Sunday, November 29, 2015

Tippi Hedren & Melanie Griffith in ROAR (1981)

Noel Marshall and Tippi Hedren certainly had a, uh, interesting relationship for a while there in the 70's and early 80's. I don't know what their marriage was like behind closed doors of course, but somehow it's a great gift to the Earth that they produced the film ROAR. Why this is can't be easily explained in a review, but I can try with this: it's about a family that lives with lions and tigers and some elephants and panthers too.

Or rather it's about a guy who LOVES these lions and tigers (by the way, why tigers, shouldn't they be in India and, oh, nevermind) and panthers and so on, and invites his wife to come live with him along with her and his kids. So here comes Tippi Hedren and actual real life children Melanie Griffith and John and Jerry (Marshall's kids), and when they arrive Noel is out uh doing stuff out in the plains or jungle, and they have to contend with a house full of lions. Oh, and these were UNTRAINED LIONS by the way.

In a way I should be critical of Roar. Marshall, with the exception of one sequence that takes on the qualities of a Night of the Living Dead picture with wild cats in place of the un-dead, doesn't really set up suspense very well. The fascination with watching Roar is basic but constant: these are real people, many of them likely not exactly used to the f***ing idea of hanging out with things like lions and tigers, being knocked around, chased, bombarded by their paws and jaws and bodies, and that should in all likelihood they could/should kill these people.

There's also the behind the scenes drama that imbues with what's on screen so much; right on the cover of the blu-ray it states that 70 cast/crew were harmed, and looking up who got what is just staggering (to give you an idea of the extent, director of photography Jan de Bont got his skull practically knocked off, and Melanie Griffith got facial reconstructive surgery, though the fact that we didn't notice in those movies she starred in in the 80's shows how good that surgery must have been). If there was a documentary on the making of this film it might make Herzog's Grizzly Man look like kids stuff.

Indeed the hero to me of this film is de Bont; he gets his camera into places that I just couldn't think would be possible, right in the faces of these lions, capturing action that seems impossible - certainly with the knowledge that these lions didn't have proper, you know, TRAINERS. It's just a feeling of constant WTF that goes on with this - likely why it got picked up by Drafthouse Films as Drafthouse CEO Tim League is all about finding the freshest and brightest of those WHAT IS THIS sort of flick (they also released Miami Connection some years back) - and it's amazing just on that basis alone. It's also just hysterically funny in that way that the movie lacks that awareness of the danger. Or, let me rephrase that, I think the director knew that there would be danger with these cats, but, well, why carp? The attitude is that Man is the biggest enemy - the closest thing to antagonists are under-developed hunters, you know they are as they get lines showing that I guess and they have the guns - and that, with the exception of one memorable/super-bloody lion named Togar, the lions would be just peaceful and lovable creatures if left alone.

But the ethos of the filmmakers is constantly at odds with what IS shown on screen. The actors, to their credit (at least Hedren and Griffith to an extent), get this and play this fear well through a long mid-section. There's really the feeling like there isn't really any, shall we say, 'acting' going on here; to this end, Melanie is named Melanie as are the Marshall sons, though why Hedren is a different character name is anyone's guess. I'd be surprised if there even was a solid script - how do you get these lions et al to do the things they do? It's an entirely maddening enterprise to see unfold, the kind of movie that shouldn't have been made, and may even be (borderline?) unethical, but as it is here you can't look away from the metaphorical train-wreck.

To put it another way, Chris Rock said it best:

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