Fascinating for indie-film buffs; others beware
Tryavna | North Carolina | 03/12/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Most reviews of Winstanley call the movie more "interesting" than "entertaining," and I'd say that that's a pretty fair description of co-directors Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo's work here. Unlike their more (in)famous It Happened Here, which chronicled an alternate-universe Nazi occupation of Britain and is now regarded as perhaps the best amateur movie ever made, Winstanley is far less flamboyantly provactive. Focusing on the relatively obscure Gerrard Winstanley, a 17th-century advocate for land reform and communal living, and his failed attempt to put his theories into practice in 1649, this movie is simply less compelling than It Happened Here. Although the historic Winstanley was a major influence on British socialists like William Morris and E.P. Thompson, his story doesn't lend itself well to a cinematic interpretation.
Yet I find Winstanley to be superior to It Happened Here in many ways: the acting is more subtle, Brownlow and Mollo have a firmer grasp of their craft, and the sound recording equipment is much better. Parts of this movie are extraordinarily beautiful, especially the opening battle montage and some of the scenes depicting Winstanley's followers laboring in the fields. The cover on the DVD compares the film to the work of Kubrick, who apparently encouraged Brownlow and Mollo, but Winstanley is more aligned with the aesthetics of Eisenstein -- right down to the borrowing of Prokofiev's music from Alexander Nevsky. Only the abruptness of the ending, which leaves the motivations of Winstanley's opponents and his own life story a little vague, came as a disappointment to me.
I realize that all of this sounds rather academic, and it is. But it's definitely worth a look if you have any interest in independent movie-making. In fact, since Milestone has packaged this DVD along with the making-of documentary It Happened Here Again, which is actually more interesting than Winstanley itself, this DVD is a must-see for budding film-makers. The docu describes just what lengths Brownlow and Mollo went to to transfer their vision to the screen -- from raising money to renting rare breeds of pigs in order to remain historically accurate. It's fascinating stuff, and it gives hope that, in such a cynical industry, dedicated people CAN make experimental and deeply personal movies.
Milestone's DVD is a pretty good one, considering that it's a relatively early one (from 2000). It's full-frame, as intended. And although there's noticeable damage to the print, particularly at reel change-overs, the transfer is clean and rich. There don't seem to be any problems with PAL-to-NTSC "ghosting" (like Milestone's transfer of South), and the existing audio-visual weaknesses seem to be inherent to the original 35-mm film stock itself. And like I said, the inclusion of Eric Mival's documentary It Happened Here Again makes this DVD well worth looking at. In fact, even though I doubt I'll return to Winstanley as much as I do to It Happened Here, I decided to buy this DVD as a show of support to Milestone, who keep making fascinating rarities like this available, and of course to Brownlow and Mollo."