Sunday, August 14, 2011

The future is known – Senna and A Game of Thrones

We’re all a bit scared of spoilers, but knowing what is going to happen isn’t always a bad thing.

While a good twist is always appreciated - and there have been some outstandingly average stories have been livened up by a last-minute swerve - good stories shouldn’t just have to rely on a shock factor to be interesting.

This has been recently proven with science, so don’t worry about spoilers. They’re not as important as you might think they are.

During the recent New Zealand Film Festival, I went to see Senna on the bloody big screen at The Civic. It’s a terrific documentary that examines the tragically short life of Ayrton Senna, a sheer genius behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car. It’s a ridiculously unlikely story and even though it’s a totally one-sided, Senna is such a charming personality, and his story is so fast and crazy, that it’s almost impossible to dislike, even if you don't give a damn about the sport.

Ayrton Senna didn’t just win races – he won championships in the most stylish and impossible manner. If he needed to win one race to clinch the world title, he would stall in pole position and then overtake more than a dozen other cars to win, or crash into his rival, restart his car and drive a blinder to take the win, only to be denied by a dirty old technicality.

There is some incredible in-camera footage, and when Senna finally wins his prized Brazilian Grand Prix, he lets out hilarious screams of joy that are captured on his mike, and then passes out on the track. He is a crazy son of a bitch who also happens to be a goddamn driving genius.

And then he died.

It was the most bogan film festival crowd I’ve ever seen – 85% men in their thirties and forties. And every single one of them watching Senna triumph knew how sad it all was, because they knew what was coming up. They all knew what was going to happen on May 1, 1994.

And the documentary filmmakers knew this, and took full advantage of the fact. The lead-up to Senna’s tragic death is agonisingly slow, with several other serious crashes that same horrible weekend, and the camera dwells on every moment where Senna looks apprehensive or worried.

And then, finally, there is the in-car camera that shows Senna doing his usual thing, skipping around corners and darting through chicanes, and it goes on for ages, and the tension is unbearable. When the fatal corner suddenly blasts into view, it’s almost a mercy.

Everybody knew it was coming, and it was immensely powerful moment. Everything that happens after that terrible second is epilogue, the story of Ayrton Senna is over. But knowing what was going to happen didn’t reduce the enjoyment.

Why should it? I get a kick out of Die Hard every time I watch it, and I’ve watched it a lot. Any insinuations that the first viewing is the only worthwhile one, and that any work can only be truly appreciated when experienced once, are a facile and immature way to treat any kind of art.

At least, that’s what I kept telling myself when I started really cracking into George R R Martin’s A Clash Of Kings.

There were a few people with impeccable taste who warned me how addictive the series would be, and I thought they were exaggerating, but after enjoying the TV adaptation of Game Of Thrones so much, I went ahead and started in on the whole series, after demolishing the first book on a Fijian beach.

And they turned out to be all right. It is a terrific read – full of intrigue and action and vast, world-changing events playing across a bloody canvas of raw human emotions. The prose is thick and comforting and warm, and none of the books should be read on an empty stomach, or you’ll be craving one of the brilliantly described feasts.

I can’t wait for the next series of Game of Thrones to kick into life, but I truly believe the spoilers the books serve up will not douse any of that enjoyment, because it didn’t the happen the first time.

I admit – I was plenty pissed when somebody thoughtlessly spoiled the big death at the climax of A Game Of Thrones, but when the TV series led up to that moment, it was as powerful as television gets, because history had been written, and could not be avoided.

And every move that character made that led to that ultimate fate was painful – there were hundreds of tiny little factors that led to that person meeting that sword, and it could have been avoided if somebody had only stepped left instead of right.

Another upcoming key moment in the entire text – a particularly nasty wedding – has also been spoiled for me, but I don’t doubt that it will be any less shocking or horrible when it finally comes.

Isn’t that why we cram our bookshelves and computers with stuff we’ve read a hundred times over? It’s not just an attempt to recapture that first thrill every time, it’s to appreciate the build-up, to see forthcoming tragedy in the tiniest of gestures.

God bless Ayrton Senna and the Gods save the victims of Westeros wrath. We can’t save them or stop them from reaching their ultimate fates, but we can still enjoy the drama and love of their lives.

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