I have a soft spot for opera. Normally, I am an unabashed populist but there is a part of me that will always be a totally unreconstructed intellectual and opera hits that spot nicely.
The movie version of Verdi’s “Falstaff” hits that soft spot – with intellectual edges – very nicely indeed. I saw it with my friend who knows so much about highbrow entertainment that I feel utterly plebeian by contrast and with my friend who works in opera and recognises everyone on screen.
It was a complete joy. “Falstaff”, based on “The Merry Wives of Windsor” is one of my favourite operas. I love film and the Glyndebourne production moved along well. In many ways, it was more comfortable watching it in a cinema than in an opera house. Not feeling like I had to dress up was another good thing. I felt able to slouch, which is something I don’t usually feel I can do in an opera house. This does not put me off opera houses, but brings in new and enhanced possibilities.
It got me thinking about elegance and movies. There is something inherently elegant about opera, that makes you sit up and put your shoulders back. Few films have had that sleek patina of shininess, lately.
2009 offered a little more elegance than usual, in recent times. Clive Owen and Gerald Butler are both effortlessly elegant and bring some of that Clark Gable/James Bond sophistication to the screen. The last few years of movies have belonged to girlie boys who slouch. Leonardo di Caprio, Johnny Depp, Ethan Hawke – you know who they are. They are guys who are just a little too much in touch with their feminine sides, for my taste. If you lived with them, they would spend way more time applying mascara than any girl does.
“Duplicity” featured Clive who I have liked since “The Croupier” and adored since “Children of Men”. He isn’t my beloved Clint Eastwood, but he is very manly. Julia Roberts was the other lead. I am never sure about her. She’s like caramel; they can be wonderful and melt in your mouth but they can also be horribly hard and hurt your teeth.
The plot was about plots, counter-plots and – okay, even Wikipedia couldn’t help me really get to the bottom of the plot. But Clive and Julia have chemistry (and previous form from “Closer”) and their relationship felt real. Just when you thought you got the plot, it threw in another twist. It was very entertaining and felt like a sleek film from the 1960s, along the lines of the original “Thomas Crown Affair”.
“The International” was an entirely different story. Clive was great, in this story of banking and plots and Armin Muehler-Stall was super too. They certainly shot up some great buildings between them and I lost track of the body count. The plot was about international banking conspiracies and shot as full of holes as the museum setting in the middle of the movie, but, trust me, the story didn’t really matter.
It was let down by Naomi Watts not appearing to know what she was doing. I quite like Naomi. She was just wonderful in “The Ring” in 2002 and she’s from Shoreham in Sussex, a town I love almost as much as I love brash Brighton and languid Littlehampton. I have long forgiven Naomi’s start in the Australian soap opera “Home and Away” and her dad worked with Pink Floyd, so how cool is that?
But she seems to be struggling to understand what was going on in “The International”, even more than I did. She’s weak and unbelievable in this. But she is also very, very stylish, in a Grace Kelly way. But a believable cop? No, I believed she was on the way to a fim premiere and was being a little confused by trying to understand what Clive Owen was saying. I will still cheerfully watch this on DVD or television, when it appears and it was highly enjoyable. However, something was missing where a strong female lead should have been.
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” had a “Time Traveller’s Wife”-type premise, but more pinned down. The hero didn’t appear at odd times but, rather, aged backwards, in a New Orleans that owed more to Anne Rice’s Lestrat books and movies than to post-Katrina consciousness. The problem here was Brad Pitt who – I am sorry, fans of Pitt – is just so very girlie! To stay in love with such a man would be unimaginable. You’d want to lend him hair care products and moisturiser, but you just wouldn’t want to sleep with him.
I am perfectly aware that I am in a minority here. I probably lose a whole bunch of politically correct points on the scale just for believing that men should be men and women should be women. I don’t want movie heroes to be touchy-feelie.
“Knowing” presented me with a serious challenge, on this level. Nicolas Cage ticks all the right boxes. He isn’t girlie and he was in a film that maintained a cracking pace with lots of things going bang. The twist – hero foretells the future – was very nicely managed too. But he makes me a little nervous. I am just not convinced that he won’t start talking about feelings, craft and humanity at any given moment. I fear he may be just a little girlie, in secret.
“Gamer”, in which Gerald Butler played a professional killer in the future in a game show o n steroids gone mad and “The Hurt Locker”, Katherine Bigelow’s take on men in Iraq who make safe unexploded devices, both ought to have satisfied me. They were both so fuelled by testosterone and manliness, I should have been unconditionally thrilled. Both were excellent movies.
They lacked that sleek elegance I seem to crave from men and women in movies. There was something rough about the heroes – not surprisingly given the settings – but I think there may be a part of my brain which forever wants to be in a Sean Connery Bond film, either being Bond or being a gorgeous girl with a silly name.
I shall get into all that another time. For the moment, there is cause to cheer. A whole lot of movies in 2009 were way far away from grunge, reality and girlieness. It’s a start. Elegance may be coming back into movie fashion.