Movies – The Hunger Games

An exercise in Lazy Film-making

You all know the story by now. But just in case you’ve been too busy to read Young Adult Fiction, here’s the synopsis: every year, two young representatives (the modern version I guess of vestal virgins) are chosen from the twelve districts of post apocalyptic Panem (as in ‘panem et circenses’ or bread and circuses) to represent their district, entertain the masses and essentially kill each other, to the awe and entertainment of the people. The omnipotent elite watch from a series of (seemingly) limitless cameras, and, when necessary, manipulate the action, like Olympian gods.

The movie has been a huge critical and financial success (no doubt a weight off Hollywood’s shoulders as they’ve finally found a successor to Harry Potter). And you can see why the money has been rolling in: immensely popular book, attractive personable stars, great marketing and buzz and perfect timing. After all, the closest we’ve had to breaking the long post-Oscars drought has been “John Carter”.

I don’t get the ‘critical success’ part of the equation.

Here’s a story about a talented and innocent girl (called Katniss, which – cute – is a kind of plant from a genus commonly called ‘arrowhead’; the talented Jennifer Lawrence from “Winter’s Bone”) driven to desperation, battered and bruised and surviving through relentless determination. But this is no Rooney Mara (Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl With The Dragon’s Tattoo”), who brought an edge of the seat intensity and credibility to her performance. Rather, we’re meant to believe in Jennifer Lawrence who never seems to break a sweat even of she’s rolling down hills or being shot at. Jen seems to be more on a sort of fun school outing rather than in a desperate fight to save her life. Her hair – and it’s very pretty – always remains wonderfully coiffed; and her expression stays unvaryingly bland from start to finish. I guess it must take skilled acting to offer such unidimensional expressionlessness for all of the movie’s two and a half going on twelve hours.

Director Gary Ross is master of the harmless movie (“Big” with Tom Hanks and “Sea Biscuit”). Here he manages to stage fight scenes (come on – twenty two kids are killed in the story) with a kind of blurry decorousness, as if he’s afraid of wounding our precious sensibilities. We hardly hear a thud from knife or stone on bone; there’s virtually no blood, and most of the time we never even quite see the lethal accuracy of Katniss’ arrows. He prefers to focus on the shooter; no time for the shot. Ross seems to be so concerned about the ten year olds who’ll go to the movie, that I half expected to see a scrolling disclaimer at the bottom of the screen (“No kids were killed during the filming of these scenes. Do not try this at home. Is your mother there with you?”)

Even the CGI scenes of Panea and the agog crowds are so staged and artificial that never for a moment does the director work hard at creating the willing suspension of disbelief. It’s basically lazy film making. I think the overall creative rationale was a simple one: “OK kids, you’ve read the book, you know the story; here’s the illustrated version.”

So, if you’ve read the book and your imagination isn’t enough, here’s a shoddy attempt to re-imagine things for you.


An Appreciation: Wistawa Szymborska

Wistawa Szymborska was a Polish poet who was awarded the Nobel prize back in 1996 and who died last month (February). I thought I’d write a few words (OK paragraphs) of appreciation. Maybe one of the two persons who actually read this blog might wish to dip into her work themselves. She didn’t publish much – only about 250 poems (about the same as T.S.Eliot’s actually). When she was asked why she published so little, she told the interviewer it was because she had a waste bin in her office. Her work spans a life that began in Russian occupied Poland (her first book was rejected by the censors for failing to “meet socialist requirements” – a fact that I suspect influenced her style of hiding in plain sight) and ended in a country much changed.

But her themes and preoccupations remained very firmly focused – an unwavering cynicism about politics and the duplicity of political promises; and an investigator’s eye for continually peeling back layers of accepted knowledge. (In her Nobel acceptance speech, she spoke of those – the politicians, the dictators the…fill in the blank here – who “don’t want to find out anything else, since that might diminish the force of their arguments”. In ‘On The Banks of The Styx’ she writes that “…only doubt/can make you, sorry soul, a bit less wretched.”)

As with all poets – all art for that matter – she offers us a distinctive way – her way – of seeing things, with a charming, almost story-telling style that invites you in, usually with some disarmingly simple thought or image. But watch it – you know she’s gonna get you.

in ‘Coloratura’ the romantic image of a whistling bird quickly becomes the siren song of a politician’s seductive cant that will “twitter nothing bitter” with a “voice so thin it sounds like air”

And ‘Clouds’ begins with an almost Wordsworthian romanticism:

“I’d have to be really quick

to describe clouds –

a split second’s enough

for them to start being something else.”

Pretty soon this pleasant image – with which we can all identify – twists into the poet’s perception. Said clouds are…

“Unburdened by memory of any kind,

they float easily over facts.

What on earth could they bear witness to?

They scatter whenever something happens”

And with that simple twist can we ever see cloulds the same way again or will the idea of them as “floating over facts” forever identify them with the Bushes and Blairs of the world? (Damn. I can no longer wander lonely as a cloud.)

The theme of memory as witness is one she returns to again and again. For her, memory is the thing that roots us in actuality – it is in the forgetting, the often deliberate desire to escape memory that we let the horrors happen.  In ‘Notes From a Non-Extstent Himalayian Expedition’,  she writes:

“We’ve inherited hope –

the gift of forgetting”

And this is a gift to which she heaps ironic praise in many of her poems. In ‘May 16, 1973’ she writes:

“One of those many dates

that no longer ring a bell.

Where I was going that day,

what I was doing – I don’t know”

This lack of memory, she observes was “Not a bad trick/to vanish before my own eyes”. The poem ends with a desire to re-engage, to escape from escape as it were:

“I shake my memory.

Maybe something in its branches

that has been asleep for years

will start with a flutter.”

Probably one of her most famous poems (that you can apply to anything that’s happening these days, especially now with a Republican drum beat to attack Iran) is ‘The End and The Beginning’.

It starts:

“After every war

someone has to tidy up.

Things won’t pick

themselves up, after all.”

It ends:

“Someone has to lie there

in the grass that covers up

the causes and effects

with a cornstalk in his teeth

gawking at the clouds.”