Collision Course

The grotesque spectacle of Terry Gilliam's kamikaze auteurism

It hardly seems possible but Terry Gilliam's courageously repellent Tideland—the movie he reportedly abandoned The Brothers Grimm to make—has actually found a distributor.

Adapting an essentially plotless novel by Mitch Cullin, Gilliam presents an American Gothic Alice in Wonderland. Little Alice is Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland, who turned 10 during the shoot), the logorrheic offspring of two flaming junkies (Jennifer Tilly's Courtney Love–like slattern and Jeff Bridges's flatulent Captain Pissgums). She used to mix up their medicine, and with their demise becomes a solo act. Her unending babble of make-believe constructs a psychotic Wonderland out of two derelict farmhouses, creepy enough to have been furnished by the Wisconsin cannibal Ed Gein. Local creatures include Jeliza-Rose's collection of Barbie doll heads, several talking rodents, and the neighbors—a one-eyed witchy beekeeper cum taxidermist (Janet Mc- Teer) and her lobotomized brother (played by Brendan Fletcher as a drooling parody of Forrest Gump).

Tideland is beautifully shot—a provocation in that the precise, windswept Andrew Wyeth compositions and delicate autumnal atmosphere are rendered increasingly rank by a conjured miasma of barfing, farting, and human decomposition. At one point Gilliam quotes Un Chien Andalou, the first movie to conceive itself as a direct assault on the spectator. Indeed, the Toronto audience with which I saw Tideland last year responded as though being water-boarded—a 15-minute immersion had people gasping for the exits, recapitulating the movie's plot by leaving poor Jodelle to her own devices. (The actress's performance is extraordinary, although, it would seem, potentially traumatizing.)

Increasingly grotesque in its intimations of pedophilia, Tideland ends with a comic train wreck. This finale could hardly be more appropriate in that the movie seems to have been made for rubbernecking. Gilliam has suffered more than his share of butchered projects, but with this exercise in kamikaze auteurism, he appears to have made exactly the mess he wanted.

 
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