ROAR – Review

roar

From its trailer alone it might be easy to draw the conclusion that the story surrounding the production of ROAR (1981) is more interesting than the movie itself. An eleven year project from Noel Marshall which involved his then wife Tippi Hedren and their children, filmed amongst a real menagerie of free roaming lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars in Africa during a period when Hedren and her family bred and lived with fully grown lions as a domestic pets. Seventy members of the cast and crew were injured during its making, in one instance resulting in facial reconstructive surgery for Hedren’s daughter Melanie Griffith, and so it has now become notorious as one of the most dangerous film productions in history. It is an unprecedented film relic whose mythology runs the risk of overshadowing the film itself.

If you harbour that view, the likelihood of it changing whilst watching ROAR will probably depend on the crowd, venue and alcohol consumption you saw it under. There is little plot to discuss or dissect, and all the talking points are really the spectacle of watching the insane stunts being acted out on screen. Watching it alone would likely diminish the absurdity of the events, which have their greatest impact on a room full of like-minded and giggly people, so it is with some efficient brevity that the film comes with a strong recommendation as a cinema experience/ party piece.

Noel Marshall plays Hank, a zoologist with apparently zero faults living out on an African ranch full of free roaming wild animals (some of which are not indigenous, which raises an eyebrow). Hank is awaiting the arrival of his family, played by Marshall’s then real family of wife Hedren and their respective children, who have made the journey out to live with Hank. But when Hank gets stranded fending off poachers, Hedren and the family arrive at the ranch and are unwittingly trapped in the middle of a home invasion from a pack of vicious predators. The story is really only there as a loose framework for the chaotic set pieces of the cast being continuously chased and mauled by real untamed animals, so, despite the blatantly recycled scenes and a water-treading narrative, the reminder of ‘wow, they really did that’ constantly reinvigorates what is on screen.

Shear entertainment value aside though, it is difficult to tell if the incredible, nerve-wracking laughs in ROAR are drawn from an ironic, so-bad-it’s-good, viewing mentality or one which actually falls in line with Noel Marshall’s sincere vision of the film. To add to the insanity of its premise, structurally the film appears to have been pulled in three very different directions at once. The bookends of the film bash the audience over the head with a ludicrously naïve, new age hippie philosophy of man and animals co-existing in harmony – set to the song Here We Are In Eden by Robert Florczack. But conversely, the main bulk of the film sees Hedren and the gang desperately attempting to flee the enormous jaws of some of natures deadliest creatures (the story of the film’s production itself completely obliterates any message of harmony!).

The juxtaposition of these two contrasting tones in a better handled film could conceivably be melded into a critique of man’s eagerness to anthropomorphise the animal kingdom and the wilful blindness of what Herzog calls “the overwhelming indifference of nature”. But, just to add more confusion to the mix, the film is also interspersed with skits of animals-do-the-funniest-things levels of shenanigans, such as lions skateboarding, talking, piling comically into frame, licking honey off of actors’ faces and adorable tiny cubs attempting to roar. All these, hilarious as they are, are peppered throughout the film in a way that creates a nightmarish Disney fever dream and really appears to suggests a lack of any structural understanding or focused direction from Marshall.

And yet its precisely this friction between three completely different tones which gives ROAR the bulk of its appeal. As a whole, the film is bizarrely schizophrenic, but taken in isolated scenes, which given the lack of narrative is very easy to do, there are some perfectly executed comedy sequences (through no fault of anyone involved) which are difficult to imagine being included in the film without a knowing smile from someone in the editing staff. The two which stand out the most are, as you might expect, down to the comically coincidental timing from the cast of animals. The first is just as Hank says to his friend Mativo: “The cats just get a little excited-” before getting brutally tackled and piled upon by five fully grown lionesses. The second is as Hedren and her family attempt to escape the ranch by boat, but as they cautiously attempt to row away from shore they are repeatedly pulled back in by a lion lazily pawing at the boat like a cat playing with a ball of twine.

The absurd humour in these scenes derives not only from the apparent danger of everybody involved but from just how far removed the animals are from all direction the film might have tried to take. At the beginning of the film, credit is given to the animals for their contribution to the directing and writing, as the crew had to simply “let them do what they want”. The film very much feels true to this sentiment. Watching a pack of lions sabotage a scene paradoxically only further enriches the experience of ROAR, though not necessarily in the way it was intended. Compared to something like Born Free, the amusement from watching ROAR is not marvelling at how they managed to train wild animals to act but instead recoiling in shock that they literally walked into a lion’s den and managed to somehow make a film around it.

Dan Noall, September 2015

Music In Motion: Movie Soundtraks Of 2014

music in motion: soundtracks of 2014

When listening to an original movie score I often wonder what it is that draws me to re-visit it outside of its intended accompaniment to an overall viewing experience. As appose to a soundtrack built out of existent songs, such as the feel good nostalgia heavy yester-pop of Guardian’s Of The Galaxy, an original movie score does not contain any pre-attained social signifiers to riff off or subvert. Guardian’s Awesome Mix was a tool for indicating not only the time from which Quill originated from but also how far he was from home (both the songs and the means of listening to them – a cassette tape). But, while it is a grand selection of tunes and has probably exposed a younger generation to a series of older classics, it is still possible to listen to Cherry Bomb without thinking of a gun wielding racoon (just about).

This is the fundamental difference between a ‘Music From The Motion Picture’ soundtrack and an original score: a direct link with, and signifier of, the atmosphere of a movie. It aids in creating the mythos of the world the story is set in and can transport a listener to that place without actually watching the movie itself.

One of 2014’s strongest soundtracks, Gone Girl, was extremely successful at this and was almost destined to be so as a result of the workflow Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross take in composing soundtracks together. For The Social Network, their first ever film score collaboration, and first collaboration with Fincher, Reznor’s and Ross’ lack of film scoring experience led them to create a series of extended mood-scapes from the tone they felt reading the film’s script. As appose to writing themes for characters or even scoring scenes, they composed music which fitted into, and reflected, the world the story was revolving around (source). The results won them an Oscar, and their approach continued into subsequent Fincher projects The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and, most recently, Gone Girl.

The tone throughout Gone Girl is one which holds an unsettling air that things are not ever what they seem. There is a sinister underside to every seemingly sincere moment, with the movie’s first half in particular suggesting an artificial quality underpinning all of the sentimental flashbacks. The soundtrack captures this perfectly. Drifting ambient tones create a feeling of unease, calculated and methodical but remaining inscrutable (embodying the opening lines of the movie: “What are you thinking? How are you feeling?”). Even some of the sweeter melodies feed slowly into building waves of aggressive distortion which engulf and mute the harmonies.

 

The best example of this is the track Gone Home. It starts so innocent, almost wholesome, seeming to invoke a feeling of love enduring and uniting all. But the notes slowly begin to drift off-key, and the static swells up into a schizophrenic mess that abruptly cuts off to restrain and re-compose itself. In creating their world reflecting mood-scapes, it would seem that Reznor and Ross have inadvertently created one of the character’s themes after all.

Another interesting origin to one of the year’s soundtracks was Christopher Nolan’s space epic, Interstellar. Hans Zimmer was brought in once again to score and has spoken of Nolan approaching him before production even began with one page of typed dialogue depicting a message from a father to a child, asking him to produce a piece of music inspired by that. From this, Zimmer composed the main theme to Interstellar without ever knowing the plot or that it contained any sci-fi elements whatsoever (source).

Once fleshed out and worked around, the soundtrack to Interstellar reflects very much the ambitions of the story. The comparisons to 2001: A Space Odyssey are apparent, and the soundtrack does have those long powerful organ notes that emulate the closing of Also Spranch Zarathustra, but Interstellar attempts to inject a deeper emotional element than Kubrick into both its story and, subsequently, its soundtrack. It is a story not only about discovery but what is left behind, the relationship between families and generations and the bonds they create being infinite and unquantifiable. The “epicness” of the film stems from a small emotional core, and while Zimmer’s grand booming orchestrations very much match the striking cosmic visuals, the main refrain directing much of the soundtrack is a heartfelt melody that is played as both a subdued melancholy piano piece and a great organ crescendo head rush.

 

From grandeur to minimalism (and my personal pick for best soundtrack of 2014), Under The Skin took the polar opposite approach to science fiction in almost every way from Interstellar. Fantastically dark and subtle while remaining ambiguous enough as to maintain respect for its audiences’ intelligence, Jonathan Glazer’s film saw a malignant alien masquerading as a beautiful woman, roaming the streets of Glasgow seducing men whom she traps and harvests for their meat. The film takes a methodically slow approach, drenched always in the waking presence of dread.

A unique film which is accompanied by a wholly unique soundtrack. Mica Levi, of Micachu and The Shapes fame, was commissioned to create the score after Glazer heard her Chopped and Screwed project with the London Sinfonietta, which, as the name may suggest, involved warping and looping various sounds into a disorientating assembly (source). Her work on Under The Skin certainly carried over this same mentality of experimentation, with shrill violins playing out a chilling three note refrain distorted and pitch shifted over a dark minimalist rhythm. The whole effect is one of constant unease, watching as men helplessly submit to the forces of seduction from an alien intruder, blissfully unaware of their own impending demise.

 

The track Lipstick To Void best demonstrates this. With very little dialogue and absolutely no hand-holding in its execution of the story, the film really relies on Levi’s soundscapes like this to bridge the gaps and give viewers the suggestion of events through the ambience. The muted drums slowly giving way to the hypnotic strings, it sounds alluring, almost erotic, but all the while carrying a sinister femme-fatale edge to it that forebodes the piercing pitch bends towards the end.

Those were some of my favourite soundtracks of 2014. Here are a few I’m looking forward to hearing in 2015 (both original and not):

– Inherent Vice, Jonny Greenwood (Not yet released in UK)
– Birdman, Antonio Sanchez (Not yet released in UK)
– Enemy, Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans (Not yet released in UK)
– Star Wars Episode 7, John Williams
– Hateful Eight, Various
– Knight Of Cups, Various

Worst Hangover Movies Vol. 1

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Escapism, that’s the name of the game. When movie magic can temporally nullify an aggressive hangover it’s important to stick to the safe and soothing. Go searching for an undiscovered classic or a refreshing change and you run the risk of unearthing forces which can lower you to a whole new level of sickness. These are some of those films.

Wake In Fright

Have another drink, mate! A movie showing the ugly underbelly of the Australian outback and the extreme-macho-competitive forces which rule it. Through the overbearing hospitality of the small town which he finds himself stuck in, English overseas teacher John Grant is taken on a local tour of debauchery and binge drinking, spiraling deeper into vices of excess, dependency and violence brought on by peer pressure and one-upmanship. The sweat, the heat, the ferity and the drinking – those with already sensitive stomachs will have their condition worsened two fold from watching this.

 
 

Jerkbeast

In its original incarnation as a public access TV show in King County, Washington, back in 2001, Jerkbeast featured a giant paper mache demon taking abusive calls off of viewers and retorting with the foulest, loudest insults possible. When the show’s creators decided to make a movie of Jerkbeast, it produced the kind of low budget indie fever dream you would expect. The plot chronicles the rise and fall of the Jerkbeast and his co-presenters’ insane punk band, whose name goes through changes such as Blood Butt, Anus Pussy, finally to settle on Steaming Wolf Penis. With band members consisting of a serial rabbit killer, a necrophiliac and a giant foul-mouthed monster, and with thrash-punk songs like ‘Looks Like Chocolate Tastes Like Shit’, Jerkbeast won’t be soothing any headaches for you (although it is bloody funny).

 
 

Doggiewoggies! Poochiewoochies!

The third feature film from schlock archivers and psychedelic found-footage mashup artists Everything Is Terrible, Doggiewoggies! Poochiewoochies! is a recreation of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain made entirely out of clips from hundreds of dog related films. A surreal take on an already surreal movie, on paper it sounds almost impenetrable. But the most commendable quality of EIT’s editing skills is that they are able turn the unwatchable into the watchable. Not only do they repurpose clips to take on hilarious new meanings, but they identify and pick out running tropes from the cosmos of film and splice them together into extended sequences that are so bizarre and funny for their endurance and apparent abundance of source material (see below for an example that highlights the use of dog puns). Insane in both concept and in execution, it may prove too much for those feeling fragile. Straighten out a little before you take this trip.

 
 

Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie

To those already initiated into the uncomfortably surreal comedy world of Tim and Eric, this may be the safest choice on the list. To those discovering the duo for the first time, it may be the worst place to start from. After gaining much praise and a loyal following from their various work with Adult Swim, Tim and Eric’s first feature film continues many of the nightmarish parodies of the middle-America public-access/ shopping-channel zeitgeist that they honed on The Awesome Show, heightened even further in fitting with the over the top “million dollar” movie budget. As appose to the skittish and erratic nature of Awesome Show, the jokes in the film pivot around a narrative that sees the two take management of a failing shopping mall in order to make back the money they owe to a murderous film producer for squandering his investment. Tim and Eric is purposefully disturbing and niche at the best of times, and one scene demonstrating the healing powers of something called “Shrim” is enough to tip any unsuspecting viewers with the shakes over into a spewing spree.

 
 

Enter The Void

A film which in places simulates a psychedelic drug trip and in others shows the viewpoint of a ghostly spirit floating through time, space and others’ consciousness. Loosely enacting some of the ideas in the Tibetan book of the dead, the entire film is from the vantage point of a boy living in the neon drenched drug district of Tokyo who, after being shot by police, is taken on an outer-body experience through his bereft sister’s present and their shared troubled past. If you are still feeling the effects of the night before then the opening credits alone might be enough to give you a brain aneurysm. If not, the point at which a gigantic CGI penis is thrust into the camera lens might do instead.

 
 

Vol. 2 coming soon. Suggestions welcome!