The Fall
High Art As Entertainment (Of A Sort)

Cross the color palette and loose narrative of Speed Racer with Un Chien Andalou and you get The Fall. If the latter reference escapes you, The Fall probably will, too.

So try this one: Take Little Miss Sunshine and a box of brightly colored crayons; cross them with a Spanish-accented version of There Will Be Blood, and you might get something as relentlessly obtuse, giddy, and interesting to look at as The Fall. Does that help? I thought not.

Really, the first comparison is the better. Look up “Salvador Dali,” “Luis Buñuel,” and “Wachowski” online and check out some of the visuals listed under those names; you’ll get the drift. Better yet, check out The Fall’s official site. It’ll make your eyes go all googly.

Catinca Untaru as Alexandria in The FallOn paper, the story is pretty much a hoot. A lovelorn silent-movie stuntman winds up in a sun-drenched California hospital. There, in order to forge a medicinally-beneficial bond with a young Hispanic girl, he tells her a series of tall tales about true love, love lost, epic revenge, and international intrigue. The tales come alive in vivid colors and abstract visual compositions… reminiscent of images that Dali and Buñuel may have dreamt up had they been working in color rather than black and white.

And had they been a little more interested in conventional narrative.

But not much more.

On film, at a certain level (though definitely not on others), the story is even more appealing. The young girl, Alexandria, is captivatingly played by young one-shot wonder Catinca Untaru in perhaps the most engaging performance by a child actor that I have ever seen. If she or her parents were interested in child exploitation, she could very well grow up to be the next Britney Spears. Let’s hope they’re smarter than that, and leave well enough alone.

Likewise, Lee Pace, as both the stunt man and the stunt man’s alter ego, is engaging to watch. He’s believable in all three roles: the heartbroken cowboy he really is; the riveting storyteller he needs to become for Alexandria; and the swashbuckling would-be hero of what must certainly wind up as a baroque tragedy. It’s an oddly demanding role, particularly given that Pace was forced by the film’s production design to largely work in tableau rather than in ensemble. The Fall, in this regard, goes out of its way—more than any other narrative film in a long time—to remind us that the artform is primarily visual, not narrative. (Terrence Malick’s recent films might do that, too, if they really resembled narrative films.)

The production design and visual inventiveness marshaled by director Tarsem are genuinely stunning as well. An abstract montage serves as an intriguing opening sequence; near-still-life black-and-white images (including a feather, an ownerless prosthetic leg, a thrown rope, a locket, and a dead horse) effectively set both tone and theme, while subtle clues strewn about later—meticulously composed images of additional oddities such as a box of Persia cigars and Barnum and Bailey posters, if memory serves—tell us that the visual circus to which we are being treated is not merely an exercise in cinematic self-gratification. “It’s not a circus,” one character cries out. “It’s not a playground!” It means something, too… something symbolic, something important. Something you might figure out your second or third time through the thing. Something that might require a refresher course through A Clockwork Orange and Apocalypse Now to suss out.

I came out of it with two strong possibilities: One: The Fall is ultimately about the ways in which storytelling can be either a dirty trick or good therapy—or both. Two: The Fall is ultimately about the ways in which Art would just as soon kill the mystics as Darwin.

Okay, I see a third possibility: The Fall is ultimately about the way our governmental storytellers bamboozle us into thinking that the evening news is actually more effective as Comedy than Tragedy.

What will you come out this film with? I dunno. In a lot of ways, you might feel like Barton Fink holding that box on the beach… And if you don’t get that reference, well… see my comment in the first paragraph.

It’s easy to see why the film’s producers—David Fincher and Spike Jonze—are hot on Tarsem, and why they pushed for two years to bring the finished film to market. It’s also easy to see why it took two years.

The Fall is rated R for “some violent images.” Wow. Lawrence of Arabia was variously rated G and PG in earlier days. The Bridge on the River Kwai and West Side Story were “Approved” under the Hayes Production Code, and weren’t at all thought to have problematic content. They certainly didn’t scar me the way Bambi did. But these days, Norbit gets a PG-13, and Good Luck Chuck gets away with an R. What the hell are we worried about protecting our children from in this case? Art?

Courtesy of a local publicist, Greg attended a film festival screening of The Fall.