'Broadsword Calling Danny Boy' by Geoff Dyer

'Broadsword Calling Danny Boy' by Geoff Dyer

Author:Geoff Dyer
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780141987637
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd
Published: 2018-07-07T00:00:00+00:00


Note

After my book Zona came out in 2012, I was often asked if I had considered writing about any film other than Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker. Absolutely not, I replied, consistently and truthfully. That film occupied and continues to occupy a unique place in my consciousness. My sense that it is not just one of the greatest films ever made but one of the great works of art of any time was deepened by the experience of devoting a whole book to it. And though it was, to repeat, absolutely the only film to which such a book could be devoted, I was aware of another, very different, movie that made no claims to being a work of art, which had an unshakeable hold on me – ‘unshakeable’ partly because I had no desire to shake it off. If I were to write about another film, I realized, it would be Where Eagles Dare, a work bearing no trace of what Matthew Arnold called ‘high seriousness’. That must be why I failed to include it among my pick of five films as Guest Director at the Telluride Film Festival in 2013, preferring to stick to the safer cultural high ground represented by the likes of Claire Denis’s Beau Travail. Regret at having bottled it in this way increased when I discovered that Eagles could have been shown in a cinema at a ski resort high above the already high town, accessible by gondola. I made good that earlier failure of nerve a few years later when I introduced an open-air, ground-level screening at the festival, with snowy mountains and gondola in the background. The novelist Michael Ondaatje was there, and he turned out to be a fan, both of the film and of MacLean. For plenty of people, in fact, Where Eagles Dare retains an obdurate power and ageless magic. Steven Spielberg has cited it as his favourite war movie. In turn the New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane was nervous about seeing Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan lest it make him feel guilty about enjoying ‘a work of art I revisit with the devout regularity that others reserve for the shrines of saints’. Considering that work to be ‘the apex of a form’, Clive James, in a passage quoted earlier, writes of constantly re-watching Eagles to ‘reinforce [his] stock of telling detail’. This little book is a narrative inventory of my own stock of details and observations, amassed over many years and multiple – if often partial – viewings.

Whereas I’ve never grown out of the film, the same can’t be said with regard to the author of the screenplay and book. Alistair MacLean was the first writer whose work I read in its entirety. Before him I’d read lots of Beatrix Potter (my parents brought a book each time they visited during the week I spent in Battledown hospital having my tonsils and adenoids out), some Enid Blyton (The Secret Seven but not The Famous Five) and most of Richmal Crompton’s Just William books.



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