Monday, December 16, 2019

#20- The Celebration of Imagination

The Fall (2008)

Tarsem Singh's 2008 little known masterpiece The Fall is the most visually stunning film I've ever seen.

The best type of movie is the one you can tell that someone has been waiting their whole life to make. Writer/Director Tarsem Singh waited 17 years to make his. Intense love and devotion was put into this film and it absolutely radiates from every scene. It opens with grandeur to the beautiful sounds of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 and stunning slow moving stills in black and white. You can literally pause the movie at any point and it could be a painting.

The movie takes place in a hospital circa 1915 and focuses around Roy, a bedridden stuntman, played by the unbelievable Lee Pace, and his relationship with young and wildly imaginative Alexandria, a once in a lifetime performance by Catinca Untaru. He spins the young girl an epic fantasy filled with love, adventure, and revenge. As Alexandria's imagination takes over, the tale becomes more consequential than both of them could have ever imagined.

This film is unique in so many ways, but the one you'll notice immediately is the performance of six year old star Catinca Untaru who plays Alexandria in the film. Everything about this little girl endears you to her immediately. Her lines in broken english, her innocent naivete, and adorable mannerisms. She is the engine that drives this film. Tarsem discovered the young girl by accident and immediately knew he must make the movie he'd been planning for 17 years. She's that special and it shows. Alexandria is a beautiful soul and is so authentic that she blurs the line between acting and being. It's authentic because she's not acting, this was her first and last role. As a way to maximize the realism of Catinca Untaru's performance the decision was made that her lines and reactions as the character Alexandria were going to be largely unscripted. It injects the film a sense of realism that you honestly you can't really replicate.

The way that Tarsem interweaves her reality and the tale that Roy is spinning her is genius and really allows Tarsem to be virtually unchained when it comes to his visual masterwork, I mean how can you put a restriction on the imagination of a 6 year old girl? The verbal story is Roy's. The visual story is very much Alexandria's.

The tale centers around five heroes who all have a score to settle with a treacherous Governor named Odious. What it really is, is a vehicle for Tarsem to flex his creative muscles, and my god does he flex. He's like a Schwarzenegger in his Mr. Universe prime.

Let's talk about the visual masterpiece that is this movie. It's extravagant and audacious. The film was shot on location in more than 20 countries, and absolutely no computer-generated imagery was used. Tarsem holds nothing back. As I said at the start he waited 17 years to make this and it shows. The attention to detail is obsessive compulsive and every element in his design is scrupulously laid out. The set design is magnificent, using real landmarks throughout the world as backdrops. He drops his players in famous locations and adds his flourishes. Frankly, I'm not certain how he was able to shoot at some of the locations, as I imagine they are tourist havens. The costume design really shines here though, Eiko Ishioka who is responsible belongs in a Hall of Fame, I don't care which one, fuck put her in all of them. She deserves it. Every costume in this movie would fit in any museum around the world, comfortably. Tarsem paid for the film largely by himself and the respect I have in his ability to sacrifice, to make a piece of art you love, is immeasurable. It's a literal piece of himself that he has to show to the world. He accomplishes it admirably.

Lee Pace, whose performance mostly takes place in a bed, is touching, heartfelt, and utterly devastating. The story of a man with a broken heart. Filled with a deep melancholy and exhausted, he's willing to do or say anything in order to accomplish what he believes he must do. If you are familiar with Pace's work on the criminally short lived Pushing Daisies then you are aware what he is capable of. I always thought that Pace was going to be a mega-star, he certainly has the talent and the look. If I ran Hollywood I'd enforce a Lee Pace quota, he must be in at least all the things, that's not such a big ask. Is it? However, if these are the projects he is most remembered for than that will be just fine, for he is marvelous.

I must warn you the last act of this movie is brutal. Not in a visceral way, but in a profound emotional way. Tarsem comes for the jugular here and his blade is as precise as his film. He cuts, and he cuts deep. You'll find yourself continually devastated as Tarsem delivers blow after blow in the final act. Alexandria's performance is especially moving. If you can come out the other side in one piece then the reward is grand. Tarsem upends your expectations and in the process delivers what every epic tale needs, a satisfying and beautiful end.

Tarsem Singh waited his entire life to make his movie, and brick by splendid brick he built a world to captivate us. At great personal expense he brought us his dream for us to enjoy. He's asking that you allow him to take you on this magnificent journey, take my word for it and oblige him. Celebrate with Tarsem Singh in the wild powers of the imagination.

There is a scene at the very end of the movie that is a highlight reel of famous stunts from silent movies and I'm telling you it's fucking electric. I fell down a rabbit hole researching old stunts from the 20s and damn those cats were wild. 

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