Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Journalist as Croupier

What's the point of a Bond film that doesn't have a car chase, a car with no major wizadry, no femme fatale worth ogling and no plot to boot?

What's the point of Daniel Craig debuting in a dud film? Casino Royale is a royal flop! And Ian Fleming's first Bond mission could well be the last film first-time Bond-goers ever see. Much of the world doesn't agree. They can go jump.

Incidentally, try and see another film set in a casino - Croupier.

Having borrowed it from The British Council Library many moons ago, I could not but help thinking of the Journalist as a Croupier and wrote what follows in November 2004.

Rarely does a day go by when the phrase “loving detachment” isn’t heard somewhere in our offices. And, more often than not, examples are used to illustrate how we have been (or perhaps not have been) detached. Loving, we may be; detached we usually aren’t.

For those of us who do believe that the newspaper must be created with timebound loving care but cannot reconcile ourselves to the impassiveness implicit in ‘detachment’, a little-known film may help…

In 1998, British director, Mike Hodges, turned out Croupier, a gripper of a film set in a casino in London. With Clive Owen in the title role, the film is actually about a writer who can’t get a good enough idea for a book and returns to earning a living as a croupier. (“Welcome back to the house of addiction”, he mutters to himself.) A croupier, as we probably know, is somebody in charge of a gaming table who collects and pays out the players’ money and chips, and deals the cards or spins the roulette wheel. However, etymologically, the word has its origin in mid-18th century French, and literally means ‘person who rides behind.’ The modern English meaning is developed from “adviser standing behind a gambler”. And here’s the moral of the story…

The croupier in the film himself never plays the table (“Gamblers don’t gamble”, he says). Behind the self-disciplined, icy-cold demeanour is his one addiction of watching people lose. You have to watch the film for its intrigue, its insights and for the way it is made - all 91 minutes of it. But you also have to hear the film for what is said.

More than once, the croupier emphasises: “Hold on tightly, let go lightly.” In many ways, this one phrase is synonymous with “loving detachment”. Until the point at which we put the paper to bed, we caress every word, cross every ‘t’ but when the deadline approaches, we need to let go and move on. When there’s a story to be broken, passion drives the reporter; when it’s printed and picked up by bloodhound-like competitors, we need to stand back and watch them go. No regrets, no qualms, no possessiveness. Another day emerges, another story waits to be broken.

The croupier is merely the dealer. The journalist is the wordsmith who deals out news every day for his readers. The only difference is that the croupier takes (perverse) pleasure in watching the casino’s clients’ money “go down”, the journalist ideally should make his readers believe they win every day.

In a world where everything is like a gamble, this may be the safest bet you can place!

(So what happens to the frustrated writer in the film? Actually he turns out a bestseller but to know how, get hold of the film

See the film. And imagine Daniel Craig as the croupier. Mr Fleming R.I.P.

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