When I started uni, I had a bad habit, originally acquired at English classes in high school, of watching films and reading a deep and meaningful significance into every film that I saw. 'Oh look,' my film-watching mind would say. 'She's making salad. Clearly, her use of the knife is symbolic of an internalised savagery, and the greenness of the salad compares with the greenness of the walls, thus creating a strong internalised dynamic of powerful greenness, which in turn becomes associated with her act of barbarous barbarity! What a powerful and significant scene.' Though, in fact, the scene was probably, in actuality, an unremarkable scene about a person making salad, and nothing more.
What I really loved were huge, Peter Greenaway-style spectacles, where a whole bunch of ugly and obtuse images and ideas were farted onto the big screen, and I could just pick and choose some specific stupidities according to my whims. Give me a scene of a bloodied woman making a salad with a meat axe in a grim, war-laden landscape, while fighting off Morlocks, and I would be happy. (Yes, it's true, though I was a pretentious dolt, I think I subconsciously longed for the innocent simplicities of dark fantasy.) But actually, I could find meaning and significance in anything (see discussion, above, about salad). By the time I finished uni, I think I'd pretty much realised my own stupidity, and was able to laugh at myself - I remember jokingly challenging my mate Aaron, when we went to 'The Phantom Menace', to see who could find the most Jungian references - but things had gotten pretty bad there for a while.
I mention this now because a few weeks ago, I saw an unremarkable film that was a little too boring, a little too amateur, and too long by far to really amount to much. And everyone else is raving about it: I wonder if they haven't, unconsciously, got into the habit of making a lot of significance from nothing, like I had at uni.
The film is Samson and Delilah. My local home-delivered Melbourne Times magazine said it was a must-see film. David Stratton gave it five stars, saying something like it was the most important Australian film ever. His colleague Margaret Pomeranz said it was one of the most wonderful films this country has ever produced. At New Matilda they were more level-headed, saying it had 'a rare authenticity' and signalled 'a powerful new voice'. Though maybe that was just an excuse for going off on one of their political rants. The film went to Cannes, though considering the state of the Australian film industry on most years, that's hardly a ringing endorsement. I remember the Oz even gave it several feature articles on its release - if they didn't think it was a great film, they were certainly doing a good impression of faking it.
Wonderful? Important? The film is deadly dull, a story about two kids who live in a town settlement a couple of hundred k's outside of Alice Springs. One of the kids has a bad habit of sniffing petrol. They get bored and move to Alice Springs. Nothing good happens to them in Alice Springs. They come back. The end. And that, in a nutshell, is it. There's nothing more too it, certainly no substantial character development. The film isn't a love story, as some have described it - the only real sign of courtship between the two lead roles is the scene where the boy Samson shoves his mattress over Delilah's fence, and she shoves it back. By the end of the film Samson is too zonked out on petrol to show any real emotion.
The main achievement of the film is length. Somehow, it's managed to fit the simple - even obvious - storyline into one and three quarter hours. It does this, mostly, by having long camera shots of Samson sniffing out of an old petrol can, and, well, long shots of Samson sniffing out of an old petrol can. To see this sort of thing once is horrifying, to see it twice is confronting. Three times, it seems pointless. The film makes a basic mistake: it tries to bore people in order to get them to feel what the boredom of the characters is like. I'm not sure to what extent this was the intention of the director Warwick Thornton, who seems like a smart guy; but that is what happens. Why do so many films do this? You wouldn't kill an audience to make a point about murder, and you wouldn't cut off their legs to make a point about amputation. So why is it all right to deliberately and repeatedly bore an audience to make a point about boredom?
I am wondering now if the entire critical community has gone nuts. Or maybe I so stuffed up my critical faculties at university by finding meaning and significance where there weren't any that I am now missing what other people find obvious.
Apologies for the rant; I'm reading a Charles Williams book at the moment that I quite like, and I might do a more appreciative review of that later tonight.
UPDATE! - It won the Camera d'Or. It feels kind of good to disagree with the entire world. Thanks Steve.
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