Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Far Shore

(Joyce Wieland, 1976)
It is said that Wieland had a difficult time making this movie, and as someone who comes at film from the visual arts, it figures - narrative film has its own rules and hierarchies. Also its own cliches. This antique tale of a woman (Celine Lomez) who abandons her high-society husband for a Group of Seven-type nature artist worked well enough in the early scenes for me to cagily suspend my animus against mannered period dramas. The staging is precise as well as deliberate, the scenario scores a couple nice points off puritan philistinism, and Larry Benedict's neurotic social climber is fitfully charming as well as tight-assed, leaving the pure hateful stuff to professional drunk Sean McCann who provides some welcome counterpoint. As soon as things truck up to the woods, though, we're in big trouble, as narrative and characters alike dissolve into hackneyed metaphor: one guy is Civilization, the other guy is Nature, and in her escape to the latter the girl finds Freedom. As a result, the relationship between Lomez and the painter never gets a chance to develop; there's plenty of ambiguity about how this woodsy loner could sustain a relationship with this cultured, strong-minded woman, but the film unwisely abandons such concerns in favour of the usual shots of canoes and big rocks. And one good dynamite-at-the-picnic gag cannot make me forgive the Easy Rider-style climax - the worst and most familiar kind of sentimental fatalism. How did the creator of "Rat Life And Diet In North America" get dragged into exactly the kind of obscurantist nature-mystic claptrap which that film lampooned so brilliantly? By getting in over her head, is my wholly uneducated guess.

1 comment:

  1. And this is precisely my problem with Apocalypse Now... about when the boat hits the water, the characters stop being people and become symbols. Few films balance this properly-- Once Upon A Time In the West is one of a handful that do. Otherwise, have it one way or the other, I always say.