Tuesday, March 20, 1990
The Michigan Daily
Feminist vision of
the future falters
A Handmaid's Tale
dir. Volker Schiondorff
by Jen Bilik
Whenever a particularly good book is made into a movie, viewer
beware - the movie won't do it justice. Whether the movie disappoints
because of characters who don't live up to the images culled from the
reading experience or the transition is just plain awkward, it's always
difficult to watch.
For the person who's read The Handmaid's Tale, the experience of the
movie will be very different from one who hasn't. At the same time, the
movie doesn't prove itself on its own terms. Regretfully, I doubt that
someone will run out and by the book after seeing the film.
Written by Margaret Atwood, a Canadian feminist author, The
Handmaid's Tale depicts a horrific vision of an American future in which
Christian religious fundamentalism has inverted the American ideal of
"freedom from" into "freedom to." Citing rape, abortion and sexual
deviation as the root cause of all evil, the fundamentalists have instituted a
fascist state where women are incubators for a future population that will
know no crime. Although this functions at the expense of free choice, the
ruling power justifies its crimes by liberating women from the
possibilities of sexual assault. Atwood writes in the dystopian tradition of
such authors as George Orwell and Aldous Huxley.
Although playwright Harold Pinter transformed the bok into a
screenplay, the script is perhaps the worst feature of this generally weak
film. The dialogue is sparse, and the storyline cannot seem to make up its
mind concerning the direction in which it will go. As in many movies
adapted from books, the screenplay shirks from making definitive decisions
to omit certain elements under the restrictions of a two-hour time span. As
a result, the different plot-lines are confusing and jumbled, and the movie
as a whole is difficult to understand.
In the New England city of Gilead, where the film takes place, the
society divides along strict class lines according to status and reproductive
ability. A handmaid is a fertile woman, dressed in red to identify her role.
She functions as a womb on legs for the upper-class, who wear blue. In
the process of phasing out written language in order to eliminate the
possibility for dissent, the state implements a system of pictures for
things such as grocery stores and stop signs. The film is visually
appealing in its crowd scenes because of the color schemes, and the set
design holds interest because of its expressionistic treatment of a fascist
Halfway into the movie the bad acting overshadows the visuals.
Natasha Richardson (The Patty Hearst Story) plays Offred, a handmaid
who remembers the time before fascism. At first, her pouty glances seem
to offer some hope of depth and, if we're lucky, angst, but the lack of
dialogue forces her to pout up until the very last scene. The book's
narrative relies primarily on Offred's internal thoughts, but the facial
expressions assumably meant to convey her thoughts in the movie might
be chalked up to gas.
Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway play the Commander and his wife,
the couple trying to conceive through Offred. Aidan Quinn, as Offred's
superfluous love interest, Nick, does his best with a shallow character.
None of the characters is developed to the extent that we can feel sympathy
with their condition, and the terror of their world is offset by its glib
What might have been a film classic digs its own grave by neglecting
narrative cohesion, dialogue and acting. It's hardly the actors' fault,
however, in what appears to be a disastrous job of directing by Volker
Schlondorff. Even if the film won't inspire anybody to read the book, I
certainly hope that its bad reviews will. At $4.95, the original article is a
bargain compared to the $5.50 you could pay to see a film that is
extraordinarily shabby - especially considering the story with which it
had at its disposal.
A HANDMAID'S TALE is playing at Showcase.
Film Fe(a)st opens doors
by Mike Kuniavsky
THE Ann Arbor Film Festival has
probably been one of the two most
famous cultural events to have A2's
moniker attached to it, with the
other being the Art Fair. But unlike
the latter, there really is art at the
Festival. For 28 years, this, the old-
est 16 millimeter film festival on
Earth, has been regularly bringing
the best and the freshest independent
film to Ann Arbor's front door (and
we don't even have to tip the driver
when we get it).
The Festival is a gathering at
which independent filmmakers from
all over the world show their films
and see what other independent film-
makers are doing. And fortunately,
this conference of sorts is not only
open to everyone, but depends on the
public's attendance to fulfill what it
probably considers as its destiny: the
advancement of film, art and human-
ity in general. Be forewarned,
though, that the work at the Festival
is generally pretty different. Whether
challenging politics, sexual mores,
senses or patience, the stuff usually
seen at the Film Festival is always
out of the ordinary.
As a forum open to all filmmak-
ers, the Festival allows a wide vari-
ety - a smorgasbord, if you will -
of independently produced films to
be shown to a wide audience. In one
showing there may be animation,
documentary, narrative, and experi-
mental films, not to mention big,
fluffy, fat and blue ones (though
generally there are no films about ot-
ters or last-minute rescues by intel-
ligent dogs). Of course some of
these films might be boring and
some might be bad, but even these
are occasionally necessary so we can
be reminded of what good really is.
There are even judges who hand out
awards - Best Local Filmmaker,
Best of Festival, the Lawrence Kas-
dan Award for Narrative Film,
among several others.
This year's Festival looks really
good. With more films submitted
The Measurements of Oxford is just one of many, many, many works to be presented at the 28th Ann Arbor Film
Festival. In fact, the Festival gets so many submissions that a lot of them don't get shown to the public.
than in the past couple of years, a
more organized administration,
pretty cool judges and really cool
T-shirts, the Festival promises to be
a lot of fun. The judges this year are
Karen Aqua, a politically progressive
Boston animator whose films in-
clude Kakania, which won First
Place at last year's New York Film
& Video Expo; Barbara Hammer,
called by the Festival's organizers
'this country's leading feminist ex-
perimental filmmaker" and whose
film Optic Nerve won the Best of
Festival award here three years ago;
and Richard Kerr, a Canadian film-
maker who critically examines the
United States and its effect on
Canada. As a bonus, all of the
judges will be having free screenings
of their films during the week.
Finally, A Word from the Expe-
rienced: unless you are an adventur-
ous soul, avoid showings with films
that are longer than 30 minutes, that
are Untitled or that have names such
as 4000 ways to not point a camera
are left as a surprise for the viewer.
Also, don't just go to Winners
night, because what the judges think
is best is often quite distant from
what "normal" (or abnormal) people
A Word from the Experienced: unless you are
an adventurous soul, avoid showings with
films that are longer than 30 minutes, that are
Untitled or that have names such as 4000
ways to not point a camera at anything
interesting; do go to showings with lots of
short films, animation and films with
at anything interesting; do go to
showings with lots of short films,
animation and films with interesting
titles. Of course, there are always
exceptions to these rules, but these
Seriously, in many ways the Ann
Arbor Film Festival (and all others
like it) is a window into both the fu-
See FILM, page 8
Adams talks jazz from the sidelines
by Forrest Green III
BEING a music critic, I understand how easy it
can be for an outsider to reach many of the same
levels of knowledge, enthusiasm and passion as
the people who actually do the work. And some-
times it can be that window that makes all the
difference. We don't play the sport, but we can
yell at the guys who do all the work until the
sun goes down. You love us and you know it.
After all, why dance to the music when you can
sit back and listen? And why would you actually
listen to the music when you can hear one of
those selfsame critics discuss it?
Judy Adams, a disc jockey for Detroit's ut-
terly superlative radio station WDET, loves the
sport. Her experience (that is, learned - not per-
formed) with the jazz guitar includes the produc-
tion of the nationally-syndicated radio show The
Evolution of Jazz, the position of program direc-
tor at DET and her 17 years on the air.
Eclipse Jazz will kick off its Jazz Guitar Lec-
ture Series tonight with a lecture from Adams
herself, who will focus on the developments in
jazz guitar since 1965 up to today. "Obviously,
anybody who was around in the '60s saw how
the guitar became one of the major instruments
of the decade," she explains. "Even if they were
going into jazz doesn't mean that they didn't hear
guitar changing." Almost inexorably, our dia-
logue leads into the obscure genre that so many
of us refer to as "fusion." Musicians such as
Joseph Zawinul, Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter,
and the guitarists Scofield and McLaughlin as
well as the big daddy himself, Miles, did a lot to
change the face of the form, which disturbed a lot
Adams attributes this to the "collective un-
conscious," where "you have a guy in New York
City who's fusing something, and thinks he's
the only one, and then another in L.A. that's do-
ing the same thing." Inevitably, she explains,
this leads to the evolution of the form.
Given that we could not avoid "fusion" with
the subject matter being jazz guitar, Adams ulti-
mately resolves the conflict, explaining, "if you
had to categorize it... why can't you accept it in
the jazz framework as jazz? Just because it's elec-
trified, and drawing on the present day influ-
ence... that's what jazz is all about."
Purists beware. Adams welcomes similar ar-
guments at tonight's lecture, and she knows her
Also included in Eclipse's lecture series will
See ECLIPSE, page 8
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