Saturday Movie Review: Welcome to Manchester

Saturday, September 09, 2006
Posted by Loner.

From Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyle (as Martin Hardy):

Tristram Shandy, it was actually number eight in the top one hundred books of all time.

That was a chronological list.

From The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne:

Pray, Sir, in all the reading which you have ever read, did you ever read such a book as Locke's Essay upon the Human Understanding?—Don't answer me rashly,—because many, I know, quote the book, who have not read it—and many have read it who understand it not:—If either of these is your case, as I write to instruct, I will tell you in three words what the book is.—It is a history.—A history! of who? what? where? when? Don't hurry yourself.—It is a history-book, Sir, (which may possibly recommend it to the world) of what passes in a man's own mind; and if you will say so much of the book, and no more, believe me, you will cut no contemptible figure in a metaphysick circle.

Tristram Shandy is actually number 7 on The List. It is a list of novels. Novels are a subset of books. No author has more than one novel on The List (100 greatest?) and The List is chronological by publication date. Neither of these criteria is explicitly spelled out for the reader of The List....

I began reading another blog shortly after this list was published—something to do with an opinion guy (who knew?) losing his ESPN web site column for criticizing the man he worked for (name of Eisner) over where he opined on other things, primarily cultural, for a publisher (name of Peretz.) He later got it (the column) back. My one and only e-mail to a famous, as famous goes these days, blogger (name of Reynolds) was about this. This blog, new to me, was and is the property of a novelist-screenwriter-director whose name was not totally unfamiliar.

In reading The List—linked to from that blog—I was fully aware by the time I came to the novel where the Dormouse doesn't say feed your head (The List number now the name of a popular, as popular goes these days, television series about a rarity, these days,—an effective civil servant)— of what? Of what?—Why that The List is chronological and, as Great Expectations is missing, each author only gets a single spot and Dickens's is David Copperfield. That's okay by me. With the selection of Emma in preference to Pride and Prejudice, not to mention Persuasion, as the contribution of Jane Austen (a clue here on one of the criteria as the squib reads: Near impossible choice between this and Pride and Prejudice., but who reads the squibs when perusing The List? And who doesn't say to themselves the first time they look upon a list of 100 when only at number nine—ummm, Pride and Prejudice better be Top Thirty. I returned to the blog to post my first comment—a note to say that the list was chronological. The owner hadn't noticed this ([No slam? -ed. Song lyrics later. 'Nuff said. -ed]), but one of his other readers, commenting before I could, had.

That is my heroic flaw—my excess of civic pride.

Thus, thus, thus—my first comment on that blog was not a correction or a fact. I opined on whether or not we were/are in a War of Civilizations - weren't/aren't - a couple of weeks later. (More on something more or less related momentarily.) Had I not, you and I,— you being those of you who read this,—would probably not have known something of one another (for those of you whom I've read) and I'd not have gotten a treasured e-mail from "Brother Ledeen" in which he blows off a point of disagreement and answers a question by suggesting I buy and read his book. The subject was Democracy in America—a book that's not a novel.

The something more or less related (previous paragraph) is a VDH a/k/a Victor Davis Hanson essay(?) linked in comments here. War of Civilizations sort of stuff still (and evermore I fear,) but I was struck by this paragraph:

So we are in limbo — a sort of war, a sort of peace. Lulls of this nature are not such rare things in history. The Athenians and the Spartans between 421-415, or the Western Europeans between October 1939 and May 1940, likewise thought the squall had passed — the respite a sign that the enemy was satiated, or was occupied elsewhere, or had had a change of heart, or that times of transient calm might mean permanent peace

Go Tell The Spartans --- Vietnam War movie title taken from a translation of Simonides's Epitaph for the Spartans who fell at Thermopylae:

Go tell the Spartans,
That here, obedient to their laws,
We lie.

Not the lack of a "." at the end of the paragraph, but that bit about the Athenians and the Spartans. What the [expletive deleted] is the former(?) Classics professor talking about. A favorite historian (name of Durant) sums up those years:

Three factors turned this pledge of a half century of friendship into a brief truce of six years: the diplomatic corruption of the peace into "war by other means"; the rise of Alcibades as the leader of a faction that favored renewed hostilities; and the attempt of Athens to conquer the Dorian colonies of Sicily.

Athens; Athens; and Athens, and with the last came, per Thucydides:

This was the greatest Hellenic action that took place during this war, and, in my opinion, the greatest action that we know of in Hellenic history — to the victors the most brilliant of successes, to the vanquished the most calamitous of defeats; for they were utterly and entirely defeated; their sufferings were on an enormous scale; their losses were, as they say, total; army, navy, everything was destroyed, and, out of many, only few returned. So ended the events in Sicily.

When the news reached Athens, for a long time people would not believe it...

Must go.

Oh, no. Not David. No.

He goes.

This is a movie review. The one I'm writing on The Road Warrior—the one I've been writing for months—is complete save for the review part and has been for quite some time. I'll probably have to rewrite the framing should I ever write the review—hence my hesitation.

Why is Sterne's novel number seven on The List?

Because it was written early on in the history of the novel. As novels go there's nothing much like it until the novel at number 41. I read the whole of the novel at number 41, cover to cover as we say, this summer. I'm very proud of myself as I've been periodically trying to read it cover to cover for the past 30 years.

Early in the history of the novel?

The novel is a revolt.

A revolt against what?

This is important. A revolt against the contents of the library of the title character in the novel in the number 1 spot on the list and, by extension, the legacy of scholasticism.

Why is that important?

Because this is a movie review.

Is it a review of Tristram Shandy: A Cock and a Bull Story, a 2006 release now available on DVD?

No. It's a review of a movie the writer, director and some of the stars of Tristram Shandy: A Cock and a Bull Story made five years ago. It was released in 2002.

Why all the above?

Because The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, no more unfilmable as a feature film in my view than any number of other novels on The List, probably wouldn't have been, for lack of a better word, adapted had it not been for the earlier movie and, for reasons I may remember to state, the earlier movie works a lot better than Tristram which Alas, poor YORICK! omits(?) Yorick (a Hamlet reference brilliantly tied to a Don Quixote reference) who gets black pages (dramatized in the movie) after a description of what happens ten times a day at his grave to close Chapter XII and also manages to have the last line of the novel: A COCK and a BULL, said Yorick—And one of the best of its kind, I ever heard. in Chapter CXI.

What's a COCK and a BULL?

A fanciful tale.

And the movie Tristram Shandy?

Is not nearly as fanciful, in my view, as the earlier movie. Ask me about the movie quote with which I began and I'll do the review.

What quote? Welcome to Manchester?

No. That's from the movie I'm going to review.

I'm being postmodern, before it's fashionable.

So is that. No. Two guys are talking. One's a journalist. He asks questions...mostly. The other is an actor. He answers questions...mostly. The actor says that Tristram Shandy was number eight...and the journalist, not correcting two mistakes, points out that that was a chronological list.

In the earlier movie, 24 Hour Party People, the actor played the journalist, and that is, I think, the most interesting thing about Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story and something someone familiar with the earlier movie knows, but then this someone also knows the earlier movie and having seen the earlier movie, would, in my view, find Tristram something of a letdown, but then I've read the source material where I knew little about the source material from which the earlier movie was crafted—except for one scene about which I'm going to hold forth. Better do that while I'm thinking about it.

Early on in 24 Hour Party People, Steve Coogan, the actor, playing Tony Wilson, the journalist, takes part in a recreation of a historical event. The place: Manchester, England. The date: June 4, 1976. The event: The Sex Pistols play Manchester for the first time. They play to an audience of 42 (Sex Pistols footage is intercut) while Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson—one of the 42—begins our tour through a revolt in another art form as it played out in one place during the next 16 years. For what it is, epic history, it's fascinating in both content and style. It's not endlessly fascinating like the best movies, books and music, but it is well worth a second and a third look (with two DVD commentaries to listen to) and that dissection of the first Sex Pistols appearance in Manchester is storytelling at its best.

Buzzcocks can't play because we're not ready so it's just the Sex Pistols.

For some of you, no doubt, it will be a look at the kind of history from which, like Stephen, you are trying to awake. For me, in Berkeley, some self-identification was in the offing. The Sex Pistols played Winterland in San Francisco on January 14, 1978. Ever get the feeling you've been cheated? Johnny Rotten asked as the Sex Pistols left the stage for the last time. I was hanging out in a business (name forgotten) that sold only freshly-baked cookies (a novelty then) with the girl working late there (she may have been baking while I sampled the merchandise) when a friend (most knowledgeable music guy I've known, but damn if I can get beyond Bill) came in to describe the event. He knew he'd seen something that went well beyond the music being played. I'd imagine I saw something similar when I watched from the rafters—metaphorically speaking—Green Day play some hall in Oakland in, maybe, 1993. Talk about heat. The walls were drenched in sweat when the lights came up. I digress again. My answer to Johnny Rotten is an emphatic NO!!! The self-identification presented itself in the form of The Clash.

I'm the all night drug-prowling wolf
Who looks so sick in the sun
I'm the white man in the Palais
Just lookin' for fun

Strummer-Jones echoes Lennon-McCartney—the after and before of the revolt. They're that good. Those lyrics, from the greatest of all Clash songs, belong to Mick Jones. My mental state—ever after Rude Boy...We reply belongs, in no small measure, to Joe Strummer. He is ever in and on my mind. He saw The Sex Pistols, in London, on April 3, 1976. On July 4, a new band, The Clash, opened for The Sex Pistols in Sheffield. Exactly a month earlier the Sex Pistols were in Manchester to play before 42 people. Many of those 42 would come to see their names listed on all sorts of music packaging and in all sorts of publications.

You can catch a glimpse of The Clash in Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy.

I'm gonna work 50 times harder, and I'm gonna be 50 times more famous than you.

Then you're gonna have idiots like you plaguing your life!

That is The Clash.

This was
So It Goes... And as it goes, so it went. It's all over.

That's them in 24 Hour Party People. They're performing Janie Jones on tape as Tony Wilson brings his television music show to an end. He's off to find his destiny and—I'm not making this up—converse with his god.

It's my belief that history is a wheel. "Inconsistency is my very essence" -says the wheel- "Rise up on my spokes if you like, but don't complain when you are cast back down into the depths. Good times pass away, but then so do the bad. Mutability is our tragedy, but it is also our hope. The worst of times, like the best, are always passing away".

I'm not sure that I'd be sorry if any of you rented 24 Hour Party People and found it boring. Appalling? Well...maybe. Read a novel lately? The one at number 8, err 7, on The List is engaging. The one at number 48 is my favorite. Just because it's relatively short doesn't mean it's filmable. As a matter of fact, among the books on The List—well the many I've read anyway—I think it one of the least filmable. I haven't been shown to be wrong...thus far. Thinking on it *seriously* I am sorry about the punctuation. Apologies— ...and the holocaust was complete.


Luther McLeod said...

Well, from a first reading, that was brilliant MHA. Though I will need several (at minimum) more readings to understand just what the hell it was you said. But for now, bottom line, I liked it. Sort of Joycean, Kerouacian with a little of Rousseau and a smidgen of Voltaire. And I'm talking out my butt. But I did like it. Though I have no idea, specifically, just what is was that you were recommending. But that is my lack, not your's.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

Not mine, not mine. Posted by Loner!

Luther McLeod said...

My apologies to Loner. I said it was a first read :-) Obviously not a through one.