'The Neon Bible'*

Unrated"The Neon Bible" doesn't tell a...

June 07, 1996|By Chris Kaltenbach

'The Neon Bible'

*; Unrated

"The Neon Bible" doesn't tell a story. What it does is give writer/director Terence Davies the chance to pan incessantly with his camera, shoot his actors at all sorts of odd angles, create scenes that look like they're straight out of a Soho art gallery and ponder the meaning of life.

If you want to ponder along with him, fine. Just don't expect to see much of a story in the process.

Only by accident does "The Neon Bible" relate the story of a young boy coming of age in a Depression-era Southern town dominated by failed dreams (his aunt wanted to be in show business, his dad wanted to be successful, his mom wanted to be happy) and money-grubbing fundamentalist preachers who invoke Jesus as the cure for all society's ills.

Gena Rowlands, Diana Scarwid and Denis Leary struggle gamely to turn the film into something more than the musings of its director, but they can't. Their characters are given precious little to say and do, other than move around inside the images Davies sees fit to put before us.

Which turns the film into little more than a catalog of artsy director's tricks. One of Davies' favorites is finishing with a scene, then sloooowwwwwlllllyyyyy panning in on it until the screen is nothing but a large, blank space. If you like the technique the first time, don't worry; your pleasure will be repeated again, and soon.

That's just one trick. See how many you can find.

"The Neon Bible" is ostensibly based on a book by John Kennedy Toole (who committed suicide in 1969 after his "A Confederacy of Dunces" had been rejected by several publishing houses. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981.) But don't be fooled; Davies admits the film is more his interpretation of "The Neon Bible" than an adaptation of it.

Unfortunately, his interpretation, while often pretty, just isn't all that interesting.

Pub Date: 6/07/96

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