A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Walkabout (Nicolas Roeg, 1971)

Girl: Jenny Agutter
White Boy: Luc Roeg
Black Boy: David Gulpilil
Father: John Mellon

Director: Nicolas Roeg
Screenplay: Edward Bond
Based on a novel by James Vance Marshall
Cinematography: Nicolas Roeg
Production design: Brian Eatwell
Film editing: Antony Gibbs, Alan Pattillo
Music: John Barry

Walkabout is both provocative and provoking. It stimulates thoughts about humankind's relationship to nature, about the fragility and even perniciousness of civilization, and about what happens to everyone as they grow up and learn to "fit in" to societal expectations. It's a film in which brutality jostles beauty. But it's as provoking, as annoying in its way, as a 3-year-old's constantly questioning "Why?" You start out trying to answer, but eventually realize that there's no end to the game. Nicolas Roeg has so loaded the familiar tale of the clash of civilization and the primitive with images and narrative incidentals that defy explanation. We begin with trying to understand the film's initial shock, in which the Father drives his children into the desert for a picnic and then tries to kill them before setting fire to the auto and turning the gun on himself. We want to know what brought him to such a terrible moment, but Roeg has no interest in giving us an answer. We want to know why the Girl so stoically accepts this horror, in the face of which most children would break down. Later in the film, we want to explain interpolated scenes like the one of the scientific crew in the outback -- what are they doing, and why is the one female in the crew so provocatively sexy? And the ending, in which we see the now-grown and -married Girl preparing dinner for her husband, who is crowing about his job advancement, juxtaposed with a scene of the three children playing naked in a pond, has a heavy-handed voiceover quoting A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad:

Into my heart on air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
 I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

It feels oddly false and sentimental, an evocation of something untrue to the events shown in the film.  Does Roeg intend this ironic jolt, this disjunction of reality and sentiment? If so, he does little to prepare us for it. It's a fascinating film, but it feels incoherent.

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