The International Writers Magazine
: DVD Review of Reviews

James Skinner on Hackwriters DVD reviews

refreshing to see English and Creative Writing students from Portsmouth University, presumably of today’s generation, reviewing a collection of film ‘oldies’ albeit in refurbished DVD format, as part of their college study program. A great deal of the films were already available several years ago on video cassettes, and although I possess a couple of them those whose reviews I intend to ‘review’ I actually saw when they were first screened in the cinema. Well sort of!

Let’s start with ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’, filmed in 1975 and starring Jack Nicholson and co-produced by one of Hollywood’s future superstars, Michael Douglas. I first saw the film during my stint in Tehran, Iran just before the Shah was kicked out by Ayatollah Khomeini. It was in one the local fleapits and carried enormous subtitles in Farsi. I had never heard of Jack Nicholson let alone realised that the storyline was based on a book written by Ken Kessey. Sally Hawksford’s criticism is that the main theme running throughout the book of racial prejudice and discrimination was missed as the leading character should have been the Indian ‘Chief’ instead of Randle McMurphy. This may have been correct and am therefore unable to dispute. Nevertheless I enjoyed the film tremendously and can assure you that it was a roaring success when it first came out. My assessment is that Sally is far too preoccupied with this discrepancy and spends too much time describing the book. Let’s move on.

My next review is on Alex Segal’s comments on 1974’s ‘Jaws’ directed by a young Stephen Spielberg and based on Peter Benchley’s book. This time, I had read the book first and saw the film when it was released, wait for it, in Bogotá Colombia! You guessed, with Spanish subtitles. Alex is spot on with his review. The plot was changed to exclude the extramarital affairs between Hooper and Brody’s wife plus the wrong people getting killed. However, the reviews at the time, including the Oscars spoke for themselves. What Alex forgot to mention was the aftermath both films (sequel Jaws II) had on the erroneous reputation of sharks the world over. People began to hate them. Twenty five years later, Benchley made a public apology to ecologists and all other lovers of these ‘man-eating’ creatures below the deep. It was mainly to restore confidence in diving institutions throughout the world so that scuba enthusiasts need not worry if one of their legs went missing during a dive in the Bahamas. Next!

Evita’ the film, reviewed by Susannah Brooksbank. I actually saw the original Lloyd Webber stage production in London. Setting aside the obvious differences, the plot was unchanged. Ah! Dear Eva Duarte de Peron; Argentina’s version of a female Robin Hood; stealing from the rich to give to the poor. Hogwash! I was brought up in Argentina, just after WWII and remember the era very well. What these two characters, Evita and General Juan Domingo did in their days of dictatorship rule, was to squander the huge surplus bank account the country had thanks to the food supplies sent to both Britain and Germany between 1940 and 1945, whilst these countries were trying to destroy each other. Sure; Evita ran around Argentina stirring up the masses whilst handing out free housing, complete with washing machines to all those dressed up in blue overalls. I’m a socialist at heart but not an idiot. It was pretty obvious that sooner or later the backbone of industrial and commercial enterprises would try to put a stop to the destruction of Argentina’s economy. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you view the events, Evita died prematurely at the age of 33 and became another one of a list of female icons equal to Marilyn Monroe and Diana, the Princess of Wales that would forever live in the hearts of those who loved them. Peron was eventually thrown out in 1955, yet Argentina continued down the slow path of economic destruction to this very day. Depending on how you view it, Evita did achieve one enormous triumph. By nationalising the railways, large cattle farms and beef handling plants, she literally kicked out the British, including my father, from Argentina. I’m the one that should be singing, ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’.

I move on to a more recent movie directed by James Cameron, starring Leonardo Di Carpio and Kate Winslet that is reviewed by Rebecca Kingsbury. I refer to the umpteenth version depicting the ‘true or false’ saga of the sinking of the ‘Titanic’. Where to start? I agree with Rebecca in director Cameron’s incredible concentration on detail and film settings that included passenger clothing, ship furniture, layout of interior decorations and many other minuscule era accuracies. The eventual scenario of the sinking was spectacular to say the least. Cameron had one advantage on the earlier versions; the wreck had been discovered in 1985 by an Anglo-French expedition lead by Dr. Robert Ballard aboard the research vessel Knorr. As Rebecca rightly points out, Cameron was able to home in on real details of the ship whereas past film directors relied on early XX century documentary evidence. But what about the storyline? Here is where I must bring out the muskets. It is absolute utter rubbish! Travelling on any liner throughout the world during the first half of the last century that carried both first and steerage class passenger had a distinct ‘do not cross’ barrier sign that divided the ship into the respective classes. It did not matter whether you travelled on P&O (Pacific and Orient), Blue Star, Cunard, Royal Mail or any other British passenger service, if you were in 1st class you wined and dined accordingly. Those in ‘immigrant’ class as it was known remained in their ‘dens’, usually below deck and never the twain should meet! The hanky panky that usually went on was either the odd male passenger from 1st that would discretely slip into 3rd looking for pleasure or the ‘freelance’ females in 1st having a ‘nightcap’ with one of the officers. ‘May I show you the Golden Rivet’ was the usual punch line! Never, repeat never, would any ‘steerage’ class immigrant like Di Caprio, enter the realms of aristocracy of the upper decks. The difference with the ‘Titanic’ was that it was her maiden voyage and was packed with personalities and really rich passengers. The departure had enormous press coverage on both sides of the Atlantic, and when she eventually sank, some of the most appalling safety irregularities both in lifeboat availability and lack of international radio communication protocols came to light. It is generally recognised today that the only proper version of the tragedy is depicted in Roy Baker’s ‘A Night to Remember’ filmed in 1958 and staring Kenneth More as 2nd officer Lightoller. It is based on Walter Lord’s book which is a recompilation of facts as well as statements taken during the eventual enquiry that took place after the tragedy.

Despite my criticism it is refreshing to note that young students continue to take an interest in many of the old and classic films that are still around today thanks to DVD technology. Alas, my own library of video cassettes, with gems such as ‘To kill a mocking bird’, ‘High Noon’ or ‘Captain’s Courageous’, all based on famous authors are beginning to wither. I’m too old and penniless to have them replaced. Pity!
© James Skinner. December 2005.

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