Deadly disease contained

Techno-punk parable a prophetic tale

Published: Nov 02 2014, 01:01:am

Monday, November, 27, 1989.
QUARANTINE. Music by Graeme Coleman. Written, produced and directed by Charles Wilkinson. Running time: 95 minutes. 14 Years Limited Admission with the B.C. Classifier's warning: some violence, very coarse language, occasional nudity and suggestive scenes.
AT FIRST, I THOUGHT her black-leather look was a bit extreme. The wife of a prominent politician, Berlin Ford (Michelle Goodger) makes her entrance in a miniskirt featuring buckles and thigh-baring cutouts, an item from the fashion boutique Fetishes-R-Us.
    But then her husband is Senator Edgar Ford (Jerry Wasserman). Early in the film, Ford displayed a Goebbels-like intensity in justifying his government's policy of Quarantine.
    The healthy organism is like '"a fortress," he said, making a fist with his right hand. "It can be penetrated," he said, taking aim with his lit cigarette.
    ''By strength, of course, but also by weakness. The tools of weakness,'' he said, opening one finger, "mercy . .  ."
    He opened a second finger. ". . . misplaced compassion . . ." And a third. ". . . endless political debate. . . " And the fourth. ". . . medical studies!"
    Ford drove home the point by stubbing out his cigarette in the exposed palm. Yes, the lady in leather is just his type.
    The film's setting is an unnamed city in a country ravaged by an unnamed disease. Ford administers a "quarantine system" that has relocated a significant proportion of the population to isolation camps, creating a rootless refugee class of abandoned dependents.     One refugee, Iris Vanessa "Ivan'' Joad (Beatrice Boepple) is a young woman in violent rebellion. When her daring attempt to kidnap Ford fails, she is sheltered by emotionally detached government computer whiz Spencer Crown (Garwin Sanford).
    Though he's working on a detection system that reduces the pursuit of infected fugitives to video gamesmanship, Crown becomes enamoured of Ivan. Eventually, they will take on Ford's "system" together.
     The Fords, Berlin and Edgar, are a matched set. I wish that the same could be said of the film's central couple. The lack of any chemistry between the young rebels robs writer-director Charles Wilkinson's near-future thriller of needed emotional involvement.  Introduced as man suffering from a hangover, poor Crown is a character without any clear  motivation.
    Credit Wilkinson with creating a visually striking world. A local, independent production, Quarantine was shot on location in Vancouver and New Westminster.
    Stylistically more Italian than American, it offers an old-world dystopia. A harshly lit nightmare with emphasis on industrial decay and fascist-functional building spaces, it effectively establishes a mood of totalitarian excess.
    Within this world, though, Wilkinson leaves too much to the imagination. It' s obvious that a power struggle is going on between Ford and sadistic police lieutenant Karl Beck (Tom McBeath),  but the political milieu is not defined well enough for us to assess the relative dangers.
    Similarly, both the rebel Crown's supercomputer and the disease — AIDs? — that prompted its creation are bothersome precisely because we are told so little about them.
    Intended, I think, as a techno-punk parable, Quarantine's non-specifics actually interfere with its attempt at universal resonance. The result is a tale too distanced from reality to have real impact.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1989. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Although he made his feature film debut in 1984 — in the Vancouver-made independent feature Low Visibility — I first noticed Jerry Wasserman as the co-star of the quirky, short-lived television series The New Adventures of Beans Baxter (1987). Born in the U.S., he relocated to Vancouver in 1972 to  teach modern British literature at the University of B.C. Currently a professor in UBC's Department of Theatre and Film, Dr. Wasserman also works as a theatre critic, publishing reviews in the Province daily newspaper and on his own website Vancouver Plays. In addition, he is an actor with an impressive list of stage, film and television credits. In his own words: "I stumbled into acting as an undergraduate, immediately fell in love with it, and was fortunate to arrive in Vancouver in the early 1970s just when professional theatre was taking off here. I performed with nearly all Vancouver's major companies in the 1970s and ‘80s, including the Arts Club, the New Play Centre (now Playwrights Theatre Centre) and the now defunct Playhouse, City Stage and Westcoast Actors, as well as on campus at the Frederic Wood and the old Dorothy Somerset Studio theatre. . . As a middle-aged male character actor with an American accent, I was well positioned when Hollywood came north in the mid-1980s, and have managed to maintain a parallel career in film and television, appearing in over 200 movies and TV episodes, including a number of major film roles and recurring characters on series television." As of this posting, he is in rehearsals for the United Players production of Facts,  a political thriller by Canadian playwright Arthur Milner, scheduled to run from November 7 to 30 at the Jericho Arts Centre. Wasserman stars in the role of an Israeli policeman working with a Palestinian cop to solve the murder of an American archaeologist.