Roz Kaveney (rozk) wrote,
Roz Kaveney

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Going to the movies of my life

I write about film, and occasionally I review it, and I find myself getting progressively irritated by my more eminent colleagues in the film-reviewing trade.

This is partly their inability to parse the sf, fantasy and horror genres. It was an eminent art critic and cultural commentator who failed to understand that the writhing tentacles during the emergency delivery scene in 'Men in Black' were the human-seeming mother's, not the baby's, and was confused by what she saw as a discrepancy of size, but there are many film critics it might have been. After the press screening of 'Underworld', I found myself having to explain its plot to people.

Let's be clear, the movie was not very good, but it was tiresomely clear in its exposition one way or another, and people were complaining that they did not understand.

This particular area of cluelessness is not the only one.

Most of the reviewers in the broadsheets are a) male and b)presumably straight, and I find them often quite as clueless about any movie which does not put male concerns front and centre. The reviewers I read were all pretty rude about 'In Her Shoes' - Time Out was more reliable - and it was mere bloodymindedness that made me go and see it.

I mean, Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz as estranged sisters - what's not to love? And Shirley Maclaine as their grandmother...And there was some efficient plotting demonstrating long before you realized what you were seeing that Cameron Diaz's character was not so much a ditz as dyslexic which is why she kept screwing up jobs and relying on men for money . Of course, it's a big girly film in which the men are mostly there as plot devices, but guess what? No-one ever complains about the reverse.

Given its reviews, I raced to see it and was pleasantly surprised by how long it lasted in the multiplexes. Anything which makes P. Bradshaw and A.Quinn look less than omniscient and omnipotent is fine by me. (I don't even mention the reviewer for a major daily with whom I used to be desperately in love when young, and whose opinions I rarely like.)

I am particularly irritated by their complete failure to like or understand 'Breakfast on Pluto', a film about which I cannot possibly be objective.

It is, after all, a period piece about a young queeny trans from the Irish side of the Border who comes to London during the Troubles to get away from the paramilitaries and to look for a longlost mother. As a young child, Kitten identifies as a girl and is expelled from a Catholic school for asking about sex changes; by the end of the film Kitten has stopped calling himself Patrick and started calling herself Patricia. The word transexual is never actually used, but, here's the thing, that's what we call ourselves in political contexts, or medical ones, not necessarily with our friends.

I haven't read the Patrick McCabe book on which Neil Jordan based the film so I don't know whether the women in the Soho peepshow where Kitten ends up working (after a period as a Womble, a period as a magician's assistant and comic butt, and a period street-hustling) get her onto hormones. Except I do know, because I knew Kitten - I knew Kitten really well.

Not in the sense of knowing any particular person that McCabe actually based the character on - though it would not surprise me if it turned out that he did know people I knew - but in the sense of knowing a whole bunch of young Soho transhustlers who were working the streets and in clip joints and in peepshows, and many of whom were living in my flat or dossing there. I was in my late twenties and just transitioning and most of them were about a decade younger; I was doing a mixture of civil liberties outreach and getting back to my roots. They were my road not taken, the wild girls with whom I needed to learn to run - I was also in a position to give them practical help like going bail and acting as a witness and being their landlady.

Oh yes, I knew Kitten. Kitten is a mixture of my three main flatmates, Maz, Kelly and Viv, and a couple of their friends like Anastasia. There is the running away from the Troubles thing, and the going anywhere to help a girlfriend out of trouble thing, and the self-protective willed ditziness thing. I know it all so well. (Oh, and Maz is the bits of Gaiman's Wanda that aren't me or various characters from my Chicago novel.)

I didn't entirely believe in the policeman who beats Kitten savagely when her narrow survival of an IRA bomb makes her a terrorist suspect, and who later rescues her from the street and takes her to the peep-show co-op that surely didn't happen for another three or four years? But hey, plot device, and Ian Hart is convincing as the thug with a heart.

One of the critics described Kitten as 'simple-minded' and that is not true; it's just that she survives by creating a surface of charming idiocy. The world around her is full of people who are serious and she refuses to play their game even if it means looking like an idjit - how dim can she be when the manner she adopts saves her from an IRA execution squad and keeps her from cracking during seven days of Special Branch interrogation? She isn't a terrorist, even a little bit, but she could have given them names, and she doesn't, because they are names of people she cares about.

Of the three kids she plays with as a child, two end up dead from the Troubles. She and her priest father and her pregnant best friend are firebombed out of their house by homophobes. There are reasons why she refuses to be serious.

I have no idea whether Kitten, past the film and the book, has surgery or identifies as straight or lesbian. It is clear, though, and this is something that the film gets absolutely right, that the further into what we may as well call transition she goes, the more her life is dictated by the women around her and the less by men. She finds herself in the camaraderie of the peep-show and stops deferring to punters and starts arguing back; when her friend Charlie needs her, she drops everything and goes back to Ireland to help. Oh, and several critics talked about Kitten's selfishness - gosh, that's an interesting version of self-centredness, dropping everything to help a widowed pregnant friend. Oh, but of course that's because it has to do with girl stuff, and not the boys' world of guns and bombs and beatings and stranglings that Kitten escapes from into fluffiness.

Kitten goes to London to find her mother and fails. Kitten's father the priest tells her where her mother is, and Kitten meets her and her children, and says nothing to disrupt her life. And part of what is good about the latter part of the film is the relationship Kitten finally gets to have with the father who spent most of their lives disowning her.

Liam Neeson is a delight as the father - dour and heartless in the early sections, and then discovering that repentance and doing the right thing is actually fun. You don't often get to see Liam Neeson being playful, but this film manages it.

Cillian Murphy was really too old to play Kitten as a teenager, but makes a decent fist of it and gets better and better the later in Kitten's career the film goes. He makes a convincing move from gawky and camp and embarrassed to smooth and cute and nearly beautiful - if I sound a little bitchy towards the critics who hated this film, it is partly because I am defending my own younger days, and my friends, as a subject for movies, and partly because Cillian made me love Kitten even at her most irritatingly fey. And believe me, that's pretty irritating.

Like I said, not even a bit objective. I must read the book.
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