Sleeping Beauty by Julia Leigh

Sleeping Beauty by Julia Leigh

Lucy (played by Emily Browning) is a a young university student who does a variety of odd jobs to support her education. She volunteers as a test subject in a lab, a waitress in a cafe, a copy girl in an office, and sits in a high class bar offering herself as an escort. One day, she’s interviewed by Carol (played by Rachael Blake), and ends up doing erotic freelance work in which she is required to be in a drug-induced sleep in bed alongside paying customers. Things ensue.

I saw the trailer for this film on Apple Trailers and read that it played in Cannes. The trailer has all these film critic quotes paying it compliments so I decided to check it out.

The film asks the audience to be afraid for Lucy, that somehow sleeping side these men will somehow rob her innocence. Admittedly I was afraid for her the first two times, only because she is a girl who’s voluntarily put to sleep while these customers are brought in to do anything they want to her except intercourse. After all, it’s only a verbal agreement. Nothing is stopping them from putting it in. By the third time, I was not afraid for her any longer. The first two sleeping sessions should have built up to the third, but it did not.  My chivalry and sense of danger had dissipated and I needed more from the story to care about this girl in this horrible situation. Then I realized, she’s not innocent at all if it’s her third time. And I found this problematic with the movie.

We are given hints of Lucy’s backstory is several scenes. It’s not given with exposition but they are so few and far between it leaves way too many gaps for the audience to construct a real sense of pathos for Lucy. It creates more questions. What’s Lucy’s major? What’s her dream? Why is she financially independent? This is a case of a director being too subtle for her own good. It was as if Julia Leigh was aware of giving exposition in a story and wanted to leave the appropriate amount of empty space for the audience to imagine her past, but ended up leaving too much.

Emily Browning’s role in Sucker Punch and this film reminds me of how the young Natalie Portman used to have a penchant for Lolita-like roles. Part of Browning’s acting presence in Sleeping Beauty is her titillating the audience with her youthful physicality. I was very aware of that in this film because at times I was titillated and other times watching her made me uncomfortable. She had to bear all for this performance and it’s too bad because nothing was said with the nudity. It’s not her fault, she’s a competent actress who is doing what her director is telling her to do. It begs the question, what was Julia Leigh’s objective with this story?

The cinematography attempts an empty creepy tension through its wide still shots, it succeeds part of the time depending on what’s going on, but part of the time it is quite bland. There’s some nice art direction in these locations. To the film’s credit, the wide shots manage to build up to one very effective close-up when an old customer enters with Carol, sits on the bedside next to a sleeping Lucy and tells this very psychotic story straight into the camera. I was creeped out by the old man so much I could not follow the details of what his story was about. What scared me was the prospect of what he was about to do once he was alone with Lucy. But overall, swinging from titillating to creepy to bland, there was nothing consistent enough to  grip me.

Nudity can be powerful in a story when used correctly in the right context, examples such as Monica Bellucci in Irreversible, Tang Wei in Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution or even Elena Anaya in Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In. I thought about what Julia Leigh wanted to say with the nudity. At one point, it seemed to be the lifeless clinical nudity akin to how Stanley Kubrick used nudity in Eyes Wide Shut and A Clockwork Orange. Is the director using nudity as a symbol of women selling their souls for money through her almost-prostitution-like job? And then I snapped myself out of that notion. “No no no…” I told myself, “You’re not getting away with this.” That’s what Sleeping Beauty was trying to be, but not what it achieved.

Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel by Alex Stapleton

Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel by Alex Stapleton

Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel covers the life story and legacy of Roger Corman, his films, his struggles and his impact on modern cinema. He’s worked with many of today’s top talents, he can make a feature film in 7 days and simply does not believe in the word “No”.

Even though I haven’t seen any of Roger Corman’s productions, how I have come to know about Roger Corman was hearing about his approach to filmmaking. The idea is you get the guy who wants to be the next Federico Fellini, give him 7 days to complete a movie with 2 chase scenes and a scene in a strip club that you will only have for a hour without going over budget. What I liked about this approach is that it cuts through all the pretentious notions that filmmakers/artists often get caught up on about expressing themselves or putting their stamp or trademark onto the film. What matters most is the film and whether the audience responds to the product. It comes down to problem solving and giving the audience what they want – entertainment. After all, the only thing a filmmaker owes an audience is to never bore them.

The behind-the-scenes stories were fascinating and insightful to Corman’s journey as a filmmaker. Particularly the story of Corman’s experience with The Intruder, a film starring a young William Shatner about race relations in the south. It was a film that Corman wanted to say something from his heart and it ended up being his first commercial failure. Corman later learned the idea of supertext and subtext from a method acting class and figured out the best way to balance putting his own message was to put it underneath the entertainment (i.e. monsters, boobies, or explosions). Other worthy mentions from the documentary was the story behind 1963 Corman film The Terror, which was a film shot on the same set and cast  as The Raven (Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff) to capitalize on the new soundstage. Much of the story was improvised, it was done by 4 different directors at different points in time and the onscreen result hardly made any sense.

What made Corman a great leader was that he would push people to do things that seemed impossible. You could see how that pressure created seeds of creativity and experience which lead to mastery and success. One example was Ron Howard not having enough extras in the racing arena for the finale of Grand Theft Auto. He pleaded to Corman asking for more extras and was rejected. From what it looks like in the Grand Theft Auto excerpts, the shots with the audience members were done with tight shots. There’s another part with Pam Grier and they mention what made her distinct from other female stars was she was not afraid to get dirty and do her own stunts. I assumed that probably lead to her breakthrough with the advent of blaxploitation. It was a very Darwinistic process that I would have personally loved to be a part of.   

It was quite something to see Jack Nicholson break down and cry talking about his friendship with Roger Corman and how Corman was the only one to hire him before mainstream success.

The documentary shows the best way to learn something is just do it, learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward. To know that Roger Corman still continues to make films in the present proves that as long as you have the will, the possibilities are infinite. A very positive message for any creative/aspiring filmmakers out there today.

(As a postscript note, the Vincent Price Edgar Allan Poe films look intriguing. They were a massive success at the time. I’m an Edgar Allan Poe fan so I’m going to check them out.)