Thursday, 15 October 2009
This Cannot Happen.
I don't know what's the worst news: that David Peace's 'Red Riding Quartet' is going to be Americanised, or that it is going to be Americanised by Ridley Scott and Steven Zaillian.
Firstly, the Americanisation. Okay, I haven't seen the Brit version, and don't know if I could. Even if a mate remembers to lend it to me, it is still very violent and I don't know if even Paddy Considine could keep me watching if it is as nasty as the book. The book I read was pretty grim stuff alright, but it was British. As another mate said when we were watching 'Get Carter', 'what I love about this film is that everything isn't so bloody American'. This was the seventies when Britain was a country in its own right, not (to quote Gore Vidal's superb epithet) 'an American aircraft carrier'.
Then there's our friends Ridley and Steve who collaborated to make the worst horror film I've ever seen: 'Hannibal'. Yes, I've seen 'Legend of the Werwolf', 'Vampire Circus', 'The Unnamable Returns', 'thatonewiththeevilcarrotbyrogercormanthenameofwhichiforget', 'parasite!', 'The Isle of Dr Moreau' and many other stinkers.
But these were all masterpieces compared to 'Hannibal' (and incidentally, the British ones jolly well were British even if they were laughably set in Transylvania and Cockerney Paris).
Having said that, 'Hannibal' did not remind me much of its astoundingly over-rated predecessor 'Silence of the Lambs'. It was more like a remake of 'Carry on, Don't Lose Your Head' by some psychopath who thought that the original was a superb, brooding, intelligent revenge drama.
It even has its 'Camembert' character (a paraplegic paedo called Mason Verger: acted by Garry Oldman, presumably because Kenneth Williams was unavailable) and a 'Bidet' character (Paul Krendler, by Ray Liotta, who makes a complete fool of himself by actually putting an effort into his performance: Frankie Howerd would have been much better, especially in the scene where he eats his own brain).
Anyway, the story is that Mason is a nutter who fed his face to some puppies that he was busy starving to death. He then broke his neck after being hypnotised by Hannibal Lector. A thoroughly nasty piece of work is Mason, and he has revenge fantasies about Hannibal. His 'revenge' includes sitting above a pit full of man-eating pigs on a wheelchair beside an attendant who would tip him in if given half a chance whilst putting Hannibal Lector into a complex cage and putting the cage onto a crane operated by some very stupid people and then very slowly lowering the cage into an unguarded pig-pen...
With all the usual disclaimers about being a sandal-clad leftie who finds The Guardian too right-wing, I'd personally have settled for chopping his rattlers off with a pair of garden shears. Maybe that means I am a greater sicko then Mason. Or maybe that simply wouldn't result in a ludicrous set-piece which gives Hannibal plenty opportunities to escape. You decide.
Anyway, the film was a disgusting mess. 'Silence of the Lambs' was vastly over-rated but it worked. Lector was a well-written character who was a sicko, humanised through his odd delicacy with Clarice, who was superbly acted by Jodie Foster. His witticisms and the role that he plays in helping to catch the serial killer work because we never lose track of how nasty he is.
'Hannibal' doesn't do that: there is little doubt that he is the hero. Whilst his one-liners work as chilling asides in 'SOTL', in 'Hannibal', he comes across as the poor man's Sid James. Furthermore, he only mutilates paedos, smokers, puppy-molesters and misogynists. A fairly politically correct cannibal.
In fact, speaking of political correctness and horror, it occurs to me that James Herbert's magnum opus, 'The Rats' has still not made it to the silver screen. This is a fascinating insight into the genesis of political correctness as whilst ethnic minorities are somewhat over-represented among the victims, the rats also take out quite a few bigots to even the tally and to conveniently nullify any accusations of racism. The horror fiction law in the 70s was that if you exhibit a fraction of schadenfreude when describing an immigrant family vanishing down the rats' gullets, make the next victim a racist who wets his pants when rats eat his kneecaps. If only mainstream politics was so simple. Maybe this would be more fruitful for Hollywood?
Especially as the novel, 'Hannibal', was truly dismal. But Scott n Steve make a real bum of the scenes that actually could have worked. Not the dreary romance scenes, but the ones with the pigs. I live next door to some pigs and they are really scary at times: they make horrific noise, have huge mouths and tiny eyes and are really, really, really greedy.
Yet they also look a bit ridiculous. To make a horror film about them, you'd be best shooting them in the dark: catching a flash of tusks, a bristly back, a patch of foaming drool a gimlet eye. Focus on the sounds rather than the sights.
But nooo: Ridley shows us that he should stick not only to man-eaters that don't speak but to maneaters from outer space. He shows huge CGI porkers running to and fro. They wouldn't even be scary if someone we liked was going to be fed to them. However, the film-makers would, I'm sure, respond 'Weren't you in anxiety when Hannibal, the only gentleman in the film who does such a great job of getting rid of the scum of the earth and that man who was mean to the puppies, was almost fed to pigs'?
It is a hypothetical question (especially as no-one actually asked it) but it does demonstrate the basic level of the film. 'Hannibal' is also full of the typical Hollywood bigotry against Christians, the disabled, fat people and classical music. Being an attractive, cultured cannibal is better than being a sweaty, bearded opera enthusiast who smokes in enclosed areas.
Now to come full circle, these are not disparate points, but different sides of the same point. If they do remake the 'Red Riding' films, they will be like this. From what I read of David Peace, he doesn't do black and white. Yet black and white is no longer an ethical distinction as a class distinction. If Peter Sutcliffe was a charmer with a good education he would probably appear as the hero to bring the Yorkshire Constabulary out of their corruption.
Given America's historical record, I would not be surprised if Peter Sutcliffe is the hero.
And this is literal, factual history that Hollywood messes up. What about the atmospheric history? The North of England in the seventies and eighties had a very specific political culture, as the industrial revolution fell to its knees. Yet whether by coincidence, it was also a vibrant area, especially in cultural terms. It combined virility with stagnation. Is there any chance that this atmosphere will be provided for Johny Yank who treats the working classes with profound embarrassment, fear and dislike? About zilch chance I should think.
So, I know I probably sound a bit of an eejit complaining that Americans are going to remake British TV films I haven't actually seen, but I do know that it will be a very, very bad idea.