Published in October 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
Is “cinema rage” the latest symptom of the collapse of civility? For some critics, Trainspotting has been both the nauseatingly impressive revelation of the year and proof that the underclass cannot get much lower. It struck them like a smack in the gob. To me, it was a sort of Clockwork Orange II, in which Stanley Kubrick’s dandyism and Anthony Burgess’s skittish nastiness were replaced by a nihilism which almost dispensed with any notion of decency. The only hopeful sign was that it was brilliantly acted. A sheet full of shite could hardly have been thrown more expertly in the public’s face. Those who want such films not to be made are, I suspect, more often hired enemies of Channel 4 than lovers of the cinema. The cloacal crudeness of Trainspotting is the best thing British cinema has produced in years. u u u the screened screams of Scottish yobs are not what I mean by “cinema rage,” which is akin to road rage. The road rager hears a heroic soundtrack in his head and imagines that other people are expendable extras in his private movie. The steel sheath which we command is said to be the reason for our verbose intemperance, but it does generally allow us to keep our obscenities to ourselves. “Cinema rage” is the fury displayed in cinemas by people whose conduct is in any way criticised by other, as they used to say, patrons. On the whole, people do not smoke when asked not to, but nothing can prevent some of them from talking. Usually these garrulous solipsists sit behind me, but what I am about to recount happened to my son Paul, who is a film producer and, despite his uncreased appearance, a respectable citizen of almost 40 years. On the penultimate Saturday of August, he and his pregnant wife went to see The Godfather at the Chelsea Cinema. It was a matin?e. As the lights went down, an Important Intellectual and Humanist, with a female companion, chose to sit behind Paul and Jina. An intermittent series of footnotes on the movie ensued. Paul and Jina turned and gave the Humanist the usual pleading glares, without effect. The pundit did not whisper; he talked, not infrequently, in the famous voice. Perhaps he thought it a bonus that so sagacious a commentator should be in the house. As he left, Paul-who is in no way given to the astringencies he deplores in his father-said to the Humanist, “I should have thought that you would know that it is rude to talk during a film.” The Humanist first offered money (which was refused) and then denied that he had talked. On being politely corrected, he condescended to admit having done so, but only “three or four times for thirty seconds.” “And you find that acceptable, do you?” Paul said. The Humanist’s bluster led Paul to accuse him of being aggressive; he, of course, made the same accusation, which was repudiated. The Man of Culture then said, “Let us say that we are being symmetrically aggressive,” which prompted Paul to say, “You’re very clever, aren’t you?” The compliment was not well taken. As Paul left the scene, the Humanist shouted after him, calling him both a cunt and a fucking cunt, as his versatile wit inclined him. With the Humanist still yelling, Paul and Jina walked out into the street. The Humanist came charging after them and hit Paul on the shoulder with a ?20 note, saying, “Take it, you cunt.” Paul allowed the money to fall to the pavement, upon which the Leading Intellectual, not to say Artistic Legend, said, “Pick it up, you cunt.” Paul looked him in the eye, pointed a finger and walked away. I was not there, but I am sure that Paul is telling the truth when he says that he neither raised his voice nor used any obscene language. Having behaved with such unsubtle self-importance, the Humanist had neither the grace to apologise nor even the self-protective shrewdness to recognise that he was abusing the son of someone he had known for over 40 years and who had once looked not unlike the object of his inexcusable rage. u u u the offer of money may seem something like an apology, but was it? Money, as the same Leading Intellectual once lectured me, is-like chocolate-a Freudian equivalent of shit. Thus A Man of Refinement, under the mildest of merited reproaches, revealed himself to be a cousin under the thin skin to the no-hoper in Trainspotting whose (inadvertent) spraying of decent people with shit was taken, by some critics, to be an affront to human decency and/or Scotland. I have no doubt that should the Humanist care or dare to reveal his identity, he will offer a variant, self-justifying form of the above narrative. It hardly matters what he says or does not say. Something pettily horrifying happened in Chelsea that day, not only because a supposedly Great Man had no manners but also because-despite being a self-proclaimed “Socialist”-he imagined that fame and cash entitled him to abuse someone who, to him, was of no human account whatever. He was lucky that Paul, who is strong and no coward, did not put him in the hospital as he deserved. And then, of course, we should have had earnest questions asked about the safety of Great Men on our streets.