I saw “The Woman in Black” last night. Not the film. I can’t abide all that acting that Daniel Radcliffe insists on doing. I’m sure he is a decent chap but when he acts, he really ACTS. You can practically see the acting streaming through his wizardy veins (not that he’d like that adjective that I have just invented) and I just find it all too mannered. But anyway, he thinks I am a cock and that is fair enough. No, this was The Woman in Black in a creaky old theatre just off Drury Lane in London. This production has been running since Chaucer reviewed it for his Observer column in 1378 (“And if you liketh thanne Womanne in Blacke by one assent /Now for to standen at my judgement -/ It was a playe full fearsome / But the ice creams were fucking expensive) and seems to show no sign of closing any time soon.
It is a ghost story. A very silly ghost story really and the whole experience of sitting in that tiny place is close to a fairground ride. Theme park theatre with bangs and jumps, screams and shadows, all designed to make the tourists and the school children spring from the lumpy seats and shout in imagined fear. And my goodness, they do shout. They shout, scream and then shush each other for shouting and screaming. It is a bizarrely self-policing experience. Or maybe it is just a English one. Either way it is amusing.
And you know what, the whole thing works really well. This was the second time I’d seen it so any of the shock value that there had been the first time had largely dissipated but as I sat back and giggled at the silly, shout screamy atmosphere bouncing around the walls, I realised that this was actually great theatre. Not GREAT artistically perhaps, certainly not Mark Rylance in Jerusalem great (mind you, I am not sure I will ever see a finer piece of theatre than that – I was so privileged to see that production and not just because I stood next to Jimmy Carr when having a wee; he’s got really lovely shoes) but a pleasing reminder of what is possible with a couple of actors, a few sound effects, a set that it looks as worn as that jumper you insist on keeping despite the fact that it is threadbare, faded and utterly knackered, and a half-decent script. I’m sure the budget for The Woman in Black was a hundredth of that of Shrek: The Musical, the show that currently occupies the Theatre Royal immediately opposite, probably a thousandth, but it doesn’t matter a jot. It continues to sell, it continues to ply its silly, spooky trade and beguile new converts every performance.
Simple is beautiful. Quiet is sexy. Small is big. Subtle is magnificent.
This is my thesis. For tonight anyway. (I should point out that I adored Skyfall and none of these utterly reductive and downright invented maxims could be applied to that brilliant cavalcade of shooting and jumping and driving badly). However this is what is in my head tonight and so this is what will be forced upon you, like a kiss from an overly-fond Aunt. Yep, think of me as randy female relative with a gin in one hand, a silk cut in the other and something to TELL you.
But it is true. I like small films. I like moments. I like the pause. Yet I am an amateur in the world of quiet-staring-out-of-windows-oh-are-you-sure-you-need-to-show-that-many-boobs-in-one-film films. This is a job for the other half of what has been accurately been described as those two blokes in Long Arm Films – Mr James Michael Hay.
Jimmy’s watched more awkward foreign films than you’ve had lovers. A LOT more. He knows. He watches. He strokes (HIS CHIN!) and he knows. And tonight I invite him onto our electronic stage to share his thoughts. I texted him earlier and asked him for three films to support my overly simplistic notions about the beauty of simplicity. I gave him an hour to give an answer but not a second more than two minutes and fifty three seconds later he replied. And you know what, I think he was delaying slightly so as not to show off.
So here we are, the official Long Arm Films selection for the SUBTLE, SIMPLE FILMS ARE REALLY QUITE GOOD YOU KNOW (YOU PROBABLY DO) FILM FESTIVAL taking place on this web page this very moment.
Film Choice Number One: BEFORE SUNRISE (1997) Dir. Richard Linklater
American bloke (Hawke) meets French lady (Delphy) on a train. They get off the train in Vienna and then walk around talking to each other. The End.
This is a gorgeous film. I first saw it at University in a physics lecture hall which the Film Soc appropriated to show interesting stuff to those that wanted to leave the bar long enough to attend. I loved it dearly. It was a revelation: you mean films could actually be like this? With just people talking about stuff? It appeared that they could. It was suddenly a kinder, softer world. The sequel is just as good.
Film Choice Number Two: WENDY AND LUCY (2008) Dir. Kelly Reichardt
Wendy is a lady. Lucy is a dog. They walk about a bit . . . . er, Jimmy?
Film Choice Number Three: QUIET CITY (2007) Dir. Aaron Katz.
Mumbling and slightly annoying American bloke meets mumbling and slightly more annoying American lady and they go to a party.
Jimmy made me watch this. And I am very glad he did. It is beautiful and brilliant. And contains this scene which, for us, is close to cinematic perfection:
Plus we have honourable mentions for ONCE and LAST RESORT, both of which were recommended by tonight’s curator.
But finally we have a little bonus feature. And this is a surprising one, at least until you see it. Baz (really? I guess it’s slightly better than Barry) Luhrmann does not do subtlety. He really does not do subtlety. Ewan Macgregor gadding around on top of a massive bejewelled elephant shouting his lungs up out of his throat is a subtle as he gets. And ROMEO + JULIET (and that “+” remains a source of deep annoyance to me all these years later) is a nuanced and pared-back as Brian Blessed spitting that’s he going to FUCKING KILL CEASAR in your ear from a distance of a couple of millimetres.
Until this happens:
And I hand over to Jimmy “The Belt” Hay at this point:
One of the most perfect moments in a film ever; in a very fussy film, this is a moment of pure, brilliant simplicity; it’s a pitch-perfect combination of subtle camera movement, music and colour that proves without any shadow of a doubt that film can be art
And then he adds:
I fucking love it
(I think he likes it).
Jimmy’s also been in touch with a better summary of Wendy and Lucy:
Tackling themes of alienation and social exclusion in contemporary America, Wendy and Lucy is an intimate portrayal of a young woman’s increasingly desperate attempts to merely exist.
But I am sure the bits with the dog are hilarious.
And thus ends our festival of quiet films. Thanks for coming. Please help us keep the internet tidy for everyone by disposing of your rubbish in the bins provided. Have you tried SANG SANG? – AUTHENTIC CHINESE FOOD ONLY 100 YARDS FROM THIS CINEMA (and you will have needed to have been a regular at The Alexandra Cinema, Newton Abbot in the late 80s / early 90s to fully enjoy that reference).
If you have enjoyed this “article” then please tell someone. If you haven’t then we don’t need to talk about it; I won’t call I promise; look it just happened alright; don’t worry, you won’t see me again; no I won’t tell anyone; not even my friends; okay, okay, if that’s what you want; but listen, it wasn’t that terrible . . . . . . . . was it? Hello . . . ? Hello . . . . .?