07 November 2007

'That's a priceless Steinway!' 'Nyot Anymeur'

As I was saying yesterday, until the other night The Day of the Jackal had, like its eponymous hero, eluded me all my life. Eventually watching it with the Brother I enjoyed it hugely, despite it being, as NMRBoy had warned me, very dated.

Of course, with it being so dated there's a fierce temptation to ridicule almost everything about it, despite it being widely considered as one of the greatest films of all time.

Anyway, there's a bit, maybe half an hour into the film, when all the French security bigwigs are sitting round a table in the Elysee Palace, having a very serious meeting. They know that the O.A.S. has hired a foreign assassin known only as 'The Jackal' to kill Charles De Gaulle. But who is the Jackal? If they can find that out, then - maybe - they can stop him. How can they find out? They can't risk news of this spreading. All heads turn to the police chief. I'll put my top man on it, he says.

And, as the camera cuts to Michael Lonsdale, the police chief doesn't say: 'Clouseau'.

It should be Peter Sellers, shouldn't it? That's what I'd love to see: an ultra-tense 1970s thriller suddenly transforming, halfway through into a farce.

Neil Gaiman was talking about something similar a week or so back, musing on how he's rereading Jeff Smith's mammoth and magical Bone, and has been surprised at how well it hangs together, considering its length. In his head - as in mine until I reread it in its entirety a few months ago - he had thought Bone had started like Walt Kelly and ended like Tolkien, but it works as one coherent, consistent, 1,300 page epic. He quoted Chesterton's Charles Dickens on how we tend not to be ready when books shift genre halfway through:
... the fault of Pickwick (if it be a fault) is a change, not in the hero but in the whole atmosphere. The point is not that Pickwick turns into a different kind of man; it is that "The Pickwick Papers" turns into a different kind of book. And however artistic both parts may be, this combination must, in strict art, be called inartistic. A man is quite artistically justified in writing a tale in which a man as cowardly as Bob Acres becomes a man as brave as Hector. But a man is not artistically justified in writing a tale which begins in the style of "the Rivals" and ends in the style of the Iliad. In other words, we do not mind the hero changing in the course of a book; but we are not prepared for the author changing in the course of the book.
It's fair enough to say that we're not prepared, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun. Have you ever seen From Dusk till Dawn? It's not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it's quite entertaining in how it shifts genre halfway through: the first half is a sinister and intensely violent tale of armed robbery, murder, and a constant threat of rape and more murder; halfway through, as the protagonists hole up in a dodgy bar in Mexico, it transforms into a cartoonishly violent film involving some utterly absurd vampires.

A friend of mine is infinitely more devoted to the film that I am, and some years back persuaded his then girlfriend to watch it. She fell asleep, somehow, during the first half of the film, and woke up during the second half. To say she was confused would be to put it mildly. Mind you, on reflection, she was confused a lot of the time.

NMRBoy takes a slightly less jarring approach to this sort of thing: he merely thinks sequels should be in different genres to the originals.

He may be on to something with that one.

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