oscar nominations. British films have the inherent and obvious advantage in that they tend to be in English and require no subtitles and yet it’s only the very occasional film such as Chariots Of Fire, Ghandi or Slumdog that sweep the board. Historical epics, costume dramas and exotic feel good rags to riches tales always work well with American judges.
In many ways Slumdog reflects that apple pie myth that Hollywood has propagated for a century; ANYONE can be successful, can get rich, can become president even, given talent and a capacity for hard work. No they can’t! Some have described Slumdog as an ’advertisement for poverty’ yet the central premise of the film is purely down to the luck of the draw, a series of questions that the competitor knew due to a series of very unfortunate incidents. If you count the religious slaying of your mother, a childhood spent on rubbish tips, escaping the maiming clutches of beggar gang masters, corrupt, brutal policemen and bloodthirsty gangsters as lucky that is! Even though the film was largely paid for by Celador, who produce Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, the Indian version of the game show is shown as being the personal plaything of the presenter who has enough sway to get bent cops to torture the ‘slumdog’ who he feels is somehow cheating. In amongst this is the love story required to knit the disparate stories of horror, mutilation, prostitution, murder and class conflict together. It’s a fantastically directed film and moves effortlessly from one great scene to the next with the minimum of fuss and pretence and has some great performances, especially from the young actors playing the characters as kids.
Like Boyle’s ‘Trainspotting’ it has incredible energy, visual flair and a brilliant soundtrack, yet also like his version of Welsh’s novel, stands accused of glossing over and even glamorising the very real degradation of the book’s central characters; people for whom the trite mantra of ‘choice’ rings very hollow indeed. If the only way out of the Mumbai slums is via game shows, gangsterism and prostitution, then surely the ‘jubilant’ Indians celebrating Slumdog’s success need to take a long hard look at themselves. Boyle himself seems only too happy to soak up the patronising acclaim of the British media (it’s a Brit success OK NOT an Indian success, get it!!) wheeling out his aul fellar and his chums at the St Mary’s Catholic Social Club in Radcliffe for various ’plucky northerners’ photoshoots. ‘How did a guy from Bury end up in Hollywood?’ they ask as if this a question just too unfathomable to be true.
My vote for a film that manages to capture poverty, corruption and lies would be ‘Gomorrah’ (see Swine archive for review) but unfortunately it was filmed in boring old Italy in boring old Italian and didn’t have a trite Hollywood happy ending so y’know didn’t even get a nomination. The Oscars aren’t and have never been about art and that’s fair enough, as long as people’ actors, directors, producers and film fans don’t pretend that they are. Leave that to Cannes or Venice or Sundance and leave Hollywood to do what it does best; celebrating itself.
The Victorians/Young Victoria
As with virtually all recent BBC historical programmes these days, a ‘star‘ name is needed to front the concept, allowing for numerous spin offs (books, DVDs, recipes etc) Hence ‘The Victorians’ becomes ‘Jeremy Paxman’s The Victorians’ and whilst similar programmes can often work despite their ‘celebrity’ host (David Attenborough’s ‘Darwin’s Arsehole’ Michael Palin’s ‘Coast To Pole, Jamie Oliver‘s ‘Metaphysical Dialogues‘ etc) the two main problems with JP’s series are;
1 - he’s not a historian
2 - he’s centred much of it around art and he’s not an art critic.
Therefore as Paxo has written this drivel himself what we get is a mish mash of really bad art criticism and some really half-baked historical ruminating. This is proper sub-O level stuff, with Paxman using tedious well known examples of Victorian life; the clothes, the politics, the social evils, the religious hypocrisy, the men of vision, the stoical queen herself to make very cliched pronouncements about the era. Now and then he attempts to make a political point (workhouses were BAD, the empire was based on GREED etc) yet when he interviews, for example David Milliband in such opulent edifices of empire such as The Foreign Office HQ, all of a sudden his famous interrogation techniques desert him and he more or less ends up towing the neo-imperialist line that the empire may not have been nice but it was better than anyone else’s and wealth trickled down to everybody in the process. Erm!
In this revisionist age, Paxman’s rather bland and romantic vision of the nineteenth century (they weren’t all ’Victorians’ weren’t all ‘subjects’) neatly coincides with the forthcoming film ’Young Victoria’ (pity they didn‘t follow Mel Brooks‘s ‘Young Frankenstein’ for inspiration) which, from the clips I’ve seen, attempts to portray the sour faced aul Nazi as some kind of drop dead gorgeous protector of the poor. That the film was produced from ’an original idea’ by Sarah Ferguson whose squirrel faced offspring seem to be used as extras tells you everything you need to know. Along with other pro-royalist propaganda pieces, The Madness Of King George, Mrs Brown, The Queen, Young Victoria will no doubt present the monarch as a decent, deep thinking, sensitive soul for whom personal tragedy is but a trifling matter compared to her sense of duty towards ’her people.’
Sadly such sentimentalist portraits of aristocrats at large are back in favour at the moment as Britain flaps against the tide of history by romanticising its history and setting sail for the past, a place where Britannia ruled the waves and Paxman’s undies were made by bespoke tailors in Savile Row.
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