29 July, 2008

The importance of entertainment

So here's the thing.

I was planning to write about the festival films I see in viewing order, but I've decided to skip ahead for this one film. That way, I'm done with it and I never need think about it ever again.

I've previously written about seeing the original German-language version of Funny Games, and a couple of nights ago, I saw the English language remake (see the trailer here). And now that it's done, I'm just glad it's over, I can move on, and need never see that film again.

I was already not looking forward to the film. Before I even bought the tickets, I was debating with myself whether I should go. Having seen the original, I knew I would hate the experience, and yet in an act of extreme masochism I bought the ticket. My curiosity about the whole shot-by-shot-remake idea won out over my preference to actually find pleasure in watching movies.

When it came to the day, I was not able to cope with it at all. Just the thought of sitting through that experience again honestly made me feel ill. I don't know how many times I decided not to go. Even sitting in the cinema waiting for the film to start was a great internal struggle. But that was nothing compared to the fight once the film started. What made sitting through the film even harder was the fact that I could have left at any time and not inconvenienced anyone. For some reason, there was not one single person sitting in any of the right-side seats in my row - I could have left without pushing past anyone. I don't know how that happened - perhaps there was supposed to be a group in those seats and they wisely decided not to go, or perhaps it was God trying to give me an easy way to walk out of the film and I didn't take it. All I know is that I spent the entire film desperate for the film to end. And when it did, I didn't stay to the end of the credits (as I normally try to do). Instead I was out of the cinema, literally running, the second the credits started to roll. I just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible.

I guess the moral of the story is: watching Funny Games the second time is even worse than watching it the first time. Knowing what is coming does not make it any easier. It doesn't prepare you for the experience. If anything, it makes it worse. You know what's coming up, and every moment, you can see exactly where it's heading to, and it just makes you sick.

It was interesting watching the film on the big screen, because I watched the original at home on my not-as-big-as-I-would-like-it TV. And as harsh and as confrontational as that experience was, watching it on the big screen was a lot worse, because the big screen is ... well, big. There's no way to escape from the image, so it's that much harder to watch. And the sound, oh, the sound.

I went to the film curious about how small differences might affect a shot-by-shot remake. And in the case of Funny Games, not much at all. The experience would be much the same whichever version you watch. But what I found interesting was the way I started looking for differences between the films almost as a coping mechanism. If I can focus on looking for how the films vary, I don't have to think about what's actuall happening on screen. And there weren't many differences between the two. There were the odd shots (literally single shots) that seemed unfamiliar to me - and while I certainly don't expect to every shot after one viewing of the original, so much of the remake did feel so familiar that those occasions where I found myself thinking "was that shot in the original?" I don't know - they probably were in the original, but it was strange that they would seem so completely unfamiliar when I remembered pretty much every other shot. So perhaps they may have been a change, or perhaps not.

Some of these other changes I am more certain about. In the Hot/Cold scene, I'm pretty sure the car was originally head-on to the camera, because the passenger door had to be opened to find what was inside. This time, the car is actually side-on, allowing them to find the thing inside the car boot (a change that makes it easier - and more unpleasant - to see what falls out. That was a logical change). I'm also pretty certain that in the original the husband can't get the police on the phone but manages to call a friend, although he can't make himself heard. In the remake, he actually manages to get hold of the police, but he still can't be heard. If I'm correct about that change, one wonders why Haneke decided to make that change.

The most interesting change came after the "cat in the bag" scene. As with the original, there is no Naomi Watts nudity in the scene (or anywhere in the film, for that matter), but rather interestingly, where in the original the wife gets fully dressed again afterwards, in the remake Naomi Watts is only in her underwear when events progress. She then remains in her underwear for a long time - until the point where she gets dressed to go running down the road. And while I fully appreciate the enjoyment that one can ordinarily get from seeing Naomi Watts in her underwear, in this case it felt unnecessarily exploitative, even for this film - and frankly, if Michael Haneke is going to try to take the moral high ground with this film, I don't know that a change like that is actually going to help his case much.

(And incidentally, when she goes running down the road, she does wear that same weird poncho-jersey thing that was in the original film. Couldn't they have changed that at least? It looks just as awful on Naomi Watts.)

Anyway, I want to get this over and done with. Funny Games - a horrible horrible film by an extremely talented director. I honestly can't believe that I voluntarily sat through the film once, let alone (in effect) twice. I wish I could go back and stop myself, tell myself that it's not worth it. All I can hope is that, if anyone reads this, you will take what I have to say into account. Don't watch this film, in either version. If you do, you'll regret it. Much as I do.

Next post, we'll go back to the film festival screening order. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson go sightseeing In Bruges. There's a dwarf. And people die. It's very funny, and very violent. Michael Haneke would hate it.

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