Tag Archives: Film Review

‘Tank Girl’ Review: To Camp or Not to Camp?

In absolute terms Tank Girl is not a good movie. In fact I think it would be very hard to translate the absurdist, nonlinear British comic into a big budget film catered to a mainstream audience. The 1995 adaptation could, however, be considered a good camp movie. Camp for the uninitiated encompasses a wide array of films and meanings, but simply put it’s a genre with a consistently exaggerated tone in acting, writing, music or anything else you see in the movie. Rocky Horror Picture Show might be the prototypical camp film and for our purposes will serve as one end of our de-luxe movie spectrum.

Rachel Talalay’s Tank Girl certainly registers as camp on the movie spectrum by including an exotic dance club madam forced to sing Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It” and so-bad-they’re-good zingers like “Look, it’s been swell, but the swelling’s gone down.” Still heavy studio interference impeded a full commitment to camp. The comic creator’s Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett (also of Gorillaz fame) complained that their voices were unceremoniously silenced in an effort to develop a film deemed more palatable for the general American audience. As a result Tank Girl spews references to topical cultural phenomena like Baywatch that are halfbaked in execution and hardly make sense in 2033. If either poles had won out over the other, i.e. a confidently surrealist and explicit cinematic translation of the comic or a straightened out, highly-produced big budget film, I think Tank Girl could have been the exemplar adaption movie for more complex source material than Superman. As it is the film shuffles all over the spectrum resulting in a film unsatisfying from all sides.

Even summarizing Tank Girl’s plot is difficult because a linear storyline has been grafted onto the nonlinear source material, ultimately falling into a pit of cliches. The main character, Rebecca Buck or Tank Girl, starts out the film dropping us some exposition by quickly outlining the three factions in a post-apocalyptic, water starved world: the Water and Power corporation that hoards water with an iron fist, Tank Girl’s commune that illegally siphons off water and the mysterious and dangerous marauding Rippers.

The ensuing narrative about W&P capturing the defiant Tank Girl and her young friend Sam is hardly the point, having overall lost much of its luster in the Hollywood whitewashing process, more compelling rather are the film’s moments. The Tank Girl comics are well known for their strong visual aesthetic seen here in Tank Girl’s many androgynous outfits and the overall rendering of a post-apocalyptic Australia. As one of Tank Girl’s 18 costume changes, her missile shaped bra highlights the striking aesthetic that all too often got papered over in this film. Vivid scenes grace the film such as Tank Girl’s cutting of her stockings in the mode of a strip tease set to one of the delightful 90’s alt rock songs curated by Hole frontwoman Courtney Love. Almost incongruous scenes like this do nothing to progress the awkward plot forward, but Talalay’s smart directorial decision to focus on Lori Petty’s pitch perfect acting are when the movie and the audience has the most fun.

missile bra

A mismatch occurs from the humor and tone of the original British comic set in Australia to the ambiguous locale in the film that houses mostly Americans along with a few unexplained Brits like Naomi Watts’ character Jet Girl and the evil leader of W&P Malcolm McDowell’s Kesslee. Threats of rape on Jet Girl in prison and Tank Girl twice before she even makes it to prison are mined for laughs, but often violent retaliation by spurned men connotes a confusingly vicious edge. The comics contain plenty of violence and far more lewd sex, but the tonal variance make the same kind of themes and plot points overly dark and uncomfortable in the film adaptation. Without Lori Petty playing Tank Girl to irreverent perfection, this film would be an unmitigated disaster, but she manages to stabilize scenes that would have floundered without her comedic timing.

By the end of the film, despite certain humorous highlights, the wavering between almost acknowledged camp and Hollywood drivel makes the film feel overwhelmingly disjointed. This comic probably shouldn’t have been made into a live action movie with its science fiction adaptations of the comic, like the mutant kangaroos and a hologram head, coming across as far more silly than cool. Luckily interspersed animated sequences done by Steve Evangelatos although irregularly incorporated in the film fit much more in line with the edgy comic’s intent. Adapted films rarely capture the essence of its source material, especially when its source material is as nuanced and complex as the Tank Girl comics, so my advice is if you’re interested in Tank Girl read the comics and skip the movie.

F for Fake Orson Welles

Orson Welles’ “F for Fake” Is the Ultimate Gestalt Film

“Rose… bud.” I’m sure most people can recognize perhaps the most famous one word quote of all time from Citizen Kane, but Orson Welles also directed 12 other movies during his lifetime – many of which were criticized upon their release as self-indulgent and unduly windy. Welles’ last big film before his death, 1974’s F for Fake, certainly fits that description, yet within the past few decades or so Welles’ reputation has soared up from its 1970s’ nadir resulting in new critics reappraising the quality of his films. I’m simply appraising the film, as I was about -20 in the 1970’s, and from a contemporary perspective I can see the legacy of this experimental film. F for Fake addresses the blurred lines between truth and fakery ostensibly through a series of interweaving narratives on the topic, but true appreciation, or at least understanding, of the film comes from reading how the film’s purposefully disorienting form tells the story.

There are more or less three main narratives: one about the life of famous art forger Elmyr de Hory, another on author Clifford Irving’s biography about de Hory and then in an unforeseen development Irving’s previous biography on Howard Hughes turns out to be partially fabricated leading to a strange exploration of the wealthy recluse. Then Welles and his girlfriend Oja Kodar insert themselves in various shorter segments that are harder to pin down within a narrative. All of these stories, that often cut between each other with no transition, holistically introduce the topic of what can be considered “true” and “fake” both in the content and Welles’ presentation, in which he chooses to point out the lies sometimes and other times not. Already it is easy to see why viewers were not initially fond of the film and its multiple locations, directors and editors that also confound by jumping around temporally at the same time.

Orson Welles Invented MTV Editing

What is important to note is that all the normal components for a documentary are present within the film, e.g. real interviews, insertion of various media sources for background, etc., but Welles arranges the pieces in such a way that it’s next to impossible to interpret scenes in a conventional manner. In fact, the editing in this documentary feels extremely modern largely for its speed that aligns with the the roughly five second average shot length of today. Similarly interviews with de Hory and Irving often got stopped in the middle of a sentence with Welles giving commentary like Goodfellas or abruptly cutting to another scene. The editing was meant more to disrupt and provide a visual reminder of the intensely edited nature of film, which Welles apparently drew from French New Wave and Dadaist filmmakers, but still the legacy lives on in as almost the editing standard.

Truly the creators of documentaries live and die by their editing and narration because they have to make sense of unrelated footage, but Welles and his editors Marie-Sophie Dubus, Dominique Engerer and Gary Graver all accomplish an awesome feat by drawing attention to the biased position filmmakers play in the creation of a film. A more traditional documentary uses a linear storyline that makes it far simpler to allow viewers to draw their own conclusions about the truth, but Welles ensures that discerning truth from fiction in this film is next to impossible. In addition, Welles’ role as the distinctly unreliable narrator who will often give commentary on the action and then go off on a tangent with commentary on his commentary  illuminates how inherently biased filmmaking always is whether we are aware of it or not. Luckily Welle’s baritone makes his digressions in Kipling poetry and explorations into Howard Hughes’ whereabouts more pleasant to listen to, though no easier to comprehend.

Gestalt = More Than the Sum of Its Parts

All of this is not to say that this film is perfect. Since the significance of the film stems largely from what its form accomplishes over the course of an hour and half rather than within each scene, certain parts drag on in a way that is not only confusing but at times quite boring. Welles is more than willing to indulge not only his strange whims, but also those of his girlfriend Oja who came up with a scene at the beginning of the film where she walks through the streets of Rome and “secret” cinematographers film reaction shots of men ogling her. Whether those were really uncompensated horndogs or actors is hard to know, but it certainly does drag on with countless reaction shots.

The huckster author Clifford Irving commented on de Hory’s fakery by saying, “when an artist has no personal vision, what can he communicate onto the canvas?” The paintings done by Mogdiliani and Picasso are interesting, but far more compelling is de Hory’s virtuosity at switching between several artists with such skill that by some accounts he sold over a thousand of his copies to museums. Welles could have a told a straightforward story about Elmyr de Hory and Clifford Iriving, but like the auteur’s “War of the Worlds” stunt, sometimes the facts are not quite as interesting as fiction posing as fact.

The Entirety of Welles’ film is on Youtube.

If you don’t want to commit to the entire thing…