Issue 183 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 1995 Copyright © Socialist Review



Shallow is the word

Shallow grave
Dir: Danny Boyle

In the dark

Shallow Grave has its heart in the right place and, unlike practically every other bodily organ, it doesn't become severed from its proper location during the film.
Boyle sets his sights on three Edinburgh yuppies of the high Thatcherite period. Their avarice, duplicity, cruelty and greed are pilloried from the very first scenes where they humiliate a series of applicants for the spare place in their fashionable flat.
The successful interviewee turns out to be a gangster who promptly dies of a drug overdose, leaving behind a suitcase full of money. The yuppies decide to keep the money and bury the body, pausing only to dismember it to prevent identification.
When the dead man's two accomplices catch up with the yuppies, another bout of bloodletting ensues, resulting in a further two bodies which have to be disposed of in the same manner.
As the police close in, the worm of guilt and paranoia eats away at the three friends and a final session of mutual torture and violence gets under way.
All this should add up to a thoroughly macabre, anti-middle class morality tale, but the film doesn't deliver on its early promise.
This is mainly because the focus of the film is so narrow. We spend all our time in the company of the three yuppies, rarely moving beyond the confines of their flat.
One consequence is to diminish the impact of the film's hostility to the yuppies. Yuppies aren't evil simply because they dress in expensive clothes and have designer kitchens or even because they are nasty to one another.
Yuppies have become a hated symbol of Tory Britain because they have climbed to where they are on the backs of the poor and because they deliberately and callously flaunt their wealth in the faces of the people on whose work they depend.
Shallow Grave extracts them from this circumstance and no amount of brutal individual behaviour can replace what is lost by failing to look at their brutality as a social group in relation to others.
The one scene which provides an exception proves the rule. At a social function the three bump into a working class bloke they previously humiliated as an applicant for their flat. He catches one of the yuppies and gives him a bloody nose. It is a rare moment of release in the length of the film.
Elsewhere tricky photography, 'ironic' dialogue and the inevitable fashionable nostalgic tune accompanying the menace (this time Nina Simone), plus other 'postmodern' devices, try to put a few bumps in the flatness of the film's surface.
You know that this is going to lead to trouble when, early on, a voiceover mimics the classic film noir line 'it could have been any city--they are all the same.' But in this case the camera is skimming over the streets of Edinburgh's New Town, one of the most visually distinctive European cities.
This kind of thing simply gives Shallow Grave the air of an art school graduation project when what it really needs is less flash and more attention to, for instance, a plot line which has the semblance of logic. (Why, for instance, do they have to dump the body in the first place? Why not report the death to the police and hide the money?)
That the critics have been so kind to Shallow Grave has more to do with it being a British film than any inherent qualities, as has the fact that the prodigious amounts of violence have largely gone unremarked upon, unlike the vastly superior, but American, Pulp Fiction.
All things considered, it was very brave of the film makers to include the word 'shallow' in the title.
John Rees

Supernatural born killers

Interview with the vampire
Dir: Neil Jordan

This is a film of the first part of Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles and dumps many old myths.
In the Hammer House of Horror versions you always knew what was going to happen. Vampires were petrified of crucifixes, could transform into bats, and were killed by a stake through the heart. Not so here.
The film revolves around the central character of Louis (Brad Pitt) who is turned into a vampire by Lestat (Tom Cruise). The film shows them going on a bloodthirsty rampage through 18th century Louisiana and Paris. The problem with Louis is that he cannot live with the fact he is a vampire. Whenever he kills he feels guilt.
Lestat is his opposite, the vampire who loves the sexual thrill of the kill. He's in ecstasy whenever he drinks the blood of young men or of the French aristocrats. And what's wrong with killing off a few of the rich? Louis, however, will have none of it, content with drinking the blood of rats, chickens, even poodles.
Lestat is a materialist, a vampire who loves to lead the life of opulence. Louis grows to despise this, especially since it's his money being spent. Yet the big predicament for Louis is he continues to possess human feelings. Lestat, realising he may lose his wealthy partner, decides to capitalise on this, and transforms a young girl (Claudia) into a vamp as well, so Louis may shower his human emotions on her.
Claudia's character adds some nice comic touches. When Claudia kills her dressmaker, Lestat grumbles, 'Now who will finish your dress?' Similarly when Claudia sucks the blood out of her piano teacher, Lestat's reply is, 'What have we told you? Never kill in the house!'
Interview With The Vampire cost millions to produce. So was it worth it all? The horror content is more impressive than Francis Ford Coppola's attempt at Dracula, which descended into romantic garbage. It doesn't, however, have you leaping out of your seat, and you soon grow tired of gallons of blood oozing all over the screen. The vampires, apart from Antonio Banderas, fail to look enigmatic and have faces that look like blocks of Stilton cheese.
The acting is fairly average as well, though Tom Cruise performs beyond all expectations. When Anne Rice first heard Cruise was to play Lestat, she was horrified. And who can blame her? After all, Cruise is the golden boy of Hollywood, famous for wholesome American roles.
Yet in Rice's film he performs better than I've ever seen before. Moreover, the role of Lestat sees Cruise shed his hetero image but unfortunately the film fails to develop the homosexual sub-text.
The film is definitely no movie classic, and I doubt it will win any awards. But, despite all the criticisms, it's better than most of the Hollywood crap on release at the moment, and you could do a lot worse than watch this one.
Mubin Haq


Family favourites

The three lives of Lucie Cabrol
by Theatre de Complicité

Struggle to survive

'Everything Complicité do is rooted in what they have heard and seen. This is a theatre of bodily functions and impulses, of class defences and universal desires.'
This is not a bad starting point from which to understand what the Theatre de Complicité is about. This small group of actors and directors devise their own plays from their experiences, world events and other artists' work. A keen awareness of class division and a strong identification with the oppressed are central themes.
This is nowhere more true than in The Three Lives of Lucie Cabrol. This fast moving and totally absorbing play centres on Lucie, born to French peasant farmers at the turn of the 20th century. Her face is disfigured at birth and she grows up an outcast among the suspicion ridden peasantry. As a result, Lucie has little prospect of marriage and has to struggle alone for survival.
The play is constructed from a short story by John Berger, the Marxist painter and writer. His materialist approach is echoed in the development of the plot and characters in this production. The harsh realities of peasant life and the hard people it produces are brilliantly realised by the company, with Lucie's and her family's personalities arising from the near starvation conditions of their farm.
There is a constant battle between Lucie and her younger brother Henri. He is jealous of Lucie's superior intelligence and more importantly because she is a rival for their father's land, which is to be divided between the children on his death. Their hatred is rooted in the threat to each individual's survival if they are given a poor piece of land, or none at all.
Lucie and Henri have to work together but are suspicious of each other's actions and motives. More generally, the rest of Lucie's brothers find it difficult to accept Lucie working alongside them in the field. After all, she is a woman who really should be in the kitchen as far as they are concerned. At the same time they are glad of the lighter workloads.
There is no fairytale ending for Lucie. She lives a hard life, ends up alone and meets a brutal death. Yet John Berger and Complicité characterise the play as one of hope. This hope comes out of the fight for survival of all the characters, but especially the downtrodden Lucie, have to take part in. The play is never morbid or even sad, and we are never invited to pity Lucie, but to admire her strength and resilience. Out of this struggle comes hope for the future. As long as people keep fighting, Berger seems to be saying, anything can happen.
This is a difficult play to get to grips with. But the struggle is most definitely worth it. The invention, passion and enthusiasm of the company are like nothing else around at present. Maybe that's got something to do with the democratic control the actors and producer have over what they perform and how they perform it.
Lee Humber

The play shows at: Brighton Gardner Arts Centre, 1-5 February; Stratford Swan Theatre, 8-12 February, Darlington Civic Theatre, 17-19 February; London Riverside Studios, 23 February-9 April


More than a prayer

Towering Inferno

Towering Inferno's Kaddish takes its name from the Jewish prayer for the dead, around which it is constructed. It is a unique and breathtaking concept, both as a recording and as a live multimedia performance. The myth continues that the Holocaust was a medieval catastrophe totally unconnected with 20th century capitalism. This work reveals the modern nature of Nazi ideology and the industrial nature of their genocide.
East European folk music and the sound of the shofar (ram's horn) are interwoven with rock guitar and powerful industrial noise to create a defiant declaration of the resistance and dynamism of Jewish culture in the wake of the Holocaust.
Kaddish is not a call to arms. It is a painful, exhilarating and enraging contemplation of a subject generally accepted as so sacred that it has to be treated with careful reverence. Despite its many important religious references--Hitler's speech is responded to by Jews praying in a synagogue--it is not essentially a religious work.
For some, the first London performance of Kaddish will be horrifyingly controversial. It is accompanied by banks of still and moving pictures, juxtaposed to create seemingly incongruous images which call into question the view of the Holocaust as a terrible but temporary aberration. There is, however, nothing in Towering Inferno's terrifying but strangely uplifting performance which calls their motivations into question. Kaddish is a radical departure from both the way in which the Holocaust is considered artistically and the way in which music relates to the greatest of human tragedies.
Following the London show, Kaddish goes to Europe for the commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust. At the Berlin commemorative festival in May, Towering Inferno will present the work in what was the Jewish ghetto. The performance is also set to appear in a German documentary.
With a major record deal recently signed and a feature film in the pipeline, the rare and astonishing power of Kaddish is set to reach a greater audience than ever before. If you get the chance, however, the atmosphere of the live performance is unforgettable.
Mark Brown

Kaddish is at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, on 4 February. The CD is re-released on Island Records in May. The film is due out in 1996

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