The revival of St Trinian’s

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I haven’t yet decided whether to go and see the new St Trinian’s film. Though there’s been a lot of hype, I haven’t come across any previews, which is usually a bad sign. And although I find the idea of Rupert Everett in drag, playing the Alastair Sim part, quite arresting, it’s also got Russell Brand in it. You know the way, a couple of years back, you couldn’t get away from Abi Titmuss? Well, Brand is worse. You could at least cut down your Abi exposure big time by not buying Nuts. Meanwhile, it seems you can’t switch on the TV or wireless without Russell fucking Brand turning up, and while his actual achievements are remarkably slight (let’s be honest, Big Brother’s Big Mouth was pants) he has a chart-topping autobiography out. God help us.

But, getting away from the ubiquitous Mr Brand, I am intrigued at the spin suggesting that this will be a modernised St Trinian’s for the 21st century. What exactly does that mean? Switchblades? Bags of glue? Flash Harry on the Sex Offenders’ Register? The mind boggles. My view is that, like Carry On, St Trinian’s is a period concept that’s better remembered than recreated – or, if you were going to recreate it, you would have to do the thing retro style. There are good structural reasons for this.

I was recently having another look at the old films, and they really do reek of the era of rationing. The first thing you notice in watching The Belles of St Trinian’s, and the most shocking to a modern audience, is the fug of cigarette smoke constantly hanging about the actors. There’s a creaky theatricality about the style. And it really does reference constantly an era and a public-school environment that is long gone, barely remembered and doesn’t translate very well into our time.

But back to the structural question. Going back to the original Ronald Searle drawings, the real heart of the comedy is in the boisterous young girls. And so it is in the films, with the pre-teen tearaways maybe not getting many character moments, but certainly supplying a huge proportion of the laughs. And that is something that would be saleable today. Just look at the eternal popularity of Roald Dahl’s books and the spin-off films, demonstrating that there’s nothing kids like better than stories about resourceful kids putting one over on adults. So you could revive the concept, but you’d have to pitch it squarely at the kids’ audience.

And here we have a problem. Right from the get-go, the films also catered to the dads by giving lots of screen time to buxom sixth-formers in short skirts and hold-up stockings. And as the films progressed into the sixties, the cheesecake quotient rose relentlessly. But that doesn’t really sit very well with the children’s comedy element – it was a bit dodgy even in 1954, and in today’s moral climate… well, let’s say you could go down the rugrat road or you could go down the Lucy and Michelle road, but mixing the two up is just a bit wrong.

And changing mores come into it in a related but slightly distinct way, in that what was racy or titillating forty or fifty years ago isn’t now. The boundaries and taboos that filmmakers of that era pushed against aren’t boundaries any more, and taboos have shifted so much that, while in 1954 a glimpse of stocking was considered something shocking, today I fail to see how you could challenge any boundaries while getting anything less than an 18 certificate. And if you go that far from the roots of the concept, why not just invent something else?

Every so often you hear of some long-dead franchise that’s going to be revived, and you would think (or a financial backer would think) that nostalgia would provide a ready-made audience. But, if you’re tempted, I suggest you go off and watch Carry On Columbus. And I offer that advice for free to George Clooney, in case he follows through on his occasional threats to remake The A-Team. George, I love you, but you’re on a hiding to nothing there.

It could be that I’ll be proven wrong about St Trinian’s, and maybe it will be a triumph. Maybe an ancient franchise can be revived with a bit of sass and the help of Rupert Everett, Girls Aloud, Colin Firth (what is he doing there?) and, er, Russell Brand. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

28 Comments

  1. December 15, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Yes, disgusting, Mr Sunrise. I remain eternally grateful to your thoughtful and perspicacious analysis for we need to be appraised of these matters on a regular basis, perhaps twice a day with a nice tumbler of whisky.

    And, while you’re at it, can we have more photos illustrating just what a vile sexist load of sexist filth this sexist so-called movie is. Perhaps something with nipples. Vile sexist nipples.

    Brand should be strung up like a, like a … like a pearl necklace. Bukake. Oh, now you’ve gone and done it.

    Brig. Miaow

  2. Nick Wrack said,

    December 15, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    In an interview in today’s Independent Magazine, Russell Brand says, “It’s not fashionable but I like…revolution, socialism.”

    http://news.independent.co.uk/people/profiles/article3245534.ece

  3. December 15, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    Although this may be my favorite blog, I may love it’s anti-Grizzlyism and it’s appreciation for Stockhausen and a million other things… I have to say I am totally sick of the lad magazine photos and the faux-kitsch of all the t and a.
    Honestly, it’s just tacky.. please, please stop.
    Aren’t your comrades embarrassed?

  4. WorldbyStorm said,

    December 15, 2007 at 6:56 pm

    It’s interesting Brad. I was in the cinema last week and the trailer came up for St. Trinians and I thought much like splintered that it was hard to see the point of St. Trinians in the 00’s. Porn has long since annexed one element of it and the general climate as splintered notes is fairly understandably not one which smiles upon such things even in jest… And then there is an issue about the sexualisation or oversexualisation of girls which is a genuine problem.

    As regards this blog, it’s difficult for me to evaluate how others might feel and whether they see this imagery as demeaning or diminishing but it just seems ironic – even more than kitsch… and it raises interesting and perhaps somewhat difficult questions as to what is acceptable or not and where it is acceptable or not… for example, would it be better if there were Renaissance nudes there? Or contemporary males in similar clinches? Is the location okay because it’s not on a newstand? Or how does this all work? But embarrassed? Nah…

  5. Louise said,

    December 15, 2007 at 8:34 pm

    Splintered, where did you get that pic from, have you been perusing Nuts/Zoo (they merge into one for me…)?

  6. December 16, 2007 at 12:04 am

    Well, it’s surely time to resurrect the Confessions of a… series, although perhaps they could leave out Tony Blair’s relations this time.

    Now that I come to think of it, they could cut out the naked Mum-From-The-Bisto-Ads as well, because that was far too confusing for me at the age of fifteen.

  7. charliemarks said,

    December 16, 2007 at 12:26 am

    The last St Trinian’s film, “The Wildcats of…” was truly awful. I mean *awful*. Made at the end of the seventies with a view to attracting fans of the Confessions series, it features the girls going on strike in protest at their workload, which as a concept is admirable.

    Rupert Everett looks strangely similar to that bird Prince Charles married (no, not the one who was bumped off) and this is enough to put me off seeing the film.

    As for Russell Brand, he goes up in your estimation once you have seen him ridiculing Nazi Boy: http://kirkunity.blogspot.com/2007/12/mark-collett-nazi-boy.html

    PS: Comrade, I’ll forgive the Nuts/Zoo stuff if you post a pic of Francois Sagat in a future post…

  8. peace1 said,

    December 16, 2007 at 2:22 am

    I hate being teased.

  9. margo said,

    December 16, 2007 at 9:33 am

    ‘…but it just seems ironic ‘

    Mmm, maybe the first time but once you put all the pics together from this blog it begins to feel a little uneasy. There’s more to irony than girly pics IMO.

  10. Darren said,

    December 16, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    Just had a quick scroll of SS for the past four months and, at best, I was disappointed to find that I could only find 4 pictures that people might find risque (5 if you count the bare-chested Sheridan Daily Record cover).

    I think people commenting on this thread should apologise for getting my hopes up. (gnarf, gnarf.)

    Bastards.

  11. splinteredsunrise said,

    December 16, 2007 at 6:21 pm

    Well, it’s something I have to check myself on, and I do rather a lot of self-censoring. I’m sorry if anyone is offended… I am aware of my occasional lapses in taste, believe me.

    And, as Darren says, the only topless pic I’ve ever run was of Sheridan. Which, to me, is a lot more disturbing than the odd bit of cheesecake.

  12. Worldbystorm said,

    December 16, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    margo, that’s a good point. However, while I loathe that sort of imagery in newspapers perhaps because I think it feeds into a narrative where women are disempowered I’m much less loathing of photographs per se. Context is everything. Here I don’t see those images as noxious in the way I’d see them in a red top. That attitude of mine is rife with contradiction, I know. In a way I think hardcore is more – well, honest is the word that springs to mind – and these just seem utterly staged, which indeed they are and that begs questions about performance, and how their meaning is in a way removed and replaced with references to other issues, be they political, cultural or whatever etc, Granted this probably belongs in a different discussion.

  13. andy newman said,

    December 17, 2007 at 12:37 am

    the other aspect that is utterly untranslatable into modern era, is that Ronald Searle’s St Trinian’s drawings are very violent, often showing more torture than sexuality, and this did feed into the films.

    This is all part of Searle’s experiences as a wartime prisoner of the japanese. (This isn’t amateur pschology of mine, he himslef said he drew St Trinians as catharsis for getting torture out of his head)

    The St trinian’s schools are not a simple metaphor for a prison camp, but girls are feral and frankly dangerous and the school authority relies more upon force than upon consent. Added to which is a sort of hedonistic de-mob spirit, and a sense that social rules have melted.

    the only way they coould truly make a film in the sprit of St Trinians today would be to have all the girls in orange overalls and model it on Gitmo.

  14. splinteredsunrise said,

    December 17, 2007 at 10:07 am

    That’s a very good point, Andy. The old drawings really do have an amazing streak of sadism about them.

    And as WbS says, there’s the annexation of the thing by soft porn, which is quite worrying when you think of the present hysteria around paedophilia. I’d noticed that the Daily Star was puffing the St Trinians revival with a set of Lucy and Michelle “saucy schoolgirls” pics a good bit nearer the knuckle than anything I would think about running here. Where is Chris Morris when we need him?

  15. December 17, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    I’ve got a lot of time for Russell Brand, and sorry Splinters, he was HILARIOUS on Big Brother’s Big Mouth. Indeed, he was the only reason worth tuning in. See how piss poor it’s become in his absence. But it was clear from his BBBM performance that he was a lot deeper and more thoughtful than his ball bag gags suggested. What is funny how a number of lefties over at SU have changed their opinion of him since he gave Collett enough rope on Young, Nazi and Proud. Does someone become funny once they’re revealed to be on ‘our side’?

  16. splinteredsunrise said,

    December 17, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    He does have a certain charisma – if it wasn’t that he was everywhere

  17. andy newman said,

    December 17, 2007 at 3:14 pm

    AVPS. I think a lot of us only associated Russell Brand with Big Brothers’ Big Mouth, and it is just a questioon of now being exposed to him in a different context.

    I quite like his radio 2 show.

  18. charliemarks said,

    December 18, 2007 at 2:25 pm

    “Does someone become funny once they’re revealed to be on ‘our side’?”

    For me, yes – with culture, everything must have the correct line.

    I binned my Gloria Estefan records when I discovered she was against Cuban socialism and my Queen records when I heard Freddy Mercury voted Tory.

    For his cheap joke at the expense of BBC workers, I will never watch Jonathan Ross again (this doesn’t include Film 2008, btw) not even if he has Morrissey on for a whole hour.

    Speaking of the Moz – should I throw out his records over the whole migration/racism thing?

  19. Alex Nichols said,

    December 18, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    “I binned my Gloria Estefan records when I discovered she was against Cuban socialism and my Queen records when I heard Freddy Mercury voted Tory.”

    He was definitely pro-monarchy, for obvious reasons….
    I remember slinging my copy of Eric Clapton’s biography “Slowhand” against the bedroom wall when I got to the part about Enoch Powell.

    However, I think one shouldn’t really judge art or artists on whether they adopt your exact political views or not. The logic of that is Zhdanovism (having an official line on art) Which, in fact, kills it.

    By definiton good art, music or writing has something transcendent that opens up a chink in reality. “There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light get’s in” as Leonard Cohen put it.

    And given that a lot of ‘em were actually on crack, it’s not suprising they’re confused. But at the end of the day, you can be confused and untalented, or confused and supremely talented.

    On art and sport, I’m unashamedly elitist.

  20. Phil said,

    December 18, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    And given that a lot of ‘em were actually on crack, it’s not suprising they’re confused. But at the end of the day, you can be confused and untalented, or confused and supremely talented.

    That reminds me that I’ve been vaguely planning a “Station to station” post for a while now; I ought to get round to posting it. (I ought to get round to posting something, anyway.)

  21. Alex Nichols said,

    December 18, 2007 at 7:50 pm

    #20 ‘Station to Station’

    That was about the time Bowie was saying Adolf Hitler was ‘one of the first Rock Stars’, and living in morbid fear of fellow Aleister Crowley aficionado Jimmy Page. How’s that for an internal link?

    BTW, media tarts, should note that the recent live performance of the hackneyed Zep anthem ‘Stairlift to Heaven’, has received over one million hits on Youtube in one week. So, everybody be doing the Dinosaur
    Yet Bowie subsequently goes and marries a Somali model and disowns his former comments.

  22. Alex Nichols said,

    December 19, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Talking of disowning former comments, I was in a bookshop earlier and spotted Eric Clapton’s autobiography, looked up ‘Enoch Powell’, and on page 100, found his explanation.
    Which is that he’d just flown in from Jamaica, where there were loads of adverts offering jobs in England for low wages and he was condemning their exploitation.
    Also, his then wife Patti Boyd had recently had her arse touched up by a Saudi royal and his comments were directed against people like them and not against Afro Caribbean cheap labour.
    Well, whatever. At least he helped start “Rock Against Racism”

    P.S. Arse is Chaucerian English (erse) and perfectly acceptable in literary discourse, although I hardly ever use it in daily speech.

  23. Phil said,

    December 19, 2007 at 6:38 pm

    ‘Cunt’ is Chaucerian English, and ‘bastard’ was an ordinary word (albeit with pejorative connotations) as late as Shakespeare; I don’t think that proves anything.

  24. Madam Miaow said,

    December 19, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    I think one shouldn’t really judge art or artists on whether they adopt your exact political views or not.

    Trust the art, not the artist.

  25. Alex Nichols said,

    December 19, 2007 at 7:03 pm

    Norman French I think, in both cases: Batarde, Conte
    La Conte almost sounds poetic.
    “Les Monologues des Contes” definitely does.

    In a way its more to do with the image that the word connotes being unacceptable in particular social contexts, than the word itself.

    A bit like putting covers over Victorian chairlegs.

  26. Alex Nichols said,

    December 19, 2007 at 7:04 pm

    “Trust the art, not the artist.”

    Good point

  27. Idris of Dungiven said,

    December 21, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    That’s all a myth about Victorian chair leg covers, apparently.

  28. Alex Nichols said,

    December 21, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    Maybe because they were too thin?

    “It became indelicate to offer a lady a leg of chicken—hence the still surviving tradition that she is offered the breast; but even this was called the “bosom” in the nineteenth century. This—at least as applied to chickens—was an American refinement, as was the fitting of piano legs with crinolines—though not, it seems, chair-legs, which presumably were too thin to inspire lascivious thoughts.”

    Gordon Rattray Taylor “Sex in History” 1954

    But what is covered and constrained is often most erotically charged:
    e.g.


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