Monday, 17 October 2011

Three films and a play...

Last week seemed to be all about films rather than plays. I saw three, and all of them might be considered unconventional in certain respects. But they also reminded me of a few important writing concepts.

The first was ‘Terraferma’ by the Italian director Emanuele Crialese. The tone of the film was slightly uneven, moving from quite a light coming-of-age story set in the Sicilian island of Linosa, to something altogether darker, following the desperate plight of illegal immigrants fleeing nearby North Africa. One of the most striking scenes was an underwater sequence in which a character swims through a mess of dropped/discarded clothes and personal effects (passports, official documents, etc.). It was one of those images that, through its very strangeness, has the power to re-engage you with the realities of other people’s lives.

The second film was ‘The Kids Are Alright’. It’s a touching and understated story, despite a deceptively ‘extreme’ set-up: the teenage children of a gay couple track down their shared sperm donor, only to watch on helpless as he starts an affair with one of their mothers. The story was a reminder that for a film to dramatise and speak to our everyday hopes and fears, it often needs to reach towards the limits of narrative possibility. Paradoxically, it’s precisely because this film is about lives more (apparently) extraordinary than most of ours, that it has such universal appeal.

Finally, I saw Steve McQueen’s ‘Shame’ (like ‘Terraferma’, showing at the London Film Festival). It’s an extremely intense and upsetting film in many ways, but there’s one very funny (almost slapstick) scene: a date in a restaurant made excruciatingly awkward by an over-attentive waiter. It’s a great example of how identifying a ‘ritual’ that we all recognise and relate to can direct the writing of a dramatic scene. The ordering and mis-ordering of the food, the achingly slow pouring of the wine, the confusion over the evening’s specials… These provide all the action and dialogue McQueen needs, allowing him to concentrate on the development of subtext.

The week wasn’t completely without theatre, however. I also saw the revival of ‘Saved’ at the Lyric Hammersmith. Precise and unsettling, with echoes of Pinter, Orton and Osborne. Glances forward in time to Sarah Kane too. Anyone interested in the history of British theatre over the last fifty years or so should probably check it out:

1 comment:

  1. Hey Matt,
    In regards Saved, I wondered what your take was on portrayals of the working classes in theatre. I have done some research on portrayals in novels, but also films such as Educating Rita, Billy Elliott, and Brassed Off, as well as TV, most notably Shameless and Made in England. In general the working classes tend to be depicted in two ways; either as the uneducated but ‘talented’ poor, or as criminals and abusers. From the ‘social realism’ of the 1960s (e.g. Alan Sillitoe), through to the postmodern nihilism of the 1990s, (e.g. Irvine Welsh), turning full circle with recent novels such as Waterline by Ros Raisin, you have Horror Stories of dysfunctionality and criminality, or uplifting Fairy Tales of escape from working class life. There appear to be far fewer explorations of common human themes in the context of everyday working class life. Has the theatre been any different?