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MOUNTAINS OF THE moon
Mountains 0t The Moon (15) a.» (Bob Ralelson, US, 1990) Patrick Bergin, lain Glen, Fiona Shaw, Richard E. Grant. 135 mins. Although Ralelson, as the man who brought you early Seventies angst classics like Five Easy Pieces and The King 0t Marvin Gardens, has always seemed a tilm-maker most at home exploring the murkier depths ot the American psyche, he actually spends most at his spare time travelling through the world’s remotest and most inaccessible areas. Devoting his energies to traversing northern India and the Himalayas, tor instance, probably goes some way to explain why this is only his third movie (alter The Postman Always Rings Twice and Black Widow) in the past decade.
Right trom the vigorous opening massacre, Ralelson lets you know that this is one picture about Alrica that isn’t going to tall into the usual white-suited tourist trappings. It is the mid-19th century, and we are accompanying explorer/scholar Richard Burton (Irishman Patrick Bergin) and his associate John Hanning Speke (Edinburgh-born Iain Glen) on their Royal Geographical Society-sponsored mission to lind the source at the Nile. Enduring horrilic hardships (take a tip and close your eyes tor about ten minutes when the big beetle wanders into Speke's ear), they encounter a series at sophisticated but barely hospitable native communities, and survive serious illness, but upon their return to England are soon embroiled in controversy over the scientilic validity at their discoveries. The deep bond that has grown between the men on their journey is subjected to terrible strain by this conllict, itsell engineered by
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Richard E. Grant’s unscrupulous
' publisher, creating a tension that may
only be eased by tragedy.
There’s a lot to chew on here. Ralelson carelully builds up an intriguing picture at the terrain and peoples ol mountainous East Alrica whose very untamiliarity maintains a strong hold on our attentions. Back in Victorian England, his approach is slightly more problematic, lor while he intelligently contrasts the restless curiosity ol the age's industrial and scientilic zeitgeist with this repressive attitudes to sexuality (Burton
translated the Karma Sutra and is given
a suitably liberated toil in the shape at Fiona Shaw's Isabel Arundell), the eye is still distracted by the plethora ot wigs, rustling dresses, eartrumpets and British character actors.
Glen‘s angular, rather slutty (ie repressed) Speke also plays all against Burton‘s powerhouse ot intellectual and physical energy, and it‘s this relationship that one leels is intended to supply the tilm's emotional core. Where the movie talls down is that there‘s simply so much else going on that we can't really get too involved with this buddy-buddy stutt, and as a result Mountains at The Moon gradually become a rather dry, enormously impressive spectacle that never quite moves us as much as it : might. Still, it‘s tar more ambitious and ' intelligent than the everyday Hollywood epic. so perhaps one can’t quite have everything. Just don't let the quite hideous poster put you ott. ) (Trevor Johnston)
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