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John van de Ruit

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Movie Musings

I spend a considerable portion of my time on Earth pondering life’s lesser insanities. It really is one of the few downsides of having an unrecognised job, along with the frequent discovery that its noon and you’re still wearing your pyjamas. That aside, I send this ramble into cyber space because in a mere three weeks the feature film of Spud will premiere around the country and a few weeks thereafter (Dec 3rd) will hit cinemas all over Southern Africa. What began as a telephone call in early October 2005 is about to be unleashed as the final result of sixty months of decisions by some extremely cunning people and the odd cat.

For risk of sounding like a hippie, it is an unmitigated triumph that this film was ever made at all. (That it stars an extremely tall and famous man called Cheese makes it all the more unlikely.)Unfortunately the completion of the marathon doesn’t seem to matter much to the lunatic fringe of Spud support who regularly bustle up to my face with unblinking, questioning eyes and lead with, “So tell me honestly John, is the film better or worse than the book?” A nasty catch-22 for any author as one is cordially invited either to slag off your own work, or the movie based on that work with little hope of evading the question in anything less than an afternoon’s worth of explanation. This repeated question naturally inspired some pondering about the point; why is it that people are almost instinctively wired to compare a film to its source material? How can the experience of reading something for days/weeks be equated with that of viewing something else for 100 minutes? It is the equivalent of asking, “Which is more enjoyable, five days in Bali or two hours in Paris?”

So my advice is to forget about comparisons and relish the film for what it is: A beautifully shot but simply told story of a boy seeking acceptance from the mortifying chaos that surrounds him. Troye Sivan as Spud has produced a performance of such delicate authenticity that it’s impossible not to feel terribly for the poor lad as he staggers from one disaster to another against seemingly insurmountable odds. John Cleese (The Guv) is as humourous as always but adds another dimension to his role of the cranky, wine-swilling English teacher. Some of my favourite scenes of the film are the luncheon discussions between the two characters where they attempt to come to grips with fine literature and women. The locations of Michaelhouse are utterly authentic; the dormitory is the original, even so far as the positioning of Spud’s bed, so there can be few quibbles with the interpretation of setting from book to screen. Hell, even the old green stationwagon broke down on its first day of shooting!

But enough about the blasted film, further good news for Spud fans is that a re-release of Spud to mark the launch of the film will hit stores next week as will the behind the scenes of the movie book written by producer Ross Garland and yours truly. The behind the scenes book contains some fantastic untold stories about the making of Spud the film including the freakish manner in which we were able to snare the signature of John Cleese. I’m also extremely proud to announce that the book has quite possibly the longest title in South African Non-fiction literary history:

The Making of Spud the movie, and how a wickedly splendid plan came together

Yours in anticipation



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