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Very flawed but much better than people give it credit for
So it's no secret that experimental filmmaking is a necessity of cinema and some experimental films succeed and others don't. Rage is one of those that doesn't quite succeed in its experimentation on narrative style. Rage is about a New York blogger named Michelangelo, a character we never see or hear. Michelangelo is documenting a New York fashion show by interviewing various people behind the stage in front of various neon colored backgrounds. The entire film is just individual character interviews intertwined to create a story. There is no character interaction and no sets whatsoever. The entire film is done with actors, sound effects, and a blue screen. And believe it or not, the film does actually end up telling a cohesive story, just in the most inconvenient way possible.
Simply put, you can't tell a story like this. You just can't make this kind of narrative work without some extra flair or nuance to spice it up. You simply can't tell a unique enough story with just actors in front of a blue screen. The film, for the most part, kept my attention the whole way through, but it is not something that I would watch repeatedly. It is good for one viewing, and the most you can take out of that one viewing is that this is a narrative style that just doesn't work. This film could make an interesting contemporary stage play with a few tweaks, but as a film it is missing key elements that make cinema what it is. I commend Sally Potter, the director, for coming up with new and inventive ways to tell a story through the film medium and I would never discourage her from continuing to expand her experimentation, but I do hope she realized that this attempt was a failed one.
Moving on from the narrative style, I really can't complain about the story itself or the characters within it. That is really the tragedy of this film is how much potential its story and characters could have had, if told in a more effective manner. The story takes unexpected twists throughout, and grows surprisingly dark and captivating. Each character is very well designed, but you have to take into consideration the fact that we only see a small part of each character's potential. Like I said before, there is zero character interaction in this film unless you count the things said directly to our invisible narrator. It is difficult to fully judge a character's depth when you never see him or her interact with the other characters of the film. But for what we are given by these characters, it is all very interesting. Each character has their own philosophy and outlook on life and the fashion industry, and these personal values each one of them expresses drives the story home. A lot could have been done with what was laid out across the screen, but the over experimental narrative style held it back significantly.
And to add insult to injury, the characters were played by excellent actors who I would have loved to see go further with their roles if the narrative had allowed for it. There are some very big names in this film and a variety of A-list faces. There is everyone from Steve Buscemi as the disgruntled photographer, to the kind old Dianne Wiest who wants her perfume company to succeed, but also wants to keep everyone happy. Jude Law goes the extra mile for this film and plays the transsexual runway model Minx. It is one of the most enticing yet disturbing roles in the whole film, and Law does a great job. Judi Dench plays a painfully honest fashion critic, who delivers one of the last and most enthralling speeches of the film. She ends the film on a particularly dark, yet fascinating note and her performance is great for what she has to work with.
I see this film getting torn up by critics and audience members alike, but I feel it deserves much more credit than it has received. Obviously it is very flawed, but it is not an outright horrible movie. The narrative style simply doesn't work and it definitely holds the film back a lot, but apart from that the film delivers a lot of good things. The story, while not perfect, is undeniably interesting, and so are the characters. The actors do a great job in their limiting roles and the only complaint I can make about them is that I just wanted more. Overall, Rage is a failure in minimalist filmmaking. The film makes numerous references to Andy Warhol, but I'm sure Warhol would have been disgusted by this film, as its style almost ended up being a mockery of his own, unintentionally of course. With a lot of tweaking and revising, though, Rage could be a great film or even stage play that would most definitely be worth watching.
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