The type of movies a festival like Edinburgh can actually help are generally low budget British or foreign language pictures. Every year, the Jury selects one British movie for the Michael Powell Award (why Emeric Pressburger never got a look in, I do not know), and the nominees this year include two I saw today: Pelican Blood and Huge.
If either wins the award, it must be a dire year for British movies.
But I doubt that: it is true both of those movies are disappointing, but it is also true that the Festival has moved from August to June, thus losing out on most the offerings from Cannes. Therefore, for instance, Mike Leigh’s Cannes favourite Another Year is conspicuously absent from the line-up. Furthermore the British flicks I’ve yet to see contain many intriguing possibilities, including Cherry Tree Lane from director Paul Andrew Williams who impressed the festival crowds a few years back with London To Brighton.
I hadn’t heard of Pelican Blood, but in the spirit of adventure I previously said is vital to the experience of attending a film festival, I took a stab in the dark. It is a fairly impressively made movie from director Karl Golden, and features some fairly good performances. But wait till you hear this for a premise: it is a dark tale of a troubled, supposedly suicidal youngster and the girl who drove him to attempt suicide in the first place. He is also an avid birdwatcher. He watches birds (yes, the flying kind, and yes, the movie makes the same joke) with his friends; his plan is to take himself out after he has checked off 500 species.
Imagine if Trainspotting had, instead of being about a group of characters and their relationship with drugs, been about similar characters who actually spent their time spotting trains. You may start to see the problem with this movie. The word that kept springing to mind was ‘unconvincing.’ I did not believe this guy was suicidal. I did not believe he and his friends were avid birdwatchers. I did not believe that he would run into a group of poachers who look poised to recreate Deliverance. And when a policeman asks our hero about a crime, then stops to observe, ‘You know, I did a bit of bird-watching in my time; even collected eggs,’ I giggled.
I do not, sadly, recall giggling at Huge at all, despite the fact it comes advertised as a comedy. It is so lacking in laughs that I genuinely started wondering if it wasn’t a serious drama about two people incapable of seeing how unfunny they are. They are a pair of wannabe comedians, although when pushed on the subject they seem mainly to wannabe famous. They are inspired by Eric and Ernie, placing them a good few decades too late.
The duo consists of Noel Clarke and Johnny Harris. They are good actors, and their performances in this movie just about work, but the movie gets so lost that when they do achieve some success, it is sudden and inexplicable. At no point do you get the sense either could realistically make money as a comedian, even a bad one. Comedies about people desperate for fame have been done before, and far better (Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s Extras, for instance). Huge started life as a play, co-written by the TV comedian Ben Miller, who directs the movie. It got me thinking about the difference between the stage and the screen, and how stories told in broad strokes can work well on the former and come across as mostly bewildering in the latter, which seems to be the case here.
Godard said that the way to criticise a movie is to make another movie. In these cases all you have to do is watch another one already made. Instead of Pelican Blood and Huge, watch Hallam Foe and The King of Comedy. The former is no masterpiece but it is a clear influence, and a much better movie. Those movies say what these ones are trying to, but fail to, articulate.
My reviews of contenders for the Michael Powell Award should have featured three movies, but, alas, the 7am awakening required to catch Skeletons was just not happening this morning. I shall atone for this sin by seeing at least three movies tomorrow, including Cherry Tree Lane and a documentary about Spalding Gray directed by Steven Soderbergh. That’s another fairly useful piece of advice for people new to the festival game: don’t be disheartened by disappointment. In the past I’ve endured some utter crap at the EIFF, but I’ve also wondered into movies I knew nothing of, and walked out having just discovered OldBoy, or Man On Wire.
Adam Whyte is reporting everyday from the Edinburgh Film Festival. Previously;
Edinburgh 2010 Review: THE ILLUSIONIST
Edinburgh Film Festival 2010: Day 1 (The Illusionist; Son of Babylon)