Double Feature Theater: Walkabout/Rabbit Proof Fence

This is a new feature I’ll be doing alongside Hypothetical Film Festivals. The thought behind Double Feature Theater is to pair two films that share some similarity; be it thematically or actor or, even most interesting, the two films contradict each other in some way. Hope I can provide you with some ideas for your own double features.


Walkabout (1971, dir. Nicolas Roeg)
Starring Jenny Agutter, David Gulpilil, Luc Roeg


Rabbit Proof Fence (2002, dir. Phillip Noyce)

Starring Everlyn Sampi, Tianna Sansbury, Laura Monaghan, David Gulpilil, Kenneth Branagh

The relationship between the Australian aborigine and the Australian settler has been as volatile, if not more than, the Native American/American settler relationship. The aggression seems to have come mainly on the British side of things, as the indigenous Australians seemed quite helpful to the settlers in the early days. Each of these films chronicles the interaction between the two cultures and shows high points of cooperation and low points of conflict.

In Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout we’re introduced to the world of the Australian Outback through violence. An unnamed teenage girl and her younger brother are taken for a picnic by their father deep into the wilderness. Once there, he suddenly begins shooting at them, having what appears to be a complete nervous breakdown. As the terrified girl and boy hide in the nearby rocks, their father sets himself and the car on fire and burns to death. The siblings journey farther into the desert and eventually meet a young Aborigine boy on his walkabout. The Aborigine takes a liking to them and helps find water and food, while experiencing deepening feelings for the teenaged girl.
Nicholas Roeg is one of the great editor-directors of all-time. The way he intercuts scenes to emphasize connections between characters or actions is masterful. There is one sequence where the Aborigine hunts, kills, and butchers a kangaroo which is mixed with quick cuts of footage of an English butcher at work. There are constant shots of the flora and fauna of the Outback and Roeg seems intent on getting across to us how alive this place is. Despite its arid conditions, so much thrives here. One of the key themes of the film is communication and our inability to do so effectively. As the content becomes more abstract, the line of communication begin breaking down between the Aborigine and the girl until she becomes unnecessarily frightened of him and they must part ways. The sadness of these characters is how impossible it is for them to get across their thoughts and feelings despite standing in front of each other.
While Walkabout tells the story of the Aborigine/settler relationship through a lens of abstraction, Phillip Noyce’s Rabbit Proof Fence takes a more factual, historical approach. Based on the novel by Doris Pilkington, the film follow three girls from the Jigalong village in southern Australia. The three girls are taken by Australian police as part of an effort at the turn of the century to breed the Aborigine peoples out of existence. They’re taking to the Moon River Settlement, north of Perth to be trained as part of a servant class, but escape and begin a 1,500 trek home on foot through some of the brutal conditions the Outback can throw at them.
On the surface, Fence highlights a great injustice that was done to the Aborigine people which the government of Australia has been slow to make reparations for. Kenneth Branagh plays A.O. Neville, the government official assigned to oversee the Aborigines and believes in some twisted way is protecting them through these inhumane policies. On a deeper level, the film is meditation on the contemporary Aborigine’s connections to their ethnic roots. Author Pilkington is the descendant of the girls in this story is based on and the retracing of their steps through the narrative is a retracing of the history of the natives of Australia. In addition, Fence’s cinematography is a stunning achievement. Every thing about the wilderness has a dreamlike veneer over it, causing this world to be both familiar yet eerily alien.
Both films, tell the story of a group of people we rarely hear about, and do so in very different, yet equally interesting ways. If you have an interest in learning more about the fascinating continent of Australia or have an interest in global human rights, I highly recommend these pictures.
Advertisements

Seventies Saturdays – A Wedding


A Wedding (1978, dir. Robert Altman)

Starring Carol Burnett, Geraldine Chaplin, Mia Farrow, Paul Dooley, Desi Arnez Jr, Lillian Gish, Lauren Hutton
The old money and the nouveau riche come together when Dino Correlli and Margaret “Muffin” Brenner get married. And while the film may be called A Wedding, the majority of its two hours take place in the reception. Of all Altman’s comedies, I don’t think I ever laughed as harder than I laughed at this picture. All of his stylistic flourishes are there (zoom ins, overlapping dialogue, language play) yet they are delivered with such madcap humor. I kept thinking of classic 1930s farces as the confusion and misunderstandings increased during the film. And it’s a amazing that with 48 characters I never felt like anyone was ignored. Every personality is apparent and you feel like you are sitting in on a real reception where the groom and bride’s families are hiding some major dislike.
The Correllis are a mix of an Italian businessman, Luigi, who married into a rich Floridian family of all daughters. He is made caretaker of the estate by his mother in law, Nettie on the condition that none of his family, whom are in with the mafia, are allowed to step foot in the house. The Brenners are from trucking money, Liam “Snooks” Brenner (Dooley) having made a fortune on coast to coast trucking. From the get-go there are numerous cultural clashes involving wealth, ethnicity, and class. It’s also apparent that there has been some illicit trysts going on between the maid of honor, Buffy Brenner (Farrow) and the groom as well as many other guests at the reception.
The best parts of the film are where information in exchanged but with the context completely misinterpreted. Early on in the film Nettie passes away and her other son in law, Dr. Jules decides to keep it secret so as not to ruin the festivities. Of course the information leaks and dozens of family members relay it a real life version of the Telephone game. The wedding planner (Chaplin) runs the show with an iron fist, making sure both staff and guests follow strict and traditional wedding protocol, assigning ludicrous acronyms (Father of the Bride becomes FoB, Mother of the Groom is MoG) to be more efficient. Snooks Brenner is uncomfortably close to his daughter Buffy and ignores his wife, Tulip (Burnett) so that he can spend more time with his pride and joy. The best moment comes when Tulip is seduced by Corelli family member, Mac, who convinces her to join him in an excursion to the family’s greenhouse. This is interrupted by the arrival of the half-dozen children of Burnett’s born again brother-in-law.
The film is never completely a comedy, none of Altman’s movies are ever one genre, but it is apparent that there was much silly joy in making this film. Altman developed a system of wireless microphones that allowed him to not interrupt large scenes, but rather pull volume up and down on the conversations he wished to focus on. It’s this genius move that makes it so the director never interrupts the flow of productive acting and works with Altman’s naturalist intent for his films during this period. I would say that even if you have passed Altman over as a director you might enjoy, this is one of his few films that I believe could appeal to a larger audience.

Hypothetical Film Festival #8 – Visions of Wonderland

So Tim Burton’s rendition of the Wonderland story has been unleashed upon theaters. This, of course is not the first time this story has hit the big screen and it won’t be the last. In fact the archetypal elements of Lewis Carroll’s 19th century novel have been incorporated into films that might not be immediately recognizable as Wonderland. Here’s a line up of pictures that re-tell Alice’s adventures in a new way, with new twists.


Dreamchild (1986, dir. Gavin Millar)

Starring Ian Holm, Coral Browne, Peter Gallagher
It’s the 100th birthday of Lewis Carroll and a radio station in Depression-era New York has brought the real Alice, Alice Lidell, overseas to recount her friendship with the late author. As Alice is asked to think back to her childhood, she begins to lose track of the line between reality and fiction. We see her hallucinates as she walks from her hotel room into the Mad Hatter’s tea party where is berated for having become so old. The film also doesn’t shy away from addressing the possibly inappropriate nature of Carroll and Lidell’s relationship. The author was known for his photographs of young girls in various states of undress and in the years that followed his death this had led to much speculation. While this is no masterpiece, it is a very inventive look at the mind of Lewis Carroll.


Labyrinth (1987, dir. Jim Henson)

Starring Jennifer Connelly, David Bowie, Terry Jones, Elaine May
You have a young girl who is pulled into a magical world where she encounters absurd and insane creatures. Labyrinth is very much influence by Alice and her adventures. If you haven’t seen this classic 80s flick, young Sarah wishes her younger brother away and this is granted by the Goblin King (Bowie). Now Sarah has 13 hours to navigate a giant maze before her younger brother is transformed into a goblin. The creative force of Jim Henson is behind this film which means it is a art director’s dream. The set and creature design is of the highest caliber and reminds us of a time when not every thing in a fantasy film was computer-generated.


Spirited Away (2001, dir. Hayao Miyazaki)

Starring (in the English version) Daveigh Chase, Suzanne Pleshette, Jason Marsden, Michael Chiklis
The very different and wonderful Japanese take on Alice in Wonderland. Master animator Hayao Miyazaki takes young Chihiro on a journey through a strange tunnel in the woods. She ends up in a world where her parents have been transformed into pigs and she is forced into servitude by an evil witch at a bathhouse for ghosts. She befriends a young wizard, Haku who helps her discover the secret of defeating the witch and rescue her parents. The animation in this film proves that this form of art is not just for children. It is amazing that a human hand could create such lush and gorgeous worlds.


Tideland (2005, dir. Terry Gilliam)

Starring Jodelle Ferland, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly
This is a very dark and twisted take on the Wonderland myth, but that’s to be expected when dealing with Gilliam’s work. Jeliza-Rose is the daughter of a burnt out and drug addicted rock star (Bridges) who takes his girl to his mother’s old house in the middle of a unnaturally beautiful field somewhere in middle America. Jeliza doesn’t realize it but her pop O.D.s on drugs and is dead in the house for days as she ventures out to explore. She meets a mysterious veiled woman and her mentally challenged son who believes there is a land shark lose in the fields. Jeliza become more and more wrapped up in this fantasy world until she may be lost in it. The direction this film goes in its finale is very unexpected.


Pan’s Labyrinth (2006, dir. Guillermo del Toro)

Starring Ivana Baquero, Doug Jones, Maribel Verdu
As expected, del Toro puts both a Spanish and uniquely fantastic spin on Carroll’s original story. Here the instigator of the White Rabbit is replaced by a demonic faun who convinces young Ofelia that she is the long lost princess of a magic kingdom. Ofelia explores the forest surrounding her new home and encounters a series of mystical and fantastic challenges. Del Toro adds a real world flipside which is infinitely more horrific than anything Ofelia faces. Not only is this a great reinterpretation of the Wonderland source material, it is one of the best pieces of Spanish cinema ever made.


Phoebe in Wonderland (2009, dir. Daniel Barnz)

Starring Elle Fanning, Felicity Huffman, Bill Pullman, Patricia Clarkson, Campbell Scott
Phoebe suffers from a form of Tourettes which leaves her feeling like the odd one out at school and home. Her parents try to take deal with her condition in very different ways, dad acts like it doesn’t exist and mom wants to face it head on. Only when Phoebe becomes involved in her school’s production of Alice in Wonderland and meets the director, Miss Dodger does she find a place where she can express herself. This film is such a loving and gentle piece of cinema that never comes off as maudlin or dishonestly manipulative of the audience’s emotions. Phoebe is no angel and can be quite snarky. In addition, the fantasy sequences where Phoebe loses herself in Wonderland are visually rich and impressive that they used no computer generated effects.

Import Fridays – Revanche


Revanche (2008, dir. Götz Spielmann)

Starring Johannes Krisch, Irina Potapenko, Ursula Strauss, Andreas Lust, Johannes Thanheiser, Hanno Pöschl
The desire to lash out in revenge against those you believe have wronged you is a deep and powerful urge in humanity. Particularly when the actions of another have caused great loss in your life. The issue of the death penalty bring up the philosophical questions of what we are entitled to when wronged in horrendous ways, and the fact that there is no end in sight to such a debate is proof of how nuanced and complex it is. Revanche, a 2008 Austrian film, takes on this debate and provides many more questions.
Alex is an ex-con, who has gotten romantically involved with Tamara, a Ukranian prostitute that works at the brothel where Alex is a handyman. The must keep their relationship secret from the brothel owner who has designs on turning Tamara into a sex slave for his higher end clients. Alex devises a plan to run away with Tamara, rob a bank, and live their days out in Ibiza. He has a perfect plan. Paul is a police officer who is uncomfortable with his sidearm and the way his fellow officers talk casually about shooting and killing perps. He happens to end up in front of a bank one morning and finds a woman sitting nervously in a car and praying to herself. Paul asks some questions and a tragedy occurs.
Revanche is about two men living in their personal Hells. Alex is torn apart by the loss in life following the bank robbery and Paul is equally shattered by the results of his actions. The two men’s lives become more and more entwined until the film’s climax which is surprisingly redemptive. The heart of the film is Alex’s grandfather, Hausner, a man living on a farm in the deep woods. He has just lost his wife and has not allowed it to crush his spirit. Hausner seeks out the simplicity of life, finding enjoyment a meal of bread and sausage and picking up his old accordion and remembering his youth. Hausner starts out as a convenience for Alex, a place to hideout but goes on to inform Alex on how he can cope with his loss.
Also central to the story is Susanne, Paul’s wife. She miscarried three months before the start of the film and even before Paul’s incident at the bank there is a distance between the two. Susanne ends up being an unofficial caretaker of Hausner, visiting with him in his home and accompanying him to church on Sundays. She develops a friendship with Alex that plays out in a very unlikely way and ends up binding Alex and Paul together forever. The way Revanche comes to its finale, a meeting between Alex and Paul by a pond in the woods, felt very atypical compared to what an American-ized version of this film would do. Despite its bleak and violent world, the film leaves us on a note of hope that we don’t have to be shackled to the pain of our pasts.

Jolly Good Thursdays – Alice in Wonderland (1966)


Alice in Wonderland (1966, dir. Jonathan Miller)

Starring Anne-Marie Mallik, Peter Sellers, Leo McKern, Michael Redgrave, Peter Cook, Michael Hough, John Gielgud, Eric Idle
Lewis Caroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been adapted in many ways and forms since the advent of film. The majority are informed by the 1951 Disney animated feature and, because of that constant influence, seem bland. Not so with this BBC television adaptation. Jonathan Miller, a popular director and comedian who worked with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore extensively, brings us one of the most surreal and abstract versions of Wonderland. Here no one is dressed up like a white rabbit or caterpillar, instead they resemble the British aristocracy Carroll was mocking in his text.
The image above, which is the opening title of the film, evokes a very strong tone. Alice is something primal here, this is not the light-hearted English schoolgirl but a figure with a sinister air about her. Alice doesn’t speak for the first 20 minutes of the film, what we get is a whispering stream of consciousness. The most intriguing evolution of this conceit is how the whispering voice becomes the Cheshire Cat later in the film. It ends up highlighting pieces of dialogue from Carroll’s work that portray Alice as deep in contemplative thought about identity. This extends to her experiences eating and drinking items that distort her physical self, and as emphasized int this film, her psychological perception of herself and her environment.
It’s quite jolting to hear the silly dialogue, attributed originally to anthropomorphic figures, coming from the mouths of English nobility. That aesthetic choice emphasizes the absurdity of British aristocracy in Carroll’s time. The Caucus Race, which is Alice’s first major episode in Wonderland, occurs in an Anglican cathedral and involves stodgy nobles running around the pews and performing the sign of the cross. Every thing has an atmosphere of malaise, intensified by the wandering sitar music of Ravi Shankar. Alice sits at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, slumping down in her chair, washed over by the utter boredom and inanity of the dolts surrounding her.
This is by no means a children’s adaptation or one meant for mainstream audiences. This is a very masterful and crafted adult interpretation of classic story that operates on multiple levels of satire and philosophy.

Newbie Wednesday – The Hurt Locker


The Hurt Locker (2009, dir. Kathryn Bigelow)

Starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Evangeline Lilly
“War is a drug”. That is the part of the opening quote on screen that is highlighted as the rest of the words fade away. While protagonist Sgt. William James takes pleasure in his work of diffusing bombs left behind by the Iraqi insurgents, I don’t know if I would ever equivocate this with a drug. Kathryn Bigelow, ex-wife of James Cameron and an incredibly successful action movie director and producer in her own right, brings us this unusually quiet film about living and surviving in a war zone.
The film follows Sgt. William James, a specialist in bomb diffusion during his 40 day tour with a pair of soldiers assigned to the Explosive Ordinance Diffusal (EOD). There is no villain or A to B plotline, rather a series of episodes centered around different types of incendiaries. While James exudes a smug bravado about the work he does, however Sgts. Sanborn and Eldridge think James isn’t taking the weight of his job seriously. Back home, James has an ex-wife and infant son and his relationship with both exists in a vague “other” state. An incident occurs during a routine mission to recover some stolen mortars that send James into a nervous breakdown. The rest of the film plays this breakdown out in an unexpected way and leaves us with a lot more questions about the nature of war.
I found this film to be addressing a lot of issues related to our understanding of mortality. The men who suit up and walk right up to the bombs to lay C-4 seem so comfortable with death that it creates unease in the men working under them. One character feels so threatened by James that at one point he talks to another officer about how easy it would be to set off an explosive in the sergeant’s face. Despite James being a “wild man”, as one colonel says, there are scenes that illuminate a nurturer. As Sanborn lies prone with a scoped rifle, seeking out the insurgents firing on them, James grabs a Capri Sun and holds it so Sanborn can drink. While he does this he talks encouragingly to Sanborn about his belief in his ability to take the enemy out, like a father cheering junior on at a Little League game. James also develops a relationship with a young boy selling bootleg DVDs on base. It’s his relationship with this child that creates an interesting counterpoint to his seeming coldness towards his own infant son back home.
The Hurt Locker is a Tense movie with a capital “T”. Very few films have me cringing in expectation of some thing bad happening on screen. In so many films and television series we see people working to diffuse bombs and we never feel the urgency. Bigelow manages to squeeze that from us through masterful editing. The Iraqi citizens who watch the procedures from balconies are viewed with suspicion, not knowing if one of them is holding a cell phone used to trigger the bomb being diffused. On the flip side, the film makes sure to state that this is not Blackhawk Down, every person you see is not a secret terrorist. Most people are simply average joes, working to make enough to keep on living and surviving. In the same way, this is why James devotes himself to this line work. He knows nothing else. He knows he should love his wife and son, but he just can’t. All he knows is how to deconstruct these vessels of death and in doing so he defeats his mortality till the next time.

Wild Card Tuesday – Reality Bites


Reality Bites (1994, dir. Ben Stiller)

Starring Winona Ryder, Ethan Hawke, Ben Stiller, Janeane Garafalo, Steve Zhan, Swoosie Kurtz, John Mahoney
Have you ever gone back and read some piece of poetry or short story you wrote as an adolescent or early 20-something and cringed at how naive and oblivious its sentiments and ideas were? A similar feeling is felt when watching Ben Stiller’s directorial debut 16 years past its time. Intended to be a thesis statement of post-grad Generation X, Reality Bites feels like the standard love triangle movie with a 90s-grunge facade.
Our protagonist is Lelaina, a wannabe documentarian and resident of Austin, TX who wants to produce work of substance about real life issues. She employed by an inane morning show who cannot stand her and lives a typical pseudo-slacker existence with her roommate (Garafalo) and their two guy friends (Hawke and Zahn). Into Lelaina’s life steps Michael (Stiller), an upper class yuppie and executive for a music television channel “like MTV but edgier”. Hawke’s Troy becomes jealous of Michael’s presence and thus the love triangle centered around poor Lelaina.
The deck is unfairly stacked in Troy’s favor from the get go as the film plays into every romantic stereotype in the book. Troy is the philosophy reading, lead singer in a grunge band, pretentious artsy guy who has typical abandonment issues (dad left when he was young and Troy had been rebellious ever since as a result). Michael is a materialistic geek who “just doesn’t get” the “real” disaffected Gen X youth. I found myself rolling my eyes an unusual number of times because of how broad these characters are played. Not for a second did I believe Lelaina would end up with anyone BUT Troy. The film telegraphs this from the characters’ first scene together.
At the time, this film may have felt surprisingly fresh but now it feels like an attempt to cram everything that defined the 90s slacker type into an hour and half. That doesn’t leave much room for honest character development. The two poignant moments in the film (Garafalo’s AIDs scare and Zahn coming out to his mother) last all of a few seconds and then its back to the completely uninteresting trails and tribulations of Lelaina. The characters seem to be oblivious to how terrible they are at their lives: for a documentary filmmaker Lelaina doesn’t know how to hold a camera that isn’t askew and Troy is complete and utter asshat. At the end, the love story here feels like it has as much depth as the Twilight films.