On my last post I wrote about Lou Reed and Metallica’s Lulu. It was an album savaged by critics. A lot of my favorite pieces of art have been critically condemned only to find reevaluation years later. Terry Gilliam has a movie called Tideland that knocked me out when I saw it. It was one of the only times I have walked out of a theater thinking that I had just seen something completely new. I was excited, ecstatic even, only to read reviews later that tore the movie to shreds. This did nothing to alter my view of the film, I was only sad to learn that the film wouldn’t find a larger audience. I also felt bad that so many people had missed out on such a fantastic film.
This is not standard review, nor do I want to spend time relaying the entire plot. If you want to learn more about the movie here is the Wikipedia page.
One of the things interesting about the film is that it’s protagonist is a little girl and the movie is filmed with her perspective in mind. The little girl undergoes many trials including her dad dying of a heroin overdose in their rural farmhouse in Texas. If you view the film through the eyes of an adult, there are many uncomfortable moments in the film. There is a kiss scene where the girl kisses, innocently, her friend who is a boy that is mentally handicapped. Because we are adults, and adults are sexual beings, viewers may be inclined to view this scene with a sense of horror. But if you view the scene through the eyes of its protagonist, it is just an innocent kiss between friends. As with many Gilliam films, a theme running through the movie is how our imaginations allow us to survive the realities of the world, which are often less than ideal. Children, out of all ages, possess the strongest imaginations. Therefore, it only makes sense that in many ways children are more resilient than adults.
Although knowledge can, at many times, increase our appreciation for art, as we learn to understand the language of certain art forms, it can occasionally blind us to its true meaning. What we bring along with us, our psychological intellectual background, is important. This is often why you may see musicians, painters, filmmakers, appreciating different things than the general public. They usually are steeped in the knowledge of their particular field. They might have a better idea of when someone is breaking from convention to reach new ground. You don’t have to be an artist. It’s not some kind of secret club, just generally if you are making something you are interested enough to immerse yourself in it. A library card and a curious mind are all one needs to learn the language of any given medium.
However, outside of the language of a medium, there is also what we bring to a piece of art from our personal background. How we view the world influences how we view the themes of a piece of art. What I love about this movie is that Gilliam has created something that asks us to shake off our personal and cultural biases. He is asking us to be children again, to view the world with the same sense of wonder that they do. It’s a beautiful place if you can get into that headspace.
No one states this better than Gilliam himself in the introduction to the movie, up above. This introduction also played in the theater when I saw the film. Although sometimes overstating your purpose can be harmful, given the nature of this film, I really felt that it is effective. He is trying to get the viewers in that headspace of a child before the film begins, which is essential to a proper interpretation of the film. I remember thinking, upon seeing this introduction two things:
“Gilliam is throwing down the fucking gauntlet”, and “I’m in.”