Cinema these days - it's a riot
Crombie's idea of rollicking comedy is to spray banjo music across the soundtrack while rustics punch each other. Donovan fans are welcome to it
Thursday 19 January 1995
Director: Ngozi Onwurah Rough Diamonds US (PG)
Director: Donald Crombie The Tin Drum US (15)
Director: Volker Schlondorff Viridiana US (15)
Director: Luis Bunuel The title of Ngozi Onwurah's debut feature Welcome II the Terrordome is borrowed from Public Enemy's album Fear of a Black Planet, of which the astute music critic Lloyd Bradley wrote: "The overall effect... is that of being shut in
agalvanised dustbin while half a dozen people bang on the lid for an hour or so, but you come out of it exhilarated."
Terrordome the movie manages the dustbin-battering effect well enough. Exhilaration is harder to come by, unless your idea of a fun night out runs to archive footage of riots and incendiary calls to race war.
The bulk of Terrordome takes place in the cacotopiannear-future of an unspecified country (not Britain, says the director, which makes all the cockney accents a bit hard to account for) that looks and sounds like a low-budget movie about south central LA, right down to a pumped-up rap soundtrack. All the regulars are here: the gang leader, the drug dealer, the decent woman struggling to bring her kids up right, the doomed innocent.
The zone's tentative stability is ruptured when a white thug seeks revenge on his ex-girlfriend Jodie (Saffron Burrows), pregnant with the child of Spike (Valentine Nonyela), a local gang member whose peers also disapprove of mixed-race couples. Jodie isbeaten and miscarries bloodily and at inordinate length. A gang clash ends in the death of a small boy whose enraged mother, Angela (Suzette Llewellyn), goes wild with a gun, killing several policemen. Her subsequent execution triggers, it seems, Armageddon.
So far, so familiar: although the film - made in fits and starts over three years and on a minimal budget - represents a logistical and entrepreneurial triumph, little of the film-makers' inventiveness has found its way on to the screen. Its characters, often poorly acted, are more like thesis positions than flesh and blood, and its dialogue has almost no registers between the hard-boiled and the rhetorical (so that some of the better scenes, such as a martial arts drill or a jailbreak executed with sign language, are almost wordless). Most of its originality is confined to a book-ending device, which places the lead characters as reincarnations of 17th-century slaves who drowned themselves rather than submit to white rule, and hints a t a still largerframework of ancestral Ibo mythology - a potentially fascinating set of conceits, largely squandered.
About all that really need be said of Rough Diamonds, a romantic comedy written and directed by Donald Crombie, is that it is a vehicle for Jason Donovan and that there is at least one long scene in which the entertainer walks around without his shirt on. Donovan plays Mike, a laconic, fiercely masculine cattle farmer with a warm heart, an ailing mortage and the sugary voice of a pop star. A car accident and a couple of other plot contrivances bring love to his life in the person of Chrissie (Angie Milliken, an agreeable presence) a former country singer turned bored-housewife-on-the-run. Crombie's idea of rollicking comedy is to spray banjo music across the soundtrack while rustics punch each other. Donovan fans will probably enjoy this fluff, and they are welcome to it.
A couple of eminent re-releases round up the week: Volker Schlondorff's The Tin Drum, which took the Palme D'Or at Cannes in 1979, and Luis Bunuel's Virdiana, which shared the same prize in 1961. Most of those who caught The Tin Drum on its first releasewill recall at least two images: the wide-mouthed goblin face of its narrator Oskar (David Bennent), who refuses to grow after his third birthday and has a scream that will shatter glass; and the sequence in which an old man pulls from the waters a decayed horse's head, swarming with plump eels. Like the sea monster in La Dolce Vita, the thing is meant to be an ugly shard dragged up from the unconscious, and it makes you squirm.
So do other passages, which keenly convey a child's sense of the world as a place full of disgusting, frightening things. After a decade and a half of David Lynch movies, though, Oskar himself seems a cosier presence, and leaves the viewer more leisure to wonder about the inadequacy of the film's eccentric perspective on the rise of Nazism. At its occasional best, the film retains the off-hand cruelty and spookiness of a folk tale.
Viridiana, which won Bunuel a jail sentence in absentia from Italy, as well as the Palme D'Or, has also mellowed with the years, and its discreet charm is now more evident than its wickedness.
Both Sylvia Pinal, as the idealistic neophyte Viridiana, and Fernando Rey, as the mischievous, melancholy old fetishist who desires her, are delightful. Lulled by their presence, you can still find the notorious beggar's banquet scene unsettling, still feel the gleeful energy with which Bunuel set about defiling the purity that so offended him. The sequence is more disturbing than a lot of screen murders, although all that's spilled is custard and wine.
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