Tell Me A StoryThursday, December 29, 2011
|Neil Jordan - Photograph Alex Waterhouse-Hayward
I remember when I went to a few birthday parties in my Buenos Aires youth that a couple of times a magician had been hired. I saw strings of Gillette blades coming out of the magician’s mouth. There were endless romps of long eared animals that came out of his (curiously I never saw a woman magician) top hat and then there was that magic wand. I would have done anything, even braved a whipping from my father, to steal it so that I too, could have performed feats of magic. The word prestidigitator would not enter my vocabulary until many years after I stopped believing in the jolly old man who delivered presents on Christmas Eve.
It was sometime in the late 70s that I saw a magician at a school and the children were all yelling at him and taunting him (magicians were still men) that they knew the trick. They had seen it before. They plainly used the word trick. Those children, as young as they were, had lost their sense of wonder. Magic did not exist.
Back when I did believe in magic I remember that my cousin Wenci and I would both beg his father (my Uncle Tony) to “Contanos un cuento,” “Tell us a story.” I would then plead for a cuento about ghosts or pirates. My Uncle Tony would sit us down and then tell us a story which invariably, before the resolution of the story was to be told, always ended, my first hint on the existence of the word interruptus, “Y colorín colorado este cuento se ha acabado.” It means sort of red is red and this story is finished.
I would at this point define childhood as a period in our life when we believe in magic. When something wonderful happens; the explanation for it is beyond the realm of logic.
For me that the period between the glory of things magic and the revelation that magic does not exist, that miracles do not occur, happens much earlier now that we are surrounded by the exploding world of special effects that must parallel or have an equivalent law to Moore’s Law’s which predicts a final end to the expansion of the density of an integrated circuit in limited space.
While I marveled at the 3-D effects and the computer game influenced shots that surpass anything Hitchcock might have done with one long traveling boom shot, Scorsese’s film, Hugo, was a work of cinematic magic for me, nonetheless. It was so because of its story telling.
My Uncle Tony could tell us a story and the ghosts and the dastardly pirates were real in my head.
My guess is that story telling began with primitive cave paintings and to oral stories. Socrates doubted on the veracity and value of written language. Written language might have been the new kid on the block. An ancient Blackberry was Socrates’s soon to be hemlock. The middle ages, after a golden age of papyrus rolls, and the preservation of knowledge on sheepskin manuscripts brought story telling, the stories of the bible on the windows of Gothic windows. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales must have reflected the culture of oral story telling.
Gutenberg changed all that. By the mid 19th century magazines and cheap books made Dickens & Dumas known and loved around much of the world.
Story telling continued with plays (which from Greek tragedies had become plays that went from town to town). These plays were combined with music and operas became a new way of telling stories. By the beginning of the 20th century a new story telling medium flickered and slowly opera became entertainment for an elite. Judging by a recent viewing of the 1936 The Great Ziegfeld I understand that spending piles of cash in films is not a new or recent endeavour.
My friend designer Ian Bateson says that the one talent that will keep on going in the 21st century is the lucky individual’s ability to tell a good story.
With that in mind I can see why both my granddaughters and I were entertained by Scorsese’s Hugo and why Rosemary and I love Neil Jordan’s 2009 film Ondine with Colin Farrell and the very lovely Alicja Bachieda. This film was particularly liked by my eldest daughter Ale who made the comment that the film was not your average Hollywood film. I informed her (but she knew) that Neil Jordan like John Sayles (another maker of un-Hollywood films) was also a novelist and perhaps that combination made the act of story telling a more promising one.
As I look at the long lists of this year’s films it is not difficult for me to notice that I have seen very few of them and that there is no chance I will see any more of them in the future. Perhaps, even though my Uncle Tony is no longer around, I still hope (and that happens every once in a while) someone will tell me a story.
Neil Jordan & Joseph Cotten