As a Guernseyman I suppose I am a neutral when it comes to international politics, however in the footballing world I am an England supporter through and through (one of my Grandfathers was English and I now live in the beautiful country so I do have a link!). Recently these two issues have collided with the introduction of the Great Britain football team at the London 2012 Olympics. There seems to be two opinions…
a) What a great idea, this will bring the nations together
b) What a load of rubbish, we are separate nations and need to keep national identity
From what I have heard (WARNING…sweeping generalisation coming next) it seems that the English are for a GB team and the Scottish and Welsh are against it. I’m not even sure what Northern Ireland are saying anyway, isn’t it good when I write these well-informed blog posts?! I see this largely down to politics rather than actual football, with the devolution of power in Wales and Scotland wanting independence they see the merging of teams as a threat. England clearly are the big boys of Britain and have influenced the way it has developed, but I have a concern over this political landscape. We see each section of the UK and GB as different countries because they are, but we are one island nation and lets face it we are actually friends. If the revolution ever came we would band together without a second thought. I think we need to see GB as a bunch of friends who have a good bit of banter. We have all done some pretty horrendous things to each other in the past (particularly England!) but we are at a time of peace and a time when national identity is not as important as it once was. So lets strip back the politics and think about who we really are, I am not saying combine to become GB all the time but lets dust off those blue and white shirts every four years and bring all the nations together. I say that a GB Olympics football team is a great idea, as long as that is what it is, an Olympic football team. Lets put measures in place to show that we value our independence, we are different, but we came come together when needed. That way we can have GB at the Olympics and England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in all other international tournaments. Alternatively we could make four separate teams at the Olympics, but that would open a completely different can of worms!
As a teacher I always come across students stating that they would rather watch a film than read a book, as books are boring! This is particularly evident when films are made about books. I often hear the phrase, ‘why are you reading the book when you could watch the film?’ Whilst I am concerned with pupils literary ambition I also feel sorry for them as they are missing out on one of the strangest phenomena in the world of entertainment, the fact the book is always better than the film. I have read many books and watched the film adaptations (Lord of the Rings, The Damned United, Oliver Twist, Dracula…..the list goes on) and all have been better in literary form. But is that always the case? I used to think that the only exception to the rule was the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but now I am not so sure. Not because I have found any others but because, as explained in a previous post, coming back to Lord of the Rings as what I define as being a mature reader, the book is on par if not better than the film. This idea of the book being better that the film reared its head again recently as I have been reading The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. The film was another one of those good because I wasn’t expecting much ones and I only watched it as my wife wanted to see it after she read the book. It was quite simply fantastic. After getting into a slight World War 2 mood I thought I would pick up the book knowing it would be a good read but being sceptical as I was told it is a children’s book, in my opinion it is not but I will talk about that in a later post. What it did do was make me think about why books seem to be better. In conversation with a librarian at school they stated that in a film you are hemmed in to the director’s/producer’s ideals where as in a book you can decide what things look like and how things are. However, I personally have thought of characters, objects and architecture looking one way in a book then later descriptions change that and sometimes this can get frustrating. Therefore, I do not think this is the reason at all. I do think, however, it may be why children do not like reading over movies. You don’t need to be as creative or develop your own vision of events. Although I do think you can get closer to a book as your own subjectivities shape the way it looks and feels and this makes it a much more personal endeavour. My view is that it is the character’s inner monologues that make a book so much better. I think I can explain this in three distinct examples. Firstly, Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett. I watched the cartoon version of the fantastic Discworld tale a long time ago and was struck by a part where Magrat is flying on her broom. In the book you hear about her fears and worries, in the cartoon they cut it out for time and it does not really concern the flow of the piece. However you lose a distinct part of the character, a part that fleshes her out and makes her more human. The second example is from Dracula. One of my favourite parts of any book are the first few chapters where Jonathon Harker is stuck in Dracula’s Castle. This is the quick start to any movie but in the book the tension is built up and you hear everything from his perspective. He is so naive and you learn slowly but surely what is going on as it dawns on him. Certain things you see in a movie about Dracula you see differently in the book as it is through his eyes you see them and thus the full description is not always there or tinted by what he thinks is going on. Finally I wish to return to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. It centres around Bruno moving from Berlin to a concentration camp but the whole story is written in childish language and, despite being 3rd person, is from his point of view. He says and does things which make you realise he does not fully understand but it is that the way the story is explained that makes it seem like something completely different is happening. As a reader you know exactly what is going on but are subtlety shown the workings of a nine-year old boy’s mind and start to understand how he can be so wrong. These things are harder to show in a movie without a voice over that can make it all seem a little too The Wonder Years. My reason for books being better is therefore the characterisation, the understanding of the way characters feel and think and why they do what they do. You can see the world through their eyes, where as in a film you are watching as a 3rd person and your own personality gets in the way of who they are. In a book you might not agree with what someone is doing, you may think they are native or even stupid but at least, if it is well written, you know why they are doing it. If there are films out there that are better than the book version I am yet to find them.
It must be my Guernsey heritage that makes me interested in World War 2. I love historical things but tend to steer clear of anything with guns. After reading and thoroughly enjoying The Warsaw Anagrams, ‘Valkyrie’ came through the post from LoveFILM. This was yet another movie I expected little from. Like The Warsaw Anagrams it didn’t start well, the German bit was good explaining how Cruise felt but when it faded into his accent and English I lost the feel of WW2. This said, it was a minor irritation and as all the actors spoke with American or British accents it actually worked for me. If there were some trying some dodgy German one’s (ala Jeremy Irons in Die Hard with a Vengeance) I think I would have lost my disbelief (I’m getting theatre terms in here, I sound all posh and lovely!). The story was intriguing and really well told, probably because it was based on true events. I knew it had to be good by the middle as some knowledge of WW2 was needed, my wife actually fell asleep half way through after asking me what was going on three times! I was also shocked that Cruise wasn’t attempting the action man roll and failing miserably, like he does in so many moves in my opinion. All in all another pleasant surprise and again another movie to notch up on the not thinking it’s going to be good but actually is list. If you were avoiding this one because Cruise is in it (like I was) then put your prejudices aside, it’s actually pretty decent.
A strange phenomena occurred to me recently. In previous posts I have talked about not going to watch a movie expecting it to be good makes for a much better experience. Now I love to read but I never go into many books with expectations so generally am not disappointed but simply either like it or not. That said there are a few books which were not as good as expected. However, I was lent a copy of The Warsaw Anagrams by Richard Zimler by my brother. He had read it whilst travelling up to see me and had finished it stating, ‘I don’t like the first person thing but it’s a good book, you might like it.’ It is important to say that we don’t generally like the same books, I’m more into fantasy and sci-fi and he likes autobiographical work about drug dealers and gangsters. Where our likes do cross over is that of historical tales. So I thought I’d give it a go without much thought of it actually being interesting. However, much like my view of movies being better if you don’t think they are going to be good, this book proved the same. I must admit I hated the bit at the start where Erik is a ghost (that’s not a spoiler as that is just the first chapter) and wondered what I was getting myself into. I did not expect the supernatural and luckily it was handled well, simply used as a vehicle for the main protagonist to tell their story. The story itself combined the desolation of the holocaust with a murder mystery twist. That shouldn’t work but it so did. Erik started as a bit of an outcast as to where his family are, a failed father and angry grand uncle. As the story moves on his character is fleshed out fantastically and you learn how he becomes part of his grandnephew’s life only to have him taken away. You follow Erik on his journey as detective to find out what happen to his grandnephew. He takes a couple of wrong directions but finally finds out what happened. This is along with Izzy, his long time best friend. It is very much a buddy story. For Zimmler to weave supernatural elements (at the start and end only and only as a vehicle), a murder mystery and a buddy movie into one story set within the Jewish Ghetto in 1940’s Warsaw and it not descend into silliness or offensive tones is very impressive. Even the end makes it more real with a classic, this is what happened to them section. Not all get out alive and not all have happy endings yet some do. You are left with a strange melancholy, for all those that you can be joyous for for coming out the other side of the war, just as many do not make it. The pace is also a great addition to this, in one part the whole story slows down and everything seems rosy only for a dramatic turn of events to reignite the story again. All in all I was surprised and very happy with The Warsaw Anagrams, it’s not my favourite book of all time but it is very high on my list.