If only A to B were as easy as A, B, C

A weekend home alone gave me a chance to catch up on some overdue viewing. In between the obligatory bouts of hoovering, staring uncomprehendingly at a malfunctioning kettle, and multiple trips to supermarket hell, I watched two films which, in retrospect, feel like natural companion pieces – even if outwardly they couldn’t be more different.

First up was E.T. The Extra Terrestrial on Blu-ray. Unoriginally, but at least unpretentiously, this is my favourite film of all-time. My very first date-specific memory is of December 1982, and going to see the movie at the old Cannon Cinema in Woodbridge Road, Guildford. This fact alone probably secures it the foremost spot in my mental Hall of Fame, but each time I revisit it I find that the film really is that good. The storytelling is taut yet never contained, the score emphatic but economical, and the performances – of which more in a moment – infectious in the extreme. As for the Blu-ray transfer, E.T. brushes up grainlessly well, and is complemented by a great new special feature, The E.T. Journals, chronicling principal photography via original behind-the-scenes footage shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer John Toll.

The second film was Michael Winterbottom’s latest, Everyday. Reuniting Winterbottom, John Simm, Shirley Henderson and screenwriter Laurence Coriat for the first time since 1999’s under-rated Wonderland, Everyday spans five years, and charts the experiences of a mother bringing up four children while her husband languishes in jail. Some critics have ranted about the lack of incident, but I found that the serial glimpses of the family’s life extremely powerful. Like Wonderland and (another Winterbottom favourite) The Trip, Everyday is largely a mood piece, providing plenty of breathing space for each viewer to fill in the blanks of his or her own volition, developing a powerful personal bond with the characters in the process.

The fascinating thing about seeing these movies back-to-back was the spontaneity of the two young casts. Who knows exactly how this was achieved. Certainly, one of the best things about The E.T. Journals is seeing Spielberg direct his young actors, explaining the action, helping them relate, then looking on with glee as something brilliant and unrehearsed occurs after he shouts ‘Action’. I’m sure Winterbottom adopted a similar approach, albeit with the additional advantage of his kids being real-life siblings, with much of the film even filmed in their own house.

What I think unquestionably helped the two casts, however, kids and adults alike, was that both films were shot chronologically: Everyday over the five year period of its story, and E.T. pretty much from a to b, specifically to enhance the kids’ plot comprehension and emotional responsiveness. In a weekend when I also squeezed in the director’s commentary on the muddled and emotionally confused Prometheus – in which Ridley Scott bemoans the seeming impossibility of ever shooting a screenplay in the right order – the comparable successes of E.T. and Everyday led me to wonder: how much better would all films be if only production managers could find a reliable way of shooting them in sequence? How many dreadful, jumbled messes would be redeemed – and how many masterpieces would be made even better?

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Posted on December 3, 2012, in Film and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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