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Thirty years apart, 30 days of fast food



The must-see film of the moment is playing for one night at the Dryden this Friday. Walkabout (1971)is director and cinematographer Nicolas Roeg's finest hour, a perfect jewel of a movie. A boy and his older sister are stranded in the Australian outback when their father, seemingly an emblem of staid society driven mindless by its remove from the real world, goes berserk and kills himself on an outing. The two begin traveling through the desert, their journey crisply photographed with striking, saturated colors.

            Before they can die of thirst they are found and helped by an Aborigine boy, played by David Gulpilil, a real Aborigine (as his prowess in the film makes clear). The journey ends when the world of the white man makes a fearful impact upon his world (somewhat enigmatically, as befits Roeg's temperament).

            The film is the best expression of Roeg's fragmented style and dry observation (and stunningly shot). The same editor from Richard Lester's Petulia, Antony Gibbs, works brilliantly to establish the rustling rhythm and alternating montages Roeg apparently fell in love with while shooting the Lester film (and would later utilize with a different editor on The Man Who Fell to Earth and Don't Look Now).

            While these devices would always serve Roeg well, they are seamless here in the juxtapositioning of the two different cultures (and the underlying sexual curiosity that lies at the point of intersection between the Aborigine and the white girl). Walkabout is a simple, unpretentious synthesis of content and form. It is showing in restored, uncut form.

            A more curious hybrid can be found in The Tracker, playing the following night. David Gulpilil had gone on to star in other films, like Peter Weir's The Last Wave, and was the Aboriginal go-to guy for films like The Right Stuff and Crocodile Dundee. Thirty years after Walkabout, he returns as an Aboriginal guide leading white people through the outback, but the two films could not be more different in story and style.

            The Tracker, set in 1922, is a story of racism rather than alien cultures, as Gulpilil tracks a fellow Aborigine on behalf of a malicious white man. Stylistically, the film breaks convention with direct simplicity. This period piece has a well-scrubbed look, contemporary music (beautiful, mournful songs co-written by director Rolf de Heer with Aboriginal singer Archie Roach), and a habit of cutting to painted depictions of graphic scenes in the place of filmed violence.

            The film's devices do cohere, but the fable-like story, strong and compelling, would have carried the day in any event. Gulpilil's visage has matured into one of the most arresting and intelligent faces on the screen these days, and his knowing performance is light years away from the naïf of Walkabout. The Tracker screens on Sat, May 22, at the Dryden Theatre.

Not a tie-in to the muckraking bestseller Fast Food Nation, although it could be, Super Size Me follows director Morgan Spurlock's month-long regimen of eating only McDonald's for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He has to have everything at least once, according to his self-imposed rules, and he has to Supersize when asked.

            The doctors following his progress expect a rise in cholesterol, a little weight gain, that sort of thing. After only two weeks into it, he gained 15 pounds, his liver is turning to fat, and he experiences depression alleviated only by eating more McDonald's. When his doctors beg him to stop his ruinous experiment, it becomes apparent that the whole idea is far more dangerous than anyone imagined.

            But this is only the connective thread of the movie, which is a playful and zippy look at the pervasiveness of fast food culture and its effect on society, particularly children. It's disorienting to know, as kids walk away from the lunch line at school with just Oreos and Doritos, that these items are even being offered in the first place. The rationale given by school administrators: They try to teach good nutrition, and then hope that kids make the right choices. But why offer junk food at all?

            Super Size Me takes a look at this and other questions, such as: Why are Americans so obese? Percolating graphics guide the viewer through a flurry of statistics and reasons as the film contemplates the line between corporate and personal responsibility. This is an area generally explored with an admirable lack of bias, although Spurlock is not above a manipulative moment or two.

            The insane amount of food in a Supersized meal, for instance, has been demonstrated already when he eats one for the first time. Finishing it, he complains of a McStomachache and vomits out the car window, the camera lingering on the sight. But someone forcing down far more food than they are used to, and spewing, has little to do with McDonald's or fast food, and weakens the point being made. He also tries to demonstrate American ignorance on health by asking random people to define a calorie, which only demonstrates that they are not nutritionists (one of whom finally struggles through the definition as though she were reciting Latin).

            This kind of smug cockiness on Spurlock's part can make him a less than charismatic guide, but doesn't really detract from the film. The points being made are as compelling and necessary as they would be otherwise. The film may have already made a ripple or two. McDonald's denies any connection, but six weeks after the film premiered at a festival, they did away with Supersize options.

The Dryden Theatre will screen Walkabout on Friday, May 21, and The Tracker on Saturday, May 22. Super Size Me(NR), a film by Morgan Spurlock, shows at the Little Theatres.

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