Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Never dissect gossamer

Having discussed this topic yesterday on Twitter, I know it to be a divisive one, but this is my blog so I am in charge and am going to argue it regardless. Psychoanalysis of cultural whatsits. I don't like it. I'm OK as long as people are just studying the thing - the film or book or album or picture or whatever - but there seems to be this irresistible temptation to use your assessment of that work as a jumping-off point to try and make great statements about the being and mindset of the person who made it. I reserve particular bile for people who write record reviews and take the lyrics line by line, trying to shoehorn them in to the overarching plot of the personal and private lives of the songwriter in question, which are already festooned around the news and glossy magazines.

Frankly, I don't care. What I care about is the thing. I believe it is damaging, in fact, to know too much about how anything was made. A song, for instance, could mean something different to anyone who hears it, but once the story of its inspiration becomes known then the risk is that only that particular reading of it becomes possible. So I try and avoid finding out about what motivated an artist, a writer, a singer or a film director wherever I can. What matters to me is the end product, not the process. We all know that it is the grit that irritates the oyster that produces the pearl, but at the end of the day you don't try and make a big splash at social functions by wearing a grit necklace.

I raise this point because one, it KEEPS ME AWAKE AT NIGHT WITH TEETH-GNARLING FURY, but that also two, it has given me a way in to discuss a film that I've been wanting to write about all through my Flim 2012 series but haven't yet worked out a way to do it.

As I said, I generally try and avoid finding out about the creative process. I am more interested in the creation itself. During the discussion of this I had on Twitter yesterday, my friend Lolly - who regular Dotfans may well remember from her guest posts last year on this actual site - asked me, "so unless whoever made the thing you are looking at is there to tell you about it, you think "nice" or "not nice" and move on?". Without wishing to explode all of your ideas about me as a great culture vulture, that is in fact a pretty accurate summary of my feelings on the matter, yes. Come the time that I do find out about how something came together, I generally try to not let it effect my view of the finished object, and instead merely serve as a little companion to it.

It usually works, thanks in no small part to my mule-headed stubbornness and relentless lack of imagination. However, there is one very notable exception to this, and it still hurts me every single bloody day. JFK.

JFK is pretty much a film which could have been designed entirely for me. Based on real historical events, pregnant with drama and filled with conspiracy. It's everything I could ever have possibly wanted! Time was when I used to be able to watch it at any time of the day or night and always be guaranteed to get something good out of it. However, films like this live and die on historical accuracy, and there was an incident.

In 2003, for the 40th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, there were a series of documentaries about the subject. One of them set out to reclaim the facts of the case from the JFK juggernaut. It began a fairly galling but nevertheless necessary transformation in me from JFK conspiracy nut to reasonable young man. With the help of that film and the interworldwidewebnet I discovered that JFK had fired an amalgamated porridge of 30 years of all available conspiratorial thinking - a hodgepodge of the plausible, the unlikely and the completely insane - through a prism of film drama, rather than being a hand-on-heart piece of accuracy and a call for justice. If only William of Ockham had been the director of JFK then none of this would have happened. For those of you less familiar with the case than me, essentially what I am saying is: that no matter how tempting and shocking and glamorous it is to believe that the Cuban Mafia shot JFK from the grassy knoll whilst disguised as Marilyn Monroe, the reality of the situation is that it just didn't go down that way.

The film itself remains the same. It is a terrific film, too. But I just can't feel the same way about it any more. A little bit of knowledge has shunted it into the fantasy genre, with all the rest of the wizards and warlocks and people with all-over body hair. In November next year, of course, it will be the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. Maybe the time will be right then for a new paradigm-exploding documentary which will prove that JFK was gospel truth after all. But sadly, it will by now need to do a lot of convincing me.

The old truism that it is better to print the myth may have been the death knell for print journalism, but generally it has served cinema so well. Except, it seems, in this case which is such a shame. I understand why Oliver Stone did it the way he did, and there is no denying that the story he tells is a magnificent one. But it aims so much higher than that and nowadays I always feel a little let down.

My own film: Lee Harvey Oswald: Portrait of a Nutter, opens on 29th June this year.

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