’12 Years…’ a rave?

Two things: I am not a big fan of Steve McQueen (director, not long deceased movie star, he was alright). ‘Shame’ was just a horrible, soulless film – my personal opinion – that was trying too hard to be clever. Secondly; actors must absolutely love him. Even though I did not enjoy ‘Shame’, the acting was outstanding and the same can be said of ’12 Years A Slave’. Everybody in the film is good. Is the film good? Yes. Is it great? I don’t believe so. Here is why.

I will watch Chiwetel Ejiofor in any film. He is a fantastic actor, brilliant in every role I have ever seen him play. As the lead in ’12 Years…’ he is very good, given the direction the script and story took. Having not read the book, it is difficult to know how close to the source material the film is. Having said that, I felt the film lacked emotional focus in a way that another ‘true’ story – ‘Roots’ – on the same subject covered nearly four decades ago. As much as, if you did not already know, you feel some indignation for his predicament (spoiler alert) having being pulled from his comfortable life as a free, family man and cast into slavery, I am not sure that the name of Solomon Northrup will resonate for this generation of black people and others who see this film, in the same way as Kunta Kinte does for those of my generation.

The characters of Patsey, played by Lupita Nyong’o and Michael Fassbender as the brutal, God-fearing, Edwin Epps, dominate the second half of the film. Even Mistress Epps, played by Sarah Paulson, is a more interesting character, fiercely jealous and condescending of the ‘help’ and especially Patsey, whom her awful husband takes a shine to.

The film is good and looks wonderful, as you would expect. McQueen is to be commended for bringing to light a little known facet of the slave trade. It would have been even more interesting had he been able to find a British based story, considering he is, after all, a British director. The story of Northrup is not, as shown, exclusive to him and his treatment and that of others who suffered the same such fate, though abhorrent, is well document in both film, word, and documentary.

In terms of subject matter, casting a magnifying glass on a particular black experience, this is, unfortunately, in my opinion, an uninspired choice of black history. The name of Solomon Northrup is not one that will go down in cinematic folklore, even though his story was worth telling, he had already told it.

That’s what I’m aiming for!

Even though I am currently concentrating on filmmaking and writing, and thou I love and admire a good film, my true love is television. The television serial has always held a fascination for me. The building of a story, characters, themes, and subplots, over a period of weeks or months.

If the serial has a good central character/hero/heroine, you watch, aching as they make both good and bad decisions. That is what great television does; it makes you feel like you know the people you are watching. You talk about them at work or with friends. Even post major plot surprises on Facebook. Television is, even though we know it is not real, personal.
Last night I watched Homeland. The ever-watchable Clare Danes, even playing the less than sympathetic Carrie, was brilliant. As was Mandy Patinkin as likable, but singleminded Saul.

It was, in its third season, one of the better episodes. In ‘Still Positive’ an episode credited to Alexander Cary, the Brody family subplot was what raised this episode to brilliance.

Morgan Saylor, who plays the surly teenage daughter, Dana, was fantastic. The episode, the writing, perfectly captured the teenage girl becoming a woman in one scene.
Dana has a conversation with her mother, Jessica – the easy on the eye Morena Baccarin – telling her she wants to change her name, the burden of baring her father’s tainted name and, by association, reputation, too much for her.

In a look, Jessica conveyed understanding. This was not the playing up of a silly little girl. She was not just acting up. Dana had been disappointed, like so many women before her, by men. By her father, who she wanted so badly to believe, then by her first love, Leo. Jessica understood. She helped her daughter change her name. Brilliant, emotive, riveting, concise television. Exactly the sort of work I want to produce one day. Everyday.