Writer and Author

Category: Popular culture (Page 2 of 2)

The Lure of Celluloid

I’ve always loved going to the cinema.  Since I was a kid and the expedition to the two screener in Wimbledon a treat for high days and summer days and whenever we had the money to go.  They still had a commissioner in those days (Ashes to Ashes territory), a short man with a lot of gold on his uniform and a hatred of kids.  I can remember my mum getting into a row with him because she was bringing me to see a 15 certificate and I was only 12 or 13.  He called her bluff but my mum was never a person to cross and he ended up backing down.  The film, if I remember right, was The Assam Garden, hardly a riot of violence and torture porn.

When I was in school in Sligo the trip to the flicks was the once monthly treat for boarders.  I went on my first proper date to the cinema.  It was hardly the most obvious date movie…a film called Skindeep most famous for the scene where you see light sabre-like duelling condoms.

Once I’d left school and moved away from home, cinema became a refuge from long days and a strange city.  The cinemas along Abbey Street here in Dublin were my favourites – the Adelphi for the Hollywood blockbusters and the tiny Lighthouse for foreign films and arthouse.  I can remember a friend and I going to see Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves dozens of times during the summer of 1991.  Both of us can still quote most of Alan Rickman’s Sherriff of Nottingham dialogue by heart.

The Lighthouse was a different experience.  Tiny and red carpeted the screens had an intimate atmosphere I’ve never encountered before or since.  Screen two in particular only sat around around 30 people.  I remember once, during a showing of Tous Les Matins du Monde staring the Depardieu father and son, someone started handing round Maltesers to the whole audience – there were only about six of us.

The Adelphi and the old Lighthouse are long gone, as is the Adelphi’s sister hotel the Carlton which used to be at the top of O’Connell Street opposite the Savoy.  By then the Irish Film Centre had opened up in Temple Bar, showing art house and independent films, retrospectives, foreign films but also providing a hub for a certain section of the cinema going public.  There was a restaurant there, a bar and a shop.  The big airy space in an old glassed over courtyard seemed fresh and modern.  I was working for a community radio station at the time, while I was in college.  I’d got involved with the movie show and used to love going to the IFC in the morning clutching paper cup of coffee and balancing a notebook on my knee in the dark.

I saw so many films in those morning showings, too many to detail here.  I’d always wanted to review movies and was finally living the dream.  I used to sit in the dark listening to the scratching of pens from all the other reviewers around me.  I enjoyed every film I saw, partially because they were free, even if I would sometimes find fault – just for the show of it!

I loved the IFC, now the IFI, but I always missed the Lighthouse.  Even in the early morning press screenings, no one ever handed round Maltesers and there was never the same sense of camaraderie, that you knew you were in the company of like-minded people, or at least, one or two like minded people and quite a few homeless people and pensioners.

So I was delighted, ecstatic even, when I heard that, not only were we getting a local cinema in Smithfield but it was going to be the resurrected Lighthouse.  This time last year it opened and we’ve been going ever since.  In it’s new incarnation it’s a far cry from the tatty seats and cigarette stained red carpet of the old Abbey Street venue.  The new Lighthouse is quite simply the nicest cinema in Dublin and in the top three of cinemas I’ve ever been to.

I love the multicoloured seating in the largest screen and the fact that every screen is different.  I love the fact that it’s designed with lots of interesting spaces and places to sit when you’re not watching films…it cries out to be used for seminars and conferences and talks, and I gather it’s been pulled into service for that very purpose more than once.  But probably the thing I like most about it is that it’s so far underground, deep under Smithfield Square, that mobile phones just don’t work – and anyone who’s had a pivotal cinematic moment ruined by some gimps novelty ring tone will agree that no signal is a good thing in a cinema.

I’ve become positively evangelical about the Lighthouse.  It really is a world class place and worthy successor to it’s Abbey Street predecessor.  It deserves to do well and I really don’t think I could deal with losing the Lighthouse for a second time!

I’ve nothing against the multiplex experience.  There’s nothing wrong with a decent blockbuster when you’re in the mood and multiscreens are great for those.  My favourite in Dublin is Cineworld on Parnell Street…a good selection of films and it’s actually a big enough place that even marauding packs of kids don’t get underfoot while they’re waiting for the latest pre teen sensation to start.  But a small local cinema like the Lighthouse that shows interesting films and champions the titles that would never get a multiplex showing…that wins every time.

I love films and I will always love going to the cinema.  Being able to get lost in another world for a couple of hours knowing that around you there are other people lost in exactly the same world is like nothing else.  It’s a totally different form of storytelling than books, communal rather than solitary and there are times when that simply can’t be best.  Theatre is a local experience.  A play is done performed by a specific group of people in a specific venue and will only be that way with those people and that venue.  Cinema is universal, one vision suits all, the whole world can see the same thing.

The Lighthouse is a cinema for people who love film, run by people who love film.  That can’t be bettered!

Journalism Movies and Bus Shakeups

Weekends are a time to leave work alone if at all possible.  When you spend all day in court listening to the gruesome details of murder after murder switching off is even more important.  If you dwelt on everything you hear on a daily basis you simply wouldn’t sleep at night. And by “you” in this context I do, of course, mean “I”.  So while today might be off the point tomorrow it will be back to normal service and further coverage of the Ronald McManus trial for the murder of Melissa Mahon.

In the quest of a break myself and the husband headed to the cinema this morning.  I love early showings – a throwback to the days I used to get into press screenings while working for a local radio station in college.  This week we went to see State of Play with Russel Crowe and Helen Mirren.  I’m a big fan of the original BBC series written by Paul Abbot and was initially highly dubious of a Holywood remake.  If you haven’t seen the series I’d still highly recommend it but I’m pleased to say that the movie actually does live up to the hyoe it’s receiving and is a damn fine thriller.

I’ve always been a sucker for films that centre around aheroic hack.  I’ve a reasonably comprehensive collection of these journalism movies from 1961’s The Day the Earth Caught Fire to Good Night and Good Luck via Mel Gibson in Peter Weir’s The Year of Living Dangerously and of course All the Presidents Men.  State of Player is a worthy addition to the genre.

The original was one of the best drama series the BBC have produced in the past twenty years with a fantastic cast including John Simm, David Morrisey, Bill Nighy, James McAvoy and Kelly McDonald.  The movie also has a pretty impressive cast with Russell Crowe as journalist Cal McAffrey, Helen Mirren as his editor, Ben Affleck (well cast for once) as the beleagured congressman Stephen Colllins and Robin Wright Penn as Collin’s wife.  But the best thing about the movie is it’s not just a cracking thriller, it’s also the kind of film that makes you proud to be a journalist (and god knows, those films are few and far between!)

The film version of State of Play sticks pretty close to the plot of the original but the context is now totally up to date, dealing with media ownership, the threats to traditional media and the rise of the blog.  More than any of this though is the championing of good old fashioned journalism.  I remember watching the original series when and cheering at the television when Bill Nighy as the editor stood up for the story and rallied his troops.  Helen Mirren is equally inspiring at the relevent bit but it was Rachel McAdams as blogger Della Frye who was the best line “With a story as big as this, people should have newsprint on their fingers while they’re reading it.” (or words to that effect)

It’s nice to see journalists portrayed as something other than scurrilous muckrakers and unprincipled hacks.  That attitude is prevalent enough as it is.  It’s nice to feel proud of the job I do.

The second thing I wanted to write about today is a little bit of a rant.  Dublin Bus today introduced changes to their timetables in the first stage of their fleet reduction as a cost cutting measure.  Looking at the list of routes that have been affected one thing stands out.  The changes are extensive and affect a wide range of buses.  Some routes have been done away with entirely.  This would be fine if the cuts were made across the board but that’s not what’s happened here.  Looking at the list of bus routes it’s noticeable that the majority go to the north and the west of the city, areas where a large percentage of the population live in local authority housing and who do not have access to DART urban rail services of the LUAS trams.

One of the most frequent services that frequently trundles into town with empty buses at off peak times of day has not been touched.  The 46A goes through the more affluent parts of town, Donnybrook and Dundrum.  During the afternoon buses frequently go past empty, at a frequency of every five or ten minutes.  It’s one of the most over supplied bus routes in the city but because of it’s route I’d be surprised if Dublin Bus reduce the service.  It’s nothing new of course.  Here in Dublin the poor always pay when the powers that be decide to save a few bucks – the recent decision to cut the Christmas bonus for those on the dole is a case in point.  But I’m not here to bang any particular political drum.  There are others who do that far better than me.  Dublin Bus may yet produce sweeping cuts through the posher bits of town in their second volley in May but I’m just saying what I noticed this morning and throwing it out there.

Hmm, reading back over this post it occurs to me that anyone who has issues with the liberal meeja is probably going to have their worst fears confirmed.  Well you can’t please all of the people all of the time.  As I said before, tomorrow I’m back in court and this blog will return to it’s normal subject matter.  Happy Sunday!

When Hollywood Loses the Plot – Literally

I’ve been sorely vexed on the last couple of visits to the cinema.  The posters for The Secret of Moonacre are everywhere and they make me decidedly cross.  Now it’s followed me home and the trailers are showing on television as they announce themselves as the latest blockbuster fantasy.  But they are wrong, so, so wrong.  Every time the ad comes on I find myself shouting at the TV or clutching wildly for the remote control and eventually decided that this was something that merited a blog post.

Now before I continue I should probably state a couple of things.  Firstly, this is not crime related (well not legally speaking anyway) so if you’re looking for discussion of the latest murder to pass through the Irish courts the links to the crime stuff are to the right of this piece.

Secondly The Little White Horse was my favourite book as a child.  Yes, I know it was also J.K. Rowling’s favourite book but that’s not coming into this.  This is post is not going to a model of journalistic balance and objectivity.  Again if you want something more along those lines the links are to your right.

So The Little White Horse has always been a special book to me.  I’ve always grown salmon pink geraniums because of a description in the book about a particularly idyllic kitchen; lions were always known as Wrolf after the large mysterious “dog” belonging to Sir Benjamin Merryweather; I used to have a toy cat called Zacariah…I could go on but risk sounding somewhat obsessed.  Let’s suffice to say that that book was one of the first books I ever loved and has a special place because of it.

Not only that but it’s embedded itself so deeply that echoes of it have found their way into my writing.  Maybe not the journalism (that would be a little odd) but when I’m writing fiction those echoes are there, in descriptions of food or clothes mainly I think.  Those echoes have been a source of fascination as I edit the novel.  I’m not talking about derivation here just the literary landscape your brain inhabits after a lifetime of reading.

Anyway, back to the film.  I was delighted when I heard, a couple of years ago, that a film was being made of The Little White Horse.  But wondered at the time how Hollywood was going to deal with a simple little story about not making knee jerk reactions and bothering to find out the truth.  It’s quite an old fashioned book, written in the 1940s, with everyone pairing off at the end leading to a trilogy of weddings.  The fantasy elements are actually quite subtle.  I’d be the first to agree that it could probably do with a bit of delicate pruning for a modern audience but the film company has definitely thrown the baby out with the bath water.

Hollywood in it’s infinite wisdom has decided that this

Little White Horse Book Cover

Little White Horse Book Cover

doesn’t quite cut it.  They’ve gone for this…

Secret of Moonacre Movie Poster

Secret of Moonacre Movie Poster

In the new version there is magic and mystery and major mutilations of the original plot.  No character is safe.  The hero has changed from a constant companion and childhood friend to a slightly dodgy bit of rough who’s had a full family transplant and is now the son of the villain of the piece.  His mother, one half of the next generation of lovers, has become a weird priestess type who is no longer Robin’s mother.  Wrolf is black for god’s sake!  Lions just aren’t black!  The changes are so blatant that even looking at the trailer or the poster shows up dozens of points that have been butchered.  Rather than bothering to make a film of a much loved book the idiots have decided to make a generic sub-Harry Potter fantasy extravaganza that bears little or no relation to the original.

Now I will freely admit that I have not seen The Secret of Moonacre.  I don’t intend to – I don’t like going to films that make me want to throw things at the screen and any that take such an ad hoc approach to a story I know so well are going to fall into that category.  It might work as a stand alone film (or even a franchise apparently) but it’s not what it says on the tin.

I know stories get changed for films.  I’ve had to think rather seriously about that over the past couple of months in relation to my own book and decided that it’s a necessary part of building a narrative.  When I write something I’m writing a book.  It doesn’t necessarily run along the same narrative tracks that a film would need to.  I can take pages to describe something that can be shown in a second on screen but on the other hand I can go places films can’t, not having to worry about budgets and technology, just the limits of my imagination.  The problem with a film like Moonacre though is that they’ve abandoned the original source material.

In a 2008 interview with Empire Magazine, director Gabor Csupo, whose previous credits include the Bridge to Terabitha, that he had decided to ramp up the adventure and magic end of things.  He is quoted as saying “We didn’t want it to be like your typical costume movie…I told each department to just go for it, follow it to your wildest dreams so it looks just a little out of the ordinary.”  Quite why they didn’t just write a completely separate story, change all the character names and go with that is beyond me.

But Little White Horse isn’t the only book that’s ended up this way.  Even books as well known as Peter Pan have suffered from over zealous script writers.  Despite the fact that J.M Barrie himself wrote a script of the story there has never been a film that simply stuck to the story, keeping the darkness of the original, not to mention the fact that it’s actually addressed to the parents rather than the children.  The 2003 version directed by P.J. Hogan felt it necessary to add a snotty aunt to the Darling family entourage with the principal purpose of making Mr Darling a weak, bumbling character at odds with the traditional alter ego of Captain Hook (in theatre tradition the same actor invariably plays both parts).  This spoilt an otherwise faithful translation of the book and the play and added an extra layer of fluff that simply wasn’t necessary.  It’s a story that has never managed to make it onto the big screen without unnecessary changes.  At this stage the film probably closest to the spirit of the book is a biopic of it’s author, Finding Neverland. I’m not even touching last years sorry attempt at Philip Pullman’s The Northern Lights.

I know that writing fiction and writing scripts are two entirely different disciplines but the basic narrative rules still apply.   Hollywood has a habit of assuming their audience are popcorn munching imbeciles and, maybe some of them are, but that doesn’t mean you get to insult the rest.  As Hollywood searches for the next blockbuster it’s always going to get a great deal of it’s stories from books.  There will always be cases of sexing up, contracting and simplifying plots and amalgamating characters but it can either be done skilfully, such as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy or the recent film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s book Stardust.  These are films that have taken a book and trimmed it enough to keep the story flowing on screen but not sacrificed the original author’s voice.

I would be delighted if one day a major movie studio came looking for something I had written and I’m not big headed enough to think I would have any control whatsoever over what would happen once the contracts had been signed but I hope nothing I’ve written ever gets mutilated the way The Little White Horse has been.

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