Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Last day before Christmas great escape.

Last night I actually came home on time, straight from work, ran the washing machine, cleaned my room, packed my bag, went out and got a bottle of perry and a takeaway from Usha's on the Uxbridge Road, and was able to settle down and watch a movie I'd been looking forward to all day, and then go to bed at a reasonable hour. It was the first time I've gotten to bed at a sane time for absolutely ages. It's just a pity the film was such a tangled muddle.

It was Terry Gilliam's "The Brothers Grimm", and I had never seen any reviews when it came out, but Gilliam is an interesting - and staggeringly imaginative - film-maker and I thought it should be a great evening's entertainment. Instead of which it was - well, great fun, certainly, but total chaos, rambling and badly plotted, at times really badly edited (which was unexpected) and almost an outright waste of the very capable leads. The plot was a close echo of Tim Burton's "Sleepy Hollow" (a film which has the added benefit of total coherence [& Johnny Depp at his most hauntedly beautiful!]) with a lot of baroque trimmings flung on top, scattershot, in classic Gilliam "more is more" style. It had wonderful moments, and I liked the genuinely tough (rather than Hollywood "feisty") heroine. Heath Ledger and Matt Damon did their level best with underwritten and undermotivated parts, and both produced very creditable english accents. The set and production design was of course absolutely terrific. But it was an odd mixture, overall, of Gilliam-lite and what looked frankly like amateur pastiche Gilliam. As in "If we have a vaguely literary-referenced script and a real mess of a narrative everyone will think 'O, a Terry Gilliam movie', and we'll get away with it lacking the very real depth of ideas that a REAL Terry Gilliam movie has."

I think what pissed me off the most was a little moment near the end, when Jonathan Pryce's cardboard cut-out villainous french general is killed and his dying words are "All I wanted was a little order..." And I thought, Oh, Mr Gilliam, cheap shot!

Anyone who likes Terry Gilliam's work knows he is seriously into chaos; it is meat and drink to him, and I think in his book order is very probably toxic, inimical to life. But order is NOT inimical to life. It is inherent in all life, just as much as chaos. It's a fallacy, not to mention shooting at an an easy target, to say "Order is BAD, only chaos promotes life and growth!". Are the cells in a beehive disorderly? Are the petals on a dahlia, the scales on a pinecone, disorderly? No. But that is No and simultaneously Yes! And yes only because no, if you get my drift. In nature the two coexist, and cannot but do so. Order works because chaos breaks in; chaos works because it disrupts and revivifies order. As my favourite baritone is fond of saying, it's all about subtleties, nuances and laminations. I know that this praise of the multi-layeredness of the universe is itself a grotesque oversimplification of the complexity and subtlety of this interplay between forces, and my apologies for those who would articulate it better than I.

I was on the Tube a few nights ago next to a guy who had clearly come from the USA that evening - he had a huge suitcase with a tag from NYC, and was reading the New York Times. I looked over his shoulder at one point and saw an advert whose headline was "No-one was ever reassured by complexity". And I wanted to shout "Speak for yourself, you lack-wit advertising copywriter, you!". Because I, personally, am enormously reassured by complexity and almost invariably am dubious about, or even alarmed by, simplicity. Simplicity, in my experience, too frequently means active and deliberate over-simplification. Long live the complex, the intertwined and the nuanced, and the interplay and tension between tangled forces! Long live frenziedly busy weeks of rushing about, drinking rather too much, dancing, seeing friends and family, getting to bed late, singing in public, smiling at the choirmaster, and having fully-decorated christmas trees fall on me, as well...

Probably won't get to write any more until after christmas, so on that perhaps apprpriately chaotic note, Merry Christmas, everyone, and a happy new year to you all.

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