Freindship's Death - Freindship's Death( Blu Ray & DVD) [BFI - 2021]
Friendship’s Death is a decidedly stripped back, yet quietly clever and intriguing Sci-Fi drama from the late 1980s. It features in its lead role Tilda Swinton, as Friendship, a woman who may/ may not be an android diplomat on a peace mission from another world. The film is set in the year 1970 in Jordan, during Black September/ Jordanian civil war-and largely takes place in a series of hotel rooms where Friendship interacts with jaded Scottish journalist Sulllivan( Bill Peterson). From BFI here we have a recent dual Blu Ray & DVD release of the film- talking in a 4k scan of the picture, newly recorded commentary, and a few other extras.
Friendship's Death appeared in the year 1987- it was written/ directed by London born Peter Wollen- who was also a Film theorist, historian, and a Professor in Film and Television. Friendship’s Death was his third and final film, and it’s certainly a distinctive last cinematic statement- sure it’s decidedly dialogue-driven, but there are moments of sly visually flare, and Swinton has a great wardrobe- that gets slowly but surely more wacky/ weird as the film progresses.
The film opens with grainy stock footage from Black September and the bombing of a plane. Then we shift to our two leads/ main focus- Swinton and Peterson, who first meet in the interior of the desert hut- they seem to get on fairly well, so Peterson puts up Swinton in a local hotel, where most of the film takes place. The film is spread over several days in September of 1970- with the wonderful dialogue both building then revealing- the mystery behind Swinton origins, the conflict going on around them, and debating humankind’s treatment of each other and the earth.
Both actors play their parts wonderfully- Swinton has a can’t place it accent, a self-assured/ self-believing attitude, and of course, she has a rather distinct appearance too. This was her third role in a feature-length film, and it’s all the more impressive that she has some very detailed and at points complex dialogue, which she delivers in a believable manner. Peterson is a great fit as a jaded and war-weary journalist, who enjoys a drink or two, and believes he is a good judge of character- so feels he should be easily able to figure out Swinton’s characters origin, but of course, things don’t quite go the way he expects.
The film is scored by the wonderfully named Barrington Pheloung -a New South Wales born composer, who had seventy-five scoring credits to his name. The electro ethnic come-moody-synth scaping score has rather an otherworldly/ mythical Coil vibe to it. And, of course, works very well with the film it’s self- though it’s used fairly sparingly, with the dialogue always been the key feature of the film's flow.
Friendship's Death rolls in just over the one hour and twenty-minute mark, and throughout it remains intriguing/ rewarding- which you can’t say for many two-character/ dialogue-based films- sure it does feel a little stagy in places, but there are enough cinematic touches/ clever visual elements to keep it feeling film-like.
Moving onto this new Blu Ray and DVD release, and we get a 4k scan from the original 16mm negative- this is largely great, really picking out elements of set design, Swinton costumes, and lighting detail- the only thing that looks slightly aged/ not so good is the stock footage, and the switch between this and the films main footage. Moving onto the extras, and we get a good selection of stuff- first off we get a new commentary track- this features the film's producer Rebecca O’Brien and its cinematographer Stok Witold- with the whole thing been curated by BFI’s Josephine Botting. This is most interesting finding the three discussing everything from the film's funding, the rehearsal period before the films shooting, its two weeks of filming, Swinton dress changes, and items used on set and their placement. Along the way uncovering some most worthy facts/ details- for example, Swinton went to a voice coach to make her accent unspecific, and in the original story Friendship was a man. Next, we get two skype interviews- the first is with actors Swinton & Peterson, and O’Brien and Witold- this runs forty minutes. Then there’s another one with academics/ filmmakers Laura Mulvey and Kodwo Eshun, where they discuss Peter Wollen work in general- this runs just over an hour. Last on the discs we have Frida Kahlo & Tina Modotti- this is a documentary Petter Wollen made with Laura Mulvey, about two female icons of the Mexican renaissance- painter Frida Kahlo and photographer Tina Modotti- this is from 1983 and runs for half an hour. The release is topped off with an illustrated booklet- featuring a new essay about the film, archive interview with Wollen, and archive reviews, full credits, etc.
If you enjoy thought-provoking and well-acted Sci-fi with a drama setting Friendship’s Death will most certainly appeal- with this BFI taking in a great selection of extras. If you’d like to buy this direct, and course support the great work the BFI does follow this link.Roger Batty