Saturday, 14 March 2009

Young Adam

This should have been a happy day. It was to begin with as having acquired a copy of the photographs which had been lost when the computer crashed I commenced the task of integrating those transferred from slides via an attachment to the printer which enabled them to be scanned.

After getting myself ready I was off to further celebrate my birthday with a former colleague of twenty years ago at the Thai restaurant in the town, called the Orangegrass. I had a beef stir fry with noodles which was spiced and full of flavours which made my home efforts pathetic. I had a bottle of beer and a coffee. We were the first customers at 12.30 and there were only three other parties an hour later which suggests the struggle the ethnic restaurants will be facing at the present time. I noticed that the majority in Ocean Road were not open as I made my way and I shall investigate further to gauge the extent to which the recession is affecting this kind of business.

After an excellent meal and good company and walking back in warm sunshine I decided to call in at the Municipal Museum and art gallery to see the pricing at the cafe which has opened on the ground floor facing the street. As anticipated the costs are at the higher end for the town aimed at visitors and the middle class with a simple cup of coffee and cake of some kind giving little change for a £5 note. While there I had a look at the revised exhibition of life in the town in times past as well as reminding myself of the exhibits commemorating the life of Catherine Cookson.

I decided to watch one of the two DVD’s available and this altered my mood for the rest of the day. Young Adam is a British made film set in Scotland based on the short 1957 French Novel by Alex Trocchi and starring Ewan McGregor, Tilda Swinton and Emily Watson. A paperback edition was published in 1999 and reissued by a different company in 2008. The film is well made and well acted but the subject is depressing and worrying. Mr Gregor is an attractive personality and the danger is that the character he portrays will be regarded as a role model. I suppose the contemporary character of the era in which the novel is set is Alfie made a decade later, although in the latter Michael Caine makes no pretence of being anything other than a lecherous working class good for nothing without regard for the consequences of his behaviour. In the novel and the film the main character has pretensions of being an avant-garde novelist.

The young man is more interested in experience rather than sitting down and writing, and the experience that preoccupies his day is searching for lustful encounters with strangers and then walking away when the partner becomes serious. At least the great writers of my and any day got their experience in a war, sailing the seas, exploring jungles, challenging political and religious ideas. This pathetic inadequate is only interested in wham and bam and then wonders why he has a writer’s blockage.

The film opens when he and the husband of his employer who operates a canal barge between the Glasgow end of the Clyde and Edinburgh fish the body of a young woman out of the river, clad in only a slip, and the tone for the rest of the film is set as the hero instead of showing horror and pain erotically describes how she must have removed her clothing, item by item before jumping in. Of course this device is used to tell us he had a connection with the girl and that he is a nasty piece of work. It is only later in the film that we learn the link between the death of the girl and his decision to make an advance on the unglamorous and hard working and bored mother of a seven to ten year old who appears not to go to school..

The main story of the film told in flashbacks, is how he picked up the girl on a local beach and D.H Lawrence style gets her to remove her knickers by looking intently at her in silence. He moves in with the girl and sits all day trying to write his novel while she works in an office. The relationship has a sadistic masochistic component and at the point when she seeks greater commitment he leaves saying he going off to China but only get as far as becoming an assistant on the canal barge. The surprising aspect of the story which does not add up is that between joining the canal boat and remeeting the girl on a visit to where she lives, he appears to have spent his time reading books, and playing darts with the husband rather than his regular past time, given his inclination to have sex once and twice a day in all other circumstances with females that are most willing.

Tilda Swinton who plays the boring and unattractive canal boat wife with a school age son and a good husband who works hard and looks like D H Lawrence, yields to the advancing McGregor within seconds and then appears to be insatiable to the point that she appears to have no reaction when the husband finds them in bed and decides to go off because his wife owns the boat. For some reason he does not give his wife a good slap McGregor’s girl friend appears to need, and then kick the young man into the canal. The young man shows his lack of genuine concern for anyone other than his inclinations by saying that his action was not against his former work colleague and boss, but one of those things that happen! The only explanation for the reaction of the couple is that earlier, their son had fallen into the canal and nearly been killed by a passing canal boat, but our lecher hero jumps in and pulls him out.

Soon after the new couple have become established and Tilda has lost her inhibition about having sex on the boat when her son is on board and asleep, (and we are shown him taking a peak while they are at it), her sister becomes a widow and they go off to offer consolation. Instead of finding a woman in black, we find a glamorous buxom Mata Hari who gets our hero to unzip his trousers as quick as he recognises the woman she is shown to be.

Understanding that the situation has become too complicated for his liking, especially when Tilda introduces him saying they are getting married, he packs his bags and sets about his new life by getting as far as the local Inn for a drink or two. Here he meets another working man on the look out for a new lodger able to pay ten shillings a week. He works nights and announces that the lodger is likely to see more of his wife than himself and the wife another plain and bored woman tells our hero that she assumes he will want the same home comforts as his predecessor by sleeping in her bed, with our hero has no hesitation in accepting the offer.

So our hero has four women, two married and one the widow, within the space of four months, and with at least ten situations of sexual experience are portrayed from full frontal to the implied but in an artistic way of course to satisfy the film intelligentsia. Watching the extras on the DVD one learns that while this works out as one bonking every sixteen pages, in the book it is one in every six or seven pages and that to get the work published the author had to remove the more pornographic descriptions.

It is therefore not surprising that either the author or the film maker decided to copy a scene from a previous film. Around 1954 I was taken on a school trip one morning to see a film about the life of a recent Pope and the cinema, the Odeon Marble Arch, was given over to Catholic schools from throughout London, to the extent that arriving late I was one of the party shown into the manager’s viewing area behind one way glass at the back of the cinema. The first film was a Fernandel Don Camillo story with sub titles and there was one scene which brought the house down of young boys to their feet when a room is shown with a fly perched on a woman’s naked breast as she sleeps. This scene is reproduced in Young Adam

The film reveals that our hero is not just a feckless lecher but the worst kind of coward. The key flash back is when after meeting up with the girl friend again he is restricted to sex out of doors because the girl is flat sharing and this is how she comes to be only wearing her slip at the riverside. She breaks the news that she is pregnant and he responds as we all expect by saying he will send her money when he can and runs off. In her distress she runs after him and falls into the water. What does our hero do? He stands over calling out her name despite knowing that she cannot swim and has a fear of water. He tries to hide her clothes in an available container and throws her handbag into the river.

It is at this point the story becomes ludicrous although I accept that it was written in the days before McTagget, the police detectives series in which the team is shown to be thorough and persistent professional undertaking the boring leg work of chasing up any and all possibilities as well as working out the most complex of crimes. In this story and one presumes the book, not only are the clothes found but there is a finger print on a shoe which links the girl to a married man with four children with whom she is said to have had a platonic association, he is not only tried and found guilt of her murder but is sentenced to death. For some reason the police overlook the fact that she had a live in her apartment lover for seven months who she continued to see afterwards and for some reason she did not disclose this to any of her friends or work colleagues and his presence there all day trying to write his epic work was unknown to any of her neighbours.

McGregor is shown to be worried about the fate of the married man, his wife and four children, but fear of the potential consequences for himself over rides, and given that he is supposed to be an intellectual he only makes a doomed to failure attempt to advise the authorities of the truth and his guilt and the authorities portrayed as collectively thick take no action to verify what he has written. The film ends with our hero walking off to his next series of destructive and feckless behaviours. The film therefore deserved the financial loss it is reported to have incurred. However as Tilda Swinton mentions on the DVD, it is perhaps the most erotic of films made in Scotland.

I watched this week’s first last 13 performances in the USA Idol series where 33 million votes were cast hence the big budget and spreading a one hour shown into two and a half hour results of the voting show into an hour divided between adverts and adverts. The outcome was predicable. In order to ensure that outstanding performances will not be lost because of the quirkiness of public voting a safety device has been introduced. Over the first weeks the judges do have the opportunity to rescue their star in the making, but they can only use this has to be unanimous vote once. This week the public followed the advice of the judges and voted out two of three they slated after their performance. There is in fact no outstanding or obvious winner at this stage with six or seven in the running for the last three places.

I then watched a film to send me to sleep and bed but instead abandoned other activities such was the interest aroused. I will write about the surprise film of the year, Iron Man, tomorrow.

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