[Row Three programming if we owned a Rep Cinema]
Ripped From The Headlines!
Stuck – 5:00pm
Compliance – 8:00pm
10 Rillington Place – 10:00pm
Some of you may recall that scene from Robert Altman’s The Player, where rising film executive Larry Levy (Peter Gallagher, oily) demonstrates to the rest of the suits at the board room table how easy it is to come up with screenplay ideas by going through the newspaper headlines. Sure, Altman is poking fun at the disconnect and friction between the studio business folk and the writers and directors, but there have actually been a fair number of films that have been pulled from the headlines (and not just documentaries The Thin Blue Line or The Imposter.) There are a large variety of ways to approach the subject matter: Exaggerate things for dramatic effect, turn the proceeding into a full out horror picture, use it as allegory for political or social commentary, or even make a pitch black comedy. Some films manage to do all of this simultaneously. Still, this type of filmmaking can be a tough proposition, as the audience often knows the end, particularly if the incidents portrayed are recent or very high profile. This can diffuse the sense of mystery or tension associated with a purely fictional story or something that happened but was obscure. Of course, this is far from an insurmountable obstacle for a good filmmaker armed with a good screenplay and smart actors. Below (after the break) in the ongoing program your own evening at the rep cinema column, I have gone and narrowed things further. There are no bio-pics or famous people in the news. All three of these films are anonymous everyday citizens that are caught up in, or instigate, unusual criminal circumstances that prove (not that it ever needed proving) that truth is stranger than fiction. Even if these films are fiction based on true events.
When Stuart Gordon tackled the strange story of a woman who hit a homeless man with her car and the left him for over a day lodged and dangling in the windshield, he chose to cast one of the most empathetic actors work, Stephen Rea, as the victim, but shoot the film as a black-as-pitch comedy. A daring choice that underlines the economic and social circles of the characters, and keeps the film riveted as exploitation trash. Nevertheless, it is a film directed with meticulous skill and timing.. Mena Suvari, her hair in tight, unflattering corn-rows, is introduced in the films opening minutes as she cleans up the excrement of old people at a retirement home as a death-metal song blares from the sound track. Have no fear though, she is bound for a promotion. It is her celebration of this promotion with some ecstasy pills that impairs her judgement, and to both our delight and dismay, after sobering up in the collision with down-on-his-luck Rea, her failure to regain any moral compass which drives the rest of the movie. I’m 90% sure this is all played for wicked, transgressive laughs, but there is always an undercurrent of real pathos even as things get really bloody. Stuart re-writes the ending to further fulfill the exploitation nature his story, and give the audience some fist-pumping at the end.
Craig Zobel (The Great World Of Sound) has examined with his two films thus far, the line between authority and gullibility for those a bit down on their luck. Compliance is far more aggressive in its storytelling than his debut film, and it is really quite shocking that this depiction of a prank-phone call to a fast-food restaurant mirrors the actual events (according to the original ABC News story from 2004 and of course, Wikipedia). It proves that despite how far we have come as a society since Nazi Germany and the results of the Milgram experiment (or the Stanford Prison Experiment) there are still room for an Abu Ghraib or a forced strip searches in fast food joints. Compliance, besides being exceptionally high on craft, both as a thriller, and as a vehicle for some great acting (Ann Dowd, Pat Healy and Dreama Walker are across the board fantastic) tugs a the band-aid we can put over top of capitalism to hide its really ugly parts. Namely, the middle and the lower-middle class which in some cases can fail to understand or use any sort personal empowerment because they live in fear for the loss of crappy job which serves to make ends meet.
Much like Dogville or Dancer in the Dark, Compliance acts as a lesson in pushing the audience to breaking point (which mirrors the subject matter of an assistant manager pushed to strip-searching an employee at the request of a ‘police officer’ at the other end of a phone. We are as culpable as the store manager for acting as voyeur on the proceedings, so there it mirrors Michael Haneke’s Funny Games for its shrill condemnation of the same audience fore being entertained by suffering. The fact that the film plays this game with its audience, while that very same ‘game’ is the subject matter of the film, is quite brilliant. The film is admirable for its unflinching ability to push buttons and raise questions that people are often reluctant to confront about themselves and their society (and their perception of how the two mix together.) It is a great new-millenium mirror, and in short great art.
One of the craziest mis-carriages of justice within Britain was the failure to initially understand and arrest John Christie, a spectacularly creepy serial-killer that murdered several women throughout the 1940s and early 1950s. Instead, the police arrested and executed the husbands of one of Christie’s murders for the crime. Oops.
Prolific, genre hopping director Richard Fleischer (Design for Death, The Narrow Margin, Soylent Green) attacks the story with real verve, both in shooting many scenes on location at the eponymous address, layering the grime of the poverty of post-war London and getting a chilling performance out of Richard Attenborough as a sweating balding and mousy shut-in who asphyxiates women for pleasure before burying them in the soft dirt of is garden shed. The film mainly focuses on the souring relationship between Beryl Evans and her husband Timothy who are fighting both poverty and each other. In a shocking, slow-burn, don’t-watch-after-midnight fashion, John Christie promises Beryl an abortion to her unwanted pregnancy before strangling her, and leaving Timothy holding the bag. John Hurt is equally amazing as the patsy in this case, a broken confused shell of a man that lies far to often and then buries himself completely when bad circumstances fall in his lap. The Evan’s also have a young infant baby that spends a lot of time crying in the next room. That doesn’t go well either. 10 Rillington Place is not a film for the squeamish. Although the film seems to be lost to much showier examples of Serial Killer cinema in the united states, this one remains one of the most purely haunting entries in the genre.