Dir. Mary McGuckian.UK-Lux. 2005. 123mins.
Bashing newspapers hasalways been popular sport for film-makers. But Mary McGuckian's Rag Taleadds nothing to the genre, despite its radically different technical approach,and ultimately only results in a muddle.
Shot mostly in hugeclose-ups by three madly swinging HD cameras and using every type of distortinglens to twist the images around, this is the kind of experience that can easilyprovoke motion sickness in any audience who stay the course. It hardly helpsthat each individual shot averages only two seconds and is accompanied by apulsating soundtrack that never relaxes.
The impressive UK cast, allof them massed around US import Jennifer Jason Leigh, are bound to attractattention, at least for the picture's initial release.
But enthusiasm may cool offto dangerously low levels once word gets around about how the cast gallopthrough their performances, rarely able to deliver more than two consecutiveone-liners before being cut off. The film opens in the UK through Metrodomethis autumn after play in Locarno and Edinburgh; other sales include toMetropolitan in France.
The Rag is a best-selling scandal sheet run by publishingtycoon, Richard Morton (McDowell), who is married to American-born wife MJ(Jennifer Jason Leigh). She in turn is sleeping with editor-in-chief Eddy(Graves), to who she is deputy, while coveting his job.
Morton is determined to makehis subaltern pay for his impertinence and also harbours hopes of a peerage.But Eddy enjoys reviling the Royal family, preparing front pages that suggest,among other things, that Buckingham Palace should be razed to the ground.
Inbetween come the usualaccusations and references associated with mud-slinging tabloids, detested bythe few they report on and beloved by the many who read them.
Most of the action is setinside the newsroom, which is never seen properly because the cameras areusually only five inches away from the nose of the characters in a way vaguelyreminiscent of TV series The Office.
Everybody talks at the sametime, snorts coke, buys and sells heroin and only makes contact through emailand mobile phones. "Ethics" and "decency" are words that have been excised fromthe dictionary in the best Orwellian tradition.
McGuckian's overriding ideawas to ask each actor to develop their own character, devising their owndialogue within the frame of a previously established plot. At the same timethree cameras, one shooting in black and white, close down on them from everydirection on a custom-built soundstage.
But it's a valiant idea thatsadly does not get very far, leaving 90 hours of video footage which had to bepared down to the present two hours.
In their press notestatements, each of Rag Tale's actors state that they had a pretty clearidea of what they intended to bring to the film - but what makes it to thescreen is never more than snippets, producing few memorable characters to careabout or performances worth remembering.
Photography may appear to bepolished and glossy, but it also feels as superficial and pernicious as thedespicable tabloid life that it is attempting to portray.
Even taken as a surrealfantasy of a world gone mad, Rag Tale reaches such far-fetcheddimensions that it leaves the audience not caring what happens. The consistentlevel of acute hysteria that is sustained from the first scene to the last onlymakes it all blend into one strangely monotonous slog.
McGuckian said in Locarnothat this is the first of a trilogy of films, all of them to be made in thesame fashion. Maybe it's worth thinking about it all over again.
Carousel Picture Company
Becker Films International
James D Stern
Mary McGuckian with
Jennifer Jason Leigh
Danny B Tull
Nicky 'Mischief' Shaw
Jennifer Jason Leigh