AMERICAN CINEMA PAPERS
EDINBURGH – 1988
A CHILL IN MY HAIR
by Harlan Kennedy
Here you can see all the Edinburgh movies ever shown, attend all the Edinburgh seminars ever staged, and be ministered to by leprechauns who claim they are festival director Jim Hickey.
No wonder the festival opened with Beetlejuice:
that mind-boggling, sporran-whirring fantasy-reality teaser. And
no wonder there were so many movies in
This is becoming a trope - nay, a fully paid-up cliché – of modern cinema: emotionlessness as high integrity. What's more, it seems worldwide. From the gnomic epigrams of Peter Greenaway's Drowning by Numbers – where the dialogue sounds like people reading messages in bottles – to Omer Kavur's Motherland Hotel from Turkey – a sort of Psycho for anomies – to Harun Farocki's West German documentary Images of the World and the Inscription of War. Explicit emotion is out.
Farocki's film especially raises dispassion to a
high art. Despite – or because of – its incendiary subject matter (from air
Farocki lifts the curtain on some frightening
facts, like the apparent suppression of aerial evidence of
One sees the kind of movie Farocki and Greenaway and Kavur are reacting against. The current epicenter for
overemphasis, well represented at
Just to show that the British New Wave
needn't be complacent either, this year's brilliant U.K. masterpiece, Terence Davies' Distant Voices, Still Lives was
balanced by the likes of Bob Hoskins' The Raggedy Rawney
and Nicolas Roeg's Track
Writing, directing, and acting, Hoskins makes a right cock-up of his fantasy about gypsies in war. Set "in an unspecified period somewhere in Europe (the vagueness is awesome) Hoskins' film has Bob himself as gypsy leader Dexter Fletcher, a young army deserter with magical powers, and a plot involving pregnancy, transvestism, and God knows what else. Scenes of reality and scenes of illusion merge with all the subtlety of a freeway pileup. Says Hoskins, "The idea was to show that the enemy is war – on whatever soil, whoever the adversaries." Ah. That was the idea.
Roegs Track 29, the Oedipal black comedy from a Dennis Potter script is likewise inchoate. Theresa Russell (Carolina housewife), Christopher Lloyd (her toy-train-obsessed husband), and Gary Oldman (fantasy son from England) ham it up no end in an America seemingly viewed – through xenophobic Brit binoculars – as a giant playground for retards.
No wonder Family Viewing, the low-budget hit movie
of this year's fest circuit, seems as
good as it does. Atom Egoyan's film and video pic from
As in Images of the World, we are remote from immediate emotions. Though this time there is no sense of strain in the stylized reticence – the movie is played as a choked comedy of family manners. Dialogue is in clipped, toneless stichomythia, and the characters' predicaments have their heat further lowered by being juxtaposed with "random" TV footage, mostly from nature programs. The earnest, burbling narrators of these shows ("Man alone can contemplate his past and plan for his future....") put humanity in an anthropological omnium-gatherum along with bears and buzzards. And so does director Egoyan. Family Viewing is Cinema of Behaviorism. Cine-semiological explorers can have a field day with a movie like this, which is all signs without overt emotional meaning, just as Images of the World is all signs from a god's eye distance to which you must render your own.
Here in Brigadoon Egoyan's teasing, elusive style went down a treat. There were demands for re-screenings and even a seminar on Dispassion as Cinematic Style, moderated by Cyd Charisse. Belgian Dominique Deruddere's Love is a Dog From Hell, Spaniard Pedro Almodóvar's Law of Desire, and Japanese Juzo Itami's A Taxing Woman were also shown and discussed in Edinburgh/Brigadoon, and all three were considered synergetic with Family Viewing: poker-faced, ironising accounts of human passion and/or human greed.
The Almodóvar and Itami movies have already had hats off at other festivals. Just when you thought you had enough of Charles Bukowski, Love is a Dog from Hell combines three of his stories to produce a cautionary tale. A young man (Jose De Pauw) is propelled by a traumatic adolescence – including the worst case of acne ever seen on screen (special FX by Pizza Express) – into necrophilia. But there is no Sturm and Drang. No Gothic weavings and wailings. It's all as quiet and reposeful and ironic as – well, as death. Dominique Deruddere: keep watching the name.
Many of the best films on the
From Down Under the third and springiest
documentary, Cane Toads. Mark Lewis's 46-minute pic
about the amphibian shock troops currently overrunning
This would be tragic if it weren't funny. Scientists flounder, parents fret, and one town counselor blesses the toad as a boon to tourism. (Is he nuts? I for one have just torn up my Bicentennial super-flight ticket). Director Lewis adopts the appropriate po face but is not above the odd leg-pull, like a spoof shower-menace scene with the toads as Anthony Perkins. Cane Toads is a little masterpiece. It's a film New Yorker Errol Morris must wish he had made if he'd been born Australian.
While catering to the world's Northern and
As for the Eastern movies at
Also from the East were Hou Hsiao Hsien's Daughter of the Nile (etiolated but touching), Chen Kaige's King of the Children (great landscapes, dull schoolroom scenes), and the magnificent Red Sorghum, still hearing the claw marks of the Berlin Golden Bear. Most Promising Newcomer award goes to Taiwan's Fred Tan, writer-director of Rouge of the North, a dynastic saga whose formidable heroine grows from tearful child bride to acerbic matriarch in a mere 107 minutes. Magnificently played by Hsia Wen-shi, you get her measure in the film's tart dialogue scenes: Maid – "What shall I get the master for breakfast?" Wen- Shi – "Warm up the dried swallow's nest."
But if I were to pick an oddball favorite
from all the movies shown in
Though, the film is fun. Gallagher, his own
narrator-protagonist, takes us on a road movie through
Undivided Attention is about the filmmaker as mapmaker, mapping new towns in our psyche, matte-ing new landmarks in our perception, and charting new ways to travel to them. Give Gallagher enough time and he may even find and map Brigadoon.
COURTESY T.P. MOVIE NEWS.
THIS ARTICLE APPEARED IN THE DECEMBER 1988 ISSUE OF FILM COMMENT.
©HARLAN KENNEDY. All rights reserved.