Siesta (1987) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Scoop's notes

(Complete Spoilers)

I suppose the full Spanish name of this film should be Siesta de Suciedad.

Dirt nap.

Cuz' that's what it is about.

You see, it is yet another of those re-tellings of Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", a famous story about a Southern civilian who was hanged by the Union Army during the Civil War. The noose snaps, he falls into the creek, escapes ...

... to make a short story even shorter, it turns out that none of that happened. The entire story of his escape is simply a free association of the thoughts that go through a man's mind as he is about to die. The story ends with his neck snapping because he is still in the noose.

Since Owl Creek is recognized as one of the great stories in the history of American literature, I suppose that just about everyone in the United States had to read this story in high school, along with The Outcasts of Poker Flat, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Devil and Daniel Webster, The Monkey's Paw, and two or three of Poe's most famous stories. Even if you have read nothing else in your life, you have probably read most or all of these classics, through the educational force-feeding process. Here is the complete Bierce story if you are one of the eleven people in the country who has never read it.

When the short story was originally written, the surprise ending probably packed a pretty good punch. Even when I was a kid, I was impressed by Rod Serling's version on The Twilight Zone. It aired just before I had to read the story for a sophomore English class, so I wasn't expecting the ending, and it really worked for me. (Note that this was not a Twilight Zone original, but an award winning French short film which had been adapted by the Twilight Zone people, adding Serling's customary solemn pontifications at the start and finish.)

But that was nearly a half a century ago, and the ol' "dying man's last thoughts" gimmick has been worked and reworked so many times that it is now almost as hackneyed as "I woke up, and it was all a dream." I guess the best version of it in recent years was Adrian Lyne's "Jacob's Ladder", which succeeded because of Lyne's masterful control of the film's atmosphere, and because of the meticulous attention paid to nuances and details. It is one of the few "surprise ending" films that you can watch and re-watch, just to see all the clues planted into the story. When you watch it a second time, you will be kicking yourself for not realizing that you had never seen the hero's post-Vietnam life. That era was never pictured as it really was, but rather as someone in the late 60s would have envisioned the future.

Oh, well. I'm straying too far from the topic, which is Siesta, yet another version of Owl Creek Bridge.

Ellen Barkin wakes up on a runway in Spain, covered with blood. She is wearing only a red dress, with no underwear. Her memory of the previous days is unclear. She is haunted by the nagging feeling that she has been involved in a murder.

As it turns out, she was right. Unfortunately for her, the murder was her own.

That's the short version.

The longer version of the story is that she is some kind of female Evil Knievel, and is planning a stunt so daring that she may not survive. It seems to involve a free-fall into a volcano, so I can certainly understand her trepidation. Since the stunt may take her life, she decides to settle some accounts before she attempts it. She visits an ex-boyfriend in Spain to make peace with the love of her life. He's sorta happy to see her, but his new wife is decidedly not.

In the course of Barkin's adventures in Spain, many confusing and arty things happen. Poseurs pose. Eurotrashers act trashy. Spain's only taxi driver is always everywhere when a ride is needed. (He doesn't even need a road.) Everyone is far too mysterious, and all characters possess far too many eccentricities. Everyone skulks around, shifts his eyes beadily, and obfuscates. The film makes Mulholland Drive seem as simple and straightforward as The Sound of Music.

All the confusion is, of course, theoretically resolved when we find out that Barkin is already dead, and that we have therefore been watching the jumbled thoughts of her final moments - a hodge-podge of memories, fears, fantasies, and free associations.

Bah, humbug!


Ellen Barkin is naked from every angle.

Gabriel Byrne shows his buns, and a very brief, distant frontal.

Some trivia:

Siesta had a good cast, although they were not used especially well.

  • The film co-stars Gabriel Byrne, who romanced Barkin on and off screen, and later married her. (The film was made in 1987. They married in 1988, divorced in 1993.) I think Byrne has a powerful presence on screen, but I'm not too sure I liked his Spanish accent, which seems to have been developed by watching the greatest cartoons of Mel Blanc.

  • It also features Jodie Foster. Jodie was a child and adolescent star from 1976 to 1984 (ages 14 to 22), and then became a major adult star in the period from 1988 to 1994 (ages 26 to 32). Siesta was made in the lull between her two periods of success, when her career was truly in the doldrums and she was looking for an adult identity. When she made this film she was trying to gets a character actor vibe going, and performed her role with a stuffy upper-crust British accent reminiscent of John Cleese as a female impersonator.

  • The rest of the cast is filled out by some top B-list actors: Isabella Rossellini, Martin Sheen, and Julian Sands. I must say that there is absolutely no doubt that Martin Sheen is the father of Emilio Estevez. DNA tests will not be required. If you watch this movie and forget the production year, you could swear it was Emilio!

Siesta did not have an especially good director.

The director, Mary Lambert, had achieved a modicum of success directing music videos before attempting to make the move into feature films. Lambert's video for Madonna's Material Girl was in the top twenty when Slant Magazine chose the Top Hundred Videos of All-Time in 2003.

Lambert's feature film career has been notably less successful. Here's how it looks, ranked from best to worst:

  1. (5.69) - Pet Sematary (1989)
  2. (4.91) - Grand Isle (1991)
  3. (4.90) - Siesta (1987)
  4. (4.04) - In Crowd, The (2000)
  5. (3.64) - Pet Sematary II (1992)

It appears that Ms. Lambert would make an excellent subject for Dr Peter's disciples when they make their next study of the Peter Principle. It appears that Music Videos represented her highest level of competence, and that her skill at making them got her promoted to theatrical films, which represent her personal level of incompetence.

Does the film have positives? You betcha. It has a Miles Davis score and Ellen Barkin naked. Within about three or four minutes of the film's start, Miles is playing some sad refrains while Barkin gets stark naked and sunbathes in close-up. You can find plenty of reasons to criticize this director, but you certainly can't say she was unaware of the strengths of her material!

Of course, if Ellen Barkin had never removed her dress, this movie would be unbearable. But the fact of the matter is that Barkin did remove that dress. She got naked several times, exposing every nook and cranny of her tremendously well-toned body. Therefore, I am suggesting that this film is not without great entertainment value, since Barkin is one of the sexiest and most athletic women in screen history. So watch it for that alone. Just make sure you have your remote handy, so you can fast-forward through the crevices between Barkin's nude scenes, and thus avoid any contact with the poor man's David Lynch movie which resides in those crevices.

I am assuming, of course, that you are a male with at least some level of testosterone in you, in which case you undoubtedly would like to see Ms. Barkin naked. If that does not interest you, avoid this film unless you are a Miles Davis fanatic because, except for Miles and Barkin, it has nothing else of sufficient merit to warrant an investment of your time.

Siesta DVD Ellen Barkin (1987)

DVD information is available here or by clicking on the picture above.

Tuna's notes

Siesta (1987) is a Zalman King production. This time, he replaced the sad sax with a wailing Miles Davis, a huge improvement in my opinion, and starred Ellen Barkin. She gets very naked in good light in the first few minutes, then gets very naked in poor light near the end. Nothing of importance happens in the middle 78 minutes of this 90 minute film. It is yet another variation on the old "thoughts of a person as they are dying" plot, but more clumsy and more arty than most, in true Zalman King style.

It was directed by Mary Lambert, who is not well respected as a director. I was probably the only person who liked her Grand Isle, which, as far as I know, is not yet on DVD. She does understand how to get women naked and take their pictures (Ellen Barkin here, Kelly McGillis in Grand Isle).

Siesta was nominated for two worst supporting actress Razzies. If you have never seen this plot device, the ending could surprise you, almost making it worth watching. Otherwise, watch the first and last 10 minutes, and rest assured that you have given it all the time it deserves.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a D. It is a poor movie, possessing that worst possible combination of incompetence and pretentiousness. On the other hand, the music is Miles Davis, and Ellen Barkin gets completely naked, and has never looked better.

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