Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Edinburgh Film Festival Diaries
Edinburgh Diary - Day 4

by Christine Harris-Smyth

August 14, 1996

The day begins with "Flirting with Disaster", a film I looked forward to. I saw director David O. Russell on a writer's panel in Cannes and I liked him because he was a bit handsome and never took his sunglasses off (a peculiar habit on people who are obviously not shy). Everything I'd seen or read about - or by - Mr. Russell made sense. On the day, however, "Flirting with Disaster" didn't do it for me. Adoption, identity crises and neurotic Jewish men are no strangers to the big screen. "Flirting With Disaster" is a movie in need of a genre. Is it a farce, a satire, a romantic or screwball comedy? Well made and entertaining enough, the film is too slight to do justice to characters or subject. Post-natal Patricia Arquette is the best thing on screen. While other performances are high-energy, Arquette's is the one that rings true.

There are five bedrooms in the Fountainbridge Flats apartment I am staying in. My first temporary flatmate, Jennifer Atkins, arrived yesterday. Jennifer is here for the screening of her short film "Open Window". Hailing from New York, Jennifer is fitting some lightweight tourism into her visit and manages to walk the Royal Mile, go up to the Castle, and other things I haven't found time to do. Jennifer finds the crowds too much. We both agree that crowds are OK in New York and London but a happiness hazard around here.

At 11 o'clock I hail a black cab to take me through olde Edinburgh to the Balmoral where Australian director Nadia Tass is staying. The Balmoral is an up-market hotel on Princes Street. It has bellhops and doormen, high ceilings and antiques, and I'm sure there was someone a tiny bit famous in the lobby because he had famous luggage, a famous haircut, and a kind of famous familiarity.

My interview with Tass went well enough despite the equatorial temperatures caused by the central heating in the room we occupied. The weather here is mild to warm, and periodically hot. The central heating is obviously longing for colder times.

On my way back to The Filmhouse I bump into Ruth Cracknell, an actress who is to Australians what Sean Connery is to the Scottish - i.e., GOD. Here, nobody knows who she is and Ruth is enjoying the anonymity.

I retire to the press room to view "Lillian"s Story", the film Ruth is here to promote, which also stars Toni Collette of "Muriel's Wedding". I am pleasantly surprised to see a good friend of mine playing "a tart with a heart" and make a mental note to send her a postcard about girls who stand on street corners in their underwear.

"Lillian's Story" is not what international audiences expect from Australian films. Cracknell can carry the film in Australia but it will be hard to do big business in other countries with an unknown lead, unknown director, and an unusual story. The film deals with mental illness, rites of passage, innocence, incest, and Shakespeare. Jerzy Domardzki's direction is simply too loose to carry such an intense drama, which makes for a shambling pace and loss of a potentially powerful story.

Feeling a need for more English fayre, I watch "Bob's Weekend", a feature in the "what if everything that could go wrong, did go wrong" genre. Beer, football, and Blackpool all make it onto the screen. The film is likeable - the storyline does plod somewhat - and would have been a great success 15 years ago when a wave of films including Bill Forsyth's "Gregory's Girl" made it big.

I catch up with Jennifer and we go to a newly opened Point Hotel where the fabulous barmaid empathises with my alcohol-free regime (my doctor insists) and adds life to my tonic water with a twist of fresh lime juice.

I talk Jennifer into the wonders of documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield and we proceed to a late night screening. Unfortunately, the tickets are sold out and Jennifer misses Broomfield's latest, which has been sold to the audience with statistics - i.e. 11 percent of women and 14 percent of men have taken part in sado-masochistic sex. Broomfield is the real star/subject of his documentaries and plays the innocent during his two months of filming at Pandora's Box (a New York S&M parlour). I don't believe him for a minute, nor does Mistress Raven, the infamous proprietor of Pandora's, who offers Broomfield a personally tailored workout with lots of pain.

What I get from "Fetishes" is: mistresses enjoy their work but find it hard to get boyfriends; bankers like to be humiliated; and some very sad people get sexual satisfaction from licking toilet bowls.

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