Wednesday, 4 June 2014

What Katie Didn't Do Next: prequel/sequel/reboot fatigue

As I listened to a rapturous radio review of Death Comes to Pemberley recently, I realised that I am a near-obsessive anti-sequel kind of person. There's been a rash of them recently. Aside from the usual movie franchises there's been every conceivable reinvention of old and new stories...prequels, re-boots, re-imaginings, revisitings, rehashings....we suddenly need to know how Batman begins, what happened after Darcy and Elizabeth got married, how Sherlock and Watson met and pretty much unravel every remaining literary and film mystery for the common enlightenment.
How did this happen? (Maybe I should write a prequel - How Prequels Came To Hollywood...) There's no denying most people seem to lap up the "what happened next/before/inbetween" idea almost with as much relish as reliving the original stories they are inevitably based on. It's not just that sequels are the most obvious form of standing one's own work conveniently on the shoulders of another man's genius (to (inaccurately) quote the beleaguered Laurie in Little Women - and no, I didn't read Jo's Boys. Not sorry.) Sometimes it works - I actually break my own rules for Batman Begins and Wide Sargasso Sea, the latter arguably the highest form of the prequel art in that it morphs into its own, independently brilliant and vivid story. So it's not just that I look down on the laziness of it.
I think it goes back to being a kid, and reading books, and falling in love with the idea of the story - a distinct, unique imagining of a person, place or event in its own fictional space and time. When I got older and learned about character development and back story and plot devices, I still couldn't get past the idea of the perfectly formed 'Once upon a time...'
I distinctly remember crying actual tears at the discovery that Anne of Green Gables was not allowed to remain the carrot-haired precocious little girl of my imagination, but - shock! horror! - actually grew up and like, got married and stuff. I just didn't want to know. It's not that I thought L Montgomery made a bad decision writing about the rest of Anne's life, or that the character wasn't worthy of a life beyond the bullied, ginger little orphan she was. It's just that in my mind, it was done. It was a Thing. A perfectly imagined tale of a perfectly imperfect character who didn't need any more, or less, explaining to make me fall hopelessly in love with her. And that goes for nearly every early literary experience I had - Little Women, The Secret Garden, Oliver Twist (although thinking about it Dickens' main characters based on an exhaustively detailed life story premise, thereby pre-empting his inclusion in the prequel disaster. Clever guy), Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia and even, weirdly, books that were designed to be part of a series, rather than a standalone event - I had one copy each of Nancy Drew and the Chalet Girls which I read over and over again, never wanting to read any more. I'd like to think that this was some sort of juvenile defying the retailers' ploy to get you buying more and more books, but in fact I just didn't want to know anything else about those characters. It was done. Move on.
So apart from Batman Begins I'd say my anti-prequel/sequel/reboot sentiments stand for pretty much every cinematic experience, bar the excellent Before Sunset/Sunrise/Midnight trilogy which arguably stands alone as an experiment in a different kind of narrative continuation, revisiting, rather than rebooting the characters because you know what? They're so brilliantly constructed and the story is so REAL it's just a case of dropping in on them to see what's going on rather than attempting a rewrite of their history or a lame follow-on to their original story. And I'm not talking about SERIES of films either, so you know, that lets the likes of Lord of the Rings, Mission Impossible (no really! I love it!) and Bond (actually hate it but still) off the hook. I'm talking about the useless appendage to an original idea that was, for example,  Batman and Robin, Speed 2, Grease 2 and others marvellously listed (so I don't have to) by here. I'm not saying I'm onto something original here (although I wish I was then maybe someone would pay me a ridiculous amount to write a sequel) - disappointing movie sequels are well-documented and a pet peeve of many a movie critic, geek or even casual observer.
No, what really gets me is the drift from producers of massive multi-million dollar megahits thinking they can eek a bit more out of the franchise to people, quite sane, normally educated and insightful people (like, say, the interviewers of Radio 4) start raving about television adaptations of these prequel/reboot/rehash fiascos as if they are as brilliant as the originals themselves. WHAT ARE THESE PEOPLE THINKING?! So Darcy dies - WE COULD HAVE IMAGINED THAT IF WE WANTED TO RUIN ELIZABETH'S LIFE! Wickham's a criminal - well, DUR! This is not imaginative thinking. This is the kind of terrible sadistic trick your mind plays when you finish reading a chapter of Pride and Prejudice just before bed and it gets mixed up with your own dismal, boring and frankly unhelpful life experiences. 
Worst of all it intimates a sort of terrible disrespect for your reader, as though the poor souls couldn't possibly fully understand this particular story without someone more informed, like a script writer without an original bone in his body or an author running out of their own ideas, to extrapolate it for them. To these patronising keepers of the televisual landscape I say: We KNOW Sherlock and Watson had to meet! We KNOW Lewis probably did his own detective work without Morse one day. We KNOW Little Women didn't STAY little. We KNOW all these things. We probably thought about them ourselves at some point. Because, you know, reading helps your IMAGINATION. The definition of imagination, by the way, is "the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses." So, by definition, taking us through the history and future of every cherished literary life we've ever known does not edify but encourages a LACK of imagination, the very essence of literary and visual arts and the thing the human race is in desperate need of in all walks of life.
Imagine if we applied the prequelsequel philosophy to great works of art. What if an artist reimagined Van Gogh's painting of the chair from a different angle, or showed us what was missing from Monet's Water Lilies scene, or reconstructed the rest of Tracey Emin's house without the bed (heaven forbid), perhaps revealing that she's not quite the scuzzy bohemian we all thought she was but actually had like, a desk with water bills on it and little post-its reminding herself to buy milk. Would the critics love it? Would they hail it as a great new work of imagination? I guess not. 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Who is Mrs Jones anyway?

So I'm of the generation that read Bridget Jones's Diary and felt that it was a defining literary moment (before we were told it was a defining literary moment). Me and my friends wrote one another Bridget-style emails (minus the obsessive weight records - none of us cared) and dreamed about Mr Darcy (the literary one and the Bridget Jones one) and we all got annoyed when the film came out because it 1. Featured an American actress in a quintessentially British role; 2. Crassly cast Colin Firth as Mark Darcy, thereby defeating the entire irony that the book's romantic trajectory was based on and 3. Was actually quite good, really (to use a Bridget-ism). So far, so obvious.
But now the third book is out and Darcy, y'know, dies, and it feels like Helen Fielding has forgotten why we all loved Bridget in the first place. Which was because, of course, she was absolutely nothing like us whilst being everything we liked about us but were told we should disapprove of - an over-drinking, under-exercising smoking singleton whose friends were more important than her family and whose career path was as confusing as her love life. So the Bridget of now, the Bridget we'd love to hate but secretly love, would obviously be a happily married yet surprisingly unhappy childless 40-something year old with a fondness for luxury weekends away to remind her of the good life she abandoned to marry her impossibly-21st-century saviour of a husband who insists on doing all the cooking and leaves her feeling like an average housewife who still can't get the hang of the exercise bike and opts for drinking a bottle of wine with friends instead of exercising, occasionally adopting a 'healthy lifestyle' out of guilt but giving up after the first bag of satsumas runs out. Life has turned out pretty well for this Mrs Jones but she finds no voice in the Sunday newspaper columns or on the radio or on the telly, where celebrity super-couples and their 15 children share the limelight with impossibly young singletons with their tongues out taking pictures of themselves as they get drunk (thank goodness there's no digital photographic evidence of our drinking days), all looking so made up and so 'alternative' yet more mass-marketed than ever. It's not that Mrs Jones is the smug married she thought she'd turn into, it's just that she's not sad about not being single any more either. She's found music and books and films that she likes and she doesn't feel the need to share these beyond her immediate friends, who she still counts as closer than family and occasionally goes out with, no selfies required.
Maybe this Mrs Jones doesn't have a media counterpart because she is boring. Or maybe she's just too nuanced to be reduced to the Dear Diary lists she once found so life-affirming. Either way, I'd like to resurrect Mrs Jones and find out what she thinks of this now that we have to live in. So watch this space.
Oh, and read my next post which is sort of a postscript to this one. I know, I'm contrary. So sue me.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Walking like Virginia Woolf

I took it step by step. One after the other, one after the other, in rythm to the music in my head. I knew nothing, thought nothing, felt nothing, except the urge to keep moving, keep walking, keep passing by as quickly as I could as though perhaps I could walk myself into nothingness, pass out of this world completely by the mere pushing of my feet against the limits of the material world. As I pushed, my surroundings receded before me like scenery on a stage, shifting, changing, one vista giving way to another with no thought for the passing of time or the limits of physical movement in space. It was like time travel...walking so fast that maybe I could speed up time and arrive at a new place, free from the constraints of the present and pure in its unrealised state. I knew that this was impossible but still my feet propelled me forwards and my hope increased with the oxygen levels pumping through my body by my hyper-anxious heart. As concrete changed to grassy plains and rocky pathways I felt the scenery shift again, opening up a vast space in which only mist and damp and the sweet smell of soil mixed with rainwater were allowed. I ploughed in with my magic feet, this time pushing harder, wishing I could sink into that bog and embalm myself in nature's bath, like the women in Seamus Heaney's poems, rolling, ever rolling into a freezing calm that intrudes every vacuum in my body, permeating every pore and capturing this moment forever. Instead I dragged my now aching body to the highest peak of the nearest park, high above the city, nobody's home, just a forgotten plot on a topographical map of middle class meanderings. It was cold. Rain coated the side of my body facing the wind. I let my body slap down on the concrete monument marking the peak, like a slab of meat ready to be butchered. I longed for someone to tear away one soul and replace it with another, calmer, cleaner version that could find its way home and be happy. Instead I finally caught my breath and with stinging eyes blinked at my new surroundings. The scenery of my final act. It was high enough to be mistier than the street, my head just poking into raincloud, wet and windy and surrounded by empty moss green fields divided criss-cross by muddy paths, rising to another, lower, peak where I knew, rather than could see, there to be a knoll of darkest evergreens and a rocky face the other side which succeeded in fooling most walkers into a sense of being closer to the Peak District than they really were.
I breathed deep. Now what? I had already walked further than my pain stricken back had taken me for many months. The speed which had propelled me to the top had left my legs heavy and tired. I was on empty and far from help. I contemplated rolling back down the hill but even my tired limbs could not submit to such freefall. I felt the anxiousness that had cramped my entire body into a speed-walking machine melt away. I was tired. I was cold. I needed rescuing. But what from?