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  • Writer's pictureSimon Howard


Updated: Aug 24, 2020


‘…happiness is inseparable from the American movie.’


‘There’s only one story: the delayed fuck.’


All filmmakers are Fausts, capable of fantastic self-delusion, Tom realises. They lose their souls during the process of making the film – especially documentary-makers, who convince themselves their films are doing people good when, in fact, they often wreck the participants’ lives.

Don’t even mention the reality TV lot, who give us so much democracy on the screen that we abandon it in the real life of politics. We give away our liberty for a minute amount of fame, until its absence has become the norm – until we accept places, ideas, punishments like Guantanamo as the status quo. George Orwell would be turning in his grave in Sutton Courtenay, where Tom lived briefly as a baby.

Robert Desnos said that a poet goes on writing the same poem during a lifetime. Tom believes that nearly all writers go on writing the same novel as one another like performing fleas – writing from ambition rather than the soul – but that he isn’t doing this himself. Hence he doesn’t find himself at any of these literary festivals, answering questions like a performing/reading/answering flea. (Don’t forget, Tom, how that master of language, P. G. Wodehouse, was described as the performing flea of English Literature.) Yet he does expect to be back on the film festival circuit before long, although he believes a lot of filmmakers are reproducing the same movie again and again.

He’s standing on a beach in Tamil Nadu on Boxing Day, 2004, and it’s a couple of hours since the tsunami struck. Only one person – a child – has been killed on this particular beach, which is a miracle, but he’s seen a few bleeding heads and weeping children. He’s punched a couple of youths who were trying to trample on a tiny old casteless woman he was escorting from the beach between waves, and was shocked by their disregard for her, at how they didn’t even notice her and were therefore surprised to be punched.

Later he will come to see the tsunami as the great social leveller of our time, but the truth is that his experience with this little old woman showed it was not. She was outcast and invisible. He will also feel it a sort of honour to have been a part of it, perhaps like a survivor of Pompeii might have felt – to have been predatee to such a predator.

‘Were you very frightened when you saw the wave coming?’ asks a Western television reporter who has turned up with a local crew.

‘Yes, I was very frightened,’ answers a fisherman.

‘Were your family frightened?’

‘Yes, my family were frightened.’

So there you have it, thinks Tom, who has seen a wall of water earlier, a wall of water between houses – and where he should have seen the sky. And it has made him think a lot about the movies. How the Hollywood ending echoes the Jesus story. How the film goes inexorably towards death, follows the story of Christ and the Passion with the tacked-on bit at the end – the Resurrection. And all this made possible largely by Jewish producers. Death and Resurrection. Cake and eat it. (‘Kike and eat it,’ said Peter Pavlov when Tom mentioned this to him on an earlier occasion.) Deus ex machina. Deus ex cinema.

He looks at the smashed huts on the beach and knows that one dead child won’t be coming back, whatever its Hindu parents believe about Reincarnation.


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