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  Falls, The Name And Number
Year: 1980
Director: Peter Greenaway
Stars: Peter Westley, Aad Wirtz, Michael Murray, Lorna Poulter, Patricia Carr, Adam Leys, Mary Howard, Martin Burrows, Sheila Canfield, Colin Cantlie, Evelyn Owen, Carole Meyer, Serena MacBeth, Monica Hyde, Bob Godfrey
Genre: WeirdoBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: This film is a record of ninety-two people's lives. By taking a cross section out of millions of possible candidates, The Falls details these people by taking their names alphabetically from their surnames starting with the letters "F-A-L-L". The film charts the effects of the Violent Unknown Event, or V.U.E. for short, which occured a number of years ago yet has left lives irrevocably changed, from medical conditions to mental alterations, by examining this mysterious happening through its victims and translating the new languages they now use.

An early pseudo-documentary written and directed by Peter Greenaway, The Falls is one of the more playful films of the man's output. Lasting over three hours, it's also something of an endurance test for those who don't share his sense of humour or the obsessive love of cataloguing that is on display here. Even at this length, not every name is offered the benefit of a biography, with some refusing to take part, others omitted for legal reasons, and yet more cast into doubt as genuine candidates for inclusion. Nevertheless, they're all mentioned by name and number.

From 1 to 92, the viewer is worn down by the sheer weight of frequently nonsensical data and the less than dedicated audience may find their eyes glazing over long before the grand finale. In some ways, the film is an absurd comedy, with ridiculous names ("Catch-Hanger Fallcaster", anyone?) and even more ridiculous stories, and at times it can have you laughing out loud. The victims are not interviewed as such, and are often represented by footage of objects, landscapes (bodies of water such as lakes feature heavily) and narrators. It's the sort of film J.G. Ballard would have made if he were a director.

The main theory behind the Violent Unknown Event is that it was caused by the birds, with flight and our feathered friends a recurring theme. We are never told exactly what happened, only given hints, like one victim being struck by lightning to bring on the effects. But those effects include some variation of deformity or sickness in all cases, and immortality in most - those who don't die from non-natural causes, that is. We never see this, we're just told it by the steady stream of narrators, and as the images mount up, some serene like countryside cottages, others bizarre like a boy watching a swaying egg, the film becomes strangely mesmeric.

As you watch you begin to notice further connections between the victims than the obvious ones made clear from the start. Although many of the Falls have quirks peculiar to themselves, such as the woman who takes up naturism or the man who flies kites, there are those who develop an inclination for the man who tried to fly off the Eiffel Tower at the turn of the nineteenth century to the twentieth, or those who travel round in circles, whether in a taxiing aircraft or driving around a roundabout. You can place as much significance on all this as you like, but much of it will be in the eye of the beholder as there's the nagging sense it amounts to very little except an exercise in inherently pointless list making. Music by Michael Nyman, which punctuates the stories like a "bad-dum-tish" drumbeat punchline.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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