Fringe Films From America Strike Chord
Hollywood domination gives way to fresher themes and approaches
TODAY as in the past, films from the United States dominate moviegoing around the globe, and Hollywood pictures have the most clout of all. Yet at the recent World Film Festival here, some of the most talked-about US movies came from newcomers often working on the fringes of the mainstream film industry.Skip to next paragraph
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While these pictures are a diverse bunch, many of them exemplify an interesting trend - focusing their stories not on individualistic heroes and heroines, but concentrating instead on groups of characters in steady interaction with one another, and with the environment around them. The season's most brilliant movie in this vein, "Laws of Gravity" by Nick Gomez, wasn't on the Montreal roster. A number of others were, however, signaling a possible new direction in US filmmaking.
This could be just a temporary wrinkle, due to vanish as arbitrarily as it arrived. Or it could herald a new emphasis on community, cooperation, and common interest - and a new concern with exploring problems in those areas - at the expense of the fetishized individualism that has ruled popular culture.
Here's a rundown of some US entries worth remembering from the 16th edition of the World Film Festival.
Singles, directed by Cameron Crowe, was a real surprise. On paper, it sounds like a painfully ordinary youth movie, about Seattle singles hunting for a spouse, a lover, a companion, or a friend. What sets it apart from the Hollywood norm is its interest in group dynamics as well as personal affections. What lifts it above the Hollywood norm is the attractiveness of its cast, the liveliness of its performances, and the brash humor of its screenplay.
Most surprising of all is the sensational acting of Matt Dillon, who's known more as a screen heartthrob than a cinematic artiste. His portrayal of a dumbed-out rock musician is knowing, subtle, and just plain hilarious. Add solid work by Bridget Fonda and Campbell Scott - two others whose work history is less than exemplary - and you have a most enjoyable experience, modest in scale but genuine in the pleasures it has to offer.
It seemed like everyone at Montreal was talking about Reservoir Dogs, directed by Quentin Tarentino, and no two opinions were the same. The film tells the story of a botched jewelry-store robbery, which unfolds in flashbacks as the thieves await their uncertain fate. It bears the strong influence of earlier movies, from Stanley Kubrick's noir thriller "The Killing" to Akira Kurosawa's classic "Rashomon," and traces of the David Mamet play "American Buffalo" are also detectable.
The picture is set apart from current crime movies by the ingenuity of its editing, the vigor of its cinematography, and especially the brilliance of performances by Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Chris Penn, and others. These assets notwithstanding, though, I must report that "Reservoir Dogs" has little of intelligence to say - except for a few implicit comments on the nature of loyalty and betrayal - and that it's violent to the point of sadism.
It's obvious that Mr. Tarentino is a major new filmmaking talent. But if he expects to find an audience that responds to more than technical expertise and sensationalistic storytelling, he needs to outgrow his excesses and find a message worth communicating.