Monday, March 24, 2008

My Favorite Movies Nobody Has Seen, #5

Tideland 2005

I think novels beat film at storytelling any time. Unless a movie resorts to voice-over, it is stuck on the surface of things, while a novel can go as deep as the writer chooses.

So, if I’m going to be held on the surface of things, I damn well want visual style. (A corollary to this is that if a film has enough visual style, I can enjoy it for the eye-candy alone.) Hence my love for director Terry Gilliam (Time Bandits, Brazil, The Fisher King, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). Even when Gilliam directs a major flop storywise—like The Brothers Grimm—it’s still fine to look at.

And speaking of The Brothers Grimm, while it was in production, Gilliam was simultaneously working on another movie: the tiny-budget, limited-release Tideland. Adapted from Mitch Cullin’s excellent novel of the same name, Tideland is the story of a little girl whose junkie parents both die, leaving her stranded on a remote farm in Texas--and also stranded in her vivid imagination. It might not seem that empty, bright countryside would agree with Gilliam’s visual inclinations, which tend toward the dark, the cluttered, and the baroque, but he finds plenty of opportunities in attics, burrows, sheds, and the mind’s eye. And even on the vast prairie, the sun still goes down...

The movie features a stunning performance from child actress Jodelle Ferland, who plays the protagonist Jeliza-Rose and also does the voices of doll-heads Sateen Lips, Glitter Gal, Baby Blonde, and Mustique. (The doll-heads, who live on Jeliza-Rose's fingertips when they are active, are some of the main characters.) Janet McTeer plays a truly disturbing and disturbed neighbor, Jeff Bridges is a sad, beat-down, pitch-perfect loser, and Brendan Fletcher plays a jittery retarded neighbor hunting The Monster Shark.

Basically William Faulkner on mescaline, but moved a little further west. Decidedly not for all tastes. But unlike so many of my favorite films no one has seen, this one's out on DVD.

PS. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that, with a couple of exceptions, the critics loathed this film. Of course, the critics also loathed Kubrick's 2001 and Renoir's Rules of the Game when they came out.


Aliya Whiteley said...

I've seen it! I've seen it! Am a huge Gilliam fan. Brazil is my favourite, I think.

I liked the Jutland thing in this one.

Rob in Denver said...

David wrote:
"... Jeff Bridges is a sad, beat-down, pitch-perfect loser ..."

It's good to see Jeff Bridges stretch a little.

I kid... he's one of my favorite actors. But he's like Vince Vaughn and Sam Jackson, two other actors who play the same guy in every movie they're cast.

As for Tideland, I remember reading about the movie but I don't think it made a stop here in Denver (if it did, I don't recall seeing it listed at one of the many art houses here). I don't count Gilliam among my favorite directors, which isn't saying I don't like his work (I do). He's just one of those filmmakers who have two types of people in his audience: those who're loyal, rabid fans; and everyone else. That said, The Fisher King is one my favorite movies. To my wife's dismay, no trip to the video store is complete without me asking for something either Chevy Chasey/Goldie Hawnie or big titty/spread cheeky. Who am I kidding? It's always the latter.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Aliya!

Yep, I agree--"Brazil" is his best work by far.

Time Bandits has the advantage of being more audience-friendly, though--almost anybody including kids can have fun with it, and David Warner is my favorite Satan.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Rob--

Tideland had a tiny distribution in the US--I had to drive all the way up to Santa Monica to see it, and I'm not sure it hit the middle of the country at all.

Fisher King is a great flick--and also Gilliam's most mainstream. It's one of the only times (12 Monkeys would be the other) he placed himself in service of the script rather than bending the story to let him engage in imagistic excess.

Of course, since I like his excesses, I'm not one to complain...

Matt Curran said...

Hi, David

I'm also a big Gilliam fan, yet have not watched Tideland (not because of the critics, just haven't gotten round to watching it yet!).

Brothers Grimm aside, his films are always a joy to watch and the story telling - while a little mental in places - is some of the best on celluloid (ditto on Brazil, though I am fond of The Fisher King and Twelve Monkeys). It's just a shame that he's the most cursed director in Hollywood. I can't think of one of his films where there hasn't been a problem during a production (have you seen Lost in La Mancha - it's a delight!)

David Isaak said...

Ah, yes, I saw "Lost in La Mancha", and I'm sorry he never completed his "Don Quixote".

He's also spent years trying to get a film version of Gaiman & Pratchett's "Good Omens" off the ground.

I gather he didn't have the usual problems with "Tideland"--but it was very low bidget, shot fast, and there was zero studio control.