Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The Meaning of Life

I found a DVD copy of Monty Python's  'The Meaning of Life' yesterday, so - for want of the art-fillum that H.I. tried to get - we watched that instead.  It has weathered well over the years (the sex-education scene still has me laughing out loud - "An ocarina, Sir"), but to try to re-create the format these days would be futile madness.

Which makes me wonder why so many good movies from a generation ago are re-made and up-dated? It should be obvious to anyone that if you make an inferior copy of something good, hardly anyone will buy it and the product will be remaindered or pulped along with the thousands of others, within a very short period of time.

The most extreme example of this in the world of cinema (that I have seen) must be Tarkovsky's 'Solaris', made in the USSR on a shoestring budget, allowing for creativity on the highest level, and leaps of imagination on the part of the viewer of the sort that put colour into black and white radio.

Hollywood producers have never historically been the brightest buttons in the universe, so pitches made to them have - traditionally - had to include certain simple components including love-interest which may or may not involve sex performed by a heart-throb, and the heart-throb in the case of the ersatz Solaris comes in the form of George Clooney.

Don't get me wrong, I like (and sometimes/often envy) George Clooney and I do not blame him for taking on any part offered whilst he is still on the A-list, but he is no substitute for the Russian actor who played the psychologist sent to the space station in the original.  Fellini made a point of not using well-known faces in most of his films, because he believed that they brought with them all the rubbish associated with their previous parts, and I think he was right.

Another reason for the re-make could well be that - since not many Americans or English speak Russian and a lot of us cannot be bothered with sub-titles, even if we can actually read at all - the dialogue is all in English, leaving the Russians to struggle with the sub-titles.

There is one detail in the original which sends a shiver up your spine, and I don't think I would be spoiling the film to describe it, after all these years.  If you haven't seen either version, stop reading now.

Something strange is happening on the space station, and the psychologist is sent up there to see if everyone is going mad.  He notices other people who should not be on board, flitting down the end of corridors, including a child bouncing a rubber ball.  He starts to wonder if he himself is going mad.

At some point, he awakes in his cabin to find a woman standing at the end of his bed, and he speaks to her as if he has known her all his life.  At this point, the viewer does not know that this is his wife, who died back on Earth some time ago.

Knowing that it cannot be his wife for the above reasons, he tricks her into following him to another part of the ship, then pushes her into a capsule to be jettisoned into space for ever.

When he next wakes up, she is standing by the bed again and he understands that she cannot be destroyed.  He talks to her, but soon realises that she seems to have no memory of their previous life together, even though she treats him as a husband and seems to understand him through long association.  He begins to think that the restless 'sea' which covers the planet that the station is orbiting is an intelligent entity, and is projecting physical objects in the form of 'humans' which it has pulled straight from the psyches of the scientists on board the ship.  All of these 'humans' are - in reality - dead, including his wife.

Eventually, he sort of gives in and decides to behave as intimately with the thing which looks like his wife, as he did before she died.  Here follows the sex scene.

He reaches to the back of her dress to unzip it, and discovers that the fabric has no zip or seams at all - it is as if the material which forms her clothes was actually made and woven around her in one single, organic piece, so he cuts it off her with a pair of scissors.  That's when the shiver goes up your spine.

I'm sorry, but it does not need millions of dollars and an all-star, all-American cast to portray such simple genius.  Just the reverse.

The Russian author of the book 'Solaris' from which the film was made, hated Tarkovsky's original Russian version - God know's what he would have thought of George Clooney!


  1. Although come to think of it, the Russian version does look a lot like William Shatner...

  2. 100 years of cinema......
    and original ideas are getting a little thin on the ground.....
    I remember reading once that there are only 5 or so storylines within film narrative.....I guess that there is a finite number of ways of retelling a story

    1. That's probably why everyone now relies on special effects and violence to keep bums on seats these days. I have heard that Sherlock Holmes has given up deduction in favour of fisticuffs and guns now.

    2. I wonder which of John's 5 categories 'Three men and a Baby' comes into? Wonderfullum fillum.

  3. I love movies, especially small budget indie films. Except for them, there is very little being produced out there that is well written, interesting and worth the high price of admission they charge.

    1. Many of them don't make it onto the circuit either - between the producers and the distributors, not much gets through. The distributors have even more power than the studios, unless you are taking Universal, etc.

  4. Strange that 'The Meaning of Life' never achieved the same kudos as 'Brian'. It had some cracking gags.