Whoosh! Issue 48 - September 2000

By Bret Ryan Rudnick
Content copyright © 2000 held by author
Edition copyright © 2000 held by Whoosh!

Author's Note: Xena and Hercules fans will recognize the principal players in the Kiwi film Channelling Baby. Danielle Cormack (Ephiny/Raina in Cleopatra 2525) plays Bunnie, Kevin Smith (Ares/Iphicles) plays Geoff, Joel Tobeck (Strife/Deimos) plays Tony, and Amber Sainsbury (Regina) plays Cassandra. Hercules/Xena spotters will recognize several more alum in cameo roles, including Alison Wall (Minya), who makes a very brief appearance as a delivery nurse. Although Hercules and Xena connections generate enough interest for a film review in Whoosh, Channelling Baby itself stands out as a particularly fine piece of cinema in its own right, and it is well worth viewing. If you wish to watch the film uncontaminated with opinion or "spoilers" then cease reading now.

The Gloss (01-08)
Sorry, Only Three Pieces of Baggage Allowed on This Flight (09-15)
No Sex Please, We're British (16-20)
I'd Like To Thank the Academy... (21-23)

Channelling Baby: A Review

When big scary eyes attack

A New Zealand Film Commission poster for the film.

The Gloss

[1] Baby is dead. This much must be absolutely understood or the process and conclusion of the film will be considerably less remarkable. In some ways, Channelling Baby (Christine Parker, 1999) is a modern Kiwi retelling of the 1951 Akira Kurosawa film Roshomon, in that there are several characters that relate their versions of events but each reveals quite a different story. In Roshomon, the characters relate their version of "truth," but each recites a radically different set of "facts". Not so in Channelling Baby. In Channelling Baby, each character tells their version of past events, which are perfectly true, but each character also either omits facts or is lacking data unknown to him or her. Roshomon similarities coincide once more since, in both films, the final version and the spirit of a dead person reveals "truth". In Channelling Baby, it is "Baby", hence the film title. The dominant question in the film is "What happened to Baby?"

[2] If one had to classify the film strictly, one could call Channelling Baby a mystery. But like many foreign films in general and Kiwi films in particular, such a description does little justice to the film, since Channelling Baby contains varying amounts of drama, humor, history, and social comment.

[3] Channelling Baby opens on a scene from the 1970's. Bunnie has turned out with several "friends" to a Vietnam protest. Kiwi men are going off to war, and the protestors are voicing their discontent. Geoff is one of several soldiers marching off to do his bit, and in a lovely bit of camera work, he and Bunnie hold each other's gaze for a moment as his unit passes by.

[4] This moment soon leaves Bunnie's head, however, since Bunnie seems to have a predilection for smoking pot and dropping acid, and the drugs are taking effect. Bunnie lies down on the grass during a passing eclipse, and proceeds to do what most people know they should not: stare at the sun for a lengthy period of time. The aftermath of the incident leaves her blind for life.

[5] Whilst undergoing rehabilitation in the hospital, Bunnie crosses paths with Geoff again, who himself is recovering from wounds suffered in battle as well as a hefty case of shellshock. The sounds of motorized gardening equipment send him diving for cover, "protecting" Bunnie as he does so. As the two sort things out, Bunnie collapses, having ingested a large number of pills just before meeting Geoff again, with the intent of committing suicide.

[6] Bunnie survives her attempt and is "drawn" to Geoff. The two become intimate and are later married. Bunnie is pregnant and is very glad of it. She gives birth prematurely to a girl who initially is identified only as "Baby DeSilva", and she and Geoff decide simply to name her "Baby".

[7] But as happy as Bunnie is, all is not well. Geoff frets over her inability to see and is concerned she cannot care for Baby. Baby was premature and suffers severe health problems. In the end, something happens to Baby, but no one is sure exactly what. Each person has his or her suspicions, memories, and suppositions.

[8] Enter Cassandra, a young woman who seemingly, at random, bumps into Bunnie, quite literally, and claims to be in contact with the departed Baby. Cassandra volunteers to "channel" Baby for Bunnie. But all involved must be present, and this includes Geoff, who disappeared some 20 years ago. Cassandra, aided by her brother Tony, find Geoff, and the four hold a s‚ance of sorts to bring out the spirit of Baby to resolve the ghosts of the past.

Sorry, Only Three Pieces of Baggage Allowed on This Flight

One of us didn't brush after meals

Geoff and Bunnie bond in hospital.

[9] As the seance unfolds, we see various threads of the tapestry come together to eventually show the "big picture". In a series of flashbacks, each character reveals his/her story. We see how each version is true, but incomplete. As more is told, more is revealed.

[10] Bunnie has problems of her own dealing with being sightless. On the one hand, she is a strong female character, and she learns to adapt well to the mechanics of her world, but on the other hand, she is still dependent on others to varying extents. She also still has a bit of a drug/alcohol problem. She becomes a little paranoid and suspicious of Geoff, and while she senses him watching her, she is unsure of his motives or even his past. She decides she married "a stranger" and senses there is more to his past than he has revealed, but she does not yet know what that is.

[11] Geoff lived through the hell that was Vietnam. Anyone who has had friends or family who survived that conflict will understand that not only was it a thankless campaign, but the stresses of those who fought were immense. Geoff not only suffered physical wounds, he was scarred emotionally as well. Never knowing where enemy fire may come from and being attacked at any moment by an unseen enemy can take its toll, and it did on Geoff. Near the end of the film, we learn that during the war Geoff inadvertently killed a small child with a grenade in Vietnam.

[12] Tony was a neighbor of Bunnie and Geoff when he was a boy. He read to Bunnie because she could not see, and titles like "Love, Sex, and Relationships" were not yet in Braille. Tony had a huge crush on Bunnie when he was a lad. It was hinted that he too might be involved in the death of Baby. But while Tony told his version of events, he left out some key elements as well.

[13] Cassandra's connection is the most mysterious of all. Near the end of the film, Cassandra claims to be Baby herself, but to her own immense surprise, she is not. She lived most of her life thinking she was, and thinking her mother, Bunnie, had rejected her. Yet all this bitterness was for nothing, since Cassandra and Bunnie are unrelated.

[14] As the film unfolds, and as we change places between past and present, more and more of the "truth" is revealed. One begins to wonder how all of these conflicting elements can be true, but it turns out that they all are. It is ultimately left to the spirit of Baby to take all the panels and stitch them into the final quilt.

[15] Yet for all its angst and nail-biting moments, Channelling Baby survives all the tragedy and actually produces an uplifting and positive ending. It is an amazing bit of storytelling, sweeping in its scope, yet with great attention to detail.

No Sex Please, We're British

Discord and Strife: The Uber Adventures -- JACK OF ALL TRADES' latest replacement

Cassandra and Tony have important secrets too.

[16] Channelling Baby is probably not the film you would want to take the kiddies to. There is violence, but not too much. There is nudity, but it is tastefully done. There is harsh language, but it is brief and not gratuitous. In America, the picture would certainly be rated "R," but only because Americans are still a couple of hundred years behind the rest of the world when it comes to attitudes about sex and adult relationships.

[17] Danielle Cormack is an amazing Bunnie. She not only faces the challenge of portraying a sightless character convincingly, but she also has to sustain intense emotion for an extended period of time. She goes from carefree hippie to protective mother with seeming ease. She shows absolutely no sense of self- consciousness in her "womb" scene where Bunnie "connects" with her unborn Baby. Most Hollywood actresses would shy away from such scenes, but thank goodness Kiwi filmmakers do not adopt all of Hollywood's sensibilities.

[18] Kevin Smith rises well to the challenge of the Geoff character. He is completely believable as the Vietnam Veteran who is haunted by his past. Kevin Smith is deeply sensitive in Geoff's display of affection for Bunnie, and his quiet suffering and subdued performance of the troubled Geoff is entirely sympathetic. Near the beginning of the film Kevin Smith shows something of an ominous side to Geoff as the character seems to have the ability to appear or disappear like the wind. As the film goes on, however, we see a softer side to Geoff that we are shown by Kevin Smith's performance, not hit over the head with by blunt explanation.

[19] Joel Tobeck's performance as Tony is something of an "anchor" for the other characters. While not having the burden of portraying a character in two different times, Joel's Tony is practical, quiet, and edgy. Tony carries his secrets like all the other characters do, and Joel's performance is spot on. Tony finds himself overwhelmed by events and is unsure how much to reveal and when. This uncertainty results in tragedy, and Joel's performance is neither overplayed nor underplayed in this regard.

[20] Amber Sainsbury is the somewhat gothic and slightly psychopathic Cassandra. She plays a character who has carefully thought out and orchestrated a series of events only to have that unravel right before her eyes near the end. Cassandra's shock at the end of the film is a tribute to Amber Sainsbury who shows no sign or hint of the surprise along the way. Although Bunnie and Geoff have the most screen time, Tony and Cassandra are no less important to the workings of the story.

I'd Like To Thank The Academy...

[21] Channelling Baby is a very well acted film, but it succeeds because all of the elements that go into a film come together so well. The script is great and the direction is very capable. Although there are some improbabilities in the story, they do not come off as impossibilities. It is a very intricate script but not overly complicated. As the story unfolds it is a delight, rather than a burden, to see the elements intertwine.

[22] Set design and photography are also first rate. There are subtleties such as colored filters used for the 1970's scenes. Past and present are interwoven without signposts. The makeup work was extraordinary, making the young characters young and the older characters natural. As if the Auckland sites were not enough to convince you this is a Kiwi film, there is the trademark injection of humor in the most unlikely, but not unwelcome, places.

[23] For what it is worth, this film had my attention from beginning to end. I did not look at my watch once during the screening, and that is a rare thing. There were plenty of surprises, but nothing seemed forced. I honestly did not expect the ending with which I was presented. If you have the opportunity to see this film, I encourage you to do so.


Bret Ryan Rudnick Bret Ryan Rudnick
Whoosh! Staff
IAXS Executive Committee
"You can never have too much money or too many Amazons"
When he's not working for a big Science/Engineering company that (amongst other things) designs, builds, launches, and operates exploratory spacecraft, Bret writes fantasy novels and short stories. Bret is a man of many skills, having also previously been an Olympic- qualified archer, a drummer in the Butch Grinder Band, a news reader for Public Television Station KVCR, and a Deputy Sheriff for the County of San Bernardino, California. He also collects Japanese swords, armor, and art.
Favorite episode: HOOVES AND HARLOTS (10/110), WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP (30/206), and THE QUEST (37/213)
Favorite line: Xena: "What's this?" Gabrielle: "I'm... an amazon princess?" Xena (rolls eyes): "Great." HOOVES AND HARLOTS, 10/110; Xena after being goosed by Joxer: "Are you suicidal?" WARRIOR...PRINCESS...TRAMP, 30/206; Joxer: "Ha. Ha." A A COMEDY OF EROS (46/222); Autolycus: "I'm not just leering at scantily clad women, you know, I'm working!" THE QUEST (37/213)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least favorite episode: IN SICKNESS AND IN HELL (72/404)

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