Sunday, July 13, 2008

In Which We Serve

Last year, in the name of educating the minions, my husband bought the Complete Collection of Best British War movies, and so far we have seen The Dam Busters (saddest really about the dog), Went the Day Well (superb), and last night, In Which We Serve, which was really the Noel Coward show, as he wrote the theme toon, composed the theme toon, sang the theme toon, directed and produced the theme toon (with apologies to Little Britain and Denis Waterman). With a little help from David Lean.

So far, all three movies do stand the test of time, in that they tell their stories, depict their times and reflect the preoccupations (which let's face it, were by and large meatier and a touch more intense, than ours) of their times. And I will openly admit that I blubbed a fair bit through In Which We Serve. As I am still capable of extreme stony-heartedness and outright mockery in the course of sappy visual entertainment moments, I think this is a testament to the film and its actors. There was a window of opportunity, largely associated with the hormones that flow during pregnancy and for perhaps a couple of years after, where I wept at even the most cynically manipulative of sentimental moments, even as my every critical faculty screamed that I was a suckahhhh...and the plot vessel was leakier than a pea-green boat navigated by feline and night-bird and the characterisation was lame, but no more, I'm pretty much fully reverted to the 10 year old self who sat dry-eyed through Gone with the Wind as my mother snivelled and sighed beside me.

What was it about IWWS? The acting was terribly terribly 1940s, Celia Johnson and Coward clipping their speech in that frightfully British way, and Coward had clearly resorted to his Bumper Book of Working Class Clich├ęs for the men and women of less than middle class social status. But apparently, according to Wiki, the depiction of Navy life was so accurate that the Navy used it as a film to introduce new sailors to conditions on board ship for the rest of the war. In contrast to our sweeping modern blockbusters, even Atonement, the filming is tight and limited by logistical and financial constraints. The stories interwoven through the film are predictable. But there is also something honourable, straightforward and quite adult about the film without any gratuitous violence or moral ambiguity. What was noticeable about all three of these films is that they are rated U - they are suitable for whole family viewing, and yet they tell adult stories, primarily aimed at adults.

Looking through our video collection for a film that DH and I could watch with Minion No 1, who is of an age to want to see more stretching films, there are very few intelligent modern films of the calibre of those 1940s/1950s/1960s films that are suitable for parents to share with their kids. If I make a list of films that affected me and that meant something to me, I can think of the following:

Anything with Cary Grant in it, but especially Philadelphia Story, His Girl Friday and Arsenic and Old Lace, quite a few Hitchcocks (I'm not sure that I want No 1 son to see either The Birds or Psycho, but North by North West, Vertigo, Rear Window, bring them on), any Astaire and Rogers, The Third Man, Fallen Idol, Citizen Kane, all the Ealing comedies, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr Zhivago, the list could go on.

While I think CGI is a wonderful thing and I have enjoyed a whole range of recent movies primarily aimed at children e.g. Shrek and Toy Story, B Movie and Enchanted, Narnia, Potter, LOTR and all, it would be really interesting for once or twice to have films that are primarily aimed at adults but are suitable for children rather than having films for children back-loaded with in-jokes for grown-ups. But I think of the films I've seen recently really aimed at grown-ups who like thinking and moral ambiguity, e.g. Good Night and Good Luck, Syriana, Donnie Darko, The Good Shepherd, Notes on a Scandal, The Good German, Capote, Inside man, Runaway Jury....

These are all 15s. I suppose the same thing happened when I was 11-12-13. There was a run of movies that my mother took to me to though I was technically too young to see them: Flight of the Condor, All the President's Men, The Odessa Files are the ones that spring to mind. But that was back in the day when Saturday Night Fever was given an X certificate because there's a brief flash of Travolota buttock in the back of a car. Now, that would probably be a 12. And when I think of certain scenes in any of the films I've mentioned above, I wouldn't want to be explaining them to an 11 year old who may have the reading and comprehension age of an adult, but is still a kid in terms of emotional maturity.

So when is Hollywood going to wake up and make some accessible films that are actually intelligent? I'm not sure I'll be putting any money on that possibility. In the meantime, it's back to superhero land, what with Hulk and Dark Knight in the multiplexes, or the classic B&W movies of yesteryear in the comfort of our own home.

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