Saturday, 10 October 2009

Pret a Potter: The Thrill of Rage

Sally Potter comes up with such innovative, original concepts for movies, but I've invariably found myself a little disappointed in the end results. Despite its splendours, her well-regarded adaptation of Orlando (1992) seemed to me to fail to find an equivalent for Woolf's spry wit and humour, particularly in its heavy-handed ending. The Tango Lesson (1997) mired its exhilarating dance scenes in a tepid love story, The Man Who Cried (2000) was visually stunning yet emotionally inert, while Yes (2005) failed to fully capitalise on its intriguing premise: an exploration of post-9/11 East/West relations via the affair between an Armenian-Lebanese doctor and an American woman, spoken entirely in verse. Even so, there are enough interesting and arresting elements in all of these movies to make me excited every time a new film by Potter gets released. (I look forward, too, to seeing her 1983 movie, The Gold Diggers, out on DVD in December after years of being unavailable in any format.)

Potter's latest film, Rage, is one of her most fascinating and most well-sustained works. As usual, the movie's premise has a touch of genius about it: a school-kid named Michelangelo gets backstage at a New York fashion show and interviews the various participants - including the designer, Merlin (Simon Abkarian, the "He" of Yes), a critic (Judi Dench), two models (Jude Law and Lily Cole), a seamstress (Adriana Barraza), a pizza delivery boy (Riz Ahmed) and a financier (Eddie Izzard) - on his mobile phone. The film presents itself as a series of talking-heads testimonies by these protagonists as they reflect upon their role in the show and, increasingly, the wider social, cultural and politcal contexts in which those roles are implicated.

The literal-minded have critiqued the film's premise as fanciful, and its targets as obvious. But Rage is that rarity: a singular film experience. (Potter's distribution strategies for the movie have been similarly unorthodox: the film has had a simultaneous cinema, DVD and Internet release, meaning that you can watch it - officially and (guilt-)free - here, right now Do so!)

For me Rage succeeds on multiple levels, not least in its skewering of a number of contemporary madnesses. It's a work about many things: about visibility and invisibility; about a society in which the camera, for many, has become the confessional; about a culture in which celebrity and big business reign, and in which people have been turned - indeed, insist on turning themselves - into commodities. Despite its modest, minimalist means, it's a visually (and aurally) stimulating movie, fluid and sensuous, and its sensitivity to language is crucial to that sensuality. (The movie is also a "thriller" of a very particular kind - all its "action" happens off-screen/stage, the violence suggested by the film's brilliant use of sound, and filled in by the viewer's imagination.)

"M" - the perfume being launched at the fashion show - is the movie's shifting signifier, standing, variously, for "Mystery," "Mortality," "Murder," and "motherfucker," depending on which charcter is speaking. (It stands for a few other words too - media, misogyny, money, marketing - all equally central to the film's thematics, and issues which are intricately linked for Potter here.) It also stands for Michelangelo, the movie's interloctor, silent and invisible (to us) - at least until the film's stunning final moments.

Part of the thrill of Rage's rebuttal to our isolating, media-fucked age is that its such a humane movie, an ode to the expressive capacities of the human face, the human voice. The range of performance styles is dynamic and diverse, encompassing the intelligently ripe turns of Abkarian and David Oyelowo (as a Shakespeare-quoting detective!) and the subtler characterisations of Dench and Dianne Wiest. (As the fashion house manageress whose family originally owned the business, Wiest has perhaps the movie's most fascinating character arc, while the shot of the regal Dench lighting a joint has to be one of the year's coolest images.) The film is no simple polemic: rather its multivocal approach allows for a bracing range of viewpoints to be expressed. It's a tapestry, a mosaic, and the interplay of voices and faces adds up to something visceral, urgent, and profound in its inclusivity. The opposite of an alienating experience, Rage is a vibrant and engrossing movie that connects the viewer to the world.


  1. you need to post more....

    will try and see this myself

  2. Thanks, John. Would post more but for T.I.M.E ... Will be interested to hear what you think of Rage. It's a love-it-or-hate-it experience, I think, but offers lots of food for thought.