This weekend I saw a play about film and a film about social networks, which seemed to fit together nicely.
Travelling Light is a new play by Nicholas Wright, directed by Nicholas Hytner. As this is the team behind His Dark Materials, my feeling was that it couldn’t really go wrong. And it didn’t. There’s something quite intellectually satisfying about examining one medium through another, requiring you as it does to think about the characteristics of each in relation to the other. The set was, once again at the National, absolutely stunning: its 3D representation of the shtetl in which the play was set only seemed to exaggerate the 2D nature of the films that we saw. The presence of live actors reacting with joy and wonder to what were very old fashioned cinemactic images reminded us just how exciting and magical cinema must have been to its early viewers. The friend I went with commented at the end that there didn’t seem to be much energy emanating from the audience to the actors – not words you would ever utter exiting a film theatre. My (well-documented!) love of theatre does come from that immediacy – a performance once given is lost forever, and each is unique, depending on the mix on the night of the cast, crew and audience. This was all made very much more obvious by watching a depiction of early pioneers of film producing such a staged (haha) experience.
And then on Sunday I watched The Social Network, about the creation of Facebook, which was a lot better than a) I thought it would be and b) it could have been. Again, a strong script and strong director at the helm are fundamental, and a film by the writer of the West Wing and the director of Seven is likely to be a good bet. I have seen other films about computing or in which computing is a main element that handle much less well the fact that watching people type things on a screen doesn’t make great cinema. Music seems to matter a lot in film, more than in theatre, maybe because there are fewer ways to create an atmosphere in film – lighting, set etc are going to be less immediate for a film audience, who might be watching it at home with all the lights on, in a film theatre in the dark, or nowadays, on their phone on a train. So music becomes a much more important tool. And Trent Reznor’s soundtrack was amazing – atmospheric but not intrusive (I only just realised it got an Oscar, so clearly it’s not just me that thinks so). A central point for me about the film was Zuckerberg’s certainty that what he had was going to change the way we thought about a whole range of things. Eduardo trawling Madison Avenue for a few hundred thousand of old-style ad money while Mark was signing venture capital deals for half a billion chimes with the truism that Facebook isn’t free, we just don’t pay money for it. Coming as it does in a week when Google do seem to have jumped the privacy shark, it was useful to have that message reinforced.