Sightseers is a very English film. It is full of awkward silences, anger at littering, class disputes, yuppies, long country walks, beautifully shot landscapes, places to visit that sound incredibly boring, loud hen nights, guilt, store bought pasta sauces, conversations about injection molding for plastics, kitsch, frustration, discrimination against gingers, caravan park-based road rage, rain and knitting. It is essentially England: The Movie.
The movie follows the first holiday of new couple (they recently met at a capoeira class) Tina and Chris. They have a rip-roaring country tour planned with stops at such breath-taking sites as the Cumberland Pencil Museum and the Ribblehead Viaduct. This may come across as me mocking it but I’ve actually been to the viaduct and it was amazing.
They are a pair of sensible, boring people who has decided to engage in an ‘erotic odyssey’ in Chris’ caravan so that Chris can write his book (with Tina as an overenthusiastic and confused muse). Tina hopes to escape her over-bearing mother who is still in mourning for the death of her beloved dog, Poppy. (Important Spoiler: Poppy’s death scene should have won someone an Oscar. I don’t know whom, but someone).
It is hard to write about this movie without giving away too much, but suffice to say the trip takes a dark turn and gradually the erotic odyssey (part of which involves knitting lingerie and a bowl of potpourri) is sidelined for someone a little more murderous.
This is an incredibly funny movie and the humour is both bone dry and pitch black. Alice Lowe, who plays Tina, is an incredibly gifted comedian who delivers the most absurd lines with such straight faced conviction that it takes a second to realise that a joke’s been said. If you are looking for more of the same from Lowe then I suggest tracking down Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place (available on iTunes) which also contains some early work from Richard Ayoade (both acting and directing).
Director Ben Wheatley, who is on a stellar run of great films (and Doctor Who episodes), shoots the hell out of this movie. The English countryside is rendered in massive, gorgeous detail whether it’s sunny, foggy, rainy, or blood-soaked. The scenes of our ‘heroes’ walking along the marshes and the fields with the rolling hills all around them could serve as a tourist advert for the Yorkshire countryside, so long as the Yorkshire tourism board avoid mention of the sex and violence that occurs all around these bits of the film. The script, written by the two leads, does well to make us sympathise with the two protagonists by crafting antagonists that we can all dislike (litterers, posh knobs) and does such a good job of this that when the antagonists aren’t really deserving of anything (bride-to-be, random jogger) we are still, somehow, rooting for Tina and Chris.
An interesting criticism I have heard about Ben Wheatley is that he doesn’t know how to end his movies. I think that is straight up bullshit. The ending of this movie is one of my favourites. The music (Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood), the weird stares straight into the camera and the final few seconds before the smash cut to credits. Sheer perfection.
If you haven’t seen this movie, track it down, it is worth your time, and if it makes you want to watch more Ben Wheatley then my work here is done.
My ebook, available at Amazon.
***Originally appeared at www.audienceseverywhere.net. Go there for more features, reviews and general awesomeness***
Overview: Writer and musician Nick Cave marks his 20,000th day on the planet Earth. 2014; Drafthouse Films; Rated R; 98 Minutes
Into the Archive: I love Nick Cave (The Australian David Bowie? Discuss) and I was lucky enough to see this movie a few months ago at an Istanbul film festival in a screening full of Cave fans.
20,000 Days on Earth is a documentary with fictional elements, or a fiction movie with documentary elements, that tells the story of Nick Cave’s 20,000th Day of Earth. Cave spends a part of the movie in his own archive looking at baby pictures of himself and reading old diaries. He shows a picture of himself writing a book in Berlin, living in a tiny alcove just big enough for his bed, and tells stories about that time in his life when he was young man and was wild and free. He looks at photos of his youth and tells tales about growing up in Warracknabeal near Melbourne. He talks about keeping a diary when he first moved to England, but all he wrote about was how he became obsessed with documenting the unpredictable mood of the English weather until his sons were born and the project was abandoned. Somewhere between the text and the subtext is a movie about aging and legacies.
Questions and Answers: Early on, Cave visits a psychiatrist who asks him questions about his youth, his first sexual experiences, his past as a heroin addict, his hopes, his fears. We can never know how honest Cave is being but it feels real when he talks about his sadness at his father’s death (when Cave was 19) and his fear of losing his memory, all while fidgeting under the eyes of the shrink and the camera. Other interviewers in the movie appear like ghosts in Cave’s car as he travels around his hometown in Brighton, England. Ray Winston (star of Cave-written The Proposition and the music video for the Bad Seeds’ On Jubilee Street) talks about getting old while ex-Bad Seed Blixa Bargeld appears to make amends with Cave after leaving the Bad Seeds with just an email as an explanation. The final ghost, the only one to sit in the back seat, is Kylie Minogue, Cave’s collaborator on his only top 20 UK hit, Where the Wild Roses Grow. They talk about fame and Michael Hutchence and, in an especially open moment, Cave asks her what she is afraid of and she replies, ‘I worry about being forgotten and lonely.’
How it’s All Made: A big theme of the movie is the nature of creativity and vast portions of the movie are dedicated to the creation of the newest Bad Seeds album, Push the Sky Away. Cave hunches over a typewriter or sits at a piano. The scenes in the studio are excellent as we see Warren Ellis of the Bad Seeds conducting a children’s orchestra in French or Cave fine tuning a song word by word. For creative minds, it is like catnip to see these great minds work together and slowly create something amazing.
Overall: 20,000 Days on Earth is a beautifully shot, expertly edited movie with a fantastic soundtrack and an ending performance worthy in itself of the home purchase and endless reviewings.
My ebook, available at Amazon.