the fo­rum fo­rum

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Greg Sheri­dan

IT is of course the mer­est non­sense to ex­pect po­lit­i­cal or his­tor­i­cal ac­cu­racy in a mod­ern com­mer­cial film. None­the­less, some things are more than strange. If you saw a movie about a cri­sis in Mex­ico and the plot hinged on its sig­nif­i­cance for the Is­lamic world, you might be a bit con­fused.

I re­cently saw the ac­tion flick Olym­pus Has Fallen. Now, the plot is pretty silly. A group of North Korean ter­ror­ists takes pos­ses­sion of the White House and im­pris­ons the pres­i­dent, his son and sundry cabi­net of­fi­cials. It is heart­en­ing to see that the to­tally un­re­spectable world, so far as com­mer­cial movies go, has been re­duced to the North Kore­ans. Hol­ly­wood is pretty chary of nom­i­nat­ing any Mid­dle East na­tion as a vil­lain, and China is out of the ques­tion be­cause of the huge com­mer­cial con­sid­er­a­tions of film dis­tri­bu­tion in the Mid­dle King­dom. China is just too big a mar­ket for a com­mer­cial film­maker to ig­nore.

No one, on the other hand, makes money dis­tribut­ing for­eign movies in North Korea. Olym­pus Has Fallen is non­stop ac­tion: sim­ple, clean lines; a bit too vi­o­lent for my taste but the bad­dies are bad­dies, the good­ies are good­ies. Mor­gan Free­man does his stock turn as a states­man-like pres­i­dent — this time an act­ing pres­i­dent, as the main man is a hostage; the hero is a slightly dis­graced spe­cial forces sol­dier; there’s a kid. It’s all good.

But the prob­lem is, when the in­evitable threat of nu­clear con­flict on the Korean Penin­sula emerges, the news pro­gram an­nounces: ‘‘ South­east Asia on the brink of war’’. South-what Asia? Some Amer­i­can film­mak­ers, I sup­pose, have a vague folk mem­ory that the Viet­nam War was in South­east Asia; Korea, they wrongly con­clude, is near Viet­nam, so it too must be in South­east Asia. Korea is in fact in East Asia, some­times called North­east Asia. No one has ever clas­si­fied it as South­east Asia.

I some­times de­fend pop­u­lar cul­ture, es­pe­cially heroic Amer­i­can movies, as be­ing gen­er­ally a bit less cor­rupted in­tel­lec­tu­ally by ul­tra-mod­ern non­sense. But re­ally, this is enough to give cin­e­matic mil­i­tarism a bad name.

A more se­ri­ous ex­am­ple of the same kind of thing is to be ob­served in the very strange Bri­tish se­ries of the Fa­ther Brown sto­ries screen­ing on the ABC. Read­ers of this col­umn may pos­si­bly know al­ready that I am de­voted to GK Ch­ester­ton, the cre­ator of Fa­ther Brown, the cler­i­cal de­tec­tive. The se­ries is a pe­riod piece, as it should be, but Ch­ester­ton died in the early 1930s and the se­ries is set, mys­te­ri­ously, in the 50s.

In some ways, the Fa­ther Brown se­ries has a bit to rec­om­mend it. It’s ami­able TV in the very long tra­di­tion of ec­cen­tric de­tec­tives. The Bri­tish are with­out peer at the chummy, re­as­sur­ing, fa­mil­iar de­tec­tive se­ries. And in a time of in­tense sec­u­lar hos­til­ity to Catholic priests and most things to do with the church, Fa­ther Brown is an at­trac­tive char­ac­ter. He is kind, brave, clever and mod­est. But he is so spec­tac­u­larly un­re­lated to Ch­ester­ton’s Fa­ther Brown that there is a kind of per­verse wicked­ness in hav­ing used the name at all. For a start, Ch­ester­ton’s con­ceit, though light­hearted in ex­e­cu­tion, was based on the sober idea that Fa­ther Brown’s ex­pe­ri­ence of the con­fes­sional would give him an acute un­der­stand­ing of the ways and habits of hu­man evil.

This only works, of course, in a cul­ture in which peo­ple who do wicked things some­times re­pent of them and con­fess all to their priest. We are a long way from that time, if in­deed it ever ex­isted. I ac­cept that this idea of the Catholic prac­tice of con­fes­sion and its po­ten­tial for crime solv­ing is a bit too sub­cul­tur­ally spe­cific to suc­ceed as pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion, though the church has al­ways claimed to be an ex­pert in all as­pects of hu­man na­ture. But the TV Fa­ther Brown is per­fectly bizarre in much more fun­da­men­tal ways.

In one episode the good fa­ther is scep­ti­cal about a fel­low claim­ing to be an In­dian mys­tic with pow­ers to foretell the fu­ture. Th­ese pow­ers nat­u­rally turn out to be fully real. In ar­gu­ment, the In­dian pro­nounces his scep­ti­cism about Christ walk­ing on wa­ter, mul­ti­ply­ing the loaves and fishes, and so on, to which Fa­ther Brown replies that you shouldn’t read the Bi­ble lit­er­ally. Good grief! Surely hardly any serv­ing Catholic priest ever, even in our de­mented age, has de­nied the New Tes­ta­ment mir­a­cles of Christ. Cer­tainly Ch­ester­ton never would. That dia­logue is a real mir­a­cle of mod­ern TV.

jon kudelka

the sight­geist

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