Retro Review: High-Wire Countdown: EIGHT Catches the Free Fall of a Young Woman’s Fight for Sanity

Posted on: Mar 31st, 2015 By:

Snowdance_eight-333x187EIGHT (2014); Dir. Peter Blackburn; Starring Libby Munro; Screened at the Atlanta Film Festival, IMDB.

By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

The term “high-wire act” is sometimes deployed by critics to describe a film or a performance that’s particularly high-risk, implying disaster should the performer slip up or go too far. EIGHT, an Australian film that just had its North American premiere at the Atlanta Film Festival, pivots on a performance that seems less like a high-wire act than a bungee-cord plunge. Star Libby Munro is in a perpetual state of free fall in the film, without a net to catch her, and the only question is just how hard she’s going to hit the pavement. Only when she doesn’t does the full weight of her accomplishment become clear.

Munro stars as Sarah, a woman crippled by agoraphobia and OCD that appears to have completely shut her in to her home. The entire film follows Sarah as she attempts to begin her day, and if that sounds like a premise that can’t support a feature, then be grateful for your perspective. Movie characters written into sweeping, plot-driven adventures rarely suffer as Sarah does just in the simple act of trying to get dressed. Her illness has trapped her in a paralyzing cycle of eights. She must tap her feet eight times to put on her slippers, make eight taps on the fridge door before opening it for water, and wash her hands violently eight times in a sink before she can convince herself they’re clean. Sarah’s body bears the scars and bruises from her daily struggle with tasks as simple as taking a shower, cleaning the sink, or making breakfast.

eightThe film doesn’t reveal much about Sarah. We see she has an absent family, but we never learn what triggered her condition or how long it’s been with her. What we know for certain is that she wants to get better. Her house is papered with encouraging notes, and an occasional caller checks in with her progress over an answering machine. With this knowledge every lapse, every small mistake that repeats a cycle becomes all the more tragic. Sarah is not insane, she’s ill. She’s fully aware of her condition, but trapped by it, and EIGHT honors the grip of her illness by refusing to cut away from it. Indeed, EIGHT is shot as a single, uninterrupted take that keeps Sarah in the frame for almost all of the film’s 82 minutes. Far from being a showy gimmick, EIGHT’s ambitious single-take style is essential to the understanding of what the film wants to convey. Sarah has no escape, and the film provides a small glimpse of what it means to actually live that kind of life. The film can be brutal, unflinching, and, quite frankly, difficult to watch, but it evokes sympathy for mental illness in a way a more traditional film could not. Unlike other famous one-shot films (ROPE, BIRDMAN), there is no editing trickery on display. It actually is one single, punishing take providing only rare moments of audience relief (words cannot express my gratitude when the camera decided not to stay on Sarah for a third painful, compulsive shower. The camera instead chooses that moment to glide past pictures of the family Sarah has lost to her illness, twisting the knife in another way.)

After the AFF screening, director Peter Blackburn talked about how mental illness—especially OCD—is too often used as a comedic character quirk in Australian film. (Americans who’ve seen Jack Nicholson’s hammy, Oscar-winning performance in AS GOOD AS IT GETS (1997) can relate). Blackburn hoped that EIGHT would put the focus back on the reality of the disorder, and in that his film is a success. Munro’s performance is so raw and tortured that audiences will find themselves cheering for each tiny bit of progress Sarah makes. A stage actor in Australia, Munro masterfully depicts Sarah’s breakdown between the life she wants and the life her compulsions force her to live. Almost entirely without words—over 20 minutes passed before the first voice reminded me that the film is Australian—Munro is able to make Sarah a complete and pitiable human being. Her work here is remarkable, and despite that bungee-cord feeling that disaster could strike at any moment, she confidently sticks the landing.

I’m not entirely convinced that EIGHT does the same, saddled as it is with an ending that, although welcome, is a bit too tidy after the struggle that came before. But the film must still be considered an accomplishment, both in completing its incredibly difficult single shot and for depicting the real heartbreak of OCD through the power of the splendid, fearless performance that anchors the film.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

Category: Retro Review | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

30 Days of The Plaza, Day 29: Vintage Vertigo That’s Not Just for the Birds: Hitchcock Takes Atlanta by Storm at The Plaza and the Strand This November!

Posted on: Nov 1st, 2012 By:

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

With November upon us and the gusts of the coming winter already chilling our bones, what better time than now to pay tribute to the king of spine-tingling thrillers, Sir Alfred Hitchcock? Thanks to the Plaza Theatre in Atlanta and Marietta’s Earl Smith Strand Theatre, you can spend some quality time this month with the Master of Suspense in his preferred setting: on the big screen and even better – remastered and in high definition!

Atlanta’s historic Plaza Theatre’s series promises special guests and vintage Hitchcock interview footage before each screening (show times TBA). They kick off the month with 1948’s James Stewart-starring ROPE, showing November 2-4. Hitchcock’s first color film, ROPE was based on the infamous 1924 Leopold and Loeb “perfect murder” scandal and seemingly unfolds in one continuous take. (Actually, it was shot in 10 shorter segments, with editing trickery covering up the fact that the cameraman would have to change the film magazine every 10 minutes.)

Up next is the film that ushered in what is now considered Hitch’s golden age—1951’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, showing November 16-18. The tense story of two men—played by Farley Granger and Robert Walker—who agree (the former, however, unwittingly) to “swap” targets of murder, the film contains some of Hitch’s most inventive and still-studied optical effects.

The Plaza follows this with a weekend of VERTIGO, showing November 23-25. Frequent Hitch collaborator James Stewart returns to star with Kim Novak in this 1958 tale of madness and obsession. A critical and commercial flop at the time of its release, the movie today is acknowledged as one of Hitchcock’s most personal films and topped the British Film Institute’s 2012 Sight & Sound critic’s poll as the greatest film ever made.

The Plaza closes out the month as THE BIRDS attack the coastal city of Bodega Bay from November 30 to December 2. The 1963 film stars Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor, and was based both on a Daphne du Maurier short story and an actual case of birds infesting a California town. Though it was scored by Hitch’s frequent composer Bernard Herrmann, you’ll note that no actual music (aside from schoolchildren singing unaccompanied) is heard. Instead, Herrmann layers the soundtrack with electronically-created bird noises.

The Earl Smith Strand Theatre opens this month’s continuation of its series (all events begin at 8 p.m.) with a November 2 screening of THE BIRDS (tickets here). The pre-show entertainment starts with organist Misha Stefanuk (of the Atlanta Chapter of the American Theater Organ Society, or ACATOS) accompanying vocalists Kennedy Bastow and Cierra Ollis.

On November 16, the Strand brings us what is perhaps Hitchcock’s best-known film, 1960’s PSYCHO (tickets here). The story of a boy (Anthony Perkins), his mother and the girl who threatens to come between them (Janet Leigh), the film was shot at the studios used for ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and was independently produced by Hitchcock on a small budget. The famous “shower scene” took an entire week to shoot and contains 77 different camera angles.

The Strand closes its Hitchcock series with 1959’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST (tickets here). Cary Grant comes as close to playing James Bond as he ever got in the role of Roger O. Thornhill, one of the “Mad Men” of Madison Avenue’s advertising world, who finds himself mistaken for a secret agent and pursued across the country. Besides the film being recognized as one of Hitch’s best (and on a personal note, I’d say it’s also his most fun), GQ magazine voted Cary Grant’s gray suit (which he wears almost throughout the entire film) as the best suit in film history.

So escape the frosty autumn air this November for some big-screen chills and thrills with these Hitchcock classics. And keep your eyes peeled for Hitch’s cameos!

Editor’s Note: Remember every time you shell out a few bucks to see a classic movie on the big screen, you are keeping the theatrical experience alive in vintage independent cinemas that are Atlanta-area historic treasures. ATLRetro will be running separate reviews/essays on some of these films. 

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com

 

Category: Tis the Season To Be... | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

© 2019 ATLRetro. All Rights Reserved. This blog is powered by Wordpress