Monday, September 20, 2010

Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974. (2010) Julian Jarrold

Addendum: The writing below is unchanged from when I wrote it, but having now seen about half of the second film, I am certain 1974 had nothing to do with the Yorkshire Ripper. Little girls were the target in 1974, and the killings there all took place before the Yorkshire Ripper's time, which began in 1975. Also, the Yorkshire Ripper's killings seemed to target prostitutes, not little girls. This was confusing as I'm American and less versed in UK serial killer history, and all the summaries only mentioning the Yorkshire Ripper didn't help. However, this is the web, where we make corrections as we go. People have said for years that the web is a place of half-lies and hopeful truths. I'm reminded that I've even seen Ebert get things wrong in print that he later corrected on the web. The power of the web for the average movie watcher has turned the film experience into a more powerful probing of truth. Consider this next time you diss wikipedia.

When the Red Riding trilogy hit my neck of the woods this year, all three films showed up for one week and one week only, and then they were gone. It's a terrible marketing strategy. Why would you show interest in seeing 1974, the first film in the trilogy, if you knew that if you liked it you'd have to cram hard to get to a theater twice more in the same week? Who plans a week for a trilogy when they don't even know from the first film whether the following two garner interest?

With such a horrible marketing strategy it seems the trilogy is more suited for Americans to see on DVD. The three DVDs came out this week, and I made sure to throw them in the top of my queue.

Judging from the first film I would have been very conflicted about the next two had I had to face that week of the trilogy in theaters. I simply can't tell from the first one whether this is going to be worth an investment of my time.

Ebert compared the films to the Italian epic The Best of Youth. In terms of the time invested, I guess the comparison is apt enough. For those six hours you had to plan two trips to the theater, but the comparison ends there. The Best of Youth was up and down, all over the place emotionally, full of the highs and lows of life, the greatest joys and the bleakest despairs, but like most of life there was always an upside to the many downs.

After 1974, I am persuaded that Yorkshire is a county full of people of bleak despair, and nothing but.

I guess I should take into account the subject matter. Maybe a serial killer in the neighborhood really would make this an awful place to live. And maybe the rampant police and civil corruption of the early to mid-1970s would add to the bottom-of-the-barrel feel of all the characters in this film. But -- yuck. Are the next four hours going to be as icky as this?

The trilogy is loosely based on the Yorkshire Ripper, a serial killer who took thirteen lives in England between 1975-1980. It is a very real case which lit up the community, landing the killer in prison for life and causing quite a stir at the corruption and ineptness of the West Yorkshire police force. 1974 follows young reporter Eddie (Andrew Garfield) who seems to be the only one who wants to bring the killer to justice, but I'm sure he wants a way into covering the hottest case in town, too.

It's not that it's not an interesting story, because it is, and it's not that it's not told really well, because there are exceptional moments. In the beginning we're focused solely on the story of the Yorkshire Ripper, not even fully convinced of his existence, but as the film progresses we lose that focus and a new mystery begins to emerge. We never return to the original mystery. In the end, we seem to, but we're somewhat sure we actually haven't. And that narrative ambiguity makes its way into the acting, the choreography and the general atmosphere as well. There are moments of utter lostness, hallucinogenic, like groping in the dark. The grainy, organic 16mm feel suits this fictional film based on a true-to-life serial killer.

But it is miserably hopeless, and that's why I'm having difficulty deciding whether it is actually going to be worth it or not.

Originally broadcast on BBC TV, the trilogy is made by three different directors in three different formats (the next two films are shot on 35mm and digital video, respectively). I know I'll make it through at least the second film in the trilogy, because 1980 is directed by James Marsh, and I loved his documentaries Man on Wire and Wisconsin Death Trip. The completist in me will most likely want to see the third once I've seen the first two. I guess I'll continue reporting as I go.

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