The Russian film Day Watch is daft and even boring at times. But it is a stylistic revelation— and the best mainstream entertainment cinema aroundby Mark Cousins / November 25, 2007 / Leave a comment
In early October, the world’s press was full of excitement about Hollywood’s latest blockbuster, The Kingdom, in which US government agents, led by star du jour Jamie Foxx, investigate a terrorist bomb in a western housing complex in Saudi Arabia. Yawn. Not only is the plot shop-soiled, but the idea that we can see the state of America reflected in Hollywood’s latest bauble is too. Yes, the US is anxious about the middle east and yes its mainstream entertainments express this anxiety, but The Kingdom does this so obviously that there’s nothing new to say.
The real story about mainstream cinema lies in another big, flashy entertainment film that opened on 5th October. Its credits begin with the familiar logo of Rupert Murdoch’s 20th Century Fox studio. But the film’s name is Dnevnoy dozor—Day Watch in English. Box office-wise, it is the biggest movie made in Russia since the fall of the Soviet empire.
But its bigness isn’t the story. Day Watch got disdainful reviews from Britain’s posh critics—the Sunday Times called it “unbearably noisy and deadening.” Yet Danny Boyle said that the film to which it is a sequel, Night Watch, would have Tarkovsky spinning in his grave—this was a compliment—and Quentin Tarantino called it “an epic of extraordinary power.” And I am considering ending the updated version of my book The Story of Film with it. Night Watch and Day Watch made me excited, for the first time in ages, about the aesthetics of entertainment cinema. What’s going on?
In the 1990s, mainstream US cinema was boring. Then came Keanu Reeves as Neo in his black coat, balletically dodging bullets that caused the air around him to ripple. The Matrix captured the excitement of the dawn of cyberspace. Thereafter, Hollywood returned to rote and my attention wandered to movies from other parts of the world. So exciting were the films I discovered from Iran, Africa, Japan, South America and India that I didn’t remotely miss my old pal, American entertainment cinema.
Flash forward to August 2007. I’d heard that Night Watch (2004), based on a novel by Sergei Lukyanenko, was a sci-fi/vampire Matrix mishmash, so I had given it a body swerve at the time. But I deign to see a press screening of Day Watch (pictured, right). I sit in the front row, the curtains open…