‘The Tribe’ or the Hairshirt explained

2 Nov

Guest blogger jennythenipper has just watched Jeremy’s first Stephen Poliakoff film, ‘The Tribe’ (1998). Here’s what she thought …

I fully expected The Tribe to come in a plain brown paper wrapper because of one particular scene.  If you are a big Northam fan you’ve likely seen, as I had, the “naughty” Tribe screen caps posted online.  Based on the screen caps, I expected the film to be cheaply done, sleazy and unintentionally funny.  But here’s the thing:  The Tribe is actually kind of good.  Not in a so bad it’s good way, but in a so good it’s good way.  There is a lot going on here for one thing.  Jeremy gets a large, fairly juicy role, transforming himself from uptight yuppy to free-lovin’, bug-munching culto in a hundred and twenty minutes.  Not bad.  I’d put this up there with Cypher for the amount of range he gets to play.

Jeremy as Jamie in 'The Tribe'

And he’s not alone on screen; Joely Richardson, Trevor Eve, Anna Friel and Jonathan Rhys Myers are plenty convincing in their parts.  The concept behind the film is quite original.  A group of young people practice free love in a walled compound behind the veneer of an austere religious cult.  They move unfettered through their crime-ridden London suburb thanks to the  fear generated by their odd appearances (they dress in all black, a combination of model chic and Victorian dour), the cult’s undeserved reputation for violent discipline and the general pop culture belief that all cults must have a stash of poison gas or kool-aid lying around.  So the big secret they harbor is that they just like to have a bunch of sex without fear of disease or society’s prying eyes.  They don’t have jobs and make their living by selling electronics at wholesale prices out of an old army truck.  They have no religion, no godlike reverence for their leader and no one is coerced into being there.  It’s a non-cult, cult.  OK, there’s one weird thing—they eat bugs– although apparently the bugs are pretty tasty and prepared in a way that they sort of look like chicken nuggets.  They also use a special sauce on everything that looks to my eyes like the bright green pickle relish you’d slather on a Chicago dog.  So they eat bugs and they worship a hotdog relish.  So what?  They all look really, really good in their black uniforms and wherever they go, they are accompanied by Joe Satriani-style guitar riffs.  No wonder our Jer joins up!

Tasty but chewy ...

Jeremy’s character, Jamie, an ambitious real-estate developer (are there really any lazy, apathetic real estate developers?)  is sent to infiltrate this group to force them out of their lease  and faster than you can say “repressed, middle-class British male,” finds himself in bed with Anna Friel and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in the infamous scene we’ve all seen.  One of my favorite things about JN making out with Jonathan Rhys Meyers is that it makes The Tudors, like, a hundred times more interesting.  Seriously, try not to slash the Henry and Thomas More after watching this.  It can’t be done.  Suddenly, that whole hairshirt deal makes a lot more sense when you see it as self-loathing for repressed homoerotic feelings.

Jeremy wonders if Joely's on the menu

Jamie is also fascinated with and maybe even a bit in love with the cult’s leader (Joely Richardson) who appears to be the only person in this group of 8 or so not willing to jump into bed with him.  Jeremy always does a really good job of portraying the kinds of relationships where what is left unsaid is more significant than what is said.  (Think Winslow Boy, for example).  Though the ending is a bit unsatisfying, it works with the story, I think, and leaves us with just enough hints to make me imagine that I will actually rewatch this DVD rather than relegate it to the back of the shelf with Misadventures of Margaret.   I’m not sure if all this praise is merely the result of the triumph of low-expectations, or if I’m still giddy from watching a Jeremy Northam movie that I hadn’t seen yet, where he has a large, interesting part for him.  I’ll let you know after I’ve seen Voices from a Locked Room which is the last major movie left on my list.

by jennythenipper

Author of three books about classic film stars published under the name “Jenny Curtis,” Jenny is equally well-known in the world of classic movie geekdom as “Nipper.” If you’ve ever seen Bringing Up Baby or The Awful Truth, you may remember “Jerry the Nipper” on which the nom de blog is an obvious pun.

Jenny’s blog, Cinema OCD, which describes itself as ‘The Aristocrat of motion picture blogs’  is packed with wonderful reviews of classic movies. I highly recommend a visit.

8 Responses to “‘The Tribe’ or the Hairshirt explained”

  1. Gill Fraser Lee November 2, 2010 at 10:20 pm #

    Great post, thanks so much Jenny! I’m really glad you clarified what the cult was all about … the relish! That always ‘bugged’ me!

  2. Gayle Cooley November 3, 2010 at 1:20 pm #

    I really enjoyed this review Jenny! I liked the Tribe quite a bit, and agree that the storyline is deeper than meets the eye. Thanks for a terrific write up!

  3. Ansie November 3, 2010 at 2:42 pm #

    Thanks Jenny, I enjoyed reading your review!

    It is a bit surreal to watch JN and JRM on The Tudors after seeing them together in The Tribe. LOL

    Stephen Poliakoff is a wonderful film maker, and while The Tribe is not my favorite of his (that would be Shooting the Past), I think it’s quite a good film.

  4. Jennythenipper November 3, 2010 at 3:48 pm #

    I’m so proud of us for getting past the naughty scenes to discuss this film like adults. If only I could stop giggling like Beavis for five minutes.

    • Gill Fraser Lee November 3, 2010 at 3:56 pm #

      Yes, not quite sure how we managed that … !?! I’m proud of us too … *snigger*!

  5. LauraP November 3, 2010 at 10:58 pm #

    I really enjoyed this review, Jenny! It’s been a while since I first saw The Tribe, so it was great to get your “first time” impressions.

    I’ve found myself wondering what that first meeting between JN and JRM for The Tudors was like. I imagine them thinking “Dude, last time I worked with you it got a little weird. Hopefully that won’t happen this time around…” I mean, it had to be a LITTLE uncomfortable for them. Lol!

  6. Martina November 7, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    Thank you for your humorous and very right review, Jenny! Wished you would have given it to me much earlier, it could have been very helpful for understanding an English movie without subtitles for a German!?! (But to watch it over and over isn`t that bad)
    Might I say that I think the end not unsatisfying for the following reasons:
    An emotional, almost weeping Jamie (so cute and touching) and a terrific take of Jeremy, wearing this nice sweater and jeans!

    • Jennythenipper November 12, 2010 at 9:29 pm #

      LauraP, oh to have been the proverbial fly on the wall!

      Martina, Sorry I couldn’t have been more help to you. I agree the ending does have its virtues. I just felt like it was a bit of a cop out: just when he joined the cult, they disbanded. Crisis averted! Hooray, the mechanical gods save another one.

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