Star Wars, Aliens, Zombies. Cinema firsts.

I’m not much of a film buff. I am occasionally persuaded to go to the cinema by my better half and even though I tend to gripe somewhat a lot beforehand, I usually enjoy the experience. However, I can only remember one time where I’ve visited a cinema alone – which was to see The Damned United. I even own a copy on DVD, but I don’t tend to watch it that often as it makes me cry. This is because I don’t expect to see Derby County win anything again in my lifetime, let alone The Premiership.

Anyway, the latest and 107th suggestion from Post40Bloggers is to write about your first cinema experience. As always, I’m going to bend the rules (what rules?) slightly and talk about my first three cinematic firsts instead.

My first ever trip to the cinema was with my brother to see Star Wars in 1977. My mother took us, under protest, to the long-demolished Ladbroke Film Centre in Chaddesden. Even as a mere thirteen year old I could tell that the place had seen better days. What had once been a glorious single screen Art Deco cinema had been turned into a failing bingo hall with two small upstairs screens where the balcony had once been. I remember the carpet being sticky with popcorn and something that was too orangey for crows. Star Wars seemed exciting enough at the time, but you have to remember that I didn’t have anything to compare it with. I haven’t watched Star Wars, or any of the many sequels / prequels since and I don’t feel as if I’ve missed out on life.

The second experience I’ve decided to recall is the first X certificate film I saw. I can date this precisely, to the Saturday afternoon of 24th November 1979. This was the day that the then European Cup holders lost to the mighty Rams 4-1. I know this to be the case as when I was traveling home on the 102 bus there were several people reading “the green ‘un” football special which had the glorious news splashed all over it. The joy was short-lived – Derby were relegated at the end of the season.

The film I saw? Alien. I fell in love with Sigourney Weaver, but not with the film. I’ve tried to watch it again a number of times, but I don’t think I’ve ever made it all the way through to the end.

My third cinematic first is from the summer of 1980. This was the first time I took a girl on a date to the cinema. To watch Zombies – Dawn of the dead. The one set in a shopping mall. With lots of gore and violence. Not exactly romantic. With hindsight, it perhaps wasn’t the best choice of film. Somewhere towards the end, there’s a particularly gruesome scene involving a helicopter. It certainly disturbed my companion, as she drove her very sharp nails deeply into the back of my hand. I still carry some tiny white scars from that evening today. The relationship didn’t last.

As I wrote at the start, I’m not a film buff. At all. But given my early experiences of the cinema, is it any real wonder?

Thoughts on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Last weekend I saw the latest film in the Hunger Games series. I enjoyed it – always assuming that “enjoy” is the right verb to use for this kind of film. But before you read any further, I do have a confession to make. I’ve never read the books and I haven’t seen the first film. So if you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of the nuances in the trilogy, then I’m afraid that you won’t find it here.

Instead, I’m going to confine myself to one aspect of the totalitarian regime it portrays (which I understand is meant to have survived for 75 years) that strikes me as implausible and so (for me) severely limits the power of the story. If you wanted to suppress an entire population for that length of time, then the system used to control the districts (“the games”) simply wouldn’t work. And I believe that the portrayal of the victor’s tour at the start of this film makes this point for me.

If social identity theory is right, then the most effective way for a totalitarian (or any other) regime to ensure that the majority remain on your side (or, at least, have no reason to oppose you) is to identify specific groups of people to scapegoat and discriminate against. You then use tools (language is a pretty powerful one) to further encourage depersonalisation of these out-groups. That way, you reinforce a positive social identity in everyone else (the in-group) on the basis of the out-groups being “not like us”. So long as you can ensure that the vast majority have enough different out-groups to scapegoat and deflect attention away from the regime, then you stay in power.

So the problem with The Hunger Games is that the reaction to the victor’s tour demonstrates that the out-group isn’t the “volunteers” who are forced to play in “the games”, but that it’s the regime itself. I’d estimate the regime would be overthrown shortly after the first games – in other words, about 74 years before the film is set. Which is a bit of a problem of course. Whereas I believe that the totalitarian regime portrayed in Orwell’s 1984 would last forever, as the shadowy leaders of that fictional country appear to understand how to manipulate the tenets of social identity theory to their advantage.

Now, as I said at the start, I haven’t read the books or even seen the first film. I know that it’s fiction and has much to commend it, not least the positive portrayal of Katniss. And you’re obviously a decent human being, because you wouldn’t be reading this blog entry if you weren’t, so I’m sure that you don’t want to start a totalitarian regime. I understand that. Really, I do.

… but, hypothetically, if you wanted to establish a successful totalitarian regime, you’d pick the model in 1984 rather than the one in The Hunger Games, wouldn’t you?

This article was originally written for the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 4th December 2013.

Robin Hood – what was that accent all about then?

I went with my better half to see Robin Hood last night. Well, it was Orange Wednesday, after all.

It’s soooo much better than Iron Man 2 (though frankly, that bar is pretty low.) And playing “spot the accent” with Russell Crowe is great fun. There’s definitely the odd twinge of Irish in there, as Mark Lawson was taken to task over by the great man himself, but there’s definite passages of Geordie, Yorkshire and Liverpudlian too. Just about the only one he doesn’t manage to include is proper “Ey up mi duck” East Midlands. Which is where Robin Hood is supposed to come from, of course.

Still, it’s highly unlikely that the accent of a 12th century East Midlander would bear very much resemblance to today’s speech. So his linguistic tour of the UK is strangely appropriate, somehow.

Cate Blanchett is particularly wonderful as Lady Marion and I still can’t get over how much the actor playing King Philip of France looks like chef Marco Pierre White.

It’s a great romp and if you think that the French are to blame for everything, you’ll definitely enjoy it. Even if you don’t, I’m sure you will too.

8/10 – a great way to pass a dull Wednesday evening in Derby.

Iron Man 2 – what was all that about then?

Much against my better judgement, I was persuaded to take a trip to the cinema this afternoon to see Iron Man 2.¬† I was obviously at a disadvantage, having not seen Iron Man (1), but it had a plot that made no sense whatsoever and had no characters in it that were even slightly likeable. The action was so obviously faked through the over-use of CGI that it fooled no-one over five years old – a shame really as the BBFC certificate is a 12A. Even Gwyneth Paltrow and Scarlett Johansson couldn’t rescue it with their virtuoso performances in pouting.

It also has to feature probably the most ill-advised piece of product placement for a large American software company that I’ve ever seen. I’m not going to name them, because I’m sure they’re regretting their decision to be a part of the film (and if they aren’t, then they should be.)

Their clumsy piece of product placement was just about the only moment of the film that raised a smile for me, when the large American software company in question had their fictional ‘grid’ used to track down the location of a telephone call. This is something you see in Spooks every week as a matter of routine, and for once the British obviously have better kit, because in Spooks it always works. The so-called ‘grid’ in Iron Man 2 took ages to locate even the vague area of the call and then, just as you thought it was finally going to find the villain, the ‘grid’ failed to locate him. Not a good advertisement at all.

4/10. Go and see it only if you’ve really got nothing better to do.

Reflections on The Damned United

I went to see the Damned United yesterday lunchtime, in a cinema in Derby. There were fewer than 20 of us in the auditorium (perhaps the later showings are better attended), but nonetheless, we were treated to a glorious trip down memory lane – albeit quite a few of the memories are obviously fictional (Clough begging Taylor to forgive him at the end of the film – I don’t think so!)

The interviews Clough gave to Austin Mitchell on Yorkshire Television bracket the film(*), and as the originals  are still available in the archives, they provide an anchor in reality for the story being told. The mixing of archive footage with the film is skillfully done and you leave feeling that the real villain of the piece was Don Revie, wonderfully played by that bloke off Star Trek.

It doesn’t bear much resemblance to David Peace’s novel, and the Clough we see here is far more sympathetically treated¬† than the portrayal in the book. But it’s still a fictional portrayal.

For people like me who were growing up in Derby around the time of Clough and Taylor’s exploits, it was great to see the Rams rising up the table to become champions of England. I doubt strongly that I’ll ever see that again in my lifetime, even with Nigel in charge!

And for a film set around football, it’s definitely not a film about football. Nostalgic, certainly, but it’s the relationships between the characters and how they develop that grips you from the beginning of the film to the end, where Clough is shown at Forest, ultimately successful, with Revie cast out into the outer darkness.

(*) The Calendar interview, “Goodbye Mr. Clough” was at the time of writing available on the itv.com website, though it appeared that you’d need to use Internet Explorer or Silverlight to view it. The people that run the site clearly don’t recognise that about 25% of the world doesn’t run the Windows/IE combination on their home computers. Whoever the itv.com webteam are, they need to go and read Jacob Nielsen’s books and articles on web usability; this one, paragraph 6, would be a good starting point.

The Damned United

I’ve just come across the trailer for the film of David Peace’s book “The Damned United”, which was the most memorable book I read last summer. While the portrayal of Brian Clough in the book (and presumably in the film too) has provoked criticism in Derby, I’m certainly looking forward to seeing it, because if nothing else the book was a well written piece of fiction. Or fact. Or faction perhaps?