Sunday, November 6, 2011

Falling for Leone

Last week I had the eye-popping pleasure of witnessing Tarsem's The Fall and Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West on the big screen on consecutive nights. Such are the benefits of having The Astor Theatre right up the road, I guess. I had seen a couple of Leone's spaghetti westerns (so called because they have Italian heritage, and not because of Bugsy Malone style food fights) - namely A Fistful of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More - and hadn't been particularly taken by them, but the opportunity to see Once Upon a Time in the West wasn't to be missed. I wrote about Leone's classic western over at Trespass Magazine for a new column in which we see films that we can't believe we've never seen. I think I got my own pieces off to an auspicious beginning.

The idea of having to see films like this on the big screen was worked into my brain long ago and I’m glad my first experience with it was in this way. Those arresting vistas with rocks of red and skies of blue are about as gorgeous as scenery can get; the way Leone and his cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli utilise the widescreen is hypnotic. Ennio Morricone’s music score is one of the all time greats and it goes without saying that watching Claudia Cardinale (The Leopard) for three hours is hardly unbearable. They quite literally don’t make ‘em like this any more.

What I haven't had the chance to discuss yet is Tarsem's The Fall. I have been a huge fan of his first film, the mind-bending serial killer thriller The Cell, since it came out and blew my mind, but his second feature took the long way to my eyeballs. Apparently it received a very brief released some years back at ACMI, but I don't think I was even living in Melbourne at the time. Nevertheless, some five years after completion and three years after its release in America I finally got a chance to behold The Fall on the big screen. It's certainly an experience, that's for sure. Filmed over four years in over 20 different countries, The Fall is the sort of film that was made to be seen in a cinema. No amount of big screen TV's would surely do it justice. Whether it's the imagery of a large elephant swimming alone in a coral reef, a swarm of assassins emerging out of the ruins of an ancient temple or a pasture of green grass hidden amongst a dusty mountainside, Tarsem's V-I-S-I-O-N is frequently awe-inspiring and always admirable.

It's surely no surprise that the film this reminded me of the most was Ron Fricke's Baraka, which was coincidentally the first film I ever saw at The Astor Theatre. They both share that travelogue form, but it's much more than that, with Tarsem's observations at times feeling as deeply rooted in a spiritual desire as Fricke's do in his 1992 masterpiece. I've seen Baraka many, many times and it strikes me every single time and while The Fall lacks some that documentary's wide-eyed power due to some rather average storytelling, Tarsem has succeeded in bringing a little bit of this world's powerful beauty onto the screen and that's a very powerful thing in itself. Both of these films are about observing our own place in the world and that makes everybody's viewing a particularly singular and personal experience. While The Fall grants itself the Hollywood spine of a plot and characters, it's still essentially a film that observes how we as people cope amidst this crazy world and that's something that be profoundly touching.

The Fall is somewhat of a remake of a Bulgarian film called Yo Ho Ho. I had never heard of it it before, but I'm instantly intrigued. Tarsem has surely expanded that film, whatever it was, to the form we see today, but it's still a rather simple and personal film. The central plot device of a suicidal stuntman telling a fantastical story of lost love and revenge to a small child is frequently filled with moments of human beauty just as much as the lavish location shots are filled with natural beauty. Lee Pace, who I'm to believe is quite well-liked in certain circles for his role in Pushing Daisies, is quite excellent as the stuntman who, in a beguiling black and white prologue, tries to turn movie magic in a death march. And anybody who says the young Catinca Untaru is not one of the cutest buttons they've ever seen is clearly a big fat liar. Seriously. Eiko Ishioka's masterful costume work (I cannot wait for the surefire costuming orgy that will be Tarsem and Ishioka's next collaboration, The Immortals), Ged Clarke's evocative production design and Colin Watkinson's extravagant cinematography all aid Tarsem in bringing this singular film to the screen. Any misgivings I had about the film feel inconsequential when compared to the intense feelings I had when viewing the masterful images on display. A-

1 comment:

Dale said...

Huh. I would've been at the Astor when you saw The Fall. Small world.