24 November 2006

On "Completing"

Two people died today. Not of course counting all the Aids victims in Africa, all the children with malaria, all the refugees in Darfur and elsewhere, and 150+ in Iraq. And all the others.

Why comment on two deaths? Because they touch me, in quite different ways.

Nick Clarke was the consummate broadcaster. There are well-deserved tributes on the BBC site, as there should be. I shall miss him. Much as I respect the "Today" confrontational interviewing style, Nick embodied a wonderfully courteous but forensic manner (and the term "forensic" has cropped up in so many tributes).

But Den died today, too. Susi knew him much better than I did. I only met him once, when I drove him and his cat ("Jennifur") on her last trip to the vet. Susi was late for dinner on Sunday, when she went to visit him; she had to wait for a loaf to finish baking so she could take it home. It's wholemeal. It's still edible. But Den (who was well into his 80s) collapsed in the street this morning and was pronounced dead at the hospital later, despite their best efforts.

Den was a gloriously cantankerous eccentric. Not that he set out to be so. He would have despised such affectation. He was a vegetarian; he believed that central heating undermined civilisation; he was a slave to his cat; he was a hellenophile--he married a Greek woman he met during WW2 (I think) ...

Sadly, his family were not with him when he died. But in all probability he never regained consciousness. And that, from all I have heard, is exactly as he would have wished it. It was impossible to imagine him surviving in residential care, for instance. He would have been sad about the shock of his death to his loved ones (and particularly his cat, of course!) but it was the best way to go. For him.

"Completion" is a euphemism for "death" in Ishigoru's novel Never let me go. "Euphemism" is not quite the right term; read the novel to understand what I mean. It haunts me. "Haunts" is here the right word...

"Completion" implies a pre-determined purpose, and for Ishigoru's characters that is a given. For most of us, it isn't. But had Nick or Den "completed"? Will I?

On defining the situation and the latest James Bond movie

No! You can find the link for yourself.

Tonight, I got my opinion in first. A group of us went to see "Casino Royale". You know the scenario as the group leaves the cinema or theatre (unless the verdict is self-evident). There is this tentative social shuffling as people try to suss out what the party line is going to be. Was it the greatest movie since Casablanca? Or is it a turkey? (Given that it is Thanksgiving for folks in the US, that might not be such a bad thing...) Whoever expresses a clear opinion, loudly and confidently enough, "defines the situation" and resolves the ambiguity, and provides a framework for the subsequent discussion... (Unless of course, they happen to be the low-status prat in the group who is always wrong...)

My opinion is below.

It is of course irrelevant. My concern is with the way in which small groups in educational settings slip into the same pattern. Actually, it is worse for them, because they are not just trying to suss out the consensus within the group; in many cases they are trying to guess what answer the teacher wants. How can we create a working culture which diminishes this process and boosts real debate? Discuss. [No, I'm not giving the "answer". All I did was go to a movie!]

Here is my opinion of Casino Royale:

If you get the chance to see the latest James Bond movie, don't bother.

It's got good reviews from practically all the papers except the Sunday Times, which makes a point of being perverse; but I was bored after less than an hour, and it was two and a half hours long. Every time I thought it was finishing, there was another ending, which took a further twenty minutes. Not since John Ford's She wore a Yellow Ribbon has the ending been so much of the film.

The plotting is clunky; the penultimate ending sequence is triggered by a phone conversation which would have failed a freshman script-writing class. Much has been made of the "character development" of Bond in the course of the film; but it is not demonstrated, it is merely asserted in dialogue. Daniel Craig is OK, but the script does not give him much of a chance to be anything else. I never found out who the "Bond girl" is this time (the label seems to be the kiss of death to an actress's career anyway---sorry! I think it's more PC to say "female actor") because the only credits were at the end, and I just wanted to get out by then.

There are no original set pieces--all the fights and chases have been done before, often better. (Apart from the torture scene, which does have the merit of being low-tech, but is resolved crudely by someone being shot by someone else--I think they were both villains, but then everyone except Bond is a villain...)

And there is only one joke! After some punch-up, Bond appears at the bar and orders a vodka martini. The barman asks if he wants it shaken or stirred. Bond replies "Do I look as if I care?" That's it. Pity, really; an enormous amount of effort and attention to detail, not to mention money and real talent has gone into it (although I'm sure I did detect a continuity error concerning whether a car door was open or closed, at one point!), and it's still boring!