Tom Sutcliffe: It's a surprise more stars don't opt to be reclusive

Social Studies: Malick's detachment from the corporate business of movie-making doesn't do his status as auteur any harm
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For a lot of film people, a red carpet is as a lamppost to a dog. They just can't help themselves. Roll out a bit of scarlet Axminster, line it with paparazzi and beseeching autograph-hunters and they'll be there. Not the distinguished film director Terrence Malick, obviously, who doesn't seem to mind Cannes itself (he was reported as having attended a screening of his prize-winning film there), but doesn't much care for its rituals of acclamation.

Malick failed to turn up for the gala ceremony at which The Tree Of Life was honoured, an event – or rather non-event – which was reported in this newspaper yesterday under a headline reading "Red faces on the red carpet at director's Palme d'Or no-show". I found myself wondering a bit about that. After all, it can hardly have come as a surprise to any of those involved in this award – from the jury members who voted for it, to the organisers of the awards ceremony – that Malick isn't keen on publicity. So the idea that they might be discomfited by his failure to turn up seemed a bit of a stretch.

Indeed, I couldn't help wondering whether Malick's famous reclusiveness hadn't help contribute to his success in the first place. A note, first, on the whole concept of "reclusiveness", which is almost always inaccurately used to describe a perfectly gregarious being who just doesn't much want to talk to journalists. This is wounding to our feelings, obviously, and possibly, we suspect, an offence against democracy too – since so many ordinary people seem to dream of being badgered by the press.

And so the punishment for it is to be treated by journalists as strange and eccentric when quite often you're saner than most of the people around you. Anyway, recluse or not, Malick's detachment from the corporate business of movie-making doesn't do his status as auteur any harm at all.

Nor does his film, described by our reporter as "a sprawling, symphonic art movie that ... sets out to ask big questions about birth, death and bereavement". It is also, he writes, "utterly bereft of humour". Which is all to the good as far as Cannes is concerned. First of all you have a director who is openly contemptuous of the processes of marketing a contemporary film. And then you have a film that repudiates every marketing niche known to Hollywood (just the word "symphonic" would be enough to bring a boardroom executive out in a cold sweat). It isn't a film, in short it's un film. Along with other works honoured the other day, Le Gamin Au Vélo by the Dardenne brothers and Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (an almost platonically perfect Cannes title), it asserts the dignity of cinema against the vulgarities of the movies.

Cannes, it should never be forgotten, is a resistance movement. It might be a marketplace itself, a place where deals are done and contracts signed. But it is also the headquarters of a rebel alliance, dedicated to the idea that films should be difficult, inexplicable, overreaching and occasionally trying to the patience (Nuri Bilge Ceylan actually expressed surprise that the jury had liked his film – "I thought it would be too tiring for you," he said).

Malick's no-show was absolutely in the spirit of the occasion, not an embarrassing breach of it.

Will Twitter spell end for blackmailers?

Blogging for the New Statesman on the weekend's Twitter-storm, David Allen Green (a.k.a Jack of Kent) notes, disapprovingly, that few Twitter users stopped "to realise that all they were doing was circumventing an injunction which had been primarily granted to prevent a possible criminal act from succeeding". He meant blackmail, but I'm not sure his logic follows. After all, blackmailers depend on secrecy for their trade. Whatever the social morality of their electronic gossiping, those tweeters were effectively making a criminal act inconceivable – and, I would have thought, possibly also reducing the market value of an "exclusive" story. Blackmailers and kiss-and-tellers have reason to fear Twitter, as well as cheating sportsman.

A lecher by any other name...

Some updates on vocabulary, following recent pieces. Readers helpfully pointed out that in writing last week on the discrepancy between sexual insults for men and women I'd forgotten the word "lecher" and – a bit of a stretch this – "satyr", both of which describe disreputable male sexual appetite. True, but neither have anything like the same currency as "slapper" and "slag", so I think the essential point holds. More intriguingly, readers offered "perv" and "snake" as examples of words used by their teenagers to describe the incontinently lustful – suggesting that a younger generation might be developing a slightly more equitable language of sexual behaviour.

On a different note, I wondered some time ago who it was who had come up with the term "kettling" for the containment of protesters, and what had been going through their mind. Still no clues as to the originator of this term but two good suggestions as to an etymological source.

One reader suggested that it might be an angling term (from a "kettle net"), while several others pointed out that it was a standard piece of German military vocabulary to describe an area in which troops had been surrounded (probably the most famous Kessel occurred during the siege of Stalingrad). Which would be preferable I wonder ... a policeman who thinks of us as fish, or one who thinks of us as enemy soldiers?