Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Essay - the Turning

I didn't The Turning Know what to expect when I went to see The Turning. In that I wasn't disappointed!

Tim Winton is one of Australia's best known writers. The Turning is a book of seventeen short stories. Many of the stories interweave, creating a twisting central plot-line.

I hadn't read the book, although I will certainly do so now. My failure to read the book in advance proved to be a major error, for it would have added to my enjoyment of what is a quite complex movie. Complex? Each of the short stories has been turned into a short film under a different director who chose their own cast. Producer-director Robert Connolly provided overall coordination, directed one segment, but otherwise left it to each director to do their own thing within a broad framework. So we have what are in fact common characters at different stages played by different actors interpreted in different ways.

Seventeen short stories makes for a very long film, three hours. Even with an intermission, I was struggling a little at the end, wriggling uncomfortably in my seat, enjoying the film but wishing that it would end! With the normal movie, even a long one, the central plot provides coherence. Here you have to focus, responding to each segment, working out how the bits fit together. Despite that, this is likely to become a cult movie whose individual segments will be repeated again and again.

In visual terms, The Turning is quite stunning. While the budget is not public, it is reported to have been less than $A5 million; I found that hard to believe, given the production qualities. It has some of the most beautiful visuals I have ever seen. It also stars some of Australia's best acting talent, familiar faces whose qualities we know, as well as less known's. In drama terms, some of the individual segments are quite gripping. They hold you, but leave you dissatisfied because you want to know more.      

This is a very Australian movie. I went with a friend who grew up in another country. I found myself nodding at particular scenes, then trying to explain to her why so. I don't know Tim Winton, but he clearly has a country background. Guns, Aboriginal fishing parties on the beach, sand caves, sexual angst in smaller communities, country cops, shows, they were all there.

In commercial terms, this is an Australian first, movie as an event. Some of my favourite Australian movies made for equivalent money and targeting main stream release have vanished without trace. This movie (wisely) eschewed commercial release. It went the film festival, art deco cinema event, approach. It limited its release to a small number of cinemas, charged a premium price (tickets are $25), relied both on word of mouth and the cultural mafia. The film will get its basic cost back from limited release, and then make its money from after sales.

I doubt that It will be ever done again. This is a one-off. I don't know the commercial terms that were negotiated, but some of the actors who were involved in combination would have blown a limited budget in fees.

It actually made me very proud. Despite my sore bum, my restlessness, I would like to see it again. I would like to rewatch individual segments. I would like to soak myself in the film. We couldn't have done this even twenty years ago.

From a purely professional viewpoint, I kept thinking how do I turn  my writing into this? I would so love to showcase my own area, to simply tell the story.       


Anonymous said...

I have read the book (I've read all of Tim Winton's books, I think). Thank you for your review- it makes me even more keen to see it.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi RJ. Glad you liked the review. Will be interested in your comments when you get to see the film.

Evan said...

I think Tim Winton grew up in coastal WA near Perth.

Jim Belshaw said...

I think that's right, Evan.

Rummuser said...

I am intrigued enough to want to see it. Seventeed short stories shot by different crew and cast and all brought together! It is not available on DVD or BlueRay and it is unlikely that it will be released for viewing in India. I will do the next best thing and get the book. Thanks Jim.

Jim Belshaw said...

Glad that you are going to read the book, Ramana, but its a pity that you can't easily see the film. It will come out on DVD no doubt, its just been released in cinemas, but it may not get to India. If not, I would be happy to buy you a copy.

I would be fascinated to get your reaction to the the film. I wonder how comprehensible it would be to you? It uses images as code.

Rummuser said...

That will be a googly! Let me first read the book, expected tomorrow.