Lessons from Recent Movies

At a recent film festival, I had the opportunity to watch three movies, Skeletons, Bird on a Wire and Mission London. As this is an RPG blog, I will discuss the lessons each offers in terms of gaming.

Mission London is a 2010 Bulgarian movie about the Bulgarian embassy in England – the dialogue is a mix of English and Bulgarian. It stars Bulgarian actors Julian Vergov, Ana Papadopulu and Georgi Staykov and English actors Ralph Brown and Alan Ford – Ford appeared in Guy Riche’s film Snatch and while his character in Mission London is different, every time he appeared on screen I expected him to start talking about the dietary habits of pigs. In any event, in this film the Bulgarian ambassador is under pressure from the wife of the Bulgarian president to get the Queen of England to appear at a Bulgarian embassy function. Eventually the ambassador hires the services of a unusual escort service, which provides look-a-likes for all manner of public figures for all manner of private appearances. The film is extremely Bulgarian. In any event, consider the possibilities of the party pulling off something requiring heroes, royals and nobles by hiring their stripper doubles. The mind boggles… in a happy way.

Bird on a Wire is both a 1973 and a 2010 documentary about a European tour by singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen. When first completed in 1973 by Tony Palmer, Cohen disliked the film feeling it was too aggressive. He took the negatives and set about reediting the work. Cohen is excellent singer, poet and performer* but that does not qualify him as a film editor and he apparently made a hash of the work. His reedit played for a few days and disappeared into the mists of the early 70s. Almost 40 years later, an associate of Palmer discovered several crates of the original footage moldering in a warehouse. Palmer purchased the footage and began studying the material, only to discover it consisted of a seemingly endless pile of short clips, poorly labeled and without sound. Palmer was going to give up when by accident he discovered the original soundtrack to his edit. With an intact sound track, Palmer possessed a definitive guide for rebuilding the original film – which he painstakingly did over the following months. The reassembled film follows Cohen and his “band” on tour from Glasgow through Europe to Jerusalem, both on stage and backstage. It offers an insightful view of encounters between performers and fans and even if fashions change, people do not. People may generally be less hairy now than in 1973, but body language remains the same and it tells as much about the story as the words spoken. The lessons from the film are (A) do not turn over the originals of your work to anyone, keep copies for yourself, (B) remain open to the possibility of the unexpected miracle and (C) a miracle might turn the impossible into the possible, but it is still up to you to do the work.

Skeletons is a 2010 film by British writer and director Nick Whitfield and film stars Andrew Buckley, Ed Gaughan, Tuppence Middleton, Paprika Steen and Jason Isaacs in an extended cameo. Of the three films, this one is the most intriguing, even if it is not actually the best. Skeletons tells the story of a pair of men with low-grade psychic powers hired to explore and reveal the secrets of a family to that family. In the opening scene, for example, the pair visits an engaged-couple and the groom to be is eager for men to use their powers… and oblivious to his fiancés reluctance. At no point is there an expositional dump “explaining” what is going on. The character who appears to be the stronger of their psychic duo is revealed to be the weaker, the apparently weaker fights for what he wants and psychic powers back lash on the users. Throughout all of this there is almost no exposition. To me, this worked because the film is not about the psychic powers, it is about the people dealing with each other and their situation. Director Whitfield answered questions after the showing of the film and when I asked him about the exposition, he said he wanted to keep the audience confused enough they would follow the film to find out what happened. In either case – the film not being about the superpowers but about the people, or keeping the audience at the right level of confusion – Skeletons is a solid film and an excellent example of a speculative fiction movie that explains as little as possible.

Except for Isaacs’s character, who wants to use the psychics to find Harry Potter. And Peter Pan. And possibly Mel Gibson.

*”Future” is an excellent song for any RPG villain.

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About The Grumpy Celt

Once upon a time, the Celt was the chief muscle and henchman of a Mad Scientist bent on world domination. However, after a salary dispute with the boss, the Celt tried to disassemble the company time machine with a sledge hammer. The explosion (which happened before he actually hit the time machine) stranded him being in 1911, and left him feeling Grumpy. Now he sends messages into the future, via a time capsule, where they are posted by his past self.

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