An early effort from Peter Greenaway, THE FALLS is shot in the style of a documentary, and is a three-hour examination of 92 people who have been afflicted by a strange disease. Michael Nyman--who would go on to score many of Greenaway's films--and … see full wiki
Peter Greenaway doesn’t direct films for coherence. His best movies (which I leave for fans to determine on their own) have a loose consistency that can be undone in the course of one or two frames into a fanciful world that is usually pretty disturbing.
The Falls, because of its structure, may be his most coherent film. Keep in mind, I modify it by saying, because of its structure.
The Falls is a mocumentary released in 1980. The Falls is actually a regularly published directory of victims of something called the Violent Unknown Event (VUE). The film is 92 randomly selected biographies. Worldwide, the event affected about 19 million people. Victims of the VUE have six things in common: immortality (they can commit suicide or they can die in an accident, but other than that they will live forever), an ability to fly without benefit of machines (VUE victims must discover how to do this on their own, most don’t), their language changes from whatever native tongue to one of the 92 recognized VUE languages, various physical or psychological changes/deformities, all of their last names begin with “Fall” and there is no reason to believe these names were changed after the VUE, and an obsession from mild to severe about birds in general and about their responsibility for the VUE specifically.
Coherence aside, The Falls is the strangest movie I have ever seen and I can say I saw Liquid Sky totally sober and Eraserhead more times than I would care to admit, among others. The reason it is so strange is the humor and how it is delivered. The narrators have the BBC accents that you hear watching any British documentary. The delivery is as seriously as if they were discussing the workings of the Irish Republican Army or gardening stories. Because of this (early on) I did a sonic double-take when I heard some of the symptoms of the victims, I was sure I misunderstood it. I didn’t. Here is just a small sampling: one victim becomes allergic to the color red another allergic to going more than 10 miles an hour; there is a skin condition they name après-radiance, the skin glows like a light based on the amount of physical exertion; at least three of the victims drive their cars in endless circles. The linguistic analysis of the VUE languages is, literally, hysterical (forgive me for not remembering their names, the piece is more than three hours long and I got kind of lost in it). One language is called the language of endless vocabulary. Those who are not post VUE speakers can never learn it because the meaning, structure, syntax are constantly changing. One language is basically made of acronyms and imperatives so that it is good for instruction, but not at all lyrical. One language is filled with internal ambiguities. And so on.
The biographies, more often than not, do not actually show the victim for a host of reasons, so the scenes shown are of nearby countryside or the interiors of homes. In some ways, these sequences look like the way Ken Burns intersperses his documentaries with still shots and films where possible. Usually the images on the screen have at least a tangential reference to the matter being discussed.
As I mentioned, this is a 3 hour piece. The good news about it is that, since the biographies are discrete, you can stop and start at any time and not really get lost. If you are not a Greenaway fan, and find it difficult to relax into a film with a strange topic or strange structure (or both), then you should probably avoid this.
I intend on buying this film because I am sure I missed large amounts of the humor while relaxing into it.
If you see the description on Netflix, it says: “The Falls (1980), an epic faux documentary, chronicles 92 case histories of people afflicted with a bizarre apocalyptic phenomenon that leaves them preoccupied with dreams about water.” Very few of the 92 victims have this, and the event was is never described as apocalyptic, just violent.
Finally, this is not a mystery. You will never discover the epicenter(s) of the VUE and you aren’t meant to. This is a mocumentary that is a second cousin to This Is Spinal Tap. It isn’t brilliant, but it is fun.
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