The Guardian from London, Greater London, England on May 21, 1992 · 28
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The Guardian from London, Greater London, England · 28

London, Greater London, England
Issue Date:
Thursday, May 21, 1992
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THE GUARDIAN Thursday May 21 1992 28 REVIEWCRITICS lerate dreams of the dogs of war Desp Hugh Hebert NOT LONG ago it might have sounded like a star travel bargain: Croatia on 100 a month; and it's the Croatians paying you, not the other way round. See Osijek and die; body bag an optional extra. The devalued noun "mercenary" deserves redefinition. Who gambles his blood for a foreign cause and 3.57 a day? And yet here is Frenchie, a British mercenary with a Celtic accent and a head mown tight like a bowling green: "There's thousands an' thousands of soldiers in Britain who'd love to do what I'm doin.' The only thing they've got to look forward to is Northern Ireland." Stephen Lambert's Dogs of War (Inside Story. BBC1), about British mercenaries in Croatia, works in several ways: as a remarkable piece of instant history; as a sudden flare of illumination of the war-lover in men; and at times as images that are all the more stunning because the cameraman Michael Eley has distilled them in the middle of a blasted city. Suddenly there is a blue shiny car, the blue singing like a thrush above a rubbish tip, the car parked against a blue-grey wall where a shell has punched a hole, and some optimist has repaired it with a star-shaped smear of cement Or you see city buildings symmetrically sandbagged against assault, or hiding under a wooden helmet No one is in the street. The instant history slips out in a mere sentence of an off-screen comment in a dispassionate English voice. This group of British mercenaries, members of the First International Company of the hastily assembled Croatian Army, have been going out on secret night missions. It sounded brave, it sounded positively heroic. But their mission was to set off explosions in the city that would mislead the hapless EC observers trying to monitor the so-called ceasefire: the observers would believe that it was the encircling Serbian army that had broken the truce: And if they believed it, so might the rest of the world. There were glimpses of ' bodies, whose dismemberment had fired the vengeance fuse of some of the men. One corpse was discovered folded and stuffed inside a kind of low dustbin shed; others were under plastic covers that were peeled off revealing a gruesome chrysalis. Yet in this mad blood culture of civil war, nothing seemed that much more shocking than the deliberate sabotaging of the ceasefire by the mercenaries. There were brief justifica RIVER PHOENIX i m II rv m r- jm. i mj ai m "9 r m I 1 i U r. id Shaftesburv Ave! U C. U I 071-636 62?9 AND AT SELECTED MAGRITTE A' ft It HAY WARD GALLERY UNTIL 2 AUGUST. BOOK AHEAD ON 071-928 8800 IS U3.50 cone), plus SOp fee for phone and postal bookings. Open daily 10-6, Tuesday & Wednesday until 8 tions of their presence: "Croatia's been recognised by the West . . . Can't be wrong:" And "Serbians are occupying 30 per cent of Croatia. We've got to take it back. That's what the lads are gonna da Take what's theirs." We're told this is the biggest involvement of international fighters in a foreign war since Spain in the thirties. And it happens that the commander of this unit is a Spanish journalist who came, and saw, and swapped his notebook for a gun. That's like the Spanish civil war too: Orwell was there, and Koestler. Spain was the warm-up for the 1939 show. At the centre of the film is Kit a huge Geordie ex-Para, ex-Legionnaire, built like Michelin Man, and the NCO of the squad. A year before, he had watched his young wife die, and grief soured to aggression. He left England to escape the law, and the sense that he could not cope with civilian life. But the big chill is to hear Dave talk: "I've always wanted to kill legally. I mean I've always wondered what was going through the Yorkshire Ripper's mind. No compassion, no feeling. I want this state, it's like higher than any drug." He wears a crucifix. It looks like a serious emblem on him, not a bauble. He is asked: "Do you worry about your mental state?" "Yeah. A lot . . . about keeping sane, keeping stable ... trying not to have an unbalanced mind." It's an eerie programme to come to after watching Dispatches (C4) about Anita Rod dick and her massively success- nil Body Shop, seven hundred shops worldwide, almost all of them franchises, a multi-million empire based on campaigning against experiments on animals in the cosmetics in dustry and in favour of trade to help aid to the Third World. On simple packs and fancy prices, and a Dusiness pnuosopny mat is not so very different from that of the chocolate-making Quakers of the 19th century. But all the media world loves to sniff out hypocrisy, and the programme's reporter Christopher Hird eoes after his prey with twitching muzzle and ex cited yelps. Do the Body Snop s claims to be different stand up? He finds evidence that its policy on testing oh animals is no better than most other companies and worse than some. That its vaunted initiative in bunding a soap factory and a playground in Glasgow s workiess Easter-house estate has not yielded as much for the community as was promised. That working for Body Shop is not to become an instant, equal member of a fulfilled, democratic collective. In a consumenst world you need programmes like this. But they need to avoid being more self-righteous than the self- riKhteous. and Hird is mean with his marks for effort. TO I FuthamRoadl 071-3702636 dYa " o CINEMAS THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY t X In my Liverpool home . . . Leigh McCormack as Bud, secure in the bosom of his family in Terence Davies's moving The Long Day Closes Stylised fragments of childhood Derek Malcolm hails Terence Davies's vivid The Long Day Closes, and Tim Pulleine wails over Wayne's World pgnsr l HE FRENCH press think we're a bunch of fools", one Cannes juror remarked to me the day after the results of the 45th Festival were announced. I wouldn't go as far as that But they cer tainly deserve a good ticking off for giving nothing to Terence Davies' The Long Day Closes (Curzon West End, 12). The omission ot the nun trom the prize list was indeed pretty silly since; together with Victor Erice s magnincant paean to painting, The Quince Tree's Sun, which won the minor Jury Prize and, thankfully, the International Critics' Prize as well, the British film was one of the most skilfully orchestrated and emotionally charged offerings in a not very remarkable competition. It is, first and foremost a more stylised and rigorous sequel to Distant Voices, Still Lives the film which won Davies the International Critics Prize at Cannes. It has less narrative thrust and less obvious KEANU REEVES o STARTS FRIDAY drama, since there is no longer a bullying and violent father for the young lad (who is Davies himself) to contend with, though his rapture at finding himself more happily nurtured by his mother and family in his now secure liver-pool home is rudely interrupted by the unspoken realisation that he is gay and the bullying at his new school which was, in part, the result of his peers' suspicions too. The film thus progresses from one mood to another almost imperceptibly, like a constant stream of memories knitted together by the weight of nostalgia and an acute consciousness of how the past shapes the future in us all. That is why it is neither narcissistic nor overly self-absorbed, because it does force you to comprehend that childhood makes the man, and that memory, though selective, lies buried within everyone. The Long Day Closes is essentially a hyper-realist portrait of a time (the mid-fifties) and a place (lower middle-class Liverpool), as seen through the eyes of the child that was, and that portrait is, painted through the agency of sound as much as what we see. The music Kathleen Fer-rier, Judy Garland, Mahler, etc is an absolutely vital element, since it is there to give the spare and holding visuals an added resonance. I can't JACQUES DUTRONC Vam Goeh, "Tour de force... An exquisitely detailed account" SUNDAY TIMES "A film of haunting beauty and intense conviction" Sheridan Moriey, SUNDAY EXPRESS "A formidable movie... Lovely... This is great film-making" Anthony Lane, INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY "Utterly compelling ... Stunningly photographed, Nigd Floyd, imagine that anyone who is tone deaf would appreciate the film despite Mick Coulter's dazzling camera work, orchestrated by Davies with such a sense of the indestructibility of what remains in the mind's eye from childhood. Yet some at Cannes, who ought to have known better, thought this was not cinema at all but some sort of formal structure from which the cut and trust of life had been removed. In truth, it is not a conventional narration nor is it very likely to convert those who suspect Davies is tied to his past too rigidly for comfort UT The Long Day Closes, short as it is ' compared with the . c . two-hour plus struc tures of so many film makers today, is still an epic poem of stunning resource and palpably moving Imagination. True, it hasn't much of the humour that is in the man, and what there is seems a little tacked on, as if relieving effect But its formalism and its intense feeling for the fantasy of cinema the boy goes regularly to his local flea pit where he sees the popular movies of his day is neither too dry nor too exquisite. In its structure and its filmmaking skill it is an even better personal testament than Distant Voices, Still Lives, even if it is not so obviously attractive. Leigh McCormack as Bud skilfully acted TIME OUT HQS is is JX (the young actor who is Davies) could hardly be better and Mar-Jorie Yates as mother, an actress of great strength who knows how to use it sparingly, is also notable. But this is a film with a still, quiet centre that encourages being rather than acting, so that you hardly notice its cast's qualities at all. What you do notice is the perfect symbiosis of sight and sound that many films try for but few achieve with such tender, humane and meticulous perfection. Victor Erice would appreciate that and the Cannes jurors ought to have done so too. Tim Pulleine writes: The distributors of Wayne's World (Empire, PG) considerately provided critics with a glossary for elucidating the dialogue. In the event, this was seldom necessary, since a large quota of the movie's4itterance seemed to consist of "excellent", which proves, a touch disappointingly, to translate as "remarkably good". What is harder to fathom is how Wayne's World, derived from a TV show, could have become in America a cult success of monster proportions. At the centre of things are Mike Myers and Dana Carvey as bewigged "teenagers" in reality, evidently, they are respectively 28 and 36 transmitting from their basement a television programme full of private slang, inane non sequi-turs and not much else. A plausible promoter it is a sign of rapidly changing times that the recent teenage pin-up Rob Lowe is cast here as the corpora te- 8" mm minded villain tries to exploit their home-made success, but is rapidly shown the error of his ways. The characters created by Myers and Carvey appear juvenile in the fullest sense. Their pre-pubertal demeanour extends beyond forever falling out and making up and then-tendency to play hockey in the middle of the street, to Carvey 's comment on a nubile party girl, "She makes me feel funny like when we climbed rope in gym class" and Myers's "humorous" ploy to humiliate his pompous sponsor on TV by holding up a placard saying "This man has no penis". Moreover, the picture's style the fittingly rough-and-ready direction is by Penelope Spheeris seems oddly old-fashioned. The facetious captions ("Gratuitous sex scene", "Oscar clip"; etc), the attempts at ad hoc production numbers, and the succession of alternative endings are pale shadows of pop-art youth comedies of the 1960s. But the association sparked by some of the "nerds know best" knockabout transported me back further still, to the post-war B-features built round the indestructible Bowery Boys. By comparison the Bowery Boys were paragons of sophistication. Two comic formulae are conflated in Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead (MGM Hay-market, etc, 12). There is a variant on Home Alone, with not one but five offspring, aged between six and 17, fending for themselves while their mother departs to Australia. And there XECUmTNQtwuoirwgaTWNVfctuiwrffc'lttWiinnMMjii BuiununKUMiwujw ktumaBOtnuiouHTUi. f1mi)If0lWSTnm'lmWWtcnIITlti, ill bliss is an echo of the "body swap" movies (Big, etc) of a few years back in the 17-year-old daughter's being, by a suitably wild misunderstanding, taken by an employer for a fashion executive 10 years older. This latter strand of the story, with broad but engaging satire on office politics and the assorted kidologies of the workplace, gathers a fair head of comic steam. The kids-on-their-own theme is initially rather a bore and though a dead babysitter does figure at one point her role in the proceedings defies ready explanation. Later on, though, it is utilised quite smartly to boost the thrust of the farcical narrative. All in all, gilded by. personable performances, particularly from Christina Applegateas. the teenage businesswoman and Josh Charles as her be-. . mused boyfriend, and by brassily orchestrated direction by Stephen Herek, this wish-fulfilling fantasy manages to be wholeheartedly ridiculous in a manner that leaves criticism disarmed. Def By Temptation (Prince Charles, 18), written and directed by, and starring of the young black actor James Bond m, is an exploitation vampire flick of tongue-in-cheek variety, made in 1990 but somehow feeling older. After a tolerably promising start the strain involved in parodying material that is to begin with essentially parodic increasingly betrays strain, not to say infantilism of a kind to make Wayne's World look like Noel Coward. 4

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