Monday, 26 December 2016

on Christmas Day

We shared a tin of tomato soup for Christmas lunch., with a slice of toast made from white sliced bread (medium thickness) and followed by one little orange each.  It was a good impulse of the Systems Administrator's to grab the white sliced loaf in the trolley dash around Waitrose on Friday. Then the SA went back to bed, leaving me to listen to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols which I missed on Christmas Eve.  It did not sound as good on my gardening radio as it would have through the big stereo speakers in the sitting room, but we hadn't heated the sitting room up and I couldn't face working out how to get Radio 3 on the telly.

By late afternoon I'd made it through the day's Difficult Sudoku in average time, which was an improvement on my efforts first thing when it took me four attempts to get to the end of the Mild one without making a mistake.  The SA reappeared saying that his headache was a lot quieter after another couple of hours' sleep, and we rallied enough to eat some more of the emergency shortbread and open our presents.  Then we ate what had originally meant to be Friday night's pizza and watched Hail Caesar, and at nine the SA went back to bed.

I loved Hail Caesar, and am puzzled by the mixed reviews and even more puzzled by the slightly ho-hum response of the wider public.  It is a Coen brothers skit on the tail end of the Hollywood studio system during the 1950s, a films within a film comedy caper about a day in the life of a Hollywood fixer based on a real person.  And yes, it sanitises the studio system and the behaviour of the real person.  I know that in real life the studios would use tactics ranging from the coercive to the downright criminal to control the public image of their stars, but we all know that in real life Hitler wasn't very nice.  That doesn't mean Mel Brookes was wrong to make The Producers.  Hail Caesar is a satire, not a biopic.

In the film part of it George Clooney plays an amiable, slightly aging star whose private life doesn't exactly match up to the studio image.  He is starring in an incredibly clunky picture about the life of Christ, and remains dressed throughout in a monumentally unflattering Roman centurion's costume complete with sword which he has no idea how to wear without crashing into things.  I adore George Clooney when he is doing comedy with the Coens.  He is kidnapped from the set, and much of the rest of the film part of the film deals with the fixer's attempts to get him back.

Every one of the films within a film is a gem.  Besides the Roman epic there is a synchronised swimming film (the snag being that the star has just announced that she is pregnant. She is twice divorced, not currently married, and this is 1950s Hollywood), tap dancing sailors, and a screen adaptation of a Broadway drawing room piece with an English director and a freshly cast male lead whose reputation to date has been built on cowboy films (the studio is changing his image).  We see a scene from every one being shot, and they are all quite wickedly funny and packed with so much detail it would probably be worth watching several times (if only one had the time).  Look out for one of the synchronised swimmers quickly flipping over because she is showing the red side of her costume when everybody else is yellow (or vice versa.  I loved Screen Test when I was a child, but I was very bad at it).  The vague sense that there is a gay subtext to the singing and tap dancing sailors becomes a honking certainty as the routine goes on, while reminding me how much I adored Gene Kelly.  The most trailed vignette of the entire film must be the English director's attempts to coach the cowboy actor in the lines 'Would that it were so simple', but the scene of that film within a film's director viewing the first cut outdoes it for comedic brilliance.

Back in the film, communists appear.  I suppose it would be a plot spoiler to say who they are, though once you have heard their rationale you realise you should have worked that out.  And there is an acting dog.  Called Engels, which is a clue.

I absolutely loved it.  Not just for the satire, or the brilliant cast (which sadly is no guarantee of greatness, as the painful disappointment of the Dads' Army film demonstrated), but because it is such a good natured film.  Some reviewers have referred to the character of the cowboy actor as stupid, but as the film progresses he actually comes out as quite smart, honest, unpretentious and brave.  His acting in a drawing room drama is clunky (to brilliant comedic effect) because he has never done it before in his life before being thrust on to the set (the reveal of how the director gets round 'Would that it were so simple' is brilliant).

I loved it so much, I might even buy it, then I can watch it on my laptop if I need cheering up.  Last night the Systems Administrator had downloaded it, but I don't think that lasts forever.  It is full of film references, so if you were more of a film buff than I am you would get even more out of it, but like all good parodies it works even if you don't know the original.

The SA professed to be delighted by his Christmas copy of Battleship Potemkin, but we are saving that until we feel a trifle stronger.

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