Monday, 26 October 2009

The Company of Wolves (1984)

Yes, I know, I'm supposed to be continuing my London Film Festival reviews, but I had a long-standing appointment for this date. Joe Valdez of This Distracted Globe (see link to the right) decided to organise a blogathon to celebrate the 25th anniversary of "The Terminator" and asked other movie-bloggers to choose another film from that landmark year of 1984. Despite considering myself mainly partial to the classic screen, I was surprised to find over sixty movies from 1984 amongst my collection, many of which are themselves influential classics of that decade. I was tempted to opt for some quirky lesser-known one like "Night of the Comet" or the late Katharine Hepburn farrago "Grace Quigley", but one title stood out. The above film is one of those movies that remains fresh, viewing after viewing, and seldom has the magical world of wonder and cruelty been so perfectly brought to life on the screen.

It is the second film from Irish director Neil Jordan who went on to direct "Interview with the Vampire". Co-written by him with fantasy novelist Angela Carter, it opens with a modern family where an impatient teenaged girl is sent by her parents to wake her younger sister. The pubescent rouge-lipped girl lies abed in a feverish dream refusing to be stirred from her reverie, whilst around her are the artefacts of childhood, a collection of ever-so-sinister looking toys. The movie then segues into the timeless Gothic landscape of fairy tales, where the same family are mourning the elder daughter who has been killed by wolves. The surviving daughter, Rosaleen, is taken to stay overnight with her grandmother, Angela Lansbury (one of the very few star names in the cast), who has three lessons to teach the youngster: Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple, and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet. She also cautions that the worst sort of wolves are those which are only hairy on the inside, i.e. beware of male sexuality.

A series of tales follows, some related by Lansbury and some by Rosaleen herself. The first concerns the girl who married 'a traveling man' (Jordan regular Stephen Rea) who found his inner wolf on their wedding night and disappears; he returns years later when she has remarried and has three puling youngsters to tear off his face and reveal his true nature. The most elaborate story is told by the youngster of the wronged village girl who confronts her seducer at his opulent wedding feast and shows the effete revelers in their true colours as they morph into ravenous and destructive wild animals. We also watch Rosaleen as she is wooed by a seemingly gormless village lad who has already met with the devil -- a very brief and wonderful uncredited cameo by Terence Stamp -- as he offers to walk her through the woods. Needless to say after an attempted kiss, she runs off the path into a terrifying landscape of giant toadstools and threatening frogs. Safe once more back home the granny-warnings continue; for example, she cautions never to trust a priest ('He's not called Father for nothing'), especially one whose sermons preach that 'the wolf shall lie with the lamb'.

The story eventually moves into full Little Red Riding Hood mode as she goes though those dangerous woods to Grandmother's house, meets an older and charming well-dressed man with heavy eyebrows, and is tempted to leave the path for an impromptu picnic. He bets her a kiss that he can reach Granny's house before her where he despatches the old biddy and shows Rosaleen his true colours, despite her saying that she knows about 'your kind'. In the distance we hear the braying of the wolf pack whom he describes as his companions, adding that he loves the company of wolves. Rosaleen has never met a creature that can move between two worlds and is in the end enchanted by his sad and forbidden realm. Meanwhile, our sleeping modern dreamer begins to wake as the wolves come crashing into her home, streaking up the staircase, smashing the windows and toys, and finally signifying the end of childish innocence.

In this inter-linked series of 'Once Upon a Times' there is little point looking for a logical storyline unless you think for a moment that dreams proceed logically. The viewer who willingly gives himself up to this imaginative rendering will be rewarded with one of the most innovative, sumptuous, and intelligent "horror" films of all time.

Just a few final footnotes: the very talented Sarah Patterson who debuted as Rosaleen was only twelve at the time of filming and never made another noteworthy feature. The wonderful imagination of author Angela Carter was only brought to life in one further (and obscure) film "The Magic Toyshop" in 1987 and she died in 1992 at a relatively young age. What a shame that neither of these two were able to captivate us on screen again. However, if my contribution here to Joe's carnival of blogging brings new viewers to this amazing movie, my mission is accomplished.

Back on Thursday with the remaining LFF story including two silents from 1919 and 1928. See you then!

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