Tuesday 23 April 2019

Movie and TV Clichés in Quotes 3

Euralille. Dystopian, dreadful, inhospitable. A great backdrop for films about shady business, surveillance states, the general breakdown of democracy and transparency. (Martin Lampprecht)

It's not an origin story unless you are bitten by something radioactive or fall into a vat of something.

Why do the plots of cash-in Hollywood prequels to children's literary classics always involve a messianic prophecy? (@AlexPaknadel)

According to Hollywood, all criminal leaders are into classical music, valuable paintings and various other highbrow art forms. (@N8Heddleston)

All intelligent villains have utterly bourgeois tastes and do stuff like wear suits inside and eat Cornish hen with Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major playing softly in the background.

For my taste, Season 2 of Star Trek Discovery is far better than 1 so far, but it's still too much Therapy 101, artificially ratcheted jeopardy and/or plot-convenient arbitrary miracles. (Athena Andreadis)

Those shabby genteel boarding houses where one of the female Paying Guests lives in that grey zone that may or may not be sex work. (Matthew Sweet)

There are two kinds of office in post-war British cinema. The one with an establishing shot of a brutalist tower, possibly in Crawley; the other behind a chain link fence, where slow robberies take place in rooms full of box files and the young Nanette Newman may do typing. (Matthew Sweet)

Quite a lot of quizzical-glance-acting in this. (@VictorianLondon on The Man Who Invented Christmas)

Massive explosion goes off behind the hero as he (always a he) walks towards the camera. He never flinches. (@andytrapdoor)

[Peter Cushing is] the one in all those British horror films, standing between Vincent Price and Christopher Lee. His dialogue usually runs along the lines of, "But good heavens, man! The person you saw has been dead for more than two centuries!" (Roger Ebert)

A meandering subplot of a TV show’s fifth season. (Sandra Newman)

All the characters are mysterious oddballs, escaping their pasts.

Was the secret a “covert government biological weapons facility? An evil corporation?” Fortitude drifted into madness in the previous season. (Hugo Rifkind in the Times on Fortitude)

I love in films like 300 where the main guy will say something like “Get some sleep, for tomorrow we battle to death”, and everyone just goes into deep sleep, in some wet grass, fully clothed. (Rob Temple)

The kind of snowfall that, in a Ridley Scott film, signals a large battle is about to occur. (@maximpetergriff)

We need a word for a scene in a movie where they introduce a character who was clearly a major part of the first draft and whose part either got written or edited out as time went on, but they still left that scene in to make it past 90 minutes. (@HouseofGlib)

Why is "driving like a maniac without noticing" so often used as code for "charmingly carefree"? (@dimwittedly)

Hackers all say “I’m in!” After twenty seconds of random typing. (Dean Hamilton @Tyburn__Tree)

Someone is watching exactly the right bit of expositionary news, then turns off the TV as soon as someone comes into the room, but it's OK because the exposition had just finished. (@adamcreen)

You can tell it’s serious, they’re all speaking in acronyms.

The protagonist is an underdog hero chosen by a prophecy who no-one likes in the beginning but come to respect in the end. (Via youtube)

More often than not, performances shaped for the purpose of winning golden statues are fake and dreadful. (Strandmag.com. It's well-known that you'll get an Oscar if you play a disabled person or a nun.)

If you're running from bad guys in a hospital, you must knock over a huge tray of noisy metal instruments. (@rdbrewer4. Which the staff have carelessly left unattended to go unsterile...)

To show a calamity (or approaching alien spacecraft) is real, a plate must fall off a table. (@RonD1954)

If a mute character is introduced, they are going to speak during or after the climax. (@Tweeter_Zero)

An old Chinese greengrocer is always a martial-art master. (@PtitRun)

When someone says, "This isn't what it looks like", it’s exactly what it looks like. (@chasethekid)

Running from pay phone to pay phone with the ransom money. (@Prevalezco)

All Italians are Sicilians.

Actresses in drawing-room comedies were invariably seen arranging wire-stemmed roses while they awaited their fiancés. (Cecil Beaton, The Glass of Fashion)

If a girl is very physically clumsy, she'll stumble upon true love. (@nictate)

As long as a TV show or movie doesn’t explicitly diagnose a character with autism, they can get away with the cruellest depiction of it possible, making the character an object of mockery or a beast of burden. (@untitleduser. Someone else points out that The Dog in the Night-time and The Bridge don't use the words “autism” or “Asperger’s”, so that nobody can say “Hang on, we aren’t like that!”)

A favorite film trope of mine is any character cutting and dyeing their hair in a gas station restroom then walking out looking amazing. (@ReelQuinn)

I love the way people think they are invisible if they crouch down a bit #Salamander. (@kostmayer)

#Salamander When visiting a baddie at home they will always be ready to greet you, immaculately dressed. (@Shifnal_TF)

In the film of
Angels and Demons, Renowned Symbologist Robert Langdon consults a document in the Vatican Archives and, when it turns out to be relevant, rips out the page and takes it with him. (@philistella. In Salamander, Gerardi is looking through a notebook full of phone numbers (evidence), notices his wife’s, rips out the page. Why don’t they just take a picture on their phone?)

Is there a name for the quirky male non-cop teams with straightlaced female cop to solve crimes that are nearly always murder subgenre yet? (@WordMercenary)

It's never good when TV detectives involve their children and say goodbye in a lingering way. (@mattprescott)

One of the most hilarious and creepy aspects of Hallmark flicks is how the filthy rich character never puts their hand into their own pocket to save whatever-needs-saving. They organise an auction or bake sale or fundraiser so poor people can give their money. (@sturdyAlex)

Least accurate part of TV reality: breakfast. TV characters regularly sit down to unfeasibly overproduced brekkies. Toast racks = primary indicator.

The most ridiculous TV trope is friends getting together for breakfast before work.

Also any family show where they sit down in a sunlit kitchen for breakfast before school & work.

 ...and they’d pour a full sized glass of orange juice, take one drink from it, then leave.

(Or they rush out of the house chomping the toast. Or else they have a long conversation leaning one elbow on the table and holding a piece of bitten toast near their mouth.)

The 6 Types of People That Say “You Guys Are Gonna Wanna Take a Look at This” in Movies
The scientist seeing something unusual on a computer screen.
An officer at a crime scene who’s not a main character who found some big evidence and then the scene cuts.
The guy who comes in when all hope was lost to show everyone the whole town pitched in and did something amazing.
Guy on boat looking at the oncoming storm.
Lowly underling whose deep digging led him to a discovery the President needs to know about .
Loose cannon cop finds a big lead.

You forgot “side character that didn’t seem like he had much potential but ended up saving everyone in the movie with some small piece of information”. Or like “Guys... hey guys... uh guys... hello? Guys? GUYS!!!” Trying to get a word into the conversation when they KNOW they have valuable info but no one will listen. (@laneboywrx)

The three (3) types of British crime shows:
Title is a surname, makes you sad.
Title is a place name, makes you sad.

“Gosh isn’t murder positively beastly, oh well mustn’t let it ruin the village’s Paintings of Fences and Sheep competition, it’s the 50th anniversary after all.”

A Decent Interval, Simon Brett
Pointing a camera at members of the public and waiting for them to make fools of themselves.

Acting: a subject that attracted a great deal of vacuous pretension and bullshit.

“The shots of you will be intercut with the odd castle ruin, stained glass window, faded document, out-of-focus sparkling water, sunlight through ferns.” Says the director of “A half-hour TV programme padded out to an hour which would have worked better on the radio.”

The best parts, of course, involve gibbering. There’s nothing actors like better than being deformed and gibbering on stage. ‘I want to be deformed and gibber!’ they cry.

It was based on the view that anyone can become a star. All of the contestants – girls in their late teens identically over-made-up with heavily mascaraed false eyelashes and unnaturally white teeth – said how big a part of their life StarHunt had become, how they were ‘really going to go for it’, how much support they were getting from their families (cut to simpering parents in the studio audience), how nervous they were, and how much they respected their fellow contestants and the judges.

He forgot to add “journey”, and pretending that the experience is about self-discovery, not winning lots of money.

Look photo editors you really need to stop illustrating articles about immunization with giant needles piercing skin thank you. (@AstroKatie)

If you could choose one photo to represent "machine learning", what would it be? I'm sick of pulsing brains of 1s and 0s or people standing around a chalk board. (@hmason)

More here, and links to the rest.

Sunday 21 April 2019

Was Agatha Christie Anti-Semitic? Well, Was She?

I've just reread Agatha Christie's Lord Edgware Dies, and if you want to avoid spoilers, stop reading now.

Written in 1933, it's not one of Christie's best. She'd divorced Archie Christie five years previously, and resolved to be professional about her writing and look on it as a job. She wrote The Mystery of the Blue Train during the split, expanding an earlier short story. She said she never thought much of it, but it is one of my favourites. It features Poirot - but with third-person narration as Hastings is conveniently in "the Argentine". She eventually dropped Hastings, and much as I love the character, and his portrayal by Hugh Fraser, I think she was wise. Without the blinkered Watson-figure, we are far more party to Poirot's thoughts, feelings and most of all impressions - though of course he never gives away his solutions or workings-out.

Lord Egware, though it has an intriguing plot to which Hastings is integral, seems somewhat hurried and churned-out. Interesting characters are not developed. And apart from the central premise, one that she returned to again and again, there is one plot-hole: how did the murderer open and reseal the vital letter? Poirot and Hastings are living in "rooms", but these are barely sketched in. Some scenes start like this: We were in our rooms. Suddenly Poirot said "Zut, alors!" and seized his hat and stick. On another occasion a Duchess calls, and they meet her "downstairs". Was this a communal living room? We are not told, and the surroundings are not described.

There are moments when Christie's perception and wit put in an appearance, but they are few. Much is made of the latest "soup-plate" hats which are stuck on over one ear, shading one side of the face. And in a typically feminine Christie touch, a lot hinges on what happens if you change clothes and identities – you end up with someone else's handbag. Jenny Driver is an attractive character and we hope she is happy with the man of her choice. As for the other two young lovers, they rather vanish from the story.

Apparently nobody can live with Lord Edgware – he has the works of the Marquis de Sade in his bookshelves, and an unnecessarily good-looking butler. We only really get to know the murderer on reading a letter sent to Poirot from the condemned cell. The writer concludes by wondering if they'll end up in Madame Tussauds' waxwork Chamber of Horrors. Christie re-uses a murder method, but never quite explains how the murders were done.

But the anti-Semitism... It is 1933. People in British society thought and said such things. Hastings is narrating, so that these remarks come from the other characters, or from him – and he is known to be not the brightest. It is never Christie speaking. These dated and, to us, unacceptable attitudes are even part of the plot – let me explain.

I read a Harper Collins paperback, and have used an etext version for reference. In the paperback version, Hastings and Poirot first set eyes on actress Jane Wilkinson (Lady Edgware) and her imitator, the impressionist Carlotta Adams, in a restaurant. They speculate about the future of the two women. "What do you foretell for Miss Adams?" asks Hastings. Poirot predicts success for the performer.

"She is shrewd and she is something more. You observed without doubt that she is a Jewess?"

I had not. But now that he mentioned it, I saw the faint traces of Semitic ancestry. Poirot nodded.

"It makes for success - that. Though there is still one avenue of danger – since it is of danger that we are talking."

"You mean?"

"Love of money. Love of money might lead such a one from the prudent and cautious path."

"It might do that to all of us."

In the etext version any mention of Carlotta's "Semitic ancestry" is dropped and apparently Poirot merely reads "love of money" in the girl's face. This scene is pretty weak, as Poirot diagnoses the characters' "fatal flaws" merely from their appearance.

One of the suspects, the deceased Lord Edgware's nephew, Captain Marsh, later produces an alibi – Japp reports:

"He’s got an alibi for yesterday evening. He was at the opera with the Dortheimers. Rich Jews. Grosvenor Square."

When Captain Marsh tells the story himself he merely says that the Dortheimers are "musical", and hints that their daughter Rachel is a bit solid. Later, when he's talking about how hard-up he was before he came into the title, he says he couldn't face marrying Miss Dortheimer. Her parents like "young men with prospects", and of course he had the prospect of not only coming into money but becoming a Lord. But, he adds, "she’s much too sensible a girl to take me, anyway."

On the night in question, Jane Wilkinson was dining with Sir Montague Corner, and there are 12 other guests to give her an alibi. Naturally Poirot goes to interview Sir Montagu.

I looked with some interest at Sir Montagu Corner. He had a distinctly Jewish cast of countenance, very small, intelligent black eyes and a carefully arranged toupee. He was a short man — five foot eight at most, 1 should say. His manner was affected to the last degree.
(Hastings speaking.)

He turns out to be a connoisseur of art and antiques, and to be up in the latest modern music and even the theories of Einstein. Hastings thinks he looks like a "medieval genie".

Sir Montagu waved a curious clawlike hand. “There is no hurry. Time is infinite.”

“One always feels that in this house," sighed Mrs Widburn. “So wonderful.”

“1 would not live in London for a million pounds,” said Sir Montagu. “Here one is in the old-world atmosphere of peace that, alas, we have put behind us in these jarring days.”

A sudden impish fancy flashed over me that, if someone were really to offer Sir Montagu a million pounds, old-world peace might go to the wall, but 1 trod down such heretical sentiments.

“What is money, after all?” murmured Mrs Widburn.

Another Christie character is given to vapouring that time is infinite - Lady Chevenix-Gore in the long short story Dead Man's Mirror.

Sir Montagu's love of old-world atmosphere means that his rooms are dimly illuminated by shaded candles after dark. His ability to "do something" for actors he likes is not spelled out – presumably he can invest in a production and interfere in the casting. Or does he just pull strings? I wish we'd seen more of the affected Mrs Widburn.

On second thoughts, the book's flaws may be blamed partly on the fact that it was written for serialisation for an American magazine. Perhaps it suffers from editorial cuts and rigid guidelines. Characters have one Fatal Flaw each, and there is one Big Clue per episode – such as Sir Montagu's love of old-fashioned but dim lighting. The two women at the centre of the story are American: one a beautiful, brilliant actress, the other a successful impressionist. And there are titled characters, but the British aristocracy is shown to be either perverted or effete.

It was her American publishers who eventually persuaded her to cut out disparaging remarks about Jewish people, and many were dropped in later editions of her books.

More on the subject here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday 3 April 2019

Euphemisms about Racism 14

Reasons for voting Leave official word cloud: largest is “immigration”, followed by, in rough order of size: “country, sovereignty, control, borders, laws, British, back, independence, money, Brussels, democracy”.

A friend moved to rural France, and a neighbour told her: “We don’t have much of an Algerian problem here.” He meant: “There aren’t many Algerians here”. (In Hungary it’s “the Gypsy question”.)

In India, groups such as the Dalit, or "Untouchables" are known as "
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes".  They used to be called the Depressed Classes, and are sometimes called “other backward castes”, according to Wikipedia.)

All these euphemisms and many more can be found in my book Boo and Hooray!, now expanded and updated to keep pace with the proliferation of weasel words.

civilization: Western civilisation
controversial comments on race: racist comments

cultural anxiety
cultural dilution
cultural change, culture change

cultural studies: inclusive history

defend our borders

Aborigines in Australia were “dispersed” – cleared from the land.

demographics, diversity

economic anxiety

elite, liberal elite:
educated middle-class people who aren’t racist enough

ethnic neighbourhood

get our country back

Highland clearances, Irish famine:
ethnic cleansing

I’m not a racist, but...
I’m only saying what everybody’s thinking.
I’m proud to be English.

I’m the least racist person you’ve ever met!
independent thinker, intellectual diversity: racist, racism

Life was simpler when we were young.

London values

loving your country

manifest destiny

metropolitan: not racist enough

mixed, socially mixed area: racially mixed

other cultures
out of touch:
not racist enough

patriot, patriotic
political correctness
populist, populism

provocative, controversial:
racist, sexist

real world
sacrifice our culture

racist stereotype

straight talk: racism, sexism, homophobia

take back control: take back control of our borders

The pace of change is too fast: There’s Polish food in Tesco’s and I wasn’t consulted.

traditional: racist and sexist

The English lack a sense of national identity.

Western civilisation, Western culture, Western values:
white people

White men are an endangered species: There’s one woman and one brown person on the board.

Words are just a collection of letters. People choose to be offended. What matters is the intention of the speaker: I am going to go on being racist and abusive. (Popular tropes, May 2014)

More here, and links to the rest.