FILM / The last detail

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Truffaut once remarked that there were two distinct species of desire for a film: the desire to see it (which gets audiences into the cinema) and the desire to watch it (which keeps them there). He illustrated his thesis with a couple of films of the period, Terence Young's Triple Cross, a drearily convoluted espionage thriller, and Arthur Penn's The Miracle Worker, an eerie adaptation of the William Gibson play about Helen Keller. Though the first of these drew a fairly substantial audience, Truffaut claimed that not one member of that audience would have left the cinema persuaded he had had his money's worth; by contrast, if the public for Penn's movie was understandably more modest, he couldn't conceive of a single spectator being unmoved by it.

His analysis holds up today; only the referents have changed. Consider that first type of desire. Perhaps surprisingly, it's not at all difficult to find an equivalence for Triple Cross - let me propose Russell Mulcahy's Blue Ice, currently on release, with Michael Caine as a jazz club proprietor whose MI6 past finally catches up with him, as they say. I haven't seen Blue Ice and therefore cannot comment on how well it satisfies the conditions of Truffaut's second type of desire, but the point I'd like to make is that, unlike Triple Cross, it doesn't even begin to respond to the first type.

Who, after all, could possibly want to see a film called Blue Ice? Who is likely be attracted by that awful title? Or by that hilariously dated poster, with an ageing, James Bondish Caine, a cliche in a rollneck sweater, lugging a machine-gun in one hand and Sean Young in the other? Or by that pathetic slogan: 'Get too close and you'll burn]'? Get too close and you'll burn? Who's kidding who? Blue Ice may have its unexpected felicities - indeed, it may be hugely entertaining - but we all know, we know, that nothing in it is likely to be incendiary, for Heaven's sake. And is anyone out there still even faintly interested in espionage as a theme?

There, surely, is the real mystery - that such a film can still get made, and presumably costs a small fortune to make. And it might be worth applying Truffaut's laws of desire to the other end of the spectrum and trying to fathom the desire to make such a film and the desire to go on making it even when it hasn't a hope of finding an audience.