Sunday, October 22, 2006

Last of the tough girls

Actresses? Look anywhere and there seems no shortage of talented female performers all ready to outshine the latest batch of dull vacuum-moulded male actors in films and TV dramas.

Female characters? Tell me the last time you saw a really fascinatingly well drawn original female character? I don't mean an actress giving a great performance, I mean a really great female character. One you could relate to.

Personally I've got thing for 'women of courage' characters. Sadly there aren't many of them of to be found. I can think of three - one you will know, one you probably won't (so I won't write about her) and another that - until tonight has managed to remain alive...Back in 1986, one of the things that made Aliens such an achievement is how action and mayhem in a fantastical world are used to paint out a richly detailed and totally believable female character - the legendarily tough but tender Ripley.

In Aliens, Ripley is a woman with the guts to turn to face her tormentor, the intelligence to give herself (and a bunch of marines) a fighting chance against an overwhelming enemy, and a woman who uses her maternal instincts to kill another mother who is also fighting to protect her young.

Ripley like Joan before her soon makes the ultimate sacrifice.

Tonight, in the usually miss-able world of the television drama, there will come the demise of a more down to earth fighting female - DSI Jane Tennison - the central character of the Prime Suspect series. I for one shall be pretty darn sad because its the Tennison character that's made Prime Suspect the only drama I've actually remembered to follow.
The character, played by Helen Mirren in all seven episodes of series is to be killed off. Having battled sexism, blonde-ism (?) and a barrage of grim crime the character now faces ageism, loneliness and alcoholism - the sad product of a life surrendered to the 'job'.

Prime Suspect isn't anything movie-ish, - its great television - which means it sneaks into our mind in the form of entertainment and then forces us to reconsider how we see the world around us.

But all in all, what makes the series so special is that its about a female - who fights for the power to do what she loves in a male-dominated business whilst making mistakes - lots of big dangerous and embarrassing mistakes - but she manages to preserve her career. It's something that, since the series started in 1991, has given a lot of courage to a lot of people.

Prime Suspect has always been subtle, economical and unflinching in its examination of a wonderfully believable character. And now its over. Case closed. No Christmas special. Just the DVD box set (please!).

Here's a short clip. Watch how many emotions Helen Mirren reveals about her character in just a few short seconds.

"When I'm at work..." she says.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Where is the art?

Now I'm in England I watch one old film (1930s-70s) practically every two days. I find almost all of them fascinating and always wonder why 'We just can't make them like that anymore'. I'm quite convinced that traditional cinema really began to suffocate in the 1990s and died off almost completely around the year 2000. Today its trying to resuscitate itself with shock therapy - crueller violence, unsimulated sex, faster cutting and computer effects. And the trench foot isn't only in Hollywood products - how many recently promoted arty or 'independent' films are worth watching more than two times? And in thirty years time? Will the advent of RealD will give traditional cinema the swan song it deserves? Maybe.But what about Real Art - the stuff you look at in the galleries? As with cinema's last life signs (Lynch, Almodóvar, for me particularly Sokurov) there are some old-style artists amongst the sea of garbage still trying to make something worth remembering for a reason other than its shock value - the painter Paula Rego comes to mind. But who's interested in a new painting when 'cutting-edge art' can take the form of some semen-stained newspapers? I'm increasingly certain that there is great art today - we just have to find it. Its occurring unintentionally and its often the individual them self who is the art. Paris Hilton is a prime example. Doesn't she herself and her material output reflect the times we live in - with supreme accuracy? And yet despite the greatness and relevance of her life-as-art, it too is utterly forgettable.

But for timeless 21st century art, have a look at this picture below that I came across by chance on the internet yesterday. This one of three pictures showing Disney/Milne's Piglet character posed by a tourist in different places around Auschwitz death camp where over a million people were killed. All three Piglet pictures look almost superimposed but they're not. I'm quietly sure the young woman who took them isn't aware of the many layers of truth and emotion to be found in them. Doesn' t that make them all the more richer? What's more their presence among a whole load of "Piglet's Holiday Photos" makes the series into a potentially powerful work of modern 'accidental’ art... Or am I losing it?

A friend of mine has filmed tourists smiling and poising for the camera inside Auschwitz, a porn film has also been made there (secretly) but this 'Piglet's Auschwitz Walkabout' series taken with all its ghastly casualness - feels like the most devastatingly simple work of unintentional art I've chanced upon in a long time. Stare into those pictures. What do they say to you?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Having left Poland

It might come as a surprise to some of you - but I've left Poland. I left it almost as soon as I'd made it back from Switzerland. 'What happened?' you might wonder. Well, I had actually planned to return to spend the majority of my time in the UK at the end of November. Life in Warsaw was already a psychological struggle but certain events during the trip to Switzerland tipped the balance, making it clear that it was really high time to go, immediately.

But there's no finality here. I shall be returning to Warsaw fairly often. I shall miss filming the beauty of the Polish autumn, but I hope to be back in time for my other love - the snow.

Was I too soft for Warsaw? No, I just wasn't willing to become harder. How Kieslowski (as a Warsaw boy) ever managed to make the deeply humanistic films he did seems a miracle to me. But then again he spent most of his life under Polish Communism and not Polish Capitalism.