Friday, December 08, 2006

today : It's chriiiissstmaaasss! #1 I watch films

Because it's coming up to Christmas, it is time for TV channels to show all of their Christmas movies as much as possible. The problem for them is that movies rights are so spread out these days that they struggle to come up with the one big Christmas movie event for everyone to watch. In recent years the BBC has shown both Titanic and Jurassic Park. The only problem is that by the time they appeared on Christmas day, everyone had already seen them about 100 times. I think this year's 'event movie is the little seen first Harry Potter film.

One thing that video, DVD and now movie channels has brought us is the ability to watch things again and again. In the olden days people who saw films several times were considered somewhat eccentric. In one of his plays Alan Bennett jokes about some woman in Leeds who'd seen The Sound of Music 55 times. These days she would be outstripped by almost any young child who has seen Cars or Toy Story or whatever WAY more than that, even before they've reached school age.

So I watched Love Actually again last night. I must have seen it about six or seven times now. I don't know why. Actually I do. When it first appeared on cable it was on heavy rotation and each time I flicked onto it I began watching and then watched it through to the end. Even little old selective me ends up doing this quite a lot. It sort of becomes a film-studies activity and even whilst I know there are probably better things to do with my time, I can't help feeling a little like Marty Scorsese in his screening room obsessively trying to watch every film ever made so I can then make documentaries about them.

The thing about Love Actually is that it is an excellent and fascinating piece of work that I think has been under-rated because it has an optimistic theme in a time when anything serious and feted has to be dark, edgy and downbeat. It kind of manages to jam what amounts to 8 different films into one, and switches wildly between froth, odd psycho-drama, hand-wringing relationship study, sketch comedy. light romantic comedy, slight straight romance, kids' movie, light satire and Christmas movie. Each time I watch it I become more and more interested in how it actually manages to work rather than appear as hideous mess. I am not sure who edited it but they did a brilliant job. Somehow the rhythms of each storyline are maintained, even though the film switches between the stories in a seemingly random way. The Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson story of a fading marriage is given long scenes where the actors can breathe and show off. After all Rickman and Thompson are two of the best, and she in particular as she gets older is quite brilliant at portraying the woman who is holding it all together whilst falling apart inside. Conversely the scenes with Laura Linney feature an equally serious and downbeat storyline yet is configured in short scenes.

The fact is that, for a 'romance' it is closer to Short Cuts or Magnolia than it is to Notting Hill. The secret is to watch it without the sound. Take away the rather syrupy musical montages and you have a character montage movie that skillfully creates its characters ,scenarios and stories in an economic and richly satisfying way.

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