The Snowman (Tomas Alfredson, 2017)

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Now I truly know what Freud meant by the unheimlich. I sat there, watching Michael Fassbender, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Toby Jones, Chlöe Sevigny and other people I know I’ve seen before, and yet the only reasonable explanation for The Snowman is that it was made by an entire cast and crew who not only have never made a film before, but have never encountered the very hypothetical concept of film before.

There is something bold, daring and courageous in the way that The Snowman genuinely never puts a foot right in its two glacial hours of disappointment. The acting is stilted and disjointed. The editing is ugly as sin. The characters are underdeveloped, their motivations at no point satisfactorily justified – least of all the killer’s – with a horrendous “nine years earlier” subplot, starring Val Kilmer impersonating Mark Kermode impersonating The Godfather, whose character was murdered by the killer for “getting too close to the truth,” not that the subplot is characterised or detailed in any way whatsoever for us to see that. Honestly, why don’t we just have the opening titles, followed by a note that says “some murders happened, but Michael Fassbender put a stop to the eventually,” if the film believes so strongly in telling, rather than showing?

Speaking of showing, the one thing a spectator might be able to hope for, considering the trailers which gleefully advertise a severed head, is some gratuitous violence, leading one to see the film in the hope of some tasteless fun – sadly, no such luck there, either. The murders are few and far between, and mostly all but completely obscured.

The Snowman, by employing an almost entirely British cast, decided that it would present an entirely British-accented Norway which, combined with the truly dreadful sound editing, gives the impression of a film awkwardly dubbed à la an unintentionally self-parodic 70s martial arts flick, but that tragically results in J.K Simmons, forcing himself into a British bourgeois accent, about as comfortably as he would force himself into Maggie Cheung’s outfit in Irma Vep. I want to blame the director or the producer, but a film this horribly put together should have encouraged riotous levels of resistance from every actor, every grip, every caterer and intern onset. Everyone involved should be held collectively responsible. feel somehow responsible. I could have, should have done more to stop this train wreck and, for that, I am truly sorry.

 

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Beckett On Film: Breath (Damien Hirst, 2000)

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Rewatched June 14, 2015

 

Though I almost always agree with the sentiment that the success of a film adaptation should not be predicated – especially not solely – on its fidelity to the original source, adaptations of Beckett tend to be an exception to the rule, on the basis of the nature of the auteuristic qualities of Beckett’s work being so singular that any attempt I’ve seen to distance the text from the source has always ended up feeling distinctly ersatz. (I am, however, very interested to see how the auteuristic giant of expressionist theatre Robert Wilson manages to tango on stage as actor and director of Krapp’s Last Tape in a matter of weeks! UPDATE: It was godawful. Never mind, then.) Unfortunately, Damien Hirst clearly didn’t get the memo.

Hirst’s take on Breath, in removing the opening birth-cry, in replacing the “miscellaneous rubbish” from the script with hospital detritus, complete with upended trollies breaking the “no verticals” rule, by filming the scene with OTT swooping crane shots and – most ridiculously of all – adding ashtrays with cigarettes placed deliberately in swastika patterns, takes what was Beckett’s attempt at a living, breathing vanitas painting (I strongly recommend Claire Lozier’s wonderful essay “Breath as Vanitas: Beckett’s Debt to a Baroque Genre” for more information on the subject) and turns it into a sophomoric and facile cartoon of an anti-smoking ad (which seems the most likely explanation for what is going on here), starkly reminiscent of the Vivienne Westwood parody’s clothing range in Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge.

Damien Hirst manages to remove so much of Beckett’s vision, it is almost unrecognisable from the source text, whilst those god damn swastika cigarettes are so offensively paltry, I doubt one could find a single GCSE art student who would be so void of self-awareness as to use them as a motif. The ridiculous use of the camera seems to be an attempt to emphasise the scale of this piece – trying to blow up Beckett’s fleeting yet haunting memento mori to some apocalyptic, 28 Days Later scale (Keith Allen’s trick or treat voice work does not improve matters) – only manages to remove the theatrical, whilst failing completely to add the cinematic.

The end result of Damien Hirst adapting Samuel Beckett looks like a wannabe David Firth trying and pitifully failing to adapt Sarah Kane.

By far and away, the worst part of the Beckett On Film series.
If I ever become an actor, following the Stanislavski system, and need to drawn on my experiences of murderous rage for a role, I’ll just remember what Damien Hirst did to Samuel Beckett’s Breath.

I would, personally, desperately like to see Peter Greenaway doing Breath: this play needs someone who understands how to film a Dutch painting; not this. Good God, not this.

0 stars.