The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Film By Sean Condon, Fourth Estate, £10.99

Lights! Camera! Action! How frequently do we respond to the cue' Pretty often, if we are to believe the words of the old bard of Avon who thought the world is a stage and all men and women are players in it. Sean Condon’s novel, Film, takes on the celluloid world. This is an interesting experiment that may not live up to the highest traditions of prose, but is nevertheless eminently readable.

The central character of the novel is Henry Powdermaker, who lives and breathes cinema. Young Henry wants to make a movie more than anything else in life. When he does, at the age of eight, the effect unwittingly is pornographic. His actors are his parents and the premiere takes place at their anniversary party. The result, as expected, is catastrophic and lead to the breakdown of his parents’ marriage. Young Henry moves further into the unreal. Five attempts at entry into the film school fail as well as two part-time menial jobs and Henry ends up on the psychiatrist’s couch. The visits to the shrink help but the fixation with movies remains.

It is not the Bible or any other venerable tome that directs Henry’s life, but Hollywood quotes like: “Every one wants to be Cary Grant, even me” — Cary Grant. Consequently, Henry has no thought which is original. His movies become a bunch of film clippings hastily and clumsily put together.

But Henry wants to make a statement that will give some meaning to his life. He seeks to do this by trying to make another movie. For this project he selects characters from his own life, including his estranged father. His father’s characterization is most interesting. He is an actor who plays the cadaver. Amid such backdrop, Henry tries to revisit his past and address his present.

But there has to be a climax in the film. Henry manages that with élan, and Condon’s narrative here is brilliant. Henry also has his girl, Madeleine, who plays his conscience-keeper. Not surprisingly, she suffers from macular dystrophy, a condition that leads to complete blindness. Struggling with his situation, Henry ultimately discovers the true bond between the artist and his audience.

Condon’s effort is laudable. The stylization of the novel along the lines of a film script is quite innovative and one gets acquainted with the technical jargon of the industry and lingo of Hollywood personalities. The reader will also appreciate the magnitude of the confusion between “reel” and “real” life that plagues the people in this trade. The romance and humour of the characters come out rather well.

Film is as enjoyable as a Sixties Hollywood romance without the buttered popcorn. This is a must for all those heartily sick of Bollywood produce.

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