Terry Gilliamís latest,
wilder-than-ever feature showcases this vital talent at his free-wheeling
finest. If you ask me itís exactly what we need right now: a demanding yet
enchanting, freaky as hell surreal-fest that promises to shock, bewilder and
ultimately delight--though just as likely annoy--potential viewers.
TIDELAND was based on a 2000 novel by Mitch Cullin, a short and strange
little book about a young Southern girlís private world, packed with junkie
parents, talking Barbie doll heads, a deranged taxidermist and several dead
bodies. Cullin sent a pre-publication copy of the book to Terry Gilliam, who
was understandably taken with it. After a seven-year interval following 1998ís
FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (during which Gilliam attempted to make another
feature but failed spectacularly--see the 2002 documentary LOST IN LA MANCHA)
Gilliamís film adaptation was shot back-to-back with the more straightforward
The pairing seems curiously appropriate, as the
Miramax-backed THE BROTHERS GRIMM is the directorís most crassly commercial
movie by far, while the European-Canadian co-production TIDELAND, produced by
the esteemed Jeremy Thomas, is definitely Gilliamís least audience-friendly
effort to date. In any event, it finally reached US screens in October of í06
(whereas THE BROTHERS GRIMM was released a full year earlier), with a February
'07 DVD release that includes a making-of doc by CUBE director Vincenzo Natali.
10-year-old Jeliza-Rose lives in the Deep South with her junkie parents.
One day her mom dies unexpectedly and Jelizaís father reacts by impulsively
moving them to her grandmotherís house. Said house turns out to be a forbidding
and deserted structure (its owner having died long ago) set in the middle of a
vast field. This doesnít stop Jeliza and her father from making themselves at
home in this ramshackle establishment; the old man takes refuge in his heroin
addiction while Jeliza escapes into a private world of talking Barbie doll
heads, mischievous squirrels and friendly fireflies. Thereís also a witchy
woman who lives nearby with her deranged brother Dickens, an epileptic who
underwent curative surgery and ended up permanently brain-damaged as a result.
These two characters are very much real, although they fit right into Jelizaís
That world only grows more all-encompassing when Jelizaís father dies one
morning in much the same way her mother did. Jeliza is thus stuck with a
rotting corpse she doesnít know what to do with; luckily the witchy neighbor
does, using her penchant for taxidermy to spiff up the old manís carcass. The
woman, it transpires, has a history with Jelizaís family, having been assisted
by Jelizaís grandmother years ago and now eager to return the favor. Thus she,
together with her brother, Jeliza and her fatherís stuffed corpse, creates a
makeshift family...but any family this dysfunctional is bound to come apart at
the seams, and thatís exactly what transpires.
TIDELAND was the first Terry Gilliam project in some time to have been made
entirely outside the Hollywood system, and so was free of the executive meddling
that has dogged Gilliam throughout his career. The result is a volcanic flood
of weirdness, a deeply Gilliamesque celebration of childlike (even childish)
irrationality and subversion.
The cast, which includes Gilliam semi-regular Jeff
Bridges and an unrecognizable Jennifer Tilly, is uniformly solid, with the young
Jodelle Ferland (from SILENT HILL) doing superlative work in the lead role:
sheís quite pretty, radiating a sunny aura reminiscent of kid-movie icons like
Dorothy and Alice, but with a dark edge that fits Gilliamís penchant for
childrenís fairy tales mixed with adult malice and grotesquerie (best realized
in the immortal TIME BANDITS). TIDELAND certainly feels true to a childís
imagination, and could almost be a childrenís film but for the way it so
proudly flaunts its R-rating.
Gilliam has never had much patience for traditional
storytelling, and here dispenses with it altogether in an intentionally
rambling, disjointed narrative. The visuals fully support this aesthetic, with
incredibly oblique angles, a constantly moving camera and nearly every scene
shot through fish-eye lenses. How Gilliam makes this all work is part of his
inscrutable genius; any other filmmaker would doubtless end up with an
indecipherable mess, but Gilliam, as in all his best films, emerges with a
darkly poetic and frequently brilliant concoction.
Of course, genius or not, Gilliamís undisciplined approach has its
drawbacks. Occasionally he loses control of the material in scenes that seem
part of a different movie entirely (i.e. a ďwhere-the-Hell-did-that-come-from???Ē
doll brain transplant), while the film overall, which runs a full two hours, is
easily ten to fifteen minutes too long. Worst of all is the fact that, simply,
its potential audience is limited at best. I consider TIDELAND one of Gilliamís
most interesting films, but am well aware it will never attain the large
viewership of more accessible efforts like TWELVE MONKEYS or THE FISHER KING.
TIDELAND by contrast is strictly a love-it-or-hate concoction--I loved it, in
other words, but you might not.
Capri Films/Recorded Picture Company
Director: Terry Gilliam
Producers: Jeremy Thomas, Gabriella Martinelli
Screenplay: Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni
(Based on a novel by Mitch Cullin)
Cinematography: Nicola Pecorini
Editing: Lesley Walker
Cast: Jodelle Ferland, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Tilly, Brendan Fletcher, Dylan
Taylor, Wendy Anderson, Sally Crooks, Alden Adair, Harry Gilliam, Amy Matysio,