Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

End of the Road

Cathedral Cove, New Zealand
Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

Sartre once claimed that 'Hell is other people,' but I'm a little more inclusive than that. I guess it's my innate sense of fairness.

I finished 'The Road'. Sad to say, I feel McCarthy is getting away with far too much on this one. Apparently it won the Pulitzer for Fiction, but as I mentioned before the tale has already been told many times before (and better). Yes, it gets across the atmosphere of a dead planet, dead in almost every respect, very well, but that is not enough. His dialogue, such as it is, is constituted of the phrases: "I'm scared", "I'm really scared", "Okay" and "Of course you can." This doesn't do it for me, I'm afraid. And I don't believe in his characters. I am not sure how old the child is, but he is very much something made up by an adult. I don't care how devastated the world is, an 'innocent' like that simply doesn't exist and would be dead far before the book ever got started if he was how McCarthy paints him. The father-son relationship too is simply too idealised, certainly within the context of the ruined world. Outside of the 'beautiful' relationship of father and son, almost every other character (and there's not that many) is an extreme vision of evil. I am sorry, but in a world as grey as the one in 'The Road', the moral landscape should be a little less black and white. "We are the good guys," the central duo continually chant, but the reality is that there are no 'good guys', not in real life, just people trying to get by. Shades of grey is the norm. As I pointed out with "No Country For Old Men", McCarthy's novels suit his moral take on our world and 'The Road' is no exception. I can forgive him a lot, but not on this occasion.

Contast that with 'Matthew Hopkins, Witchfinder General', the last horror movie made by Michael Reeves, a young British director, who died after just three movies. It tells the tale of an infamous witchhunter prowling through England during the Civil War. Taking a shine to Ian Ogilvy's missus-to-be, he sexually exploits her until his assistant rapes her, at which point he casts her aside and kills her uncle and guardian, a priest, claiming that he is a witch. Ogilvy, a soldier in Cromwell's army then sets out for revenge. Things aren't that simple though, and a lot of nasty torture and witch burning is inflicted before the end. Like McCarthy, Reeves liked to use gorey violence to show how repulsive, morally and physiologically, it actually is*. The bizarre result then is some truly beautiful, postcard type country scenes (and the cinematography does ample justice to the landscape) juxtaposed with hangings, burnings, dunkings, beatings, rapes and very bloody deaths. A lot has been made of this movie (particularly in the documentary on British Horror and Fantasy that preceded it), but personally I think it is a little too languorous for a true classic. Nevertheless as a picture of the darker side of humanity it is as powerful as most of McCarthy's work. The difference though is that Reeves is completely unforgiving; no idealising of the 'good guys' here. He understood that we are all capable of the most horrible crimes and so the hero becomes contaminated by the villain.

In my opinion, Ogilvy's character does not suffer enough to turn him into the monster of the ending, but there is no doubt the end is powerful. His two friends burst into a torture chamber as Ogilvy beats Vincent Price to death with an hatchet. One shoots Price putting him out of his misery, only for Ogilvy to turn on them screaming, "You took him from me! You took him from me!" Beautiful! Reminds me of that wonderful scene at the end of "The Black Cat" where Lugosi flays Boris Karloff alive. They really don't make them like that any more.

And still on the horror theme, 'Jeepers Creepers 2' was ending when I flicked on to Film Four. I don't usually have time for sequels, but I'll have to give that a go sometime. The Creeper must be up there as one of the most unrelenting of movie monsters. Straight after that 'Nightwatch' began and I would have loved to stay up and watch that again. Looking forward to 'Daywatch', the second in the trilogy. Again I won't make any great claims, as I believe the first movie dips a little in the middle, however it shows far more originality than anything coming out of Hollywood in a similar eh, hem, vein (contrast with the woeful 'Underworld' films). It's almost 'X-Men' as Dostoyevsky might have written it.

Music-wise I got Air's 'Pocket Symphony' and Richard Hawley's 'Cole's Corner' last week. The jury is still out on them both, though I see nothing spectacular about the Air album, and with Hawley I just can't shake the feeling that I'm listening to something that my grandmother could and would listen to. Tonight I dusted down Ann Scott's 'We're Smiling', her second album as I recall and though not as immediately enjoyable as her debut, not without its fair share of great music. Certainly far more interesting than the other two.

Last Friday was Eoin from work's wedding. Sound character, as is his beautiful bride, Nicola. As they both deserved, the day was one of our very few sunny days. Can you believe we had to seek out a shaded table when drinking outside at the reception! Great day. Sticking to the G and T's, I managed to keep the hangover to a minimum.

While the apocalyptic events are still on my mind (heh, heh!), another book well worth reading about a post-apocalyptic planet Earth (albeit from a non-nuclear catastrophe) is George R. Stewart's 'Earth Abides'. A fantastic book that also features a father-son relationship. Marred only by some 50s-style attitudes to matriarchy, it tells the tale of a humanity trying to rebuild itself after a plague wipes out 95% of the world's population. The ending is a litmus test for the reader and your reaction will tell you a lot about yourself and what kinds of things you hold dear. Sorry, Cormac, but read this before you continue on your road.

* Reeves apparently wrote: "Surely the most immoral thing in any form of entertainment is the conditioning of the audience to accept and enjoy violence...Violence is horrible, degrading and sordid. Insofar as one is going to show it on the screen at all, it should be presented as such - and the more people it shocks into sickened recognition of these facts the better."

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