Saturday, January 08, 2005

thought crusts

Mood: Brain pirates of the open road
Music: 'This Year's Model' - Elvis Costello

Aside from mixing the album, I'm reading 'Pocket Money', a book about the '80's snooker boom, with engaging profiles of all the bad boys, geezers and bullshitters surrounding it. Whilst snooker is the only sport i've ever shown even a passing interest in, and the only sport where i've watched a whole game, I wouldn't normally have a desire to read about it. However, 'Pocket Money' is written by Gordon Burn. Burn has always written about snooker, but his first book, 'Somebody's Husband, Somebody's Son' was about the serial murderer Peter Sutcliffe, aka the Yorkshire Ripper. Such is his dedication, Burn went to live in Bingley in Yorkshire for three years, in order to understand the Ripper's origins. This book changed the face of true crime writing, utilising a writing style akin to prose fiction. Then he wrote the book about snooker. In the '90's he wrote 'Happy Like Murderers', the definitive book on Fred and Rose West. Upping the intensity of enquiry to an almost intolerable level, again, Burn's contribution to this notoriously tawdry genre is unmatched in sophistication. His attempt to get inside the mind of a murderer - a claim pasted on the blurb of every tatty true crime book - succeeds by describing things no-one but the victims could have witnessed. He switches from the rich but detached cataloguing of background details into suffocatingly informal passages written in the casual language of the perpetrator. The reader is tricked into thinking this is fiction, and then it comes flooding back; this actually happened.

In scientific theories, where there is a lack of empirical evidence, one makes what is called an 'inference to the best explanation'. X is the best explanation for Y in that it fits in with our surrounding assumptions about the world, so we tentatively plump for X.
Are Burn's inferences correct? We can't know, but they make sense. They provide answers that fit with what we do know. And it's hell of a read.

Reading about Burn's other writing I was led to this:,11710,1309985,00.html

Seems I've missed out on this exhibition now.


Two nights ago I watched 'Open Water', a film about a couple who get stranded in the middle of the ocean when their diving boat drives off without them. Shot on DV Cam with unknown actors, it's been likened to the Blair Witch Project. Or 'Blair Witch Meets Jaws!!' as one tabloid put it.

The similarities are clear. Low budget, strong performances, with a first-half mundanity to settle the viewer in, only to jolt them out. But it's not immediately obvious whether the film is successful. The Blair Witch Project exploits our primal fear of the unknown, providing us with 90 minutes of American Gothic escapism. Most people don't really believe in witches, so the entertainment relies on the power of the performances and the intensity of the direction. Like most horror films, we are offered a safe subtitute for real world evil; we can be pretty sure where the picture ends and the frame enclosing it begins. Our fears are placed into a neat box we can hide under the bed, and retrieve when the world gets too much.

Most people, however, do believe in sharks, and the possibility of being stranded in the ocean. Where 'Blair Witch' seduces us into a world we don't believe in, Open Water dumps us in an ocean that covers the majority of the planet, populated by animals that eat people. It isn't so much frightening as depressing. One could make a film where an intruder breaks into a young couple's house, accidentally wakes their young child and then strangles it to death, burgles the property then escapes. The couple wake to find a ransacked home and a dead child. The film gets marks for realism, but really, what is the point? These things happen. We already know that.


killer-cars said...

I agree, Open Water appears to believe that realism and shaky hand-held cameras automatically equal Great Cinema. However I do think the fact that a lot of the creepyness came from what you couldnt see, but imagined might be there. That took some skill on their part of build that kind of feeling up, no?

Anonymous said...

Open Water works best as a portait of a relationship unravelling. I don't know if it was intended to be scary. I saw this at a multiplex in Stoke-on-trent. Several people were complaining on the way out. I enjoyed it.


Nick Talbot said...

That's interesting. It is about a relationship unravelling. But it unravels because the couple are being eaten by sharks.

I do think it's a skillful piece of film-making. Thinking about it more over the last few days, it can't really be criticised on any technical level. Testament to this is the fact that it's one of the few films i've seen that has made me deeply uncomfortable and really quite depressed. I think I was confusing my emotional reaction with a critical one.

fio said...

I don't think its aim was to frighten - it's not a "scary" movie, rather a psychological analysis of human behaviour in conditions of fear (and it really made me uncomfortable, by the way.. nothing was happening, nothing was happening, nothing was happening, and I just felt nervous after a while)

Nelson Shuss said...

"One could make a film where an intruder breaks into a young couple's house, accidentally wakes their young child and then strangles it to death, burgles the property then escapes. The couple wake to find a ransacked home and a dead child."

I love it. Let's open negotiations on this one.

I see Julia Stiles as the young traumatised wife and Ashton Kutcher as the husband. While the burglar is stabbing the kid (stabbing's more visual than strangling) and drawing on the wall with its blood, they can be fucking in the next room; it'll be totally explicit and we'll pay Stiles whatever it takes for her to put it all on show, otherwise there's no point.

We'll edit the two sequences together using dramatic and brutal jump-cuts, intercutting between the two repeatedly, each with its own soundtrack. Harsh German techno for the sex, and 'Maggie May' for the slaying.

I see Steve Guttenberg as the murderer-rapist-burglar (I add 'rapist' because we don't want to rule that out at this early stage.) He'll bring a charm and pathos to the role, and hopefully a bit of slapstick as I don't want it to be a depressing murder. It would be cool if we could rationalize and totally 'devalue' the violence, hopefully get a 12 cert. - even allowing for the full penetration scenes with Stiles and Kutcher.

What do you say? This could be huge.

Jim Drake ('Police Academy 4: Citizens On Patrol') to direct.