A little over a week ago, director John Boorman decried the modern studio process in The Guardian: “When the picture is put together it will be test-marketed. Audiences will tell the makers what bits they don’t like. These will be recut or cut out or reshot. The audience is asked to rate the movie as excellent, very good, good, fair, poor. To be successful, a film must achieve over 80% in the top two categories. If it falls short, recutting and reshooting will continue until it does. During this process, any remaining fragments of originality that have slipped through the net will be ruthlessly expunged.”
He had abandoned this treadmill, apparently, to make independent films where his creativity could hold sway. Well last night I went to the test screening of Boorman’s new film, Truth (a working title, it seems). Lo and behold, at the end of the screening, we were given questionaires which asked us “to rate the movie as excellent, very good, good, fair, poor”.
There were many good things about Truth, which tells the story of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission through the experiences of Anna Malan (Juliette Binoche), a radicalised Afrikaaner poet, and Langston Whitfield (L Samuel Jackson), a Washington Post journalist. As anyone familiar with the TRC would reckon, it’s a moving story, and one that I think many people should know.
Binoche is wonderful, and wholly convincing as the Afrikaaner who comes to recognise the complicity of all white South Africans in the horrors of apartheid. But Jackson is for me a cartoon character, ludicrous as an American journalist and without spark on the screen. I bridle at the notion that South Africa needed a forthright black American to see it like it is, when there were and are so many South African journalists — black and white — who have exposed the truth for years.
And the script does clunk along. The didactic points (“sometimes it isn’t just black and white, but grey”) are knocked into the viewers mind so there is no ambiguity allowed.
Who knows what changes will happen after this and presumably other test screenings. I’d love for the film to bring the truth and reconciliation process to a wide audience, many attracted by stars like Binoche and Jackson. But I’m afraid on the basis of my questionnaire, the film doesn’t succeed.
I find it hard to believe the shock and tragedy of 9/11 was only two years ago. It seems that far more than two years of history have intervened.