The literary sex book dates back to D.H. Lawrence, although today, instead of asking: “Is it a book you would wish your wife or servants to read?” a more likely question is: “Is it a movie?” Ever since Stanley Kubrick figured out a way to make a movie out of Lolita, directors have regarded high-end porn as possible Oscar bait. Whether it’s Robert Zemeckis circling an adaptation of Nicolson Baker’s The Fermata, or Curtis Hanson saying “maybe” to Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, the literary sex book is hot property. When I read recently that Charlotte Roche’s loony sex book Wetlands had been optioned, I can’t say it came as a surprise.
When I think of the Coen brothers, I think of their movie Miller’s Crossing. More specifically, I think of the scene at the end of Miller’s Crossing, when John Turturro begs Gabriel Byrne to “Look in your heart!” and Bryne replies, “What heart?” before shooting him. That, to me, is quintessential Coen: witty, achingly clever, and heartless. If there’s a line where unsentimental becomes schadenfreude, every Coen brothers movie ignores the delineation. Their new effort – A Serious Man – is a comedy of torture. A nebbish physics professor asks the meaning of his existence, and the movie answers him the way Gabriel Byrne answered John Turturro.
When a battleship squishes the President of the United States, you know you’re watching a Roland Emmerich movie. The same man who introduced the world to Will Smith by having Big Willie knock-out an extra-terrestrial; the same man who had Jake Gyllenhaal fend off the next ice age with a campfire; the same man who gave you Ferris Bueller versus Godzilla(!!!) brings you this: the end of the world as we know it (unless you’re a hard-up character actor, or a cute kid, or a giraffe, or a Tibetan monk). For shear, insane, eyeball-trampling spectacle, Emmerich deserves a medal. For story-telling (and everything else), he deserves a punch.
Jane Campion says she made a movie about John Keats because she “was terrified of poetry”. A tricky poem was like a spider in a high corner of her brain; making meaning hard to reach; staining her enjoyment. But Keats proved a good teacher. As he says in the movie: “A poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving in a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore; it’s to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out. It is an experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept mystery.” Bright Star is about a love of verse.
You know you’ve learnt something when you’re changed by what you’ve learnt. If you’re still you, plus a memorized inventory: no dice. That’s why most of most what we learn in school is only exam fodder. There’s a big difference between knowledge that helps you get on in life and knowledge that helps you live. The new British movie, An Education, is about a valuable lesson taught to a 16-year-old by her first whopping great mistake. She is Oxford-bound, a straight-A student, so she could easily have stuck to her books and missed her opportunity. Thankfully, she studies her mistake – appreciates it – and allows experience to enhance her mind.