As in The Paperboy and Side Effects, there's nothing more thrilling than a jump between genres

Plus, the spirit of the Blitz in Kate Atkinson's Life After Life and a funny man who can pull off straight roles

Share
Related Topics

One of my favourite Hitchcock moves occurs in a film that I
don't think anybody would identify as one of his greats – the 1976
crime caper Family Plot. As I remember it opens with Bruce Dern and
Barbara Harris driving at night, bickering together about their
next scam. Suddenly Dern slams on the brakes and you see that a
woman (Karen Black, in fact) has walked out in front of his car and
very nearly under it. At which point Hitchcock doesn't cut back to
Dern and Harris and the evolving plot they've been talking about
but pursues the jaywalker instead. It's as if the camera has
completely forgotten what it was doing and been lured into another
film entirely.

You eventually discover, of course, that the connection between these three people isn't just a vehicular near miss – but for the moment it seems that the narrative has jumped the tracks, landing upright on a nearby line that curves away in a different direction.

Hitchcock's device is pure control, of course, not its absence, but I still think of it as an emblem of those moments in the movies when a film either gets away from the audience or – sometimes – from the director. I've seen three examples recently, all of which got mixed reviews (the full one-star to five-star range in at least one case) and all of which were marked by the thrilling jolts you experience when a film leaves the paved road for rougher ground.

I think they're thrilling anyway, though judging from some reviews of Chan-Woon Park's Stoker, Steven Soderbergh's Side Effects and and Lee Daniels' The Paperboy this view isn't universal. And I say "paved road" because what you don't get in any of them is that expeditious Hollywood freeway, which, once you know what genre you're in, will take you predictably from A to B, with well-signposted rest stops along the way. In some of these films establishing the genre is tricky in itself. Soderbergh's Side Effects, for example begins as what looks like an arraignment of Big Pharma, full of tart scenes that expose the corrupting crossover between clinical and commercial judgement. But then gradually it morphs into something else entirely – the sort of twisted noir you can imagine Bette Davis starring in back in the Forties. You think you have Stoker placed as one of those artful studies of teenage disaffection when it suddenly bucks sideways towards horror and then back again to a category for which the index card hasn't yet been written. And The Paperboy seems to be several things all at once – a steamy gumbo of miscarriage thriller, Southern gothic and overheated sexual fantasy.

The question that arises with all of them is how much did the directors intend things to get this messy? It shouldn't stay up for long with Park, because he's manifestly in charge of every frame of Stoker, a film art-directed to within an inch of its life (but only if you expand that cliché to allow for auto-erotic strangulation).

It won't stay up for long with Soderbergh, simply because his filmography is extensive enough to make most viewers assume that the bumpy ride is deliberate.

But Lee Daniels is likely to have a harder time. And if you don't actively get the credit for turbulence in style and narrative line, then you almost always get the blame for it. This isn't a knowing game with genre expectations and narrative arcs, we think; it's incompetence. It's not improvisation, he just can't read the score. I'm not sure it always matters, though, if the official score is duller than the departures from it.

Don't see any of these films if you like a smooth ride that gets you there on schedule. But if you like unexpected swerves and bumps I'd recommend all three.

Spirit of the Blitz, again and again

Kate Atkinson's Life After Life offers re-runs at the existence of its lead character, who dies repeatedly only to reappear in a parallel history in which she has cheated death. In the Blitz she figures both as victim and as air-raid warden. I was reminded of Sarah Waters's novel The Night Watch and of Elizabeth Bowen and others. It occurred that for a woman wanting a character to experience war at first hand there can be no better setting. It's essentially a co-ed version of the trenches, surreally confounding domestic mundanity with arbitrary and terrible violence, and a famous promoter of nocturnal encounters too. We'll surely see more.

Funny man pulls off a straight role

It's always risky casting a performer best known as a comedian in a straight role, but Harold Finley gets away with it in his production of his own play, A Thousand Miles of History, in part because the character Adam Riches plays was a comic of sorts himself. Riches' performance as Andy Warhol is a treat – a kind of living Warhol portrait in which the actor's association with flamboyant pastiche sits just slightly out of register with the character's self-parodic persona. But I wondered who should get the credit for the funniest moment – a scene that ends with Warhol alone on stage, discomfited by the rapid disappearance of his friends. "Well, this scene's obviously over," he says, tartly. Ad-lib or script? Or incorporated ad-lib? In which case, perhaps honours should be shared.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Trainer / IT Trainer

£30 to £32k : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Trainer / IT Trainer to join an a...

Recruitment Genius: Fence Installer - Commercial

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This privately owned Fencing Co...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £22,000

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you answer yes, this company...

Recruitment Genius: Project / Account Manager and IT Support

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This world leader in Online Pro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
From left: Yvette Cooper, Jeremy Corbyn, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham at a televised Labour leadership debate  

Jeremy Corbyn wouldn't be so far ahead in the Labour leadership race if his rivals weren't so awful

Ash Burt
 

Giving children 'iRights' to delete what they put online sends the wrong moral message

Joe Rivers
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'