Joe’s Blog

The Dull Hunter

January 19, 2009 4:18 am

dull films header

 “You know, most of these movies that win
a lot of Oscars, I can’t stand them…All those assholes make are unwatchable movies from unreadable books.
Mad Max, that’s a movie. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, that’s a movie. Rio Bravo, that’s a movie.
And Coming Home in a Body Bag, that was a fuckin’ movie.”

Clarence in True Romance

 I thought on Clarence’s diatribe this past week as I had two experiences with those films that you are ‘suppossed’ to like but you actually find quite dull. When you explain to people that you don’t ‘get’ these films they launch into great pre-prepared speeches about ‘substance’, ‘subtext’ and ‘submarines’ (if you’re discussing Das Boot).

Now I like my fair share of movies that people wouldn’t be seen dead even looking up on their EPGs, but generally these are films that most right-thinking people don’t even know exist.

The films I’m talking about here, are those that are lauded by critica, film-makers and people with pointy beards you see nursing a coffee for four hours in the BFI coffee shop. (It is a rule that you only ever buy one coffee in there, and maybe a muffin to share, no matter how long you may be there for.)

Instance number one occurred on Wednesday, when a friend was very excited about seeing Blade Runner at the IMAX. This sounds like a great idea. Blade Runner is one of the most visually stunning films ever made, so seeing it projected on the moon-sized IMAX screen would surely be a sight to behold.

Then I remembered that Blade Runner is also very, very dull.

It’s a film I submit myself to about once a year, determined that this time I will ‘watch it properly’ and come to realise why it is so enthusiastically supported by just about everyone. I normally make it to Sean Young’s ‘replicant test’ before I’m asleep.

Only twice have I managed the whole thing: once as a wide-eyed 14 year old, keen to behold this cinematic masterpiece; and again when the Director’s Cut was released in 1992. I preferred the original, which is a kin to saying not only did I rape your disabled grandmother, but I really, really enjoyed it. In fact I might do it again this week.

This movie just makes people go insane. I would be tempted to put it down to sci-fi geekery, and Blade Runner attracts more of these conspiratorial types than most. In fact on finishing this, I fully expect to recieve death threats, be accussed of being an FBI stooge trying to dismantle the world economy and have my inbox stuffed with cryptic l33t speak which will leave me no closer to caring whether Harrison Ford is a robot or not. For the record I think he is, but I think there are far more important things to worry about. Like should I cut my toenails or give them another couple of days.

The group of friends I was with on Wednesday were stunned when I proclaimed myself less than a fan.

“It looks great”, I said, “and if there’s a DVD option to watch it with the just the soundtrack, I would love that. But I just find it incredibly dull.”

“Well, I can see what you’re saying , but you’re wrong.”

This from a friend, who I’d assumed was normal. No discussion, no exchange of ideas. I’m wrong.

But then he tripped himself up.

“Yeah, the story’s not great, but it’s about the visuals and the mood.”

Which sort of proved my point for me. Thanks mate.

The case for the prosecution next presents Exhibit #B: Vertigo.

One of the most celebrated thrillers of all time, held up as an example of Hitchcock’s genius, and regularly voted one of the greatest films of all time… it’s also incredibly dull.

Now I love Hitch. Without a doubt probably the finest film directors that has ever graced the planet. Rear Window, North by Northwest and Frenzy are three of my all-time favourites. So it really pains me to say that I find one of his films so tedious that I find myself wishing it would finish so I could watch something better, like Chucklevision. Or the testcard.

If you’ve never seen Vertigo I should warn you that what follows may spoil the film for you. But then if you ever had any intention of watching it, and haven’t by now, then you probably couldn’t care less anyway.

James Stewart is a detective who’s had to retire from the force because he suffers from vertigo (dum dum dum!). A college friend he hasn’t spoken to for years wants him to follow his wife who he thinks is possessed (!). Stewart and the wife fall in love, but she plummets to her death from a bell tower in a nunnery (!).

A year later, Stewart falls for a woman who reminds him of the dead wife, and starts an obsessive desire to mould her in the wife’s image. Wouldn’t you know it, it is in fact the same woman! She wasn’t actually the bloke’s wife at all. She was a in fact apaid to pretend she was bloke’s wife, while bloke knocked off the real wife. And she didn’t plummet to her death, it was a very unconvincing dummy. But since Stewart was paralysed with fear halfway up the bell tower he was a bit pre-occupied to notice (though quite how the nuns who rush to the body fail to notice is never explained).

It all ends with a happy confession and the imposter falling to her death from the same bell tower (why do they keep letting him take women up there?) when she mistakes a nun for a ghost. Easy mistake to make I suppose.

This takes 2 hours and 10 minutes, but feels like double that.

Vertigo was a bit of a flop at the time of its release, and I can understand why. Aside from its intermniable running time, Stewart is very unlikable. In fact, in the scenes where he is making over Kim Novak v2.0, far from being a ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ montage, it could in fact be scored quite easily with some of the more disturbing Mr Bungle or Nick Cave tracks. Stewart is downright violent in his desire to dress his new girlfriend exactly the same way as his dead ex.

But that’s not why I dislike the film (seeing someone like cuddly James Stewart playing an absolute bastard is always something of a joy). It’s the fact that it’s so loudly shouted from the rooftops that this is a classic is what really grates.

And the excuses given leave me cold too.

It was revolutionary. By this I assume the vertigo-vision shots. Yes, very clever, well done. They take up at most 10 seconds of the running time.

Jimmy’s dream sequence. Yes, done much better in Spellbound.

It’s Hitch’s most personal film. Yeeeeesss… Hitch had a thing for icy blondes. I would never have guessed that from watching his other films. Tippi Hedren had such an easy ride The Birds and Marnie, didn’t she.

And, as with Blade Runner, these feel like excuses and apologies rather than reasons.  It’s the old ‘never mind the quality, feel the width’ line. If I find a film boring then saying “oh, but check out that shot in the bell tower” isn’t going to convince me otherwise. A brief 2 seconds of genius do not make up for the other 2 hours, 9 minutes and 58 seconds being among the most disappointing of Hitch’s ouvre.

Vertigo is a film that has gained acclaim over the years, rather than achieving it instantly. Other films have done this in the past few decades, many of which are among my faves like Peeping Tom and The Wicker Man. Not to mention Hitch’s Frenzy.

But these films don’t need excuses made for them. Watching them is enough to realise that they are great films that were cruelly ignored, or worse, when they were released.

With Vertigo, there is this constant explanation for why it’s so highly regarded. This shouldn’t be neccessary. A film should live or die by itself.

As I said, Peeping Tom may have been ‘saved’ by people like Martin Scorcese, but he didn’t write long essays about why it’s so wonderful. he simply helped get it rereleased so people could judge for themselves.

If I want to know about Hitch’s OCD, or his obsession with blondes, I’ll read a book about it. If I want to watch an entertaining thriller I’ll watch Rear Window.

I should say, I’m not completely innocent of the whole ‘how can you not love this film’ scam. The thing is, the film’s I endorse, are not those that end up on the BFI list, or in Total Film’s 100 Greatest Movies of all Time.

Two of my favourite directors, the Davids Cronenberg and Lynch, regularly make films that leave audiences aghast in disbelief. For me, the difference is, films like Videodrome, Eraserhead, and more recently, Mulholland Drive, may be uncomfortable, obtuse viewing, but they are rarely, if ever, dull. (On finishing Mulholland Drive, Lady Scaramanga, no slave to dull films, turned to me and said “I really enjoyed that, but I’ve no idea why!”)

Anyone who has seen Eraserhead will never forget that experience. They may not have a clue what’s going, or what the whole thing’s is about, but it will be burned into your brain.

I can’t even remember if James Stewart already had vertigo, or if he developed it as a result of seeing the plod fall off the roof.

Everyone has their favourite films. And everyone has their favourite films when they are trying to impress someone. Don’t bother. Have the nerve to stand by your conviction and demand to be entertained rather than have your beard stroked.

 And I never even got started on The Deer Hunter


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