The Long Good Friday
Some films get better with age, and The Long Good Friday (1980) is one of them. There’s Bob Hoskins at his very best as Harold Shand – a character terrifying, comic and vulnerable – and Helen Mirren, his posh other half.
The Long Good Friday is a film about greed and the 1980s, a premonition of the decade to come, seven years before Wall Street and the ‘greed is good’ speech. It’s a film about violence, money, glitz, and property investment – the redevelopment of the London Docklands. Harold Shand is the meanest gangster of them all, and he’s about to make a fortune selling the Docklands to the Americans – what can go wrong?
The second person viewpoint
The second person viewpoint is often used to provide an intermediary voice between the character and the reader/audience, giving the author a space to comment. Rod Serling used this technique to introduce the old Twilight Zone episodes by speaking directly into the camera and taking to ‘you’, the viewers at home. These introductions were designed to connect the viewer directly to the story.
The second person viewpoint (you) is not that popular in fiction, but it does have advantages. It feels almost as intimate as the first person (I) and yet at the same time it is coming from outside of the character (from the author/narrator/or even a character’s subconscious) so it feels more distanced. In that respect it shares some qualities with the third person viewpoint (he/she). It’s a useful viewpoint to make unpleasant or privileged characters closer to the reader, fr them to indirectly empathise with them.
The Neo Noir film Blast of Silence (1961) used it very effectively in the voice-over narration to describe the thoughts of a ruthless hit man. Bright Lights, Big City is another example, this time it’s one with a comical tone from the viewpoint of a world-weary protagonist.
Rising Sun (1993) – a tech whodunnit with Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes entering a world where sex-crazed Japanese executives are taking-over corporate America, where the lifts speak Japanese, and ‘the whole country is being outsourced to Japan’. ‘We’re giving away this country,’ one Cop announces. Later, when he spots a Japanese man with an American sex worker the same Detective says, ‘They’re plundering our natural resources.’
Of course all this ‘Japanese bashing’ will get turned around by some slick detective work that makes Sherlock Holmes look like an amateur. John Connor (Connery) is the Japan expert who has been ousted from the Police, only to be brought back in to teach a younger Detective every Western cliché he can about the Japanese.
Every writer wants a killer first line, and Michael Chabon’s 1995 novel, Wonder Boys, has one:
The first real writer I ever knew was a man who did all of his work under the name of August Van Zorn.
It’s unassuming, not exactly pithy, but it feels natural: introducing us to a mystery that symbolises the essence of the novel – who was August Van Zorn, and why was he so important for Grady Tripp, the narrator? Van Zorn, a legendary figure, who wrote long forgotten gothic horror stories, is remembered from Tripp’s childhood, as the representation of a ‘real’ writer. Van Zorn has the ‘midnight disease’ as Tripp calls it, the compulsion to write. He wasn’t there to schmooze the literary agents at fancy dinner parties – all he wanted was to write.
Wonder Boys is essentially the story of Tripp nurturing a young writer in his writing class (James Leer), who also has the ‘midnight disease’. And, in the process of helping James, he reconnects with himself, with his own inner-Van Zorn.
Tripp’s bloated manuscript, a virtuoso piece, designed to be his great magnum opus, reeks of self-indulgence, and is deadened by its own technical brilliance. It’s a monument to his faded brilliance – and a complete dead end. To move on, he must re-learn how to be a humble storyteller.
Black Rain (1989) is a product of the late 1980s, a time when America was reeling from Japanese industrial success, and a fear that Japan had overtaken the US technologically, that the US was in terminal decline; a spent, lazy nation, that had grown complacent. What remained of American big business and Wall Street was greedily selling out its own people for a quick buck (as exemplified by the film Wall Street released two years earlier).
Black Rain first reaffirms this view and then undermines it through a story of American resilience, the ‘American spirit’, and the American hero’s ability to adapt when facing adverse challenges. This comes through when the US detectives find trust, loyalty and friendship in a fellow Japanese Cop – and succeed through their ability to forge new relationships.