fbpx

Category: How Film Changed Me

A bi-monthly column, from Jon Paul Roberts, using film to understand millennial life, how it changes us, and what we can learn from it.

Editorials, How Film Changed Me

How Film Changed Me: On Moving House

August 2, 2020

A classic car, maybe a people carrier, crawls slowly up a dusty drive. The young family inside crane their necks to look at a large house, one that’s kind of old and a little creepy. The car comes to a stop, and the kids (maybe a dog too) burst out from the backdoors and go running into the house – screaming about which bedrooms they want. The mother and father stand, gazing up at the house, holding each other. ‘This will be a new start,’ one of them says and they both smile. 

How many times have you seen some variation on that scenario? I’ve seen it in about 100 horror movies. They’ve likely bought the house at some reduced rate, for sketchy reasons they don’t understand, but, because they’re facing financial hardship, they had no choice. After arriving, the father might become possessed and start chopping wood shirtless, or maybe the mother becomes ‘paranoid’ about all the spooky things that happen when she’s home alone. The youngest kid, the quiet one, might make a new invisible friend or start hearing things in the night. Then comes the demons, or the ghost, the serial killers, or the zombies.  

No wonder we find it all so stressful. Often touted as one of the most stressful life events, along with divorce, moving house can be a nightmare. To top it off, when we watch people move on screen, it never really ends well. The family in The Amityville Horror? Bad. The Conjuring? Awful. The Shining? Oh, boy. 

The Shining
The Shining (Credit: Warner Bros)

Since I’m on the precipice of moving house, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I might do if the place I’ve bought is haunted. I’ve had visions of myself, walking around the apartment in a chic grey turtle neck, being frightened by the slightest noise. Pulling back shower curtains or opening wardrobe doors with a quickness to see if there’s a demon hiding inside. Or waking up late at night and scoping out some disturbance in the next room while wearing delicate silk pyjamas. I’m thinking of myself as Sarah Michelle Geller in The Grudge, obviously. 

In actuality, it’s unlikely my new place is haunted. It’s in a building that was only built around seven years ago, and, to my knowledge, it isn’t on any ancient burial grounds. Yet, I could be wrong. I mean, how often do the families in those films insist the place isn’t haunted before they admit it to themselves? Anyway, the idea of a ‘haunted house’ has been around for centuries and was imbedded within gothic literature. Over time, that has expanded into the mainstream as houses themselves became, as Edwin Heathcote wrote in the Financial Times, ‘the embodiment of evil.’ He goes on to write that the success of this type of horror comes from the subversion of the home as somewhere safe. ‘Home should be a place of comfort and refuge,’ he writes, ‘its violation is a kind of mental rape.’ So, in the decades since those gothic stories – in which haunted houses were distant, creaky, places that were eerie and decrepit – we’ve moved towards the suburbs, the everyday home, the new apartment I’m moving into, as a place of terror. In short, you can’t spot a haunted gaff anymore. The ghosts could be anywhere, and they’re just as likely to be in that abandoned Victorian house around the corner as they are to be in a new build semi-detached on the latest development. 

The Amityville Horror
The Amityville Horror (credit: MGM)

It seems these horror films, which throw families into the midst of a ghostly nightmare after moving house, play on our fear of change? The idea of ghosts or demons might all be fantasy. Still, they represent the genuine fear of homeownership and the concerns about responsibility, permanence, repossession, house insurance, solicitor fees, burglary, choosing the wrong colour for the bathroom wall, and burst pipes that come after a purchase. The idea of owning something like a house or a flat is scary, and so it makes sense that horror films play on that fear by showing us the horrendous things that happen to these families once they’ve moved in.  After all, the genre is famous for tapping into our innermost fears and exploiting them in various ways. 

At the end of these films, the ghost is dispelled or the demon banished back into the depths of hell and, eventually, through some exorcism of the soul, I’ll send my doubts and fears packing too. I will grow into owning my own place, and it will all pass. Though, I’ll still have to keep an eye on the neighbours because, well, don’t get me started on Rosemary’s Baby… 

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On ‘I May Destroy You’

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Editorials, How Film Changed Me

How Film Changed Me: On ‘I May Destroy You’

July 18, 2020

What hit me first was how the title edits itself. The words appear as if typed on a screen, the blinking cursor at the end awaiting its next command. I May Destroy You. Quickly then, milliseconds before the title card disappears, the cursor backspaces and deletes the ‘you’. I May Destroy. Destroy what, exactly? You? Me? Everyone? Everything? This minor blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment speaks to what makes Michaela Coel’s 12-part BBC series the ground-breaking work of television that it is: it is in detail. 

That, in its way, speaks to the conversations that have evolved around sexual assault. What’s in the detail? The small pieces of DNA that disappear so quickly, the intricate specifics of the assault, and how it all comes together in the mind. The memories of those who have been assaulted are so often questioned, the details of a story might change, and deniers latch onto that as a sign of deception. The fallibility of memory is weaponised against survivors, and the societal shame attached to it used to discourage those who might want to speak. 

In I May Destroy You, Coel plays Arabella, a young writer trying to finish her second book. As her deadline looms she pulls an all-nighter but, when inspiration doesn’t come, she heads out and meets up with some friends in a local bar called Ego Death. It is there, in that cunningly named bar, that Arabella’s life is altered when she is spiked and sexually assaulted. Over the next eleven episodes, Arabella reckons with the trauma of the assault and explores the boundaries of consent. When is it given? In what circumstances is it taken away? How can it be manipulated? In this journey, Coel leaves no stone unturned as the show explores ‘stealthing’, withholding information, rape, and so much more while delving into those commonly discussed ‘grey areas’, which was something that hit hard with me. 

I May Destroy You
I May Destroy You / CREDIT: BBC/HBO

In January of 2014, when I was living in University halls, I met up with a guy from Grindr. We were both back on campus earlier than anyone else, and we struck up a conversation about how quiet the city was without the throngs of students piling into clubs and bars. He suggested we meet up for a cigarette, for some in-person conversation to fend off that post-Christmas isolation. 

Outside my halls, we smoked together. He talked about his friends, most of whom were international students and weren’t due back in Liverpool for another few weeks. He hadn’t been able to afford to go home and so spent Christmas alone in his halls. He became emotional – talking about how hard it had been and how much he’d missed being with people. This was his first time living away from home and each day seemed more laborious than the last. 

He asked if I wanted to go back to his halls. They were a short walk away, and he needed to piss but didn’t want our conversation to end. I agreed under the understanding that I wasn’t going have sex with him – something that I felt I needed to say because we’d met on Grindr. He smiled, sweetly, and said he understood. 

I May Destroy
I May Destroy You / CREDIT: BBC/HBO

In his room, I sat on his single bed while he pissed in the small en-suite bathroom. When he came out, he sat down next to me and said he was grateful that I’d met up with him, that he was feeling so much better. He put his hand on my leg and slowly drew it up my thigh, and I froze. It dawned on me that I’d taken him at his word and foolishly not told anyone where I was going. No one knew where I was and, from what he’d told me, his flatmates hadn’t yet returned. 

He reached over, took off my glasses, then leaned in to kiss me. I made no effort to receive his kiss, my face remained utterly still,  but that didn’t seem to bother him. He kept on pushing, slowly asking more of me – not with words but with his hands, rubbing against me, unbuttoning my jeans – and because I was afraid, I didn’t stop him. 

I knew that what had happened wasn’t within the realms of acceptability. As I got in the lift afterwards, I knew I had been taken advantage of. I questioned everything he’d told me. Was he really alone? Was it all a ruse? Had he actually spent Christmas surrounded by loving family members?  Mostly, I felt stupid and, when I played it back to myself, I saw how it would sound to others. I met a guy on Grindr and did sexual things with him in his bedroom. What did I think would happen? I felt, though I hadn’t seen it yet, I understood that deleted ‘you’. I May Destroy… my relationship with sex, men, and intimacy. 

I May Destroy You
I May Destroy You / CREDIT: BBC/HBO

I told a few friends what happened in the weeks that followed, but it was so hard to find the language to convey how it made me feel. Outside of that, I rarely talked about that night but watching I May Destroy You has allowed me to revisit it over and over. I’ve thought a lot about Terry, played expertly by Weruche Opia, who enters into a threesome that seems liberating only to realise it wasn’t quite as it seemed. She didn’t have all the information when she consented, and thus the consent she gave was rendered moot. I’ve thought a lot about Kwame, brilliantly brought to life by Paapa Essiedu, who is assaulted on a Grindr hook-up and feels immense shame about it – which is fuelled by the response of the police. I’ve considered Theo, a teenage girl abused in various ways, lying about an assault at the hands of another black male student. I’ve wondered about the ramifications of Zain’s exposure as a rapist and his scope for redemption. 

This is the power of Coel’s writing; she explores her subjects without judgement. She leaves room for a viewer to consider what is presented and for them to examine themselves in relation to it. The root of the show was her own experience with assault, and that truthfulness has extended to allow Coel to work from a place that is both radical and empathetic. 

I May Destroy You is bold television; in fact, it might be the boldest. I am already comfortable writing that is the best show of 2020, and there are still five months left. It has, for me and likely many others helped reframe and contextualise experiences in a way that only art can. It has also opened up space for discussion, forgiveness, and light. It also speaks to the broader debate around consent that began with this show and Normal People and will continue with the release of Promising Young Women, and I Hate Suzie later this year. Hopefully, this is a sign of the tide turning. 

In episode eight, entitled ‘Line Spectrum Border’, Arabella walks out into the ocean, seemingly to kill herself, but at the last second, she reappears. She is reborn. She sheds the choices she’s made and the trauma she’s been through and emerges as a different woman. That is precisely what Coel has done to the landscape of television – remade it. Be wary of those who enter post-I May Destroy You; it is an entirely different world. 

I May Destroy You is available to stream on BBC iPlayer in the UK.

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On Change

Read the rest of the How Film Changed Me series

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Editorials, How Film Changed Me

How Film Changed Me: On Change

July 5, 2020
Barbara McLean

On January 20th 2016, Kylie Jenner dubbed the year ahead as the ‘Year of Realising Things.’ Indeed, 2016 did seem to be a year in which things were realised. For example, a lot of white liberal Americans ‘realised’ racism still existed when You Know Who was elected, while we here in the UK realised that Brexit had divided us almost precisely down the middle, and the whole world realised that our favourite celebrities could die – something we realised over, and over, and over again.

If I were to put myself in Kylie Jenner’s philosophical seat this year, I’d likely call 2020 the ‘Year of Change’. Albeit, back in January I thought that change was going to be more to do with real estate than global upheaval. But still, I have, during this pandemic, bought a flat (my first) and two of my friends are preparing to move into a house they’ve bought together. Other friends have gotten engaged, while some have moved in with their partners to get around lockdown restrictions, acquired new jobs that require them to move across the country, or made plans to pack up and head for sunnier shores.

This change is likely due to my age (I turn 27 in September) and that famously I’m approaching what some call ‘Saturn’s Return‘. This is the idea that Saturn takes around 27 to 30 years to orbit the sun and so when you reach my age, it’s getting closer to the place in the sky it was when you were born. This, in astrological terms, means that your life is disrupted, thrown off course, and you’ll face hardship for a few years as Saturn, well, returns. Of course, your late 20s are often when you’re expected to be more independent, and bills, house sales, taxes, hair loss, and bad knees come into play so Saturn’s Return might just be astrology’s way of trying to make sense of adulthood.

The Devil Wears Prada
The Devil Wears Prada / CREDIT: 20th Century Fox

Whether the planets cause it or whether we just blame them, change can be hard to handle. So much so that I often find myself wishing it could fly by in one niftily edited montage. The seasons will change, and I’ll walk down the street in different weather appropriate outfits that allude to the passage of time. They’ll be a shot of me signing the contracts for my new place, and it’ll cut away before showing the stress and anxiety of buying property. Then, without showing the hassle and stress of finding affordable movers, it will show me directing two strong removal men to put the beautiful fancy sofa I’ve spent too much money on down against the far wall. In the next shot, the walls will have been painted, the shelves will be up, and my books will be all unpacked. Ultimately, it will end with everything done and I’ll sit down on my expensive sofa, look around at my finished flat, and smile. I’d be fully moved in, and ready to go back into the main storyline.

Change is a lot easier to process on film, and it has all these ways to deal with the passage of time that we don’t. For example, on Tuesday, I went for my first run in two years, and it ended with me spending £15 on Epsom salts and muscle relaxant bubble bath. It was the muscles in my groin, specifically, that felt like they were over it, as if they were some much-ignored cog in this machine I call my body. Each time I stood up, they ached, and trying to climb the stairs felt Herculean. It’s at this point that the idea of recasting is appealing. Out with the old and in with the younger model like James Bond or Aunt May. Yes, bring in someone more spritely to play the part of me for the next few years – ideally someone who has Hollywood-level personal trainer and doesn’t share my love for potatoes. Let the young hot bushy-tailed ingenue take over and then maybe I could be tempted to step back into the role in a few years (but only if the money is good.)

Bond, James Bond
Bond, James Bond

The last option, of course, is the full-blown reboot. Go back to the origin story, do it a little differently, and re-write the mistakes in the hopes that this time it will all go better and that people will be more receptive to it. Make this new version glossier, smoother, and put money into it. Recast everyone and start again. Of course, by this point, everyone will already be sick of it. Why bother bringing back a story that no one really cared about the first time? Why not make something new instead of regurgitating this old shite. I imagine that’s what the YouTube comments would say under the trailer for my new rebooted life. Nothing is ever original these days. 

Instead, I’ll just have to weather the change like everyone else. Ride with its ebbs and flows and try to make the emotional space to deal with it. I can hope and wish that I had smart ways to process change like film does. I can dream about 4 hours’ worth of shopping becoming a 3-minute montage set to a pop-rock song at the end of which I have a new haircut and a whole new outfit. I can fantasise that, as the inebriated man rambles on about politics, I could just cut away and skip the rest of his drunken lecture. But, instead, my makeovers are more gradual and my night outs often ruined by pontification.

In his book In The Blink of an Eye, film editor Walter Murch writes that Francis Ford Coppola had 1,250,000 feet of film printed after shooting Apocalypse Now. This works out to be about 230 hours of footage, all of which was edited down into 2 hours and 25 minutes. With this in mind, I guess we could try and look at life in a different way. We shoot it all, every second of life, and our memory acts as the editor. Our memory can cut out the excess, reduce the time between scenes, and even dub the dialogue. Right now we’re just the exhausted actors that have shot nearly 27 years’ worth of footage, but at the end of our lives, we’ll be able to play our own personal movies over and over again. We just have to wait until then.

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On Reese Witherspoon

Read the rest of the How Film Changed Me series.

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

  

Editorials, How Film Changed Me

How Film Changed Me: On the Great Outdoors

June 20, 2020
The River Wild

Slowly, we emerge. Blinking, stumbling, weary. Lockdown is lifting. Shops are opening again, we can see friends and family if we stay two metres apart, and we’re allowed outside for as long as we want. We can travel further, hop in the car and head for the hills, for the woodlands and lakes (as long as they’re in England). Yes, gone are the days of ‘one form of exercise’ and when resting on a bench seemed to be a criminal offence. Instead, we can head out on road trips with those we live with, picnic, lie down in the long grass, and get back to nature.

In preparation for our release, my housemates bought inflatable kayaks. They weren’t the only ones either as prices, on Amazon and elsewhere, shot up like the hand of an overzealous teacher’s pet. These aren’t your bog-standard holiday swimming pool inflatables though, but slightly more industrial ones with full-on ores and an attachable fin. Costly? Maybe. But when you’ve quit smoking and been unable to go to the pub for three months, there’s a little more money floating around.

When they arrived, the night before we’d planned to go out in them, we talked about paddling upriver, finding a place to rest on a secluded private bank, and laying out in the sun like we were in an adaptation of a classic novel. Instead, we found a small plot by the river and laid down our blankets, careful to avoid the dog shit and litter left by the previous days’ loungers. We put down our cooler bag of drinks and sandwiches, pulled out the weekend papers we’d bought on the way, and arranged to go out on the river in twos.

The River Wild, Universal Pictures
THE RIVER WILD (1994) / CREDIT: Universal Pictures

The first time I went out I felt like Meryl Streep. This is not uncommon for me. In fact, whenever I’m prepping to have people over for dinner I feel like Meryl Streep in The Hours, when I sleep with older men, I feel like Meryl Streep in It’s Complicated, when we talk about who gets custody of the cat when we all move out of our shared house in a few months I feel like Meryl Streep in Kramer vs Kramer. Still, out on the water, with the sun beating down and a light breeze slapping against my burnt forehead, I felt like Meryl Streep in The River Wild.

The River Wild is a 1994 action-thriller starring Streep as Gail Hartman, a former river guide, who takes her family on a rafting trip down the Salmon River in Idaho for her son’s birthday. The idyllic and healing adventure is scuppered when two violent criminals, on the run and hoping to take the river to freedom, force Gail to take them down the Gauntlet – a treacherous, rocky, and danger-filled stretch of rapids that has long been closed to rafters. It’s a perfect Sunday film that has everything: a cute dog, a sexy yet ominous Kevin Bacon, and further testament to Streep’s ability to literally do anything.

Sure, my experience out on the river was nowhere near as exciting, but it did get me thinking about the outdoors on film. Is it really possible to capture that experience on screen or does it have to be lived? My Dad would have told you the latter was true. As I wrote in my first column a few months ago, he was an advocate for getting outdoors whenever possible. I’m a reluctant adventurer myself. I’ve never really been one for ‘activities’, shall we say? Something inside me is super resistant to them. Whether that’s some kind of subconscious rebellion against my Dad’s mindset is between my future therapist and me, however, as I’ve gotten older and my mid-twenties are starting to look more like my late twenties, I’m struck by a desire to be outdoors.

Free Solo on National Geographic
FREE SOLO (2018) / CREDIT: National Geographic

Of course, film and TV can offer awe-inspiring at a lesser price. For example, nature documentaries provide a glimpse of those wild worlds on BBC iPlayer. At the same time, National Geographic can show you a man free climbing up a mountain from the comfort of your cinema seat. We don’t have to leave the comfort of our own homes to view the wonders of the world, and for the past few months, we haven’t been able to. The beauty and mystery of this mad planet captured on film make us all mutter Liz Lemon’s famous catchphrase; ‘I want to go to there!’

But the question is, can we? Flights are grounded, fear of flying and travel is certainly higher, and who knows what the financial cost will be now the airline’s budget business models appear to have crumbled. Sure, we have head out into the English countryside but a week of thunderstorms has made that a lot harder. So, for now, we’ll have to settle for on-screen globetrotting. 

Of course, my jaunt out onto the river was two weeks ago and not during the current spate of torrential rain. On those days when you can get outside, the days where you get sunburnt and all anyone says is how they can’t believe how hot it is, then, by all means, get out. My god, we need it! However, on days when that isn’t possible, here are a few recommendations to bring the outdoors in…

Get a free trial for Disney+

Elephant on Disney+
ELEPHANT (2020) / Credit: Disney

The new streaming service from the House of Mouse features an extensive range of nature films through their partnership with National Geographic as well as they’re own documentary production arm, Disney Nature. Plus, you get seven days free!

Watch Planet Earth on iPlayer

PLANET EARTH II (2016) / CREDIT: BBC

Yes, you’ve probably already seen it. The docu-series from David Attenborough has been a global phenomenon, but what better time to revisit it? Especially now it’s all available on iPlayer.

Watch Jumanji

This 1995 family adventure sees the perils of the jungle spill out into a quiet American town. Between the large alligators and stampedes, it’s enough to make you feel quite happy you’re trapped inside.

Watch The River Wild

THE RIVER WILD (1994) / Credit: Universal Pictures

Honestly, it’s just a great film that we don’t talk about enough. If I do one thing in this life, let it be bringing more people to this movie. It’s available to rent or buy on most VOD services, and you won’t regret it. Just strap in for a wild ride! 

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On Reese Witherspoon

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Editorials, How Film Changed Me

How Film Changed Me: On Reese Witherspoon

June 7, 2020

There is an ancient adage. One as old as the trees around us, as the ground we walk on. It glides, delicately, on the wind allowing us to hear it, whispered on the summer breeze. It speaks softly of the truth, our desire to succeed, and our want of something good from this draining existence; What would Reese Witherspoon do?

In the past few weeks, I’ve asked myself that question more than once. I’ve been, as a lot of people have, struck with a lack of motivation as lockdown marches slowly onward. I’ve found it difficult to generate enthusiasm, to watch films, to write, to go for my daily walk, to wash my hair, to get dressed. I’ve realised, day-by-day, how acclimatised I’ve become to this whole scenario. Yet this, of course, comes with guilt. Why am I not doing more? What could I have achieved in this time in which distractions are fewer? Early on, there was talk about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine during an outbreak of the Black Death in the early 1600s. This was capitalism wrapping its tendrils around these uncertain times by way of telling us we must be productive, we must also be optimising, always be doing something. 

You might wonder what my biggest lockdown achievement is? My King Lear? Well, I’m now able to write out my shopping list in a way that best correlates with the layout of the aisles at Morrisons so I can swiftly glide around the store during the weekly big shop. Will people perform my shopping lists hundreds of years from now to get into drama schools? Maybe. Will they be part of the GCSE Curriculum one day? Only time will tell. 

If King Lear is considered one of Shakespeare’s best works, then deciding what Reese Witherspoon’s King Lear is will depend on who you are as a person. Is it her performance as Elle Woods, the beauty-obsessed lawyer who proves everyone wrong? Maybe its Tracy Flick, the eager student vying for power during a student election? Is it June Carter-Cash, the singing southern belle that won her an Oscar? Or perhaps, it’s Madeline Mackenzie, the bitchy and nosy Monterey mother/murderer? 

Big Little Lies
Big Little Lies / CREDIT: HBO

Maybe Witherspoon’s magnum opus is her persona itself. Not only is she America’s sweetheart, but she has, in recent years, become a symbol of autonomy in Hollywood. Her production company Hello Sunshine creates shows and films based-off books with women at the centre. She is a champion of diversity and for the LGBTQ+ community (although, the latter has yet to substantially show up in her work). While her online book club provides a bump in sales for the featured titles, she, like Sarah Jessica Parker, has been able to carve out a place for herself in the literary world and her seal of approval is much coveted. 

But maybe, what we should examine is Witherspoon’s power as a producer. A recent profile in Vanity Fair revealed that, after being considered a ‘has-been’ at 36, Witherspoon started to produce her own work so she could take back control. Thus, she optioned the rights to Gone Girl and Wild, two vastly different books by female authors, and was to play both the sadistic Amy Elliot-Dunne and the grieving Cheryl Strayed. Ultimately, Witherspoon decided not to star in Gone Girl, with the role going to Rosamund Pike instead – who gave one of greatest performances cinema has ever seen (I’m serious. Go and watch it again!) And with that, Witherspoon’s position as a top producer was cemented.

Legally Blond
Legally Blonde / CREDIT: MGM

In 2015, both actresses were up for an Oscar. Not only had Witherspoon earned herself a nomination for her role in Wild (as was Laura Dern for the same film) but she was there alongside Pike, on her first nomination. This, in a lot of ways, is symptomatic of the projects Witherspoon works on; women get recognition in bucket loads. In fact, in most of Witherspoon’s produced works, her female co-stars are the ones who receive accolade after accolade. Nicole Kidman raked in awards for her role on Big Little Lies, as did Dern, while Jennifer Aniston won a SAG award for her performance on The Morning Show twenty-four years after she last won for Friends. Currently, on Little Fires Everywhere, Kerry Washington, who has yet to win any of the major awards she’s been nominated for, is acting up a storm opposite her. Maybe she’s the next actress to receive this Witherspoon adjacent acknowledgement? 

Little Fires Everywhere, which is available on Amazon Prime now, is hopefully an indicator of where Witherspoon is headed. The show not only deals with race, something Big Little Lies was accused of avoiding, but also with queerness and motherhood. She currently has a series in the works with Zoe Saldana, Mindy Kaling has been hired to write the script for Legally Blonde 3, and she has an adaption of The Gilded Years starring up-and-comer Zendaya. As she told Ann Patchett in Vanity Fair, she ‘wanted to make parts for women of colour, because if she was having a tough time finding good roles, she could see that what they were facing was considerably harder.’ 

Witherspoon is busy and, as I’ve watched time float by like a rubber ring on a Lazy River in a shitty European waterpark, I’ve been thinking about productivity and how we utilise our time. Seemingly, we have all the time in the world right now to read, create, or consider things. To be our own version of Witherspoon, to channel that Witherspoon Ethic ™ (okay, it’s not really a ‘™’ but it has a real ring to it, doesn’t it?) We can’t go out and meet friends or family, we can’t go to the pub, or out for dinner, so those hours are now empty. But do they need to be filled? 

Little Fires Everywhere
Little Fires Everywhere / CREDIT: Hulu

After all, you can’t scroll on Instagram or pick up a water bottle without being reminded you have the same amount of hours in the day as Beyoncé. You can’t look online without seeing the life hacks, the homemade herb gardens, the #girlboss, the banana bread, and crochet kits. Yet, it’s also okay to do nothing, to sit back and just take in this moment. As Cheryl Strayed wrote in her memoir, ‘How wild it was, to let it be.’ 

Witherspoon might be a beacon of hard work in the industry, a symbol of someone who’s taken her career into her own hands. It’s a path becoming more and more common as stars like Margot Robbie and Alicia Vikander join Charlize Theron, Queen Latifah, and many more who are producing their own projects. But, it’s also okay to look at the Witherspoon Ethic ™ (she currently has ten projects in the works) and simply admire it from afar. What we need to remember is where it comes from; being called a ‘has-been’ at 36, taking autonomy over her career. So, while we can look at her successes and see her thriving, we can also know that we don’t have to be just like her to be successful. The Witherspoon Ethic ™ is about self-fulfilment. If what fulfils you these days is lying in bed until 2pm and eating leftovers for dinner then go for it. Simply put, it’s okay to ask yourself, What would Reese Witherspoon do? and answer: ‘Absolutely fuck all’ then go back to sleep. 

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On Adaptations

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Editorials, How Film Changed Me

How Film Changed Me: On Adaptations

May 17, 2020

Lockdown has meant more time to read. Instagram has been filled with to-read lists, #Bookstagram, and snippets those currently being read posted to stories. Or, the other extreme has meant some people haven’t been able to read at all. As Candice Carty-Williams wrote in The Guardian recently, ‘My thoughts are scattered. The idea of writing feels far away. I keep trying to get into a novel, but it’s not happening. For the first time in my life, I can confidently say: “It’s not you, it’s me.”’ 

I have fallen somewhere in-between. At times I’ve been rapt by books, I’ve devoured Station ElevenGirl, Women, Other, and An American Marriage. On the other hand, I’ve never in my life started so many books that I’ve ultimately put down, various acclaimed novels and memoirs have been thrown back onto the bookshelf because it seems I need something very specific during these hard times. I just wish I knew what that ‘specific’ thing was… 

Being unable to leave the house has also allowed people to explore the books they’ve had on their shelves for years. The ones they always meant to read but, for some reason, haven’t. For me, that book was Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s 2013 masterpiece about two young Nigerian lovers, who are pulled apart by distance as one travels to America and the other lives, undocumented, in the UK. The book had come to my attention in 2014, just after Lupita Nyong’o won her Oscar for 12 Years A Slave and, in the wake of her win, as is common with newly minted stars, news stories appeared in the trades of what the actress had lined up next. At the time, it was a film adaptation of Achiche’s novel starring Nyong’o as Ifemelu opposite David Oyelowo as Obinze.  

Lupita Nyong'o at the 86th Academy Awards / CREDIT:  Lucy Nicholson/Reuters
Lupita Nyong’o at the 86th Academy Awards / CREDIT: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

During lockdown, the book was on my radar again because the casting for Nyong’o’s adaptation had just reached me, following the news late last year that it would be a ten-episode mini-series on HBO. The playwright and actress Danai Gurira would pen the scripts, and Oyelowo was no longer attached, but in his place was up-and-comer Zackary Momoh as Obinze. At the same time, Emmy-winner Uzo Aduba had also joined the cast

As I read the novel, which contains astute observations on race in America as well as immigration, class, and gender, it seemed so clear to me that this novel would be a good series, not a film. Clocking in at around 400 pages and approximately 151,960 words, there was so much depth and intensity to the book. It had so many moving parts that, to condense it down to a two-hour movie would mean losing so much of what made this complex and sprawling novel so unique. 

The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale / CREDIT: Hulu/Channel 4

I wondered what had changed since 2014, why the film adaptation had become a TV adaptation. Looking at the past seven years, TV has changed, and books have been adapted at a far more rapid rate. There’s been adaptations of Margret Atwood’s depressing dystopian, but all too relevant,  The Handmaid’s Tale and the prison-based memoir by Piper Kerman, Orange Is the New Black. We’ve seen comedies like Shrill, a series based on Lindy West’s first essay collection, and the fantasy tomes of George R.R. Martin became HBO’S biggest hit in recent memory, Game of Thrones. The Italian sensation My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante also came to HBO, a gender-swapped version of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity hit Hulu, and of course, there’s been Reese Witherspoon’s obsession with ‘little’ things, be they big lies or fires everywhere

There was a time when books were deemed intellectual, film considered artful, while television turned your brains into mush and gave you square eyes. If a book was a success, then the film rights would be snapped up a production company, and it would turn into something lavish, and Oscar-baity. While that is still somewhat the case, it’s also becoming more commonplace for books to appear on TV. Before now, it seemed that the books adapted for TV were near exclusively period dramas, pulpy teen novels, and crime thrillers but now all types of novels are turning to the small screen rather than film. Literary hits like Candice Carty-Williams’s Queenie, Emma Jane Unsworth’s Adults, Samantha Irby’s Meaty, and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven are some of the many books currently with TV adaptations in the works. 

Normal People BBC
Normal People / Credit: BBC

Then, there is Normal People. The adaptation of Sally Rooney’s acclaimed novel has become one of the most significant cultural events of 2020 and for good reason. The story follows two Irish teenagers, Connell and Marianne, and their intense romance over a few years, from their hometown of Sligo to the campus of Trinity College Dublin. The novel, sparsely written and keenly observed, was translated into twelve perfect episodes, and each felt like it really captured the atmosphere of the book in a way few adaptations do. The casting of Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal was pitch-perfect, their steamy sexual chemistry a beauty to behold. Mescal especially has hit well with viewers, and his embodiment of the stoic and chain wearing Connell Waldron has inspired Instagram accounts dedicated to his jewellery and a collective thirst on twitter that can seemingly never be quenched. 

I guess the question is, what’s next? Books are still becoming films at a more frequent rate than they become TV shows, but it’s becoming clear that the latter is a better format to do the novel justice. Rooney’s debut novel, Conversations with Friends, is being adapted for TV by the same team behind Normal People and other books are likely to get similar treatment due to the shows overwhelming success. 

I love film, I really do, but for every brilliant adaptation like Little Women or The Personal History of David Copperfield, there’s plenty of lacklustre and ill-considered adaptations like How to Build a Girl, the most recent Emma, or, The Goldfinch. It’s understandable, that film and the novel have been so linked throughout history because the film industry was usually the only place that had the kind of cash a good adaptation needs but, that’s just not the case anymore. That narrative ended when Netflix spent $130 million on the first two seasons of The Crown

The Line of Beauty
The Line of Beauty / CREDIT: BBC

TV also is far more level in terms of access. I remember, as a kid, seeing the ads for The Line of Beauty on BBC; a handsome Dan Steven’s charging around a London backstreet as suggestions of gay sex and romance were offered in small flashes. The three-part drama was adapted from Alan Hollinghurst’s 2004 Man Booker-winning novel (next on my lockdown to-read list), and it still sticks in my mind as one of the earliest glimpses of gay life I saw. Seeing that ad, though admittedly I was unable to watch the show itself, as it was beamed into my home via BBC Two made me aware that gay stuff existed out there in the world and that maybe, one day, I’d be able to see it. The way TV is now, with the majority of it available via the internet, people are far more likely to be able to access it. What I’m trying to say is, books not only get more time when they’re adapted for TV but they also get a wider audience, and that can mean that those you really need it, can see it. 

Of course, we can only hope this trend leads to more readers. If once again, Instagram is a barometer of the current mood, then a lot of people are picking up Sally Rooney while they wait for the days when we’ll be allowed out again. Even some of her short stories have been released via Audible to try and appease those looking for more after finishing the show. It seems like Normal People might have paved the way, and the future looks bright.

Also Read: How Film Changed Me: On Survival Without the Cinema

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Editorials, How Film Changed Me

How Film Changed Me: On Survival Without the Cinema

May 3, 2020

My first memory of the cinema is the mezzanine. Looking down at rows of empty seats, the art deco fixtures of a time long gone, and all of it lit up by the blueish light from the screen. I was with my Grandma watching a re-release of The Little Mermaid, my hands gripped the brass bar in front of our seats, my knuckles turning white. I was around five years old. 

The local Odeon, now transformed into a cultural hub in my hometown, was a place I longed to be. I craved its dusty theatre and shabby, rundown lobby. As a teenager, when loitering around the city centre, specifically outside McDonald’s, as was the social convention, waiting for someone to invite you to a party that night, I used to try and convince my friends that our money was best spent at the cinema. We could catch an afternoon screening and still be out in time to find out which of our friends older siblings might buy us booze for that night but, they didn’t take to it. 

I would have similar debates with my Dad, a man who thought of the cinema as an extravagance. To him, it was a place you go when it’s cold or raining, or as a special treat. He saw no sense in spending bright summer days cooped up inside a multiplex when the country parks and the great rivers of our nation were all free and readily available. We argued about it all the time. I begged to spend two hours in the dark instead of doing anything remotely ‘outdoorsy’, and he would not entertain it. I always lost this battle, if you could even call it that. I once wrote him a letter explaining, in ten bullet points, why we had to go to the cinema to see The Incredibles that weekend so I could complete a primary school homework assignment on reviewing. He wavered, unsure if it really was as necessary as my scribbled plea made out. That Saturday however, turned out to be one of those cold, rainy, days and so, mostly because of nature, he gave in. 

The Long Day Closes, dir. Terence Davies / Credit: BFI
The Long Day Closes, dir. Terence Davies / Credit: BFI

When semi-independence reared its head around sixteen, and I got my first job at a retail chain, I spent every weekend (and most of every payslip) at the cinema. Myself and three friends formed a small troop of cinemagoers who would forgo some of the adolescent evening festivities in favour of film. Our taste was, well, to be polite, mixed. We saw The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull on opening night, Revolutionary Road one blurry Sunday afternoon, The Strangers on a dark night that would make us terrified waiting for a ride home, Inception in a packed theatre, and Australia on an icy New Year’s Day. We saw whatever was new that week, with no real idea about reviews or aggregate websites. It was just the three of us, joined by the mutual love of cinematic escape. 

When I lived in London in my early twenties, that escape became crucial, a tool to wield against the loneliness that comes with large cities. As long languid winter nights passed by, as taxi cabs waited, and bike messengers whizzed past, gliding through puddles made of endless rain, I would want to be anywhere other than in the city. The two hours I was able to spend in a different life kept me sane, kept me from giving in to the crushing isolation that felt so heavy. I would leave reality and enter into strange the German humour of Toni Erdmann, the escapist pleasure of La La Land, the close tension of Personal Shopper, the dark, sexy magic of God’s Own Country, and the beautiful calm power of Moonlight

La La Land, dir. Damian Chazelle / Credit: Lionsgate
La La Land, dir. Damian Chazelle / Credit: Lionsgate

Yes, my love affair with the cinema has been a long one, and it is, and likely always will be, my favourite place to be. So, during this period of lockdown, it’s been hard to focus, to find any kind of experience to replicate this absent one. So far, the only thing I’ve taken solace in is that the last film I saw in the cinema pre-lockdown was Portrait of a Lady on Fire and, with its French restraint and love blooming in relative isolation, it feels like a fitting final film. 

Of course, it’s not possible to recreate that cinematic experience at home. It’s too light out, the cat walks in and out of the room having a sneezing fit, and my housemates check their phones, send texts, or scroll on twitter while we watch. I am not innocent of this either, distraction happens so easily when not communally frowned upon. Last week, we made some microwavable popcorn and gobbled some store-bought sweets while watching a new release, available via streaming, but it couldn’t quite live up to the classic cinema experience. Still, it added a little zest to watching a new film at home and new releases are still coming, though at a slower pace. 

Maybe this pandemic will alter how we think about film distribution, now that it’s somewhat levelling in terms of access. I find it hard-pressed to imagine any of the chain cinemas near me, who favour larger blockbuster fair near exclusively, would screen Eliza Hittman’s starkly subtle polemic Never Rarely Sometimes Always, yet it’ll be available to rent from May 13th. The same goes for BFI Flare’s ‘online festival’, making up for the cancelled event, including Sam Feder’s essential documentary Disclosure or Liza Xi Xiang’s regulated and mesmerising A Dog Barking at the Moon. These were all films that would likely have required considerable travel and money, on my part, to see. That’s if they screened near me at all. 

The Shape of Water, dir. Guillermo del Toro / Credit: Searchlight Pictures
The Shape of Water, dir. Guillermo del Toro / Credit: Searchlight Pictures

There are cinephiles, the urban city types, who love to talk about male auteur filmmaking, who consider the likes of Netflix to be the ‘death of the cinema’. Even prominent name directors like Steven Spielberg find the streaming sites to be a real thorn in their arty sides. Except they don’t look at the reality; most people don’t have access to arthouse films on their doorstep. Leveller’s like Mubi, Curzon Home Cinema, BFI Player, and others have made it a great deal easier for most people but is ease even the issue? What it comes down to for most people is money. So many people are priced out of the cinema-going experience, with tickets well over £12 these days and travel to be considered too. If you can rent a film at home, for £15.99 and three or four of you can sit down together, snug on the sofa, at watch together for around £3.99 each, who’s to say that isn’t the best option? 

Sure, I love the cinema. I love it more than eating a good meal, more than getting the weekend papers and reading them in bed. I love it more than fish and chips on the beach in some seaside town as the sun sets, more than napping, more than finding a tenner you didn’t know you had in your jeans pocket. Hell, I love it more than sex. I would even go as far as to say I love it more than good sex, than mid-blowing sex. It’s a vital part of my identity, of my routine, and, like so many other things right now, it’s not available to me. 

It’s a great privilege to be able to go to the cinema regularly, as is the ability to miss it. People who are worried about job losses, financial hardship, or the vulnerable groups who are most susceptible to this virus have more substantial things to worry about during this pandemic. That this is one of my more significant issues with lockdown is a symbol that, really, I’m not all that affected. 

When lockdown is lifted, and businesses reopen will I be heading to my local cinema with bells on? Yes, I will but maybe the way I approach it has changed. Last week, my housemates and I split the cost to rent the new Juliette Binoche thriller, Who You Think I Am and the South African military drama Moffie (both on Curzon Home Cinema). We’ve never done that before but liked both films and paid around £3 each to watch them. So, I couldn’t help but wonder*, maybe it really is time for us to reassess our viewing habits? 

*Sorry, it’s the first column, and I couldn’t resist. 

Also Read: The Problem with the role of ‘The Wife’ in movies like ‘Dark Waters’

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.