Sunday, September 4, 2016

A unique knockout: Olivia Colman leads a stellar ensemble in the Rufus Norris/Adam Cork/Alecky Blythe "verbatim musical," LONDON ROAD

Wow. This is something else. LONDON ROAD, according to its press release, is a "verbatim musical" -- one in which its writer, Alecky Blythe, uses the transcript of her interviews with the of residents of that titular street in Ipswich, England, to create the lyrics for all the dialog we hear in this new musical film, which has then been set to a rhythmic, pulsating score by Adam Cork, said to be inspired by the dialects and intonations of the residents interviewed. The result is a knockout of a movie that compares to little else that TrustMovies has ever seen.

As directed by Rufus Norris (shown at right), from an award-winning British theater piece of the same name (which Norris also directed), the movie version has been "opened out" so perfectly that it never betrays its "theater" roots. The subject? Well, that's an interesting question.

Initially, it would seem to be the murder of five prostitutes in the Ipswich area who worked along London Road. Yet we never see the murders, nor do we find out anything about the dead women, other than their line of work. We also -- and this is key, I think -- never meet, see nor hear their killer, who, during the course of this film, we learn is caught and then convicted of the crime.

Instead, we meet the denizens of London Road -- the folk who live around the murder site -- and we are soon made privy to their thoughts and fears, as initial shock, then paranoia, followed by reassurance and even some hope spring to life. We also see and hear the TV reporters covering all this for the media (their reports, I should think, are also given us verbatim).

So what we have here, finally, is a look at how the British bourgeoisie reacts to something this horrible. And the reaction, while pretty predictable, is also pretty disgusting. In the eyes of these people, the victims don't count for much. Only the fear and shock and worry that the inhabitants feel for themselves seems to matter. (The character played by Olivia Colman, above, at one point even insinuates that the killer may have done the community am actual favor by "offing" the hookers.)

Now, the fact that all the dialog/song is verbatim is one thing. But the choice of what to include, and how often to repeat it, is an artistic one. And in this way, I think, the movie makes its main point: the pettiness of these reactions, compared to what has happened, grows almost staggering.  As I watched I began to wonder if and when the creators would allow us to hear from some of the local prostitutes who remain alive. They wait a good while, but at last, we do hear. And then, of course, class and economics and culture and a lot more rear their heads. To their credit, the moviemakers do not push this: They simply offer it up for us to make of it what what we will. (Shown at left is Nick Holder, playing one of the inhabitants of the titular road.)

In the end, our good citizens unite to make their London Road a better, tidier, more beautiful place -- there's a contest for the best local garden, doncha know, with the media covering all this. So, out of horror and pain can come renewal and life. Yeah, right. My spouse, who prefers to see the happy side of things, took this part away from the film. I, who tend to draw darker conclusions, saw something else. The movie allows us to both have our views enabled but leans, I think, toward my darker one.

It is as a piece of art that London Road shines brightest. The dialog/song, even with/because of all its repetition, grows ever more wonderful and strange, and the music does indeed capture the feel of the dialects and the character intonations here. The choreography by Javier de Frutos, in tandem with the direction by Mr. Norris, is often brilliant in its use of simple facial or neck movement to underscore points. Note the scene in which the townspeople await in the street the arrival of the killer in a police van. The movement here makes for brilliant, subtle cinema experienced as a kind of stationary dance. And the energy level? It's staggering. The film is alive and moving at every moment, (That's Anita Dobson, playing one of the elderly neighbors, shown above.)

The finale, too, in which one of the younger prostitutes (Kate Fleetwood, above) looks quietly at all these goings-on, allows us again to be made aware of the other side of the coin. I was not a particular fan of Norris' earlier film, Broken, but I shall remember and treasure this one for a long time. I can't imagine any caring, intelligent film/theater-goer not rushing headlong to the cinema to see the kind of surprising, encompassing art that can be made from the most unexpected of sources.

Also in the estimable cast, by the way, is one, Tom Hardy, shown above and below, who has but a small role as a taxi driver and fills it to perfection. So he can sing, too? Is there anything this actor cannot do?

London Road, via BBC Worldwide North America, opens this coming Friday, September 9, in New York City at the Village East Cinema and the following Friday, September 16, in Los Angeles at The Sundance Sunset Cinema and Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. Elsewhere?  Perhaps, if word-of-mouth takes off as it should. Otherwise, we'll have to wait for it on digital or DVD -- at which time, I hope, it will come complete with English subtitles. I could have used them while watching the screening link supplied. Still, what a pleasure it will be to see this film again, with those subtitles at the ready.

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