Unhappily Ever After: Philip Ridley's Film 'Heartless'
Jim Sturgess tackles his demons in "Heartless"
Playwright/photographer/novelist/children's author/painter/filmmaker Philip Ridley is one of Britain's most talented artists, but he's almost unheard of here in the States. A fucking shame, mate, so let's see if we can change that a little.
For a film that cries out for a full-featured Blu-Ray release, it's availability is essentially limited to old technology--a laser disc with commentary and old videotapes on Amazon; you can find bootlegs and bit torrents online, but nothing official has been released here in the U.S. I asked the director why this was the case, and he told me the rights were tied up in some kind of financial fiasco that he didn't see being resolved any time soon. (Full disclosure: I directed the U.S. premiere of Ridley's play Mercury Fur and got the opportunity to spend several hours with Phil in London over two different trips as we discussed the production. I like and admire him a great deal.)
Also in DVD limbo is an uncut version of Ridley's third film, The Passion of Darkly Noon. About a free-spirited young woman (Ashley Judd) stalked by a sexually repressed religious fanatic (Brendan Fraser), it's a hard film to pass judgment on, since the DVD version that I picked up on eBay was a truncated cut from Russia. Versions listed for sale on various bootleg sites range from 97 minutes to 146 minutes, none of them with Ridley's commentary included, which I expect would fill in a lot of its narrative gaps.
The acting in his third film, Heartless--which is currently playing on Pay Per View--is his most accomplished, with a cast chock-full of some of the UK's best actors, including Jim Sturgess, Timothy Spall, Ruth Sheen, Luke Treadaway and Eddie Marsan (who practically steals the show as Weapons Man). The glorious cinematography by Matt Gray, based on a series of photos that Ridley took of London's East End, paints some of the grimmest parts of that city with a golden glow that's decidedly magical.
Sturgess in the full Kubrickian death stare
I have a region-free Blu-Ray player and picked up a copy of the British release of the film a few months before it received its negligible distribution in U.S. theaters. For people open to trying something new, I recommend the PPV, but for individuals who already know his work and admire his storytelling, the illuminating commentary--a friendly trip into Ridley's artistic process that provides insight into the origins of the characters and plot--is more than worth the cost of the Region 2 DVD.
So is it a surprise the film's eccentric, intellectual vision isn't a blockbuster? That it seems to be doing dismally at the box office here and in the UK?
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