Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cards, Grimhilda!, Children of Men

Once upon a time I used to send out Christmas cards...quite a lot of them.   I haven't done this for years.  Instead I write a Christmas 'update' which brings the recipients up to date on what's been happening in the Crowl household - and email it.   It's always a bit of a challenge at the end of the year, but at least keeping a journal throughout the twelve months prior to that helps to remind me of what's happened.

In the last few years I've even added in photos of the various family members - which has only served to make the letter longer for those willing to endure reading it right through.   This is actually a bit of a step forward for me, since we never sent those custom photo holiday cards in the past that some people are wont (or were wont to do).  So we've actually gone from sending boring Christmas cards with barely an individual note on each one, to a major letter and photos.

Anyway, apropos of that in no way at all, Grimhilda! enters her final week of rehearsals tomorrow.   Sunday's rehearsal, in fact, will be the last time I actually play for the rehearsals.  After that, it'll be the orchestra.  I might not only be out of a job, but bereft!  Time will tell.

Last night I caught up with the version of Children of Men that I recorded some weeks back.  I'd once seen - on its own and out of context - the extraordinary long take that occurs towards the end of the movie, when Clive Owen stumbles and crashes and trips and climbs and eventually rescues the woman with the baby in the midst of a full-scale battle going on around him.  The set-up for this must have taken days, with an exhausted cast trying to deal with all the bombs going off and bullets flying and people dropping dead.  (Owen, in one of his best roles, looks exhausted through most of the movie.)  It's intriguing that directors seem to like doing long takes when it comes to battle scenes.  There's a famous one in the Russian version of War and Peace that travels across line after line of soldiers in various formations, but the most famous recent one (at least that I've seen) occurs in Atonement.  James McAvoy walks through hundreds of extras (as soldiers) doing all manner of things to while away their time before their rescued from wherever it is they are, and there are horses racing past, and things going on in the distance and in the foreground and stuff happening everywhere.  It's brilliant.  I'm not sure what it adds to the movie, but it's wonderful.

The long take in Children of Men has more point perhaps because it heightens the danger that Owen is in; we're with him all the way as he ducks and dives, briefly encounters the nasty character (Owen claimed earlier that he has bad breath) who seems to delight in shooting anyone and everyone, whatever side they're on, and finally finds the mother with the new-born baby.  But following that scene is the counterpoint: not another long take (although the camera still moves with the actors a great deal) but a marvellous quiet section in contrast to all the noise that's been going on: under Owen's protecting arm, the mother takes her crying baby out through the dozens of foreign refugees caught up in the battle and the soldiers who are struggling to keep the uprising at bay, and every one of them is reaching out to the child, quietly wanting to touch it, praising God for the miracle (the baby is the first in eighteen years in the known world).  The soldiers, whose faces all have that grittiness that comes with being battle-weary, are suddenly charmed into humanity by this tiny creature: men reflecting their potential fatherhood.  The women are like a thousand aunts all wanting to croon and chuckle over the infant.

I don't know whether I missed the point of some of the scenes in this film, but I never quite figured out how the clearance of foreigners from British soil connected with the loss of fertility amongst women worldwide. The two intersected a great deal, but in hindsight don't seem to have a connection.   Still it's a brilliant piece of filmmaking: wonderful performances, extraordinary sense of place (rubbish everywhere and detritus and a general air of things breaking down), a huge suspense in terms of how it's all going to work out, some extreme but believable action scenes, brilliant photography.   Stephanie Zacharek calls it the 'bleakest movie you'll ever want to see twice' and that's exactly right: it is bleak, but it's so superbly done from beginning to end that seeing it twice is virtually a must, if only to catch up on all the hundreds of details that aren't shoved into our faces but are there if we're quick enough to see them.

And apart from the wonderful moment when the child is paraded through the battling crowd, there's the delightful way in which the animals react in this movie, in particular to Owen: it's as if they trust him, see him as the one honest character amongst the rest.  Noisy farm dogs nestle towards him; a kitten climbs up his trouser leg.


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