"If You Want to Find out What Flagellation Is like, Go and See the Passion," Mused Will Self
Millard, Rosie, New Statesman (1996)
I have to reveal that the writer's writer Will Self came to our book club this week to talk about his latest collection of short stories, Dr Mukti and Other Tales of Woe. The evening was none too woeful for us. Particularly the laydeez, who found him, well, simply awesome. His words were as impressively syllabled as ever, yet Self was in a somewhat vulnerable mood, having seen a preview of the Mel Gibson God-flick The Passion that morning. "If you ever want to find out what flagellation is like, go and see The Passion," he mused. Apparently the flogging scene consists of 60 minutes of bloody close-up, which is rather too long even for the urbane Self.
Later that night, John Wilson from Radio 4's Front Row popped round for a cup of sugar. I know, I know, you all think I live in a veritable Tate Modern of artyness, but he really is our neighbour. "I saw The Passion this morning," Wilson shuddered. "It's very ... real." Oh buck up. What's come over you tough media chaps, I thought briskly, until I realised that this is the only thing anybody is saying about the picture.
Reality has become the celebrity every one wants in their films; she is more fashionable than Nicole Kidman, more believable than Sean Penn, more desirable than a warehouse of puppets or the perfect metaphor. In fact, just forget metaphor. What we want in art is reality. Touching the Void, the astonishing story of how one man dropped another into a crevasse in the Andes and both lived to tell the tale, won this year's Bafta for Best British Film. It's a true story and, boy, is it filmed like one. It uses every single docu-drama technique in the canon. As I left the cinema after watching it, it was almost possible to hear the audience's brains whirring and people muttering: "Wow! …