Friday, 25 June 2010

PROCEDURAL (Joel Schumacher, 2004)

It came, as always, way too late. The creaking mechanisms of the filmic industry wither ideas by the time they churn them, causing that aching taste for popcorn on your tongue. When the idea is second-hand, this fresh window is even smaller. So we have our familiar, our Type: A character named Hunch (because, hey, he has lots of them, and also because, naturally, he has a stoop caused by some dramatic injury in the past), whose presence in three different long running television shows has shorn him of what small novelty he contained. Perfect for the big screen, then. Not a mistake in itself, but waiting until that point at which people are forgetting him, but before they're ready to remember him, to make the film: disaster. Pity actor Vince Cannon, whose face is fused to the face of Hunch, because they are one and the same, and will always be.

Cannon briefly threatened to be a going concern, before settling for a life mugging for the gallery. His appearance in Walter Hill's Startled Leprosy (1982) as a complex hood promised a dangerous arc through the netherworlds of character dramas. But he ended up where he ended up so very quickly that his ealy excellence can be seen as an aberration, rather than an example of snuffed promise. Soon he was the star of a plethora of prime-time television dramas, his deadpan delivery of gauche cliche witnessed in the cop shows MALAPROP COP (1993-1995), PROCEDURAL (1998-2007), EXPOSITION (2008-2009) and HUNCH (1985-present). The latter three, in which he plays the ever-so-slightly offbeat detective Christopher 'Hunch' Hunchowski, (who greets each case with the too-wry (too-wry, too-wry-ay) line 'Stevie, Didn't we solve this one last week?' Reply: 'Hunch, don't you say that every week?'), is a precise mixture of perfect formulas. Hunch himself is a hash of implied backstories that include flickers of post-'Nam mysticism, suggestions of cataclismic addictions and hollow flashbacks to A Very Disasterous Personal Event that are never outlined or examined, but serve as a huge dollop of explanation (or lack thereof) for what we see before us, the deep and erratic zen-like logician.

The other characters serve as a Greek chorus of 'This-guy' raised eyebrows,
and the plots that pollute Hunch are never allowed to get in the way, being so familiar as to drift into a babble of Beckettian absurdity. Each episode requires a scene after 35 minutes where Hunch narrates his own brain movements for the benefit of the audience, preferably over ponderous light classical chords; Frequently, he is sitting at his art deco desk (which is carved from, in his words, 'maple and pain'1, and serves as an symbol of the titular detective's affectations), which he strokes like a pony. 'But what if the victim was ambidextrous?' says the voiceover, mysteriously, several minutes after your Dad had, contemptuously.

Humour? It is there, often in elaborately set up lines that Hunch gets to deliver. The best pun of the show's history has been re-used many times, and it goes something like this:

COP: She was a junkie, is all.
HUNCH: She was a victim of society's ignorance and apathy.
COP: What's the difference between ignorance and apathy?
HUNCH: Nobody knows, and nobody cares.

(Insert meaningful silence, as COP stares into distance, looking confused. Hunch walks away. COP finally gets it, smiles, turns to HUNCH; HUNCH is gone.)

The film version, pieced together by Joel Schumacher in one of his lean moods, isn't horrible. Vince Cannon, wisely, is allowed a reprise, and his new cragginess gives a certain poignancy. But as if knowing his face can't carry a film, the script leans heavily on a rookie-cop following Hunch, and an intredid (and beautiful, of course) reporter trying to get under Hunch's aviators. Both can't keep up.

Procedural Directed by Joel Scumacher Produced by Vic Ledgor Starring Vince Cannon, James Gandolfini, Claire Forlani, Tom Skerritt, Andrew McCarthy Written by Andrew Kevin Walker Columbia Pictures 105 mins release date UK/US: March 2004 Tagline: 'Hunch has got a hunch. And a feeling in his gut.'

1. Country singer Earl Lance 'Unlucky' Duckett recorded a eulogy to cops with the title 'Maple & Pain' ('Maple and Pain/ Is all I need to bring it all back again/ Boys in blue/ Carrying memories and Badges too')

Friday, 4 June 2010

HICK (Smith Hyphen-Jones, 2000)

Hick by Ted Hughes

'They waited and waited for him to begin
But when he did he was already gone
The bear with the uneasy grin
Is walking back once again from the sun
His legs
too slow to guard the door
Interloper's grenades split his
Limpid agitated swafts in place
Of cultured
darting strokes
Our hopes
On Colonial burial grounds
A hired soldier fights a rearguard action
One hundred and Seventy Eight
In the heat and haze
But it's too late now
The answer to a question
We know not what'

'A maths problem even more complicated than the one at the start of the film Rushmore. We know that the answer is 31.32, Hick's bewilderingly modest Test average, but we all arrive at that figure in a different way. Was it an 'aversion to the short ball + Curtly Ambrose x selectorial inconsistency = 31.32'. Or 'mental fragility – flat tracks x too long a qualification period x simple misfortune = 31.32'. Or simply 'Graeme Hick ÷ Ray Illingworth = 31.32'. Nobody will ever truly know, but everybody has their own take on it.' 1

When Ted Hughes, poet laureate, composed his poem about the enigmatic Zimbabwe-born England batsman Graeme Hick in 1998, it fired few imaginations, buried as it was in a collection of detritus verse named Detritus Verse. Hick, remembered mostly as a failure for his country, despite being a perennial bully on the County circuit, was described by Ted Hughes as having 'the care of all sport etched on his smile'. Another poet named Hughes, the legendary Australian Merv, had an instructive verse of his own for Hick: 'Mate, if you just turn the bat over, you’ll find the instructions on the other side.' The collected works of Mervyn Hughes remains a wondrous untapped source for cinema (if you exclude the excretable Aussie comedy Slugger McGabe (Jeff Thomas, 1995), clearly based on the life and times of the mustachioed one), and indeed the world of cricket is somewhat under-represented. The rumours that Paddy Considine has signed on the play Ian Botham in the biopic Beefy to shoot next year may end the drought.

Until then we cling to this: Hick. Which makes every attempt to secure Hick's place in the misunderstood genius camp by serving up 90 minutes of footage of him in languid slo-mo foisting Indian spinners to the rope and silkily pocketing slip chances with ease. Over the top is laid the poetry of Ted Hughes read by Brian Blessed, whose bullfighter-in-China delivery renders the exercise hilarious, especially when he uses his rumbling whisper at moments of high tension (a whisper that is more volumnious and heavy than his booming conversational tone). This is matched by strident Elgar pieces, bulging and billowing, which is hardly very Hickian; This Blessed and Elgar one-two might suit the hairy-lipped violent battery of a Gooch or a Robin Smith, but surely the shy Zimbabwean hulk is better suited to another combination, and all kinds of pairs can be imagined. No-one is suggesting Geilgud and Mozart, but perhaps Nighy and Chopin? No, too slippery perhaps. Broadbent and Walton? Too English. Fry and Debussy? Not quite. Any one of these combinations would create a completely different personality for Hick and for Hick, and all are possible. For Hick stands as a modern enigma, a would-be legend who failed, a loved letdown who also won. An experiment might involve the same footage being played over and over, with the same words read over the top, but each time by a different actor and with different orchestral accompaniment. One might then turn on the lights each time and ask the gathered schoolchildren 'What kind of man was Graeme Hick?' and then tabulate the results. Because, it may well run the gamut. Might Laurie reading over Scarlatti conjure a murderous Hick in the minds of the babes? Might Forsyth (Bruce, naturally; although repeating the dose with Frederick might be worth attempting, in carefully controlled conditions) reading over Reich cause them to dance giddily for the ice cream man? Or weep for some punishment not yet offered?

Myself? I'd plump for a wearily shrill Kenneth Williams reading over some Satie. That's my Graeme Hick, at least today.

Hick Directed by Smith Hyphen-Jones Produced by Smith Hyphen-Jones Narrated by Brian Blessed Boundary/Film Four Pictures Release Date UK: June 2000 US: N/A. 92 mins Tagline: None.

1. Rob Smyth, The Guardian, May 2008