John Walsh: ‘When did relationships in movies become less important than lifestyle?’

Tales of the City

Related Topics

Last week I was asked to be temporary film critic of this organ, standing-in for Anthony Quinn, and I jumped at the chance. It wasn't just the prospect of spending two days watching seven or eight new movies in dark screening rooms in Soho, buoyed up by coffee and Chocolate Mini-Rolls; nor just the prospect of being under the same ceiling as Philip French, the Observer's legendary, 75-year-old movie critic, who was around when Truffaut, Godart, Chabrol and Louis Malle were re-writing the language of cinema with the French new wave in the 1960s. No, it was the fascination of discovering the vast range of subjects that British, US and Japanese studios found interesting in 2009.

I presented myself at the Soho Screening Room with scrubbed face, clean handkerchief, spiral notebook and Mitsubishi Uniball at 10am on Monday. The first film, entitled Helen, was about the aftermath of a murder; it wasn't interested in the murder, though, but in the girl playing the murder victim in a police re-construction. It was a short, interminably slow British-Irish drama, in which everybody delivered the flat dialogue in voices like I Speak Your Weight Machines. But at its core was a girl in reduced circumstances, seizing the chance to be become someone else, richer and more glamorous, and suffering a crisis as a result.

In the afternoon, Is Anybody There?, a British film with an Irish director, brought us Michael Caine as Clarence, a retired magician. Much was made of Clarence's glamorous and successful stage career in the Old Days; now in reduced circumstances, he hangs out with a small boy, who is obsessed with death and paranormal activity, and dying to meet a ghost.

The critics joshed each other about the full-house attendance by middle-aged men forHannah Montana – the Movie, starring the 16-year-old Miley Cyrus. The Disney film quickly revealed itself as the story of an interesting duality: a girl in ordinary circumstances who, by the simple addition of a blonde wig, becomes a different person, the rich, glamorous and successful pop phenomenon, Hannah. At the end, Miley/Hannah asks her audience which of her twin selves they would prefer her to be – a real moment of existential angst I felt I'd seen already that day. At least there were no deaths or hauntings.

Which you can't really say about X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which features a mutant haunted by his power to make knives as long as scythes spring from his knuckles at moments of strain. Upset by the violence in which he's persuaded to indulge, while in his identity as an X-Man, he chooses a life of reduced circumstances, simplicity and hot sex with a schoolteacher in a log cabin, until he's forced to re-adopt his rebarbative public persona.

I was beginning to despair of ever seeing a film which didn't concern the tension between an "ordinary" self and a notional alter ego that brings you adventure and/or trouble.

I looked forward to a Japanese movie also on release - surely it would display some different cinematic preoccupations from the British and US models? Some hope. I watched Funuke: Show Some Love, You Losers! and blinked with amazement at its tale of a peculiar family in the Japanese countryside. The beautiful elder sister has harboured dreams of becoming someone else, a movie star in Tokyo, and, constantly thwarted, has become a knife-wielding, incestuous bitch at home. Her immortality is assured, however, because her jealous little sister has turned her into the villain of a manga comic and thereby made her own fortune in the big outside world...

Even before I was halfway through Ghosts of Girlfriends Past - in which a glamorous fashion photographer, played by a smirking Matthew McConaughey, is offered a shot at redemption after being shown the unpleasantness of his public image by several transparent spirits – I was shouting: Enough! Spare me any more films about the glamorous, heroic, kick-arse, effortlessly rich and successful counter-life to which we all may aspire, but which we may have to reject!

When did this become the main, indeed the only subject of movies, from West Hollywood to Wardour Street? When did relationships in films become less important than a glamorous occupation and a fancy lifestyle?

And while you're at it (I continued,) spare me any more of these ghosts and hauntings in every other film. What are we – six years old?

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour leader Ed Miliband unveils Labour's pledges carved into a stone plinth in Hastings  

Election 2015: Smash the two-party system! Smash the voting system!

Armando Iannucci
Tactical voting is a necessary evil of the current first-past-the-post system, where voters vote against what they do not want rather than in favour of what they do  

Election 2015: Voting tactically has become more fraught in new political order

Michael Ashcroft
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power