When Judge William Lee discovered speed dial, it was all the rage to him.
"If you are not beautiful, you'd better be rich."
Artists take risks when they push the conventions of their chosen medium. We applaud them when their daring works; we dismiss them when their effort leaves us cold. Sally Potter is one such artist of the cinema; Rage is an interesting experiment but dramatically superficial.
Facts of the Case
A kid named Michelangelo spends a week backstage at a New York fashion show. Using his cell phone camera, he records candid interviews with various people involved with the show such as the designer, the models, a photographer, a seamstress and others. When an accident on the runway leads to a homicide investigation, Michelangelo continues filming and his interviewees continue to reveal their true faces.
Director Sally Potter (Yes) makes a work for the digital age with her new film Rage. It was simultaneously released on DVD, in digital theaters, online and on cell phones on Sept. 22, 2009. The latter medium makes perfect sense, as the premise of the movie is that a young boy captures all the action with his cell phone camera. Fortunately, for those of us still watching movies on screens larger than two inches, the movie was filmed under professional standards with a real camera. That makes the viewing experience markedly more pleasant but still doesn't hide the shortcomings of the story.
The amateur videographer, Michelangelo, remains off screen and silent throughout the movie. In fact, it's Potter operating the camera. The Michelangelo character is barely defined and it's unconvincing that this footage is captured by a kid. The camera work is too steady and controlled to look like amateur video. The interviewees are almost too eager to reveal their true personalities to the unseen investigator. This isn't meant to be a realistic staging of the situation so let's accept it as a deliberately stylized piece of experimental cinema.
Rage consists entirely of solo performers speaking to the camera. The background for each scene is a blank wall that varies in color according to each character. It doesn't feel especially cinematic but it provides a big platform for more than a dozen actors to strut their stuff within certain constraints. The characters that populate the story are not much of a surprise. They include the fashion designer (Simon Abkarian, Casino Royale) who believes his clothes are an artistic statement, the cynical writer (Judi Dench, Doogal) who compares fashion to pornography, the media mogul (Eddie Izzard, Valkyrie) who collects companies, the world-weary photographer (Steve Buscemi, Igor) and the immigrant seamstress (Adriana Barraza, Drag Me To Hell) who doesn't want to make waves. Lily Cole (St. Trinian's) is effective as the sad, pixie-like model Lettuce Leaf. The way she connects with the camera perhaps hints at the age and personality of Michelangelo. The standout among the cast is an unrecognizable Jude Law (Alfie (2004)) as Minx, a celebrity model in drag. Minx is the most complex character of the bunch and Law's performance alone is almost reason enough to watch the movie.
There is the suggestion of a murder mystery that runs through the story but it doesn't generate any real tension. Viewers expecting that angle to be the meat of the story will be frustrated. Developing late in the movie is an explanation for Michelangelo's motivation for recording the interviews and his complicity in the events that unfold. This element, too, feels a bit limp. Through the interviews we gradually learn that all the people involved in the fashion scene are superficial and self-serving. That's hardly a revelation and it could be said of people in any profession. I suspect Potter isn't leveling criticism solely at the fashion industry but rather using it as a means to comment on the business of fame and beauty and how it masks the divide between rich and poor. Again, it's not a shocker.
The movie was shot on HD video and its transfer to DVD is superb. You're watching the actors the entire time and the picture looks great with sharp detail and pleasing skin tones. The background colors are also well chosen to nicely complement an element in the foreground. The stereo sound mix is sufficient but has a slightly cold and distant feel. The surround mix is an improvement, giving voices a fuller sound. The rear speakers get limited use from the subtle crowd noise happening far off camera and a bit more activity during the climactic moments.
Extras on this DVD are 25 minutes of deleted scenes, a 12-minute interview with the director following the completion of shooting and a trailer. Rage is a showcase for its actors and the deleted scenes certainly indulge that aspect of the production. There are also a few more plot details that can be discerned from the cut footage. The climax of the movie didn't make much of an impression on me. However, after re-watching the ending in light of some of the deleted moments, I made a connection about what happened that wasn't clear to me before.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Missing from the extras is mention of the multi-medium and multi-venue premiere ambition of the production. What makes this project more interesting than the resultant film is the intention of creating a work specifically for today's audience on the technology that is most prevalent among us. There is scant mention of this aspect on the DVD but you can find video of the Q&A session following the premiere screening, at which director and cast answered questions from the audience posed via Skype, on the Internet.
Casual viewers are going to be bored by Rage. The murder mystery is slow to gain momentum and the monochromatic backgrounds are a confining setting. Those who enjoy watching some solo acting will find individual moments to appreciate. Fans of art house cinema will surely want to see Potter's new work so as to have an opinion on it but this one is more notable for the concept than the result.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Liberation Entertainment
• Deleted Scenes
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