Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Hobo with a Shotgun! (and titles in general).

That’s got your attention. Hasn’t it? I haven’t yet seen Hobo with a Shotgun — a drama concerning a homeless person who has access to a firearm — but I am counting down the days until it arrives on our …

Thu, May 5, 2011, 22:25

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That’s got your attention. Hasn’t it? I haven’t yet seen Hobo with a Shotgun — a drama concerning a homeless person who has access to a firearm — but I am counting down the days until it arrives on our shores. If you want to catch it a few months ahead of its official opening, then make your way to the IFI on (a significant date, I suspect) Friday 13th. It will be playing in a double-bill with the unbeatable horror classic Re-Animator. If Hobo is half as good as Stuart Gordon’s hilarious dismemberment of H P Lovecraft then an unbeatable evening is in store.

Anyway, mention of Hobo with a Shotgun leads us to consider the power of a good title. As you should be aware, the picture was — like the tiresome Machete — inspired by a fake trailer from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse. So, when it was first conceived, it was really little else but a title. Still, it’s a beauty. Like Snakes on a Plane, it sums up the film with gorgeous neatness. You don’t tend to get that with high-brow films. Ingmar Bergman never directed a film titled Sad Knight Plays Death with Chess Then Goes among Warty Peasants. There are no Bela Tarr pieces called Man Takes an Awfully Long Time to Walk Along Long Road. Jeez, I’m still waiting for at least 399 of the promised exhalations in The 400 Blows.

Martin Amis once argued that novels with first-class titles are rarely all that good. The thesis doesn’t really hold up. Yes, War and Peace and Ulysses fall dully off the tongue (I mean the Joyce book doesn’t even have a name of its own). True, Kingsley Amis, Martin’s father and the most underrated comic writer of the last century, favoured bland titles such as I Like it Here, That Uncertain Feeling and Ending Up. But William Faulkner, no slouch with pen or typewriter, demonstrated true genius when coming up with names for his books. Light in August, Absalom, Absalom!, Intruder in the Dust: they could have given him that Nobel Prize for the dust-jackets alone. The greatest title-wright of all time was also, arguably, the very best crime writer in history. Farewell My Lovely, The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye: we can, while savouring those phrases, surely  forgive  Raymond Chandler an apparent  obsession for constructing euphemisms for death.

Offering a few crumbs to Amis fils, we should, however, acknowledge that overly clever, overly smart-arse titles do quite often sit upon insubstantial works of art. Returning to the world of film, let us recall Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds and Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mama’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feeling So Sad. All the effort went into the titles, alas. Each of the films is a big dull dud.

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