Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Others


My Ssssoundssss of Ssssilence concert tour got off to a rousing start at the grand opening of the snake wrangler's hall of fame in Opp, Alabama on Sunday. The new dress which encases me in a reptilian black sequin sheath pays fitting tribute to dear departed Norman as well as bringing the herpetology theme to the fore. The crowd went wild when I stepped forth from the giant serpent's egg and cried "Hello Everybody, this is Mrs. Norman Maine" rather than my usual "Hello Everybody, my name is Vicki! What's yours?" Unlike some of my previous concerts, everything went off without too much going wrong - one of the ball pythons escaped from a back-up dancer but was soon corralled by helpful audience members and the piccolo section was definitely flat on the Snake, Rattle and Roll number. 

The first of the Norman figurines made with his cremains arrived overnight express and were a huge hit in the lobby. We have two versions - Norman as Napoleon from his film Little Big Man and Norman as Emmett Kelly from the bio-pic Send in the Clown. I heard there was even some serious trading going on in the parking lot after the lot sold out. Joseph is arranging for the sculptress to make more and with new and useful options like chia hair or a self contained virtual pet. 

I had some time after the concert so I went down to the Opperama 16 at the local shopping mall and there caught at matinee of Alejandro Amenabar's new film The Others with Nicole Kidman. I was thoroughly impressed with the English language debut of this young Chilean film maker andhave decided to spend a few minutes in my dressing room before the next show cogitating about why I liked the film as much as I did. 

The Others is a ghost story remeniscent of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw (filmed as The Innocents with Deborah Kerr) and Robert Wise's The Haunting. It also reminded me of Lewis Gilbert's underseen The Haunted with Aidan Quinn. Nicole Kidman is a young mother living in a large and gloomy house on the English Channel Island of Jersey at the end of World War II. The oppressive climate, a Nazi occupation, and the illness of her two young children (Alakina Mann and James Bently - both superb) have taken their toll on her nerves. Her children are photosensitive requiring her to keep her house shrouded in gloom to protect them while waiting for her husband (Christopher Eccleston) to return from the war. Into this tense situation come three new servants, a kindly housekeeper (Finnoula Flanagan), a mute maid (Elaine Cassidy) and a doddering gardner (Eric Sykes) and soon things are going bump in the night. Are the new servants not what they appear? Is the house truly haunted? Is everything the product of Kidman's imagination? To tell more would be to give away the surprises the film has in store. 

Amenabar does triple duty in this film, not just as writer and director but also as composer. This is a film of atmosphere where dread and suspense is built carefully, piece by piece, not just through visual but through aural detail. Amenabar drops hints and clues as to the real goings on throughout the film but they tend to be opaque until all is explained and he has learned a lesson that Hollywood has long since forgotten - less is more. The film is much more about what is not shown than what is shown. Even the music, which is often subtle, drops out to emphasize moments and the absence of action. The moments of terror, when they come, and they do, are real because of the skill Amenabar has used to feed our expectations and then confound them. 

The film was financed by Tom Cruise and his producing partner Paula Wagner for a miniscule (by Hollywood standards) $17 million. The low budget and confined setting has forced Amenabar to use his imagination and to take us on a ride with him in the tradition of Hitchcock and other masters of the suspense film. Cruise is remaking Amenabar's earlier Spanish language film, Abra Los Ojos as a vehicle for himself and Penelope Cruz (who also starred in the original). If this is a success, Amenabar can write his own ticket in Hollywood. I hope, however, that success and an access to bigger budgets doesn't corrupt him the way it did someone like Paul Verhoven who went from minor masterpieces like The Fourth Man to Showgirls. 

Nicole Kidman does a great job with her character's vulnerability and emotional changes. I've never cared for her much in her big Hollywood vehicles but smaller, independent roles have showed her unquestionable talent. One need only look at Flirting, Dead Calm, To Die For, or Portrait of a Lady to know that there is a nuanced and smart actress under the Hollywood glamour queen. The supporting roles are all smartly cast and exquisitely played. 

This one is worth a look. See it instead of one of those insipid sequels that's being foisted upon us. 

Kerosene lamps. Corpse photographs. Stringent Catholicism. Catechisms. School lessons. Buried gravestones. Opaque eyes. Locked music room. Drainpipe climbing.

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