Monday, January 16, 2006

Stephen Poliakoff

I watched the latest film by Stephen Poliakoff on BBC1 yesterday, and it was a marvel. There's something about his work that is utterly refreshing and new each time I see it.

It was called Friends & Crocodiles and was about the working relationship between a man with a vision and a very hemmed-in, prim kind of woman. They didn't fancy each other, so there was no posibility of them ending up in bed together, or walking into the sunset hand in hand. This in itself is enough to recommend it; not that there was no sex in it (Paul, the visionary entrepreneur with the chaotic lifestyle, was partial to threesomes) but that the relationship between the two characters wasn't about sexual tension.

They were characters who rubbed each other up the wrong way all the time, who couldn't work together but should have done, because they each needed the challenge the other brought them. I know what that kind of relationship is like; I have that relationship with a friend. We sometimes argue, but she always challenges me with my poetry and my life. I don't know if I do the same for her, but I hope so.

Anyway, back to the TV film. What I like about Poliakoff is that there's often a kind of epic quality to his work that never seems overblown or dependent on trickery. He's what I feel like calling a "slow" worker: his films take time to tell their stories, to reveal their characters. He doesn't feel the need to blast you with noise either; people speak quietly in his films. The music is often string-heavy but contemporary, neither too lush nor harsh. This gives them an air of strangeness that it's difficult to describe in print.

I'm reminded a little of the films of Powell/Pressburger. Though Poliakoff is a lot less lush and neo-romantic, there is nevertheless an air that is very different from most British films these days. They're not trying to be working-class nostalgia, period pieces or in-yer-face gangster. They are not cute like Richard Curtis films (not a ditzy Yank actress in sight; and no Rowan Atkinson gurning.) Films like this, The Little Prince and Shooting The Past get you involved by good story telling and dialogue, and the script is almost scored like a piece of music. BBC4 are doing a special on him; I wish I had digital now.

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