It's beconte a well-worn critical cliche to talk about the suitability of large-scale enterprises to the cinerna's big screen. whilst confining more intimate projects to the box at home. but for his first theatrical release director Jim ()"Brien has confounded such expectations. He has followed the television blockbustersJewel In The ('rown and The Monocled Mutinecr by a drama of more modest scope in The Dressmaker. an absorbing. WWII character study that has been selected to open this year‘s Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Scripted by John McGrath from the Beryl Bainbridge novel. Joan Plowright stars as Nellie. a woman of stout moral principles who dominates the Liverpool household where she lives with her gregarious younger sister Margo (Billie Whitelaw) and their teenage niece Rita (newcomer Jane IIorrocks). Set during WWII. the narrative sees the women's world shaken by the arrival ofa company of American (ils. and in particular by the relationship that Rita strikes up with one oftheir number (Tim Ransom). The shy young girl is unprepared for the demands of their burgeoning romance. which looks set to threaten the family‘s conservative standards of conduct. Events are soon to move towards a disturbing resolution.
This beautifully written and performed slice of wartime experience draws easy comparison with the successful Ilope And Glory. but director
()‘Brien is swift to point out the differences; ‘()ur film concentrates on how
the arrival ofthe Americans shook up the conservative attitudes that in many areas were current in Britain at the time. The girl Rita isa product of Victorian values. she's not equipped for life. and the war creates a new kind of morality that none ofthe family are quite able to cope wih. It also bringson a kind of paranoia. because people suddenly find thetnselvcs doruinated by this colonisingarmy. Audiences who‘ve seen the film in America have been quite intrigued by that aspect. which also marks it out from something like Yanks. for instance'.
()f course. the tension between a reactionary and a more progressive outlook on sexuality is a theme ofquite alarming currency in the contemporary political arena. Most significantly. ()‘Brien relatesthe reaction to the film in Czechoslovakia. where it film took a prize at this year's Karlovy Vary festival; ‘They were very perceptive in their reading of the film. They said that ifwc couldn‘t have got Joan Plowright. then Margaret Thatcher could have played the role just as well‘. It‘s a testamentto the film‘s richness that its ﬂair for observation captures the people and the period in easygoing detail. but at the same time the themes in the writing lend it a relevance that means it never becomes a mere exercise in nostalgia. Some might feel that it looks a modest offering. but there‘s enough for any cinema audience to chew on here. (TrevorJohnston)
The perceived commerciality of Vietnam subject material has produced a plethora of films on the subject from the ()scar winning l’fulmm to the opportunistic Saigon and the forthcoming comedy (fund Afar/ting. l'l't'lrtum. Dear America howcv er. is altogether a different proposition. Adapted fron a bestselling book by The New York Veterans Association. the film uses the simple notion ofactors reading the letters of real soldiers over library. television and home movie footage ofactttal events to convey an impressionistic portrait of the fears. bravery and confusion of the youngsters who served in the front line.
The project w as masterminded for I IB() by Bill (‘outuric. a former peacenik. who was involved with the video for the hit single If). "The letters were so immediate and intimate. Time changes peoples' memories and people relate differently toa journalist or interviewer. but these were so honest: written to a wife ora mom. They moved rue. There's a great change between the letters in ‘64 and later; we move from idealism. optimism and hope to bitterness and cynicism. It's an emotional history of the war. not a political one.'
('outurie and his team sawover l.llllll hoursof footage to discover the appropriate images to underline or counterpoint a letter; in the entire film only twenty seconds of the material is new . nothing has been recreated or staged. Atnong the performers who gave their voices for free were Robert De Niro. Kathleen Turner. Michael J. Fox and Brian Dennehy. who had received a Purple Heart in Vietnam. ‘We used whoever gave the best and msot moving reading. Virtually no-one said no; it was a case of a good subject and your heart beingin the right place. The response made one feel good to be part of the film industry.
Asked how his film differs in its impact from Full Metal Jacket or Platoon. (‘outurie believes. ‘The war was fought by kids. The average age of the soldiers was nineteen. This is a truth thatsimply can‘t be conveyed when a filmmaker is using 30 year-old actors. This is something only real footage can convey.‘
Although edited down to halfof itsoriginal three hours length and inevitably both contentiousand incomplete. (‘outurie feels that Dear America is a vital contribution to the healing of the American psyche. ‘lt's an onvious truism that if you forget your history then you're doomed to repeat it. There is a generation who have grown up. the sons and daughters who had to face Vietnam and they have a deep curiosity about what happened. I was an ant-war protester. There was no way in hell I'd go. but I do feel we treated our soldiers badly. especially when they came back. I)ear America is not a definitive statement on \‘ietnam. but it isa cathartic film. There isa play called (‘ount the living. .\'ot the Dead. That's what we in
TICKET INFO Tickets available from Filmhousc. Lothian Road. Box office 9am—9pm. Perfs before 6pm: £3 (£2.50
L'B4t) ()AP). Perfs after (ipm: £4. All screenings at Filmhouse unless specified. Full details in ()fficial Programme.
(‘annon perfs £4. £5.50 (Pullman seats).
(‘ameo perfs £4.
FILM FESTIVAL DAY BY DAY DIARY
I CAMEO Home Street The DressmakerUim ()‘Brien. L'K. 1988) 8.30pm. Sensitive. well-acted study of an all female household thrown into turmoil by the arrival of American (ils during WWII. An impressive British opening film. See paneL
I CANNON Lothian Road Beetleiuice (Tim Burton. US. 1988) 1 1pm. Special late night preview of surprise stateside box office smash. (‘omic chills as a ghost family try to get rid ofthe unwanted humans who’ve just moved into their old house. Great fun. and
. «r. 55-.
America are trying todo' (Allan I Inter) I DearAmerica: Letters
opening throughout central Scotland Iiri Aug 1‘).
In Georgia (Jurgen Bottcher.(i.l).R..1987) 4.30pm. first in a season by noted Iiast (ierman documentarist Bottcher. llis debut feature focusses on rural life in the Soviet Republic of(ieorgia. High Hopes (Mike Leigh. l'K. l‘)b’8)7pm. lmprovising with the cast as usual. Leigh has created anotherdarkly humourous vision of contemporary suburbia. Plus Rarg ( l8 mins). Midnight Run (Martin Brest. L'S. l‘)88) 9pm. The director of Beverly Hills ( ‘np has come up with a highly regarded comedy-thriller. starring Robert De Niro and (’harles (irodin as incompetent hit men on the run. Worth catching. I FILMHOUSE 2
The People Ofﬂokkasho (Akiko Kuraoka. Japan. 1985) 5.3(lpm.'l‘hrec hour documentary shot over three years which looks at the effect of industrialisation on a remote farming community.
MONDAY 1 5 I rILMHousei M“
Home From Vietnam l‘illnhouse. 9pm. Tues lo Aug. £4.
Gale Ol Flesh (Sejun Suzuki. Japan. [964) plus Detective Bureau 23—60 To Hell Bastard (Sejun Su/ukidapan. 1963) 2.30pm. Double-bill commencing a season of thirteen films by Suzuki. often remarkable for their exuberant visual style and intriguing for their insight intolapanese cultural attitudes to screen sex and violence. Track 29 ( Nic Roeg. l'K. N88) 7pm. Bizarre collaboration between Roeg and Denis Potter which mixes oedipal psychodrama. and obsession with toy trains. Theresa Rtissell and (iary ()ldman star. King Of The Children ( ( ‘hen Kaige. (Tuna. 1987) 9pm. I .ow -key. absorbing new film from the director of Yt'l/Uii' [furl/t. which centres on a schoolteacher'sclashes with Party authority. I FILMHOUSE 2 Jurgen Bottcher Shorts 5.30pm. Three films looking at the everyday lives of working people. Ten Years of CIermont-Ferrand 8pm. Selection of inventive work from the influential French festival for short films. Bad Taro ( Sejun Suzuki. Japan. 1963) lt).3()pm. Suzuki's tough teenage love story set in the 1950s.
Jurgen Bottchershorts 4.30pm. Another programme. primarily early work. looking at the workplace.
The Navigator ( Vincent Ward. New Zealand. I988) 7pm. A groupof
The List l2 - 18 August 1988 33