Tom Sutcliffe: Shots in the dark for The Future

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I have had an idea for an art installation. In a darkened room a screen will be constructed in such a way that removal of one portion doesn't affect the structural integrity of the whole. In front of it will be a row of cinema seats containing just one viewer, a man supplied with a shotgun and a large supply of cartridges. A film will be projected and from time to time the solitary figure will fire at the screen, punching a hole in the reflective surface.

As the performance proceeds the surface area of watchable film will steadily diminish into an archipelago of flickering light until, with one last well-aimed shot, there will be nothing left but darkness. And in the ideal version of this artwork (I think an actual version would be unlikely given the health and safety implications) the film to be projected would be Miranda July's The Future and the shooter would be me.

If you're startled by the violence of this idea all I can say is that I am a little too. But, sometimes one's reactions to films are violent, and a mental rebuke doesn't seem quite enough. It's part of the odd intimacy of cinema that, just as you feel you'd like to reach out and embrace some characters you're occasionally seized by the fantasy of delivering a slap. This violence exists in a purely conceptual space, I hasten to add, and really has nothing to do with the performers. I wish no ill against Miranda July and I'm even prepared to believe that there exists a whole group of people in whom her works provoke nothing but warm feelings (quite a few of them have boldly testified to this fact in print). But, for me, The Future was a near perfect example of the type of work that makes passive resistance impossible. And startlingly the first shot would have rung out within about 30 seconds of the film's opening – when it became clear that the croaky ickle voice that supplied the film's narration belonged to a cat called Paw-Paw.

Bang! And it wouldn't have been very long before the other barrel was leaking blue smoke either, since we're not far into the film before it's revealed that its heroine has a security blanket (or security T-shirt) called Shirty, an object that crawls after her under its own power when she finally walks out on her equally dippy boyfriend. They obviously go for this kind of cutesy twist in a big way in the July household because her husband, Mike Mills, opened his last film, Beginners, with a dog whose solemnly philosophical thoughts were relayed to us by subtitle. Talking animals are the least of it though, because July's film is maddening in almost every respect – a perfect storm of mumblecore narrative inertia and self-regarding quirkiness. For quite long periods uncontrollable giggling is a satisfactory anaesthetic, but from time to time nothing will do but to hurl something at the screen. You feel that it's the image itself that's giving you grief and some form of self-defence is justified. When a small girl began digging a large hole in the garden, I found myself hoping that it would turn out to be a grave – and that it wouldn't be long before the lead character (played by July herself) was occupying it.

The curious thing about this, though, is that the fury isn't pointless or lacking in value. And that's because while July's film is infuriating, it's clearly competently infuriating. It isn't indifference or boredom you feel while watching it, it's resistance to a coherent aesthetic. She's not mediocre at being irritating – she's really, really good at it. And the desire to hit back forces you to think about why it is that you're so enraged. Which is infinitely superior, surely, to the film which numbs by its predictability or its failure of ambition. You don't want to fire at the screen in a mediocre movie, you just want to walk out. And when you have you're likely to feel that you were simply wasting your time until you did. Films that make you want to fight them, on the other hand, leave you with a much better idea of what it is you're fighting for.

This poets' corner is a place for old friends

It was pleasing to see that the Ted Hughes memorial is intended to sit at the foot of the commemoration stone to T S Eliot in Westminster Abbey. Not all great poets could happily co-exist in the literary afterlife, but relations between these two should be cordial. Hughes admired Eliot for his use of myth and his classical allusions and Eliot – as Hughes jubilantly explained to his parents in a letter – was the "great oracle" who gave the go-ahead for Hughes's first collection. Flicking through Christopher Reid's excellent collection of Hughes's letters it is also clear that the younger poet regarded the older with awe. He wrote a cross letter to The Observer after Christopher Ricks had suggested in a review that he'd described Eliot as "prissy". On the contrary, wrote Hughes, meeting Eliot had left him with the impression of "something moving with indeflectible force and weight". That impersonal "something" looks odd at first, but Hughes later explained his thinking more fully in a letter to William Scammell: "My image for it was like – the bows of the Queen Mary", he wrote. He was also struck by the poet's hands. "A whole class larger than the ordinary sort of 'large hands'," he told Scammell, "Thick, long, massive fingers." That might make for a clumsy handshake when they meet – if Eliot has been paying attention in the interim – but after that I think the chat in Parnassus should be very amiable.

Don't judge a book by its cover

In his Booker acceptance speech Julian Barnes made a gracious acknowledgement of the book designers' art, thanking his own designer Suzanne Dean, for her help in converting his novel into "a beautiful object". If physical books were to resist the challenge of the e-book, Barnes suggested, it was crucial that they "look like something worth buying and worth keeping". What he didn't mention was how painful it can be when the cover betrays the novel rather than does it justice.

I encountered a good example the other day, on picking up Penelope Lively's How It All Began, in which she explores our ideas about life narratives – using the chain of consequences that flow from the mugging of a retired teacher. I'm not sure the book entirely achieves what it wants to do, but in its account of the humiliations of old age and the comic vanities of love it is a million miles from the cosiness of the cover. This appears to depict an idealised readers' nook, complete with a comfortable armchair in blue ticking, a teapot and cup, and not just one but two vases of fresh flowers. On the side table and shelves are piles of books, including several Penelope Lively titles and a copy of a Dan Brown thriller. If you plan to read the book I'd suggest the Kindle edition, which comes under plain wrapper.

t.sutcliffe@independent.co.uk

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