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Denis Beckett

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Seffricans STOP bitching and whining, and be proud of our film industry

I have consumed more of the planet’s oxygen than most of you, so I have realised some big things. Like: few joys are greater than watching Impossibles turn to Achieveds.

I have just seen three brilliant Seffrican films in a row, and for many decades I would have bet you that was Impossible.

Not long ago if you saw two consecutive Seffrican movies at least one would make you cringe. And we were making one movie per five years. Prognosis was not good. Let alone that the cheeky Strylians were flooding our cinemas with stuff that turned us green.

Ja, well. How lekker to report that some things get so conspicuously better that even the webcretins have to zip their dreary whingeing lips.

True, District 9 is only Honorary Seffrican, and not without a cringe factor. But it’s not cringe for the movie. You burst with pride for the movie, claim the movie eagerly, even while knowing the claim is a big con. All we did was deliver unto daylight the guy who made it, before he did the E-word, Emigration.

Still, he liked us, if liked is the word, enough to site his work of grim comic genius right here in Jozi. You can be pretty damn sure that if you were Bjørn or Inge in Uppsala this movie would not boost Africa’s place in your holiday plans. But hey, there is a point at which too bad for Bjørn and Inge, we can wallow in a solid wry painful in-joke against ourselves.

Our son saw us heading out and said where we going. We said District 9 and he klutzed: “That’s not your movie! That’s our movie! It has car chases! Things blow up! There’s Effects!” We said we’d heard there was social satire. He shrugged ho-hummishly and said “a little”.

We nearly diverted, but we’re good Seffricans at heart and know it’s our duty to monitor the lies that the world is being told about us, so we got there.

And we saw why he was ho-hum. For young people, like distant people, the satire must surely wash past.

For people who lived the era of the Amptenaar with his snor and his do-it-by-the-book formalities and his delicious did-you-got-a-licence English and his love-hate for the bulk of his countrymen, the laughter is harmful to your stomach. (Although it is true, be warned, that it recedes in the second half under an orgy of Effects and things blowing up.)

A moment that re-runs in my head is Wikus the main ou, in a cellar beneath a squatter shack, coming upon a majestic enormous Star Wars command centre, shining and gleaming and intimidating as hell. He peers in horror and speaks as a township superintendent: “Fok. No, man. This is verry notta loud. Therre can be a fine.”

“Fok”, incidentally, constitutes half of Wikus’s word-count, proving that this is a genuinely 21st century film.

Then there’s White Wedding, by Jann Turner.

I haven’t met Jann and I’ve never written her name before and I have to clear some air here by recognising that while in her own right she is abundantly a person of renown, she is also the daughter of a father of renown, who was murdered in our name by a bullet that, we are sure, was paid for by our taxes. I’m sorry, Rick, RIP.

I see via Google that White Wedding has scored a bagful of triumphs, plus loot. You could have fooled me. I hardly heard of it when it was on circuit, and what I did hear gave me a vaguely gloopy feel – oh dear, back to bloody Black & White and all that.

Next thing it was off and I had to dig it up in the video store. Duty, y’know.

Well, what a pure innocent gem it turned to be. The “White” doesn’t even mean “white”, really. It’s virtually exempt of race baggage. It’s a clever feel-good tale, told with vooma.

If I bring up District 9 with the veiled intention of reassuring old toppies that they can cope with it, I bring up White Wedding with the secret plot of waking up the neurotics who try to live in Little Pale Island. I think here of my friend Pete: “no, Denis, our world is shrinking, our people are leaving, everything is declining, because of the blacks. The last thing I want is to watch movies about them.” Aaarrgghh, numbskull, no wonder you’re miserable, closing up on yourself. Engage, man; open your eyeballs and embrace your compatriots. Not least, when you acknowledge things that go well you’re the better able to confront things that go wrong.

Last, The Silver Fez. Some people would say “no, this is not a movie, it’s a documentary”. That to me is like saying this is not a column, it’s a blog.

The Fez is on screen and it’s entertaining. Isn’t that what a movie is?

This one is entertainment-plus, not sommer ha-ha. Ha-ha comes in all right, but so does thought and joy and pity and tension and whodunit and a sense of being a little more connected with your world and your nation than you were 90 minutes ago.

Silver Fez is made by Lloyd Ross with Rian Malan, (who my autocorrect turns into Rain; I have to beat it back). Rian’s role is partly on-screen, with guitar. Lloyd’s is off, with camera.

Lloyd was makhulubaas-cum-bottlewasher of Shifty Records at the same time as I had the same job on Frontline magazine. Shifty lives on where Frontline is long deceased (mind you, Tony Sutton in Toronto has started a Frontline retrospective, and Lloyd has gone on to be a RUC, Really Useful Citizen, and a unique one at that. This project, for instance, he deals grippingly with current life in South Africa without a mention (well, one, 5 seconds long) of the dreaded national politics. How unique is that?


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    October 14th, 2009 @14:45 #

    Relieved to see that this was originally published elsewhere, although maybe Denis should have changed the title before posting here. Book SA not a solely Seffrican site, and not a whole lot of bitching and whining here either. *unless you count AR complaining that Tom Eaton wasn't nominated for the Nobel Literature Prize. No wait, that was Sophy and Bob Dylan.*


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