Posts Tagged ‘Fight Club’

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The King’s Speech – review.

January 23, 2011

I went to see The King’s Speech with Toby last night, and thinking about the experience, the main sensation that I feel is guilt. Guilt that midway through the film’s second third, I surrendered to sleep; guilt that I could not concur with the film’s largely glowing reviews from critics and friends alike; guilt that despite the actors’ invariably fine performances, there was just something lacking. It didn’t take me long to put my finger on what the main missing ingredient was, but first, allow me to expand.

The King’s Speech is a smug, self-satisfied film that surrounds itself with a certain air that says to its audience, that proclaims  to those who see its advertisements, “You are watching this because you are intelligent, because you are interested in History. Feel congratulated, feel superior to the hoi polloi.” This air of self-importance is perhaps fitting with the film’s focus on early 20th century royalty, but is certainly at odds with the flat cinematography. In Lionel’s basement, this cheapness, this absence of depth between the background, the foreground and the actors can perhaps be forgiven as it is evocative of the speech therapist’s relative poverty – all the more pointing out with a wry smile that the future King of England has had to go there, to such a lowly place (after all, it is in a basement that can only be accessed through a cramped lift) in order to find his redemption. But when in more royal quarters, how can you really feel a sense of majesty when the decor, the scenery does not evoke this? The film’s rather small budget of $15 million reveals itself early on. And yet, Firth’s previous film, the sumptuous A Single Man, was made on half that budget and both looks and, more importantly, feels like a million dollars. Go figure.

Nevertheless, the actors all provide stellar showings – none more so than Colin Firth, whose stammer never feels affected or artificial; whose frustration, anger, silence, tenderness towards his family, fear of and eagerness for being the country’s king ring true at every turn. Geoffrey Rush plays Lionel Logue with sincerity and humility, and while I much prefer Helena Bonham Carter as a sexy temptress à la Fight Club or a ridiculously pompous Red Queen in Alice In Wonderland, she more than does her part as Queen Elizabeth here. The King’s Speech is certainly not lacking in fine performances.

But unfortunately, the crux of the problem is this – characters cannot do anything without a story. The plot of The King’s Speech is as follows: the King has a stammer, so he gets some speech therapy to fix it so he can deliver speeches (thus the title’s double reference to the king’s ability to speak, and the film’s final speech – his ultimate test). That’s it. This plot is less than linear – it’s a dot. It goes nowhere, it does nothing unexpected or even notable. As mentioned earlier, I fell asleep for 20 minutes in the film’s second half, woke up and events were more or less where I had left them. And even worse, 99% of the film’s audience know the entirety of the plot before even entering the cinema! Even if you are not au fait with 20th century British history, the British monarchy nor the stories of wartime Britain, you will know how the film ends – for the pure fact that nobody under the age of 15 is going to see this film of their own accord, and the vast majority of those over 15 know that there has never been a king who died moments after being crowned during a World War, nor has there ever been a king whose stammer prevented him from delivering speeches. If either of these things had happened, they would be etched in our history in such a way that everyone would know about them, just as they know of the death of Princess Diana, of her wedding to Prince Charles, of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953, of the Queen’s two birthdays. It would be another elementary fact. Thus, this means that it is inevitable that the King gets his stammer cured, or at least is able to manage it in order to perform his duties.

There is nothing approaching a subplot in the film to maintain interest. Edward abdicates in order to pursue love, and the audience is expected to just accept this because that’s how it happened in history – there is no attempt to probe beneath the façade of pompous dignity to question whether Edward is actually doing the right thing, the brave thing, pursuing truth over the pretences inherent in being a monarch (according to King George V himself). The film has only room for one triumphant victim, and that is Firth’s character – even when he is acting like a snobbish, spoilt moron, the viewer is not invited to feel repulsed or even more than mildly annoyed at his presumptuous pride, because he is the film’s Hero, the country’s King, and thus must not be questioned. If you are choosing to question him and other aspects of the film, then good for you – but you’re going above and beyond what the film requires you to do in order to get to the final triumph and achieve your gold star. Any attempts to psychologise the King’s speech impediment are completely reductionist – is it the absence of Daddy’s affections? The taunting of the mean big brother? Peer pressure? The King’s Speech expects its audience to overlook this simplicity because it is British, it is Royal, it is Historical – but if these explanations were transposed to an American rom-com or a Channel 5 drama, they would be seen and derided for the facile clichés they are.

Ultimately, The King’s Speech is a simple film that contains faultless performances, and whose stars should be amply rewarded for their acting. But nevertheless, it is a film that is a plotless puddle, all the while proclaiming itself a majestic ocean.

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what we want.

January 8, 2010

It’s funny how what we want, on a smaller scale, changes. Presumably, nearly all of us ultimately want to be happy; it’s a basic thing.  But the little things, the goals we seek to accomplish on the way to that happiness, are different for all of us.  I was on the bus stop on Tuesday on my way to Starbucks, and I got into conversation with a guy who’d been waiting there for ages.  He was telling me that he had belated Christmas presents to deliver to his sister’s daughter, who lives across town. Because apparently he didn’t have much money (his brother owed him some but wasn’t paying him – bla bla) he couldn’t get what he wanted to buy, which was a pair of Timberland boots.  I get the impression that his niece was young, because he said that the following year, once she outgrew the boots, he would have had them dipped in gold (and then proceeded to tell me about how they freeze the boots in liquid nitrogen before dipping them in gold).  In my head I was furiously thinking that that was horrendously tacky (which it is), but looking at the man’s face as he was talking, he seemed so excited about the idea that it was genuinely sweet.  He really wanted it.  And if that made him happy, and it would make his niece happy, then who am I to judge his dream?

If I were to make a quick list of things that I want in the next year or so, I could go for ages and into specific minutia of jewellery, as well as vague wishes and hopes.  But concrete things that I would like, that I think are possible to achieve, and that would help me on the way to “happiness”, would be:

  • A good, decent boyfriend for whom I can wake up enough to appreciate him.
  • Passing my driving test and getting a car.
  • Finishing my careers guidance course and getting a job that enables me to have my own place.

I think that’s it really! Although sometimes I focus so much on these things that it feels like nothing that I have is ever enough, I appreciate that I have some really fantastic friends (it took me long enough to acquire them but in the last year alone, I’ve made three or four new bffs!), I am sorta good-looking and I lost plenty of weight so that apart from when I am having a little crisis, I know I am not fat.  I have nice things, including designer jewellery, decent technology and a wardrobe with which I am satisfied.  I have a pretty good singing voice, and the ability to make my own music and for that I am blessed, because even if it’s not on a grand scale, I have the tools to realise my own dreams.  And as you know, I finally got my tattoo!  None of this precludes me from wanting to improve or revolutionise all of these aspects of myself, but as things stand now, I am satisfied and I have made progress. My dissatisfaction just comes from a desire to keep moving and growing!  But in terms of goals, I only have those three main ones I listed at the top.

Mike told me that more than anything right now, he wants to move away from central Bristol to somewhere a little quieter, with more green space.  I can’t understand it myself because I’m the total opposite, but then he has a wife and child, he’s had a different upbringing, and so he has different things that will make him happy.  It’s really important to him in the next few months to achieve his dream.  I have a friend who is hoping to be successful in his new job application, another who wants to do really well in her finals at university, and one more who is on the next step to realising her dream of becoming a doctor – a journey which has taken her a really long time.  I admire everyone who has goals, because I think it’s goals that make us get up in the morning, work that little bit harder and keep it moving.  Looking at my parents, a generation older than me, and I don’t know if this is because relations between us are kinda tenuous at the moment, but I couldn’t tell you what they want.  I mean, they have done well for themselves in life, but I can’t imagine that at 50 years old, you suddenly just become satisfied with everything you have.  Isn’t it part of the human condition to always want something?  Again, by that, I think we all want to be happy ultimately, and we don’t stop on the quest for that happiness – but doesn’t everyone want at least one thing that puts them that bit closer to being happy?  I can’t imagine that changing with age… I hope that although I can always appreciate what I have, that I never feel completely satisfied… to me, that is a kind of complacency and I always want to be striving for more, for better, to be the best that I can be.  Tyler Durden in Fight Club said that that was a form of masturbation; the Army uses it as their motto; but I really want to be the best.  Not by anyone else’s criteria, but by my own – an even taller order.  Game on. 😉

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façades.

July 18, 2009

Driving home on the way back from my nan’s (oh, conundrum solved; we decided to choose a picture of my grandad for the funeral plaque after all), i catch glimpses of myself in shop windows, in the wing mirror and in people’s faces as we drive by.  I have big dark Prada glasses, a vaguely tanned face, black hair and a fitted black Zara top on, and we have a black Hyundai coupé.  I love the way it looks (everything matches!) but at the same time I see people looking and I wonder what judgment they make.  Most people who look just look away, occasionally you get the odd stare but that could tell you more about their own temperament than about what they think of you.  It’s the occasional extra rev of their car at the traffic lights, the look-look away-subtle double take that gives away someone’s competitive nature, their arrogance or insecurity.  You can never be sure which one it is, but the fact that I can elicit a reaction at all makes me feel a little bit powerful.

I’ve always been someone who can elicit reactions, since at school.  Praise from my teachers, makeups and breakups with my peers, hotly-debated criticisms of my voice / sexuality / fashion choices… I don’t know why, but I’ve never been able to blend in and I’ve always been a topic of conversation and rumour.  Without even doing anything on purpose half the time, I was noteworthy.  And I would much rather that, as someone with aspirations to fame, than to blend into the background – but at the same time, I was never desperate for the gossip, it all seemed to happen by accident.  I have not worked at the Perfume Shop since June 4th, but when I last went in 2 weeks ago to see everyone, there was a barrage of news for me, and also criticism of my bag and of a couple of things I had done wrong a month and a half ago.  I guess I play on people’s minds.

I realise that by this point I sound incredibly conceited, but what I have always been hyper-aware of is image. I remember a long time ago reading an interview with Christina Aguilera, and she said something very true: you have to conduct yourself as a product for consumption.  Every single thing you say, do, wear, don’t say, don’t do, don’t wear, listen to, don’t listen to etc. becomes a part of your persona.  Anything that is done in public becomes a part of your image and the conception of “who you are”.  So you need to be happy with yourself, because if you’re not happy with anything you’re doing or not doing, you’re effectively lying to yourself and those around you.  Every day that we step out of the house and come into contact with others, in a way we are consumed by the public.  You don’t have to be famous for that to happen; how many times have you seen people walking past you down the street or in the mall, and made a snap judgement about them based on their clothing or their shoes or their walk or their accent?  We all do it. And genuine or not, façade or reality, the image we project is the summary of ourselves we portray to the world.  If somebody had one tweet (140 characters) to summarise their impression of you, what would it say?  If you had that same tweet to summarise your impression of yourself at any given moment, what would that tweet say?

The power that I mentioned at the end of the first paragraph stems, I believe, from an awareness of these reactions that we are able to elicit.  The façade I try to give off at most, if not all times, is one of icy confidence.  I have an interlude on my forthcoming Quiet Storm album called “Theory”, in which I briefly explain why I have grown to like designer clothes. The status of wealth that labels emit, whether true or false, gives out a certain image that can protect the inner me.  Whether I’m happy or depressed, whether I am feeling insecure about my body or thinking about my family, the image I portray is teflon confidence. I guess in a word, it’s my armour, and I use people’s presumptions to my advantage.  I know the real me, my friends who have penetrated beyond the façade know the real me, and know that I am deeper than Prada and Armani.  The rest of the world just knows I look fly, and that’s exactly how I like it.

I often get mocked for my vanity by family, friends and colleagues alike.  I’m always checking in mirrors (only glances, but I happily admit I glance quite often – when no mirror is available, the back of my ipod is most handy) that my hair is fine, my body is complimented by what I wear, my lips don’t look dry, that all is well.  That’s who I am, and that is not a façade!  But I am my own harshest critic.  I don’t go to the gym and wear what labels I wear solely because I want to fit a stereotype or be accepted socially.  I don’t seem to be able to fit a stereotype even when I do want to, and social acceptance seems to come to me as a thing of luck in any case – I am thankful to have family and friends around me in whom I can confide, even if sometimes I prefer to let my façade do the talking because there are things I want to keep to myself.  I exercise and work to my own diet (which you won’t find in any magazine, partly because it’s just a bit crazy and uneven!) because I have a drive to be the best I can be.  I can accept criticism if it’s something I’ve already conceived (which most of the time it is) because then it’s a work in progress that I’m aware of and looking to fix.  What throws me for a loop is the rare occasion when I’ve been completely misconstrued, misunderstood, or somebody has made a judgement that I couldn’t have seen coming in a million years.  Those occasions are very rare, but it’s at those times when my façade might slip, because I am taken by surprise.  Of course, it’s food for thought, and I probably do devote too much time to what other people think, but I see my own self-improvement (or masturbation, to quote Tyler Durden) as resulting from an exchange of ideas.  Sometimes criticism is ridiculously invasive, but other times it can be constructive.  At the end of the day it’s my decision to do something about it or not, and the decision I make is in order to carve out my identity and benefit me, not anyone else.  That’s why I choose to portray myself the way I do, wear the clothes I wear, sing the songs I sing, go where I go.  If I’m happy with the final product, then whatever people think is secondary… at least on the outside.  Of course, we all have insecure moments, but then who is really happy 100% of the time?  As long as people are thinking that I’m happy / successful / sexy / non-stick, then the façade is working 😉