Friday, June 06, 2008

Tarsem's "The Fall" is a fascinating experiment

The Fall, from Roadside Attractions and directed by Tarsem Singh, is certainly an unusual film, and perhaps an archetypal example of nonlinear storytelling. The embedded “story,” however contrived, reminds me of Clive Barker’s novel “Imajica” in jumping from one space/time to another (as if the different sets in India, Egypt, South Africa, etc. in different ancient historical periods correspond to Barker’s “dominions”). In fact, the Black Bandit more or less corresponds to Barker’s protagonist “Gentle” and I could imagine Barker having directed this film and giving a similar look. The mideastern cities with the blue roofs remind one of one of Barker’s metropolises. I supposed the title of the film has some religious connotations, and the film's image "trademark" of the masked horseman is also striking. The desert, mountain and tropical fantasy scenes are breathtaking and almost call for Imax; at least, I think the film needed to be made "2.35 : 1" anamorphic aspect ratio (rather than the standard aspect).

The frame set up is also interesting. A silent movies stuntman Roy (Lee Pace), a likeable young man, lies in a Los Angeles hospital bed around 1915, injured from a jump from a train bridge on a set. He meets an injured little girl, and bonds the way a warm-hearted father should with a daughter (even though she is not his). They start telling a story, and the resulting tale is an amalgam of an adult and a child’s view of historical events and situations. There are other subplots, such as when she tried to fetch him some morphine from the period-piece pharmacy.

The pre-credits and closing sequences offer interesting shots of steam-locomotives and trains on bridges and then of train wrecks, in black and white, with the Allegretto movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony played in the background.

The movie is certainly an interesting experiment. Another level of complexity could occur if the embedded stories themselves were bifurcated. As it is, there is still a beginning-middle-end structure to both the outer story about the stunt man and the inner fantasy.

Update: July 8, 2008

The format of this film recalls that of the 1967 Italian setting of the Sophocles tragedy
Oedipus Rex” (“Edipo re”), directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini. The beginning and end take place in pre World War II (becoming fascist) Bologna, Italy, with the birth of the baby. The long middle section of the movie takes place in ancient times, in a setting that may be north Africa. The middle section (and the weaving of the plot in the play) seems baroque, but with plenty of effective use of the plain technology of the times. The washed out, pale Technicolor is surprisingly effective. Pasolini uses the opening introduction of Franz Schubert’s String Quartet, with its ambiguous modulations, to great effect.

The DVD is now released by Water Bearer Films, and includes a biographical short “A Film Maker’s Life.” Pasolini makes the point that Oedipus does some bad things because life unfolds on him without any real understanding. Pasolini believes that a filmmaker is an author, and should craft everything, including the music. He says he wants to outline and present all the moral paradoxes of his world, without proposing or even having to live out a particular solution (“practice what you preach”). He says he is a Marxist, but uses the market and capitalism to express his message.

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