The Paperboy Lee Daniels (UK 2013)

The Paperboy Lee Daniels (UK 2013)

P { margin-bottom: 0.21cm; } The Paperboy Lee Daniels (UK 2013) Matthew McConaughey; Nicole Kidman; John Cusack; Zak Efron Viewed Tyneside Cinema 25 March 2013; ticket price £8.00 Ending up in the swamp The writers who have chronicled the dirty corrupt core of schizo USA, Robert Thompson, James Cain, Raymond Chandler, James Elroy have all usually written from the first person perspective. What they knew was that this perspective enabled them to express the state of mind of their protagonists. And the key to their writing is how events unfold within this state of mind. Writing from the first person allows expressive penetration in understanding the situations and events that comprise a story. The committed narrator gives the story a psychic framework through which actions and purposes can be grounded in a social and cultural but individuated matrix. When the first person device works, the reader/viewer is drawn into a particular subjective world governed by particular psychological rules. Lee Daniel’s (LD) The Paperboy (PB) which he co-wrote with the author (Peter Dexter) of the novel, does not use a first person narrative. The device used to set up and tell PB’s story, is a retrospective interview, the recalled memory of the black housemaid to the family at the time of the events. Aside from fitting up the film; which is set in the 60’s, with its retro political correctness, the device is purely mechanical. It’s a non-perspective in the critical sense of mediating understanding. The maid’s telling works as an aide-narrative to trigger and prompt the situations that engage the doings of the main characters: Charlotte Jack, Ward and Hilary. This interview device fails to deepen engagement with the material; it does not open the movie out into the possibility of entering into an immanent world. The only world engendered is a world of backgrounds, a world as a series of possible suggestions against which the action is construed. And yet PB like the works of the American noir writers is set in an unbounded world. PB is set in a particular place, Florida, at a particular time, the 1960’s, and proposes a particular set of situations: an investigation of the possible wrongful incarceration of a man for murder and the effect on this situation of his would be gaol-bird bride. These situations are mediated through human agencies (newspapers, law enforcement agencies,social agencies) which link the characters fatefully to the wider world. Unlike for instance the works of Tennessee Williams which are tightly bound into the psychic realities of the settings and the characters, and in which all development takes place within these boundaries. American noir style works to construct an individual take on the complex of relations with social agencies, so that they are absorbed by the reader/viewer as a subjectivity. Without a first person to suggest a world and to open up the story and to place it in a particular psychic state, LD is left with manipulations of other variables in attempting to establish the authenticity of his material. Failure to establish some claim on authenticity in PB’s story, condemns its actors, whatever qualities they bring to the scenario, to the role of puppets, cardboard cut out figures of the type that regale us in the adverts before the movie. All show no depth. On viewing PB it seems as if LD has targeted the settings the locations and the sound track as affective attributes to gain some traction on the attention of the viewers; attributes that are fashioned to lay some claim to signifying a reality, an authenticity against which the actors can strut their stuff. But the backgrounds in PB have been fabricated for their authenticity as period settings in themselves; not for their effect in suggesting or creating a world. In PB, LD’s settings do not comprise psychic containers for his material. The locations or situations all look right, but they are no more than wallpaper, they bring nothing of substance to the film; they lack qualities in themselves that might bring a sense of foreboding or prescience to the film and envelope its narrative. The film ends in the swamps (perhaps figuritively in the swamp of filmmaking), but there is nothing in the film that leads us to this world of the swamp. It seems more like a tourist destination where we can go to experience an otherness of environment and weird people. The swamp is swamped out by the desultory narrative that leads us there for want of anywhere else to go, not through some psychic imperative of drowning or sinking or being sucked in. The purpose of the swamp in PB is shown in the final shot of the film. The swamp is not a state of mind that pulls you down drowns you in its fetid reptilian waters, it is just a place from which to escape. This last shot sees Jack leave the swamp on the boat carrying out the murdered bodies of Charlotte and Ward. The camera pans from the narrow channel of the swamp water to the blueness of the ocean and its vast and boundless possibilities. And the voice over, which by this time has lost any credibility, informs us that, just like in the old fairy tales, it all works out ok for Jack: he ends up becoming a famous writer. Another lay of old Hollywood. It’s the familiar formula: trick out the film in a period (50’s 60’s 70’s – take your pick!) pay great attention to getting the ‘look’ right and then allow the script to play on the anachronistic gap between the period setting ( in this case ’60’s Florida) and today’s sensibilities. Finally fill out the sound track with lesser known unfamiliar but groovy records from the period. The purpose of the music is to fill out the psychological dimension absent from the scenario; and it is often more interesting than the image. (It used to require a certain specialist knowledge to track down these records but the use of the internet now makes it very easy: hence a number of films exploit this method of ‘filling out’ their material – Seven Psychopaths { another woeful Brit movie} also used this ploy) But the music in itself, in PB. is not employed with sufficient nous to add anything authentic to the film. It’s just a juke box in the pub stacked up with some old records. LD’s use of his tracks in PB, except for the bar scene, feels as if the music has been dumped on the soundtrack at opportunist moments with the aim of jigging up the audience’s attention a little. It is not planned or scored into PB’s sound track as part of the film ( or if it was in the scenario this might show how little the scenarist knows about film). Tarentino, Weir among others have understood how to use prerecorded records to affect. Otherwise it’s just background music. No affect. Just a trick. Lacking entry into a world mediated by a state of mind, the actors are forced to jump through LD’s ridiculous hoops to try and convince the audience of the credibility of their actions. The worse afflicted is Nicole Kidman (NK). A particular instance is the first visit to the prison by the ‘group’ in order to see Hilary. As the Charlotte character is no more than a series of gestural demands from both script and director, the visit is reduced to extracting just another gestural action from her; in this case the crude and unconvincing acting out of masturbation gesture at the demand of Hilary. Because there is no access to psychic reality both Cussack and NK are forced into a caricature of forbidden discomforting (perhaps) sexual desire. (This type of physical gesturing of fucking is repeated to equally uninteresting effect when we do see them at work later, when Hilary is released, engaging in penetrative sex). For all her gesturing, eyeballing and accent KB is little more than a coat hanger onto which to drape a number of costume changes and listen to a number of old records. Adrin Neatrour adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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