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Hearing voices, seing images and resisting the urge to scream
An end of year appreciation and rant by Camus

Three short 2006 curiosities – a puzzle with a possible answer in 2007, a terrific book that in my wisdom (ahem) I bought for myself for Christmas and lastly a horror that congealed on to our screens and must be expunged... 2007, here we come...

Hearing Voices

2006 was a significant year for a once unstoppable film making force. I regarded him as the 'Lassiter of Live Action', the Spielberg of the Noughties. He even made it on to the cover of Newsweek, "...but not Time magazine," lamented his retired-doctor parents not ironically. Since 1999, M. Night Shyamalan ('Sham-a-lorn' to those who really want to know) could do little wrong. Ensconced at Disney's breast, this hit-producing writer/director was plugged in to all the support he needed despite the grosses of his last film, The Village, being less than stellar. Before that movie came out, Shyamalan bumped into Michael Bamberger at a party in Philadelphia. A journalist working on Sports Illustrated magazine for a decade, Bamberger was also an avid cinemagoer. He dipped a curious toe into the creative process and came on board to chart Shyamalan's film-making practice from inception to distribution. He was there as Shyamalan delivered a screenplay that – it's been widely reported – Disney execs simply 'did not get'. I was as bemused (if not as financially liable) when I saw the movie – and pointed out what I thought were aspects of it that an audience would not be able to accept or push through. I dived enthusiastically into Bamberger's book after seeing the film, fascinated that such an assured talent could deliver such an idiosyncratic, alluring and yet oddly disjointed movie.

I am very much looking forward to showing it to my family after reading an intellectual interpretation of the film by a poster at IMDB. This well written, well researched piece is one and maybe all of three things; one, a clever and inspired reading of the movie that will prompt people to give the beleaguered movie another go and see its writer/director in a new and more flattering light: two, an overly zealous reading of a movie by a fan of a film maker who adores his Night but a fan who cannot possibly accept his hero's creative limitations, or three, a four page essay of silly psychobabble attributing a depth and complexity to something that cannot sustain them. I'd like to go for number one (I really would) but the book The Man Who Heard Voices Or How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale gives no clues to Shyamalan's mindset and at 278 pages, you'd think biographer and subject would give a little away about the real intended meaning of The Lady In The Water. The book is an extraordinary volume. It is not extraordinary because it is simply exciting or straightforwardly informing. It is one of the few books in which a major mainstream film-maker has had his process documented. You'd think some artists would like to preserve at least a glimmer of mystery about what they do. The fact that it ends on a preview screening that went through the roof augurs well for the movie's performance – all the more heartbreaking when it bombed so spectacularly. I could hear the Disney execs snorting with derision all the way from the UK. With the Region 2 DVD on its way, I cannot wait to re-sample its odd pleasures and even odder frustrations especially after the IMDB poster's remark in his/her fine essay on the movie and I quote:

"In this sense, "The Lady in the Water" is arguably the most unique, imaginative, and ambitious tale of inner conflict and perseverance ever filmed."


Seeing Pictures

While Shyamalan was hearing voices, Walter Murch was looking at pictures as film editors are wont to do. This unique talent found his authorial voice (one of the count-on-one-hand few world class movie technicians who reveal their art with such intellectual vigour) and his In The Blink Of An Eye is a must read for anyone at all interested in how movies are put together. Passionate movie buffs may have noted the wind of technical change in the business of making movies. The 'C' of CGI wasn't just making films look more stunning. Kit has got cheaper, smaller and has in essence democratized the industry. The industry leader in editing kit since the late eighties, Avid, was hugely expensive at the time but did introduce the familiar interface of a place to store your clips, a screen to see them, a screen to see what you're cutting and a timeline, a graphic interface that lets you 'see' graphical block simulacra of your shots and audio tracks. Cheaper versions of this essential lay out are parked on a lot of the more modern PCs inviting home movies to become edited home movies. That is a vital distinction.

I remember being stunned to see a cursor moving from one monitor to another – a thing so commonplace now, it sure seemed like magic at the time. When I got my hands on an Avid in 1989, I picked up the basics swiftly because it was on a Mac platform. I remember inter-cutting Inspector Morse with Deep Space Nine and being asked if they could use me and my weekend's progress to prove how simple the Avid set up was to master. I was simultaneously thrilled and offended – not something a lot of people can pull off with only one face.

But then Apple struck back with Final Cut Pro editing software and this dirt cheap contender grew and grew and now (or rather then – on the post production of Cold Mountain) is a viable tool for a full Hollywood feature film – because Walter Murch says so! A Best Editing Oscar™ is a good endorsement. Think of it – a $79 million movie being cut by a piece of software worth a mere $1,000. The book charting this extraordinary development is as good looking as it is written and this article is a simple acknowledgment of recorded motion picture history. If you are really interested in the way movies are put together now in the 21st century, fill your Amazon check out basket with the book with the wonderful title: Behind The Seen – How Walter Murch edited Cold Mountain using Apple's Final Cut Pro and what this means for cinema by Charles Koppelman.

Resisting the Urge to Scream

If two examples of something can possibly be a trend, then there is a worrying trend in cinema advertising – the über-commercial, or the short selling movie, something that feels a need to edge into minutes, a need to press the product so far into punters' heads, the shop assistant could read the imprints with a mirror. If it's the 80s and the heady days of Apple's Ridley Scott epics, then fine – but these overblown examples today go on for what seem like days. Surely the most egregious example of this trend is that gaudy, CG soaked pageant for toilet water, Baz Luhrman's Chanel No. 5. The only thing that gets me through it (and through it I have been about ten times this year) is that the music is a very significant piece of music in my life. Apart from it boringly turning up as one of a lot of people's Desert Island Discs (there is a great reason for that, it's a frickin' sublime piece of music), Debussy's Clair De Lune makes all that farting about in frocks just about bearable. I simply close my eyes and let myself enter into the memory of the first time I saw The Right Stuff, a film I was honoured to work on. To show you how important this ad is, it even has credits. People routinely laugh at this in cinemas I frequent. It's an ad. Let's just get them over with. Pretentious doesn't even begin to cover Chanel No. 5. Just change the Chanel.

If the second example comes on the screen, I have to get up and walk to the foyer and feign a bathroom break. It is so excruciatingly hideous I cannot watch it anymore. Remember those Ski yoghurt commercials in the 70s? The full of fitness food? A beautiful family would eject themselves from bed vertically so powerful was the pull of the little pot of curdled cow juice. They would flounce around in whiter than white bathrobes and smile as if two embedded fish hooks were lodged in their cheek bones and duly yanked east and west on to rugby posts. It is the 'perfect life' sell. You can have a life like this if you buy our product. When I was ten these perfect life commercials made me sick – lies, all lies and worse – deception and the promise of nothing. In fact, it made me bristlingly angry because I knew the fecking things actually worked – and that made me sad. For the human race.

Well, some relic from the 70s has reintroduced the perfect life commercial, shoved it on the cinema screens (this ghastly thing may even be on TV, no idea, I don't watch a lot of TV) and forced me to sit through it. It has everything I loathe in a commercial and a running time that beggars belief – all those fecking minutes to endure. It's like the Ludivico Treatment directed by Jane Asher.

It is a family – all named in that horribly twee typeface. They all have names like Jemima and Harry and flounce (there is a lot of flouncing) about in orchards and groves. This faux-Aryan mass of humanity 'has a friend'. The friend (and her children) are duly named as whatever middle class twaddle the advertisers chose. The 'friend' female cannot usurp the perfect family's wife so has no figure. The sexuality and sexual big guns of this perfect family are significantly absent. This isn't 'sex sells'. It's family as perfection; what YOU suckers crave. We may be able to sell truckloads of Magnums by having some glossy lipped model give the product a blow job (the Flake ads started a very distinct trend) but show folks what they believe really matters and we'll have them by the short and curlies, both of which have to be washed – SO WASH THEM IN TIMOTEI SHAMPOO!

God, I longed for the days of the slomo hair swishing model in the waterfall. This hyper-elongated piece of shit has put back advertising about thirty years and I do not want anyone arguing that its kitsch is ironic. Its kitsch is insulting kitsch and belongs in a skip. But then it may be terribly successful. I don't want to know. I don't care. I'm taking a pretend piss... so I will never have to see this appalling hideousness again.

Happy New Year!

The Man Who Heard Voices Or How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale

Michael Bamberger
Gotham Books

Behind the Seen: How Walter Murch Edited Cold Mountain Using Apple Final Cut Pro and What This Means for Cinema

Charles Koppelman
New Riders

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