Fearful Symmetry

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Tideland and Lost In La Mancha

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Jeliza-Rose

Jeliza-Rose

I can’t remember having thinking ‘this is amazing’ and then ‘this is really fucked-up’ so many times watching a film before. Tideland is that sort of film.

Gilliam’s not exactly my favourite director though I always try and check out his work and at times – like with Time Bandits or Brazil he can be utterly amazing. Tideland doesn’t quite match his best work though it is interesting. He apparently made it during a hiatus from the very Hollywood-sounding The Brothers Grimm which was kind of a recovery film for him (more on that later).

Tideland is a low budget small movie that I had been anticipating on the back of the reviews. I had actually been expecting something a bit different from what I had read – it’s very much Gilliam’s typical style and not the departure into areas of Lynch or Eastern European cinema-style weirdness I was expecting. It’s weird but it’s Gilliam weird.

There had been a lot of fuss about the drug scenes but for me they seemed a natural development of the world as depicted in the film and not really shocking at all compared to other parts of the film.

Tideland centres on Jeliza-Rose, a girl who inhabits the vivid fantasy life of many a child (she obsessively reads Alice In Wonderland). Unfortunately she doesn’t have a typical child’s life. She lives in anarchic squalor with two junkie parents, and she’s the most adult of the three, cooking up their fixes. This doesn’t really shock me but after recently watching The Wire and The Corner I’ve got a bit hardened to how druggie parents effect their children.

Early on her mother dies and her father, Jeff Daniels playing a more extreme version of his Dude from The Big Lebowski, takes her away to his mother’s house in the middle of the prairie – which provides plenty of opportunities for some breathtaking shots of the scenery. Unfortunately, her father soon succumbs to an OD himself and Jeliza is left alone with her dolls (well the heads at least), descending further into fantasy/madness with the dolls talking back to her. She encounters two more eccentric characters, the witch-like Dell and her brother the mentally disabled and / or brain-damaged Dickens. Jeliza’s fantasies leave her vulnerable to the real dangers these two represent. This is where the film does become uncomfortable and not a little shocking, with down-right horror elements plus the burgeoning ‘romance’ between Jeliza and Dickens.

It’s not up to Gilliam’s best but if you don’t mind being led into some uncomfortable places, Tideland has its own rewards. Not least the simply astonishing performance of Jodelle Ferland as Jeliza-Rose.

It's all gone wrong

It's all gone wrong

As mentioned earlier Brothers Grimm was a recovery film for Gilliam after the disaster in trying to get his film, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, made. I’ve recently caught up with the documentary Lost in La Mancha which charts the downfall of that movie. Two documentary makers were hired to record the film-making process, presumably to end up as one of the extras of an eventual DVD. They ended up with a unique opportunity to film the implosion of the process in the creation of a major motion picture. Part of the dream was to make a film of epic scope with only European financing. Whilst a noble ambition this would leave the film-makers with a very tight budget with almost no room for manoeuvre if things went wrong. And they would soon go very wrong.

La Mancha is a great insight into the filmmaking process even before the disasters happen especially during the two months of pre-production as Gilliam goes from department to department overseeing the creation of his vision and we get a glimpse of the labyrinthine complexities of the financing.

When the filming starts then things get more entertaining… It appears the extras are unrehearsed, filming is taking place next to an air base with the almost constant noise of planes flying overhead. And to cap it all a storm of almost biblical proportions washes away a large amount of equipment and leaves the location unusable.

Then the leading man, the seventy year old Jean Rochefort, fails to turn up due to illness. Even when he makes a partial recovery it soon becomes obvious his poor health will make it impossible to film him on a horse. Yet more precious time is wasted.

Gilliam starts to look more and more distraught in his interviews, finally sitting in silence, his head in his hands. After only six days of filming the movie is shut down.

The film ends with Gilliam promising to resurrect Don Quixote out of the ashes, but this looks pretty unlikely. In the end it’s sad to see the all the props and costumes and sets plus the little footage that was shot and dream about what might have been.

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Written by Fearful Symmetry

June 28, 2009 at 6:54 pm

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