I’m not a fan of long scenes where we watch people chasing each other with various vehicles. Most of the time I can’t tell one from the other. It’s just a blur of roaring engines, crumbling metal and someone either getting caught or killed in the end.
There are exceptions though, chases that I will remember. Like the one in the corridor at the Death Star, which I maybe remember most of all because it seems endless.
And the other day I watched another case scene that somehow managed to rise above the average, the scene in The Great Escape where Steve McQueen, after escaping from a camp during World War II, is chased by German soldiers.
I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that makes it so special. The level of violence, danger and speed is abysmal compared to most vehicle chases you see in movies these days. But I think there’s something about the way he runs the motorcycle that makes it glow. Perhaps it’s related to enthusiasm. Apparently the motorcycle chasing was added on request by McQueen; it was one of the conditions for him to take the role. He did a lot of the driving by himself; he even played his antagonist, the German motorcycle driver who was supposed to chase him.
The climax of the scene is when he (or actually McQueen’s stand-in, since the film’s insurance company didn’t allow him to do it) makes a mighty and yet elegant jump over a high fence of barbed wire. It’s a joy to watch and I would have cheered loudly if I hadn’t been in a public theatre among other people. I suppose I’ve seen people jumping with motorcycles in other movies, but this one, as opposed to the others, will stay in my memory.
Surprisingly dark – and surprisingly bright
It’s not every day you get the chance to see a three hour long matinee film from 1963 on a big screen, so I was happy to grab the opportunity when a group of Swedish bloggers were invited to see a newly restored version of it at Cinemateket, the theatre of the Swedish Film Institute.
I’ve understood that this film – based on a true story – about a group of prisoners of war making a breakout from a camp – is considered a classic, which frequently is shown on television, at least in UK. But either it’s because I’ve been living under a rock, or because I’m more into science fiction than into World War II, I had never seen it before and wasn’t familiar with the story either. Since it started out more or less as a comedy, with the prisoners constantly outsmarting the Germans playing various tricks on them, I had expected it to end in joy and triumph, so you can imagine how surprised I was when it took a different, darker direction.
At the same time: while some events are truly dark, it’s also a strangely bright film, quite the opposite of the gritty, shaky hand camera, docu-style war moves that are so common nowadays.
Spending weeks in an isolated cell seems like a minor annoyance rather than the soul crushing horrific experience I imagine it to be. The soldiers sing Christmas carols to cover the sounds of their digging. Someone suffers from claustrophobia and has issues with the tunnel, but you can’t really say that anyone appears to be truly traumatized by the war.
Of course I’m not the one to say how it was in reality. I wasn’t there. Perhaps people were different back in the days – happily sacrificing themselves for the benefit of the many, manning up, hiding their doubts inside. More likely though, I think the reality of war didn’t fit into this movie. It was not the kind of story they were trying to tell. The main purpose of the film is not to spark emotions or new insights with the viewer. The aim of the film is to entertain, and in this, it’s very successful.
The pace isn’t what we’re used to either. It reminded me of the lovely steam train we saw in the movie. It’s a time consuming way to travel and probably not something you want to do every day. But for a lazy Sunday trip, when you want to relax and watch the landscape passing by, rather than to get to the destination as quickly as possible, it’s perfect.
The Great Escape (John Sturges, US 1963) My rating: 4/5
Here’s what my fellow bloggers in the network Filmspanarna thought about it:
Recently I watched the documentary The Act of Killing, which has been available for few weeks on the website of the Swedish public television. As I’ve already told you, I thought it was excellent – one of the best documentaries I’ve seen in a while – and I started to spread the word about it, as I do when I see something I really care about.
But on a visit to IMDb I made a puzzling discovery. The entrance about the film claimed that it was available in two versions with different lengths: one 1 hour 55 minutes long and another, extended version at 2 hrs 39 min. However the film I had watched was much shorter than the short version. It was 1 hr 35 min. This means that 20 minutes of the film were missing.
That’s a change too big to be negligible and it raised some questions. Exactly what was missing compared to the original version? Who was in charge of the scissors? Was it the director? Some intern at SVT? And was this film as good as the acclaimed original? I still haven’t seen it discussed anywhere, so I’m afraid I don’t have any answers.
Cutting it to fit?
This is not the first time I’ve seen this happening. Especially documentaries seem to fall victims to this type of sneak attacks. I can’t tell why they’re doing this but I suspect that it has to do with scheduling. There’s probably some time slot that they want to fit this film into and when it doesn’t fit, they don’t hesitate to cut. It’s a bit like the old, uncensored versions of Cinderella where one of the evil stepsisters has her foot cut until it bleeds, just to get the shoe on.
I don’t know if it’s a special habit of the Swedish Television or if this practice is spread to other broadcasting companies over the world. But it annoys me quite a bit. It’s not just that they’re cutting down films with brutal methods; they’re not open with it.
As a movie blogger you think you’ve seen the same film as your colleagues in other parts of the world, and it’s only when you start to make investigations like I did that you realize that you haven’t, that you’ve seen the abbreviated version instead.
The thing is: there are different sorts of people with different wishes and needs. I’m sure there are many who don’t care at all, who happily will see a shortened film or reading an abbreviated novel, still thinking that they got the essentials, saving some time meanwhile. But I’m not one of those.
As I grew up there were plenty of digest versions of classical novels around, especially in the youth department at the library. I always tried to avoid them as much as possible, preferring the “real deal”. In the world of books there’s usually an information text about it at the inside of the cover. If it says something along the lines “processed by”, “retold by” or “edited by”, you know there’s something fishy about it and you should look for a different edition, the original one.
This transparency in the book world means that you get a choice. If the short version doesn’t suit you, you can try to get hold of a different one. In the case of documentary films, at least the ones they show in weden, there’s no transparency whatsoever. The only way to find out that you’ve seen a “best of” version is that you search the web to look up this information.
To wrap it up: I don’t like sneaky cutting of films. If you’re somehow related to the business and know someone who in turn knows somebody else – please try to make them stop doing this. They’re welcome do different lengths of film: the ordinary, a director’s cut and perhaps a third one. They may have their reasons. But you can’t defend the secrecy. So please speak up, be open about it. And leave the decision of which version to watch to the audience.
photo credit: via photopin
Dream sequences in movies make my skin itch, almost as badly as it does during long sex scenes. Sometimes I have to bite my tongue not to call out my frustration
“I GET IT! YOU’RE DREAMING/HAVING SEX. NOW CAN YOU PLEASE WAKE UP/FINISH WHAT YOU’VE STARTED SO WE CAN MOVE ON WITH THE MOVIE, PLEASE?”
Before we start an argument over my lack of love for dreams in movies I want to put in a disclaimer. Yes, there are movies where dreaming is essential and an important part of the story. I loved Inception. I liked Danny Boyle’s latest move Trance quite a bit. Overall I’m a fan of movies that explore various aspects of the human mind, such as in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Matrix. Unlike many others I also liked Vanilla Sky and Shutter Island, not to mention Minority Report.
When I’m talking about my hatred for dream sequences it’s not that kind of dreams I refer to. The dreams, usually in the form of nightmares, that I hate so much are the ones that are tossed into the movie for no particular reason. And here are my objections:
1. They feel like fillers
As much as I love Star Trek and consider TNG the best series of them all, I always cringe when I realize it’s going to be a holo deck scene or – in worst case – an entire episode with it. I always imagined that the amount of holo deck was related to the state of the finances. If they were short on money they did more holo deck. It was cheaper per minute. And that’s how most dream sequences are in movies. They feel like a cheap way to spend some time, to drag out on a story that didn’t have enough of substance to fill an entire feature film.
2. They’re pointless
You would expect from a movie that there should be a reason for every scene they put into it. Shooting costs money and the time of the viewer’s is precious too, so you shouldn’t want to make a movie longer than necessary. But surprisingly dream scenes seem to go under a different set of rules. Over and over again we see scenes where the main characters are engaged doing things that have nothing to do with the plot whatsoever. It’s like a separate track that suddenly appears without any real tie to the rest of the film. You don’t learn anything new about the characters. You don’t learn anything about the story. They’re floating around like an isolated island and you never how why it’s there at all.
3. They undermine my trust and suspension of disbelief.
Nightmares are especially overused in suspension and horror movies and that’s where I hate them most. They’re always used in a manner that makes you believe that what you see is what happening “for real” in the film. There will inevitably be some sound-based jump scares and then things will horrendously bad and then the main character will wake up dripping with sweat and you learn that it was only a dream. I will fall for that trick the first time it’s used in a movie. I do it every single time, because that’s how I watch movies: I immerse myself into them completely. But then the revelation comes that it was “only a dream”, which makes me feel like a fool, and as a result I’ll be much more on my guard for the rest of the movie. My level of suspension of disbelief falls to a minimum and I take a step back from the movie, observing it rather than bathing in it. “Ok, things are going bad, huh? I wouldn’t make a big fuss about it. I bet it’s just another dream.”
4. They’re immensely boring
I never tell other people about my dreams. My number one reason for this is that I never remember them, so there isn’t much of a choice. But even if I did remember them, I wouldn’t say anything about them unless someone begged for me to share it. And the reason for this is that I don’t want to expose others to what I hate so much myself.
Frankly I find it very hard to listen to other people telling me about their dreams. Every time it happens I start drifting away. My head keeps nodding and my mouth is smiling or my forehead is frowning, depending on the tone in the voice of the story teller. In reality I’m somewhere else.
Basically I see dreams as the equivalence of screensavers. I guess they’ve got some kind of function and that our brain needs to do idle work once in a while as a part of its maintenance. But this doesn’t qualify them as material for storytelling, be it as a part of a dinner conversation or in a movie. It’s engaging only to the dreamer herself. If dreaming sparks your creativity, my best advice is to save it for your diary.
One reason to include them
As far as I’m concerned I only see one usage of random dreams in movies. Provided they’re long enough, they’re pretty good for a bio break in case of emergency.
This post is a part of a blogathon arranged by the Swedish film blogging network Filmspanarna. The theme was: “Nightmares” (and yes, I may have stretched it a little bit in this post). Here are links to the other blog posts.
I found this comment at a web shop where you could get the “Barbie Collector Black Collection The Hunger Games Barbie Doll – Katniss”.
It made me smile because it wrapped up what a remarkable change the western world has gone through over the last thirty years.
How far away isn’t Katniss from the helpless Barbie bimbos that were the only one available when I grew up? No longer does a doll have to endure the suffering of high heel shoes or tight skirts that prevent you from doing anything apart from standing still watching your own mirror image. The Katniss doll has a pair of solid boots and practical trousers with pockets on the legs where she can keep her stuff. She looks just like the badass heroine she is in the movie: as someone who is capable of not just taking care of herself, but also of leading others. Boys and girls equally can us her as a role model and source of inspiration as they’re mouldering out their own personalities.
We’ve come a far, far way, haven’t we?
In a nutshell this doll highlights what I enjoy most about the Hunger Games series and why I’m happy to see that the latest installation, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is doing so fine at the box office.
From now on there shouldn’t be any question about it. Yes, you can make a movie with a female protagonist who wears comfortable clothes and who cares more about the success of her mission and her own survival than about her looks or some love interest, and you can make it profitable. Hopefully we’ll get more of those in the years to come. The future equivalence of Harry Potter, Frodo or James Bond won’t be men by default. What a relief!
“But the love triangle!” someone might disagree. “Isn’t that just clichéd and silly?” Yes, it is and I would be happier without it. But as long as it doesn’t take over the entire film, I can live with it. Katniss isn’t defined by what guy she’ll end up with. They are like satellites in orbit around her. She’s a part of a greater cause and no boy, however handsome, will come between her and her mission.
Positives and negatives
Does all this love for Katniss mean that I think this is a terrific movie in every way? Well, not exactly. As I listened to the recent /Film podcast show and heard the hosts lining up dozens of issues they had with it, I nodded often. It wasn’t flaws that I had noticed as I watched it, but now that they mentioned it, some of the criticism made sense. But you may ask: if you don’t notice the problem as you watch it, is it really a problem?
For my own part I found it pretty similar to the first film. There are negatives, but after an inner battle, the positives take the overhand. The issues I had with some of the costumes in the first film are still there: I think the city fashion is too much. It makes the movie look like it was intended for young children, which it clearly isn’t.
I was also a little dismayed when I realized that the party was going back to the same old dome for yet another round of Battle Royale, the light version. It does feel a little repetitive. I had hoped for more action to take place outside of it, to get a better understanding for the uprising in the districts, which now is reduced to a gesture and nothing more.
I would probably have been more smitten by this film when I was 12 years old. Now I’m in my 40s and somewhat over-aged. But again: the 2,5 hours went pretty fast, I didn’t fall asleep at any point and I was entertained and engaged more or less all the way through it, so I can’t really complain.
But the best thing about The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is the Barbie doll it has inspired.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Francis Lawrence, US 2013) My raing: 3,5/5
Immediately after watching The Act of Killing I tweeted the following:
Watched The Act of Killing. Feeling sick. Want to call a superior extra-terrestrial civilisation to extinguish Earth. Mankind was a mistake.”
I guess this doesn’t entirely make sense. The whole is about genocide, the mass-killing of a million people in Indonesia, which I until now never had heard of. Is it really appropriate to call for the extinction of mankind? Shouldn’t you rather lit a candle and send a prayer for the victims?
But if you’ve seen it, you know where I’m coming from and why I’m tempted to give up on the future of humanity. I can’t recall any documentary that is anywhere near as disturbing, as horrifying, as nauseating as this one was. The villains are unspeakably evil and make the bad guys in ordinary action movies seem like decent people in comparison.
However this death squad isn’t the product of someone’s darkest imagination. They’re not actors who will put the role aside once the camera is shut off. They exist, for real. They’re fathers, grandfathers and they don’t seem to have any regrets whatsoever as they gloat about the different methods they used to kill and torture thousands and thousands of innocent people. They’re equally proud and amused about their deeds in the past, to the extent that they insist on the children in their family to watch them as they’re re-enacting the past recording a film about it.
They’ve never been brought to court to answer for their crimes. In fact it’s quite the opposite: they’re celebrated as heroes in their country.
My fingers are stuttering as I’m trying to compose myself to write anything coherent about this film and all the uncomfortable questions it raises.
Is this what it means to be a human being? I’m no scientist, but I imagine that I have some genes or parts of genes on an atomic level in common with those murderers. We share something, like atoms of the water that Cleopatra drank mixes into the water I’m having now. The recycling of building material in the world as we know it is an ongoing process. But the idea that we’re part of the same species equally appals and frightens me. Given the circumstances were the same, could I do what they did and then laugh about it 40 years later? Is there a monster luring inside every human being? The dark passenger of Dexter, the creature that slipped into people giving them creepy eyes in Twin Peaks – does it exist for real?
On the other hand – I argue with myself – this documentary doesn’t give the entire picture of what we are. There is kindness and empathy and love in the world. As a species we’re capable of both. Darkness and light exists side by side somewhere in the human soul, if there is such a thing, and we have a choice to use either.
What Joshua Oppenheimer does with this film is to bring us to the abyss, letting us having a good look at it. It’s only when we acknowledge its existence that we can choose a different path and take measures so that no one walks into it for any reason, be it drugs, individual insanity or a mass psychosis.
If you only can see one documentary this year, let it be The Act of Killing. Just don’t show it to any alien life form you may encounter in the future. It might cause a panic reaction.
The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer 2012) My rating: 5/5
My 19 year old daughter announced to me from London that she’d had a tattoo made on her ankle. The motive was the female symbol, the circle with a cross beneath it. “I know that I’m going to be a feminist for the rest of my life”, she explained to her mother, who usually is a sceptic towards tattoos, at least when it involves her own children.
As time has passed, her mother has come to terms with the tattoo and even started appreciate it. It seems to help my daughter to stay strong and remain sane in a society that hasn’t come as far as she’s used to in terms of gender equality. She recently reported about yet another bad incident at the gym, which left her upset and infuriated. “Days like this I look at my tattoo to remind myself that I’m a strong, ass-kicking woman”.
If my daughter founds London somewhat misogynistic, I wonder what she’d make of living in Saudi Arabia. The level of oppression that the Saudi Arabian women experience every day makes the everyday sexism we encounter in Europe seem trivial.
The reason why I’m bringing this up is that I recently watched the Saudi Arabian film Wadjda.
It’s a bit of a miracle that this film could be made at all in a country where there isn’t such a thing as a theatre (I reckon it’s considered a “sin” of some sort) and where women spend most of their days hiding, behind a veil or behind curtains in houses in order not to be seen by men. Not only is this movie about women, and particularly about one girl, Wadjda, who doesn’t silently accept the role that has been given her, but rebels against it in her own way. It’s also directed by a woman, Haifaa Al-Mansour, who in order to be able to do the outdoor shootings had to hide in a van and do the direction from a distance. I can only imagine what she’s gone through in order to make this film at all. She must have a mighty good tattoo somewhere on her body, providing her strength.
The story is simple. 10 year old Wadjda looks like most other 10 year old girls when she’s dressed in the mandatory veil and dark foot-long dress. But she wears converse shoes, listens to pop music at home and is great at playing video games – all things that are considered unsuitable for girls. Her rebellious attitude regularly puts her into trouble at school.
One day her life takes a new turn as she sees a green bike for sale. She wants that bike badly, so she decides to raise the money herself, which ultimately brings her to a Koran reciting competition.
I found Wadjda pretty upsetting to watch. While I’ve read in the newspapers about the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia and that they for instance aren’t allowed to drive a car, it gets much closer to you when you see it played out like this. Wadjda is of course an imaginative girl, but her experiences are shared with thousands and thousands of girls.
As much as I understand that people live in different ways in different countries and that we should respect cultural differences, not forcing a western lifestyle upon everyone, what we see here is completely unacceptable. There’s one half of the population keeping the other half as slaves and prisoners in their own homes, treating them as things rather than as human beings with equal rights.
This is exemplified, not in big gestures, but in small, but telling scenes, which on several occasions brought tears into my eyes. One example is when Wadjda talks to her mother about the family tree that her absent father has put on the wall. In vain she’s looking for her own name until her mother says that she should stop looking, because it’s only men on the tree, they’re the only ones that count. Wadjda then takes a note, writes down he own name and attaches it to the tree, as an additional leaf. But the next day she finds the note crumbled on the floor. Someone didn’t think she belonged on the tree.
A new hope
However there isn’t just misery in the film: there’s hope too. Wadjda is a survivor. She reminds me a bit of Hushpuppy from Beasts of the Southern Wild. It takes more the joint forces of the Saudi Arabian culture to break her.
And there are more Wadjdas out there, such as the women who recently drove cars against the law. Change is in the air and no matter what happens, they should never forget that they are strong, kick-ass women who rightfully claim their rights as human beings.
I hope they have tattoos on their ankles as a reminder.
Wadjda (Haifaa Al-Mansour, Saudi Arabia 2013) My rating: 4/5
I learned this at the recently held science fiction convention Fantastika, where one of the panel debates covered the state of science fiction and fantasy in Swedish film and television.Until very recently, your best chance to get financial support for a TV series or a movie was to describe it as bleak, naturalistic social drama. That was what was in demand, maybe not by the audience, but by the ones who took the decisions. Perhaps it was the always omnipresent heritage of Ingmar Bergman that caused this effect. Perhaps there was something else at work. But regardless: if you insisted on making a genre movie, you’d better not call it as such.
There were examples from film history of Swedish horror and fantasy movies. The first one that comes to mind is The Phantom Carriage from 1921. Bergman also did some movies with supernatural ingredients, such as The Seventh Seal and Hour of the Wolf. And some of the child movies based on the works by Astrid Lindgren took place in foreign worlds of imagination.
But for some reason those films were never called for what they are. They never got tagged as “horror”, “science fiction” or “fantasy”. The panellists – writers, directors and producers – never provided any theory about why it was such a taboo connected to the genres, so I can only speculate why. Maybe they thought that movie making for fun and entertainment was better left to Hollywood. Perhaps they thought that the Swedish audience wasn’t familiar enough with fantasy and science fiction. It was safer to let them stick to social issues and existential broodings.
However this situation changed overnight in 2008, thanks to one single movie. Doors that previously had been firmly closed were now suddenly open. The movie in question was Let the Right One In, which became an success – among critics as well as in the box office, not only in Sweden, but worldwide. In the footsteps of Let the Right One In, it has been possible to approach decision makers in the film industry with ideas that would have been immediately dismissed before 2008. And now, a few years later, we’re starting to see the effects of this changed attitude, as the ideas are getting into production.
The most notable one so far is the science fiction TV series Real Humans (Äkta människor), about a parallel world where human-looking robots live side by side with humans, which raises a lot of interesting questions about what it means to be a human and what rights a robot should have. It recently won the award Prix Italia and has been sold to over 50 countries. And yes, the inevitable English remake is planned.
There’s one upcoming fantasy movie, The Brothers Lionheart, which will be directed and written by the same duo that did Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson and John Ajvide Lindqvist. For being a Scandinavian movie, it has a gigantic budget – about 50 million dollars according to the rumour. I hope they’ll make good use of it. If nothing else I bet they’ll make a more believable dragon than they had in the 1977 movie adaptation of the same novel.
The third big project, that has the chances of gaining an international audience, is The Circle, which is based on a Swedish young adult fantasy trilogy about a group of teenage girls in a rural town who discover that they are witches, chosen to save the world. After one of the former members of ABBA took a liking for the story and provided funding for it, shooting will start this spring and the movie will premier in 2015.
A Scandinavian wave
Is this the beginning of a new wave of film and television from Scandinavia? We’ve become successful in the crime genre with franchises such as Wallander and The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. Could science fiction and fantasy with a Nordic touch be the next thing?
It certainly looks like it. First Sweden made Let the Right One In, then Norway countered with the wonderful found footage movie Troll Hunter. The second season of Real People will premier in December and within the next few years we have a couple of big fantasy productions planned.
What I’d like to see now is something from the time travel genre, which I think would suit Scandinavia well. For budget reasons we’ll never see a Star Trek equivalent from Sweden. But movies about time travelling require great ideas rather than great effects. It can be done cheaply. I don’t see any reason why Sweden couldn’t make a film such as Timecrimes, Primer or Safety Not Guaranteed.
A door to science fiction, fantasy and horror has been opened in Scandinavia. It will be exciting to see what will pass through it in the next few years.