All posts by One Guys Opinion

Dr. Frank Swietek is Associate Professor of History at the University of Dallas, where he is regarded as a particularly tough grader. He has been the film critic of the University News since 1988, and has discussed movies on air at KRLD-AM (Dallas) and KOMO-AM (Seattle). He is also the Founding President of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics' Association, a group of print and broadcast journalists covering film in the Metroplex area, and was a charter member of the Society of Texas Film Critics. Dr. Swietek is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). He was instrumental in the creation of the Lone Star Awards, which, through the efforts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Film Commission, give recognition annually to the best feature films and television programs produced in Texas.


When the idea of adapting Oscar Wilde’s “An Ideal Husband” for the screen was originally proposed to him, writer-director Oliver Parker, whose debut feature was the 1995 Laurence Fishburne-Kenneth Branagh adaptation of “Othello,” wasn’t enthusiastic.

“It was suggested to me by two friends for adaptation,” Parker, an ebullient man, explained in a recent Dallas conversation. “I knew the play and wasn’t sure about the idea, and I went to see the [1993 London] production, which was a Peter Hall production, and I still wasn’t sure about it. In fact, I thought it was quite a bad idea. It seemed to me so innately theatrical that I wasn’t sure how on earth you were going to rip it off the stage.”
“But,” he went on, “I was obviously hooked. The themes were obviously suitable, indeed strikingly contemporary. But I was a bit upset about some of the language and the formality–whether one could give that a sort of cinematic power. So I did a very quick draft…[and] began to realize how you could really give it that extra bit of naturalism without deserting its roots and style. And I took it a stage further in about five drafts in a row, experimenting a bit more each time. And it worked.”
“Part of the job,” he said, “was simply drawing back the veil to expose more of that compassion and humanity” that’s already present in the play, even if in “coded” form. “In a film, one is trying to tie it down more to an emotional reality” that lies beneath the play’s surface. 
When the script was finished, it quickly attracted an outstanding cast. One of the main performers, however, was a last-minute addition. Originally Gabriel Byrne had been signed for the role of Sir Robert Chiltern, but when he had to withdraw, Jeremy Northam stepped in.
Parker is clearly pleased with the result, and was especially happy when mention was made of its energetic pace. “Yes, for me it’s more like a 1940s film,” he remarked, “a Preston Sturges-type movie, where people aren’t afraid to take it quickly.” One disappointment was that he hadn’t been able to get his brother, the actor Nathaniel Parker, into a cameo role. Nathaniel played Cassio in his adaptation of “Othello,” and Parker had hoped to use him in the insert from “The Importance of Being Earnest” in this film, but it hadn’t worked out.
Perhaps the brothers will reunite in one of the writer-director’s bewilderingly varied future prospects. One possibility is a filmization of “Earnest.” “I said I’d read it, and a couple of ideas came to me,” Parker noted. “It could be enormously funny, though you’d have to make some deft changes to make it matter emotionally.” That wouldn’t be his next project, however; he’s committed to doing a script by John Sayles, a historical whodunit about Orson Welles, of all people, playing detective to unmask a murderer while in Italy to shoot “Black Magic” in 1948. And an even more bizarre pospect is Parker’s hope to create a stage version of Clive Barker’s “Hellraiser.” (The horror writer is an old friend of Parker’s from their youthful days in a British theatre company.) “I have a desire to get a response out of a bloody theatre audience–to do something that’s more rousing and stirring” than the norm, Parker explained.
Nothing more likely to achieve such an aim could be imagined than a stage version of Barker’s grisly tale, already immortalized in the 1987 film written and directed by Barker himself (and including, in its cast, Oliver Parker as Moving Man #2). And nothing more unlike Parker’s current film could be imagined, either.


Each of John Sayles’ movies has a powerful sense of place, and the origin of “Limbo,” a tale about taking risks, was rooted in a trip he took more than a decade ago.
“I started thinking about writing something set in Alaska about eleven years ago, when I went up there and was really struck by the place,” the writer-director said during a recent Dallas interview. “Nature is very, very big and people very, very small there, so you can get lost very easily. Also, I was really struck by how many people had gone up there to totally change their life. There’s still that quality of a frontier about it.”

“Then, probably about seven or eight years ago,” he continued, “Steve Lang, who plays the bartender in the picture…[and] had been a fisherman in Alaska, told me the story of guys he had known who caught so many fish that their boat sank and a couple of them drowned. And just that kernel–like the Greek idea of hubris, of flying too close to the sun (you did so well that disaster befell you)–seemed like the great core of a story to me. I started thinking about risk, and how people react to it differently–how some people have failure after failure after failure and keep coming back for more, while other people get burned once or twice and that’s it. I started thinking about this Joseph Conrad character, this survivor of the [fishing disaster], who’s been almost literally treading water for 25 years, not drowning but not going anywhere either, and what if he met a woman who just came back for more every time she got knocked down. The combination might be greater than the sum of its parts…. Then I started thinking about making the triangle even more dynamic by making the girl [the woman’s daughter] a teenager–and what if she were interested in this guy herself?”
The theme of risk so central to the story he penned is a part of Sayles’s cinematic career, too: since 1978 he’s made twelve pictures, almost all independent projects that he’s struggled to finance himself, often by doing scripts (and rewrites) for others. (“Limbo” is only the second Sayles film backed by a major studio, in this case Sony Pictures).

“All of our movies take risks,” Sayles observed, referring to himself and his longtime collaborator, producer Maggie Renzi. “They’re not genre movies. They’re not heroic. One of the things you do when you make a non-genre movie is that you risk losing some of the audience. I’m used to doing that. And it’s not because I’m interested in staking out new ground and seeing what I can get away with with an audience; it’s that those are the stories that interest me. I’m interested in complex behavior, and most movies are–and I think rightly so–more like roller-coaster rides, and when you’re making a roller-coaster ride, sometimes it’s not appropriate for people to be complex; you want to simplify the people, take some of the edges off them. So risk is something I’m always aware of when I’m making a movie.”
The complexity of the “Limbo” script and characterizations might be daunting to some, but it’s certain that virtually all viewers will react with surprise to the film’s abrupt ending. When asked about it, Sayles shrugged. “I actually didn’t think it was that big a deal. If the rest of the movie had been an action-adventure, then it would have been lunatic or suicidal to end it that way. But there’s two hours and five minutes of movie before the ending which should be warning you–plus the title, which is a consumer warning–that this is not your usual ride.”
Then he added: “For me, this movie ends with these three characters becoming a family.” The future they have as a family, however, is not so clear.