The Ghost – A Review

19 04 2010
Roman Polanski, The Ghost, The Ghost Writer, Kim Cattrall

Kim Cattrall, Olivia Williams and Pierce Brosnan in 'The Ghost'

Much has already been written about the uncanny coincidence that sees The Ghost go on general release while its director, Roman Polanski, languishes under house arrest in his Swiss chalet. The film, which deals with a similarly-encumbered ex-British-Prime-Minister, is based on Robert Harris’ novel and was conceived, in large part, as a comment on the legacy of Tony Blair. In the wake of Polanski’s unexpected arrest in September however, The Ghost now also seems eerily prescient of the fate that may await its director, who has long lived with the threat of extradition to the US, having fled from unresolved rape charges in 1978.

The ‘ghost’ of the title is Ewan McGregor, a London-based author hired to ghost-write the autobiography of ex-PM Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan). He arrives on the New England island where Lang is now based to find a man living virtually under siege, holed up in his high-security compound with only his wife (Olivia Williams) and his personal staff for company. When an international arrest warrant is issued against Lang on charges that he handed over detainees to the CIA for torture, the ex-PM is further isolated. Besieged by protestors and media helicopters, he is advised by his lawyers not to leave the US for fear of being prosecuted elsewhere.

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8 10 2009
'Looking for Eric'

'Looking for Eric'

Woody Allen and Diane Keaton are standing in a movie line waiting to see Bergman’s Face to Face. Behind them, a man in a tweed jacket pontificates loudly to his date about the ideas of cultural theorist Marshall McLuhan and the failings of Fellini. When challenged by Woody, he proclaims himself to be an academic who teaches a course on media at Columbia University and who thus has plenty of valuable insights into such matters.

Woody responds by bringing Marshall McLuhan out from behind a pillar. “You know nothing of my work,” he tells the unfortunate academic. “How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing.” 

The scene is from Annie Hall and the cameo is the way that cameos used to be: brief and to the point. Whether it was Hitchcock walking a couple of terriers in The Birds or Richard Branson being frisked at an airport in Casino Royale, the point of the cameo was to provide a little, usually comic, diversion from the main narrative.

Recently though, this seems to have changed. In films like Being John Malkovich, JcVD and now Looking for Eric the cameo has become the narrative, with stars taking leading roles in films about themselves and using the opportunity to examine, unravel and poke fun at their own celebrity status.

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Mind Your Language

24 09 2009
Christoph Waltz in 'Inglourious Basterds'

Christoph Waltz in 'Inglourious Basterds'

There’s a nice moment early in the 1983 Mel Brooks film To Be or Not To Be when the dialogue suddenly switches from one language to another. Brooks and his co-stars play a troupe of Polish actors, caught in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation. In the first scene, as the curtain of their theatre goes down after a performance, the actors hold a panicky behind-the-scenes conference in gabbled, subtitled Polish. “Can’t we just switch to English?” someone suggests. The actors sigh with relief and, for the rest of the film, everyone speaks in American-accented English.

It’s a good joke, and one that highlights a problem that English-speaking directors face when making films for English-speaking audiences about non-English-speaking people. Do you employ local actors and subtitle everything? Or do you throw realism to the wind and cast, say, Ray Winstone as a gondolier or Tom Cruise as a Nazi? 

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