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Ravishing and repulsive.
A very brave film, this one. Can't imagine that it took much at the box office, but it's good to see an uncompromising vision up on the screen from time to time. Not since Greenaway's "The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover" has something so pure made it past the distribution police. That this should be an American production is only more laudable.
Stunning to look at and to listen too (Goldenthal's score is astinishing), it is above all a very theatrical rendering which utilises the creative and imaging capabilities of modern "Hollywood" cinema to realise the full emotive power of this early Shakespeare play. We can easily forget just how visceral and corporeal some of Shakespeare's work was and this film amply serves to remind us.
Titus always was a study in brutality and the corruption of power. Here, Traynor immerses us in the full excesses of human degredation. It's not easy to watch at at times, especially the rape of Lavinia, but it is sobering. The images are shocking and repulsive, but rightly so.
This is not a film for gore or porn fans, as some reviewers have suggested. It is an intelligent, hugely creative and uncompromising vision of a neglected play which has some very uncomfortable things to say to us about our nature, and especially about male violence and power.
Yes, it has faults. It is dominated by its production design to the extent that that performances sometimes become almost irrelevant. The confusion of period detail often becomes just that; and Hopkins looks decidedly uncomfortable at times. However, these problems are minor in comparison to the film's many strengths.
Eat the 50s!
What I love most about this film is its loving satire on 50s America. Whereas most 50s-set films are content with recreating the "look" of the decade, Parents' gets under the skin and satirises the attitudes - most wonderfully when Randy Quaid's boss at Toxico talks about "plastic". In fact, the whole idea of being proud that your Dad is helping make defoliants is just gorgeously 50's America (sorry, Americans, but you've gotta face facts).
There are many other things to admire in this film: the performances (has Quaid been better?), the pacing (it's so short!), and the wallpaper.
This has to be one of the oddest and finest horror-comedies ever to squirm from the Hollywood machine.
The Railrodder (1965)
Buster demonstrates he hasn't lost the old magic.
Sad, in a way. Here's the greatest comedian of the silent era (sorry, Chaplin fans, but you're just wrong, okay?) showing that he can still cut it, never mind how old he might be.
Film appears to be an advert for Canada (probably is), but is still a joy. A endless series of inspired sight-gags as Buster sails calmly through the wilderness on a railroad buggy. The dexterity, poise and, above all, quiet dignity of the man shine through.
Pity the world forgot about him for so long.
Dark and glorious.
I think this is a fabulous film, a sort of gothic fairytale for the end of the 20th century.
In a way, this shows what Alien 3 could have been, if Fox had had the courage to let Fincher have his way. It looks wonderful, the city is an evil presence in itself, and is intelligently scripted and acted. What impresses me most, however, is that the film has the courage of its convictions.
It's horribly logical; we know how it's going to end, but we don't want things to turn out that way. The film, unusually for mainstream Hollywood product, doesn't cop out and give us a happy ending - it gives us the ending it has to have.
The Bed Sitting Room (1969)
Milligan's post-apocalyptic fantasy.
Richard Lester's directorial career went into nose-dive (at least for a while) after making this film, which was a pity. It's a post-apocalyptic black comedy like no other. Typically British and typically Milligan-ish, with a stunning visual sense.
What I enjoy most about this film is its uncompromising weirdness. It's incredibly inventive, if not particularly funny, and also quite depressing - but it has to be, dealing with the aftermath of nuclear war.
There are some excellent performances from a cast which seems to contain most of the outstanding British comedy talent of the last thirty years (Marty Feldman is particularly fine) and some pointed satire about the British "stiff upper lip", but it's the surreal visuals which stand out, including the remains of a motorway with hundreds of cars half-buried in mud, and an escalator emerging into a landscape almost entirely composed of broken crockery.
A flawed masterpiece.
The Falls (1980)
Hitchcock in a filing cabinet.
This is the pinnacle (some might think nadir) of Greenaway's obsession with lists and catalogues (at least so far). An obsessive film about obsession.
The film comprises ninety-two mini-documentaries of a random sample of people who have suffered as a result of the mysterious (and unexplained) "Violent Unknown Event" (or "VUE" for short). Though the VUE produces varying results, there are some common themes, such as bowel problems, skin conditions, and an obsession with birds. Some of the VUE victims even seem to be turning into birds. Though we never find out, it seems clear that "the responsibility of birds" was a key factor in the VUE.
I love this bizarre film. Despite its three hour duration it rarely drags and is witty and urbane. Greenaway uses the space to indulge in some wonderful running gags (especially the tendency of the VUE sufferers to go around in circles), and to make interesting points about the absurdity of statistics and the way in which science dehumanises its subjects by "categorising" them. This last point is subverted by the odd biographical details which Greenaway supplies us with, helping us to see the victims as individuals.
Greenaway has said that one way of viewing the film is as ninety-two different ways to make a documentary. I see it more as a cinematic equivalent of experimental music. It's like minimalism, with a strict repetitive structure which builds towards a dramatic climax. Nyman's score helps immeasurably in this development, beginning as isolated notes and chords, and finishing as an oratorio. The theme he wrote for the opening credits, "The Boulder Orchard", is fabulous.
All the old Greenaway obsessions are here: sex, death, sex and death, water, birds, calligraphy, etc. The Falls is a catalogue of Peter Greenaway as much as anything else.
The Draughtsman's Contract (1982)
Extraordinary, beautiful, puzzling and disturbing.
A most extraordinary film. A fascinating study of manipulation and murder, of sex, power and the abuse of sex and power. This is not always an easy film to like, it has a coldly clinical approach to its subject and protagonists which produces an intentionally distancing effect.
In one scene, the Draughtsman invites the Lady of the House to examine a painting, owned by her husband, in which a complex allegory appears to be being acted out. I see this as an analogy for the film as a whole - it is an arch, stylised, intelligent and beautiful puzzle (a murder-mystery) in which the audience is encouraged to consider the motives and objectives of the characters, but from which many important clues appear to have been deliberately removed.
This might all sound frustrating, but I find the film endlessly intriguing and entertaining. It's like a very clever and stunningly photographed Agatha Christie mystery, but without an annoying sleuth who comes along at the end and solves everything "oh-so-neatly".
The photography is exemplary (the cinematographer, Curtis Clark, seems to have done little else of note), with the camera hardly moving at all, except for an occasional tracking shot. The Kent countryside used to maximum effect, and the costumes are sumptuous (especially the wigs!). The music is also superb, with Michael Nyman producing probably his finest score.
An engaging, puzzling, visually stunning and, ultimately, rather disturbing film.