Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Modernism is dead says VS Naipaul. But Modernism is borne by death.

Like many of my countrymen, I’ve been watching the US TV drama series Lost. I too want to find out what happens next. I know people who have downloaded the series and seen every episode. Yet I am only half-envious. I rather enjoy the suspense waiting for the next episode. The ironic thing is, the next episode is invariably a disappointment. The idea is much more compelling, and I like to think about how the series might have been. Perhaps that is why I continue to watch: to drain my imagination, which is all too unrequited.

Recently, the ‘maverick’ director Terry Gilliam said: “When I watch films now they bother me, the technique of films bothers me, because it's so obvious how you do things, sell things. I don't like that any more. It's becoming a cliché the way things are done.”

I feel the same way. Example: there’s a scene in episode four of Lost in which the square-jawed, designer-stubbled All Amercian good guy ‘Jack’ tries to engage with a middle-aged woman who has been sitting silently apart from the group. It seems she has been traumatised by the death of her husband in the plane crash. Jack goes out of his way to speak to her. He asks her to accept what’s happened, to move on and join the rest of the survivors. All the while she remains silent, staring out to sea. We are made to wait for her reaction, even though we all knew what it will be. We know she will address not one thing Jack has said but instead speak wistfully about her husband; some trivial item to contrast with the gravity of Jack’s approach. And guess what happens next?

We are meant to be moved. We react by understanding that we are meant to feel moved. But we feel nothing. Sometimes it's good to feel nothing. We know where to go when we need to feel nothing. It's called Popular Culture.

Barring only recent Godard, I see such procedure in every movie and every TV series. Formula within formula, cliché within cliché, lie within lie. Yet nobody talks about 'the death of screenwriting'. Perhaps it has yet to be born.


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