I’m sure my first viewing of SIGHTSEERS was affected by the burden of expectation I had placed on Ben Wheatley and his creative co-collaborators after the brilliant KILL LIST, but then even when taking that into account I have to admit that the film didn’t really work for me.
SIGHTSEERS sees a pair of social misfits in the nascent period of a romantic relationship, who embark on a caravanning holiday (their first together) that hums with the promise of sexual liberation and discovery for, particularly, the childlike Maggie, who lives with an overbearing mother and leads an otherwise sheltered existence. Chris is eager to show Maggie the ways of the world, whether sexual and pastoral, but their holiday is quickly derailed after the pair accidentally run over a man Chris had earlier admonished for some casual littering. Appreciating the kick of karmic retribution that this incident afforded them – or, more accurately, developing a taste for murder and death – the pair continue on with their holiday leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.
I’m imagining watching EXCISION with a friend or family member, someone who watches a movie maybe once every ten days or so, whose favourite film is either ANCHORMAN or GLADIATOR or THE MATRIX, who feels relatively au fait with perversity after recently reading Fifty Shades of Grey, who doesn’t obsessively catalogue obscure cult movies, has nevered watched an anime, and thinks Dario Argento is the pizza you can get with an egg in the middle. Someone normal, in other words. 99% of the general popluation.
In my hypothetical viewing of the film with this person, it invariably ends with him or her turning towards me and saying, confidently, “That was the worst film I’ve ever seen.”
At this point I smile condescendingly and say, Ah, but didn’t you enjoy the performances? Did you not get a kick out of seeing shiny 90210 star AnnaLynne McCord reinvent her teen-queen persona as a fetid, pestilential weirdo? Did you not enjoy seeing Traci Lords, of all people, giving a genuinely funny, deeply felt and convincing turn as a mother at the end of her parenting tether?
“Nope”, they say.
After taking a glance at CITIZEN KANE and SUNRISE a few months ago, my look back through 2012’s Sight and Sound top 10 hit a bit of a roadblock with the London Film Festival, leaving the other eight films dangling tentatively in the wind like so much errant saliva on a bored schoolboy’s chin.
In a nice bit of serendipity, however, THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC has just been released in a stunning new edition from the reliably excellent bods at Masters of Cinema, giving me absolutely no excuse not to revisit it in all its monochrome glory.
It’s an interesting exercise to compare THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, which placed at number 9 on the Sight and Sound list, with some other films in the top 10. Unlike many of the others on the list, it is deliberately unshowy in its visual style, eschewing the pyrotechnics of something like SUNRISE to concentrate primarily on one technical motif, that cumulatively builds over the course of its running time to lend the film a unique power.
In this way it’s very much the precedent of something like TOKYO STORY, but whereas in that film the waist-high mid shot is used to replicate the perspective of being seated in a Japanese living room, Dreyer uses relentless low-angle close-ups to both heighten the overall tension of the trial and best illustrate the mental and philosophical anguish being experienced by Joan, in particular, as well as her assorted tormentors.