I have reported on movies seen at both The Little Theatre and at The Odeon. Until recently we had not been to The Odeon, it being the local version of “the multiplex” cinema and therefore not appropriate for someone of my delicate cultural sensibilities. However we did recently succumb as we wanted to see “Spectre” and were not able to see it at The Little Theatre as we were travelling when it was shown there in the “Silver Screen” sessions on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning. Since we were then given vouchers for discounted seats we were tempted back for “Bridge of Spies” with Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance, which I found quite moving, and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” about which I have already written at some length.
Whilst The Odeon is quite comfortable and has excellent screens and sound and the staff are generally friendly and helpful I still can’t quite feel at ease with the huge “Candy Store” in the entrance. The staff at the Little Theatre are all slightly bohemian student looking even when they are clearly nearly as old as we are and there is a certain charm in the old foldaway table with its plastic cloth for the biscuits and other bits and pieces. There is no getting away from the sense of where the priorities of each venue lie even though both are commercial enterprises.
Anyway, onto the movies. As many of you will know, this is Paolo Sorrentino’s follow up to his hugely successful “The Great Beauty” from 2013 which we saw back in Sydney at the Palace Norton Street, the Leichhardt soul mate to the Little Theatre, though less down at heel nowadays after its major renovation. This won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and unfortunately, though I can’t say for sure, I feel that this must have been a major factor in “Youth” being written and made as an English-language film with a largely British and American cast. When Hollywood sees a form of success it always wants a piece of that action but it often doesn’t understand that the very thing that made the success is the very thing that it can’t have. When the atmosphere and style of “The Great Beauty” are translated to an English-language, suitable for an American audience format, it becomes emptied out and unconvincing. One can no longer suspend disbelief and that for me was the central problem of this movie which I nonetheless found absorbing and thought-provoking.
I don’t intend to write a “review” of the movie here as there are many available online and they form a broad consensus (that is, an only partially successful mess redeemed by some fine performances and cinematography that nevertheless lacked meaning), however I will say that I did not find either of the two aging male leads convincing in their roles, least of all the idea that Michael Caine was a celebrated composer. I also had a problem with one of the central plot mechanisms, that is the idea that the Queen would have insisted that he conduct a performance of his “Simple Songs” for Prince Phillip’s birthday and moreover wouldn’t take “No” for an answer. This just struck me as totally implausible, that is, I felt that Prince Phillip would be just too much of a philistine to even want such a concert (though the name of the work might suggest otherwise). Imagine my chagrin then at discovering that Sorrentino got the idea from a real life incident in which Riccardo Muti flounced off stage in a huff and pulled out of conducting a concert for Prince Charles’ 60th birthday at Buckingham Palace. However all was right with the world when I looked further into to this and discovered that indeed royal philistinism was at the heart of the dispute between Muti and Buck House. For full details you can read all the juicy gossip here but suffice to say that:
“The reason for Muti’s hissy fit is that the Queen and the birthday boy himself had the temerity to question his carefully crafted musical programme, which both thought was ‘inappropriate’ for the occasion and rather overlong.”
“Youth” does not really have a plot unless you take the request of the Queen’s Emissary of the conductor to conduct and the attempt by the film director character to finish his script as a plot. Rather these are the structures upon which Sorrentino bases his meditation on the reflections of age upon itself and on youth; both its own lost youth and the coming youth that will displace it.
In complete contrast “Spotlight” is, one might say, thick with plot except that the plot is drawn from real events and the movie may be thought of as being in the “procedural” genre in its style, the procedures here being those of good old-fashioned investigative journalism. We are carefully taken through the events as played out by the Spotlight investigative reporting team of the Boston Globe newspaper. Again, not wishing to review the film, the most significant aspect of the story seemed to me to be the ability of the Catholic church to used its institutional power over the Boston community to protect priests who were sexually abusing children of both sexes. What we see is a struggle to overcome the forces of resistance to the truth, in the form of people at a variety of levels in the community and church, closing ranks in the false belief that the church must be protected at the expense of the lives of many other individuals who lacked the power to defend themselves or to fight back.
Reinforcing this was the fact that it was largely due to the appointment of a new, Jewish, out-of- town editor who did not have the same emotional stake in either the church or community at the time that the information became available in a way in which it could be effectively followed up. At the heart of the story was perhaps the most telling scene in which the new editor is invited to visit the Cardinal for a “chat” in which the latter clearly implied that the two institutions, church and press, should work together for the “best interests” of the community only for the editor to state that he felt it was better if the Boston Globe took its own independent stance. They both knew what they were talking about even though they were not talking about it, so to say.
The extent of the abuse was uncovered and the film ends with a list of all the cities around the world in which similar widespread abuse had occurred which ran into the hundreds including, of course, Australian cities such as Sydney and Ballarat which my Australian readers will be well aware of. These cases stretch back to the seventies and one is bound to ask “What exactly was it about the seventies that allowed so much of this to go on, not just in the Catholic church but also, as we now know only too well, across the media, in radio, television and film and more to the point is it still going on and still being suppressed?” A sociological or anthropological research project anyone?