Right after the Kung Fu Kraziness, I booked it up to the Castro from the Roxie in hopes to make it for the last of the Midnites for Maniacs BFF triple feature. In fact, I made it in time to catch the very end of MEAN GIRLS, because they were pretty well behind schedule.
Anyway, at the last Midnites for Maniacs I explained how Peter Jackson--and in particular his DEAD ALIVE--is uniquely responsible for my terminal case of cinephilia. Well, HEAVENLY CREATURES was his highly acclaimed follow-up to DEAD ALIVE and his first "serious" movie, earning a best screenplay Oscar nomination for himself and his wife Fran Walsh (incidentally, I won a couple of Mario Lanza LP's for knowing that Fran Walsh was his co-writer. That makes me 2-for-2 at Peter Jackson trivia at Midnites for Maniacs! Now I just need to get a record player...)
SPOILER ALERT! DON'T READ BELOW IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN THE MOVIE AND EVER INTEND TO SEE IT!
Anyway, as for the movie...the more I think about it this might be Peter Jackson's most masterful masterpiece. It proved he can mix humor and tragedy, the real with the surreal, the absurd and the sublime. And it launched the career of his two leads Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey. They play Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker, two school chums who murder Pauline's mother so they can stay together. This is an actual murder that happened in Christchurch, NZ in the 1950's, and by introducing it in the beginning the eventual matricide should hang over the proceedings, but the world that is created is so engaging that I forgot about it until it's brought up again very near the end.
And I suppose the first thing that's remarkable is Peter Jackson followed up what is hailed (if that's the right word) as the goriest movie of all time with a story of a real life murder that is very sparing with the blood. Granted, when blood is shown in mirrored scenes in the beginning and end there's enough to get the point across, but what's striking isn't the volume of blood but the editing between real life scenes of the two screaming, running, blood-spattered girls and the fantasy world where they're running and screaming to catch an ocean liner. A title card then explains the murder and Pauline's diary--text from which is repeated verbatim in the film (at least, according to the film.) It then takes us back a couple of years to when Pauline and Juliet first met. They were quiet girls who were excused from P.E. for medical reasons--Juliet's lungs and Pauline's leg bone both had problems that had required a lot of treatment in the past. They're also both incredibly imaginative, which is first shown in art class where Juliet is paired off with Pauline and is supposed to draw a portrait of her but instead draws other scenes from imagination. The teacher disapproves, but Pauline loves it.
It's pretty clever but not such a stretch to focus the story on the girls' friendship (or borderline romance? It's certainly there for the interpretation but never fully explicated) rather than the gory details of the murder. But I think the true maverick stroke is making the rest of the world around them so exaggerated and ludicrous. Pauline's father lip-syncing Mario Lanza with a mackerel is just the first hint that everything is off around them. The close-up of the doctor's lips as he stutters "ho...homo...sex...uality..." is one of my favorite moments in all cinema. The scene of Pauline losing her virginity to a boarder who fancies her (Jackson regular Jed Brophy--Void in DEAD ALIVE and the lead orc in the LORD OF THE RINGS movies) is high comedy in it's awkwardness. Against the ludicrous background of their real life, the girls' fantasy "Fourth World" and the royal family of Borovnia makes perfect sense. And that's also where Peter Jackson gets to indulge his slightly off-kilter special effects wizardry. Sense they modeled the entire court of Borovnia in clay, when they enter the world they are surrounded by life-sized clay figures, and the effect is pretty damn cool.
Ultimately, Peter Jackson might have slightly overplayed the sympathy towards the girls. I couldn't help but think by the end that actually if their parents were just more understanding and didn't tear the pair apart and dump Juliet alone in South Africa (for her health, of course) that things would've been just fine. I almost had to consciously remind myself that murder is still bad. But the actual murder (bludgeoning with a brick in a stocking) is done so awkwardly and painfully that all sympathy for them is sucked out in one breath. Just a moment before there was a part of me that wanted to see them get away with it, and that disappears immediately.
Huh...I have nothing more to say...I guess I got a pretty spoilery there, and I'm sorry. I'll go put a big spoiler alert at the top.
END SPOILER ALERT!
So yeah...the more I think about it, this is Peter Jackson's masterpiece. And saying that takes nothing away from the rest of his work.
The next Midnites for Maniacs show will actually be a video double-bill at the Cinecave, the new underground micro-cinema in Lost Weekend Video. RAD (1986) and YOUNG WARRIORS (1983) starting at 7:30 pm on July 20th. The next film event is back at the Castro for the Disco 4-eva triple bill on August 3rd.
Running Time: 99 minutes
My Total Minutes: 289,743