Tilda’s Triple Bill

Tilda Swinton as 'Gabriel'By random coincidence (or divine cosmic design?) I inadvertently assembled a mini Tilda Swinton filmfest for myself. A few weeks back I picked up Constantine in a second hand shop… last week I picked up Burn After Reading in a sale… and this week I picked up a copy of Derek Jarman’s Last of England in a charity shop. Three very different films, aimed at very different audiences, but all linked by their inclusion of a certain pale Scottish lady…

Constantine is an almost unrecognisable adaptation of the DC/Vertigo comic book series Hellblazer. I fondly remember John Constantine’s appearance in Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magic, and quite enjoyed the Hellblazer collection I read back in the day, but that’s about it as far as my familiarity with JC goes. Swinton appears as an angel called “Gabriel” (though probably not THE Gabriel), who is bugger all help to the eponymous paranormal detective. They really play up her androgynous looks by dressing her in a sharp pantsuit, and giving her what Jack Donaghy might refer to as a “bi-curious” haircut. I hate to give any spoilers away, but I must say I really loved her costume change for the hospital-set finale… a pristine white bandage/bondage top, chaps, and a bracelet made from medical identity tags! Throw some tousled blonde ringlets and gorgeous plumage into the mix, and you’ve got yourself an icon worthy of any stained glass window right there. I also thought her character’s final scene was oddly endearing… to the point that I’d actually like to see her get a spin-off movie all to herself. Unlikely, I know… but I can dream…

Tilda Swinton as ‘Katie Cox’ in “Burn After Reading”I can’t remember which Coen brothers film I saw first, or when I saw it… but I’m guessing it was Raising Arizona, way back in my early teens. Either way, I’ve been fan of their work for ages, although I much prefer their comedies over their dramas. Burn After Reading, the story of two hapless gym workers who get their greedy hands on a disc loaded with potentially valuable government secrets, falls squarely in the “comedy” category, with some fairly broad comic turns in amongst all the carnage. Swinton plays ‘Katie Cox’, the long-suffering-but-not-especially-sympathetic wife of John Malkovich’s angry, alcoholic CIA analyst. She isn’t a major character, but Swinton looks great in her stylish glamazon get-up, and she does some fine work with a rather cold and haughty character, who even makes her most romantic overtures in a terse, matter-of-fact manner! Somehow she manages to make me care for Cox, despite her despicable behaviour. Once again, the power of good acting wins me over!

I think my first exposure to the work of Derek Jarman was via Jubilee, which my sister rented on video one Sunday afternoon, back in the day… presumably because it had Adam Ant in it, and looked a bit punky. I now own the DVD and the soundtrack CD, and would recommend it to any admirer of what we now call “riot grrrls”, or the 1977 punk scene. The Last of England was made some years later, and is more of an impressionistic “art piece” than Jubilee. There isn’t a discernible narrative, or any real dialogue, and the narration dies off about a third of the way in, leaving the discordant images and sounds or urban decay and conflict to speak for themselves. Unfortunately I am something of a word-junky, and without them I tend to get a bit antsy. Instrumentals always bore me, regardless of the style, or skill of the musicians involved. This is my issue, and I accept that… but it does mean that I found this film a bit of a chore to get through. Despite her prominence on the cover, Swinton doesn’t turn up until well into the last half-hour, as an unnamed bride who gets married and then attempts to destroy her dress by cutting and biting at it… then she spins on the spot for a bit. It’s a good image, I’m not denying that… but I could have done with a bit more of a character to latch on to, personally. The DVD features a bonus in the form of a “keynote speech” Swinton gave at the Edinburgh Film Festival some years after Jarman’s death, in praise of his work and attitude to film-making. I can’t pretend to understand everything she said, because the sound was a bit scrappy, and she’s a lot smarter than I am… but she’s clearly very passionate and sincere about her craft, and equally sincere in her scorn for the breadheads (my word, not hers) who infest the industry. She also looks pretty damn cool with her minimal makeup, short, slicked back hair, “Jubilee” T-Shirt and jeans. Just the sort of woman I’d crush on irl, but never manage to say a single coherent word to.

Er, I’d better bow out now, before I really embarrass myself… but at least I made it through this whole post without using the term “ménage a trois”, so yay for me.


About Dee CrowSeer

A comic book writer with an interest in feminism, philosophy, and affirmative action.
This entry was posted in Rants about Films and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Tilda’s Triple Bill

  1. Pingback: The Cair Paravel Fail | Thalia's Garden

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