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A young woman named Clara is captured by a serial killer named Leonard who records his "life story" by keeping a scrapbook of his many victims. In addition to adhering Polaroids, scraps of clothing, and other small trophies to the pages, Leonard has forced his victims to personally write in the scrapbook about their individual ordeals. Clara is beaten, raped, starved, and locked up like an animal, filthy and naked. She is forced to write in the scrapbook, adding her agony to the pages. She soon realizes that her only hope for survival is to manipulate Leonard through her writings in his cherished scrapbook. Written by
I wanted to see this, because I like to see films that push at the boundaries, and because it got a surprisingly good review from the DVD Delirium Guide (Vol 2). That review describes the film as "ferocious and highly accomplished", praises the actors' "impassioned, uncomfortably convincing performances", and claims that "Scrapbook is hardly your standard exercise in prurient sadism".
As such, it is at odds with most of the reviews here, and I fear that on this occasion it's the contributors to IMDb who have got it right. Whatever else it is, this film is not "highly accomplished". For example, in its summary of the plot, DVD Delirium explains that "Clara begins to closely analyze the scrapbook, devising a way to prolong her life, explore the mind of her captor, and perhaps even escape." Oh, that's what she was doing, was she? All we, the viewers, see is her leafing through the pages of the scrapbook. Unfortunately, neither the scriptwriter nor the director have any of the intelligence or dramatic sense needed to bring this internal struggle to life. She looks at the book, she pretends to submit to his demands, lulls him into a position of vulnerability, then strikes. The existence of that eponymous scrapbook is irrelevant; she could have devised that strategy even without it, in addition to which I tend to agree with the reviewer here who points out that Ms Haack looks physically well able to take care of a neurotic clumsy beanpole like her captor at much earlier stages in the film.
Other dramatic or psychological opportunities are missed or bungled. For example, the visit by the neighbour could have been an excellent exercise in wracking up tension as he slowly realises that something is not quite right here. Instead he gets one quick look at the photos on the wall, then bang! wallop! it's all, implausibly, over. Similarly, some of the psychological elements in the captor's rants are promising, hinting at his need for control, but the script can't maintain this with any consistency or develop it meaningfully. Even the filmic device of seeing the abuse in the shower through the camcorder the captor sets up is fumbled: who sets up the camera through which we see the camcorder being set up? But if this film is not quite the triumph DVD Delirium claims, what is it? A bold experiment that overreaches its ambition? Or a tawdry piece of torture porn? I was in two minds for a bit. Heaven knows, life's too short to listen to whole commentaries, but I listened to the first few minutes, and they all - director, producer, actress - sound very earnest. There's all sorts of talk about trust, and we learn how lots of the scenes were improvised (as though Mike Leigh was making a horror film!), though not, as is carefully explained, the notorious unfaked urination sequence. Just a week before seeing this, I had by coincidence seen Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend, a famous film that had passed me by, and about a third of the way into Scrapbook there was a sequence that reminded me completely of what Godard was trying to do. The camera takes a long leisurely pan around an empty room and back (the victim is hiding in the cupboard) while from the other side of the locked door the captor recounts a particularly scabrous anecdote of an encounter with a hooker.
But what finally made up my mind was not the film itself, but the extras. I have already mentioned the shower scene, in which the stoical Ms Haack is tied in the shower with her arms over her head, stripped full frontal and abused; well, in case you didn't get enough of that, the DVD thoughtfully provides an extended uncut version of just this scene, conveniently packaged up as a little ten minute short, shorn of any plot or context. Just long enough for... well I think we all know what it's long enough for.
It looks to me like the director's production company was involved in putting together this DVD package. It's at moments like this that we can see (to paraphrase Burroughs) exactly what's on the end of our forks. The director may come on strong as though he was making a cutting edge piece of provocative film-making, and may even have succeeded in persuading himself that's what he was doing. But by their deeds shall ye know them, as it were; when it comes down to it, what they were really making was a sleazy piece of exploitative porn, and barely consensual at that.
Incidentally, this is a review of the 95 minute Region 1 version. The British version is much shorter, I believe, by well over ten minutes. I'm not quite sure what to advise. It's easy to guess at what's missing, but the film doesn't really deserve seeing at either length. But if you must see it, then I think you must see it at its fuller length. Shorn of its shocks, the film would be both nasty and boring I suspect; if you're going to see it at all, you should at least give yourself the opportunity of learning something useful about the psychopathology of bad film-making.
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