BIRDLAND – a film by Peter Lynch – SPOILERS
In this intense dreamscape filled with aptly named characters, Toronto is a dark, steel and glass labyrinth, even in daylight. The ethereal Sheila has an ornithologist husband named Tom (cat?) who is having an affair with Merle (from the Latin for blackbird), who is, in turn, the girlfriend of a gangster named Raven. Merle (played by Melanie Scrofano) is the rebellious, eco-activist daughter of cynical, self-serving oil magnate John James (Audubon?). “People need oil. They demand oil,” says Mr. James. “Those who provide are the anointed, and those who don’t appreciate it can go fuck themselves.” Merle’s mother is never mentioned. Presumably she didn’t sufficiently appreciate it.
Sheila (Kathleen Munroe), whose story this seems to be, responds to her husband Tom’s infidelity by placing him under surveillance. (She is a cop and has access to equipment.) We don’t quite get fifty shades of Scrofano, but there is some tantalizing bondage in the recordings of Merle and Tom’s sexual adventures. Sheila mimics Tom’s mistress (dying her hair to match, participating in protests, etc.) to the point where he must know that she knows. In the course of her investigations, Sheila also convinces Merle’s father to hire her to figure out who’s sabotaging his fracking operation.
The Weinstein-like Ray Starling (Joris Jarsky) is well described by Merle’s sister Hazel (Cara Gee). “Watch out for Starling, though,” Hazel tells Sheila. “He’s a pretty dangerous guy. He’s not the kind of guy who’s particularly interested in your nice ass. He’s more interested in taking advantage of your wounds.” In the same conversation, Hazel describes the differences between herself and Merle, saying: “I admire her sense of purpose. How she became so different remains a mystery to me. She believes in something. Compared to Merle, I’m pretty crass and materialistic.” Hazel is pretty good at describing people.
Hazel seduces nearly everyone she encounters, and watching her do that is the best thing about the movie. Most of the folks in this story move like they are in a daydream most of the time. Hazel seems to always be awake.
Peter Lynch is best known for his documentaries, and in this film, small nuggets of actual information are dropped from time to time. The demise of the ivory-billed woodpecker is discussed, as are roasted beetle larvae, and flesh-eating dermestid beetles (which ornithologists use to clean skeletons).
The etymology of the archery term “bulls eye” finds its way into conversation because there are crossbows (although nobody gets shot with one). Commendably, guns are not employed by any of the characters.
Two murders happen in the dreamscape, one by bludgeoning, the other by depontisation. We do find out who killed whom, but it is uncertain if the cop investigating Sheila ever does. Sheila wakes up before she finds that out.
Director Peter Lynch told Charles Trapunsky of Brief Take: “Cara Gee…confessed to me after, and now it totally makes sense, is that the way she had this aside to Tom and the whispering and the way she projected her sexuality and tragic sort of sense, that she was riffing on Marilyn Monroe. Birdland is not plot-driven per se, it’s more character-driven and it’s more about abstract ideas. It spins on the thematic elements of the pulls of sex and death. It’s more of a psychological portrait and that is what the actors helped me to create.”
A trailer is available on YouTube.