The Founder: Ray Kroc or Dick & Mac McDonald?

When Joan Smith asked Ray Kroc in words something to the effect ‘When did you start McDonald’s’, there was just a small flicker in his eyes before he answered ‘1954’. That flicker indicated the moment in the film, The Founder, when Kroc (Michael Keaton) lied about the beginnings of the famous fast food chain McDonald’s. Kroc was not the ‘founder’. The developer, yes, but not the founder. That title in fact belonged to brothers Dick and Mac McDonald who came up with the concept many years earlier.

The Founder Poster HR

Michael Keaton plays ‘Kroc’ in The Founder. Image: supplied.

Kroc had been a struggling but optimistic salesman who met the brothers when he sold them milkshake machines. He had been so impressed with their flagship store in California that he persuaded them to go into business with him and roll out more franchise stores like theirs across the USA. But the McDonalds’ conservative stranglehold on progress frustrated Kroc’s ambitions and Kroc managed to override the brothers, buy them out and take the chain to global reach.

That flicker moment also pretty much indicated when Kroc, in The Founder, stepped over the integrity boundary in his personal and business life. As his personal life went south so did his business ethics, and Kroc’s wife, and the McDonald brothers received a raw deal. Kroc is not painted in the film as an all-out baddy, however. His tenacity, business sense, and focus are shown in a way that make you admire him. And the balance between his business success and some unfair (though not technically illegal) dealings is this this film’s strength.

The Founder does not come across as a typical Hollywood ra-ra-America film. I enjoyed the story about how Dick and Mac came up with their simple menu and scientifically developed service offering. How Kroc, with the help of lawyer, Harry Sonnenborn (B J Novak), turned the focus from purchasing franchise stores to purchasing real estate, and how the McDonalds’ focus on marketing to the family was changed by Kroc to marketing that appealed to people’s religious-type passions.

The Founder opens at cinemas in South Africa today 19 May 2017.

My London Marathon Journey

Supporter sunglasses

My London Marathon journey began, of course, some time prior to 23 April 2017, the date of the event. Preparations included plotting the route, packing supplies, wearing the right gear, and liaising with supporters. My outfit was a bright orange T-shirt sporting the word Sense on it. Sense is a UK-based charity that cares for deafblind children. I was very happy to wear the colours of such an organisation. I also wore giant sunglasses to attract attention. These red plastic toys were nothing compared to what other runners wore: Darth Vader outfits, giant beer bottles and, yes, a 25kg tumble dryer. The kitchen appliance man (Ben Blowes) set a world record. Despite such competition I was very proud of my four-and-a-half-hour finish time.

It was a challenge to make my way through the thousands of people (there were 40 000 runners and I don’t know how many supporters). But the impressive work of road marshals and police men and women was a big help. They shepherded runners and supporters across roads, and channelled patient crowds into public transport stations. I maintained a good time, slowing towards the end, but was definitely hampered by a race-day toilet that held the promise of space-age efficiency but didn’t deliver. It gurgled through its automatic self-cleaning phase so slowly that I hopped about while waiting, anxious to return to the race.

The pace leading up to the 14-mile mark was the most stressful. I wasn’t sure I would be seen by those who knew me and I took so long to decide where the best vantage point would be that it took a hard sprint to get me there at the projected time. I must say that the timing chips given to runners and the mobile phone app they connected to were excellent when it came to tracking progress and therefore heightening excitement.

Spotting my loved ones through the crowds was hardest at the 19-mile mark and by then my calves were shaking with the effort of keeping me on my toes. But it was all worth it when we were reunited post-finish at our chosen meeting point.

Pre- and post-marathon

My London Marathon journey was a tiring (and expensive) one but lots of fun. I barely needed the energy bars we’d packed, so thrilling was the travel by train and by foot to the four spectator points our family had decided upon. I saw my dedicated, disciplined daughter at three of the four stops, and simply yelled her name as loudly as possible at the first as she ran past. She heard me, us, and saw us in our bright orange T-shirts, and said it really helped her to keep going for the 26 miles.

At last count Robyn had raised GBP1480.00 for her chosen charity Sense. I’m so proud of you Robyn Turton, thank you for letting me be your supporter (and for getting me a free supporter’s T-shirt)!

Robyn (front, centre) flanked by her supporters at the finish

Johnny is Nie Dood Nie

‘Johnny is Nie Dood Nie’ is the name of a song written by Koos Kombuis as a tribute to fellow musician Johannes Kerkorrel who committed suicide in 2002. It is now also the name of a South African film by Christiaan Olwagen which releases in cinemas on 5 May 2017.

The story focuses on five friends who were involved in the Voëlvry movement of the 1980s, and shows what has become of them 20-odd years later. Johnny (Roelof Storm) commits suicide, an event which is stylised in the film, and the other four (Rolanda Marais, Albert Pretorius, Ilana Cilliers and Ludwig Binge) struggle to process what has happened. Voëlvry was an anti-apartheid Afrikaans-rock-music movement, fuelled, if the film is anything to go by, by drugs, alcohol and academic ideologies. Although radical for its time, the Voëlvry campaign in Johnny is Nie Dood Nie is portrayed as an insular one, characterised by frustration and hopelessness. This is emphasised by the present-day aspects of the story that show the characters still boozing and drugging, still railing against injustices, but without having achieved very much. This futility is underscored by references to the Border War of the 1980s, a war which modern-day South Africa looks upon as shameful and racist, and a faded waste of young lives.

The new South Africa the Voëlvry supporters hoped for in Johnny is Nie Dood Nie does not deliver, featuring high walls and ongoing racial prejudice. The filming in the present section of the film is dizzying to say the least. Perhaps this was done to show the characters ‘going around in hopeless circles’, I’m not sure, but I found it irritating. The story is really about the characters, not the music itself, so fans of Afrikaans rock will be disappointed from that point of view. The very last scene of the film casts a ray of hope over what has come before but is completely disjointed from the rest and so is hard to reconcile.

Johnny is Nie Dood Nie is very well acted and the local setting is realistic. But it’s a dark, sad and rather futile narrative that I think will appeal to a limited audience only.

The Silence of God in Japan

I saw the adverts for this film when I was in London in December 2016. Liam Neeson’s gloomy figure dominated the posters which described the film in glowing terms that certainly made me want to watch it.

But if you, like me, thought Neeson would play a big part in Silence you would be wrong. His character is integral to the plot and indeed forms the very reason for the action. But Neeson appears only briefly at the beginning and then at the very end of this two-hour-forty-minute film by Martin Scorsese. The main action revolves around the characters Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield, who gives an excellent performance), and Garupe (Adam Driver).

The story is set in 17th Century Japan. Ferreira (Neeson), a Portuguese Catholic priest, had gone to Japan to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then was rumoured to have apostasised. Rodrigues and Garupe do not believe this about their former mentor and set out for Japan to find him and prove the rumours false. What follows is a tale of extreme hardship and religious persecution.

When the pair arrive in Japan they are welcomed with open arms by the few Christians there, but are kept hidden for their, and the local Christians’ safety. Authorities get wind of their arrival, track them down and take them captive. From here the story follows Rodrigues, with Garupe featuring only on the periphery.

The Japanese authorities are shown in Silence as patient, clever, effective and cruel in their relentless efforts to persuade the Christians (priests and locals alike) to apostasise. For these authorities it was not simply a matter of getting Christians to conform outwardly. They wanted their hearts to change too. Manipulation, torture and killing all form part of their methods. And these methods create in their victims intense psychological conflict as they struggle not to betray the God of their faith. As the story progresses the audience begins to sympathise with the apostasisers (one slimy character apostasises and then seeks absolution several times).

In a haunting moment in the film, just as Rodrigues is about to give in, the voice of God speaks to Him. Without giving too much away, this moment, and the closing scenes of the film highlight what is portrayed as the ambivalent nature of apostasisation and how this act would not necessarily be the end for the Christian.

The title ‘Silence’ is meant to indicate God’s silence during these Christians’ struggles.

Silence is an intense, thought-provoking film, covering an era I knew very little about. It’s worth watching, but is long and may attract a limited audience only. It opens in cinemas in South Africa on 21 April 2017.

Read the history behind Silence here.

 

Beauty and the Beast: A Traditional Tale

A few years ago I watched the play The Cripple of Inishmaan with a friend in London. The play starred Daniel Radcliffe, who most people will know as the titular character in the Harry Potter film series.  In The Cripple of Inishmaan, Harry Potter was nowhere to be seen and Radcliffe gave a very good performance.

Radcliffe’s co-worker in Harry Potter was Emma Watson who played Harry’s friend Hermione Granger. Watson now appears in a Disney re-creation of Beauty and the Beast, due for release in cinemas on 14 April. During the film, in which Watson sings beautifully, I found myself constantly comparing Belle to the young, wild-haired girl of Hogwarts. As Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Watson speaks with the same perfect elocution as she did in Harry Potter, and shows the same half smile as young Hermione did.

How interesting then that in this film the character Belle has a coming-of-age experience (not from Hermione you understand!), maturing from a young girl into a woman, but still retaining certain essential characteristics. This version of the story explains that both Belle and the Beast (Dan Stevens) are who they are because of their parentage; Beast self-centred and angry, Belle considerate and creative. And it is Belle who helps Beast become his better self, in a story that prizes love and goodness above selfishness and evil.

Beast’s servants – all turned into talking furniture because of a curse – and the townsfolk of Belle’s village, provide the humour in the story. They also prevent Beauty and the Beast from becoming an all-out good versus evil story by showing that we are all capable of good or evil depending on circumstances and force of character.

The special effects, costumes and setting are good to watch and the music is enchanting. But there was something of a ‘same-old, same-old’ feeling in this fairly faithful rendition of the original story. After Shrek, which turned fairy tales on their heads, declaring them a ‘load o’ …’, it’s hard to go back to the traditional stories.

Movies and Novels: Fact or Fiction, Fake News or Entertainment? Part 2

Part 2

In Part 1 I reviewed two books: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly and Reel History by Alex Von Tunzelmann.

When I compare the two media of storytelling – novels and filmmaking – I have to wonder, though, why films come in for more criticism than do books for lack or otherwise of accuracy. Perhaps it’s a matter of classification. A reader will know that when he/she is reading an historical novel that it is part-fact, part-fiction. He/she will accept the ‘suspension of disbelief’ (a theatre term) and enter willingly into the story. Author notes or history books may confirm which parts of the story are factual. If movies were categorised like books are (that is, for example, non-fiction, fiction, historical fiction) would the viewer approach movies with a similar acceptance of their levels of historical truth, as readers do books? Would they enter the ‘suspension of disbelief’ with discernment, knowing that what they are watching is a mixture of fact and fiction? At current modes of film classification (action, thriller, drama and so on), perhaps the viewer doesn’t have sufficient guidelines that what they are watching is part creation, part historical fact. But I’m being generous. Perhaps the bottom line is that we as moviegoers are so dumb that we gullibly accept as truth whatever is simply flashed across the screen at us. And we need experts like Von Tunzelmann to put us straight.

Certainly in the current climate in which ‘fake news’ is, well, making the news, learning to be discerning viewers is an important skill. And this is the vein in which I think Von Tunzelmann’s Reel History book/column could be taken. A tool to help us see when important aspects of history in movies may be inaccurately portrayed. Becoming overly pedantic about what’s true or false in movies, though, is to take away from this media’s main purpose: that of entertainment. I think Von Tunzelmann’s book inadvertently highlights this as well: that movies are NOT purveyors of truth. They are about entertainment.

 

Movies and Novels: Fact or Fiction, Fake News or Entertainment? Part 1

Part 1

I listened to a book on Audible recently called Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly. It’s a novel set in World War II and beyond and covers the stories of three very different women. One is an American actress-cum-socialite-cum-charity-fundraiser called Caroline. The other is a Polish victim of Hitler’s only concentration camp for women, Ravensbruck. Her name is Kasia. And the third is a German doctor who conducted experiments on Polish prisoners like Kasia at Ravensbruck. Her name is Herta. Kelly’s description of the medical experiments the Polish ‘rabbits’ underwent is gruesome. These particularly unfortunate prisoners were called rabbits because of the experimental nature of the operations that were conducted on them, and because they were forced to hop instead of walk after the procedures that affected their limbs.

Caroline’s involvement with the prisoners came into effect largely after the war ended. She helped secure medical treatment in America for these ‘rabbits’ and also helped to have Herta’s medical licence revoked. After the war Herta had initially been sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for war crimes, but served only five years. After her release she began practising medicine again until a former Polish prisoner recognised her (in the book this is Kasia) and brought this fact into public knowledge.

Kelly’s account is deeply personal and riveting. And I highly recommend the book for its gripping nature and its important contribution to making certain historical accounts known. The author explains in a lengthy Autor’s Note how she composed the story, and which parts are fact and which a work of her creative imagination. For instance, Caroline’s romance with a French actor is fiction. And Kasia is a composite character of a number of like women at Ravensbruck.

Another book I’ve read recently, this time on Kindle, is Reel History by Alex Von Tunzelmann. Von Tunzelmann wrote a regular column for The Guardian entitled Reel History. In it she reviewed movies, commenting mainly on their historical accuracy. This book is a compilation of many of those reviews. In her reviews the author was at pains to separate fact from fiction and rated the films according to their historical accuracy and entertainment value. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart, for instance, is given an entertainment grade of C- and a history grade of: fail. Yes, that surprised me. I’m no historian and I must bow to the superior knowledge of Von Tunzelmann, an historian. When it comes to entertainment, apart from Von Tunzelmann’s grading, her writing style itself is witty and very entertaining. She says of Braveheart, ‘Tremendously lauded at the time of its release and showered with five Oscars – including Best Picture – it is, historically speaking, one of the daftest films ever made.’ I enjoyed reading the book and would recommend it, especially to people interested in the historical accuracy of films. Pointing out historical inaccuracies, particularly in a film that won Oscars, is valuable.

Part 2 to follow on 7 April 2017: When I compare the two media of storytelling – novels and filmmaking – I have to wonder, though, why films come in for more criticism than do books for lack or otherwise of accuracy…