Monday, 14 September 2015


“Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.” - Albert Schweitzer

We watched a movie at the weekend which brought to my mind the term “B Movie”. That’s an old-fashioned characterisation for a film and one which is not used much nowadays, however, the film did remind me of such old potboiler Hollywood movies, despite the stellar cast and the brou-ha-ha surrounding its release.

A B movie in Hollywood was a low-budget commercial motion picture that was not an arthouse film and was designed for mass consumption, generally pandering to the tastes of the lowest common denominator. A bread-and-butter film. In its original usage, during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the term more precisely identified a film intended for distribution as the less-publicised, bottom half of a double feature. Although the U.S. production of movies intended as second features largely ceased by the end of the 1950s, the term B movie continued to be used in the broader sense it maintains today. In its post–Golden Age usage, there is ambiguity on both sides of the definition: On the one hand, many B movies display a high degree of craft and aesthetic ingenuity; on the other, the primary interest of many inexpensive exploitation films is prurient.

Early B movies were often part of series in which the star repeatedly played the same character. Almost always shorter than the top-billed films they were paired with, many had running times of 70 minutes or less. B movies were generally understood to be inferior to the more handsomely budgeted headliners; individual B films were often ignored by critics. As the average running time of top-of-the-line films increased, so did that of B pictures.

In its current usage, the term has somewhat contradictory connotations: It may signal an opinion that a certain movie is (a) a genre film with minimal artistic ambitions or (b) a lively, energetic film uninhibited by the constraints imposed on more expensive projects and unburdened by the conventions of putatively “serious” independent film. The term is also now used loosely to refer to some higher-budgeted, mainstream films with exploitation-style content, usually in genres traditionally associated with the B movie.

So what was the film? The 2014 Rowan Joffe thriller “Before I go to Sleep” starring Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth and Mark Strong. The film was hardly original, as it builds on the foundations of the more arty thriller “Memento” (2000) or even the comedic “50 First Dates” (2004).

Without wanting to spoil the movie for you if you have not seen it, the plot outline runs thus: Christine Lucas (Kidman) wakes up each day with short term memory loss and no memory beyond her early twenties; soon she begins to realise that some dark secrets are being hidden from her. She has no idea if her friends really are friends or actually foes. She is puzzled by her role as a housewife in her suburban home and looks perplexed at her husband Ben (Colin Firth) in bed next to her.

Christine is being covertly helped on a pro-bono basis by the neuro-scientist Dr Nash (Mark Strong). Nash reveals that she ended up in this state after being severely beaten up and left for dead near a Heathrow hotel. He persuades her to maintain a video diary of the days' events and recollections, but he has to remind her where she’s hidden the camera via phone every morning. Christine slowly uncovers a traumatic past, remembered (and then immediately forgotten) in dreams, but which only very slowly start to piece together during the waking hours. Will Christine piece together the jigsaw?

The film was well made and the acting was good. One has to expect that nowadays if the film has any hope of recouping its production costs. Whether or not it will be a hit and wow the public is another matter. This film failed to be a box office success, grossing just under $3 million in the USA. Ultimately one has to look at what the film delivers, and in this case, while the plot is resolved and one sees the conclusion come home more or less satisfactorily, there is an element of: “Oh well, is that it?”…

A strange one, as we watched it with interest, it was quite entertaining, but somehow remained uninspiring and certainly not one that would remain etched in one’s memory: I.e. a B movie... Maybe it would become better if I saw it again tomorrow after I have forgotten about it overnight?

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