To people of my age the television, and television drama in all its guises, is the staple of the evening, often bolstered by DVDs, when the menu is repetitive. This tends to make one take more interest in the reason why one prefers one film to another, in retrospect. When I was at University I joined a group to put on a show at Christmas for charity. I was a backroom boy, I put things right when they went wrong, operated the lighting system and did anything I was told to do. The result of this, strangely, was that when I went to London and managed to scrounge front seats for a popular drama, I discovered I couldn’t get into the story of the play because my mind was more taken up with what actors call ‘business’, those little short speeches or actions, in the old days the act of lighting a cigarette, and so on, to give one or other of the actors on stage a moment to reposition himself, or for someone else to come from backstage.
I have already written about how I find the modern films suffering from endless car chases and extravagant mayhem, innumerable bullets being fired from guns holding only seven cartridges, and fisticuffs that would put one of the men in hospital with broken knuckles, and his opponents in the morgue, rather than walking into the sunset. Sensation seems more important than a cohesive, riveting story. The reason I suspect is cost. Not everyone can write riveting stories and dialogue, in order to take the place of the mayhem, and probably the cost is cheaper by smashing up cars that are wrecked anyway, than to pay more, for better and more notable actors to flesh out the story.
My complaint with some of the film-drama which is on television, is that the dialogue is more what you would expect from a soap – endless gossip, or quite often technology and technobabble in such stultifying portions and patently so impossible, that they annoy rather than amuse, thus replacing the dialogue of a serious film. In many cases the actors’ accents are regional and almost unintelligible especially in American films. I have come to the conclusion, by comparing the drama that I found tedious, with ones that I could see time and again and still enjoy, that the pace of the films that I liked were not only slower in action, but the number of the cast was small enough at any one time, to enable one to remember not only whom they all were but where they dovetailed. This inevitably meant that the staging, the filming, and the dialogue had a lot more to do with building the story. The films that I took exception to were full of players, being offered to you in such numbers, and I don’t mean extras in crowd scenes, that it was difficult to remember who they were, and why they were there. They were also given uninteresting dialogue that would bore you to tears, rather than carry the story forward. It seemed it was writing for writing’s sake, rather like the current novels with 500 pages, which makes one wonder if the royalties are paid by weight.
The best example of films that pleases all ages, is the Bond series. They open with a theme of naked women swimming or cavorting while the credits are coming, which in itself shows a level of understanding of the psyche of the audience; it sets the mood. The story unfolds in a serious of cameos, in each of which is the main character and a number of sub-characters, whom you may or may not meet again. The story is told in a chain of linking episodes which enables even the dullest of us to keep abreast of who is doing what and why. The technical innovations are amusing, clever, often practical, and some technically impossible, but for a while you believe them because you see them function. At the other end of the drama spectrum is the highly successful, Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice. It is a three-hour epic, slow in pace, but again, a series of cameos containing only a few characters carry the story forward, some you may never see again, and others reappear from time to time. The social behavioural differences between the Bennett family, the clergyman, the upper-crust folk, and the servant hall, is clearly defined, not only to underline their differences, and the differences in our culture, but to add drama and suspense to the story; unlike Bond, it does not travel on high octane, it has high moments of drama, underscored by domestic scenes and rural scenery.