Saturday, 1 December, 2007

Bootleggers’ barrels

I have often wondered why fight sequences in the villain’s den in our movies always involve people jumping off and on barrels. In most cases, I could find no reason for the barrels being there.

The bad man would be into extortion or gambling or kidnapping. So what were those barrels storing? Petrol? Maybe. You won’t get time to tank up if the cops or rivals were at your heels. But I can’t remember ever seeing a car being filled out of them.

Now I have a theory. Nobody knows why the barrels are there. The fight masters put them in because they are essential props in their choreography. They were taught to fight with barrels, so they use them.

I strongly suspect barrels came in big time Hollywood gangster movies of the 1930s, when gangsters were synonymous with bootleggers and the barrels had a legitimate (well, illegitimate) reason for being in their dens.

They were imported to another land, and they stayed, long after their original justification was gone.

I once read a book on of the so called ‘stupid superstitions’ came out good reasons. For example, people who had suffered bereavement were forbidden to meet with others for a week or fortnight to avoid risk of infection. It was a cruel but effective way of confining the fatal disease to one household. If the survivors showed no symptoms after a week, they were considered healthy and declared ‘no risk’.

Today, when diseases can be diagnosed well, and precautions can be easily adapted if they are infectious, the superstition has been done away with in most middleclass homes that I know.

How much of business outdated anchorless superstition? I have no fondness for ‘out of the box’ and ‘cutting edge’. Yet I believe we can do our jobs in half the time we take if we took some time off every day to investigate why we are doing whatever we’re doing.