Three years ago I wrote a short story about two lighthouse keepers. Amidst the confines of cramped quarters, one was slowly driving the other mad with his nightly tinkering of the ivories. I called it ‘PIANO MAN’. It was deemed good enough to be published in a literary journal and much to my delight they sent me two complimentary copies in the mail.
I mention this now since unfortunately this is likely the last positive words you’ll read here for the next short while. At present with movies, you see, I’m on what you’d call a roll. More like death spiral, actually.
After enduring the shotgun-to-the-face blast of boredom that was the Mel Gibson/Sean Penn starring THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN (HERE) you would have thought I’d resolved to treat myself a little more kindly.
Some people gotta learn the hard way. It seems one lesson in arthouse lethargy torture just wasn’t enough ’cause the very next weekend I’ve gone and lined up to see the William Dafoe/ Robert Pattinson film THE LIGHTHOUSE.
Before things degenerate completely I should point out THE LIGHTHOUSE is currently being hailed, courtesy of a vast chorus of in-the-know voices, as some type of modern day masterpiece. Lovers of surreal avant-garde cinema have declared this a once-in-a-decade treasure of a film.
This type of once-in-a-decade is way too often for me, I’m afraid. 109 excruciating minutes spent with this – if you’ll pardon the expression – white bread yawnage story vomit was enough to send me
My chief gripe with THE LIGHTHOUSE, and films like it, can be summarized in just three words …
NOTHING BLOODY HAPPENS!
Being an arthouse movie, nothing bloody happens naturally in the most stylish of ways! I’m old enough to know by now when I see films bathed in praise like –
- ‘technically immaculate’
- ‘an audiovisual feast’
- ‘thought provoking’
- ‘could not possibly look more beautiful’
- ‘a gorgeous piece of film craft’
- ‘heavily stylized’
I need to start running in the opposite direction as fast as my feet will carry me…
THE LIGHTHOUSE tells the story (and I use the term ‘story’ like a toddler uses a cigarette lighter… that is to say ‘recklessly’) of two early twentieth century lighthouse keepers who are ensconced in the claustrophobic confines of a lighthouse situated on a remote uninhabited island.
If living with your boss is not your idea of a good time spare a thought for Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson). He’s put up with the dirty moods, foul cooking and dictatorial ways of senior lighthouse keeper Thomas Wake (William Dafoe) for four long weeks, only to learn a raging storm has caused the resupply vessel with his replacement on board to no longer be on its way. The next ship is due in anything up to seven months.
It’s enough to drive anyone crazy, including, unfortunately the viewer. Because what I’ve just outlined, if you get right down to it, is merely a premise for a story. An actual fair-dinkum story story requires the accompanying infinite and intricate twists and turns necessary to take the viewer on the rollercoaster ride they think they’re paying their money to see. There is simply none of that here.
What there is is howling winds, long conversations over meals, drunken dancing, raised voices, creaking floorboards, more drawn out conversations over meals, repetitive dream sequences, blaring foghorns, a depiction of the daily chores and drudgery necessary to keep a coal-powered lighthouse going at the turn of last century, and yes, just what we needed… still more long exchanges over dinner-table meals.
By the end of it my mind was spinning on it’s own gears with boredom
and I was wishing I was some relative of Godzilla so I could do this to the whole agonizing and completely miserable saga…
Then again, when you sit down to a roast chicken dinner you can’t expect the taste of fish. Shot in glossy black and white, THE LIGHTHOUSE is an arthouse film to it’s core. That means, by it’s nature, there is an emphasis on the thoughts and dreams of characters rather than presenting a clear, goal-driven story.
I uphold the nobility of the idea of arthouse movies – what with their elevation of a director’s authorial style and their clawback against Hollywood’s cliches and traditional story telling elements. But I question why the end product has to so often end up being painfully self-serious, miserable to watch and an all-round trying experience.
One American newspaper reviewer of this film observed THE LIGHTHOUSE “has got nothing and lot’s of it” .
My thoughts precisely.
And because two lackluster films in a row have caused a tsunami of negativity to spill forth on SCENIC WRITER’S SHACK these past few weeks, movie reviews are now banned from this site until further notice. Let’s see how long that lasts...
Did I say 5th rate? Didn’t quite have the heart to write ‘15th rate fiction’ but, well… here’s my short story, PIANO MAN, from 2018. Incredibly, some nurturing but possibly misguided soul considered it good enough at the time to print publish in their literary magazine. No accounting for taste, right?
Last night, my world turned grey and my face along with it. I know now what happened was no accident. It was, rather, a most deliberate attempt on my life. In its aftermath I have set in motion a scheme to rid myself of this most horrible place and as well the person I have called my roommate these past five months – the treacherous old sea dog known as Captain Drake McNally.
The whole sorry ordeal was sparked some four weeks earlier when the Captain (I have always wondered whether this rank was real or imagined) deigned that we should welcome into our midst no less a fixture than a Steinway grand piano. Given that we were both working as the caretakers of a remote island lighthouse known as Owl’s Head, located some sixty nautical miles off the east coast of Wales, this presented some degree of challenge; most especially to the three intrepid furniture removalists tasked with delivering the polished wooden monstrosity.
The challenge, such as it was, involved lugging the thing up sixty-eight winding, crumbling concrete steps, every one of them encrusted in black scale and sea salt. Once in place, so began my endless nights of being forced to listen to the most awful attempts at music making any pitiful soul has ever had to endure.
After several weeks of this I wondered to myself if the hightop ‘concerts’ were not being done in such quantity and at such irregular times as to constitute an effort to irritate me and hasten my leaving.
Late one afternoon when I could stand no more, I politely asked the ‘Captain’ to take a break from his noise making. This was so I could get some rest in preparation for the coming nightshift. He did not take kindly to such a request. Later that same night, with a storm brewing in the west, I went outside to bolt the boat shed door.
On returning I found the lighthouse door locked. I hammered on it with my fists as waves smashed over the rocks behind me and the waters began to rise. I saved myself from drowning by eventually locating a rope and hoisting it high on to an outside ledge of the tower near the gantry.
I sit here now waiting for the supply ship to come. It is three days overdue. When it arrives I will bid this wretched place farewell, never to return. The painful sound of yet another of the mad Captain’s ‘performances’ of “Chopsticks” echoes down from his upper quarters as I write. Forgive me if I describe it as like some kind of slow drip strain of syphilis for the ears.
With his fingers thicker than beef sausages, mention must come also it is by no means unusual to overhear the nerve-jangling sound of several keys being struck at once, adding to my torture. Wax earplugs dull the pain. They and the last bottle of rum is all that sustain me. I pray my deliverance will be soon.
Ps. This short story appeared in the March 2018 edition of BALLOON’S LIT JOURNAL. If you’d like to read it directly from the on-line version of the magazine (because.. well…um…actually, come to think of it I don’t know why anyone would really want to do that – but just in case anyone did) click HERE.
Pss. I’ve long been in amazement at people given to populating their personal blogs with mundane holiday snaps boring-er than dry toast believing they are of interest to anyone outside of themselves and their immediate family.
So before I go ahead and do exactly the same I’ll at least have the courtesy to place a ‘Boring Content’ warning for all to see. Would it be too bold of me to suggest if more people did this the blogosphere would have every chance of transforming into a far more reader-friendly thing of beauty overnight?
Psss. How’s this for serendipity? The screensaver we have decorating our computer screen showcases a different enshrinably beautiful nature scene every four days. The delish piece of eye-candy that popped up yesterday was this —