Archive for Gerry Fisher

Desperate Dane

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , on May 18, 2019 by dcairns

I was always sort of curious about Tony Richardson’s HAMLET. And maybe the end result is more sort-of-interesting than truly compelling, but those kind of films are very attractive to blog about, I find…

Richardson made the film cheaply by shooting at the Roundhouse Theatre in London, using the backstage spaces, a lot of bare brick corridors, making for a dour and oppressive Elsinore… also, shooting practically the whole film in tight medium shots and close-up, so as to take the strain off the art department and put the emphasis on face and voice. But here’s where the artistry comes in, because while a film of HAMLET made up of close-ups sounds like a televisual thing, Richardson keeps his cast, and Gerry Fisher’s camera, in motion, continually cramming new faces into the frame in new compositions. It’s very, very inventive, and turns a budgetary consideration into a compelling artistic one. The way figures fall off into soft blurs as they recede; the way the ghost never appears on camera but impresses merely by his voice (uncredited — who?) and by a bright light on the astonished features of the onlookers; the way everyone is always just UP IN YOUR FACE…

The cast is pretty interesting: Nicol Williamson’s puffy, pallid face does not suggest that of a student, but name me a Hamlet who does. What he does have is the ability to speak his speeches like a normal human having a conversation (without trampling the pentameters), so that he’s at his very best in the more conversational scenes. Williamson is one of those actors who can get overexcited, so I’m slightly less enamoured of his Big Scenes, but once you get over the shock of a Hamlet who’s so physically unappealing (maybe this is my self-loathing Scots side talking) I think you’ll find him impressive.

Marianne Faithfull as Ophelia seems less naturalistic, but maybe because Marianne Faithfull does not have a naturalistic face, body or voice. She’s not like someone you’d expect to meet, though I warrant you’d count yourself lucky if you did. A bit like Fenella Fielding, her mouth assumes expressions impossible on a normal skull, but I don’t think it’s mere whimsy that compels her to do so. Her face just goes that way. It’s like she’s continually being called upon to say the words “stewed prunes.” So she’s more miraculous than credible, through no fault of her own. Unable to overcome her natural advantages. And I kind of question what she sees in the jowly Scotchman, but there it is.

Antony Hopkins and Judy Parfitt are both within a year of Williamson’s age, which makes their casting as his uncle and mother… questionable. But that’s practically a tradition too. Boost the Oedipal aspect by giving H a MILF of a mom. Of course, in terms of box office, and possibly in terms of artistic success, Richardson ought to have swapped his Hamlet with his Claudius, because a movie starring Hopkins as The Dane would still be shifting units today if he’d done so. But in fact, both Hopkins and Parfitt have been rendered less effective than they might be by some very odd direction. It’s clearly a decision Richardson made, something he wanted. They’re both amused by Hamlet’s grief and unconcerned when he goes mad. It’s quite hard to work out why they embark on subterfuges with Polonius to learn the cause of his derangement, because they really don’t seem bothered about it. Most peculiar.

Advertisements

Double Trouble

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 7, 2011 by dcairns

I had two reasons for watching Joseph Losey’s MR. KLEIN, but one of them I can’t talk about. The other one is this here Late Movies Blogathon, into which the film sort-of fits, being a highlight of Losey’s final re-invention of himself as a European arthouse wizard (having been a gifted C-list Hollywood smuggler, then an ambitious British straddler of the commercial-arthouse divide). And a third reason, actually, is I’d been ignoring Losey since I did Losey Week way back, having maybe exhausted myself slightly with his glorious composition and camera movement, inscrutable humour, icy pessimism.

All are present and to the fore in MR. Klein, and it was good to see them again. Alain Delon is Klein, an art dealer in occupied Paris making a killing by buying cheap from Jews. But then a second Monsieur Klein appears on the scene — well, just offstage, actually — his life intersecting with and interfering with Delon’s in myriad ways, sparking an obsessive detective story as Delon seeks his double.

So, after SPIRITS OF THE DEAD, another film in which Delon chases/is chased by his doppelganger. His Delonganger. Doppeldelon. Whatever. This ought to be a trilogy, and somebody should make the third entry, right away. I’d vote for a version where aged, raddled Delon is persecuted by his younger self (pilfered footage from old Georges Lautner movies), the joke being that thanks to plastic surgery and heavy fog-filters it’s impossible to tell them apart.

Gerry Fisher is DoP — Losey used him a lot (ACCIDENT was Fisher’s first gig) and this is one of his loveliest films (he should be more celebrated — other work includes films for Huston, Wilder, Lester, Richardson, Lumet, Hodges), aided immensely by the happy confluence of Fisher’s lighting, Losey’s intricate camera moves, and the production design of Alexander “trop chere” Trauner, “that little wizard” as Billy Wilder called him.

There are elaborate camera moves pirouetting in spaces you’d swear were cramped locations, and brilliant use of shooting through doorways — figures appear partially eclipsed by door frames, in extreme longshot, three rooms away from where the camera observes foreground action. I could fill a post three times this length just by grabbing frames entirely at random, and they’d all be beautiful.

For a film that opens with a woman undergoing a humiliating medical exam in a doomed attempt to prove her Aryan roots, this movie is surprisingly Christmassy.

Delon is very much the man for the job, since Klein is required to be morally repellant, slippery and yet fascinating. To give Delon credit, he never shirked from playing unappealing characters in an utterly unapologetic way. Maybe he himself is so unpleasant he can’t actually tell when a protagonist is unlikable, or maybe he just doesn’t care — to give him credit again, I’ll plump for the latter.

Writer Franco Solinas has fascinating credits — this is a late film for him, alright, he only did one more — THE SAVAGE INNOCENTS pops out among all the Euro-political-thrillers. Even TEPEPA (aka BLOOD AND GUNS) is a neat, bleak political spaghetti western, with Orson Welles ffs.

A bleak, crisp, desperate film — a study of obsession, the fragility of identity, how clinical paranoia can mean not being paranoid enough. Delon, and Michel Lonsdale, are perfect for this kind of thing, as they’re compelling without being even slightly ingratiating. Juliet Berto is both radiant and jittery. A frequent Godard and Rivette muse, she died much too young.