Saturday, January 22, 2005

One Hour Photosurrealism

Last night (i.e., Friday) we watched a Robin Williams movie called ONE HOUR PHOTO, on the Star Movie channel. I'd seen a vague description of it in the TV guide, and thought it was going to be a mildly SF movie about a guy who works at a photo-processing counter. It turned out there was no SF angle, it was a straight film which weirded out around mid-way.

Williams' character Sy is elderly, sympathetic, just slightly tending towards obsession and very lonely. His internal voice-over tells us that he's the kind of man who LOOKS at the photographs that cross the counter at which he works, at his supermarket. One particular family interests him -- mother, father, young son. He sort of loves them -- he's watched the couple grow over the years and he's had mild fantasies about entering their lives, being part of their pictures.

Then the twist -- a young woman hands him a roll of film to develop and uh-oh! It shows her entwined romantically around the father of the family that Sy has privately bonded with. This burns him up. Meanwhile -- is it just bad luck that this happens at the same time? -- the store manager informs Sy there have been serious discrepancies in the record of photos sold and photos printed. Sy denies complicity, but it turns out that yes, he has indeed been skimming prints away, from the rolls of the small family, for his own pleasure. In his home, he has the whole collection displayed as a huge montage on one wall.

He is fired from the store. On his way out, he removes a hunting knife from one of the store's locked shelves. At home he scratches the father's face out of all the photographs on his display wall. It goes on and on -- the entire build-up of events leading to his finding the adulterous couple in their hotel, forcing them to perform for his camera, trying to run away from the police -- all the scenes we're shown lead us to believe that Sy kills the couple after taking his nasty pix.

But no, that's not the REAL twist. It turns out he didn't do anything vicious -- he merely pretended to take pictures of the pair, to frighten them. When he talks to the police officer who takes his statement he explains (in a suitably reversed manner, so that it doesn't come out as a bald here's-why-folks) that he couldn't bear it that people who had so much, such a wonderful life, such a happy family -- things he, in his loneliness had never had -- should throw those precious assets away for just a bit of fun in a hotel room.

La,la,la. Here's what annoyed me: the unstated suggestion that elderly loners are pretty much bound to be twisted. Even though Williams' character turns out to be less vile than we're led to believe he is, the drama works on our expectation that it simply isn't normal to be so alone or to care so much for non-family members -- and that merely to be that way (since we have no idea of his past) makes it safe for us to assume he could be perverted. I suppose the intention of the film was to root for Family Values (i.e., it was an attack on philanders, anyone who threatens stable, secure families) but what I got from it was that a stranger cannot EVER afford to have or to express any warm feelings for the people he encounters in the course of his work or else WHO KNOWS WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN.

Williams' performance was subtle, nuanced -- all that stuff -- but it was still embedded in a film that played on cheap, sensationalist emotions. Brrr, ah-NOYing. I would've preferred it if there was no tragic-macabre element at all -- maybe a sticky-sweet movie in which an elderly, twinkly-eyed photo-mechanic finds a way to re-engineer lives by messing with the chemicals in the film processing unit ... maybe a magicomic story in which he enters the pictures and lives happily ever after in a Kodachrome universe ... something which allows us to accept the idea that being old and being lonely do not lead inevitably to monsterhood.

MEANWHILE -- just for contrast -- I also want to mention the utterly bizarre bit of information learnt on Animal Planet some nights ago. There was a program about bees -- I entered it late -- and according to the film ... Okay, I've got to start a new sentence. We were shown two different types of bees -- African and Cape, both being bred in hives in South Africa. It turns out that these two species of bees inhabit different territories in S. Africa and seemed to prefer to remain separate when initial attempts were made to introduce them. However, when these efforts were stepped up, and hives containing the two varieties of bees were placed in close proximity, a very bizarre thing began to happen.

The Cape bees infiltrated the African bees' hives. Many were repelled but a few got through. Those who got through began to mutate -- instead of remaining sterile female workers, which is of course what they were in their home hives, they all gradually became queens and laid their own eggs in the cells of the African bees' hive. Because these eggs had not been fertilized, they instead produced larvae that were clones of the false queens who had laid them. The confused African workers were tricked into feeding these clone-queen larvae royal jelly and in the meantime, turned on their own queen and killed her. Without a real queen, to produce new workers, the original inhabitants of the African hive weakened and died. The hatchlings were all queens and hence unable to provide food for themselves. They soon flew off to infiltrate fresh hives of Africans ...

The result was that all the hives thus affected had to be destroyed and all their inmates put to flame. Isn't it totally freaky? It's as if the Cape bees mounted a feminist-type revolt which resulted in no honey for anyone. GRIMB*!! (*that's GRIM with a bee added to it, as the sting in the tale)


Anonymous said...

had often heard of "2 b or 0 2 b" . but your story brought up "2 hive or 0 2 hive!. gt

Marginalien said...

Bee Bop: The practice, amongst bees, of hitting on one another.