Monday, 3 October 2011

Thin Spite OK, Vi...

That's an anagram of THINK POSITIVE, the inspirational exclamation that is the watchword of Bradford's ninth or tenth attempt since 1986 at a community cheer up campaign, to encourage the sceptical among its long-suffering citizenry to always look on the bright side.

Count me among them. When marketing chuggers and politicians bang on earnestly about the importance of being positive, corporate, collective, my instinct is to lift up a corner of the carpet to see what they've been sweeping under it.

I tend to feel the same way whenever English film critics are universal in their praise. I thought No Country For Old Men, which most of them adored, was tedious and incomprehensible. The book wasn't much better. Virtually everyone else I know who has seen it think the film's a masterpiece I saw it again recently, partly to test my own opinion; alas, it was even worse. The villain with his gas tank and 1970s Leonard Cohen hairstyle looked like a sleepwalking dentist. I'd rather watch Hombre. Now that is a masterpiece, dealing with the same themes of nihilism, greed and violence, but much more coherently.

The remake of True Grit, lauded as truer to the spirit of the novel than the John Wayne film, was wordy, worthy, but tiresome, in spite of the best efforts of Jeff Bridges. I suppose I am not a fan of the Cohen Brothers.

Having read some four and five-star reviews of Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy I hurried along to see it, in anticipation of a great evening in the cinema. Within five minutes the thing struck me as misconceived. Gary Oldman, who had gained widespread acclaim as George Smiley, was miscast. Not out of his depth but in the wrong part. At the end I knew it was a film I would not want to watch again. Friends, however, thought it was superb.

Peter Hitchens, I have just discovered, felt even more let down than I did. He knows Le Carre's novel, which I don't, and remembers the BBC television serial with Alec Guinness as George Smiley, which I didn't see. Some of his readers found the film too slow and left before the end. For me the telling of the tale was slow but the technique of telling it, fast choppy cuts across time, was confusing. At the end I had no idea how Smiley had discovered that Bill Hayden was the Russian double agent. The film deterred me from buying the book, whereas Hombre had me grabbing for Elmore Leonard's slim novel the first time I saw it.

An old woman with sly sniper's eyes once remarked that I had a closed mind. Not being particularly quick on the verbal come-back, I didn't tell her that people who know me have little trouble finding the equivlalent of 'Open Sesame' to engage my attention. In my defence I went to see The King's Speech simply because a shred of it had been filmed in Bradford. The critics loved it, so I was sceptical. I came away thinking it a fine film, centring on the unlikely friendship between two very different characters.

I have no problem with emotionalism or 'love interest' except where, Hollywood style, it is added in for commercial interest, which I think of as slop. Men and women with perfect teeth, impeccable personal hygiene and untroubled by the imperatives of hunger, thirst, belly and bowel movements, declare their undying love as the world goes up in flames or their trains leave the station in opposite directions. THINK POSITIVE! I hear the deceitful voice of my bad angel say, until the voice of my good angel says BOLLOCKS!

My tendency is to move, after due consideration, from a negative to a positive. That's not how it is for everybody, merely how the key seems to fit my lock.


John Archer said...


I enjoyed reading that. Just chewing the cud. No pressure.

For myself, I quite enjoyed No Country for Old Men. It was a bit of a downer at the end but there you go. Each to his own. I know I must have seen Hombre at some point; it's just that I don't recall it. True Grit — pfff it was OK but I wouldn't go out of my way to watch it again, or the original. I saw most of the King's Speech while/because my wife was watching it on video but it didn't grab my


By the way, VISIT THE PINKO is another anagram. I certainly hope that's not what I'm doing here. Winky dink.

Good luck.

John Archer said...


But I guess that depend's on whose 'O' it is, which one and whether she'll let you. As I say, each to his own. :)

Matthew said...

It's nice to find someone who thinks like me as regards films. I have seen NCfOM and it's balderdash. Ditto TTSS, which is a slow, boring trawl through many silent scenes with Gary Oldman furiously... thinking - not speaking or actually moving, just thinking - which is hardly the most entertaining thing an on-screen character can do to draw the audience's attention.

The over-hyping is what kills films. Admit it's only half decent and you wouldn't mind if you went and it was a bit shabby. Say it's the best thing since sliced bread and, after you've been in there for 5 minutes and realise the truth, you feel cheated for the remaining 85.

Mr Ecks said...

100 % agreement about Hombre.

The final showdown is wonderful--
"We all die--it's just a question of when".

"No Country" was just wierd although there was potential that was wasted. What was the point of Woody Harolson's character?. He appears to be confident ( and so gives the impression of being competant ) in the tough guy trade but Mr Bad Haircut deals with him like blowing out a candle. Would the Josh Brolin character really have been dumb enough to go back to a crime scene hours later to give water to a man who was nearly dead the first time he saw him?.
The film shapes up into a possible showndown between Bad Haircut and Brolin (the only guy to have given the barber's nightmare any trouble so far)but then it is wasted.
The road accident at the end is the most aggro Bad Haircut has in the entire movie. Hey..perhaps it was a road safety film in disguise?...

Elby the Beserk said...

You aren't Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian's film critic are you by any chance? He makes a point of dissing ANY film that might have popular success. Classic Guardian arrogance.

John Archer said...

PART 1. (Gee, there's a character limit!)


I'm standing back a little now and taking the whole thing in from another perspective which was incipient when I first read your piece but has now broken through into consciousness. (Actually this thing is always incipient with me so it's nothing new on that score.)

The background is C P Snow's "Two Cultures" (

I remember as a boy at school overhearing hearing references to it, mostly (if not exclusively?) by arts masters, and on the radio ("The Home Service"). But I didn't know what it was all about and wasn't interested in finding out since it sounded a bore whatever it was, but I did notice a certain intensity to the proceedings. All that's left now of these memories—if one can call them that—is only the vaguest of impressions. In fact the were only ever impressions to start with.

It wasn't until some years later that I read it myself. BANG! I got it straight off. Now I KNEW what all the fuss was about and wished I'd known all along so that I could have got stuck into the fight too — not that I would have been able to throw any punches since I lacked sufficient knowledge at the time but the animus for it was in me from a very early age thanks to copious exposure to windbag arts masters and their opinionated outpourings. The book struck so many chords with me that I don't think I've ever read a piece so fast. Perhaps that's an exaggeration, but I couldn't put it down until I finished it.

Let me say up front that I wasn't at all sympathetic to C P Snow's purpose in attempting to build a bridge between the arts and the sciences. I thought it was a load of hooey. No way. I'd listened to enough bullshit from those arts men at school and I didn't want them dumping their rubbish on my landscape any more. When push comes to shove I'm still the same but I have mellowed a lot.

For me Snow's characterisation of the two archetypes, the humanities man and the scientist, was pretty damn good. Others have criticised it, and maybe with some justification, but that's something else. Of course, in reality there's something like what you might call a distribution with various mixes of the two polar types, but I think that that distribution is a double-humped one though as, in my experience, there seem to be few who genuinely bridge the gap. BTW I 'live' on the slope of the far side of the scientists hump, just in case there was any doubt.

Interruption: one longtime discription I recall of the two types is that of 'poets & plumbers', which seems to sum it up, if not very accurately.

Anyway, to the point, about the two archetypes. When it comes to matters of opinion and taste about certain things (restaurants, wallpaper, films, novels etc) where there can naturally be quite range, there is a sharp divide. The 'poets' seem to regard their opinions/tastes as very important to them, as an intrinsic part of themselves as if they were parts of their own body, perhaps vital organs even, and to disagree with them amounts to a very personal attack, as they it. The 'plumbers' on the other hand just hold their opinions/tastes which, while they might be important to them personally, they regard as having no externalisable intrinsic worth at all, so when one 'disagrees' by expressing a different opinion/taste it's just a simple matter of fact that the two of you differ and it has no significance beyond that.

John Archer said...


Those are the 'polars' as I've experienced them. In short, the 'poet' wants 'to be right' and 'to be seen to be right' about things which the 'plumber' will regard as wholly arbitrary if not actually worthless and therefore not even worth having an opinion on one way or the other.

Put these two polar types together for any length of time and sparks will fly. I guess the 'poet' sees the 'plumber' as a barbarian—an uncultured philistine—and the 'plumber' sees the 'poet' as a self-opinionated zealot forcing his arbitrary view about something of no significance on others, with neither of them being aware of what motivates the other. The higher the (ostensible) intellectual level of the playing field, the higher the animus, too, on both sides.

A parting shot at the more intellectual of the 'poets': they try to objectify the unobjectifiable (ok, the subjective, if one must) yet pour their girly scorn on the 'plumbers' who have, with remarkabe success, dominated the actual objectfiable. But maybe I'm still stuck back in the 60s and overly mindful of those pontificating poncey arts masters.

Am I a bigot? Perhaps. Do I care? No.

I invest no value in my opinions on films etc and conversely I invest an equal amount in the opinions of others, especially professional critics.

But all the same, sometimes it's fun just to listen and talk about them. No pressure. No investing. No body parts. Just mellow.

john archer said...

I see my link didn't work. Google will get a pdf though.