Shut up

It doesn’t always follow that every writer likes every piece of great writing but, come on, you can’t fail to love every brilliant second of Trainspotting’s script by John Hodge. Only, I was into that film, entirely and completely engrossed from the opening half a second.

And specifically the opening half a second where there isn’t a word. Isn’t a sound.

I know it’s only half a second, maybe 20 frames at most, but the silence is completely arresting. For that one fraction of a moment you’re seeing a street scene before feet come down out of the top of frame and Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life bursts in. Take a look:

Choose life, eh?

Then I suspect few people have ever compared Trainspotting to Gerry Anderson’s UFO, but here goes. Watch the famous title sequence and see what I’m seeing.

The far future of 1980. And the far past of camerawork focusing on a woman’s backside. Anyway. After the Century 21 Television sting, it’s silent for what seems like an age but is actually about a second.

It’s a punch. Maybe because it’s a little different from the usual, but I think there’s more to it than that. I think that silence is a hugely powerful punch.

I think silence can also make you hold your breath. There’s that recent horror film A Quiet Place where you have to shut up to survive, for instance. I’ll never know how effective it is because it’s horror and I’m a wimp. Then there’s a noisy thriller in cinemas right now – I don’t want to spoil it just to make one small point – but it features a single moment of silence and that made me jump.

Flashback 22 years to the first Mission: Impossible film. If you’ve seen it, you remember the very long silent scene as Tom Cruise steals a list from a PC in a CIA vault. Forget the hanging off buildings and aircraft he does in the later films, this silent scene is excruciatingly tense. I love it. If you’ve a little while, take a look at this short video analysing the scene and its production. I can’t show it to you unless I point out that its clips from the television version of Mission: Impossible are from the forgotten 1980s remake instead of the 1960s original, mind.

Also, this is a YouTube video so in the midst of interesting detail it gets childish for a moment or two. Silence would’ve been better.

I’m conscious that for a piece about shutting up, this week I’m showing you an awful lot of audio and video clips. But I think this is all using the same muscles you do in writing. I think video editing is like drafting. I definitely think a film is finally written in the edit suite.

Which means I am a fan of sound and film editor Walter Murch. He works on everything and talks about it too. Of the very, very many lectures of his you can find online, here’s an excerpt where he talks about silence. It’s about the effectiveness of it but does also cop to how sometimes sheer production frustration can create art.

I’ll shut up now. And get on with some writing.

We must’ve seen a different film

This speaks to the heart of all criticism, all reviews, all opinions, but I’m really only saying it because I was narked. Angela and I saw Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation last weekend and on our drive home, a review of it happened to be on the radio. We listened for a moment and Angela concluded: “We must’ve seen a different film”.

I like the Mission: Impossible movies – with the contractual, mandatory, must-tell-you proviso that the first one is the best, the second is the worst, the third is okay and these last two are pretty good – but I wouldn’t have claimed they were superb pieces of cinema. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to consider thinking of maybe claiming or not claiming that: I really enjoyed Rogue Nation and that’s a great thing.

Except for this reviewer. I won’t name her partly because we came in late and I’ve no idea what her name is. But she said at one point she’d been begging Tom Cruise to not do a particular thing in the story, the implication being that it was a preposterous take-you-out-of-the-story moment. (Have you seen the movie? She’s talking about the flute.) What she didn’t want to happen and was so adamant should not have happened, that it shouldn’t have been in the film, that was a ridiculous moment, is a moment that was coming for a good six minutes. We knew this, we watched it happen, it was going to happen, so the fact that it did happen didn’t feel all that preposterous a moment.

Plus, I’ll tell you this: I love thrillers (and romances but that’s another story) and there are sometimes moments in them I wish I’d written. What happens next with that flute is one of them. Your lead character is faced with a supremely clear and obvious dilemma to which there is no right answer, no good way to choose between two urgent options. So he finds a third way. A third way that leaves you blinking yet is then instantly supremely clearly the right and sole solution. It’s a tiny moment and I’ve already over-egged it too much. But where this reviewer was taken out of the movie for what she thought were silly reasons, I was taken out of it a heartbeat later for the writer in me applauding.

Only.

This is a bit rubbish of me, picking on a reviewer I don’t name and you can’t listen to unless I do. I’m going to live with that because her second criticism led me to realise there is something genuinely very praiseworthy about this latest Mission: Impossible. There’s a new character Ilsa, played by Rebecca Ferguson. My unnamed reviewer dismissed her, saying her character wafts in and out of the movie occasionally.

Bollocks.

This is a female guest lead character in an action series and she is superb. She’s not there to sleep with the hero. She’s not there just to be rescued by him. She is a storm. You want to trust her but you know, correctly, that you shouldn’t. She makes surprising choices that work completely in retrospect, she is a dangerous storm and is riveting.

My unnamed reviewer didn’t like the movie and I did. Ultimately any review comes down to that but I’m struck by how much I want to defend a film I had nothing to do with. I’m thinking this is cutting deep into what I feel about criticism, having been a film and TV reviewer, I’m thinking that a reviewer who isn’t paying attention might as well be watching a different film.

I’m also thinking that I might watch this again and that writer/director Christopher McQuarrie did a good job.

Just my opinion.