Falling Short (The Fall)
A Hollywood fairy tale
The 10 years between The Cell and Tarsem’s return to big screens, The Fall, has given me time to reconsider. I don’t think I was entirely wrong about the potential of the MTV generation of filmmakers but I’m not sure that the potential has often been met. The Fall is a case in point. At times visually dazzling, The Fall misses the mark because its promising story potential is infuriatingly unfulfilled by a director who seems to prize idiosyncrasy over all else. Just being wiggy can work for a four-minute music video but not for a two-hour movie.
the opening leaf from a fairytale, The
Fall starts with a title reading “Los Angeles Long Long Ago.” Sure enough,
there is a child and a storyteller; the former is a five-year-old Romanian girl
whose English should be assisted by subtitles and the latter is a
The girl broke her arm while harvesting oranges from nearby groves with her family and the stuntman broke his leg falling from a railroad bridge during the filming of a Western melodrama. He tells her a rambling story complete with cliffhangers, sending her to the dispensary to sneak him morphine before continuing his ad-libbed tale. The stuntman has a broken heart as well as a broken leg. The star of his movie has taken his girl, the movie’s co-star. The stuntman’s will to live has weakened.
The story is where The Fall’s limitations become painful. It’s plain stupid but worse still, dull and unengaging—a mishmash of intentionally ironic clichs (enclosed by 10-foot “quotation marks”) about a band of eccentrically-garbed heroes seeking to overthrow the dastardly Governor Odious and rescue the damsel in distress. The only stimulation is provided by the morphing backdrops and visuals, including mud-caked aborigines in a choreographed dance, a tattoo mapping itself across a human body, a great hulking wagon whose wheels are turned by slaves on circular treadmills, and architecture drawing from the Hagia Sophia, the Taj Mahal and M.C. Escher. Tarsem sometimes composes colors in horizontal strips like Marc Rothko in motion.
Perhaps the single best scene comes near the end when we finally see part of the flickering Western that led to the stuntman’s accident. It’s a brilliant recreation on gritty black and white stock, accompanied by a solo violinist heightening the action with variations on Wagner.
in Dorothy’s dream from The Wizard of Oz,
the stuntman’s story absorbs people and situations from the protagonists’