Saturday, 10 February 2007

Tideland (2006)


The DVD of Tideland features an (optional) short introduction from the film's director, Terry Gilliam which prepares the potential viewer, and also readers of this blog for what is to follow:

"Hello! I'm Terry Gilliam and I've a confession to make: Many of you are not going to like this film! Many of you, luckily, are going to love it. And then there are many of you who are not going to know what to think when the film finishes - but hopefully you'll be thinking!

I should explain: this film is seen through the eyes of a child. If it's shocking it's because it's innocent. So I suggest you try to forget everything you've learned as an adult: the things that limit your view of the world, your fears, your prejudices, your preconceptions. Try to rediscover what it was like to be a child with a sense of wonder and innocence. And don't forget to laugh. And remember children are strong. They're resilient. They're designed to survive. WHen you drop them they tend to bounce. I was 64 years old when I made this film. I think I finally discovered the child within me. It turned out to be a little girl. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

Tideland screencap

If only things were as simple as Mr Gilliam would have us believe!

Tideland tells the story of Jeliza-Rose (played by Jodelle Ferland), a rather strange, lonely child who deals with her loneliness and survives her ordeals through conversations with imaginery friends, physically manifested as dismembered Barbie doll heads that she carries around on her fingers. Her father is a drug-addict rock performer who's well past his prime, and her mother a 'trailer trash' junkie who overdoses at the start of the film. When the same fate befalls her father the abandoned child finds she has to use all her imagination to cope with the situation, which is helped or hindered (depending on your view) by the discovery of her next door neighbour's - an eccentric taxidermist former girlfriend of her father's who's terrified of bees and her retarded brother (or is he her son?). Strangeness, as is common with Gilliam, abounds, albeit strangeness on a quick shoot with a low budget.

Tideland screencap

Gilliam has described the film, in typically lazy marketing sound bite style, as being 'Alice in Wonderland meets Psycho'. We should be so lucky! Even allowing for his commentary confession (or is it another in-joke?) that he's never seen a Hitchcock film, this is an extravagent claim too far. What we really get is the best part of two hours following a little girl talking to imaginary friends, with only the occasional interruption from the rest of the cast. Personally I can remember just how dreary listening to a child with only a doll as a friend was back in my youth - I don't need to witness it all again on film, even if there is the odd visual treat to liven the experience up. Gripping it isn't! And whilst Gilliam and his writer use the commentary track to make fun of the critics who didn't like the film (that'll be all of them then!), with constant complaints that 'Nothing's happening', there's too thin a thin line between satire and truth here.

A couple of rather impressive dream sequence effects aside (all the best bits are in the trailer, which cleverly gives the illusion that this is a film of big-budget Alice in Wonderland extravagance) the low-budget high-speed shoot origins are painfully obvious. Make no mistake - this is essentially two hours spent with a troubled little girl talking to herself, and not a lot else, at least plot-wise, besides. Why would anybody want to see that?

Tideland screencap

Well, as it turns out, there are a few reasons. Gilliam himself is one. In the homogenised world of Hollywood movies, his refreshingly different take on things can prove an interesting diversion. The cast are another. The performances throughout, from stalwart Jeff Bridges as the father, to newcomer Brenadan Fletcher as the mentally subnormal 'Dickens', through to Jodelle Ferland who has to carry the bulk of the film on her solitary shoulders, are impressive. The direction is quirky and imaginative: all strange angles, trick perspective and beautiful set design, albeit a single set for the bulk of the running time. But God, it's dull without anything other than the seemingly random thoughts of a young girl and her dolls as the main plot. One wants to like the film so much, but while there's a lot to admire here, watching it often feels just too much like hard work.

Tideland screencap

The DVD is beautifully packaged as a two-disk edition in slipcase, although I'm not convinced two disks were really needed. The Getting Gilliam - a 60 minute documentary is the main attraction, but much like the main feature it under-delivers coming in at 42 minutes in total. This feature is a mixture of on-set documentary and fan-homage, made by a young film maker given the sort of on-set access to Gilliam that most film-making students would kill for. It's quirky and different enough to ensure that Gilliam's 'enigmatic genius' myth isn't damaged, but at times one does feel that Gilliam labours the point somewhat. There are also two 'sit them on a chair and point a camera at them' low-budget interviews, one with Gilliam himself, the other with producer Jeremy Thomas but both were clearly in need of some editing, as is the very amateur Q&A session with Gilliam and the book's author Mitch Cullin at the Hay Festival. Minor deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer complete the second disk, but given the double-disk 'Special Edition' packaging it all feels a bit thin. Even the commentary track on the main feature under-delivers, being mainly a chance for Gilliam and his co-writer to moan about the critical reviews and send them up. Most of what's given here in terms of anecdotes and film-making has been delivered in more concise form in the talking head interviews and the film Q&A, so that when hears Gilliam's defence of the film's more graphic scenes for the third time it all sounds a bit weary.

If you're a Gilliam fan then the chances are you've already seen this (and voted over on imdb!) and own it. For the rest of us, it's maybe worth a look in a 'slow' week, but it's probably a rental rather than a purchase. Ultimately the film is a brave experiment, but a failed one that's only saved by the stunning digital transfer that's been made for the DVD, and some insight into Gilliam's working methods that are on the included extra's.

Tideland screencap

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