Tuesday, 8 April 2014

THE GALAPAGOS AFFAIR: SATAN CAME TO EDEN - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Documentary Portait of Trouble in Nietzschean Paradise Flawed, But Worth Seeing

The Galapagos Affair:
Satan Came To Eden

Dir. Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine (2013) ***
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Diane Kruger, Connie Nielsen
 Sebastian Koch, Thomas Kretschmann, Gustaf Skarsgard, Josh Radnor

Review By Greg Klymkiw

"...I looked and saw the sand. Alive, all alive, as the new hatched sea turtles made their dash to the sea, the birds hovered and swooped to attack, and hovered and swooped to attack, they were diving down on the sea turtles, turning them over to expose their soft undersides, tearing their undersides open, and rending and eating their flesh." - Mrs. Venable from the Tennessee Williams play Suddenly Last Summer

When the negative to Alfred Hitchcock's The Empress of Floreana was lost to a fire in a shed on the backlot of Paramount Pictures, the Master of Suspense would rue the day he had his trusty camera assistant dispatch the precious materials to this secret location. Hitch feared that the studio's already cold feet about the daring film would become even more frigid and he simply did not trust leaving any of it to the care of the climate controlled vaults. He even ordered all still negatives be stored there too, along with screen tests, all the requisite costume and lighting tests and even the storyboards. With only two-thirds of the film in the can, Paramount ordered the production to wrap and instead, cashed-in on the insurance policy to cover the losses.

Able to apportion company overhead to the policy, Paramount actually profited on the claim. The studio's gain, so to speak, was cinema's loss. Brimming with sex, sadomasochism, adultery, violence and, of course, murder most foul, the film was based upon the true story of Dr. Friedrich Ritter (Cary Grant in a dyed blonde flattop haircut), an obsessive Nietzschean philosopher and scientist who fled German society in the 1920s with his devoted, subservient mistress Dore Strauch (Joan Fontaine) and settled on the uninhabited Galapagos island paradise of Floreana. Here the couple's once passionate love dwindles as Ritter transforms into a controlling, mean-spirited introvert and Dore is forced to seek companionship with the only living thing on the island that will pay attention to her - a donkey.

Unfortunately, word of the couple's flight made it back to the Fatherland and soon, another German family, the Wittmers (Joseph Cotten and Claudette Colbert), decide to follow in their footsteps. Ritter sees this is as the ultimate intrusion upon his desire to be free of all human interaction - so much so, that when the pregnant Mrs. Wittmer experiences a painful, dangerous labour in the cavern Ritter has set them up in as a home, he only grudgingly, and at the last minute, agrees to help - in spite of the fact that he's a skilled physician who swore to the Hippocratic Oath.

Adding insult to injury, a third party invades the island, the Baroness Von Wagner (Grace Kelly) and her two boy-toys (Tab Hunter and Martin Landau). The Baroness has plans to erect a massive tourist hotel on the island, though as the tale progresses, it's suspected that she's a fraud, a con artist on the lam. Tension intensifies as the Baroness begins to make eyes at Ritter and Mr. Wittmer. This infuriates their significant other and wife, as well as the boy toys. All are plunged into the roiling, seething waters of jealousy and betrayal.

Floreana also becomes host to Captain Alan Hancock (Thomas Mitchell), a well-heeled commander of a shipping vessel who fancies himself a filmmaker of exotic locales in the Schoedsack and Cooper tradition (both of whom were amalgamated into the Carl Denham character in the legendary RKO production of King Kong). Hancock decides to make a movie about the Baroness in which she stars as herself. Neither Strauch nor Mrs. Wittmer will participate in the other female role, so the Baroness convinces one of her boy toys (the one played by Martin Landau) to take the other female role in drag. Hancock's film, The Empress of Floreana is shot, much to everyone else's consternation.

The tropical vat of illicit couplings and envy boils over and soon, the horizon is clearly pointing to murder.

That this is a true story is all the more phenomenal. What would have been even more phenomenal is if the events described above actually were the contents of a lost Hitchcock film (or even one that was truly made). No, dear reader, that bit is a flight of Key To Reserva fancy on my part. (Reserva is Martin Scorsese's 2007 extended promotional film for Freixenet Cava champagne that presented a "lost" Hitchcock film and so superbly done, it fooled even the biggest movie geeks - myself included.)

All that said, everything described, save for my imaginary dream cast (and director, 'natch), is the compelling mystery thriller of a documentary that's been expertly crafted by directors Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine. Using the writings of the principal participants in this genuine adventure in the Encantatas (and voiced superbly by a fine cast including Cate Blanchett), a wealth of archival materials, still photos, newspaper/magazine clippings, actual home movie footage (including that shot by the real Captain Hancock), The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden is a documentary feature that has you sliding off the edge of your seat as you follow this astonishing, riveting tale (with your jaw occasionally hitting the floor).

The movie incorporates newly shot footage of life in the Gslapagos now, including interviews with current residents and even several living descendants of the aforementioned parties. Though there's some great stuff in these sequences, the lurid narrative employing the archival materials and narration almost seems like it would have been enough to render a terrific picture. Alas, the modern stuff, more often than not, just seems to put occasional stops to the otherwise gorgeous flow of the proceedings.

This, however, is not enough to drag the movie down irreparably and you'll be treated to a very strange, creepy and often suspenseful picture. And yes, there is a movie buried in here that Hitch himself would have done wonders with, but Geller and Goldfine acquit themselves admirably enough in presenting a torrid real-life melodrama that keeps you fascinated and guessing to the end.

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came To Eden is a Kinosmith Release which opens at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema on April 11-18, 2014 and throughout the rest of Canada on a platform release. For further info, visit the Hot Docs website HERE.