A murder in a New York fashion house. A star cast including Judi Dench, order Jude Law and Eddie Izzard. You might expect a standard film, sick but Sally Potter’s Rage is far from tame. The film is a patchwork of confessional monologues, delivered in front of coloured backdrops.
The location shots common to feature films are completely absent. Simplicity is the key in this production. The characters ranging from designer, critic and photographer to pizza boy, financier and his bodyguard, are all seen from the perspective of child blogger Michelangelo. His character remains unseen but we discover that he films the exposés on his mobile phone. We can only assume that the characters thrive on the boys’ innocent gaze, as they share their intimate thoughts and reveal the sometimes-twisted nature of their personas.
I admire Potter for a creative take on a subject matter that has been in vogue for years. We’ve all seen The Devil Wears Prada or the more recent The September Issue. The film includes some great lines, which open up some important questions about the nature of the fashion industry. Fashion critic Mona Carvell (Judi Dench) suggests, “Fashion is not an art form, if anything its pornography to which millions are addicted.” Similarly, Tiny Diamonds (Eddie Izzard) the media mogul states, “In the end, everything and everyone is for sale.”
The film breaks not only the conceptual ‘norms’ of film, but is also groundbreaking in terms of its circulation. Rage premiered not only in cinemas but also on mobile phones and the Internet. I was at the interactive premier at the British Film Institute where the intention was to connect various cinemas in the UK through live satellite. From the base at the BFI, Skype linked these cinema audience members to the actors in New York and elsewhere around the globe, allowing for a unique Q+A session.
The technical hiccups were relentless but made this a hugely entertaining premier. Eddie Izzard managed to make comic genius out of the playback echo, even resorting to offering his answer written out on a notebook. Jude Law provided a thoughtful analysis of his cross-dressing character Minx, citing Leigh Bowry as reference for his performance.
Lily Cole, fresh from a fashion shoot, perhaps best embodies the contradictions of the fashion industry appearing shy and reflective.
The disappointing truth is that I found this technically clumsy Q+A more captivating than the film itself. Potter’s decision to focus entirely on the monologue performances of the actors was brave but not entirely successful. While the concept is attractive on paper, in reality the plot becomes weak. Although the actors are talented, their characters could not develop fully in the given time. Subsequently the characters float without cause.
Potter has achieved an interesting film on a tiny budget, stating herself that Rage is a celebration of ‘poor cinema’ that concentrates on text and performance and the basic art of storytelling. The simplicity and intimacy of the filming process, which included only director, actor and soundman is seductive. Equally the film is a timely antithesis to the celebrated London Fashion Week, a hint from Potter’s that we might consider the hidden agendas and invisible faces behind the glamorous face of the catwalk shows.
The inventive means of film distribution, which takes full advantage of the newest technology, could be seen as a counter to the speed at which the fashion industry has adopted the Internet.
My impression is that it is the star cast which holds the film together, allowing for the unusual concept. Yet, I left without really knowing the point of the film. There is a critique of the economy of fashion in the characters narrative, as well as a snub against conspicuous consumption and the power of branding. Potter has previously expressed her resentment at ‘an economic system that turns people into things’. But if her point was to express her own ‘Rage’ through the film, she failed to deliver.
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