If she could turn back time

Pub date March 27, 2007
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

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"The only way out is forward!" a character exclaims roughly 65 minutes into 1972’s 111-minute-long The Poseidon Adventure. The same guy says the same thing around 46 minutes into Anne McGuire’s 2006 remake-reversal of exactly the same length, Adventure Poseidon The. Yet no matter how or when it’s sliced, the soon-to-be-doomed character’s sentiment isn’t quite right. In Ronald Neame’s original, the way out is actually up — albeit through the bottom of a capsized ship. In McGuire’s version, the way out isn’t exactly backward (she doesn’t merely rewind The Poseidon Adventure) but rather forward in reverse. By faithfully following the bread-crumb trail laid down by the 1972’s film’s editor, Harold F. Kress, McGuire rescues the film’s huge cast of survivors and casualties and its gargantuan ship.

In the process, McGuire gives viewers a chance to see a beloved cult movie anew. She may not have time for on-deck shuffleboard, but her rigorous reshuffling and storyboarding of The Poseidon Adventure is a rare example of formal art practice that never loses touch with the pop appeal of its source material. Ambivalent passion for the too-abundant things and people of pop culture is at the root of McGuire’s admirably varied movies to date and even her current official biography, which begins by stating that she was born in the valley of the Jolly Green Giant (meaning Minnesota).

In 1991’s classic Joe DiMaggio, 1, 2, 3, McGuire stalks-serenades the actual slugger as he takes a senior stroll through the Marina, and in 1997’s equally great I’m Crazy and You’re Not Wrong, she sings and rambles like a wigged-out ghost who’s emerged from cracks in Liza Minnelli’s and Judy Garland’s skulls during one of their black-and-white TV duets. Adventure Poseidon The isn’t the first time McGuire has hopscotched from an original film’s end to its beginning — she did so with 1992’s Strain Andromeda The. But in this case, as with her more performative work, she’s overtly drawing from life experience — she has survived a shipwreck. In that sense, this latest project is directly connected to a movie like 1996’s When I Was a Monster, in which McGuire takes a long mirrored look at her injured body shortly after she’d literally fallen off a cliff.

Circling against itself, Adventure Poseidon The‘s choppy dramatic momentum — each shot moves toward an end, then connects to the start of a scene that originally came before it — heightens the visual properties of Neame’s original. Characters retreat from dynamic deaths. Fatal falls through rings of fire become burning baptisms. Lit from below, dazed onlookers could have wandered in from a Euro art film of the ’60s. The ebbs and flows make one of John Williams’s less sappy scores more interesting. A viewer can dwell on the strange ’70s trend (see also: Dario Argento’s 1976 Suspiria) of people plummeting through stained-glass windows and wonder whether it’s Neame’s movie or John Waters’s 1974 Female Trouble that contains the most surreally violent abuse of a Christmas tree. And of course there’s Oscar-winning Shelley Winters, the movie’s underwater swimming champ and "600-pound swordfish," giving a truly heroic performance, triumphant even when her rump’s tinsel-strewn in close-up.

Lacking a Charlton Heston who has since gone gun crazy or a tainted O.J. Simpson, the cast of The Poseidon Adventure is both Ernest Borgnine–ed and benign in comparison to those of the disaster films that followed. When Jennifer Jones fell from a great glass elevator in 1974’s The Towering Inferno, she was following in the footsteps of Poseidon‘s Stella Stevens, and Ava Gardner’s fatal drowning in Earthquake‘s Los Angeles sewer tunnels the same year is another variation on that doomed-lady theme. One suspects that just as McGuire was born in the valley of the Jolly Green Giant, she also grew up in the era of the disaster movie. With Adventure Poseidon The — a perfect movie for what one can only pray is the end of the George W. Bush era — she returns to the scene of a catastrophe and proves that if there’s got to be a morning after, there’s also got to be a night before. *


Thurs/29, 6:30 p.m. (screening and artist talk), $5–$7

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Phyllis Wattis Theater

151 Third St., SF

(415) 357-4000



Look for an interview with Anne McGuire this week at www.sfbg.com/blogs/pixel_vision.