Shock of the real

Historically speaking

If you leave aside plots, the need to pack events into neatly paced blocks of action, continuity issues, language and location, most of the difficulties to do with depictions of historical events are related to how actors do not generally look like their characters.

Take for example The Man Who Would Be Bond – the series about James Bond author Ian Fleming. It was a gorgeous piece of television, with authentic feeling locations, sets, clothes and music, but simply put, the cast were too pretty. The actors, perhaps more familiar as Tony Stark’s dad and Irene Adler from Sherlock, as Fleming and Ann, were too beautiful compared to photos of the couple.  Similar could be said for Sons of Liberty, which is full of drama and conflict as a group of disparate Bostonians drive the birth of a nation. I mean just look at a painting of say John Hancock and then at Rafe Spall or Ben Barnes and Samuel Adams. Or watch Bright Star, it’s good, but Ben Wishaw especially is a bit of a way from John Keats, even though he looks thoroughly like the kind of person we imagine impoverished Romantic era poets to look like. Yet even allowing for painting not equalling reality, the stories we see can’t capture how people were, even if actors and writers talk at getting to the ‘essence of a character’.

It’s just as well there are no depictions of Ragnar and Lagertha from Vikings because it seems there are historical evidence for their existence.

In one sense it doesn’t matter. Anyone mistaking a film or a program or a novel, even by such exalted authors as Hilary Mantel, for history is, wrong. But on the other hand, I wonder if it does us damage. The media are so at pains to present the airbrushed, symmetrically adorned carefully managed vision of humanity that reality is sometimes a shock, or worse, a disappointment.

If you believe Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette, then this portrait will be a bit of a shock.

If you believe Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette, then this portrait will be a bit of a shock.

There is no doubt the camera loves a certain kind of beauty, as do casting agents and directors but no matter we say, no television drama or film or play can really reflect history as it happened because nothing can.

Everything we imagine about the past is imagined

Memory is deceptive and flawed, evidence can be sketchy or misinterpreted or conflicting. There is little certainty and when there is, often it must be massaged to fit into formal story telling conventions and techniques. This is the tension between all life and art. Life is messy, the past is not finished and seeps into the present in myriad ways, and unlike both, we want our stories to be concluded at a proper finish, neatly tied together and delivered with some kind of meaning.

Which brings me to Broadchurch

As a police procedural/courtroom drama/social commentary/murder mystery/family saga this is strong stuff. It is not neat, and is full of false conclusions and never feels like some kind of beautified history, although the location and camera work is pretty stunning. I can’t say I’m enjoying the program though. It’s just not an enjoyable set of intertwining stories, but I’m transfixed by it. Sometimes I wait to finish an entire episode because it is uncomfortable viewing, other times I watch a couple in a row.

It’s all the words television critics say of programs like this: powerful, riveting, compelling etc. It’s multiple perspectives and visual reveals of characters and their motivations tell a lot about what we all think we remember about the past, even when it was recent, and what we lie about and why.

Sometimes it feels too real, especially Olivia Colman’s Ellie Miller, with her eyes on their ‘emphatically tragic setting’ and David Tennant’s tortured Alec Hardy. Plus the interactions between Miller and Hardy are a delicately balanced sharing of awkward private pain and stilted UK bobby camaraderie. Having said that, all of the cast are pretty good, but they have weighty stuff to work with as everyone has their secrets.

Ridiculous Premises

Talking of crime. It seems over the course of a career you can’t be an actor without playing a police officer or detective of some kind in some place. There are a flood, spawning, flotilla, range, (I don’t have a group word for a collection) of cop shows. But as they multiply in number, ever increasingly ridiculous premises are needed to distinguish each from each. So you get Forever, which is a homicide + medical investigation series set in New York but with added immortal. As if Captain Jack Harkness was rebooted, complete with Welsh actor instead of Welsh location and dead humans replacing aliens.

Then there is Sleepy Hollow, which unexpectedly turned into a police procedural + supernatural history conspiracy about the rise of  hell, centred (of course) in Sleepy Hollow (because where else?) and featuring a 200-year-old plus ex-dead Colonial soldier. And I haven’t even mentioned Supernatural, which is not strictly a police procedural, except when the guys imitate police or Mulder and Scully to investigate the weird.

Everyone from Washington to Daniel Boone are invoked by Sleepy Hollow, but you wouldn't know it based on this portrait.

Everyone from George Washington to Daniel Boone are invoked by Sleepy Hollow, but you wouldn’t know it based on this portrait.

This is not new, by the way, there was alien cops with Alien Nation (for anyone who remembers the 80s), vampire PIs such as Angel and then copycat Moonlight and DA staff with special skills in Medium. Now I note there’s iZombie with a zombie in a coroner’s office helping police and eating the odd brain. I wonder how far can these dramas be pushed? What new directions are out there?

And yet, no matter how ridiculous these programs get, they remain full of the beautiful (if sometimes damned).

Back to the real

This all leads me back to a consideration of the real. Death is one of the realest things there is. No art quite captures what it means, or feels like, although we try, as humans, a lot.

The stories we tell about death make it painful, or a fantasy, or identify it as a motivation for others, or reduce it to factory-like settings in morgues with over sharing yet almost blase MEs (looking at you NCIS). They never make it real though, not really real. And thus, unless a program is of the quality of Broadchurch, we don’t feel it either. This plethora of cop shows make of death a fast food entertainment, or puzzles to be solved, or a by-product of apparently bigger mysteries, rather than the point. Which is worrying and completely human.

So we move on, onto the next episode, next case to be solved and body to be identified by the ghost of a cat and her Wiccan lawyer companion with her best friend, a  Yoruba priestess police officer who together uncover and battle a corporate conspiracy to heat the world and bring on the end of modernity ahead of a new steam-driven industrial age based in New Orleans.

There we go, we have our next ridiculous premise.


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A Bond’s deeds are his word

Never been much of a James Bond fan. I blame the constant repeats over school holidays when the only other choice on TV was football. The villains were melodramatic and their goals so overblown and their henchmen so expendable. If I were a super villain who invested a lot in training my posse at Bad Guys Academy Inc, I wouldn’t spend their lives so easily.  I also wouldn’t stand around and explain my Nefarious Plans while the Hero works out how to avoid being killed by my aforementioned henchmen. If you want a job done, do it yourself, I say.

Anyway, as the UK’s answer to America’s Westerns, they are chock full of high stakes drama, occasional gambling and fighting words, damsels in all sorts of distress, gun slinging and bad alcohol.  I think though these Daniel Craig ones have got rid of some of the stupidest stuff, like a bit of the overt sexism and given Bond a back story. Plus parkou.


The lifestyle takes a toll on this Bond; as well it should. Bond may mumble nothing more than a few lines in any film but he’s not a robot. He gets hurts and apparently it means drinking and pretending to be dead for a bit. But this death and returning to life is the entire theme to Skyfall.

Bond wasn't at his best so he was probably drinking this tonic.

Bond wasn’t at his best so he was probably drinking this tonic.

A Bond film with a theme!

The first half of Skyfall was fairly typical Bond but it sets up a few themes for later, like the Exploited Orphan scenario. The second half gets interesting as he must hold conversations of more than a couple of words and explode his childhood home as a decoy to save his boss. It was an un-typical day away from the office for Bond, as it was dark and Scottish and a bit Arthur Conan Doyle Baskvervillian (issues of defending the inheritance, death and property. Finally, it wasn’t about wresting control back of the world from a ridiculous over actor, but one facing Bad Dude’s bad wig/dye job and his quest for revenge.

No doubt Bond tested positive for these British beauties.

No doubt Bond tested positive for these British beauties.

Literally, this time it was personal

In her defence of spooks, M is right, the enemy is in the shadows and Bond’s natural home is there, which is why he is necessary. As a person, Bond is barely functional, but as M quotes Tennyson, 007 is more than the sum of his scars and ‘to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield’ despite the damage is exactly who Bond is. He might as well have it as his motto.

Moreover, Bond is exactly Ulysses. Like Ulysses of the poem, Bond has spent decades running around the world but never going home. Now he does go home, so he can go out into the world renewed.

His return is entirely predictable in its Freudian allusions, what with the escape via the priest hole, the destruction of his home by fire, the baptism in the frozen lake, and the death of M. Surely I don’t need to spell it out?

Ok so I’ll spell it out  

The tunnel of the priest hole is the womb and the tomb. It is the underworld of the dead and a cocoon for the living. It is from whence Bond the man emerges after the death of his parents as a child, and from which he escapes death to come to the frozen Dantean limbo between the old (house) representing his past and his future. Of course his future is near a grave yard, but hey, confronting the possibility of your own death is a part of life for everyone.

Anyway, in this limbo he is baptised (in the lake),  which cleanses him of his past. He says he never liked his gloomy home, but still, blowing it up is a bit transgressive and for this he gets dunked. After this, he literally follows the light to confront his nemesis.

Aptly, his enemy is trying to murder M, who is Bond’s boss but mostly his professional parent: M as in Mother. Agent 007 is almost the entirely the creation of M so it is only right Bond saves her by defeating her enemy. That M dies in his arms, almost certainly re-enacts or completes what Bond lacked as a child – closure or a good-bye to his parents. And it happens where Bond’s parents are buried. It is the circle of death.

And so Bond is reborn.

He can properly return to London and to working for the man. The new M.

None of this needs Hamlet-esque soliloquies lamenting the cruelty and frailty of life. Bond remains always, a man of action. His deeds speak for his transformation and anyway, he hasn’t got time to explain, what with the shooting and the grenades and exploding helicopters, and it doesn’t matter. If we get it, we get it, and if we don’t it’s still a rollicking adventure.

Shadows within

M’s speech before the Minister where she quotes Tennyson brought to mind Harry’s speech justifying his actions before his own death by firing squad in the 1980 film Breaker Morant:

George: Yeah, but killing a missionary, Peter?

Harry: It’s a new kind of war, George. A new war for a new century. I suppose this is the first time the enemy hasn’t been in uniform. They’re farmers. They come from small villages, and they shoot at from behind walls and from farmhouses. Some of them are women, some of them are children, and some of them… are missionaries, George.

M and her agents aren’t fighting guerrillas in the 1901 veldt of the Boer War, or the Vietnamese soldiers this Breaker Morant film indirectly addressed. No, M says they are fighting elusive and shadowy enemies. But rather than commentating on world or e-threats, once more the Bond franchise finds the shadow within. In Skyfall, as in Goldeneye, the enemies are those created by MI6. Instead of Sean Bean’s 006, Javier Bardem’s Silva’s target is personal: M. Once more a Bond film is a violent Freudian family spat, like Goodfellas, only with British accents and stiff-upper lipness.

My question is, am I right in thinking this is unusually meta for Bond, or have I been missing something all these years? Does it mean I have to bother when the new ones come out?

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Friends like these

I’ve been re-watching Sherlock because what the hey and also summer  programming in Australia partly consists of repeating Sherlock and little else new or entertaining.

Any who, I realised this program was misnamed. Sure it features the rude, scarfed, and cheekboned Holmes with and without the ‘ear hat’ but the main thing it is not a story without John Watson. We don’t start with Young Sherlock and his time at school solving swimming pool murders. No. We start with sad grumpy PTSD Dr Watson who discovers the friendless Holmes.

Scientific measurements of friendship sees them as intersecting lines or somesuch.

Scientific measurements of friendship sees them as intersecting lines or some such.

Of course, the crime solving adventures were always from Watson’s point of view as he was Conan Doyle’s narrator. Watson was represented as close enough to the every-man to translate the marvel that is Holmes for the rest of us.

The point is that this Sherlock’s Dr Watson is a lot less every-man and yet remains our guide to Holmes, because almost instantly there is friendship between these seemingly broken-ish people. There is frustration and puzzlement too, but mainly friendship.

Any military surgeon is no slouch in the smart stakes, they just have a narrower focus than Holmes, what with his blog enumerating the eleventy billion types of paint chips or ash or whatsits. Thus, this Watson is practical and emotionally intelligent and short-tempered, especially with Holmes. I like Martin Freeman’s take on him: his loyalty, outward self-sufficiency and uncertain and resentful vulnerability. And I think Freeman has the more difficult role. I like how his Watson notices the emotional stuff and even more I especially like how Molly Hooper notices the stuff Watson misses.

I appreciate these contrasts between them because it means this series is more about the development of their friendship and less about crime solving. It should stay that way, too, even if future episodes (?) have to negotiate Watson’s family life. I especially note how Mary Watson and Sherlock are equals and therefore able to be friends. Hopefully, there will be more of this dynamic, baby or toddler or now more likely teen Watson, notwithstanding.

Mary’s storyline had its cop out though. She doesn’t have friends. Despite being in hiding from her former life for a while, the only lasting connection she has made seems to be Watson (and then Sherlock).  I think this is wrong. And the same goes for Molly. Surely she and a friend would go down the pub and complain about insensitive geniuses? It doesn’t have to be a major part of the story, but an occasional allusion to the emotionally more rounded lives of other characters is ok, especially to contrast them to Sherlock, who ‘doesn’t have friends…just has one’.

Anyway, we need more stories of friendships. I don’t mean Carrie Bradshaw conversation set pieces that sees all issues through the prism of shoes and the boyfriend for unrealistically remunerated newspaper columns. Friends joke about important stuff and lament the mundane, whether personal, professional and the political. They complain and disagree and learn from each other. Friends sit at hospital bed sides and talk repeatedly about the same things. Sometimes they work together and often friends don’t. They hang out and do nothing or go on epic adventures or for brunch. They share secrets and maybe values. This shouldn’t be a mystery to story tellers and it shouldn’t be rendered shallow or worse, absent, by writers.

Friends can have light and shade and contrast each other but something must cement the connection, like gravity does.

Friends can have light and shade and contrast each other, but something must connect them, like gravity between planets and their moons.

Fiction generally doesn’t always greatly honour the importance of friendship unless it you’re thinking of 100 billion years ago with Cagney and Lacey, or as a point along a path to something else. That something is else the romance. This delayed but inevitable romance has been around since the intellectual sparring of Shakespeare’s Benedick and Beatrice became Maddie and David in Moonlighting or Harry and Sally in When Harry Met Sally or Mulder and Scully in the X Files or Castle or Bones or for an Australian example, Blue Heelers, or whatever.  It may start as a kind of friendship or rivalry in a workplace, but it’s always leading somewhere: mainly crime solving and suspected alien babies.

Elsewhere, friendships are cast in terms of distractions from the work, like in these randomly selected examples: Rosemary and Thyme and Scott and Bailey and Danger Mouse (with his Penfold, shucks DM).

Also who is Olivia Benson’s best friend in SVU? Where are Clara’s friends in Doctor Who? In fact the only Doctor Who episode that featured a friend plot was Blink. Even in this episode the friends joke about their own crime series Sparrow and Nightingale, and their friendship is over-written by romantic sub plots. Can main characters have friends?

Fiction doesn’t have to work like this. So I want to know, where are great modern female friendships on TV or film or literature, as subtle, entertaining and well-rounded as Sherlock and Watson?



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The Crux of The Crucible

I went to see The Crucible at The Old Vic via CinemaLive at Cinema Nova. This is my second such expedition. I saw Frankenstein with Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch the same way a while ago. This play-as-film but is a play thing works. It doesn’t feel too cinematic yet I don’t seem to notice I’m removed from the direct experience of ‘being-in-the-theatre-ness’ of a truly live performance. If you have a better way to describe that feeling please let me know…

The usher joked it was a play to be endured rather than enjoyed, but I did enjoy it. It was certainly intensity in ten cities….but the story wasn’t what I thought it would be. Mind you my preparation for this play included not reading or watching anything at all.

All I knew was Arthur Miller/McCarthy. Thus, I thought it intriguing the notion that criticism of legal argument was felt to be criticism of the court, which wasn’t allowed and I was momentarily distracted by considering what our examples today would be…Peter Greste et al in Cairo, maybe WikiLeaks…

Basically though, I thought the play was a commentary on relationships. Yes, there was teen hysteria and witch craft trials (and call outs to the McCarthy era), but to me at least, it felt like a play about an imperfect, but average couple negotiating serious adult stuff, including something like postpartum depression, employee management and infidelity.

The Proctors lose and find each other, they each discover what they believe and what they stand for individually, while working out what they mean to each other, in a small community swept up in religious fervour and petty feuds.

There’s apparently been plenty of praise for Richard Armitage as John Proctor and rightly so, but the entire ensemble just gets it. From the girls who eventually form a Greek Chorus of manipulative crazy in the court room to husbands desperate to save the lives of their wives, there is no performance to fault.

Natalie Gavin made her Mary Warren memorable under the pressure of both Proctor and the judge Danforth (an imperious Jack Ellis). There are wry laughs at the court scenes, especially involving those with Giles Corey and that helped getting through the really intense stuff later.

The Proctors complement and yet contrast each other and that made them real to me. Anna Madeley as Elizabeth Proctor made a deep impression. Quieter than her husband, her Elizabeth is no less powerful in revealing her convictions and self discoveries, even as Armitage’s Proctor gets to deliver all the grand speechifying about identity and guilt.

Anyway, here is Richard Armitage speaking about the play in a real interview (as in not some Hollywood-lite ET News-esque 5 second fast food thing that seems the lot of traditional media interaction with any sort of theatre type these days).  I’m not even sure I agree with all of his conclusions but hey, he played the character and they are his learned comments.

Unless you take my high school curriculum into account, I’m no expert on theatre, but Yaël Farber’s direction didn’t make it feel like some post- whatsit self-conscious commentary on modern western life. No, Arthur Miller’s 60 year + old script did that. However, it felt alien, or foreign enough that it seemed faithful to events described in Salem from 1692/3. I’m guessing that has a lot to do with Farber’s direction of the actors, her vision of the set and the stage craft.

The theatre in the round worked for me too as more intimate but also ‘artistic’. Artistic too, is deliberate in this play, due to its themes and setting. It’s a story that involves a lot of ‘public performance’ in court and for Salem residents. The witch-girls are performing or ‘pretending’, deliberately lead by Abigail, as is the Reverend Hale, as he later reveals, while each of the residents play their part in a town where everyone is suddenly judged and mostly found wanting.

Thus, that this performance feeling is heightened somewhat is fitting, as this becomes a study in how some crumble under the elaborate pressure of accusations and threats and imminent death while others rise above it all.

And that is entirely the point of the title.

So if you get the chance, prithee go see it at the cinema, if not I hear a rumour of a possible download of it.

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Pictures in less than 1000 words

Non-selfie absorption

When I was about 11 or 12 I was given a camera. It was a Hanimex 110 FF with a slot to insert the flash, which consisted of a double row of bulbs that died in a quiet but glassy sphffft sound upon each single use. Imagine a sudden blaze of glory like from photo journalists old movies – it was exactly the opposite.

Opening shot. The old Hanimax still looks a picture.

Opening shot. My old Hanimax still looks a picture.

There were no selfies, but I took photos of the farm, of a visit to the zoo, of trips away. As fun as it was, it was also anxiety-making. I only had so many shots. I had to figure out when extra light was needed so as not to waste the flash or the film. And there was a lot of mistakes. Fingers over the aperture, the unfocused views, and over exposed films. There was also the cost. Film was expensive and mistakes or not, development of them had to be paid for, so too the replaceable bulbs. There was a time cost as well, with the processing, which took weeks between trips into town. Such tension in the wait. Even now I suspect there is unprocessed film lying about.

Anyway, I’m not sure when exactly that I stopped taking pictures but I did.

Much, much later, I worked/interned for a uni run newspaper publication. I did the editing, wrote stories, and took the occasional photo.

Some time after that I worked with a Master Photographer. I found the words and with the light, the angle, his camera and immense skill he made cunning pictures of items and places few would find photogenic. He somehow made things beautiful.

Eventually, I got a phone with a camera and even then I didn’t take many photos. It was the legacy of worry,  of such unease I continued to put my eye up to the tiny screen.

Double shots

About five years ago I bought a digital camera. I’d spent six months looking at what I could afford and what was possible. And then I chose something Nikon because red. It’s a little slow in focussing so sometimes pictures are fuzzy. But I’m no longer fussed. It doesn’t matter if I take a thousand photos or one. There’s no longer a wait to see them and I seldom print them.

Click wait. Devastated that red doesn't go faster.

Click wait. Devastated that red doesn’t go faster.

With a different phone and apps (like Instagram, but also others) I take more photos now. I don’t know if I’m a better photographer, but I’m certainly a more relaxed one.

I’ve found while you can spend any amount of time and money on understanding photography and getting the equipment, mainly it is, for me, about recognising each opportunity to take that one shot or a thousand.

Other times it’s about being there. No picture required.

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Book & Movie Relationships

The movie of the book will never be ok for some

People will say (whatever) film leaves out plot devices, or characters, or the casting is wrong, or the location isn’t correct.

While such criticisms may or may not be accurate they do not reflect the essential source of the unease about the movie/book relationship.

Our complaints, (if any) aren’t really about these decisions but point to something more…emotional. We complain because we are in mourning for something that has died.

The text is not the story 

Although a novel is fixed text, the story you read and remember is unique to you. Only you know it the way you do, only you bring to it your particular experiences, culture and education including other reading. This is called intertextuality.

Furthermore, all this changes. Rereading changes interpretation. Especially if we first read as a child and read again as an adult.

For each of us, the book we read is the version we each of us, and only us, can imagine.

Shakespeare knew this, which is why he dicked around with other people’s stories as inspiration for his plays. To mess with his audience but also give them something familiar. Directors of his plays continue to know this. Each version differs in length, presentation, stage setting and interpretation and yet remain Shakespearean, and for those who appreciate Shakespeare, that’s ok. You can hate Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet but he was working within this tradition. It should be ok for film directors of other stories too.

Thought Experiment

Say 10 of us read the same book at the same time. Now 10 people have 10 versions of the same novel. Imagined the main characters, and the setting. There are 10 versions, all different, all private, all valid. Then the 10 of us get together to talk about what we think and the merest bits of how others imagined the main character and the set rub off on each other. Now each of us hold multiple visions in our minds about what this story is, and how it looks. Some of these coalesce and some conflict.

If it is a particularly memorable novel or one we read at an important time, it may stay with us and as we grow, or age, or read other things and experience life, so too, does our vision of what we think the story is. Maybe our conceptions of the characters change with the influence of people in our everyday environments, perhaps some of us day-dream about alternate endings or continuations of the story.

Because this multivariate and shimmering conception of a story in a book is buried deep in our brains they are us. We belong to them, are attached to them because we create them, or are co-creators of them with the text. These versions of a story belong to ourselves, and are essentially unknowable, except in the most simplistic of terms. Basically, because humans can’t get inside each other’s minds, not really, not fully.

After perhaps decades of having this story in our heads, sometimes reignited with a rereading or a memory, some other person comes along with the temerity, ability and budget to bring something close to his personal vision into the public sphere. Suddenly, where there was a multiples of a story, each stored in our brains, there is one narrative conjured from one person’s private imagination now spreading into the public domain, like a virus, or a computer virus that over-rides the unique data we each possessed. Because this director’s imagination is not yours or mine, how this world is imagined on the screen differs from each of our private imaginings. Sometimes in a big way.

If you think you are right about a story that ship has sailed my friend. There is only interpretation and invention.

If you think you are right about a story that ship has sailed my friend. There is only interpretation and invention.

We lost our prescioussssss?

With a film, the potential is there that not only has something been stolen from each of us, but it has been replaced by something that could be almost, but will never exactly be like, what was lost, because a director’s version of the story has stepped on and crushed each of the visions in our heads.

I have simplified. Because a film is not the work of one person but a crew, from the guy who ensures the beverages are the appropriate temperature to the leads, and the director, who works from a script, written, perhaps, by many hands.

Then, all the people who see the film posses their own unique experience of it, shaped again by culture and language and personal history and education, basically, everything.

Enter visual cortex

So, as you walk away from the film, even if you enjoyed it, it was not your version. Through the overwhelming power of the experience of the sights as they entered your visual cortex some of the memory of the magic of what you personally experienced and imagined when you read the story will be wiped from you, replaced with this film version. Meanwhile, the music and all the sounds of the film will do their work to shape the memory of what you experienced.

This is the risk of films. Sometimes they kill something private, delicate and often not even fully remembered in our imaginations with the strength of their own concreteness.

That is what we mourn.

And humans do what they always do when they suspect they’ve lost something. They complain. With films, they will rail at the CGI, or the script’s licence with the text, or the acting. Or whatever. It doesn’t matter. These people are mourning a very private loss and perhaps not even one they know exists.

Sometimes this loss doesn’t matter because there is no connection to the book. Harry Potter was like that for me. I read one book and wasn’t really impressed, but the films I appreciated much more.

Risk and reward

Because I like films, I accept the risk of losing my unique take on any book read.

I recognise too that books and films are different in their narrative requirements. Novels can easily trace inner monologues and switch between many different inner and outer perspectives. Generally films are about outer monologues and dialogues and put the primacy on doing rather than thinking, because they have to – humans like to watch humans doing things. Books can be about the thinking and the doing. It is thus that movies about writers never feature much writing, but are generally about blocked or distressed or distracted writers.

I work hard too, to retain my understanding of the book. I can mostly appreciate any particular movie and book version. Like Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. Truly amazing book and the Bill Murray film version hit all the right notes for me too.

The same goes for all of Tolkien’s works on the screen and in book form. They don’t need to follow the book word for word, and actually can’t.

Exeunt, stage left, with alarums.

Exeunt, stage left, with alarums.


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Investigating and some nonsense about writing

One of my favourite books is Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. No. Don’t roll your eyes. I geddit. I have to let you know I have a deep and abiding love of The Wind in the Willows and reveal that I did waste a few teen hours in the alien realm of Sweet Valley High and many more  in Isaac Asimov’s realistic worlds.

So yeah.

Anyway, my point is that if I could have invented a job that wasn’t writing related (and if I was less introverted), it would’ve been as Casaubon’s Sam Spade of culture in his Milano warehouse office. A paid editor/freelance PI looking for illustrations and quotes, but mainly correspondences and patterns across books and museum exhibits, paintings and performances.

But more like X Files without the suits. Maybe a job where I’m a Consulting Creative Writing Mytho-Symbolism Detective. A bit Sherlock Holmes, bit Mulder and Scully, bit Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks, bit Casaubon. Nothing like Casaubon rip-off merchant Robert Langdon of the Epically Awful Hair, though. Truly, that novel is a badly written less-wordy Foucault’s Pendulum.

In the end it probably started in primary school, so I blame Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators. One of my teachers had the complete set and kept them in the classroom. I believe I read very many (if not all) before he left after that year and took them with him. I did ask him not too.

The point of the investigators is they looked at weird supernatural seeming stuff and deduced reasonable causes. Just like the Scooby Gang. In Foucault’s Pendulum the trio of heroes gather stories and bits of evidence and invent a supernatural, all-powerful narrative that explains the purpose of history. And people believe it. As people do.


There’s the internet for all that now. Casaubons are no longer required. Lost something? You don’t need a trio of teens when you can find it yourself. Dunno what to call a vampire goat? Mulder’s retired and prolly spends his days editing its Wikipedia page. Consult your smartphone if you’re stumped over whether some rare reference book you’ve dug up features a quote maybe by James Frazer or Robert Graves about myth. Forget visiting libraries, those days where you’d consult a catalogue, or ask a person, or even pay a person, are mere memory to many. All the heroes and their subjects and references and a myriad conspiracy theories migrated online. Knowledge, more than ever is DIY. Even if often done badly.

Three Alternate Investigators offer Deducktions

Three Alternate Investigators offer Deducktions

Luckily, I have an imagination. I can be who ever I want in fiction. Geologist, parent, grieving widow, mutant librarian, alien psychic triplets, it’s all possible. Or even more possible than it is in this mundane everydayness. See, there are benefits in writing, even if not always paid nor published.

I’ve never really tried writing that kind of investigative hero though. Well maybe once. It wasn’t very good and I stopped. Actually twice, when I plagiarised a story my mum wrote in Grade Four. I called it The Mystery Lights. I suspect mum might have been a bit miffed my version was better than her’s (which was never published). Not sure. Can’t ask her to find out.

Again, where was I?

So not only is Twin Peaks getting its proper denouement, but now I see (I Want to Believe) X Files is coming back-ish. I wonder if they’ll be freelance or salaried? I just hope it goes back to being about two whip-smart (retired?) agents arguing over whether it’s alien or human tech, or ghost or psychological projection.

You know, the important questions.

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