A Journal of the Plague Year 3.0 Day 10

26th December 2020

Why is Boxing Day so called? Do we unbox stuff, hit each other? Or it alludes to the fact we just lie all day watching the box, sprinkled in food and wrappers, and drool. I can’t even remember what I watched.

An entire day appears to have slipped by in the stream. Maybe I did some exercise, entertained the Queen. Maybe I murdered some people in alleyways, trance-like. Might explain all that blood.

It is a little disconcerting. They say add life to your days not days to your life (right up there with Life Laugh Love, Karen), but have I not done anything noteworthy at all? Ah yes, I remember. In the morning I sent an excerpt of The Book to an agent, working for a few hours on the email and intro. This gave me carte blanche to do absolute sweet FA for the rest of the day, imbedded into sofa, mesmerised by a screen. We now have a modern allergy to boredom, even for a few seconds.

I imagine I watched a few shitty episodes of something on Netflix -my list on there I’ve realised is entirely devoted to Films I’ll Maybe Watch But Not Right Now, the kind of bargain basement shit you’d find at the bottom of the DVD pile back in the day, or in the Pound shop. Mediocre movies from 15 years ago, rom-coms that no one ever saw, some flick Someone Now Famous Wished They’d Never Done, a documentary on Something Or Other Interesting That Happened But We Can Dilute Into Numbness By Dragging Out Into A 3 Hour Epic Or Entire Season.

Anything recent that Netflix assures us is fantastic because it funded it, but is really a lacklustre bore-a-thon on human existentialism (the cheapest way to tell a story) packaged into something newfangled or woke/ unwoke. Say a beauty pageant (perhaps for drag queens), or a fat farm, or a gay conversion centre, with a laugh-an-hour at the whole situation, till it gets tired, fast. Why is Americana so formulaic? Anything that does vaguely work (thank you Sundance) is suddenly approached by the Hollywood bigwigs, thrown millions at and the premise beaten to death in a thousand different formats and merch. The Funny Spy. The Angsty Adult. The Revenge of the Angsty Adult. The Cool Mom, The Flabby Dad. The Ethnic Love Story. The Cartoon Creature, Lost. The Funny Guy And His Loveable Neurodiverse Sidekick. The Autistic Kid. The Cursed House. The Innocent Abroad and Their Funny Romance. The Man and Woman Who Start to Warm to Each Other After Contrived Melodrama. Female Struggle But Ultimately Bonding – Girl Friends! It’s all so 2020, or should I say 2017 and counting.

And has anyone seen the description blurbs when you click on a film? So mindlessly cryptic, anodyne and asinine in such a tired formula they’re likely a bot. Or a field of indentured copywriters who might as well be one, clamped under a grate so strict they get electrocuted if they stray. Their mindless recipe for tapwater tries to entice you it’s absinthe -for Schindler’s List they’d put down:

A man on a mission. A people in chains. Their struggle to redeem themselves in a black and white world -but can they outwit these dark forces?

For The Little Mermaid:

A girl seeking a dream. A crab dodging the pot. A man entranced. But can legs save her from destiny?

For Trainspotting:

A youth on the edge. A baby on the ceiling. Scotland will never look the same.

Hit me with something new. The problem with US movies, or series, is that there is so much money to be made. And canyer blame them? Find an ounce of creativity, humour and a refreshing take on something, and sell, sell, sell. You’ll make fortunes overnight, while the iron’s hot. Copy that format till it sticks, you can’t go wrong (because by the time you do -you’ll be rich).

Of course the current dearth of creativity is due to the fact for the last year nothing’s been filmed by any studio due to the infectiousness of a crew, and that everything that was due to be released is reluctant to show until cinemas get back to normal. If anything this year has marked the speeding up of the big screen being replaced by home streaming.

Tried watching some Chinese films, now the world’s biggest market, and what is taking over the Hollywood machine. Our new worldly saviour perhaps. They too have an army of writers, grade A actors, ginormous budgets, special FX and a world of history and tales to draw on. Perhaps this is the new wave? Up n coming, that’s turned around in less than a decade to become a behemoth of creativity. It’s ripe for discovery to say the least.

Well, to put it bluntly… Hell no.

Almost every flick is unwatchable. China appears still at the corny end of the spectrum when catering to vast audiences -watch as heroic boy band members save small, stupid children (separated by perhaps following a balloon/ doll/ puppy amidst all the guns-ablazing chaos) from alien bombs, or evil, foreign militia. Female assassins ward off dozens of arrows with a spinning blade… while flying. Buildings/ mountains/ glaciers collapse milliseconds behind the fleeing troupe. Some background sidekick dies -their last breaths given to profess their love of girlfriend/ family/ motherland/ Earth before detonating the key explosion on the baddies. It is an industry conspicuously playing to its own domestic market, and pretty much unsellable outside, unlike say Bollywood or the Korean New Wave, or Iranian arthouse.

You’d literally walk out in a cinema midway, perhaps vom a bit in the popcorn. I don’t think the Chinese mass market has yet reached the level of jaded in the West, to not still be entranced by the stilling waters of Rambo or fucksuit Ironman. As always the smaller productions, and the ones focused on the human story are far more appealing: crime dramas, coming-of-age epics, gothic horrors and modern angst, that win the usual awards. Avoid however the romance and ‘comedies’, and anything approaching swashbuckling adventure -still at slapstick and catering to people who walk into traffic because they’re munching on something.

Historic dramas can go either way -studies of the person behind the mask (usually a villain reaccommodated, or a new feminist perspective), or a dirge of predictable, big budget battlescenes that plays out similar to the blockbusters, whereby you can replace the aliens with Mongols or colonial White people, or the Japanese. Backdrops became such spectacle, with ever more epic budgets and fantastical storylines that China even introduced a law against inaccurately portraying history.

And it goes to show that when the City of Life and Death premiered in 2007, an award-winning biopic on several lives during the Rape of Nanjing either side of the massacre (of hundreds of thousands of civilians during WWII), the director received death threats for his sensitive portrayal of a Japanese soldier, equally horrorstruck and caught up in the maelstrom.

In short Chinese films sell their own version of the Chinese Dream in every move and nuance, just like they do Stateside. This time it’s all about importance of community above individuality, nationhood over life (or even family), of endless sacrifice for the greater good. It’s nauseating. China, please move on. Nationalism is a notoriously tricky device for The Party -handy when it needs to seal over divisions in the 180 ethnic groups, or when a foreign embassy du jour needs a demo or two over some policy atrocity (like acknowledging the Dalai Lama/ Taiwan). But all butterfingers and screaming when it gets out of hand, and people start setting buses on fire.

One good flick I saw recently was Wild Goose Lake, featuring A-lister Hu Ge (back when he was the best paid actor in the world and commanding $60 million salaries), but in a break from form, cast in an arthouse crime-a-rama that was apparently the runner up to last year’s Palme D’Or in Cannes (that went to Parasite). Hu plays a criminal on the run, who teams up with a prostitute on the lakes of you-guessed-it, Wuhan, and tries to get the ransom on his head as high as possible in order to save his wife from going down with him (it’s complicated and subtle, but you get the gist after a while). The bit where the moped suspect gets his head ripped off, the chase in the zoo as the animals watch creepily, and where Liu Aiai spits out Hu’s jizz over the side of the boat, is frankly, quite memorable, and unexpected to say the least.

Sorry about the spoilers, but it’s not like anyone’s ever gonna watch it, really.

Okay, enough enjoyable bitching. The telly is now a god-given right to our quality of life right now in lockdown. Having exhausted the formulae, we demand our manifesto for better. Newer. More. Culture needs to move on, as given this year, demand definitely has, with an aching gap in the market. Potatoes of the world unite!