A Gentleman’s Gentleman

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Once again I’m inviting my students to comment on a film on MUBI — this time it’s Losey and Pinter’s THE SERVANT (from a novel by Robin Maugham). I only sprang this on them yesterday so I don’t know if they will.

QUITE an interesting piece of work, with some of the most marvelously louche casting, composition, design, music, performance and movement (of actors and camera). It’s the point where Losey’s films start to become real objets d’art.

I got very nostalgic for the era, one I never inhabited, though I note that the plumbing is always leaky.

I will be sticking posts up about this movie throughout the day, but this is the main one for general comments.

11 Responses to “A Gentleman’s Gentleman”

  1. ehrenstein47 Says:

    “The Servant ” came along at the very same time as the Profumo affair. The wing-back chair Sarah Miles seduces James Fox in inspired David Bailey who took pictures of other notables of the period — including Christine Keeler herself — in the same wing-back style chair.

    This film s about te slowest seduction of all-time. From the very moment Bodarge’s “Barrett” appears — looming over Fox’s “Tony” like a nattier version of Emil Jannings in Murnau’s “Faust” — it’s obvious what’s going to happen. Losey has said the servant is destroyed along with the master, but I don’t believe that’s true at all. It’s class revenge for its own sake, leading to anarchy. The only ordered aspect of the film is Losey’s meticulous mise en scne andDankworth’s marvelously sinister score.

  2. All very true.

    So much is mysterious that your reading and Losey’s can exist side by side. There is some kind of universal dissolution implied by the ending, but it’s deeply ambiguous. Bogarde actively and Fox passively seem to will it.

  3. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Fox definitely wills it. Bogarde? I don’t think so. The Communist Dream would have it that the proletariat would revolt and change the world. “The Servant” doesn’t see it that way at all. Barrett overtaking Tony is just another power shift of the sort echoed in the great restaurant scene in which Pinter himself appears.

  4. I’m just reading Ciment’s great interview book with Losey, where he says the characters in the restaurant were all added because he realized during the shoot that needed another highly stylised scene to balance the country house and ball game scenes, otherwise the film would break into pieces.

    So they got Alun Owen and Pinter and Patrick Magee to do it all for free, as long as there was constant drink available on the set. Losey really makes it clear how soaked in alcohol everybody was in those days.

  5. Tony Williams Says:

    Very interesting readings so far. If one takes a “fin du siecle”/Decadence approach, one could also see unconscious echoes of Wells’ THE TIME MACHINE with Fox and Bogarde being 60s versions of Eloi and Morlocks (with Miles being a more seductive and manipulative Weena!) moving towards their version of “universal dissolution.” Remember that final vision of the future where the Travler sees the final synthesis of both classes.

  6. ehrenstein47 Says:

    “Performance” is a sequel of sorts. Again it takes place almost entirely in a house. But instead of a weak-willed upper-class fop, Fox is playing a Kray “enforcer.’ And instead of Bogarde we have Anita Pallenberg taking him apart as Mick Jagger observes and later participates through death and resurrection.

  7. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Class in the UK is a system. In the U.S. it’s an Aura As this Sondheim song (from his very first musical) explains

  8. Yes, from The Servant to Performance is quite a trip, but the connections are palpable and must have been conscious.

    Bong Joon-Ho also cites the Losey as an influence on Parasite.

  9. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Hadn’t occurred to me but now that he mentions it — yes!

  10. Adam Ryan Says:

    I knew how this film was going to end after 10 mins but the joy was in watching when and how it would come about. I like Pinter’s slightly disconnected dialogue and the camera work reminded me a lot of ‘twelve angry men’ and ‘in the mood for love’ simultaneously; I suppose they’re both quite claustrophobic films- Losey captures this well.

    The mechanics and blocking around the house, epitomised by the bookcase door, had an increasingly clandestine feel with doors which opened to reveal hidden information and mirrors that reflected obscene revelations. The house seems to be a tool in Barrett’s arsenal to entrap Tony; as he turns it’s walls and doors against it’s owner- again emphasised by camerawork.

    My overriding impression was how skilfully and subtly it was directed. I thought I knew James Fox from somewhere (re: Performance).

  11. ehrenstein47 Says:

    Don’t tell me you hung with the Krays, Adam.

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