20 July, 2011

Better late than never

So here's the thing.

This is actually a post I wrote over a year ago, back in May 2010, but for some reason never actually finished. I came across it recently, and was surprised to find it was almost completed - it literally just required the final paragraph to be added - so I'm not sure why I never got around to adding that final touch. So I've added a final paragraph, and have made a couple of minor editorial changes, but otherwise this is the post as I wrote it at the time, while the incident was still fresh in my mind. Enjoy.


So here's the thing.

I think a lot of us go through life with these self-illusions, or perhaps delusions is the proper word, about how we would respond to particular situations. We imagine ourselves responding to urgent situations with a blinding deftness and a quickness to resolve whatever problems arise. We really are the heroes of our imaginations. So, for instance, every now and then (being the paranoid person that I am) I find myself wandering through the house at 1am, checking all the doors and the windows in the house because for some reason I have a horrible feeling that tonight someone will break in. And on those occasions, I start to wonder what I would do if some intruder did break into my house, and in my mind, the answer is always the same. I have a cricket bat that a former flatmate gave me as a Christmas present, and it happens to sit by my bedroom door. (It's not there because of this whole imagined situation; that's just the most convenient place to keep it.) So, if someone were to break in, I would have a weapon easily to hand. I would sneak out, surprise the intruder, a couple of quick blows to the head, knock the guy to the ground, then if he happens to have a gun I would take that gun and shoot him in the kneecap (just to incapacitate him), and there we are. Problem solved. The problem is, that's a scenario that comes from watching too many action films, one where I'm basically imagining myself as a marginally more humane John McClane, and I'm not sure I look that good in a singlet.

So it's Sunday morning, and I'm going to church, because that's what I do on Sunday morning. Now, as I've said before, I'm not usually that good at being on time to anything really, but this week I was doing pretty well, in that I was only twenty minutes late for the service. (As a general rule, I feel I'm doing well if I'm less than half-an-hour late for most things.) So I walk into the church, which was pretty much full, very few empty seats, and those few that were empty were generally in the middle of a row. But there was this one empty seat at the end of a row, sitting next to this girl. I walk up, quick "Hello is this seat saved no may I thanks," and now I have a seat.

So the sermon starts, and this week it's all about Deborah and Jael, which is a pretty interesting story. (If you're not familiar with it, you can read it here.) Basically, the story reaches its culmination with one of the characters, a woman called Jael, offering to hide the bad guy, Sisera, in her tent while she stands guard outside. Then, while Sisera sleeps, Jael takes a big heavy wooden tent peg and a hammer, holds the tent peg above his head, and then hammers the peg through his brains. (Incidentally, there are some really interesting stories in the Bible. Also, when I read the Bible these days I'm really shocked at how young I was when I got my first proper non-kids Bible.)

So the sermon is going on, and the person preaching was reading the passage about this death, when I saw some commotion about five rows in front of me. Basically, this guy collapsed in his seat, and the people around rushed to help him. Now, I'm not proud of the fact that my first response to this event was mild amusement at the thought of this person having fainted at the graphic description of the death of Sisera. But my amusement was very quickly tempered by the realisation that this was serious. There was a circle of people surrounding the guy, shielding him from view, which is appropriate - there's something unpleasant about the idea of people sitting and watching like spectators while someone is in serious medical trouble. But despite the circle of people, I could see the guy's hand, which was as close to white as I have ever seen a person's skin. Seeing that really made me anxious for this person, and I pretty much spent the next ten minutes just sitting in my chair, more or less ignoring the rest of the sermon and just quietly praying for him, because what else am I going to do. I figured the guy is probably more or less okay, since the person preaching noted the commotion, and was given a "carry on preaching" signal. (I don't know what they would do if he had died, but it certainly wouldn't be to continue with the sermon.) After about ten minutes, the guy sat up, was helped to his feet, and then walked supported out of the auditorium. So that was a relief. I don't know what happened to him after he left, but when he left he seemed weakened but okay. In any case, the excitement of the service seemed over.

So a little time passes - it's maybe five or ten minutes later, everything seemed normal, when the girl in the seat next to me collapses onto my shoulder. Surprised, I turn to look at her. Her head was rolled back, her eyes vacantly staring, her mouth open. She was shaking, but I don't know whether I remember noticing that or whether it's something that I only think I remember because her friend mentioned it later. All I knew was that she was having a seizure ........... help. What the hell do you do with a seizure? I remember learning what to do back when I did a first aid thing at intermediate school, but that was twenty years ago. I can't remember what time my church starts, how am I supposed to remember something I learned one time when I was 12 years old? And for some reason, it never occurs to me to try and put the girl on the ground, even though that's what I watched everyone do not twenty minutes ago. Instead, for no readily apparent reason I tried to push her back into a sitting position. Meanwhile I turned and waved frantically at a nearby usher, "Get someone!" It's at this moment that events start to blur, and I have no memory of anything that happened. All I can remember is how completely pathetic and ineffectual my response was under pressure. I think I just sat there, holding her upright, thinking "What the hell do I do now?" I remember her friend calling the girl's name at her, trying to get a reaction, but even though I heard her name a good ten or twelve times, two minutes later I had no idea what her name was, and I still don't remember. At some point, I got out of my seat, but I don't know why, and I certainly cannot work out why I thought it was a good idea for me to kneel on the ground beside my seat. (Seriously, the girl is sitting in her seat; what good is kneeling on the floor going to be?) Fortunately within a minute, the paramedic arrived - he was still outside responding to the previous guy who collapsed. And by this time, the girl was starting to recover, which was a relief.

So they went outside, I stayed inside the church, because I'm not going to follow them, because she doesn't want some stranger hanging around. Anyway, she seemed fine now, which I was relieved about, and she had someone there who actually knew what they were doing, as opposed to my ineffectual waffling about. But then the paramedic wanted to talk to me, wanted some more information about what had happened, which really made me feel awkward because I couldn't answer his questions because I had no idea what happened. I remembered the initial shock I had on seeing her, and that was literally all I could recall. And then, having been completely useless at answering any questions, I was unsure what to do. I couldn't go back into the service, since it was just finishing, but it seemed callous and uncaring to just leave. So she was sitting there, talking to her friend, slowly recovering. Meanwhile I stood a distance away, just mulling around in the post-service crowd, anxiously watching her but trying not to be creepy about it (I mean I'm legitimately involved, but still), I'm worried about her, is she going to be okay, I think so, she looks fine now, all at the same time feeling incredibly guilty over my completely ineffectual response. After a couple of minutes she gets up and leaves in the ambulance, along (I assume) with the first guy that collapsed. In any case, I was glad when she left, since I no longer needed to worry about how one behaves around someone who collapsed onto you and who you were utterly useless in helping.

In any case, I now know what to do when someone has a seizure. You roll them onto their side, cushion their head, and keep their airway open. So now the action man that I am is prepared for two eventualities: house burglars or people having seizures. Now I just need to try to keep the two procedures clear in my mind. (Key thing to remember: if someone is having a seizure, do not hit them on the head with a cricket bat.)

14 July, 2011

Attack of Suspense, Laughter, Violence, Hope, Heart, Nudity, Sex, Happy Endings... Mainly Happy Endings

So here's the thing.

If you had driven past the Michael Fowler Centre carpark at 6 in the morning on 6 July 2011, you would have seen ... well, I do not know what you would have seen, because for the first time in five years I did not queue for film festival tickets. At the time, tickets went on sale, I was in Australia on an educational course. So I had to make my ticket purchases by fax (did you realise that faxing was still a thing?). As a result, by the time they managed to process my fax, some six hours after tickets went on sale, my seats were nowhere near as as good as those I would have had had I been able to queue. (Sigh.) Plus I have different seats for every film - I much prefer it when I have the one seat that I can occupy throughout the festival. (Sigh.) (I have a hard life.)

In any case, the fax went through, and I managed to secure tickets to the following films:

* The Tree of Life
* Cave of Forgotten Dreams
* Page One: Inside the New York Times
* The Man from Nowhere
* Arrietty
* 13 Assassins
* Tabloid
* Meek's Cutoff
* Let the Bullets Fly
* Taxi Driver
* Footnote
* Submarine
* Fire in Babylon
* Martha Marcy May Marlene
* Project Nim
* Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey
* Metropolis
* Le quattro volte
* The Yellow Sea
* Nothing to Declare
* Senna
* Another Earth
* The Forgiveness of Blood
* Elite Squad: The Enemy Within
* Goodbye
* The Guard
* Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure
* Point Blank
* Pina
* Drive

I'm also planning to try to take a half-day off work to catch a daytime screening of A Separation, since all the night screenings clashed with other films I'm seeing.

Yes, that is 31 films. That is far and away the most films I've ever seen at the festival. And there are still more films I'm still debating adding to the list. (Part of me actually wants to hit 34 films since, with a 17 day festival, that's an average of two films a day.) [EDIT: Indeed, I did add another three films - Hot Coffee, Anton Chekhov's The Duel, and Sleeping Beauty - to bring my total to 34.] But it's a really good festival this year - I had almost 20 films that I recognised and wanted to see even before I started reading the film write-ups, and my initial long list of films was over 50.

Last year, one of my disappointments was that they weren't showing the restored and nearly complete silent-classic Metropolis. But this year, they are. Yay! Sure, I've seen it by now, and even own it on Blu-Ray, but I cannot wait to see it on the big screen with an audience. It will also obviously be exciting to have a chance to see the restored Taxi Driver - arguably Scorsese's greatest film, with Bernard Herrmann's beautiful final score - on the big screen. (They're also showing La Dolce Vita, which I saw once and didn't like. I was going to give it a second shot (since it's La Dolce Vita), but the only screening clashed with something I really did want to see, so I abandoned that idea.)

In past years, the cinemas used for the festival haven't been equipped for 3D films, and so we've frustratingly missed out on the 3D films that screened in Auckland. I'm particularly glad this situation has been rectified this year, since Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Pina are two documentaries ideal for 3D. Cave presents the earliest known cave paintings, using the 3D to capture the contours that the cave artists made use of, while the idea of using 3D to capture dance choreography in Pina is also promising.

Like most people my age, I grew up watching the Muppets, and they hold a very real place of affection for me (I've been known to cry watching this video from Jim Henson's memorial). As someone who grew up in a pre-Elmo era, I do not like the little red monster - I feel the character is just too childish, and he occupies too similar a space to Grover, who was always one of my favourites. But I like what I've seen of Kevin Clash, Elmo's Muppeteer, and I like that he seems to really use his high-profile position as Elmo to publicly promote his artform. So I am looking forward to seeing the Being Elmo documentary, if only because there is sure to be behind-the-scenes footage of people working with the Muppets. And that will be cool.

One of the very first episodes of This American Life covered a story about a couple of guys who, back in the 80s, recorded the audio of his neighbours loudly and abusively arguing, and how these recordings became a viral sensation long before YouTube. I've listened to hundreds of episodes of TAL since then, but apparently that story stayed with me, because as soon as I saw a film listed called Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure, I recognised the titular phrase, remembered the story, and knew I had to see the film.

There are some really exciting documentaries in the festival - films like Page One, following a year in the life of the New York Times, or the new Errol Morris film Tabloid, or the film about the rise of the West Indies as a cricketing nation (Fire in Babylon). And while I'm really not a car racing person, I've heard a lot of self-proclaimed not-car-racing-people give really positive reviews for the Senna documentary, so I think that should be good.

There's no way I would ever have been interested in Le Quattro Volte (which, as primarily a meditation on life involving goat farming, sounds almost like a parody of the worst type of art film) were it not for the memorably passionate review that Mark Kermode gave the film, where he almost seemed moved to tears just by recalling the beauty of some of the scenes in the film. On the other hand, I definitely would have seen Terrance Malick's new meditation, entitled The Tree of Life - it is after all the new Terrance Malick film - but the mixed reviews that came out of Cannes and its general release have me concerned, because I want it to be really good. Still, I'll see it and hope for the best.

Then there's the films I'm seeing solely because of the filmmaker. Meek's Cutoff wouldn't ordinarily appeal - a wagon trail western told from the point of view of the women - but I loved Kelly Reichardt's previous film, Wendy and Lucy (a heartbreaking film about a young woman trying to find her dog - absolutely devastating). Similarly, I'd never even heard of The Yellow Sea, but knowing it's from the same guy who made the cop-turned-pimp-hunts-slacker-serial-killer film The Chaser that I really enjoyed made it a must-see. And Project Nim - a documentary about a chimpanzee being taught to communicate - would probably be interesting anyway, but the fact that it was from the director of Man on Wire pushed me over the edge.

And then there are all the films I've heard about, either during Cannes or Sundance, or just during their general release overseas. I'm looking forward to finally seeing Submarine (a very well reviewed coming-of-age comedy), Martha Marcy May Marlene (about a girl who escapes a cult), Another Earth (in which a second planet Earth appears in the sky), and 13 Assassins (apparently a very good samurai film, and the first Takashi Miike film I've ever wanted to see).

And then there's just the films I've not heard of, but think sound interesting. The Forgiveness of Blood, about a modern-day youth trapped inside his house due to 15-century honour codes and blood feuds? Sounds good. Footnote, an Israeli comedy about duelling father-son Talmudic professors? I've never seen that before. Nothing to Declare, a comedy about French/Belgian tensions between two border guards? Could be fun. And I'm definitely interested in a French fast-paced pulp action thriller like Point Blank, or a 1920s-era Hong Kong action film like Let the Bullets Fly.

My main disappointment this year: I was really hoping they would be screening We Need To Talk About Kevin. I recently read the source novel, about a woman trying to work through the events that led her son to commit a Columbine-style massacre and considering her own responsibility in creating this monster, and while I wouldn't say I enjoyed it, I thought it was very good and was glad I read it. The film version was one of the best-reviewed films at Cannes, and so much of the novel depended on the nature of the way the story was being told that I'm really curious to see how they could make it work as a successful movie. But I guess I'll just have to wait and hope for a general release.

So hopefully this will be a good festival. It will be long and tiring, and I expect to be absolutely exhausted by the end of it, but regardless, I am very excited. We're just over two weeks away from opening night, and I'm counting down the days.