screen wriTer

Don­ald Clarke on the life of a cult di­rec­tor

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

H ello, Zach Speed­bump Jr. You are, it seems, a hip young film-maker who wants to gather a cult around him­self. Two strate­gies spring to mind. Firstly, you could study hard at film school, pay at­ten­tion to the masters and, af­ter 12 drafts of your first screen­play, de­liver a care­fully mod­u­lated drama about ter­mi­nally ill les­bian po­ets or strik­ing His­panic farm work­ers. The broad­sheets will give you glow­ing re­views; the In­de­pen­dent Spirit Awards will fling baubles at you. If all goes to plan, be­fore you hit 30 you will have be­come an ad­jec­tive. “Speed­bumpian in its dis­ci­pline,” The New York Times will say of some lesser ri­val’s first film.

The sec­ond op­tion re­lies upon the con­trari­ness of the movie cultist. Af­ter es­tab­lish­ing your­self with a solid de­but, throw cau­tion to the wind and spend twice the GDP of Swe­den mak­ing an in­sanely undis­ci­plined epic in which casts of thou­sands bat­ter one an­other over the head with gi­ant turnips while scream­ing in an ob­scure vari­a­tion of Swahili. The first screen­ing at Cannes will be a dis­as­ter. “For all the re­spect he showed to his ad­mir­ers, Speed­bump may as well have spewed up in their aghast faces,” the Guardian will moan.

Months af­ter Xerxes Un­bound has been writ­ten off, some­thing curious will start to hap­pen. The Vil­lage Voice will print an in­ter­view in which Speed­bump, now shaven-headed and wear­ing leder­ho­sen, weeps openly while be­moan­ing the stu­dio’s at­tempts to mar­ket the film as a com­edy. The Voice’s critic will re­assess the film as a mas­ter­piece. Al­ways ea­ger to demon­strate they un­der­stand Amer­i­can cul­ture bet­ter than Amer­i­cans do, var­i­ous French eggheads will de­clare the di­rec­tor’s eight-hour ver­sion a finer film than Cit­i­zen Kane.

How fan­tas­tic is this sce­nario? Well, it doesn’t hap­pen of­ten. But films such as Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate, a ru­inously ex­pen­sive west­ern from 1980, and Francis Ford Cop­pola’s One From the Heart, a ru­inously ex­pen­sive mu­si­cal from 1982, sur­vived ini­tial crit­i­cal mauling to gather fa­nat­i­cal fol­low­ings among beardy Euro­pean Marx­ists. More re­cently, Vin­cent Gallo’s no­to­ri­ous The Brown Bunny, evis­cer­ated at the 2004 Cannes Fes­ti­val, re­ceived more than a few de­cent re­views when it fi­nally made it into cine­mas.

This week, one more dead man walk­ing goes in search of re­prieve. Richard Kelly earned him­self room to ex­per­i­ment when, at the start of the decade, Don­nie Darko, his odd high-school fan­tasy, gath­ered a sub­stan­tial fol­low­ing among a brighter class of mis­er­ab­list. He duly pro­ceeded to abuse that li­cence by ex­as­per­at­ing Cannes with a pre-apoca­lyp­tic epic en­ti­tled South­land Tales.

To­day, a year-and-a-half af­ter its un­happy de­but, the dis­trib­u­tors have brought the film – which stars such un­likely bed­fel­lows as The Rock, Sarah Michelle Gel­lar and Justin Tim­ber­lake – be­fore pay­ing au­di­ences. Will it rise from its un­tended grave? Only you (and Mon­sieur le Oeuf-Tête) can de­cide. dclarke@ir­ish-times.ie South­land Tales is re­leased to­day and re­viewed on page 11

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