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Tarsem takes 'location, location, location' to heart
the filmmaker formerly known as Tarsem Singh -- has done "the digital thing" before. He's made a movie (The Cell) and music videos that used the latest technical trickery to show us things we haven't seen before.
But for The Fall, his adult fairy tale, he wanted to go old school. He wanted to show us the amazing things he's seen in his travels but that no one has filmed before.
"I thought I would make a swan song for this sort of old-fashioned filmmaking," Tarsem says in the lilting, musical accent of his native India. "I wanted this to be a heightened reality, but still real. So I thought 'Why not make the last film of this style, with real settings that filmgoers have never seen before?' The last piece of real eye candy."
For The Fall, essentially a wild adventure tale a movie stuntman invents for a 5-year-old girl while both are recovering in a 1920s Los Angeles hospital, Tarsem went to 24 countries, from the Nicobar Islands to Namibia.
He had memories of an old Russian film where an injured man tells a boy a fantastical pirate tale while both are in a hospital (Yo Ho Ho, 1981). Tarsem abandoned that story and made one closer to his own experience. No pirates, plenty of exotic Far Eastern locales.
"Everything in this movie is real. The 'Blue City' is a real blue city [Jodhpur] in India. You are legally not allowed to change the color of your house. Legally, to live there, your house must be blue. But we could go round and tell people there, for two months you could have all the free blue paint you want, to get them to put fresh paint on their houses. So it was that much more vivid.
"Digitally, all we did was remove telephone wires and TV antennas and lamp posts, and those are things nobody misses.
"These places exist, these countries, this part of India, that island chain, that corner of Africa. The reason you haven't seen them before is they're so hard to get to, they don't have facilities to allow you to make the movie there. 'Where is the parking lot? Where is the catering? Where can we stay while we're there on location?' "
He searched the world for a child who could convey the innocence of a little girl who has never seen a movie, whose imagination is shaped by her limited life experiences. He found Catinca Untaru in Romania. He tried telling the story without the wild costumes, the exotic characters, all invented by an American stuntman and imagined by a little Romanian girl who hears his tale. But he couldn't. "This thing is bulky and exotic, and this world of cinema shot like this is dying and will go entirely to the computer very soon. So I will make this document, this artifact that people will watch 20 or 30 years from now and stare in wonder at these places, which will be gone by then."
The filmmaker accomplished what he set out to do, putting on film some of the most stunning locations ever. He's not sweating the bad reviews, which describe The Fall as "a bedtime story impeccably designed to flatter its own maker" (Slant Magazine) and Tarsem as the movie's "wildly indulged creator" (Variety).
"This is a very polarizing movie," Tarsem says with a laugh. "I didn't set out to do that. I just wanted to make a film which used these incredible locations to tell a story of a man who wants to manipulate a child by telling her a story, a story he changes to suit what his audience is telling him she likes or does not like.
"But you know, the people who get this, who really want to see something they haven't seen before, they are going to love what they see. The girl is amazing. The visuals, all stunning and all real. I hope I've made a movie that really takes people out of themselves and out into the world, because the magic is still out there. It's just that no one had taken a film crew to film it, until now."