Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Orphanage/I Love You, Bro/Only Leone

While all the other kids laughed and taunted him for his disfigurement, only I found the heart to truly understand my childhood friend Tomas - or, as I affectionately called him, "Ol' Sack Head".

Has there ever been a kid in the movies who claimed to have an imaginary friend that didn’t turn out to be a ghost? I tell ya, if I ever end up with a tyke of my own who starts blabbing on about how his or her invisible buddy has been dropping by for a how-do at midnight and rearranging all my homewares or breaking the framed happy snaps I have sitting above the creepy fireplace where another kid with the same name was burnt to death 100 years ago (pure coincidence, obv), I’m going to skip the whole child psychologist rigmarole most parents go through and head straight to the paranormal investigators. Luckily, these same movies always dose out paranormal investigation units as if they were 7-11s, even though I’m not sure that the real life ghost hunting market is really lucrative enough to support that level of industry. They probably have a strong union or something.

I saw The Orphanage yesterday and was surprisingly frightened. After a pretty slow beginning with lots of those boring scenes in which parents deny what is stupidly obvious to the audience (kid’s chatter about imaginary friends signals actual haunting) it quickly starts ticking off all the boxes I hope to see checked in a film of this sort. We get a creepy old woman hanging around with a suspicious secret, some scary-looking kids in masks running around just out of clear view, lots of banging doors and rattling windows and of course some weirdo ghost hunters with lots of newfangled doodahs supposed to pick up unearthly radiances or spectral frequencies or SkyNews or whatever these poindexters are actually supposed to be tracking.

Laura and her husband (I couldn’t remember his name as his chief talent seemed to be not making any real impression on the viewer whatsoever) move into the abandoned orphanage where she grew up with the intention of re-establishing it as a home for special kids. They also bring their own bundle of joy, Simon, who is about as annoying a brat as any movie has doled out recently. I think he even gave Laura the shits since early in the film they go wandering along the neighbouring beach and he disappears into a very scary and dangerous looking cave. She stands around collecting seashells and after way too long ambles into the cave where he is talking to an imaginary friend just out of view. She tells him that whoever is behind that rock shouldn’t be down here because this cave is pretty ding dang dangerous. Uh, Laura? Why did you let your kid run around in here for so long? You’re more concerned about an imaginary kid’s well-being than your own?

"Regrets... I've had a few..."

Anyway, pretty soon a bunch of real and not-so-real peeps are traipsing around the old orphanage keeping Laura up at night. I say pretty soon, because it does take a good 40 minutes before the real film kicks in. At about the half hour mark there was a really exciting treasure hunt scene complete with urgent action-movie soundtrack, and though I was undeniably enjoying the sequence I had to wonder why we were getting so much screen time devoted to a treasure hunt and so little directed towards anything of actual interest.

I saw the film on cheap day at the Nova and the cinema was packed. Best of all, the crowd were the most vocal I’ve ever witnessed, and were mostly older people. Once things kicked into gear they were screaming – top-of-the-lungs screams – and gasping and laughing. During a tense, quiet moment one well-spoken woman couldn’t help calling out “PLEASE DON’T GO IN THERE” and that had me pretty chuffed. It’s a pretty jump-out-of-your-seat flick, but the fact that this crowd were sharing the experience in such a performative way was awesome. Better than watching a film with a crowd who may as well be your imaginary friends.

Last week I went to one of the benefit nights Three to a Room were having to get a couple of shows over to Edinburgh. I saw the first of the two, I Love You, Bro, which turned out to be very excellent. I didn’t expect so much from the show, but it was as riveting as a one-man monologue with no real set to speak of could be. Ash Flanders was outstanding and should be a hit in Scotland. The show (which was on in last year’s Fringe if memory serves) concerns the true story of a kid who built up a massive web of deceit on an internet chatroom that culminated in his being stabbed in an alleyway by his best friend and convicted for inciting his own murder. Flanders does an ace job lending credibility to the kind of story you wouldn’t believe if it was just fiction – the dude’s made-up characters included secret service agents and serial killers and people fell for it – and even though it's really just a weedy 14-year-old at a computer, you actually build up your own mental realm in which these persona are real. It’s an excellent metaphor for theatre, too – the way that his ‘victims’ gave credence to the reality of his characters isn’t too far from the belief we accord theatrical characters based on ‘real’ people. Fascinating stuff, but unless you’re heading over to Edinburgh you’ve probably missed it.

You probably missed Phoebe Robinson’s solo dance piece Only Leone, too. A great short number that I’d highly recommend if it wasn’t over. It was also really hard to write about, so I’ll give it a proper review somewhere else. In brief, it was a really really abstract riff on Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns (amongst other things) that played on their juxtaposition of cold, reticent performance and heightened dramatic land- and sound-scapes. You could easily miss that and see it simply as contemporary dance with no relation to anything except its own formalism. I don’t usually enjoy that kind of dance, preferring an emotionally connected style, but the isolated, lonely and introverted mood of Only Leone seemed really powerful to me. That didn’t seem to be the impression that the Age’s reviewer got when she wrote that “most of the work seems flat and detached, as evidenced by Robinson’s disinterested expression.” This kind of seemed the point, but everybody is going to react to a minimalist work like Only Leone in a different way. Not everybody will enjoy it, because not everybody comes from the same place. Everybody's got a special kind of story. Everybody finds a way to shine. It don't matter that you got not a lot; so what? They'll have theirs, and you'll have yours, and I'll have mine and together we'll be fine. Because it takes different strokes to move the world.

Yes it does.

It takes different strokes to move the world.

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