Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Forgotten Movies - A CINEMA OF UNEASE: A PERSONAL JOURNEY BY SAM NEILL (and Happy Belated Birthday, Sam Neill!)

Hey, you know who kicks ass? Sam Neill, that's who.

Sam Neill has been one of my very favorite actors for a long time now. This is a guy who should really be a bigger star than he is, but for some reason he hasn't quite been embraced like he should have. I suppose that's OK for him, as it allows him to take more work in his native New Zealand and in Australia, but for a guy who's appeared in some huge blockbusters (JURASSIC PARK; THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER) and some acclaimed classics (THE PIANO; MY BRILLIANT CAREER; UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD) and has been dubbed "The thinking woman's sex symbol" for his work in "Reilly, Ace of Spies" (not to mention he was almost James Bond at one point), he's an actor who deserves to be bigger than he is. He's certainly a recognizable face to a lot of people, but I'm sure most of them can't place his name.

Like most people my age, I first spotted Neill as the adult Damien in THE FINAL CONFLICT, the final OMEN flick, and he was a pretty cool spawn of Satan, I must say. After that I'd see him pop up in a lot of different things and you'd see a guy who was making interesting choices (anyone who's in a mindfuck like POSSESSION deserves some respect) while also paying the bills with a lot of TV, but then around the late 80s he seemed to be hitting his stride; he was absolutely superb in Fred Schepsi's A CRY IN THE DARK, where he matched an Oscar-nominated Meryl Streep scene for scene, while in films like DEAD CALM and RED OCTOBER he was part of an ensemble in quality films and with the one-two punch of JURASSIC PARK and THE PIANO, where his excellent work is criminally underrated, it seemed like he was going to hit the big time. Hell, he even got to do THE SIMPSONS, so you know things were good. But again, the American public just didn't seem to get Sam Neill, so he went back to New Zealand to do a very cool and unique documentary that I've only seen once and has never been released over here. Henceforth, The Forgotten Movies presents Sam Neill's A CINEMA OF UNEASE: A PERSONAL JOURNEY BY SAM NEILL.

Produced as the New Zealand Film Commission's entry for the BFI's A Century of Cinema series, A CINEMA OF UNEASE has, as far as I know, been shown in the U.S. only once, at the 1995 New York Film Festival, which just happens to be where I saw it. (Coincidence? I think not.) Paired with a documentary on Henri Langlois, Neill was there to present the film personally, opening by saying, "Good evening French film lovers", with effortless charm to big laughs. (The film curiously began with the Miramax logo, which might explain why it's never been seen in the U.S. since - zing!) So in the film, Neill, uh... hang on a sec here...

Can you give me a minute? We're talking about a 52-minute films that I only saw once 12 years ago. My memory's a bit hazy, to be honest, and I never took any notes. I wasn't think that 12 years later I'd be blogging about the damn thing, ya dig? OK, here's what I remember about A CINEMA OF UNEASE: I remember Neill showing clips from an early 60's NZ rock 'n' roll beach party movie that I feel I must see before I die; I remember him discussing how he grew up in the same town as Julite Hulme and Pauline Parker (the subjects of HEAVENLY CREATURES) and remembered when the event occurred (Neill is even seen walking through the same garden path where the event took place; I remember Neill being a charming host showing a lot of film clips, everything from SLEEPING DOGS (not only the film that launch Neill's career, but of NZ cinema in the U.S.) to DEAD ALIVE, whose morbid sense of humor took some NYFF attendees by surprise; I remember him wearing a little bumblebee pin on his suit throughout the entire film, which he later said in the Q&A symbolized nothing and was there because he liked it (the same pin later shows up with Neill in Peter Jackson's brilliant FORGOTTEN SILVER); I remember asking him at the Q&A what he felt was the finest of all NZ films, and he turned to the festival programmer sitting next to him and mentioned that they had "Just been discussing this backstage" and that it was a film that the NYFF turned down the previous year, HEAVENLY CREATURES; and that's about it. Oh, I remember thinking that it was really, really good. That should account for something, shouldn't it?

So I know this isn't really selling A CINEMA OF UNEASE to you guys, but like I said, it's been a while since I've seen it. I recall hearing at the time that Miramax was going to pair it with FORGOTTEN SILVER, but that never materialized and SILVER ended up going with some little rinky-dink outfit that never did much with it. So I'm sure the film is just sitting on the Miramax shelf somewhere (more than likely the new managers don't even know they own it), and it's a shame, because I think it would be of interest to many, especially when you consider how far New Zealand has come to the international film scene since then. Perhaps even a update might be in store, in order to discuss all that's happened in NZ film; I'm thinking it would be a good supplement for a 2-disc edition of HEAVENLY CREATURES. Get crackin' Miramax monkey boys!

Anyway, Sam Neill will forever be awesome in my book. He just turned sixty the other day (I had hoped to have this up there then, but it's been a busy weekend and it's going to be an even busier week), so happy birthday, Sam Neill, and enjoy some of your fine wine and keep on doing what you're doing because you're doing it awfully well. Yeah, that's not the finest piece of writing a guy can do, but at least I said all I have to say. Go Sam Neill!!!

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