Grimsby: a city, a port, and soon to be a motion picture coming to a cinema near you. The upcoming addition to the cultural fame of Grimsby must be music to the ears of its burghers, shopkeepers and townspeople, you would have thought. Wrong. The film, you see, is being made by the irreverent iconoclast Sacha Baron Cohen, aka Ali G, Borat and various other disrespecters of people and places.
The film, named after the Lincolnshire town, is about a “black-ops” spy forced to go on the run with his football hooligan brother, played by Baron Cohen (below right, with Mark Strong).
It is reported that the film will show a Grimsby changed to have graffiti on walls, streets littered with burned tyres and even householders urinating out of windows.
One businessman commented this week: “I’m not pleased that this is the way the world will get their first and maybe only look at Grimsby. This area has a hell of a lot going for it and it’s disappointing to see what they have done.”
The burghers of Grimsby are not only unhappy, they are surprised. Councillor Matthew Brown, bewailing the effect of the film on “the local economy” added: “Sacha Baron Cohen visited the area when he watched Grimsby Town [Football Club] and I understand the fans treated him well. We cannot comment until we have watched the film. But I hope those fans are not abused.”
This is truly shocking! The creator of Ali G and Borat being rude about people who were polite to him and gave him hospitality. Pass the smelling salts. What exactly did you think Sacha Baron Cohen had in mind, Councillor Brown? An affectionate portrait about the jewel of north-east Lincolnshire? Did you ever actually watch him on TV? Did you speak to your opposite numbers in Staines about the image of their town after the adventures of Ali G and his posse?
Naivety has no bounds, it seems. And along with naivety goes a lack of understanding about the nature of film. A feature film is not a documentary. I don’t believe film-goers will confuse it with a documentary. It’s a work of fiction. Grimsby, presumably, isn’t bursting with black-ops spies. From Fargo to Chinatown to In Bruges, many towns, many areas have given their names to movies. We don’t, surely, assume that those movies are accurate portrayals of the places in the titles. Charming as it is, Bruges isn’t quite as exciting and dangerous as the movie of the same name might suggest. The filmic Grimsby will also bear little relation to the real town.
That’s what the worried civic leaders and businesspeople of Grimsby need to realise. A film is a piece of art, and a piece of artifice. A comedy film is even more divorced from reality.
Remember that, and remember too that when Mr Baron Cohen comes to your locality it is not for the purpose of helping the local economy and boosting tourism.
Time to move on, Pythons
Whatever one’s feelings about the ongoing Monty Python reunion shows, I worry about John Cleese. I follow this great and original talent of 20th century comedy on Twitter, and day after day I read Cleese talking about silly walks, be it a silly-walks competition, or a silly-walks app, or some other spin-off from, or reference to, his celebrated Python sketch. I loved the sketch, but it is tedious and a little creepy to have it endlessly discussed by its creator. Its creation was a stroke of brilliance, but its creator should let others talks about it and praise it, if indeed they still wish to. To have Cleese himself go on and on about it feels self-regarding. He, of all people, is breaking one of the golden rules of comedy. When you’ve made a good joke, don’t milk it.
You can't put a price on it, can you?
Grange Park Opera in Hampshire has sent an email to supporters and regular attenders announcing a highlight of next year’s programme – the opera star Bryn Terfel playing Tevye the milkman in the musical Fiddler on the Roof. Grange Park warns that a ticket in the stalls will cost £230. It then asks the email recipients if they are likely to buy more than six tickets. In response, I refer Grange Park Opera to Tevye’s first big solo number, “If I were a rich man.”