Sunday, April 16, 2006

V for Vendetta: Rhymes with 'should have been better'

After months and months without even thinking about watching a film, I'm becoming quite the moviegoer of late. And this week, I pleasingly
managed to watch two very different films which tackled similar themes - terrorism, alienation and acts of random violence - allowing me to
make fatuous and largely baseless comparisons between them.

The first film is Christie Malry's Own Double Entry. Stop sniggering at the back, for the Double Entry of the title refers to a system of accounting invented by some monk in the Middle Ages. Apparently, the double entry book-keeping system is the foundation of modern capitalism, making it a Big Idea. Yet it's been (as far as I know) consistently overlooked by modern writers, probably because they are mostly humanities graduates and are thus scared of numbers.

The film (from the book by BS Johnson, who you'll remember from previous posts if you've been paying attention) focuses on the life of Christie, a disaffected twentysomething accounts clerk for a sweetfactory, who lives in Hammersmith with his dying mother.

Between her death and the utter bastardry of his boss, Christie comes to the conclusion that life is inflcting unjust pain on him and those he loves - debits - and so he must do the same back to credit his account with "them". Escalating acts of terrorism - from keying a car to mass poisoning - ensue.

That's pretty much the plot - the book is only 20,000 words long - the same number as Christie kills in pursuit of balancing the books. The
film's joy comes in the bleak and unsparing depiction of life's injustice, typified by Christie's boss's reaction to his news that he took the afternoon off work to go to his mother's funeral. "I'm on to you, Malry," he shouts, veins throbbing in his forehead. "You can only have one mother!"

Christie's quest for vengeance ends suddenly, in an ending which has been changed from that of the book, where Christie suddenly develops
incurable cancer. There are a few other changes - Christie is given a friend, whereas the Christie of the book is just given a girlfriend, the Shrike. The whole film is updated to the 90s, and topical references to the Gulf War and Princess Diana are shoehorned in, with often less than successful results.

A whole subplot of Fra Pacioli's invention of the double-entry system and his friendship with Leonardo da Vinci adds little to the overall message, but does manage to up the nudity count (although those of a sensitive disposition should note that an early auto-erotic asphyxiation scene is eye-opening, to say the least). But overall, it's an excellent film from an excellent book.

If only the same could be said of V for Vendetta. I can't comment on the comic from which it originates (not through coyness - I've never read it) but the film was good. I know, there's nothing wrong with good, it's better than bad, and workmanlike. And it should certainly be said that I think this film did not deserve the shocking reviews it garnered, as there's a lot to like.

Yes, Natalie Portman's accent roams the world quicker than Michael Palin; yes, having a main character whose masked face displays no emotion is a drawback; yes, Hugo Weaving is still doing that Agent Smith drawling thing ("Miizzter Aaandurrrsun") that was so irritating in the Matrix.

This paragraph was going to be about the film's redeeming features, but actually I haven't finished the list of things that annoyed me yet. How, for example, in a totalitarian police state, did someone conceal the size of factory required to make the zillion Guy Fawkes masks everyone's wearing at the end? I can't see any dictator worth his salt putting up with that. Why does everyone say 'bollocks' so much? Why do Americans believe Benny Hill is the apogee of English humour?

Calm. As you can see, it's pretty easy to pick holes in V, post-viewing. But none of these things particularly spoiled my enjoyment while in the cinema (apart from all the bollocks). As a blockbuster - the cinematic equivalent of the fast food meal - it succeeds. It's not going to teach you anything profound about the nature of the human spirit; at a pinch it might spark a lively pub debate about the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter (answer: freedom fighters are the ones from small, plucky, underdog countries - the resistance equivalent of Tim Henman).

The trouble is, given the millions of pounds they spent on it, it ought to be better. It's a lot like eating in a London restaurant - yes, the welsh rarebit on hand-rolled ciabatta is tasty, but it's basically cheese on toast, so why am I paying six bloody pounds for it?

Christie Malry manages to make the same points as V on a budget of about 12p, and has a better soundtrack and casting to boot. Most of V's money has been spent on special effects, but really - you've seen one exploding seat of Government in Independence Day, you've seen them

Of course, V for Vendetta still pulled them in - when we went on a drizzly Wednesday night, the cinema was packed. Whereas i suspected that making my housemate watch Christie Malry with me has upped its viewing figures by 2 per cent.

The film industry is a mystery to me. Luckily it seems to be a mystery to everyone else, even alleged experts, so I don't feel so bad. I decided to ask W, who's nearly got a freaking *doctorate* in film, and therefore seemed a likely person to be able to explain.

I'm not sure that he did, really, but he ranted in rather an entertaining way, and I must prod him further on the subject.

He wrote: "Why-oh-why does no one watch British films...?  I remember that Christie came out right in the swinging middle of my website's heyday - and I rated my top 10 films of that year (whichever year it was) and that an amazing SEVEN of my favourite ten films of the year were British...  (Think list included Christie, Lawless Heart, My Little Eye, 24 Hour Party People, Once Upon A Time in the Midlands [only just], and one or two others...)

But NO ONE watches the bastard.  Why not?  It's good.  It's really good.  Just b/c V is written by the Wachowski Bros (pron. f-ack-off-ski?), it's huge.  

But no ingrate thicko would consider watching a film called Christie Malry's Own Double-Entry - despite the fact that it sounds, you know, dirty...  Why? What uninspires people to see British movies (apart from Pride and Prej, Bridget Jones, Bride and Prej, Prejudice in its Prime, Pride of Prejudiced Lions, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Five Weddings and a Funeral, Sex Weddings, 100 Weddings [genuine film title - coming soon], Notting Hill, Bridget Jones in Notting Hill, Bridget Jones at Four Weddings, etc, etc, etc...)?

I scratch my head."

So do I.


Anonymous Laura said...

I really liked this film. While it might not appear to be saying anything particularly new or interesting about society now, when the social/film historians come to it in about 50 years time (and onwards) I think it will be prove to be a very interesting talking point.

4/17/2006 3:58 pm  
Blogger galatea said...

That's not a huge consolation to me as I hand over my £7 plus popcorn allowance today though, is it?

That's just like when I complain about being a tubster and my mother says, "Don't complain, in the seventeenth century, your stomach would have been considered perfect." Er, great.

Repudiate MotherLogic.

4/17/2006 6:17 pm  
Anonymous Big Twat said...

Hello. I have seen Christie Malry as well and I thought it was good, although I kept thinking of Lock, Stock for obvious reasons. You should try going on Lastminute for flick tickets, as you can get them half price at Vue from Mon-Thurs. Good info there.

4/18/2006 12:09 am  
Anonymous L said...

See, having to sit through two years of films that I hated in film studies I have learned to switch modes when watching movies. That is, if you can't enjoy the film (i.e. mindless enjoyment related only to the story) then I switch to 'appreciative/critic' zone and instead enjoy the interesting bits (e.g. just *why* is this film so crap).

But £7 is ridiculous for a film. Why am I moving to London again?

4/18/2006 10:55 am  
Anonymous lb said...

Perhaps they should have set the Christie Malry thing in Notting Hill, rather than Hammersmith.

4/18/2006 2:34 pm  
Blogger galatea said...

Indeed. They could have made him a disaffected organic food shop worker, wilfully dropping Starbucks coffee beans into the granola, and putting cyanide in the colonic irrigation fluid.

And instead of accounting, he could right the world according to the precepts of Gillian McKeith's You Are What You Eat diet.

4/18/2006 5:04 pm  
Blogger Tamburlaine said...

Isn't this (sorry, Christie Malry) the film that Nick Moran (he of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels) made and completely failed to get distributed? I remember reading about his tale of showing it to cinemas in an attempt to get them to screen it publicly. It sounded interesting, and he obviously believed passionately in the film. Hope he's getting some money back from his investment.

With regards to V for Vendetta, I have read the comic on which it's based (though at least ten years ago). My main complaints were that everywhere was far too clean and shiny, nothing was really quite claustrophobic or scary or grim enough, the relationship between V and Evey was too sentimental, and the ending was all wrong. Still, I enjoyed a lot of it, and agree with your assessment.

4/18/2006 5:26 pm  

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