Tuesday, 3 May 2016


I'd better say at once that I'm not a great watcher of films.

If there's a film on TV that seems intriguing, or I've seen it before and liked it, or someone has said it's wonderful, and I really must look at it - then yes, it's possible that I'll give it a go and specially set aside the time to see it.

But to be honest, that would be a rare film. A two-hour film, tethering me to my armchair, demanding my exclusive attention, and forcing me into immobility when there are other things I might want to do instead, is a big demand on my patience and endurance. That applies to any film. I have a strong tendency to lose interest, and fidget, and then do something else. I do not revere films. Whatever the serious intention behind them, at the end of the day they are thieves of one's time. I certainly enjoy the action, the spectacle, and the entertainment I might get from a film, but for me films in general do not pass my Desert Island Test, which - if you remember - postulates that I've been shipwrecked for the rest of my life on an undiscoverable desert island (actually a pleasant little retreat lost in some time warp, unaffected by hurricanes and biting insects) with some intact cargo washed up with me. The containers when opened contain a variety of goods that will make life comfortable, but it's only a limited selection, and some things that might seem important are missing. I will have to do without them. The Test asks whether I'd mind.

Hmmm...there's a wind generator and a snazzy solar panel kit, and an dead-easy-to-erect prefabricated cabin that just slots together with all the electrics and plumbing already fitted, including a shower, and a cooker, a fridge/freezer, a washing machine, an ironing board and iron, a big comfortable bed, pillows and bedding, rugs and carpets, some armchairs and cushions, a decent table or two, a laptop loaded with e-books to read or study, plus all kinds of other handy gadgets, a wardrobe, several lamps and spotlights, an inflatable poly-tunnel for growing vegetables in, seeds, a fishing kit, and a small library of useful books and guides on how to do this or that. Plus enough tinned and packaged food to keep me well-fed until I can grow my own from seed. It almost goes without saying that I'd reach the shore with my camera and phone intact,plus charging cables, although I'm stranded in hyperspace and there's nobody I can reach with my phone. It would still be useful for running a task list - I'd be busy enough for that! I'd make sure I was.

Well, thumbs up to all those! I'd be miffed if deprived of them. Now what's not there?

Oh dear, there's no tomato ketchup or mayonnaise...now I do care about that!

What else is missing? No wine! Do I care? No, I really don't.

What else isn't there? No films on DVDs, nor preloaded to the laptop. Do I care about that? Absolutely not!

You get the idea.

Mention of DVDs lets me remark that a film is more digestible if watched in sections, using a DVD player. No doubt the makers of the film will criticise me for doing this. They will say 'Hey, that's not the way! The film will lose its big artistic effect, and its message will be lost, if you chop it up into short bits! Your convenience, and your boredom limits, are not important!'

What? I beg to differ! My convenience and boredom limits trump everything. In any case, every commercial TV channel in the world will also chop up the film and spoil it with all those disruptive and annoying advertisement breaks. Are you going to stop selling screening rights to commercial TV companies? just because their ads might destroy the emotional impact and artistic integrity of your precious creation? Hah! I thought not. So let me do whatever seems most palatable.

I do make sitting down and watching a film sound like an ordeal unwillingly submitted to, don't I? It's one reason why I hardly ever go to a cinema, where you are truly trapped in your seat for the duration. And it's quite an expensive way to spend an hour or two anyway.

But there are further reasons why - with few exceptions - I tend not to enjoy films, whether period masterpieces or modern blockbusters.

One is the lifestyle shown in them. Can I really imagine having a great time in Tudor England or Jane Austen's world? Or on some spaceship in the future? No.

Most films set in modern times, in real places, tend to have a strong American bias; and while I have nothing against most American individuals, the American way of life and its mainstream standards, preoccupations and terms of behaviour seem alien to my own experience, and quite hard to relate to. This always puts an American-made film out of kilter with my own outlook and attitudes, and impenetrable to some degree. But to be fair, some films with a British bias leave me just as stranded.

I often feel there are far too many cultural references in the average film that I am just not picking up. I'm not blaming the film: it wasn't made with me in mind. But it's a problem for me. It distances me from the film, and the characters in it, and what happens to them, and any in-jokes there might be. I achieve no empathy; and I find I can't understand and can't care. Other things about the film may move me, or at least fascinate while I'm watching, but if it's impossible to feel at one with the characters - because they are not like me in any way - then I won't think much of the film. And this applies to most of the films I ever watch.

No wonder I'm not 'hooked on films' and can easily reject offers to get Netflix installed! I don't regard watching films as in any way an essential leisure activity. And thus it's no wonder that I've never become au fait with who's who in the film world, and have taken no interest in any of these people, and (sometimes to my embarrassment) never knowing their names or what they look like! I generally have to pretend that I do, and bluff like billy-o.

Here are two recent examples that show my reaction to films chosen for me, both of them downloads from NetFlix at a friend's house, as after-dinner entertainment.

One was Lucy (a 2014 film), which obviously intrigued me with its title alone. It involved Taiwan, drug smuggling, and a certain degree of heartless but 'realistic' violence to all and sundry, with people getting casually shot and killed as if they were cartoon villains. Ugh. It also involved two serious (though speculative) propositions: first, that human beings don't make use of the full power of their brains, not more than 10% of what the brain can do; but if there were a way to alter that, we would acquire enormous capabilities.

This is what happens to Lucy, a young American woman living in Taiwan, who gets caught up, against her will, with smuggling a new drug to Europe - to be accomplished by surgically inserting a bag of the drug into her stomach for later retrieval. The poor girl! At first she is powerless to stop any of this. But when brutally kicked in the stomach by a criminal guard, it ruptures the bag and the drug gets into her bloodstream. It reaches her brain and sets off an unstoppable enhancement of her abilities, as her brain makes more and more neural connections. The end will be a 100% use of her brainpower. On the way to this state, she first turns the tables on her captors, then destroys them and their smuggling, and eventually morphs into...well, if you haven't seen it, I won't spoil the end for you.

And the second proposition?  That with increasing personal abilities comes a lessening of human characteristics. At one point, Lucy explains to a group of sympathetic doctors and professors that she has lost all feelings of pain and desire. Although she looks human, she has already become so invincible and super-powerful that all human frailty has been shed, and she can never lead an ordinary life again - to her wistful, almost tearful regret. But she is on a roller-coaster of mental development, and there's no going back.

What is my point here? I perceived the storyline and its messages. And I am still thinking about them. But the corrupt and heartless drug world, the violence and the casual killing...was it all really necessary, or did it sour the experience of watching the film? I mean, I don't want to see Lucy again, just as I've never wanted to see the first Robocop film again, because its violence and corrupt portrayal of law-enforcement gone badly wrong were so depressing; and the disgusting near-destruction of the hero Murphy in an early scene was a sight that gave me nightmares. The male colleague who urged me to watch Robocop, and lent me the VHS video (this was the 1990s) thought it a superb piece of entertainment. I did not know what to say to him when I returned the video. He loved American football too.

I have never become accustomed to pornographic violence, whoever sanctions it, however fashionable it may be, and it disturbs me still.

The film industry - and should I add the computer-gaming industry? - have gradually made many of us inured to scenes of casual or violent death, and have cheapened our views on who should live and who should die. The reality of 'merely getting a bit hurt', and the consequences of even minor injury for real people, have been smoothed over and hidden.

Now the other example, illustrating something else. It was last year's Ted 2. I very much liked the three Toy Story films, but this was quite different. But I gave it go.

This was of course a sequel to Ted, which was about a teddy bear who came to life and in all respects behaved like a thirty-something American male, with a leaning towards a laid-back drug-smoking lifestyle, with plenty of fun and plenty of red-neck swearing. In Ted 2 he now had a wife, and a best buddy - both human - and was well-known and respected in his neighbourhood. He also had a proper job. But his way of life - American-male to the point of being steroetypical - completely repelled me. Ted's personal attitudes also, even though he clearly had a big enough heart.

If these were the only guts to the film - Ted smoking marijuana, Ted joshing with his buddy, Ted being sentimental with his wife, Ted being a regular American Guy - then I'd have got very bored and would have stopped watching. But as with Lucy, there was an intriguing proposition: was a come-alive toy a person? The film was more-or-less redeemed by chasing this through, after the various state and federal authorities had stripped Ted of his legal status as a human, and reduced him to mere property. His marriage got annulled, and his job had to be taken away. He was left without human rights, vulnerable to abduction and mistreatment, with only mild legal penalties for the trivial theft of a toy bear.

Of course, the parallels with the position of slaves in America and elsewhere were brought into the arena. (The film could also have drawn a parallel with robots and androids with advanced AI, who will surely be around before I snuff it, and will no doubt seem as sentient as Ted, so that the 'Is Ted really a person?' question probably applies to them too) Ted decided to go to law to prove his personhood. A lot hung on the outcome, as one of the main characters fearfully remarked. If Ted didn't succeed, then perhaps other kinds of people might start get similar treatment. All this kept me watching. I won't of course reveal how it turned out.

But at the end, I had to ask myself whether the very interesting and important 'civil rights' element in the film overcame all the other bits, which made it look like a slightly cheesy-sleazy take on modern American living, with a sometimes-badass teddy bear as the main protagonist. No, it really wasn't my kind of film. The culture wasn't my culture. It didn't move me, or speak to me, nor even speak for me. It gave me a headache, although I put that down to lack of sleep (too many very late nights at home recently).

As I said at the start of this post, few films ever do get me watching them. I still haven't bothered to view the latest Star Wars film, for instance. Alone in my own home, I would have stopped Ted 2, and looked at something on BBC 4 instead. Or got on with some blogging, of which I've done too little over the last month or two.


  1. The streaming services like Netflix have become very much a pig in a poke affairs, try looking up what is actually available and you will usually find almost nothing listed! I clicked on an item showing the top twenty things on one service some items being whole series, not one single item was of interest even if broadcast for free. Since some old top gear presenters have shown themselves to be transphobic bigots I could never sign up to Amazon and am surprised that the company have been happy to be represented by such an idiot. No idea what their content is anyway so it hardly matters.

    It seems that to get a full access to available programmes and films you would have to sign up for a range of companies. I used to be a very keen movie goer but now find hardly more than a few worth the effort each year and hardly any more on TV since they have all been trapped in the streaming services! Occasionally I would watch a film for a second time but only after a couple of decades has helped my memory fade...

  2. We have TalkTalk TV, which comes with an ever-changing catalogue of films that can be watched for a few pounds. In 2 years they've made about £8 out of me and half of that was wasted.


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