Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger says that nudity and vacuum cleaners don't mix, not at all.
Your next sale may be your last!
You've probably heard of Danny Boyle, the wacky Brit responsible for some of the creepiest movies in recent memory. He gave us 28 Days Later, a low-budget but compelling update of the zombie flick, and Trainspotting, a stylish and witty peek into drug-addled slackers. These movies were absolutely fresh, with steamrollers of well-earned buzz backing them. Boyle also gave us the ordinary A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach, along with a few other decent (but not spectacular) flicks. What all of these movies had in common was their high profile.
And now Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise arrives on DVD, a film that few have heard of wrapped in a package that proudly proclaims "From the director of Trainspotting and 28 Days Later!" If you've been around the block, this should set off your B.S. detector. Hmm…low-profile flick with a relatively unknown cast, loudly voicing its pedigree? It must be an early, inferior work. Or perhaps the budget was pulled and the resultant film is sloppy. Maybe Boyle directed five minutes of it and then handed the reins to the second unit director. Whatever the real story is, it can't be good.
Not so fast. The real story is much more interesting. Your B.S. detector may not have led you completely astray, but let's dig deeper.
Facts of the Case
Pete (Michael Begley), a flighty do-nothing, daydreams about being a DJ while his girlfriend strips to pay the rent. This degradation spurs Pete to accept a job offer as a vacuum cleaner salesman. He is paired with Tommy Rag (Timothy Spall), an apoplectic and thoroughly distasteful man who leads the company in sales. Pete tries to hold onto his sanity, bollocks, and social mores while Tommy crashes headlong through the day. Tommy dishes out a nonstop stream of hard sell, pausing only to pick up more inventory. Will Tommy corrupt Pete, will Pete mellow Tommy…or will they both be irrevocably damaged by their partnership?
Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise and its sibling film Strumpet are made-for-TV movie collaborations between Danny Boyle and writer Jim Cartwright. They are low-budget, one-take, digital video efforts that (according to Tim Goodman) were filmed in twenty days combined. This reality should greatly curtail our expectations: made-for-TV, low budget, and short production time are three formidable red flags.
The resultant gut-wrenching work pushes the limits of the television movie format. Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise assaults us with high-profile guerilla filmmaking. It isn't so much a movie as a coordinated media attack on our eyes, ears, brains, and hearts. It is easy to give viewers a raw and confusing media blitz. It is difficult to give viewers a raw and confusing media blitz that keeps them engaged and makes them care. Boyle achieves the latter.
If you get a chance to breathe and ponder Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise, you'll find it a simple, linear tale of hardcore salesmen pursuing a sales record. In purely narrative terms, there's little we haven't seen before. What we haven't seen so much is Boyle's free-reign aggressiveness with the camera, his total disregard for sanitization. For driving scenes he plants digicams on the dashboard, the taillights, the headrest, and other unconventional places, then splices the different views in postproduction. This technique shows us the living embodiment of road rage, as our whiskey-swilling, blood-pumping, raving-mad Salesman Ahab barrels down the road screaming obscenities while innocents scatter in his wake. The whole movie is like this, offering us no quarter. Interior shots are gritty and kinetic, with swelled focal points and peripheral distractions. Whether we're seeing sex, screaming, wheedling, or despondency, it is captured raw and close to our senses.
Our mad captain Ahab actually goes by the name Tommy Rag, and he's played with abandon by Timothy Spall. Apparently Spall looked over the script, saw the barebones nature of the production, said "what the hell," and proceeded to unlock the most primitive centers of his intensity and rage. Tommy Rag is a bowling ball, the world is full of pins, and he will knock them all down or die trying. The dark triangle of Cartwright's gritty script, Boyle's uncompromising camera work, and Spall's bile-spewing performance combine to create an unpleasant yet compelling character.
As Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise unleashes itself, we grow ever more repulsed by and fascinated with Tommy. He is a man, but he seems to have forgotten that in his quest to become a fascist selling machine. Tommy walks into the homes of the destitute and depressed with a vacuum cleaner and a contract. He'll do anything to walk out sans vacuum cleaner with a signed contract. He'll lie, cajole, yell, harass, fornicate, beg, or simply intimidate people into signing. Tommy cares nothing for them; they are enemies to be vanquished.
Beneath his diatribes and appalling methods, we sense a kernel of fascinating humanity. Tommy is charismatic, in a repulsive kind of way. He has ambitions, personality, and the most tenuous sense of fair play. Had Spall driven Tommy over the top we wouldn't have any sympathy for the character. But somehow, we never abandon that glint of hope. His daring display of vitriol in combination with a delicate balance of humanity, conceived and executed in scant days, was a performance that earned Spall high regard. He'd a long career behind him, but Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise led to prestigious resume entries such as Vanilla Sky, The Last Samurai, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. In other words, this performance was an eye-opener.
Michael Begley plays second fiddle to Spall's performance. He ably portrays an aimless dreamer. Begley also elicits a few moments of genuine pathos, such as when he's scared for his life in Rag's car or when he expresses remorse over a shifty sale. But in general, he doesn't give us much to grasp onto. This may be intentional: Pete is established as the main character, but it quickly becomes obvious that Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise belongs to Tommy Rag. It is a neat twist on the coming-of-age tale: Young rookie is paired with a quirky, experienced partner, makes his first sale—and then scrabbles to hold onto what is left of his life, learning and accomplishing little else. On the other hand, perhaps a stronger portrayal would have given us a powerful duo rather than overwhelmer and overwhelmed.
Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise is a train wreck of a dark comedy. It isn't a classic dark comedy, with carefully constructed, triple-layered, wicked barbs. It is a dark comedy that stirs up the muck of humanity, scoops laughter up from the gutter with its hands. These are real people in desperate situations, yet we laugh. Perhaps it is Tommy Rag dressing up as a matador (actually, the whole Spanish subplot is a riot) to sell a vacuum, or Pete's horror at "shagging a slow girl," or another of the countless awful-funny moments, but one of these abjectly screwed-up scenes will wring a laugh from you.
When you consider that this movie was essentially thrown together (in cinematic terms), the watchability and power it achieves are remarkable. I doubt we'll see an equivalent mix of profanity, realism, absurdity, and hyperactivity on American television any time soon.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Remember that B.S. detector warning? It wasn't completely a false alarm. After all, if this movie was as good as Trainspotting it would have gotten major press.
Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise is very hard to watch. If you're inclined to motion sickness, the frequent whip pans, oscillating camera angles, extreme close-ups, and raucous camera antics will have you reaching for the trash can. When you can mount a camera anywhere, you give up in viewer comfort what you make up in interest.
But it isn't just the camera movements, it's the whole style. Faces are pallid, blotchy, imperfect…and thrust in your face. Fat people screw, skinny people run about in their sweaty underwear, old people lie dead in the doorways, crack addicts raise kids in sloth. Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise delves into the black heart of humanity. It is a queasy, uncomfortable sort of film.
The video quality is not at all what we're used to in our ivory tower of shiny media. This digital video transfer is ultra-grainy, with poor contrast, off-kilter hues, and fluctuating light levels. Boyle wasn't going for the Best Cinematography Oscar here; he was going for raw, and he got it. The audio track is nearly as spastic as the video, but it holds up pretty well. Nonetheless, it isn't what I'd call reference quality. This is guerilla moviemaking with its inherent limitations on display.
No extras are provided, not even a brief description of the genesis of Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise. It would be so simple to write up a small paragraph explaining that this is a quick-and-dirty TV movie. Such knowledge would greatly increase our tolerance level, or at least correctly frame our expectations. Why does everyone think in the box when they produce DVD extras? "Oh well, there's no trailer for this one, and Boyle would charge us too much for the commentary. Guess we're scrapping the extras."
The bottom line is, when you're making a low-budget, rapid-fire black comedy that prominently features despicable people…well, you're limiting your target audience from the get-go.
In terms of blitzkrieg cinema, Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise is a great example of what can be achieved with a solid script, an accomplished director, and gung-ho actors. Boyle's directorial attitude of freedom and Spall's nuanced performance elevate it far beyond a simple fable or stylistic exercise. However, it is low budget, which takes away many of the audiovisual niceties. Also, unpleasant and uncomfortably black comedy is not everyone's cup of tea. Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise will test your tolerance for cinematic mayhem.
Fortunately, the bylaws of American television movies do not apply to this British import. That allows this court to avoid sentence on a risk-taking, attention-commanding flick. Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise is free to go, but for heaven's sake cover yourself up.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
Review content copyright © 2004 Rob Lineberger; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.