I suppose every once in a while it’s a good idea to do something completely out of character just to keep things lively. A few weeks back, on my way out of the BFI Southbank, I turned back to the usual crowd who were still hugging the bar and suggested that with my birthday coming up we should get together for a drink that weekend. While not unusual per se, making an event out of the occasion isn’t something I usually do.
I remember having a big birthday day when I was maybe six or seven, before we moved out into the countryside, and then a joint birthday party with a couple of fellow students during my first year at The Esteemed School of Art, but after that nothing special or than maybe a quick drink with a few people. Even my fortieth just came down to lunch and a quick pint in the afternoon with a couple of friends. Maybe my reasoning is that it would be rude to gather everyone together and then be the first to leave, which is usually the case whenever I’m out meeting up with people.
It may be that I’ve always preferred to be part of a small gathering where you can actually converse rather than having to stand amongst a whole lot of people, letting a cold bottle of beer grow warm in my hand while listening to idle chitchat. A few exceptions can always be made when the circumstances are right, but otherwise I think my aversion to seeing people en masse comes from being forced into joining in the Friday night ritual at The Esteemed School of Art where everyone decamped to the nearby pub and regurgitate everything that had happened that week. Even worse was at the animation studios, having to end a long, tiring week amidst animators bitching about who, amongst their brethren, had got a directing gig they obviously didn’t deserve. Both got old real quick so it was no wonder that I’d scurry off to see a movie instead.
So while the idea of putting something together this year might have sounded good at that exact moment, it was stillborn thereafter. Any thoughts of meeting again for more drinks dried up the moment I stepped outside onto the South Bank to help prop up an ex–girlfriend of one of the crowd. Toward the end of the screening she had bounded from her seat like a filly out of the gate, disappeared for goodness knows how long and eventually reappeared, now stumbling around like a new–born calf, long after we had retired to the Riverfront bar. It turned out that whatever drinks she had downed formed a unique cocktail that incurred such a violent expulsion in the Ladies Room that panic–stricken BFI staffers had apparently coned off the area and called in a rapid–response hazmat team.
Now she desperately needed to get home and because her old partner still wanted to carry on propping up the bar instead I offered to help her out, not realizing that the gauge might have read empty but there was still a little left in the tank. Getting the Underground didn’t seem the ideal choice of transport so we headed over the bridge, looking like we were enacting Napolean’s retreat from Moscow with me wondering if it would be indelicate to simply throw her over my shoulder to help make headway. When we eventually reached the Strand the traffic was so snarled up that we got the tube, not realizing the rocking and rattling of the train wasn’t exactly ideal for her delicate situation. It didn’t help that she had long fine hair that wasn’t tied back.
Throughout our trek all the people we came into close contact with directed their withering looks not to the young lass bent double with strained stomach muscles and sick in her hair but to the middle–aged man who had diluted his one pint of lager that evening with lemonade, suggesting their primary thought was: What sort of person gets a woman in this state? I wanted to explain, “I only met her four hours ago, this is nothing to do with me!” but I figured that I had to show that gallantry still had a faint pulse. When we eventually parted at Baker Street, where she decided she could continue the few stops west unaided and I could continue north, once I was settled and poring over the crossword, I decided that was probably enough fun and games for a while.
At least that was the excuse I was going with. Luckily nobody picked me up on it, which probably showed how much they cared (or even remembered that night), and I was happy to let it slide. When a dear friend emailed Friday evening to see what I was doing on my “big special day” and remind me that we still hadn’t managed to get together since Christmas, rather than take the initiative and invite her out I replied that I just wanted to see this month out with a day of Powell & Pressburger and pizza. So after nipping out early Saturday morning for croissants and fresh lemon juice from the nearby M&S food hall I kicked off with ‘I Know Where I’m Going!’
and A Canterbury Tale
, then A Matter of Life and Death
and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
. The Red Shoes
got bumped because of past history. I gave the pizza a miss too.
Waking up on Sunday morning I decided that I should at least try and do something special during what remained of the weekend. Except I couldn’t think of anything to fit the bill, so I went to see Avatar
instead. Nearly three months on from it’s release, what more is there to add. It’s a lot of blue. It’s better than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
. It didn’t do anything for me at all. I do wish that I had seen it earlier, when there was a choice of versions to watch. Now it was just the 3D version available, making Avatar
my introduction to the format. I don’t mean to be a tricky customer but I don’t do glasses. As a kiddie I took a spill and had the bridge of my nose mashed into the tarmac so glasses never sit right on my face. Even during summer I just squint my way through the bright sunlit days.
So the 3D didn’t do much for me than provide a mild irritant. When I wasn’t fiddling with the specs a couple of the camera moves reminded me of being on the Star Tours
and Back to the Future
rides, lurching forward in my seat as a reaction to what was being projected in front of me. Ultimately the depth of field just exacerbated the lack of depth to the narrative and after a while I found myself playing guess the camera move, trying to figure out where it would go next to put the action right in my face. As obvious as the story was, there were still one or two small surprises, but they only came about because I’d never managed to get all the way through Cameron’s ‘scriptment’, which has been floating around for goodness knows how long, or the actual script, which surfaced toward the end of last year.
Neither had been much of a page–turner simply because tedious detail suffocated the life out of the story, and with both I skimming through them before simply giving up even though the end was in sight. Although Avatar
has been accused of stealing from Dances With Wolves
, Battle for Terra
, FernGully: The Last Rainforest
, Poul Anderson’s short story Call Me Joe
and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom cycle, sitting there in the cinema I was reminded more of Larry Niven’s Ringworld
. Having read it was seems like a lifetime ago, so any recollection may be fuzzy at best, my abiding memory of the book is that Niven took so long setting up this artificial world, much like a thin sliver of a Dyson sphere, that when the characters finally get there nothing much really happens.
Of course I may be wrong. But with Avatar
it seemed like so much effort put in for so little return other than shouting to the world, look how big and clever we are. Unfortunately I didn’t succumb to such shallow charm. Whereas by the end of The Hurt Locker
my nerves felt utterly shredded and I was eager to scramble out of the cinema and spark up, as Avatar
finally came to a close I was squirming in my seat feeling like my bladder was about to explode. I was trying to decide whether I should have gone earlier or not gone at all.