AUGUST 2, 2010
My mom likes to boast that I’ve been able to read since I was two years old, but I suspect she is exaggerating. Especially at times like tonight, when I swiped my credit card to pick up my ticket for Something Wicked This Way Comes at the Arclight in Sherman Oaks and it told me that I didn’t have any tickets there. “Yes I do!” I said to myself, “I have the email confirmation right here! See: Something This Way Comes, August 2nd, 8pm, Arclight.... Hollywood.” Yes, somehow in both looking up the film, buying the ticket, and printing out the receipt, I never noticed which theater it was at (for non Los Angeles residents – we have two Arclight cinemas, located about a 25 minute drive apart including parking). With my 13 bucks now safely down the drain, I slinked home, grabbed a beer from the fridge, and loaded up The Company Of Wolves, which I had recorded a couple of days before.
In a way it’s sort of a fitting replacement, as both films are blends of fantasy and horror, presenting alternate versions of fairy tales, in this case, "Little Red Riding Hood". But Wicked is a PG rated Disney film, while Wolves is most certainly not meant for children. Hell, even some teens might find the film a bit over their heads, as the whole movie is basically a metaphor for a girl going through puberty and realizing how much all men suck (at least, that’s what I got out of it – every single male in the film seems to be a goddamn werewolf, or is Terence Stamp).
I actually found the film a bit too heavy on the metaphorical side of things, to the extent where I began to wonder if it was even meant to entertain or if it existed solely for scholars to pore over and see if they could understand every reference and allusion. I think Ginger Snaps is a bit more up my alley with the whole “werewolf as metaphor for a girl becoming a woman” approach. Here, I often found myself baffled or just plain bored. There’s nothing wrong with a film having obscured meanings, but I prefer if they work without all the allegory. For example, my good friend Devin wrote a pretty fascinating essay on how he believes Inception is a metaphor for filmmaking, with Cobb as the director, Arthur as the producer, and so on. I read it after I saw the movie and agreed with it – but it never crossed my mind while I was watching (and quite enjoying) the film. You can only apply as much brain power as you need to follow the on-screen plot and still enjoy a terrific heist movie, without interpreting anything (well, maybe the closing shot).
Wolves, on the other hand, doesn’t quite work as a straight forward narrative. It’s essentially an anthology film, only with the stories told by different people, and those people all exist only in a girl’s dream, though the barriers between the real world and her dream world (hey, comparing it to Inception is more fitting than I originally thought!) begin to break down as the film proceeds. So you’re constantly switching perspective, constantly being introduced to new characters, etc. And the stories themselves don’t quite gel as stand-alone short tales, because they sort of feel like the Reader’s Digest version of a longer tale. For example, the first one concerns a woman whose husband (Steven Rea) goes outside to answer the “call of nature”, and never returns. Years later he does, with long hair, and he discovers that she has remarried and has children. He freaks out and becomes a werewolf, and then BAM! - her husband, whom we haven’t even met, comes home in the nick of time and kills him almost instantly. That’s it. How she met the other husband, whether or not she looked for Rea, how he became a wolf, etc – all this stuff is skipped, so there’s no reason to really care about anything that happens in the story. His transformation is pretty cool (hurrah for the pre-CGI days!) but the wolf barely even moves before it is killed. The other stories are just as vague and uninvolving, and they pretty much all repeat the same thing – “wolves” (men) can be real jerks after you give it up. The “Angelus” plotline on Buffy was far more successful in depicting this metaphor, I must say.
Once I realized I was never going to get too wrapped up in the story (which shouldn’t really surprise me; of the now six Neil Jordan films I’ve seen*, I haven’t really liked any of them) I started enjoying it a bit more just as a purely visual experience. I quite loved the production design (by Batman’s Anton Furst), and I was amazed to discover that the film only cost 2 million dollars – I would have guessed at least 5 times that (in 80s dollars). There were also a number of wonderfully bizarre/creepy stand-alone images, such as when our heroine, Rosaleen, finds a bunch of eggs that have miniature humans inside. I also loved the weird-ass opening dream, where she is chased around by full-sized versions of her stuffed toys. And any movie where you see Murder, She Wrote’s head go flying off and then smash like porcelain can’t be all together bad.
I was also tickled by the film’s odd use of animals and other living creatures. Rabbits, frogs, porcupines (?)... all pop up throughout the film, usually not really doing anything of importance, but on-screen long enough to register and oddly placed enough for you to know that they didn’t just wander into the frame. It actually makes up for the fact that most (all?) of the wolves are obviously just dogs. Frozen used real wolves! And it had a storyline.
Basically, it’s the type of movie where I would probably love to listen to a commentary by some English teacher who could point out all of the references to fairy tales that I only remember the jist of, and obviously the film’s screenwriter (Angela Carter – it’s based on her stories), who could fill in the rest of the gaps. And I’d probably like to hear Jordan and his crew (Furst is sadly no longer with us) talk about how they pulled off their sets and designs with such a small budget (and a huge cast). But this being cable, I don’t have access to those things, and I’m not about to track down the special edition (which seems to be a Region 2 only release – but then again I don’t know how to read, apparently) to get them. I’ll just stick with Ginger Snaps and its superior sequel (which reminds me, I still need to see part 3!).
What say you?
*Since someone will undoubtedly ask: The Company of Wolves, The Crying Game, Michael Collins, Interview With The Vampire, In Dreams, and We’re No Angels. I also saw High Spirits but I can’t remember how I felt about it. And I keep meaning to revisit Interview, as I saw it when I was 14 and thus was more interested in post Lost Boys style vampires than classy period ones.