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Archive for the tag “cinema”

Star Wars: catching up with pop culture

Over the last few days I’ve been catching up on pop culture by watching all three original episodes of Star Wars.

Of course I knew some of the characters and their roles, because one could not avoid reading about them: Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, R2D2, Darth Vader — all were household names. The films had quite a pronounced influence on the way people talked, and there were all kinds of direct and indirect references to them. What I wasn’t sure of was their roles, or even, in some cases, how their names were pronounced.

VaderOne of the more memorable cultural references was back in 1980 when Gerhardus de Kock, the Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, was appointed “Director of Constellation Affairs”, a title which, the Natal Daily News pointed out in an editorial headed Star Flaws, would be the envy of Darth Vader, the villain of the movie. Other people referred to it more disrespectfully as “De Kock’s Cock-up”. For those too young to remember it, the “constellation of states” was the current euphemism for the government’s apartheid policy in the early 1980s.

The film series provided metaphors for theologians too. The missiologist Ralph Winter referred to the second film in the series (the 5th, once the prequel had been added), The Empire strikes back, and said that in that story it was referring to evil returning, but that in Christian theology one could use the phrase “the Kingdom strikes back” to tell how the good came back. As Winter put it,

,… the Bible consists of a single drama: the entrance of the Kingdom, the power and the glory of the living God in this enemy-occupied territory. From Genesis 12 to the end of the Bible, and indeed until the end of time, there unfolds the single, coherent drama of “the Kingdom strikes back.” This would make a good title for the Bible itself were it to be printed in modern dress (with Gen 1-11 as the introduction to the whole Bible). In this unfolding drama we see the gradual but irresistible power of God reconquering and redeeming His fallen creation through the giving of His own Son…

So there were all kinds of metaphors that had entered the English language in various fields, and I had only the vaguest idea of where they came from. When the first couple of films came out, we were living in Melmoth, in Zululand. There was no cinema anywhere near, and we didn’t have TV either, so Star Wars passed us by, except for oblique references. So now I’ve learnt something about the roles and the plot, and how to pronounce the names. For 30 years or so I had thought that “Jedi” was pronounced Yay-dee, and not Jed-eye. So now I’ve even got that straight. And it is now also clear to me that, like polar bears and penguins, wookiees and Klingons will never meet in the wild.

I’m going slightly mad

In 1966 I went to see two films in Croydon. One was Alfie, with Michael Caine in the title role. The other was Face of a stranger, about a released prisoner who impersonates his cellmate (still in prison) to his blind wife, in the hope of discovering where the loot from a robbery was hidden. To my recollection the part of the wife, Mary Bell, was played by Judi Dench, and it was the first film where I recalled seeing her name. Three years later I saw the film again, at the Missions to Seamen in Durban.

The name of Judi Dench came up in conversation, and I thought I would check to find out something about the film.

A Google search failed to find it.

It was as if  had completely vanished, and had never been made.

I tried other seach engines, and eventually found a couple of references to the film. But it said that the part of Mary Bell was played by Rosemary Leach, not Judi Dench.

So where did I get the idea that Judi Dench had a role in Face of a stranger?

Perhaps it was some other film that I saw, but which one?

Here are films I saw in 1966

Does anyone know if Judi Dench acted in any of them?

  • 12-Feb-1966, Saturday        One spy too many.
  • 16-Feb-1966, Wednesday       The flight of the phoenix.
  • 27-Feb-1966, Sunday          A night to remember
  • 3-Mar-1966, Thursday         Bunny Lake is missing
  • 4-Mar-1966, Friday           The spy who came in from the cold.
  • 12-Mar-1966, Saturday        Thunderball. James Bond spy movie.
  • 14-Mar-1966, Monday          Rasputin the mad monk; The reptile.
  • 26-Mar-1966, Saturday        Judith
  • 28-Mar-1966, Monday          Our man Flint.
  • 11-Apr-1966, Monday          The great St Trinian’s train robbery.
  • 2-May-1966, Monday           633 Squadron; The world of Henry Orient.
  • 8-May-1966, Sunday           Holly Communion; Fist in pocket.
  • 21-May-1966, Saturday        Alfie; Face of a stranger.
  • 22-May-1966, Sunday          Morgan, a suitable case for treatment
  • 5-Jun-1966, Sunday           Round the bend; Modesty Blaise.
  • 19-Jun-1966, Sunday          Tom Jones; Never on Sunday.
  • 13-Jul-1966. Wednesday       The wrong box.
  • 27-Aug-1966, Saturday        The great race
  • 9-Sep-1966, Friday           A fine madness
  • 11-Sep-1966, Sunday          Stage fright
  • 12-Sep-1966, Monday          The war game; Four in the morning
  • 1-Oct-1966, Saturday         Ten tall men
  • 27-Oct-1966, Thursday        The innocent sorcerers.
  • 28-Oct-1966, Friday          The seven samurai.
  • 15-Nov-1966, Tuesday         Arabesque.
  • 16-Nov-1966, Wednesday       Seven days in May.
  • 8-Dec-1966, Thursday         The trap
  • 9-Dec-1966, Friday           Viva Maria
  • 26-Dec-1966, Monday          A journey to the centre of the earth
  • 28-Dec-1966, Wednesday       Alice in wonderland

District 9 versus Avatar

Last year I blogged about two science fiction films that had been nominated for Oscars: Oscar battle: District 9 versus Avatar |Khanya, though in the end neither of them won and the winner was a film that had a meaningless (to me) title The hurt locker.

I had seen District 9 when it was first released, and blogged about it here, but had not seen Avatar until it was shown on TV a couple of nights ago, so now, for the first time, I’m in a position to compare them, though I should probably watch District 9 again, as it’s 18 months since I saw it.

I hadn’t realised that Avatar was satire until I saw it. Most of the descriptions I’d read suggested it was a kind of parable of colonialism, and that while it was science fiction, and so broadly in the same genre as District 9 I didn’t realise how directly comparable they were.

I enjoyed Avatar, but I think District 9 was better.

In District 9 the satire works at multiple levels, not least because it satirises the genre itself. In one scene, where the protagonist Wikus van der Merwe is driving a robocop-type machine, it could even be satirising Avatar. In District 9 there are no good guys, there are wheels within wheels and plots within plots and the satire is liberally splashed on everyone.

Spoiler altert – if you haven’t seen Avatar, what follows gives away the plot

Avatar, by contrast, is much more simple. It is like an old-fashioned Western, where the white hats fight the black hats, and the white hats always win.

The plot can be summarised in one sentence: Redskins fight Palefaces; Redskins win and send Palefaces home.

Only in this case the redskins are blue, and “home” is another planet.

In District 9 the aliens are stranded on earth, in an anything but beautiful environment. In Avatar the earthlings themselves are the aliens, out to rape the planet of its mineral wealth and exterminate any natives that get in their way. The natives, Na’vi, live in a beautiful environment that the alien earthlings destroy, and it is an environment that earthlings cannot even live in. They can only enter it by creating remotely controlled avatars, using alien DNA – another parallel with District 9, where Wikus van der Merwe becomes contaminated with alien DNA, which makes him a desirable property to corporate and Nigerian gangsters.

On another level Avatar has parallels with C.S. Lewis’s novel Out of the silent planet, which has the same theme of science and high finance in an uneasy partnership to exploit another planet, Malacandra (Mars). In Lewis’s book the natives have a similar relationship to a planetary deity, the Oyarsa, as the Na’vi in Avatar have with their deity Eywa. But Out of the silent planet doesn’t end with the same shoot-’em-up scenes as Avatar.

Avatar is entertaining and has a moral message, and no doubt deserved the Oscar it got for special effects, but it falls a long way short of District 9

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