Every now and then, I've found myself wanting to write about what I consider to be genre fiction's Original Sin, as it pertains to cultural appropriation, but until now I've always put it off.
The main reason I haven't is because I've never wanted it to appear to be a reference to any given online incident or argument. I've never wanted to be That Celt who invariably shows up in the comment section of an anti-imperialist article to point out that the Irish/Scottish/Welsh/Cornish/Whoever were the very first people that The Damned English ground beneath their heel, in a fair attempt at making a piece about the oppression of non-white people all about the oppression of a particular group of white people.
This isn't to say that I don't believe the sins of the British Empire on the British Isles themselves should be overlooked. In a way, that's what this post is all about. I just find it incredibly awkward when it's brought up during a conversation about colonialism and oppression occuring beyond Europe. So please bear this in mind as you read on; while there's no doubt that anti-Welsh bigotry still exists, in no way am I trying to claim that it's on par with other kinds of racism that I see layered in shitty streaks throughout society, or that appropriation of Welsh culture occurs in science fiction and fantasy circles in the same way as appropriation of other cultures.
But it does annoy me. I've read posts from people online who are usually very careful about issues of privilege and the like, who then lecture about definitive and correct interpretations of Arthurian legend without ever acknowledging the simple fact about all of this: these tales were stolen, lock, stock and barrel, from the people of Wales.
And stolen is absolutely the correct word for it. The transformation of the early Arthurian narratives, the insertion of new characters and stories (like Lancelot, and his subsequent affair with his King's wife), the Anglicised corruption of Welsh names (Gwenhwyfar to Guinevere, Myrddin to Merlin, and so on), the weakening of the original Welsh characters and their replacement with non-Welsh knights (loyal Bedwyr's downgrading to idiot child Bedevere, hotheaded Cai's transformation into simple-minded bully Kay)- all of these things rankle.
What makes it worse is the horrible echoes the theft of these myths have in the history of the Welsh nation over the millennium and a half since the creation of the stories. Anglicisation of Welsh place names is just one of a number of language issues, issues that are routinely and fatuously dismissed by many people (and newspapers). Like Bedwyr and Cai, we continue to be portreyed as Idiot Taffies, the intellectually impaired also-rans of the Home Nations despite the overwhelming cultural and political contributions of the Welsh, punching far above the weight of our relatively tiny population. First they took the stories we told about ourselves, then they took our land and our resources. Wales has been strip-mined for the benefit of others, metaphorically and literally.
Look, I understand it's an ancient sin. Cultural consensus appears to be that all of this passed into the realm of planetary ownership a long time ago. And perhaps that's fine, and maybe I'm just oversensitive, and after all we Welsh can frequently be our own worst enemies. God knows I seem to be one of the few Welsh people who cares about Arthurian legends in this way: the recent show Merlin was made in Wales, by Welsh people working for BBC Wales, yet barely cast a single Welsh person, chosing instead to indulge in the idea of Arthur as a very English king, owing more to the long line of English public schoolboys that preside over we peasants than the figure created as a Celtic superhuman who fought against the encroaching English.
And that's the worst blow of all. Arthur was meant as a symbol of Celtic resistance to Anglo Saxon elimination of ancient Welsh culture, yet the producers of Merlin thought it was fine for the title character to speak in an old Saxon dialect. Did they even consider lip-service to the roots of the mythology? Of course not. We, the Welsh, are an irrelevance, at times even to ourselves.
So this is why I get wound up when I see people proclaiming the supremacy of the French Arthurian adaptations, or T.H. White's execrable books, where the English are explicitly cast as heroes at war with the savage Celts. Perhaps I wouldn't feel so bad about it if so many aspects of Welsh culture weren't currently under direct threat. But they are. It's no exaggeration to say that there has been a thousand year war waged against our people and our culture, even if it's a war hasn't always been fought at the point of a sword or the barrel of a gun. It's a historical fact that attempts were being made to eradicate the Welsh language less than a hundred years ago. Less than fifty years ago! Even today.
You want to see how the Welsh language is treated? Look at recent news items about how little Welsh language musicians are paid on the BBC Radio Cymru radio station compared to English language artists on Radio Wales. You want to see how people treat the Welsh themselves? Have a read of any comment section on any news website that mentions Wales. Welsh people get verbally attacked on occasion for speaking Welsh in public in our own country.
But people don't know this context. Of course they don't. As a nation, as a culture, we are essentially invisible. If I travel outside of Britain, I have to explain ad nauseum that I'm not from England. No wonder the appropriation of Wales's Arthur is a non-issue, generally uncredited as the wellspring of Tolkien, Narnia, Abercrombie, George R. R. Martin, and all of the rest. This act of theft forms the basis of medievalist sword-and-sorcery fantasy fiction, the culture of Wales endlessly reused and recycled even as the nation itself struggles to retain its identity and language.
Maybe I shouldn't get this angry about old sins, but I do. There aren't many of us left in the world. I don't want to believe I'm part of a dying people, but sometimes I fear I am. You'll forgive me, I hope, if I don't find it pleasant that it's entirely possible that one day all that's left of us will be people play-acting with the corpses of our long-dead stories.
Monday, 7 January 2013
A Good Day to Die HardA Good Day to Fuck Off.
At last!!! The return of the criminally-underrated one-series-wonder secret history alien invasion a-little-bit-ripping-off-The-X-Files 90s show! I've spent the last fifteen years engaged in a letter-writing campaign to have it resurrected, like Tim Robbins campaigning to get Shawshank State Prison a better library, and like Tim Robbins I have triumphed! You either get busy livin', or you get busy dyin'!
Oh, no, hold on, this is a completely different Dark Skies. Shit.
Seriously, though, I really did like the 90s show.
Jack the Giant Slayer
Back in the day, a Bryan Singer and Christopher McQuarrie movie would have been a damn good bet for a good time. In the negative column, this one's been held back for aaaages and that's rarely a good sign, and also all recent fairy tale movies have been bloody awful.
The Last Exorcism 2
[Obligatory Sneer About The Title]
I quite liked the last Last Exorcism. Couple of good performances, pretty creepy, and a final five minutes that was madder than a jam-shampoo salesman who eats shoes. This will probably be rubbish, though.
Not, as you might hope, a remake of Michael Mann's Heat, only with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy in the Pacino/de Niro roles.
Actually, that's what I would have done. Exactly the same film, shot-for-shot, like Gus van Sant's Psycho, only with Bullock and McCarthy. Made completely straight-faced.
Flash fact: Director Paul Feig also did Bridesmaids (which Mrs M dragged me to under protest, yet I ended up really enjoying) and I Am David (out of all the books I was ever made to read in school, the book this film was based on is perhaps the one I loathed the most).
Jurassic Park 3D
The fact that I will get to see Jurassic Park in the cinema two years on the trot is too beautiful for such crude, ugly, mis-shapen things as "words."
Pain & Gain
A Michael Bay film where nothing explodes, which I can't quite get my head around.
Iron Man 3
The trailer is the dog's bollocks*, no doubt. Shane Black is the perfect fit for this kind of superhero flick, and it has a good chance of being the best Iron Man yet. If you haven't seen Black's Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, do so immediately, as it's one of the best films of the past ten years, and Black's best work since he played the specky guy doing the genital jokes in Predator.
The Great Gatsby
Baz Luhrmann is great. Did I ever tell you lot my theory on how Strictly Ballroom is basically Star Wars? Not mad keen about Leonardo DiCaprio in anything, mind, although I could just about cope with him in Inception.
Seriously though, Ballroom and Moulin Rouge are perfect examples of classic, elegant, clockwork plotting in a screenplay. You could easily dissect them to fuck and back at an interminable scripting workshop. Australia never deserved the kicking it got either, although it could have done with half hour carved out. But what film couldn't, eh?
Star Trek Into Darkness
I have watched the Abrams Trek reboot more times than any other film in recent years. Even the Batmans. Even the Batmans, for God's sake. And just when you think it can't get any better, they cast the 'Batch! Can't bloody wait.
As a side note, the trailer for this and for Iron Man 3 were criticised by some fans online for being too dark and violent. You wonder whether these folk know how things like "drama", or "incident", work. Perhaps they'd prefer two hours where the characters sit around a boardroom table discussing matters of import while drinking tea.
This is, I think, how you spot the people brought up exclusively on The Next Generation.
M. Night Shyamalan might have been bloody awful for bloody years, but Unbreakable still has one of the most perfectly-scripted superhero plots. I imagine this, however, won't be all that good, and will contain a lot of Will Smith's Serious Acting (i.e. "Looking Constipated").
Man, Independence Day. Now that's what I call a close encounter.
Man of Steel
I don't care that Zack Snyder's directorial efforts so far have been slightly above mediocre at best. Henry Cavill just looks like Superman in a way that even Christopher Reeve didn't. And it's got an absolutely superb cast, every choice inspired.
Diane Lane- bloody brilliant and, let's hope, now in a better comic book adaptation than her last one, the Stallone Judge Dredd. Kevin "Iconic Midwestern Farmer" Costner as Pa Kent (of course!). Russell "Rough Australian Man-Crush" Crowe as Jor-El, putting his Generic Gladiator English Gravitas Accent to good work. Michael "Ice Cold Freaky Bastard and Best Thing In Boardwalk Empire" Shannon as Zod! Laurence Fishburn as Perry White! Toby from off of the West Wing!
Best of all, Amy Adams as Lois Lane. She's one of the best actors working. Christian Bale got a lot of praise for The Fighter, and he deserves it, but Amy Adams is even better. The understated way she inhabits her character is extraordinary- maybe the last time I've seen someone so completely become someone else in a film was co-star Russell "Seriously, My Wife's A Bit Concerned About The Man-Crush" Crowe in The Insider (Crowe got the Oscar for Gladiator, but deserved it for The Insider.)
If that cast isn't enough to allay fears, it's produced by Christopher Nolan, who has one of the best track records in the movies. Never done a bad one, to my mind (although I haven't seen his first yet, I've heard good things.) And if that isn't enough, one of the trailers features a Jor-El voice-over adapted from Grant freaking Morrison's All Star Superman. I mean, come on. Come on. What else do you people want?
Well, apparently some of you want the film to be shot with a different lens filter. I mean, that's the only conclusion I've come to regarding the cries of "too dark" emanating from the comic book freakerati. "Too dark!" they cry when they see the Iron Man trailer. "Too dark!" they cry after watching Dark Knight Rises (it wasn't called Knight Rises, people!) "Lovely, light, optimistic, hopeful!" they cry after watching Avengers, a film which climaxes with the heroes mass slaughtering hundreds of thousands of enemy combatants. DKR is about Batman as inspirational heroic icon, and ends with Bruce Wayne's mission finally over, allowing him to live in peace. The Man of Steel trailers are all jam-packed with hope and optimism. The only thing dark about them is the bloody colour palette.
Can't see myself watching this in the cinema, but I would probably rent it. Pixar do solid, fun, well-made movies that are inexplicably treated by some as the pinnacle of motion picture excellence, woven exclusively from effervescent unicorn rainbow vomit.
I think they're mostly pretty good, but overrated (apart from Wall-E, which is about robots and is therefore brilliant.) For a film that so many people rave about, Up, in particular, is boring as hell for the first hour. Although I liked the dog and the ending is fun.
Also, little bit feels like there should be an apostrophe somewhere in the title.
World War Z
Long delayed, production having begun in 1978. Probably going to be bollocks**.
Quite liked Kick-Ass the movie, quite unliked Kick-Ass the comic (if nothing else because it wasted an interesting premise.) Quite fed up of anything to do with Mark Millar.
White House Down
Roland Emmerich returns to the site of his greatest triumph!
Man, Independence Day. Now that's what I call a close encounter.
The Lone Ranger
For those who like Disney adventure with a bracing hint of racism.
PACIFIC RIM. PACIFIC RIM. PACIFIC RIIIIIIIIIIIM.
GIANT ROBOTS. FIGHTING GIANT MONSTERS.
GUILLERMO DEL TORO. IDRIS ELBA INSPIRATIONAL SPEECHING!
Basically no way this isn't going to be the greatest film ever made.
In 2011, I thought X-Men: First Class was going to be rubbish, and it turned out to be the best of the X-Men films. In 2012, I thought Amazing Spider-Man was going to be rubbish, and despite its flaws and a half-baked plot even by the hackish standards of Hollywood action movies, it turned out to be the best of the Spider-Man films. I'm hoping The Wolverine is going to be this year's one of them.
In a surprising break with my fellow comic book fans, I've never rated Frank Miller's Wolverine work, which this is based on. And although I think Hugh "Another Rough Australian Man-Crush" Jackman's fantastic, I'm not that big a Wolverine fan. However, director James Mangold is also responsible for the 3:10 to Yuma remake, and that is one of the best Westerns I've ever seen, and I really like Westerns. So fingers crossed.
Love the look of this. Hope it has fewer troubling issues than Neill Blomkamp's District 9.
Wow, I remember writer and 2 Guns creator Steven Grant talking about the original comic version of this in his opinion column years ago. Always meant to pick it up, never did. Great premise- two undercover agents investigate each other, not realising they're both cops.
Insidious Chapter 2
Insidious Chapter 1 was scary as hell***, right up to the point where the baddy was shown mincing about the afterlife in demonic body paint. The tension drained a little after that, so if he's back I'll give this one a miss.
I quite liked James Wan and Leigh Whannell's work on the early Saw movies. Despite the variable quality, there was some clever things going on in them, despite the reputation for irredeemable torture pr0n. Their follow up, Dead Silence, is flawed but atmospheric, and worth catching if you like the idea of an offbeat, Hammerish gothic aesthetic.
Hoping it's a good 'un. The original Pitch Black is great fun, the sequel not so good (though the drubbing it received was a little out of proportion, even considering the daft bits). What I liked most about the films was the mix of Alien-style space-grit production design and slightly-batty future mysticism as embodied by an incredibly bored Judi Dench. You could almost believe the Riddick universe was the halfway stage of Blade Runner's near-future evolving into pseudoreligious far-future Dune.
However, the best Riddick-related thing is Escape from Butcher Bay, the best movie-tie-in video game ever made. Actually, one of the best FPS games ever made, although not so much because of the S-ing, but the bone-crunching bareknuckle fighting (FPBCBF?). Director David Twohy also wrote the Harrison Ford Fugitive, and made the great low-budget haunted-house-underwater submarine film, Below, which Wikipedia tells me features an early movie role for Zack Galifianakis, though I'm buggered if I can remember him in it.
Confession time: I really like the Underworld films. They have a completely barmy yet completely straight-faced sincerity that reminds me of 1970s Marvel horror comics, which are also great almost despite their best efforts.
Sure, the plot- werewolves and vampires armed with automatic weapons involved in a martial arts heavy war- is stupid, but it really commits to the stupidity. Bill Nighy's in it! Derek Jacoby's in the sequel! CHARLES DANCE is in the FOURTH MOVIE! The fourth! It has a needlessly involved backstory conceived and delivered in the breathless manner of an overexcited eleven-year-old talking to other overexcited eleven-year-olds. Series creator and microbiologist Kevin Grevioux mentions in one of the DVD commentaries that the story is inspired by a combination of his experiences in genetic engineering and interracial dating.
Look at that last paragraph again. There is nothing about that paragraph that isn't beautiful.
Anyway, Kevin Grevioux is also a comic writer, and the creator of I, Frankenstein, so it might be good, but it's directed by G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra's Stuart Beattie, so it might be crap, and let's be honest, it's only myself and overexcited eleven-year-olds who like Underworld anyway.
Not an overwrought adaptation of the output of Canada's favourite prog rock Objectivists, but instead a film about car racing. BOOOOORING.
Star Wars Episodes II and III 3D
Another chance to marvel at the once-unthinkable fact that we live in an era where Star Trek is young, fresh and exciting, while Star Wars is stale, insipid and beige.
Sin City: A Dame to Kill For
I still don't quite believe this is coming out, considering the long delayed production. I used to like the Sin City comics because I thought they were a satire of hard-boiled noir as well as a love letter to crime fiction. Going on Frank Miller's recent form, they're actually just straight-up racism and misogyny. Miller's one of those creators whose latter day work retrospectively infects their earlier stuff with crap. The rot hasn't quite reached Year One or Dark Knight Returns yet, but it's a worry, I don't mind telling you.
That said, I quite liked the first Sin City film. There's no way Robert Rodriguez does anything without a good dollop of satire in it. Let's hope A Dame to Kill For is more his work than Miller's.
Me and Brother Trigg watched the original Korean version many years ago, and it made both of us feel a bit queasy. And that's saying something, because Triggy's been desensitised by decades of watching the most reprehensible horror movies ever made. Imagine my surprise when news broke that the American remake would star Will Smith, and be directed by Steven Spielberg. And just when it couldn't get any odder, now it's being directed by Spike Lee, stars Josh Brolin, and has an Olsen sister presumably playing That Character. Worth the ticket price just for the WTF.
The World's End
Spaced was, for my money, the best sitcom of its time. One of the best of all time, really. The final part of the Wright/Pegg/Frost Ice Cream Trilogy is as unmissable as it gets. Also, I met Pegg once and he was lovely.
The long-awaited adaptation of a science fiction classic written by an abhorrent, unrepentant bigot.
Thor: The Dark World
Avengers may be the best of the Marvel movies, but Thor is a close second. Not even Iron Man had such an impact on me, and of all the Marvels, Thor is the most Marvel-y. The most Jack Kirby-y. And it's worth remembering that Thor is the one that laid the most ground work for Avengers; the cosmic nature of the antagonists, the machinations of Loki.
Tom Hiddleston was great in Thor, but he excelled in Avengers. I remember Mrs M didn't believe that Loki had enough weight to be the only bad guy, but he more than counterbalanced the rest of them. That's a hell of a thing to put on one actor's shoulders, but Hiddleston barely broke a sweat. And if that wasn't enough, Anthony "Port Talbot's Finest" Hopkins and Christopher "Ninth Doctor" Ecclescake too!
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Still haven't managed to see the first one yet, but from what I understand it's good but far, far too long. It appears that they delved too greedily, and now we have at least one bloated film too many. And this is coming from someone who actually likes the extended versions of LotR.
I may be a namby-pamby bed-wetting pinko commie, but I do like a good Tom Clancy doorstop. Kenneth Branagh directing and villaining, and James T. Kirk starring, really sells it for me.
BONUS RADIO PREVIEW
Neverwhere on BBC Radio
I don't listen to much radio, but this has got me well interested. Look at the cast: James McAvoy as Richard, the 'Batch as Islington, David Harewood as the Marquis, Sophie Okonedo as Hunter, Queen Margaery of House Tyrell as Door, Bernard Cribbins, Anthony Head, Christopher bloody Lee… This shouldn't be for radio, this should be the damn movie cast.
Also, I think Neverwhere is Gaiman's best novel, and as much as I liked the TV series back in the day (Patterson Joseph, what a legend), it didn't really do the story justice. But this could be great.
* For my transatlantic chums, please note language usage guidelines here.
** See footnote above.
*** A quick disclaimer: I am a great big scaredy cat. What I find unbearably terrifying, my wife finds laughable. For example, I barely made it through Paranormal Activity without having a heart attack. Adjust your expectations accordingly