The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Give It Up

Today's LoveFilm choice was The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. It opened with about five minutes of scene-setting narration, as related by an old lady in a hospital. This was illustrated with flashbacks to the early part of the twentieth century; with that annoying made-to-look-like-old-newsreel-film effect (annoying, because what we’re seeing is supposed to be memories, and not old newsreel – I hate it whenever TV shows or films do this, making footage look like old super-8 movies to indicate memories of the 70’s, even the bloody news has started doing it). Anyway, then your man out of Primeval, his wife gives birth to this baby, except it’s all old and wrinkly, and then after about another quarter of an hour it’s grown up to be a kid and AAARGH WILL SOMETHING BLOODY HAPPEN PLEASE GOD ANYTHING WOULD BE NICE

That’s when we stopped. After twenty minutes. Couldn’t stand the suspense of waiting for another god-knows-how-long before someone in the film noticed the bleedin’ obvious, that the baby was growing younger, not older.

But does this make the Curious Case one of the worst films I’ve ever seen? Or am I only allowed to count films I’ve seen all the way through, such as the truly dreadful remake of The Time Machine, or Kill Bill Volume One? But surely all those films I’ve given up must be worse, because I’ve physically been so bored, irritated or disgusted that I’ve stopped watching – or, in the case of Lemony Snicket's A Serious Of Unfortunate Events, left the cinema after about an hour (couldn’t stand any more of Jim Carrey’s mugging). Other films I’ve stopped watching... Hook, Hannibal, Yellowbeard, I’ve never got more than half an hour into Tommy and as far as I’m concerned Bedazzled ends with Dudley Moore on Top Of The Pops. And yet I’ve seen Southland Tales all the way through.

The film I gave up on after the least amount of time – which may not be the worst film I’ve seen, as I am in no position to judge – was The History Boys. I gave up on that after about five minutes – before most of the cast had even appeared on screen. Let me describe the opening to you. It begins with Gracie Fields singing Wish Me Luck As I Wave You Goodbye. This is to establish people are leaving home and is intended to be an ironic juxtaposition. Or at least, if you were a moron, that’s what you might mistake it for, anyway. Then we see a kid in eighties clothes cycling through some Up North town, before meeting up with a mate. Then there’s a caption ‘Yorkshire 1983’. What, the whole county? The whole year? Apparently so! And we hear the opening thumps of Blue Monday by New Order, in order to establish that this is the early eighties for anyone who HASN’T READ THE SODDING CAPTION. Anyway, they get their exam results, they’ve all done terribly well, when who should walk in but Clive Merrison as a headmaster. ‘Why are you dressed as a milkman’ he asks one of the boys. The boy answers ‘Work, sir. For the ‘olidays’. Yes, he actually says ‘olidays’. Because even though this is Yorkshire in 1983 he is a BLOODY COCKNEY. Clive then tells the boys (all obviously in their mid-twenties) that they will be coming back after the holidays to try for Oxford and Cambridge WHY DON’T THEY KNOW THIS ALREADY? because they are the best results the school has ever had SUBTLE EXPOSITION, THERE, ALAN and you have to study an extra term to get into those universities WHY ARE YOU TELLING THEM SOMETHING THEY MUST KNOW ALREADY?. Then Miss Jones from Rising Damp turns up, to give the boys a hug to the braying cries of ‘three A’s, three A’s!’ followed by Uncle Monty from Withnail And I who is CLEARLY A LOVEABLE PAEDOPHILE who then talks some shit. And then we hear This Charming Man by The Smiths because it is STILL THE EIGHTIES IN CASE YOU HAD FORGOTTEN IN THE LAST SIXTY SECONDS EVEN THOUGH THAT SONG WASN'T A HIT UNTIL THE NINETIES. Anyway, we see Miss Jones taking a lesson, stressing that this is ‘Oxford and Cambridge’ before we cut to Clive Merrison saying ‘they’re clever... but they’re crass. And were it Bristol or York I’d have no worries – ’ OH CHRIST THIS WHOLE FILM IS GOING TO BE ONE LONG SMUG PATRONISING ELITIST EXERCISE IN SELF-GRATIFICATION WITH ALAN BENNETT WORKING HIMSELF INTO A LATHER ABOUT HOW MARVELLOUS OXBRIDGE IS AND HOW IT’S OKAY TO FIDDLE ROUGH WORKING CLASS BOYS IF IT MEANS THEY GET INTO A POSH COLLEGE.

Six minutes thirty seconds. No more.


  1. You're often wrong. Interestingly, here you are wrong about two things:-

    (i) "This Charming Man" was a hit in 1983. Not a top ten smash or anything, but enough of a hit to get the band their first Top of the Pops appearance. Therefore enough of a hit to be
    noticed. And a song that only a fucking lunatic would associate with the nineties rather than 1983, if you'll pardon my directness.

    and (ii) "Tommy" is ace.

  2. The History Boys slags off Loughborough Uni and that automatically qualifies it as one of the best films ever.

    I don't make the rules.

  3. For about two hours in the middle Benjamin Button is a marvellous film, but you're right the first half hour is really trying. There are plenty of films which would be much improved if you simply chopped off the beginning or the end or both.

    Ron Howard's Castaway would be considered a fair old classic if it simply began with Hanks washing up on the shore ended with him triumphantly escaping the island. A.I. would have a different texture if you lost the middle and kept it about the boy. Jackson's King Kong is really interesting if you skip Skull Island. Boat goes out, skip ahead, cut to Kong in city.

    The way to tell the story of Button would have been with the Cate Blanchett character as the viewpoint character -- the mysterious man who walks into her life you turns out to be very different indeed. It's basically Starman or Rose, but these tropes work.

    The framing device set during Katrina doesn't work in filmic terms and simply acts as a distraction and way to tie to sections of the film together with exposition rather that well thoughout out editing. Too many films rely on these kinds of framing devices when the structure of the script is broken.