Saturday, 4 July 2009

The Life of David Gale, Evil in the Sun, The Mirror Cracked

Yesterday I saw an astonishing film The Life of David Gale. So much of it was familiar that I must have viewed it before but not engaged with attention, or perhaps I did and the subject was so challenging that I buried memory through the subsequent layers of experience. Perhaps that is how I cope with painful experience, avoiding similar sets of circumstances and covering with layers of good or different experience?

About two years ago now I watched the Forced Entertainment Company perform two plays with the first the reproduction in theatre of the Sophie Calle's Performance artwork Exquisite Pain and the second a history of the world, the World in Pictures, in which at the end Chorus reminds that while a moment we experience, such as a theatrical performance appear significant to us and to others, it quickly becomes lost as fresh experience upon fresh experience is lived. In any event I had missed what I suspect is the unintended point of this film which was justifiably slammed by the majority of critics. The amazing aspect is that far from convincing anyone who supports capital punishment into an abolitionist, it not only reinforces the case but could turn some cautious liberals into believers.

The story, without giving too much away, is about a former college Professor who passionately supports the abolition of the death penalty in the state of Texas, whose marriage breaks up, possibly because of his drink problem, possibly because he started the ring of unfaithfulness that leads to his wife having an affair which becomes permanent. There is one scene presented early on in the film which holds the key to unravelling the complex plot. The Professor engages in a televised debate on the subject of capital punishment with the Governor of Texas and appears to be winning the argument until rounded by the Governor to produce one case of the 137 executed individuals where there was a miscarriage of justice. Shortly after this the Professor is arrested and charged with rape of a recently expelled student with who he has sex as her requested leaving present. The case is dropped but the Professor is unable to secure a new appointment, sinks into alcoholism and loses all direct contact with his son who is living abroad with his mother. Throughout this time his only friend is the full time worker for the Texas branch of the anti capital punishment organisation, and their relationship remains platonic until he learns that she has an incurable disease and they become lovers.

He is then convicted of her horrific murder and spends six years on death row and only two weeks before his execution he persuades a journalist to try and prove his innocence for the sake of the memory of him by his son. She had been to prison for contempt after refusing to reveal information.

Unfortunately if the film is intended to rebut the contention of the Texas Governor that all those executed were guilty and the debate should be about the sentencing policy and the grounds for commuting to life imprisonment, if fails badly, all it achieves is confirm my long held view that those at the extremes of politics have more in common than those in the middle. Fortunately this is a view increasingly shared by the majority of people in the British Islands, but is does create problems for the democracy when all the major parties share the same values and beliefs and the issue becomes one of effect management, and this is a problem for politicians at local level let alone at the centre in a system where the managers are supposed to be neutral and were until two decades ago there were career men and a few career women in the senior positions. This situation has commenced to change with the introduction of performance contracts and performance pay I the public services and where a proportion of the work is privately managed, by fear of the loss of contracts because of failure to meet targets and standards. The independent and private organisation enables senior managers to be hired and fire and paid at commercial levels, and it take accountability for individual cases away from politicians, a development which even the most reactionary of politician can see merit, unless of course they gained and maintained their political power by being able to intervene in individuals cases irrespective of the individual merits.

Yesterday was a day of who dun it plots with lots of possible answer, misleading sub plots and eventual solutions which explained the casual links between clues which had been planted in the story an which the clever should be ale to work out long before the official explanation. The afternoon started with Evil under the Sun, the 1941 Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot mystery, set in Cornwall made into an all star cast film in 1982 with Peter Ustinov in the role of the detective, and James Mason, Maggie Smith. Jane Birkin, Denis Quilley, and Diana Rigg, to name some. In this film version several people had the motives but everyone has what seems to be a watertight alibi. The film moved the setting from Cornwall to an Adriatic holiday resort for the rich and famous, although filmed in Majorca. My aunt Harriet adored David Suchet and would just about manage to sit through one of his TV series productions which are still shown on one satellite channel after another to this day, and for many a day to come, In 2001 the story was made into the 53 episode of the 8th season so she may have seen both this edition and the film on television. Last year there was a point and lick computer game published. A key aspect of the solution which is not revealed during the films, (I have not read the book) is that Poirot remembers the similarity of the case with another recent unsolved murder insurance investigation. The extent to which people commit murder, or fake their deaths for the life insurances was something I assumed was more fictional than real life until the recent return to life of a man who disappeared off the coast in this region several years ago and media reports about his wife living in Panama and her return to face the music in this country shortly afterwards.

Immediately following Evil under the Sun was a Miss Marple film, The Mirror Cracked which begins with an early Agatha Christy mystery being shown in the village hall and breaking down as the solution is about to be revealed. Poirot and Miss Marple are Agatha Christie formula mysteries written over half a century ago, and exhibited a skill with was sadly deficient in the Life of David Gale, but not in one of my recent favourite drama series Foyle's War which commenced its six short series last nights. There were four two hour episodes in the first three series and then just two for the next two with three planned for this.. The short length of seasons is match by the quality of each mystery set in a carefully reconstructed wartime South Coast England, the exceptional character acting of Michael Kitchen and his interaction with his Sergeant, and his female driver, the traditional English Rose, matured through war work and with a clergyman as her uncle. There were several fine moments in an good mystery where we were led to believe three individuals could be the cause of the death of a young secret government establishment worker who had misgivings about providing up to date maps for bombing raids on Germany for the allies.

The thou shall not kill argument was taken up with a small ecumenical conference held in the area about the continuation of the war until a complete German surrender, the implications of the mass bombing raids and the role of the churches in achieving reconciliation. The brilliant aspect of this episode was the juxtaposition of the two extremes, the clergyman threatened with prosecution if her said anything which the Police Inspector would be able to use against him, and the wife of the Police Inspector, after he had been shot, who explained that her view of the only good German was a dead German after they had lost both their sons and only children earlier in the War. At the time it would have been exceptional if those fighting or bereaved thought otherwise, or were able to understand that the average German parent felt the same way in relation to the losses at the fronts and from the bombing. There was also a magnificent closing sequence, which spilt the mystery element when the local Minister was unmasked as a spy who has been planted a refugee in 1927 and worked towards a south coast parish in order to send home intelligence about troop activity, only to have the good fortune to find that several parishioners worked at a secret government establishment and that one was willing to talk about his work through the Catholic confessional. When Foyle attempts to adopt moral and Christian superiority over the activity of the man who admits that he was not ordained a priest, killed the young man who could have unmasked him and then accidentally shot the Police Inspector instead of the Police Sergeant who had also been asking worrying question, the man makes the point that he was only being a good patriot and serving his country during a time of war, and when it was unwise to claim that God would be on the side any of the participants.

My only reservation was the those who prepared and sent him over to England would to have made the mistake of providing a background of serving for five years in a part of a town which did not have a catholic church, or apparently any church, or that eh would have been allocated a parish by the Catholic hierarchy without checking his background. The Catholic church remains meticulous in the record keeping of its sons and daughters of Christ and the German nation has always been thorough and comprehensive in its administration hence the justified boast about the trains running on time and pioneering development of the motorway. They would not have made such a simple mistake which suggests a story line not sufficiently researched or thought through on this key issue. But the rest was excellent, including the way some of the others involved in a defrauding scam siphoning off funds and giving backhanders were to be dealt with, the equivalent of sending one to the Russian front. In war time there is always a cheaper and more useful way of using criminals than to lock them up.

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