Friday, August 26, 2011

There and then

I’ve just noticed something that the director Rowan Joffe said last year about his version of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock; specifically regarding his decision to update the action to 1964: “...1939’s a very, very long time ago and it almost feels like a foreign country to a contemporary audience.”

I’m not sure whether he was consciously referring to LP Hartley’s famed line about the past, or just expressing the widely held feeling that mainstream audiences are unable to cope with the notion that life happened well before they were born (and it wasn’t just in black and white either). But the idea may need reworking these days, intensifying even, as cheap travel has ensured that many of us have far more experience of foreign countries than most contemporary readers of Hartley or Greene would have done. Meanwhile, globalisation ensures that that experience contains within far less of a feeling of difference or strangeness. There will be wi-fi and Starbucks and soft toilet paper and people in Manchester United shirts. A 20-something from Brighton would probably find it easier to survive in modern Bangkok or Budapest than he would if he stayed on his home turf and travelled back 70-odd years. 1939 feels even more foreign than a foreign country does.

PS: Alistair @ Unpopular picks up the baton with regard to commodified youth culture, which came into being some time between the two dates.


Vicus Scurra said...

And you try and tell the young people of today that ..... they won't believe you

Rog said...

1964 is still like so last Century as well Grandad.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

Has it not occurred to Mr Joffe that some people under 40 LIKE the fact the original was set in 1939 and it is RE-MAKES they cannot stand!

Where is the original creative talent these days if they keep having to re-hash what's already been done and infinitely better?

expat@large said...

There are only seven* plots, but gazillions of cultural eras in which these stories could be validly placed. Are some better than others? Can the specifics of each character's actions and thoughts be transplanted to a different context, or are the essential gist of them OK? Can the political and cultural contexts be PART of the story or are they merely a painted canvas backdrop to the sex scenes and car chases?

Let's set Doctor Zhivago in Cambodia, 1973 -FAIL. Because Pasternak was merely wrapping his boy meets girl, boy fucks up marriage, boy loses both girl (and daughter) and wife plot (Tragedy No4 - star-crossed lovers), around his own experiences of the Russian Revolution.

If the same tragically romantic story were to be set in Cambodia it would not Dr Z, it would be another story, as tragic and sad no doubt, but still some other story as Cambodia's tragedy is not Russia's.

Let's set Romeo and Juliet (a very similar basic plot to Dr Z) as to music and place in 50's New York - PASS. Because it is merely (!) a boy meets girl, etc... story, that is not set around any significant cultural turning point (to my expansive historical knowledge anyway).

[expand to PhD thesis length]

BTW. The past is really *tough* foreign country. You try getting a visa.

* give or take "insert number between 1 and 10,000"

Anonymous said...

You used not to need a visa to travel to the past - just a flight to Belfast - and then depending on how far back you wanted to go, get a bus out of town.
Interesting thought about which would be more foreign - contemporary Bangkok or 1960s/1930s UK. Might depend on the toilets - that's often a decider.

Tim F said...

It's bloody postmodernism, that's what it is, Vicus.

Quite right, Rog. Let's go and loot a coffee bar.

It's probably occurred to Mr Joffe, Laura, but not necessarily to the people who fund him.

What about R&J in Cambodia, e@l? The Khmers and the Rouges.

Very good point, BWT. Those places - bits of Belfast, Gibraltar, the Falklands - that held so tight to a received, remembered notion of Britishness that they became a parody, all but unrecognisable to actual Britons.