I know you don’t want to hear about my dreams but I had a strange one the other night I’m going to tell you about anyway. In the dream I was engaged in an argument with somebody about what a homophone is (I was right, and they were wrong). I don’t remember the examples we used to face off with, but theirs was definitely erroneous. The reason I thought of this dream while writing this post is that I kept churning the word ‘jewel’ over in my head and the more I did this the more it took on the sound and shape of the word ‘duel’. Maybe it’s not an exact homophone, but maybe it doesn’t have to be. Both words are nouns. One, I suppose, has pleasant connotations, the other (duel) unpleasant. Duel makes me think of the Steven Spielberg film with that name, one of his earliest and, in my view, one of his best. It’s like Jaws but with a truck. For my money it’s by far the better film.
Jewel makes me think of a conversation I had a few months ago while working on a piece of theatre. My dramaturg asked me what my favourite example of a MacGuffin was (a MacGuffin being a word coined by Hitchcock to denote the mythical or semi-mythical object or objective in a film that has no real function except to drive the events of the plot). My answer was the Maltese Falcon, the black statuette around which the entertaining but largely nonsensical action of the film of the same name coalesces. I love The Maltese Falcon (the film, that is, not the MacGuffin). When I’m not wanting to be Bogart I’m almost always laughing at the way he delivers those hard-bitten jibes, flung out of the corner of his mouth like a cigarette he can’t be bothered finishing (now that I come to think of it, it’s the jibes that make me want to be Bogart). There’s one in The Maltese Falcon that’s one of my favourites: ‘The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.’ I don’t know if that’s from the Dashiell Hammett book the film is based on, but there’s a kind of poetry to it.
I’m not sure why the word jewel should have prompted these reflections. Perhaps because it’s easy to imagine a film in which the MacGuffin is a jewel, some unspeakably precious stone – a ruby or diamond say – perhaps set in a dazzling watch or brooch or sword hilt. I suppose there must be a jewel in The Jewel of the Nile, which I watched dozens of times as a child, but I can’t remember. (Google, of course, remembers all. According to Sami Al-Taher’s plot summary on IMDB: This is the sequel to “Romancing the Stone” where Jack and Joan have their yacht and easy life, but are gradually getting bored with each other and this way of life. Joan accepts an invitation to go to some middle eastern country as a guest of the sheik, but there she is abducted and finds her- self involved with the “jewel”. Jack decides to rescue her with his new partner Ralph. They all go from one adventure to another… What is the story of this “jewel”?)