Sunday, December 24, 2017

Star Wars

The only thing I remember from the first trailer was this little robot that looked like a dustbin falling over with a clang. The whole cinema laughed. We thought it was ridiculous. I’ve just seen it again online and there’s a horrible voice-over too.

So I sat down to watch it in 1977, 13 or 14 years old, without high hopes. And then it performed that trick that cinema sometimes does. Star Wars reached out of the screen, wrapped a hand round me, and pulled me into its world. I was immersed, taken through time unaware, with a big, goofy smile on my face. I already liked science fiction – Arthur C Clarke, Ursula Le Guin, Isaac Asimov, Alfred Bester, Philip K Dick – but this was something else. It was science fiction and romance and a Western and cliff-hangers and jokes and pure escapism and shiny chrome and lasers and mammoth spaceships. To a boy sitting in the shabby Lewisham Odeon, in the seventies, the beige decade, it was joy. It was pure magic.

The thrum of fantasy, adventure and possibility was always there after that. The buzz of a light sabre, the breathing of Darth Vader, that sense of the endless well of space existing around us. It has been with me, always.

So I saw Empire with my mate Phil in London one evening a couple of years later. Then a mini marathon of all three films when they premiered ROTJ. Then the prequels, which had their moments, and now we live with constant Star Wars and the magic’s a bit diluted.

But it’s still there. The music puts that goofy smile back on my face. That sense of fantastic stories within reach, of possibility, existing under the skin of ordinary life. Still there.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Halfway Through Swing Time

That’s Swing Time the novel by Zadie Smith, not the film from the 30’s. I’m halfway through and admiring it – the detail and texture, the character work, the sense that these feel like lives that were actually lived - but I’m also getting a little bit bored. Why am I getting bored? It’s partly the style. It’s the kind of style people call austere and lucid, but you might also call plain or ordinary. The main problem though, so far at least, is that Smith forgets, or can’t quite be bothered, to include a decent story. There’s a bit of a hook in the opening pages, the main character’s been disgraced somehow and we’re going to find out how, eventually, but it’s not really enough to keep me engaged and interested. I mean I am interested, sort of, but not very. (I used to review books for the TLS, The Spectator and the radio – you wouldn’t know it from that last sentence.)

It’s all a bit Elena Ferrante of course, but I found My Brilliant Friend a lot more involving. More intimate somehow, perhaps even more felt. The main character in Swing Time drifts along observing things and generally feeling a bit sad. I had a much more vivid sense of struggle and ambition, of joy being grabbed when it’s available, from MBF.

Anyway, only halfway through. I’ll certainly finish it. But I may pause to read a short story or two by Tom Franklin (from the collection Poachers), just for a refreshing shot of narrative punch and stylistic flourish.