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Saturday 19 April 2014

James Dempsey: Once bitten, twice shy - Why I’m happy to see the back of Twilight

EYEBROWS were raised recently when Mark Kermode, the rockabilly-quiffed BBC film critic declared the Twilight Saga a better series than Star Wars. Well, the BBC has gotten an awful lot of things wrong of late.

The principal tenet of Kermode’s argument in favour of la via Bella is that it represents an ideological schism between the film critic fraternity and the cinema-going public. On the one hand is a bunch of braying and greying auteur acolytes, positively foaming at the mouth at the thought of the juicy morsels of Jacob’s flesh and Edward’s impossibly perfect hair ready for critical grilling on hot coals. On the other, a bunch of teenage girls and middle-aged women, positively foaming at the mouth at the thought of the juicy morsels of Jacob’s flesh and Edward’s impossibly perfect hair ready for their last cinematic hoorah.

The popular media, as Kermode wrote in The Guardian, feels “dutybound to be sniffy about Twilight without having seen the films, read the books, or attempted to understand why they mean so much to so many.” Take it from someone who has done all three, this series is unforgivably poorly produced, written, acted and conceived to the point that it is entirely valueless. If the best that can be said about the series’ five films is that the first one is so bad it’s good, what’s the point of even bothering?

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Twilight star Nikki Reed, and found her to be entirely personable and articulate, exactly what I expected of an actress whose controversial screenplay for the movie 13, written when she was only 14, propelled her to stardom. While questioning her on the comings and goings of life and undeath on set, she said that I really knew the ins and outs of the saga’s plot, had a firm grasp of the minutiae of Bella’s fellas and her hybrid demon-spawn with a name so ridiculous I can’t bring myself to type it. She’d outed me.

Not as a fan, rather a critical connoisseur, who when facing into the final chapter of his degree dissertation turned to Stephenie Meyer’s zeitgeist material to see just what had made it a phenomenon. I raced through the novels, turning each page at first with a furiously fizzing fervour, then mild indifference, and finally, borderline tedium. By the time I got to the inexplicably meandering-yet-hastily-scribbled ending on page 2,458 (best summed up as forcing the heroine to go into the kitchen to make a cake, but getting her to eat it too), I was ready to return to the comfort of the grammatical nuances of the Alsatian language and polish off the degree.

There followed the movies, the first a joyously camp Stockholm Syndrome romance, that I stand by to this day as being a guilty pleasure. Each successive film has languished in mediocrity, relying on Taylor Lautner to pull off his jumper, or Kristen Stewart’s Irritable Bowel Syndrome performance to propel a plot so dull and tiresome that it makes living for all eternity with your high school sweetheart look boring.

As a student teacher in an all girls’ school, I often encountered dedicated Twihards, teenagers who pored over every chapter over and over again. Trying to engage them in a critical understanding of how damaging the characters are to the sisterhood was impossible, their response to my take on these luddite-motiv books always “But they’re in love. That’s love. She loves him.”

For those looking for love in the cinema these days, you’d be better off avoiding the glittery showboating of this plodding saga. Seek out Amour, the new film from Austrian director Michael Haneke, and recent winner of the Palme d’or at Cannes, which launched this year’s French Film Festival at the IFI on Wednesday and came out on limited release on Friday.

While two subtitled hours of octogenarian Parisians dealing with the aftermath of a stroke may sound like heavy viewing, Amour is a brutally violent and tender exploration of the bonds that tie us together. It is in this film’s tender acceptance of the failure of love to stand up to the severance of death, rather than the ludicrous expressions of ersatz eroticism and fidelity of a bunch of Abercrombie & Fitch monsters, that truly goes some way to making us understand what love it.

Follow James: @jim_on_a_whim

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