English | Science | Art & Design

Some like it hot: the sultry art of heatwaves

Does heat create the best plots? As much of the world swelters, we ponder the alchemy behind many of the greatest novels and movies set against a backdrop of sweaty exhaustion. Ellen McCurdy had no time to think as wildfires spread across the Mijas hillsThe hills are near Málaga, a popular tourist area in southern Spain.. "We just grabbed a few essentials and just ran really, and by that stage everybody along the street was on the move." Spain is not the only European country affected by wildfires. France, Croatia, Turkey and Greece have also been hit. Infrastructure has been affected, with railway lines buckling and roads melting. But for writers and filmmakers, this weather is a gift. It adds to both the drama and the atmosphere. “I love England in a heat wave,” says a character in Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement. “It’s a different country. All the rules change.” The critic Alexandra Harris agrees. “We find we are not quite ourselves. Or hidden selves come flashing out.” One effect is to make people feel bad-tempered, says the author Ayisha MalikHer novel This Green and Pleasant Land opens on a very hot August day.. “It’s the simplest way to create conflict and tension without even introducing a character.” In F Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby, conflict is increased by the heat. When Daisy Buchanan tells Gatsby, “You always look so cool”, she is publicly declaring her love for him. On the same unbearably hot day that her husband Tom finally confronts Gatsby. There are similar tensions in Tennessee WilliamsAn American writer whose other plays include Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.’ play A Streetcar Named Desire, as the characters swelter in a New Orleans apartment. In LP Hartley’s novel The Go-Between, the clothes worn during a hot EdwardianOfficially the period between 1901 and 1910, when Edward VII ruled Britain, though it is sometimes used to refer to the time up until World War One. summer emphasise how restrictive life was. Some of cinema’s greatest thrillers use high temperatures as a plot device. Roman Polanski’s Chinatown revolves around a Californian water shortage. The titles of Dog Day Afternoon and In the Heat of the Night reflect the importance of the weather in those movies. But heatwaves can also create a joyful sense of freedom, as In the Heights shows. Does heat create the best plots? Red-hot plotting Yes: It creates a sense of things not being as they normally are, prompts people to behave in extreme and desperate ways, and overthrows conventions about how we live our day-to-day lives.   

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