Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The King's Speech gets its turn under the sleet

Haven't blogged in a while. Two reasons for this. Firstly, I have recently re-imbarked on a ship, this time the MSC Poesia (I know, I know, how apt). The second is that my writing efforts have been funnelled into an essay on James Cameron's The Terminator. I originally intended to post it on here, but I saw a reclame for papers on a site, and I thought I'd give it a go.

The link to it is here.

It's an article I thoroughly enjoyed writing, though I feel a bit silly for not giving it some more revision-time (it has a potency which has yet to lose its power... fuck my life, how did I let that slip??). I think it makes sense that I should link it here as well, given it was originally meant for the blog.

I've been blogging a lot about cinema, lately, and this is only natural, because I've been seeing quite a few films. One of the latest was The King's Speech, you know, that black horse which swept up all of the major Oscars. I wanted The Social Network to win as I thought it was masterfully directed and very relevant, and I suspected that TKS would be a bit flaccid. I was disappointed in terms of the judges' decision, but as it happens, I was right.

I saw TKS in Paris, chez a friend of mine who lives there in the most lovely house, with the most lovely girlfriend, who cooks the most lovely bolognese (no, this was not part of either of the two weed marathons, and I didn't see it stoned, so my judgment is unclouded) (no pun intended). He's a truly cosmopolitan Brit, which is something of a rarity. Anyways, we put the film on and spent two hours watching the life and times of King whatever-his-name-was.

I can't say I didn't like it. As with Black Swan, it's a very predictable flick, and the kind of thing that is made to please. Even the central actor, that insufferable curly-headed guy who always seems to play The British Pillock character in whatever film he's in (setting the mould, of course, with the role in Bridget Jones' Diary), was kind of ok. I've never liked the guy and I've been wanting to plant a stake in his heart ever since he took part in that abhorrent adaptation of The Portrait of Dorian Grey. But there's no denying that he plays the part of King Whatever wonderfully, presumably because the character comes across as a true British Pillock and by now he must have mastered the role to a T (I realise I may be sounding a bit insulting to my British readers - maybe I should add here that the 'pillock' thing refers to the Hollywood stereotype of the Brits, not to my own).

I think I uploaded the wrong king. What the fuck is that? A dog?

So the film was enjoyable as a popcorn throw-around thing. I didn't think it deserved the Oscar for best picture, though, mainly because it was the typical patriotic delusional rehearsal. Much like shooting a film about the holocaust is one of the surest ways of earning critical approval, so the making of uncontroversial, linear, frequently rhetorical stories about how the anti-Nazi struggle makes everything that we did right is a comfy way to please the authorities (especially the Americans, who seem to draw their entire historical identity from World War II). Among the problems I had with this film was the way it seemed to exclude all history but the personal history of the royals - you get no sense of what was going on outside of the royal chambers at all, for instance on the domestic political or economic scene. The effect of this narrative slant is, of course, that the King's speech is made to seem relevant from an historical point of view, and this is the delusional bit that I mentioned. I can't bring myself to imagine what the big screaming deal was about this guy speaking into the microphones when all of Europe was being put through steel and fire, and the film certainly didn't convey it to me. It doesn't contribute to the filmmaker's cause that the more famous and important speeches of the time were those by Churchill. So what's the point of making a movie about this? Might as well make a movie about the King's dog Pongo and how important he was in the formation of the monarchy. Plus, royals in general are quite irritating, and you can see the film leaping backwards over itself in an attempt to make them likeable, if not legitimate. I recall my friend commenting at the beginning of the film that the American dream is about making it on your own, while the British dream is that of having the Queen coming over to your house and having tea with you. When this actually happens in the film, he could hardly restraing from whispering 'So fucking pathetic...'.

But maybe I'm revealing my own bias. The Social Network is a film about the American dream in its contemporary, divisive form. It stimulates a lot of questions on social and individual ethics, and I thought its portrayal of (the myth of) creativity in our current age to be extraordinarily incisive. The King's Speech doesn't encourage you to do anything, it just makes you feel comfortable with your values. The peak of the bourgeois cliche' came with the speech itself, when they threw Beethoven's 7th Symphony in the background (later followed by Mozart's Piano Concert 23). It's precisely the choice of music you might expect from someone who doesn't understand classical music, but listens to just enough of it that s/he may throw around the odd comment in a conversation about how 'I just LOVE the late sonatas by Beethoven' (it was presumably thought out for an audience of such a nature as well... *sigh* what depresses me isn't even that said audience is so powerful that it includes the judges of the major awards, more the fact that classical music has been relegated in popular culture to the role of "background for poignant scenes in films." You've got little Danny the Horse dying while he saves his family? Throw some fucking Mozart in there and you've got a masterpiece!). What these people don't understand is that these pieces of music have their own individual meanings and histories. Beethoven's adagio from the 7th Symphony follows a military march and therefore has an anticlimactic effect when it comes to nationalistic values (you could even argue that it's deliberately ironic, especially as I've heard it said that the opening march was carefully crafted to appeal to that type of belligerent feelings). So it's hardly the most appropriate choice to flank the speech of a King! At least they could have used an English composer, since the film is all about Aulde Britain (Elgar what's-his-name? Or was he not good enough?). Mozart's Piano Concerto is a little less odd, but considering how that passage was (supposedly) written for his mother after her death, it still doesn't make a great deal of sense to me that such an intimate piece of music should be plastered over a scene of multitudes and crowds in a scene expressing social / patriotic values.

You could say, "Dude, who cares, it's just a piece of music, we can use it however we like." Well, sure, I've got nothing against re-interpretation, but such a superficial, appropriative and casual use of music, one which is so dismissive of its history and meaning - doesn't it then undermine the point of an historical film like this? If we can forget our European musical heritage like this, then we can just as easily forget a king and his prissy little speech (especially considering that with all due respect the guy wasn't exactly an equal to Mozart or Beethoven...). And if that is the case, then again we can't help but asking - what exactly is the point of this film?

Anyhoo. This is probably going to be my last post about film(s) for a while, seen how I won't be able to see much of them over the next six months, and certainly none at the cinema. I've got a mind to write something about Double Indemnity (fifty points if you didn't have to google this title to know what I'm talking about), but that's for the future, and I could just turn that into an essay. In a recent daydream on what to write about to make some captivating posts, I even toyed with the notion of putting up a series of posts with the history of my sex life - it actually makes for an interesting story! But ultimately that project is going to have to abort, as there's too much personal information, and too many people involved who (probably) flit by this blog every now and then. I'll have to think of other things to keep up the interest. In the meantime, if you wish to forward the tale of your own sex life, the comment section of course is open.

1 comment:

Mory said...

I don't think the movie has a point, or is trying to have a point. It's a very good little movie about a stutterer and his speech therapist. I watched the movie today, and I was entertained, though it's no Toy Story 3. I think Tom Hooper has displayed a genuine skill in bringing moments in history to life, here and in the miniseries John Adams. I should probably watch whatever else he's done. I think your frustration is less about the movie he's made, and more a backlash over the (admittedly excessive) Oscar reception.