September 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
The other week I went to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, a play based on Mark Hoddon’s best-selling novel, which was performed at the National Theatre, and streamed to cinemas around the UK, where I saw it.
Seeing the performance reminded me what I liked of the book, and brought to light why I didn’t like Jonathan Safron Foer’s Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close. Both stories have a child as the central narrator, and spin a narrative in which the child goes on a self-initiated quest to unravel a mystery at the centre of his life.
Because Mark Haddon’s protagonist (Christopher) is autistic, the vision we get from our narrator is unique, allowing for that balance of maturity and naivety needed from a child-protagonist. His logical and mathematical precociousness also allows for a more creative journey than simply a child getting lost. In reading the book we live his fears with him, and that is partly down to the inventive ways Haddon constructs his writing in the novel.
In Safron Foer’s book, the protagonist (Oskar) also displays some signs of autism, but in this story it is a kind of Hollywood-style unspecified precociousness. In many ways I felt this book was exploitative of a cliched, idealised image of how children think and act. The story was by no means trying to be naturalistic, but I found its depiction of Oskar patronising to the reader. In fact, the whole story was a fairy tale, but without the brevity of a good olde yarn.
It was whilst watching the play of Haddon’s book at the cinema (*phew*), that I suddenly realised why specifically I didn’t like Safron Foer’s vision as much as Haddon’s. And it was that Christopher’s autism gives Haddon a kind of freedom to be imaginative is his speculation about how Christopher would think and act in different situations. Christopher is still very much a child, heightened even, with his autism mystifying elements of every day life. But he is also an adult, also heightened, in that his logic and brainpower is superior to most adults. In Safron Foer’s, Oskar’s odd and precocious traits seemed cherry-picked from unmentioned conditions, all to bring a kind of fantastic magic to the story. It’s glory-seeking writing, falling into that common trap of infantilising adults or putting adult-traits on children. Patronising and sloppy.
One thing that did distract me in the play was a scene in which Christopher took his shirt off. The actor turned out to be pretty muscly for an autistic 15-year-old. These kind of small details don’t exactly detract from a performance, but they make me laugh a little. That line between performer and creation is always quite fine. For the length of a film, we can kind of accept that George Clooney, or whoever, is a spy now, and not the other person he was the last time we saw him in a film. This always happens more with film stars, as they usually have some kind of recognisable grooming pattern from film to film, maintaining their beauty from one role to the next. Even when they “transform” themselves into their characters, there is a bit of leftover. Russell Crowe’s arms were far too muscular for his role as a recluse mathematician in A Beautiful Mind. As a gladiator, fairly believable. But as a man who has only lifted chalk in his life, Crowe’s guns are perhaps a little out of place. Even with his glasses on, a maths genius he aint.
Another funny one is at the end of the Coen Brother’s No Country for Old Men, when a teenage boy takes his shirt off to bandage the bloodied arm of the killer. The boy, who is otherwise absent in the film, clearly saw this five minutes as his moment to launch his career. He had obviously prepared for his role by learning his lines, then doing as many bench-presses as he could the night before. For an average fifteen year old boy, as I suppose he was meant to be, he had ridiculously developed pecs. (And very big nipples as well)
When a character pops up like that in a story, I would say that they are meant to kind of drift in and out of the narrative without much impression; the kind of character who doesn’t have a name in the credits, but is something like “Boy 2”. But for this young actor, his cameo was a moment for that career-changing performance.
It is funny but also annoying how film posters can have their actors lined-up in one order, and their names above in a different order. I remember this was particularly ridiculous on a poster for one of the crap Charlie’s Angels films that came out a few years ago. There were three actresses on the poster, all stood in funky, sassy-but-strong Hollywood spy poses, but each with the wrong name above them.
Another film poster that made me laugh (in a small, quiet way, of course- I’m not crazy), was the poster for the 2008 movie Righteous Kill. It was only the second time Al Pacino and Robert De Niro had been in the same film together, the first having been only a momentary on-screen crossover in the 1995 Heat. On the poster De Niro was on the left, Pacino on the right, with their names above the correct actor. Now, at this point in their careers, it could be argued that neither actor was at their prime. But clearly it would not be possible to place precedence on one actor over the other (they probably both have it written into every contract that their name must be the first on any poster). So what the clever marketers have done is, though De Niro’s name is the first one read, being on the left, Pacino’s is placed a little higher, almost imperceptibly, as if to compensate. Oh the politics of a film poster.
Comedian Mark Watson once has a funny line about an advert for a horror film he saw. The film promised that “You would never feel safe in your home again”. Watson then decided he’d therefore not watch that film, because who wants to feel unsafe all the time? I like it when taglines can almost be read as instructional. The trailer for Final Destination 3D claimed that the film’s special effects would make death feel even closer. Technically it is, if I have sat through your shit film for 2 hours.
When you got to the dentist, they always speak in some kind of code to their assistant about your teeth. But unless you have a major problem, these notes are never shared; the different names they give my teeth. The notes get added to the secret portfolio they have on your mouth. When are they going to disclose their findings?
I often think back to a quote I heard once about the difference between drugs and alcohol. It states that it is through the abuse of drugs that you develop a substance problem, where as it is in using alcohol properly (as it is intended) that you develop a problem. This made me think about cotton buds (also known as q-tips). They say on the pack that they are for “for external use only: for removing make-up from around the eyes, or cleaning the outer-ear”. I don’t know of anyone who buys them for this. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee that everyone who manufactures cotton buds uses them for the same thing that I use them for, and that is tickling my brain until I cough. I guess it’s just a legal position they have to take on their product, but really, they know exactly what people are doing with them, and that’s why they sell so many: in fact I would say that it is their actual purpose. In this way, it is hard to confidently classify cotton buds with either drugs or alcohol. Am I using or misusing them?