I’m back in Cairo for a few days and one of the things I was most looking forward to (apart from breathing in the sweet scent of Revolution) was going to the cinema.
I went on to Cairo360 and I, dear reader, was sorely tempted by the rotten fruits of Hollywood. Pirates of the Carribbean & X Men 4, Green Lantern, Kiera Knightley looking sultry in some adulterous trash, are all lining up against Hawi - a small Egyptian film by Ibrahim Batout, one of the vanguard of independent cinema here. As a once rabid consumer of comics, it is taking considerable strength to keep me from the range of glossy entertainment on offer.
We go to the cinema for entertainment. Or that's what we've grown to believe. And independent films – are generally thought of as not being 'entertaining'. Quite correctly. Mostly, they're not. Mostly they're boring and self-indulgent. Entertainment is considered to come at the cost of artistry. This, of course, is completely untrue. You can break in new narrative forms, tell socially progressive stories, cast unknown actors, and still engage your audience (see Memento, The Battle of Algiers and Elephant, for examples). The worthiness of the independent auteur’s struggle should not replace the audience's enjoyment. But, the sad fact is that, often, it does.
Of the films on offer, most people are guzzling down Johnny Depp's high camp in Pirates - a film of no artistic, cultural, social, historical or aesthetic relevance that has now grossed more money abroad than any other American film ever. I, personally, would be tempted by DC Comics' Green Lantern for my 114 minutes of 'switch off and just be entertained'. I used to love the Green Lantern as a scampering young lad in London, and I think Ryan Reynolds is second only to Nathan Fillion among the young, TV-reared, leading men of America. But, if I try and picture my life 100 minutes into the future, try and imagine my self being subsumed by the CGI universe of DC's best mid-range hero, I know I'll be having a lousy time. First among the series of inevitable questions: if we already had Galactus (oh He of Top Trump might!) tragically re-imagined as a cloud in Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer, why is the cloud baddie back again? It used to be that only good ideas got stolen/paid-homage-to.
Hollywood’s glaring lack of imagination echoes another brutal, dictatorial regime bent on the destruction of the mental capacity of millions unable to conceive of a fantastical narrative beyond the limits of it's own direct experience.
And when a drought of imagination leads to bad ideas not only being recycled but multiplied and folded in on themselves you're going to end up with relentless varieties of weather-related villains. And the Double Down, the latest delicacy being served up across America: a burger where the bread has been replaced with chicken. Yes, chicken. Instead of the bread.
And just as you have to disable millenia of evolutionary instincts before eating a Double Down, so mass cinema relies on you wanting to ‘switch off.’ Just as we are passive in our societal and financial relationship with cinema, so we should be passive in our relationship with the narrative - to the point where to be able to experience it properly we actually have to disable our critical faculties, have to switch off our brains.
But whereas some sensible countries have legislation preventing their children replacing the bread in their diets with fried chicken, we will never enjoy such cinematic barricades. Nor should we. We have to deal with it ourselves.
In short, I’m going to go see Hawi this week, and it would be good for our collective future if you did too.
If you're in the UK, you could check out The First Grader - terrible title, but I've heard its pretty good.
I'm not sure what you do in America. Is it too late to catch the Tree of Life?