Sunday, 24 February 2013

GFF Festival Diary #1: Dead Calm

As well as writing features and reviews for the Cineskinny, I've been penning a trio of diary reports for the festival itself: here's the first...

As the Festival reaches its final weekend, we reflect on the diversity of programming we’ve had the good fortune of attending thus far. From prison-set Shakespeare productions to convent exorcisms, remote Inuit villages to Argentinian slums, the variety has been marked and welcome. But the films we’ve seen all had one thing in common: shown in cinemas, one and all. What’s with that? Sure, the pews of Glasgow’s picture-houses are comfortable, their screens sizable and their sound veritably surrounding. But by this phase of the festival we’ve got a hankering for something less conventionally staged, for which Dead Calm at the Tall Ship neatly fits the bill.

Admittedly, the naval novelty of spending an evening in a boat’s cargo hold loses a little of its appeal in the run up to the event, thanks to our decision to watch A Hijacking (an intense drama in which a Danish freighter is held ransom for several fraught months) the day before. But while the memory of despondent and terrified hostages cowering below deck creates some unpleasant associations in our mind, we steel our resolve by remembering a couple of salient facts: a) Somali pirates tend to focus on open-water shipping vessels rather than Clydeside tourist attractions; b) in contrast to A Hijacking’s captives, we’re unlikely to have to relieve ourselves in buckets, what with tonight’s event lasting 96 minutes rather than 130-odd days.

A plan to walk to the evening’s floating venue very nearly backfires when we arrive at what we thought was the location of the Tall Ship, only to find the area Tall Ship-less (say what you like about bricks and mortar cinemas; at least they stay put…).  With only a few minutes to spare, we use the handful of clues at our disposal to cleverly track down the errant barque: a solid description (a ship, of above average height), and some pretty unequivocal signage that points us in the direction of the Glenlee’s new home at the Riverside Museum (we say ‘new’: we later discover it’s been docked there since 2011, and make a mental note to pay more attention to, well, everything).

A friendly crew welcomes the audience on-board and guides us down into the hold – an agreeably atmospheric environment for a film that, for all its daftness, still musters up a fair bit of sticky-palmed tension. Dead Calm is one of four nautical flicks to be shown at the Tall Ship, the others being animated kids favourite Peter Pan, Hebridean plunder-com Whisky Galore and taut proto-blockbuster Jaws. With several of the other screenings having sold out well in advance, it’s a slight surprise to find attendance for tonight’s showing relatively light – almost as if Disney, Ealing and Spielberg have a wider appeal than a wild-eyed Billy Zane. Zane chews kraken-sized portions of ham as an adrift amateur sailor with a (literally) fishy tale, intruding on a grieving couple’s quiet oceanic getaway with claims that his ship’s crew have all carked it from eating dodgy tinned salmon. A galley full of dismembered corpses indicates a somewhat more violent cause of death for the sadistic seaman’s erstwhile cabin mates, and before long he’s dropped the innocent act and commenced menacing his new victims. A young Nicole Kidman spends most of her time running from one end of the yacht to the other, while an increasingly manic Zane rants and glowers before finally eating a flare. Subtlety is not, it’s fair to say, amongst the film’s finer qualities, but there’s fun to be had in its overwrought company. Particularly striking is Graeme Revell’s score, a mix of ominous orchestral swells and percussive breathing that proves an effective tension-builder (even if it’s not best served by the Glenlee’s non-optimum acoustics). The open ocean setting, meanwhile, is superbly claustrophobic, its vastness creating a stifling sense of isolation. But all that pales next to the true star of the show: a door-opening dog with an unfortunately strong fetching instinct, whose unjustly ignominious demise prompts a ripple of sniggers.

As we exit over the gangplank, we overhear* plans for next year’s slate: Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, during which a strict no-talking policy will be enforced by threats of being rounded on and prodded overboard; an ambitious joint collaboration with Blair Drummond Safari Park that promises a Life of Pi screening to remember; and finally, a deliberate scuttling designed to bring a wet-toed realism to a rereleased The African Queen. See you there!

 * make up

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