Tag Archives: Madness

NOEL MARSHALL’S ROAR — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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For me, the primary job of any movie is to show me something I’ve never seen and to take me to a place that I’ve never been. Well, I’ve never been to Africa, and I’ve never been surrounded by 150 lions, tigers, cheetahs, jaguars, panthers, and elephants. So you’ll have to excuse me when I say that Noel Marshall’s berserk, perverse, masochistic, fascinating, totally nuts wildlife “film” Roar is unbelievable. And I should also mention that I’m a life-long cat lover; big, small, wild, domesticated – it’s a species of animal that I’ve been intrigued with ever since childhood, and there isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not thankful to have my own little buddy, Gus, who is now looked upon differently after my obsession with this film started earlier this year. You literally feel like an outlaw while watching Roar, which has got to be the single most irresponsible piece of filmmaking that I’ve ever seen. Upon first viewing, you essentially hold your breath for 90 minutes, waiting the other paw to drop. Outside of Grizzly Man, I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen mental lunacy of this nature before captured on film. It’s a miracle that nobody was killed, but cinematographer Jan De Bont was scalped, and numerous members of the cast and crew suffered injuries, so there’s that I guess. And let me just say something about the camerawork in this movie – it’s wholly ASTOUNDING. I don’t understand how this movie was achieved. One bit. It makes no realistic sense. How De Bont was able to gather the shots he did I’ll never understand. Why anyone showed up on day #2 I’ll never understand. All I know is that you feel like a criminal while viewing this wild piece of work.

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The entire thing is truly staggering in retrospect. If you’re not familiar with the premise of this movie, it seems that actress Tippi Hedren and her late husband Noel Marshall became big-cat enthusiasts after an African safari vacation back in the late 70’s. Upon returning to their Sherman Oaks estate, they started introducing lions and tigers and other exotic cats into their home life, allowing daughter Melanie Griffith to sleep with the animals, while their sons, John and Jerry, also became “friendly” with the beasts. It was customary to see a maid stepping over a fully grown male lion in the kitchen. PURE MADNESS. Marshall then had a genius if potentially deadly idea – why not make a movie that aims to highlight the plight of the wild cat, but also make a “monster” movie at the same time. So, he gathered an unhinged crew of daredevils, stuck Hedren, Griffith, his sons, and a few others into the scenery, and concocted an asinine narrative that centers on a wildlife preservationist (Marshall) bringing his wife and children (Hedren and the gang) into the jungle to visit him, only to have them terrorized by a gang of lions and tigers who proceed to trash and destroy the wooden house that they all “live” in. If what I’m describing sounds fairly psychotic, well, it is. And I don’t want to ruin any of the numerous surprises that this film has, but I will say that the sight of Hedren’s face covered in honey as a young jaguar licks it clean is something I’ll not soon forget. You can smell the fear on all of the “actors” in this film – the honest look of terror in their eyes is palpable, and despite everyone going on the record as saying that they “knew” these animals and that they were “comfortable” with them in the grand scheme of things, suggests an insane amount of hubris or a genuine, bonded relationship between human and animal that is simply extraordinary to ponder.

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At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter though. This movie got made (over the course of 11 years!), people went on to have prosperous careers (look at De Bont’s credits as both cinematographer and director!), and now the film is finding a second life as an oddball cult curiosity, with Special Edition Blu-ray dropping in November. I can guarantee you this – you’ve never seen anything like this movie, unless of course you were there to witness it being created in real time, or if you’ve tracked down a bootleg or the non-anamorphic DVD that’s floating around. It’s sensationally scary and almost too impractical to make sense of. Roar makes you feel like you’ve dropped acid when you absolutely know you haven’t been dosed. It’s a strangely personal piece of filmmaking that while shoddily directed (at times), is still somehow oddly coherent, a $17 million home movie that became a clear point of obsession for its makers. The unintended comedy of the mostly looped spoken dialogue only adds to the bizarre hilarity of the entire piece. Also of note: included on the straight-from-the-source-DVD that can be purchased on line is a vintage “making-of” featurette which includes some talking-head footage from “friend of the family” Richard Rush, sitting in this absurdly ostentatious living room, looking like Jack Horner’s older brother. It’s gold.

JAMES MARSH’S MAN ON WIRE — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

 

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James Marsh’s spellbinding documentary Man on Wire is the sort of film that leaves you feeling queasy, enthralled, and alive. Queasy because of the physical insanity demonstrated by Philippe Petit. Enthralled because of how daring Petit was to do what he did. Alive because the film acts as a celebration of life. Petit, for those of you not in the know, pulled off what some people consider to be the “artistic crime of the century.” In 1974, along with a group of friends, he attached a wire from one World Trade Center building to the other, and tight-rope walked back and forth between the two buildings. Eight times. Over the course of 45 minutes. In this staggering documentary, which was expertly constructed by Marsh like a first-rate Hollywood thriller, the viewer is treated to video footage of Petit doing numerous other tight-rope walks (in Paris, London, Sydney) and practicing for his endeavor in NYC. Some may think that Petit is ill, a man with a certain death wish. Some may think he’s simply eccentric, a guy in love with life, unafraid of the fatal consequences that his obsession carries. And who knows, all of those scenarios could be true. It’s sort of baffling to me that Werner Herzog, the wild-man filmmaker that he is, didn’t get the rights to this story, as Petit feels as Herzogian of a character as there could ever be. In its own quietly moving way, Man on Wire becomes something extremely special: A testament to the power of one’s faith in themselves and the people around them, and how the most challenging of ideas can be realized if you have the drive and passion to accomplish it. Petit, who is considered to be one the first widely-known and publicly accepted modern street performers in Paris (he juggled, danced, tight-rope walked), is such a distinct character, that everyone else around him, no matter how interesting they are in their own respects, pales in comparison. During the course of the film, we’re introduced to all of his friends and accomplices, who divulge information about their scheme and about Petit in general. Jaw-dropping footage of his other tight-rope walks are shown throughout the film, with footage from a high-wire walk in Sydney being the most insane.

Petit didn’t just walk on the wire – he would lay down on it, bounce on it, even dance on it. When he devised his plan for walking in between the World Trade Center buildings, he knew it’d be the crowning achievement of his career. The way that Marsh amps up the tension using his framing device for the film is extremely clever, very stylish, and eerily subversive, as the film takes the form of a terrorist thriller. You see Petit and his men infiltrate the World Trade Center, wearing fake disguises and showing phony paperwork to gain access to the roof. Of course, after the world altering events of 9/11, this story takes on even greater significance, and there is a mournful quality to much of the footage we see of the World Trade Center being built. It will be impossible for us to look at photos and footage of the World Trade Center without thinking of 9/11, something that Marsh knew full well before setting out to craft this engrossing documentary. And because none of it is ever exploitive, Marsh brings out a soulful quality of New York that’s hard to describe in words. However, I wish Marsh had asked Petit about how 9/11 affected him, because it’s clear from the film that Petit was in love with NYC and the World Trade Center, and not to mention having a profound and lasting impact on his life. Maybe some questions are best left unasked? My only complaint is that nobody, for whatever reason, decided to film Petit’s walk across the World Trade Center. They snapped lots of still photos, but why weren’t they filming it like they filmed his other death-defying acts? In the end, what I loved so much about this film, and about Petit in general, is that this was a project that Marsh felt compelled to make, much in the same way that Petit just HAD to attempt what he did in NYC. He thought that the World Trade Center had been built so that he could walk in between them.

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