Uncharacteristically, I’ve been watching quite a few movies on TV. There’s been plenty of good stuff on SET PIX – some solid films from the 1960s and 1970s including Jules Dassin’s heist comedy Topkapi, the prescient TV ratings drama Network, and The Great Escape, all of which I first saw years ago. Also some cheesy little oddities such as Jack Cardiff’s The Mutations/The Freakmaker, which features a man transformed into a giant cauliflower or something such, and a scene where, in a nice subversion of the food chain, a quivering little bunny rabbit is fed to a giant Venus flytrap plant. I like to think the Message of this film is that vegetarianism is evil. Any work of art is what you make of it.
(All films should have Messages. For instance, recently Aishwarya Rai taught us that women should stand up and fight for their rights after their husbands have abused them for 10 years. You’d be surprised by the number of people I know who were deeply impressed/moved by this radical idea – apparently it occurred to them for the first time only after Ms Rai enunciated it in this film.)
A few nights ago I stumbled on a nice little made-for-TV film on the History Channel: When Billie Beat Bobby, a dramatization of the famous 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match when 55-year-old former champion Bobby Riggs challenged the leading women players on the circuit to play him and was eventually beaten by Billie Jean King. The encounter was seen as striking a symbolic blow for the women’s lib movement, but the story is equally about the envy of old age towards youth and about generational friction.
Very engaging, deft and lighthearted film, shot in a pleasant cinematographic style that simulated the 1970s news footage look (in fact, I briefly thought it was a documentary when I came in) and with great performances by Holly Hunter as King and Ron Silver as the blustering Riggs. I liked that it didn’t oversimplify the central issue: although Riggs initially comes across as an obnoxious, patronising chauvinist, one also sees the poignancy in his desperate attempts to court the limelight one last time, years after he passed out of the public glare (his career was interrupted by World War Two just when he was peaking, and this must have caused a degree of bitterness later in his life). And though King is focused on being a role model for women (she closely studies videos of Margaret Court’s loss to Riggs, noting that Court “gave it up” by curtsying daintily when Riggs presented her a bouquet of flowers at the start of their match), she isn’t above clowning around with her nemesis – indulging him at a flexed-biceps photo opportunity, for instance.
Meanwhile Live tennis continues, and posterity demands a photograph of Roger Federer stroking Rafael Nadal’s flexed biceps. They meet in the Monte Carlo final later today, which was so predictable – the tournament has been a two-man show and no one else has even looked like they belonged in the same arena. I’m hoping Nadal keeps his erratic fitness levels up through the clay season because Federer will be more focused and dangerous than ever after his losses at Indian Wells and Miami. If he’s ever going to win the Rome Masters and the French Open it should be this year.