‘Tell Me Lies’: Brook Troupe Makes Talk, Not War
© The New York Times – By Renata Adler – February 13, 1968.
«TELL ME LIES,» which opened yesterday at the 34th Street East, is a movie straight out of the psychodrama left. Based on the London theatrical production «US,» directed by Peter Brook and featuring the cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company, it is dedicated to the idea that a group of young actors, disturbed about the existing social order and the war in Vietnam, can make some significant contribution to the subject by saying and doing whatever comes into their minds.
It is an extremely trivial enterprise. There is no question of acting, since the young people are, in effect, playing themselves. And there is no question of directing or camerawork, since Brook (who made «Marat/Sade» with the same company) allows the camera to rove meaninglessly from fresh, sincere faces speaking directly into it, through documentary material clipped from newsreels, into little discussion groups posed for set pieces.
What the actors do is to go to demonstrations, parties, movies, Buddhist shrines and psychiatrists to discuss their personal problems over Vietnam. They also sing bad, cheery, original antiwar songs and do skits, including a re-enactment of the last days of Norman Morrison, the American Quaker who burned himself to death at the Pentagon.
They contemplate a picture of a wounded child swathed in bandages; «How long can you look at this before you lose interest?» one of them asks. (The movie itself lasts two minutes short of two hours.) They consider life’s deeper problems. «You bear a really frightening amount of individual responsibility,» a girl says of everyone. «I couldn’t kick a nun,» says another girl, an otherwise violence-oriented Maoist.
There is a sad interview with Stokely Carmichael. who seems to have become—since his days as an intelligent young man of courage—as clearly an actor as any member of the cast. For the rest, the direction is as unintelligent as the dialogue. Heads are cropped near the top of the screen, the camera lingers aimlessly on faces for long, idle, inarticulate sequences. The whole movie reflects the banal assumption that feeling is incompatible with reason (as though mindless, emotional types have not always been the first to follow any display of naked power that comes along).
The color, except for some black-and-white sequences, is striking and clean; there is one good scene near the movie’s end, when an actor’s stomach serves as a television screen for the war. The rest is abysmal and boring—as though slapdash work had a special authenticity, and the Angry Arts had an obligation to make even less sense than anybody else.