- rated - SIMMERING
...and Looking Good
Davida Allen's first film was about 10 years in development. It went
through various incarnations, one of which might have had Rosanna
Arquette in the central (autobiographical) role now played by Susie
Porter, and Jack Nicholson playing the role of Davida's dealer, who
does not appear in the completed version of the film. Thank heavens
things turned out differently!
Given the film's chequered history, it is truly remarkable that Allen's
film has such freshness and vitality. It is directed with assurance -
the plot unfolds briskly and with no nonsense. It is essentially
Australian - quintessentially Queensland even - verging on the quirky,
but never wacky.
And it looks delicious. This is not surprising. Allen is one of
Australia's leading contemporary artists, and she brings both her
artist's eye and her palette to the picture. It's also funny. The
opening scenes in the bathtub signal the tone and pace of the film. But
though the film is about art, and the artists, it is not overly "arty".
However, the film does not flow in the way we are used to seeing
mainstream films flow. It is more like a series of vignettes which add
up to a story. There are many fades or cuts to screens full of
delicious colour. In a way, it reminded me of what Scorsese did with
The Age of Innocence (1993), reviving all sorts of "old fashioned"
techniques, like irises, and other tools of editing to emphasis the
episodic nature of the tale.
The other unusual thing about this film is its length. At 50 minutes,
it is short, but not a moment too long or too short. Showing
considerable guts, Davida Allen has made a film which is one-third the
length of many of the films being released at the same time (The Green
Mile, Magnolia, The Insider etc).
Leading actor Susie Porter (who nearly stole Two Hands (Gregor Jordan,
1999) away from Heath Ledger and Bryan Brown - quite an achievement!)
is just about perfect in her role as Allen (even though the resemblance
is fairly remote). Tamblyn Lord does well in a role which is
surprisingly marginal for a second lead. In fact all the roles other
than porter's seem marginalised - they are purely "generic" - for
example, 'the husband," "the kids," "the lover," "the man in overalls"
etc. As might be expected from an idiosyncratic artist, ieveryone else
exists only in rlation to the central role of the artist.
Allen says that as a neophyte director, she relied extensively on the
skills of the film professionals with whom she worked. Like the actors,
the technical professionals gave her exemplary support . Director of
photography Garry Phillips ( a Queenslander), editor Heidi Kennessy
(who has worked with Jane Campion and recently edited a doco about
another Australian contemporary artist, Tracey Moffatt (Up in the Sky -
Tracey Moffatt in New York)) and Production Designer/ Art Director
Hillary M Austin all do sterling work. They help give the film its
distinctive look. But in the end it is Davida Allen's film because it's
her story and her vision. I may be wrong, but I'm not sure that she'll
make another film. It may be that she had one shot in her locker, and
this was it. Even so, it hit the mark.