Contains the cinema of the year, superhero kilts, The Last Kingdom’s last hurrah for the Dark Ages, Adele videos, giving hipster beards the brush off and the healthy state of movies about mental health
A version of this appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail 27 October 2015
Deborah used to love going to the cinema, but after a recent illness, she didn’t feel she had the strength or confidence to go out anywhere. So could I bring round some dvds for her to watch instead? After all, what’s the point of having a film writer as a friend, if you can’t ask her to tunnel into the stack of review copies by the TV.
However, digging out a few films for home viewing proved much harder than I first thought because when I looked at my collection through Deborah’s eyes, very little of it seemed suitable. Deborah had been voluntarily sectioned for some time, the result of an escalating bout of depression. When your friend has been through that kind of trauma, she probably doesn’t want to see Misery, The Axeman of Henderson County, Hannibal, or one of the many, many films that featured powerful psycho-killers.
I don’t think Deborah would be offended if I gave her a movie like Child 44 because she knows that only an idiot would be unable to distinguish between being depressed and being a serial killer. But it would remind her that the popular perception of people with mental health difficulties as dangerously unstable persists, even though people with mental health difficulties are more often the victims, not the perpetrators, of violent physical and psychological attacks.
Mental illness is not picky. It is not just an illness for people with dark, mysterious pasts or chaotic presents. No one is immune. Antidepressant prescriptions have soared. The World Health Organisation has warned that mental illness will be second only to HIV/Aids as a health issue by the end of this decade. And yet it is still badly misunderstood.
That’s why I’ve changed Deborah’s name. Because there will be some people who think she should have remained in a hospital ward until ‘cured’, while others may shrug that most people get a bit low, a bit sad, or a bit depressed at one time in their life; why the big fuss?
Sifting through my dvds, I find instances of quirky, sometimes gifted, but generally sympathetic characters in A Beautiful Mind, Shine, Rain Man, Adam, The Aviator, or Girl, Interrupted. Bipolar disorder has been earnestly portrayed in Sylvia and Michael Clayton. However, very few films argue that you can emerge from a mental health crisis as a stronger person. You can empathise more, you have more understanding. You’ve walked in the shoes.
Another underlying, perhaps unstated, point is the acknowledged link between mental stability and artistic creativity. If nobody ever got anxious, depressed or slightly low, would they be as creative? Some writers and musicians might argue that there can be positive things associated with mental ill health.
This Thursday I’ll be hosting the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film festival awards in Edinburgh. It’s a great chance to honour filmmakers who try to break away from unhelpful clichés about mental health. Let’s hope that notable and award-winning movies will pave the way to making people more comfortable discussing these issues. These are films that could change people’s minds about mental trauma and learning disabilities. We still have a long way to go when it comes to ending stigma and raising awareness, but film could provide a good start.
Is Rupert Murdoch really dating Jerry Hall? Someone should tell Mick Jagger’s ex that there are easier ways to check your voicemail messages than dating the man who owns The Sun.
Congratulations to the Glasgow Film Theatre for its well-deserved award of cinema of the year. I’ve seen some amazing things at the GFT, most of them onscreen, although the cinema’s audiences also merit some sort of prize. They are warmly enthusiastic, keen to be engaged, a little bit unpredictable and very patient when it comes to that snaking queue for tickets at the Mr Cosmo kiosk.
They have also been stoic about the demise of the GFT’s carrot cake, although I cannot condone its replacement; bags of gourmet popcorn. They may be delicious, but they are also heinously and disruptively crackly. Basically they are a posh version of crisps, and I hate crisps in cinemas. Not as much as Hitler of course, but in daily life, more often.
GFT audiences however tend to be adventurous in their cinema snacking. There was a fad for Mexican pasties for a while, and I’ve seen contraband hummus smuggled into Cinema 1, and eaten out of the tub with fingers, like Winnie the Pooh dipping into a pot of honey. But few can match the participatory spirit of one film fan who sat in front of me at a screening of a melancholy picture about Mexican cannibals. During a scene where the characters dined on a human leg, she calmly produced a subway sandwich of similar dimensions, and proceeded to consume it in much the same way
Some of us have wondered if hipsters with their 12 stone beards had something to hide. Weak chins? Consanguinity with Brian Blessed? Four larks and a wren?
Now, it seems, there’s proof: a new survey has found that men with upper-lip pushbrooms, Fu Manchus, and full-face are almost a third more likely to be unfaithful in a relationship than their clean-shaven brothers.
How is this possible? And who are these women who gaze upon some kind of purposely grown facial hair, with the strong likelihood of their last meal decomposing inside, and think “Cor, he looks like Moses; I think I’ll give my five senses the night off, and get wired in?”
The hipster beard was supposed to have fallen from favour a year ago, but like One Direction, last Sunday’s roast and that bottle of Majorcan liqueur you bought on holiday, they are still here. Apparently we have not yet reached Peak Beard: the tipping point when apparently beards become so prevalent that they become less socially attractive, and the pendulum swings back to being clean-shaven.
Hipsters will tell you that a beard was a symbol of sagacity in India, masculinity in Greece, royalty in Egypt, and romantic virility for Medieval knights. Similarly, moustaches are supposed to be a portent of mystical knowledge, Wild West outlaw derring-do, pipefitting abilities, and a blossoming career in porn.
For me a beard speaks of full moons and werewolves, Geography teachers and Catweazle. On the other hand, we have one of the coldest winters on record on its way. Gentlemen, consider a balaclava
It’s entirely possible that there is a limit to the number of television costume dramas requiring heroes to sling on animal skins and march glumly across some sunless north European land to capture an elusive throne, castle or kingdom. However The Last Kingdom is convinced that there is a Viking-shaped gap in the market, and have embarked on a saga based on the historical novels by Bernard Cornwell. So far, we have learnt that the Vikings like to drop off severed heads at the doorstep of English villages like a bloodthirsty version of Parcelforce. And when fighting the Saxons, both tribes favour gathering in fields and running at each other, like a super-ouchy version of British Bulldogs.
Hurry up and end soon, screen obsession with the Dark Ages
Salutations to the ingenious kiltmaker who has commissioned superhero tartans aimed at getting young people to embrace the kilt. So far Spider-man, Captain America and Batman have their own designs. Alas, despite the pioneering plaid skirt work of SuperGran, female superheroes are still waiting for their tartans. And real Scots must be longing to see patterns celebrating Iron Bru Man, the Fandabbydozie Four and the Thingummy
Adele is back with Hello, a new single calculated to ruin your eye makeup on the drive in to work. She’s also released a video where she listlessly wanders around a house using a flip phone ten years after everyone else, and making tea by dunking the bag into a cup of hot water.
I don’t mind Adele , but maybe if she could make a decent cup of tea — bag first — her heartbreak issues could be soothed without having to write an album’s worth of songs.
Even if Talk Talk had not been hacked twice in recent months, keeping 4m customers’ data online without encryption makes the company guilty of appallingly recklessness. We’ve also discovered that their chief executive is called Dido. And it looks like she will go down with this ship.