WELCOME to a world where if you have enough money any problem can be solved – through time travel.
Chronological manipulation is a tricky and expensive business. Very expensive. But for a small fortune a top team of scientists can work through the almost countless variables and put together a surgical strike package that can solve your problem. They specialise in pinpoint precision and minimal collateral disruption. Each sanctioned alteration can be immediately undone. These guys are the professionals.
And then there’s Merica Adams.
HAVE GUN. WILL TIME TRAVEL*
If you don’t have the cash for the precision solution then… fuck it.
May as well try the blunt instrument.
*Small print: NO DO-OVERS
Unexpected overnight stay in hospital (I brought a leg to a scalpel fight) meant I had to put February’s LA trip on hold. I’m still waiting for the wound to heal so everything’s been moved back another month or so. Annoying.
Lots to keep me occupied here in London though and a few things to share.
First let me see if I can remember where the publish button is on this old thing.
Ah, there it is…
That’s the number of items on my to do list.
Max just wanted gasoline.
McClane just wanted Holly.
MacReady just wanted to be left alone.
A bunch of stuff gets in the way, but you just gotta keep moving forward and eventually you’ll run everyone over.
Drop a German off a building.
Die in the snow.
But it’s not the destination it’s the journey, right?
Sirens. We hear the city before we see the detective. He’s getting ready for the day and that means coffee. By the time he’s in front of the mirror the noise from his neighbours, their television and the cacophony of traffic outside form a dull roar. From the dresser he pauses to pick up the three objects that presently define him; a badge, a switchblade and a pen. Next to them, on a clean handkerchief, rests an old worn piece of wallpaper depicting a rose and hopefully his future. He picks up his jacket, already laid out on the made bed, but only after removing a small speck from its breast. He reaches past the metronome at the side of his bed and clicks off the lamp.
Less than a minute in to David Fincher’s SE7EN and we already know an awful lot about Lt. Detective William R Somerset. Three minutes later and we’ll know even more. And then the movie proper can begin.
There’s something fascinating about these scenes that act as prelude to a movie. They exist pre-credits for a reason, a cold opening that drops us straight out of the theatre and into the thing. In some cases they become as important in their own right as the movie that follows. CASINO ROYALE, for example, not only adds an exemplary pre-credit action sequence to an already iconic roster, but acts as the best possible introduction to that Bond. A rougher, blunter instrument than we’re used to who runs through walls and uses his rib cage to break falls. When faced with defeat he doesn’t dig deep, but rather thinks on his feet. Fuck it, I’ll just blow us all up or Fuck this being polite I’m gonna grab this piece of cutlery and jam it into your neck if you dare try and outsmart me. But I digress… (go see SKYFALL).
SE7EN’s opening is perfect. It’s become overshadowed by the credits sequence that follows (redefining as it did an entire industry) and the crimes themselves (that inadvertently launched a sub-genre of lesser movies), unfolding over seven days that eventually lead to a box that should never be opened. But for me, the entirety of the move is found in the first four minutes and those four scenes that hold our hand as we sit in the darkness and enter what Fincher describes as the ‘belly of the beast‘; Somerset’s unnamed city.
The Removed Scene
Prior to us meeting him that morning Somerset had recently returned from a trip to the countryside and the home he intends to move to in a week’s time. It’s there he finds the old wallpaper that he now carries a piece of as a token of escape, but also a trophy and a totem. We don’t know this though. The sequence was shot, but later cut. You can listen to the director and cast commentary on the Criterion disk of the movie to find out why. It’s also detailed on the movie’s Wikipedia page. But the flower is important. Most cop movies dwell on the guns. Here the cop carries a rose and a switchblade.
Our first crime scene. That’s the writer of the screenplay lying in his own blood, but you don’t need to know that. I smile every time I see his ass which isn’t a sentence I type lightly, but it is true. Face down in his own world made real – you know he’s smiling too. The police already on the scene have this covered, but it’s an opportunity for Morgan Freeman to deliver his first line and it’s a beauty.
Then they heard the gun go off. Both barrels.
A crime of passion.
Yeah, just look at all the passion on that wall.
His subsequent question about a child shows just how at odds he is with his fellow police officers. He sees things that they don’t because he goes looking for them. No one else cares. He’s world weary and his response is to save what’s left of his life and get out of the damn city. The most interesting character in a parallel universe in a similar position is meanwhile setting up a custom search-light and handing the job over to a troubled man who dresses as a rodent. I’d rather stick with Somerset. We also see the detective for the first time in his hat. Vital, as Morgan Freeman explains:
“Primarily it’s just a rain hat, but it’s one of those things that I find always informs me. Very often if a character can wear a hat a hat will identify him, will give you the last little… well, tie the knot in the thread. This is one of those situations where the hat sort of [CLICK] there it is. That’s him. Put the hat on and you look and you see the character. And you know who he is.”
Its in this scene that (the hatless) Detective David Mills arrives. And cut.
We’re outside. It’s raining. It always rains here. If you haven’t already then go take a look at a book by Warren Ellis called FELL. Imagine a map of places that you never want to find yourself then trace your finger over an invisible line between Somerset’s city and Richard Fell’s Snowtown. Feral cities, twinned. Now go and wash your hand.
We begin to understand Mills as in one moment he takes in a passing woman under her umbrella and in the next pauses to angrily watch the retreating form of a man that has roughly pushed past him. In another excised sequence we would have seen Mills get into some shit with two thugs the night before* and seen the rashness in him there. Here instead, and in a fraction of the time, we see him let his anger go. You’ve seen the end of the movie, right? This is important.
Fincher makes a decision to abandon coverage and allow the two actors to walk and talk, ‘go toe to toe‘. Apparently it took something like 27 takes. It’s perhaps the most vital part of SE7EN for me and represents the last opportunity for hope in the movie. From the question that forms the title of this blog entry we’re less than two minutes from the opening credits yet by the time we first hear Nine Inch Nails the path of the movie is irrevocably set.
Look, Mills? I thought we might find a bar someplace,
you know and sit and talk…
Well I’d like to get to the precinct if it’s all the same. You
know, not much time for this transition thing.
I meant to ask you something. When we spoke on the
I don’t follow.
Well, all this effort to get transferred. It’s the first question
that popped into my head.
I guess the same reasons as you. The same reasons you had
before you decided to quit. Yeah?
You’ve just met me.
Maybe I’m not understanding the question.
It’s very simple. You actually fought to get reassigned here.
I’ve just never seen it done that way before.
I thought I could do some good. Look, it would be great for me
if we didn’t start out kicking each other in the balls. But you’re
calling the shots, lieutenant.
Yes. I want you to look and I want you to listen. Okay?
Now I wasn’t standing around guarding the Taco Bell, I’ve
worked Homicide five years.
I understand that.
Well over the next seven days, detective, you’ll do me the favour
of remembering that.
So much information thrown at the audience here. Mills is new to the city while Somerset is about to start his final week. Seven days. That’s the time frame that destroys them. By the time Somerset not only remembers his partner’s name and actually calls him David it’s far too late. LETHAL WEAPON this is not (or perhaps it is but only if you ever wanted to take Gibson’s suicidal cop with a murdered wife to a more logical conclusion than a martial arts bout in the rain).
The city is a place you get out of or die in. Somerset lives alone with a fucking chess set. He’s not married and has no family here. Mills has brought his with him. One of many mistakes that Mills makes is not understanding what Somerset means when he says, ‘Not here‘. He’s not implying that police work here is different. He’s stating that the city itself is different. Unlike anything Mills has ever experienced. But this conversation wasn’t supposed to take place here. Somerset wanted to take his partner to a bar. Talk. Mills, not a great listener, shoves the idea aside.
And that’s him turning his back on hope.
Maybe if he’d dropped a gear and spent a day drinking and chatting with his new partner things would have unfolded differently. We’re not in the film yet. Monday only flashes up after the credits. They don’t have a case yet. They don’t have the case yet.
There’s time here, detective. You should have taken it.
Don’t panic. We’re almost there.
Night. Somerset is back in his apartment, in bed and trying to read. The noise from the morning continues unabated into the night. Defeated, he places his glasses on the night stand and sets the metronome running at a calming 66 beats per minute. Freeman explains that the character here finds it difficult to shut his mind down at night, “It’s like putting a clock in bed with puppies“. I’m writing this at 5am and buying a metronome app the moment I hit PUBLISH. A battle between the continuous pulse of the city and the beat in the room begins. It’s the regular calming voice of the metronome that finally leads Somerset into sleep and the audience into the credits. Before the end of the week the metronome will be shattered across the floor.
The city always wins in the end.
All that and I didn’t mention John Doe once.
*This excised scene is eventually realised to comedic effect in HOT FUZZ, much more of a sibling to SE7EN than any of the SAW movies or the torture-porn bollocks that followed**
**Sorry for the foot notes
It’s been a stretch since I’ve had the time to do any serious blogging. That’s the first lie. I have plenty of time, but until now I’ve decided to use it up on everything but WordPress. For a while, mostly as I was noodling around with the site design last week or throwing film posters at Tumblr, I figured I’d just fallen out of the habit, but I think what happened was that I painted myself into a corner by only blogging about the stuff I was doing and then suddenly found myself in a position where I wasn’t allowed to write about most of it.
Time to reboot.
Right now the sun has just about found its way to London again and I’ve spent the last couple of hours working on a few different projects. Later today I’ll have a couple of meetings and as it’s Monday I’ll make time to reevaluate what needs doing this week and for the first time in a while regular scribbling here will be included. I can’t tell you about the explosions and the car chases and the spiders and the broadswords and the robots and the tears and the huge sacrifice and the feelings that unspool all wet and steaming over the cold beach and into the sea.
So instead I’ll use the blog to host things that are just supposed to live here. When I can talk about the other stuff I will, but this will mostly be original content of one form or another I guess. I hope that isn’t the second lie.
Last one I think.
I’m using POSTER which I’m told is the ‘minimal iOS WordPress blogging app’ of note.
Nice as it is its also a reminder why every fucker, me included, has jumped to Tumblr.
If you’re one of the five or so people still subscribed to this RSS feed you can kinda ignore this.
I’m just testing a new WP app in the hope I may start using the site again if I’m throwing crap at it via my phone.
Not sure I need this *and* three Tumblr THINGS but we’ll see…
And by winter I mean lame ass blogging.
For now anyway.
What ever the opposite of mothballed is: CLICK CLICK
2011 was a fun year, but I think 2012 is going to be the busy one.
January alone is a cocksucker.
Lots to mop up from last year, lots of work to be done on the house (essential but is going to drive me crazy), a couple of cool meetings and lots and lots of writing.
Pretty resolved already so won’t be making any lists or promises I can’t keep.
Let’s see what’s over the next hill.
My friend Steve Barron directed this new adaptation of Treasure Island for Sky 1 HD which I believe is being shown in the UK on New Year’s Day.
Looks like a LOT of fun and check out that cast.
Sorry about the voice mail. I’ve been drinking.
And you think your roaming charges are bad…
Another one via Boing Boing; Federal agents say 88-year-old Saratoga man’s invention is being used by meth labs.
“These are the same knotheads that make you take your shoes off in the airport.”
For Wallace to comply, the state Department of Justice fingerprinted the couple and told Wallace he needed to show them such things as a solid security system for his product. Wallace sent a photograph of Buddy sitting on the front porch.
“These guys don’t go for my humor,” Wallace said. “Cops are the most humorless knotheads on the planet.”
Lovely phrase that.
Urban Dictionary definition:
(A) A person who has trouble thinking in a logical progression. this is usually caused by a profound amount of circular reasoning tying their brain into a knot.
(B) A dumb ass
Baboons are perfect models for the ecosystem I study. They live in the Serengeti in East Africa, which is a wonderful place for a baboon to live. They’re in big troops, so predators don’t hassle them much. Infant mortality is low. Most importantly, it takes baboons only about 3 hours of foraging to get their day’s calories. Critical implication of this – if you are spending only 3 hours in a day getting food, that means you have 9 hours of free time each day to devote to being miserable to some other baboon. Like us, they are ecologically privileged enough so that they can devote their time to generating psychological stress for each other. If a baboon in the Serengeti is miserable, it is because another baboon has worked very hard to bring that state about.
Exeunt Magazine were kind enough to interview me about Howl’s Moving Castle. You can read it here.
Love that photo…