Archive for Joseph Losey

Objet D’Art

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2020 by dcairns

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Webp.net-resizeimage4These two frames from THESE ARE THE DAMNED and THE SERVANT made me chuckle.

You see it a little in Losey’s filming of the Bradbury building in his M, and the use of song in THE BIG NIGHT, but it’s in his British work that he starts to craft films, usually with designer Richard MacDonald, that work as beautiful objets d’art, or as audio-visual compilations of sculpture, interior design and music.

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The house in THE SERVANT is both character and battleground — Wendy Craig tries to stuff it full of flowers and spice racks, and Dirk Bogarde quietly moves, removes or bins them. Losey said the house is a spiral, circling round and round — each room has an entrance and exit so you can ascend through every room until you come to a dead stop in the maid’s room. He also said he recycled the cyclic style of EVE’s camera movements, knowing that nobody would spot it since so few people had seen or liked that film.

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A couple of times they choose to turn Bogarde into a stained-glass saint.

MacDonald does a terrific job of building an interior you really believe could be a real house. I knew it COULDN’T be real, but he made me accept it. Partly it’s because everything is gorgeous but nothing is ideal — the living room is this weird corridor. Everything is either very narrow or very tall.  It must have been hell to film in, especially with all those mirrors, mirrors reflecting mirrors, and that convex one that virtually shows the whole space. Yet the crew and the lights have to be somewhere. Losey said he was satisfied with EVE and it was hell to shoot, so that gave him the confidence to ask for the impossible from DoP Douglas Slocombe.

MacDonald’s designs even include the views out front and back, where James Fox’s Tony has installed a lump of abstract sculpture, and where a snow fall can be viewed at night.

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EVE had about twenty Billie Holliday songs in Losey’s cut, but the producers didn’t want to pay for them, so they were reduced to just a few. Here, there’s ONE song, music by Johnny Dankworth, lyrics by Harold Pinter, such by Cleo Laine (Dankworth’s partner — it’s a very close-knit film). One song, but treated in multiple ways, so it gets more distorted and atonal and creepy.

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Dankworth did great work for Losey, here and in MODESTY BLAISE. He also scored BOOM!, but when that film looked like being a disaster, it was decided to replace the score — blame the composer, it’s the cheapest option even if it’s wrong. So John Barry, who had ex-wives to support and carved out a niche for himself rescoring movies deemed to be in trouble, wrote quite a good score for it. I wish we could see the Dankworth version, though, I bet it’s even more of a hothouse/madhouse.

And, since Losey was starting another film, he asked his friend Richard Lester to supervise the dub. I guess he’d finished THE BED SITTING ROOM at this point and was at a loose end, but he took the gig expecting it to be a quick one. Thanks to Dick & Liz’s unpunctuality, it took MONTHS. He still sounds cross about it. He respected Burton’s talent but had no time for Liz, but was forced to have quite a lot of time for her.

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It’s impossible to imagine THE SERVANT or MODESTY BLAISE without Dankworth’s music, and so the fact that we have to watch a BOOM! that is robbed of that component is a drag.

Acting the Gentleman

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on April 7, 2020 by dcairns

When Joseph Losey and Dirk Bogarde were thrust together for juvie delinquency drama THE SLEEPING TIGER, both men agreed that they could do valuable work together, just not in THE SLEEPING TIGER.

By the time they got back together, Losey had done more flawed junk, but also THE CRIMINAL and EVE, so his career had begun its second stage — he was now partway a European art film maker, and THE SERVANT continues this journey.

It’s interesting that leftwing Losey never had anything to do with the British new wave’s working class social realism. From SLEEPING TIGER through FINGER OF GUILT and EVE, he identifies more with the jazz-listening middle class, of which he was one (his friend Richard Lester another). Bogarde’s character in THE SERVANT is an exception, but being a gentleman’s gentleman he’ middle-class-adjacent. The light northern accent he and Sarah Miles put on is lovely.

It probably surprised everyone that Bogarde could play working class, his roles until then (and largely afterwards, OUR MOTHER’S HOUSE being an exception) had tended to be pretty upper-middle, or even aristocratic. It’s still startling when he says his army nickname was “Basher,” and then smuttily amusing when he explains it: “I was very good at drilling.”

James Fox, eh? His credit reads “Introducing,” but as a boy he was in pictures including the main role in THE MAGNET, as “William Fox” (his real name, I think) and he’d had a major but strangely uncredited role in THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER. So this fantastically posh lad had more connection with the Free Cinema than his former commie director.

The cinematic excellence of Wendy Craig will remain unappreciated until Robert Fuest’s JUST LIKE A WOMAN gets its due, but until then we have this and THE NANNY. Her later success on TV in Butterflies and The Nanny (no relation, at all) has tended to erase her more essential early work. She has a shot in the Fuest where she nods towards a toilet which, we are to infer, is not in the best condition, and she does it like someone pointing out the corpse of a small child: tragedy rather than disgust. Very amusing.

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Sarah Miles was dismissed by Robert Bolt as “a west country slapper” or something, before he changed his mind and married her. She’s absolutely at her most alluring here (those gleaming eyes): she makes sense in a way that’s not really apparent in a lot of her work. Losey and Pinter really, really help, with the dripping tap/ringing phone seduction scene (nobody answers phones in a timely fashion in this film, the filmmakers shrewdly exploiting out Pavlovian unease at the insistent ring in a way not topped until Leone in ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA) and the staging which makes the sex look like murder…

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No Gentleman

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on April 7, 2020 by dcairns

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The biggest surprise about THE SERVANT is what it’s not.

It sounds, from synopsis, as if we’ll get a critical commentary on the British class system. One would expect, from director Joseph Losey’s history as a man of the left (fleeing American and HUAC) that the theme might come out in the dialogue, ponderously, as it does in his US films such as M and THE LAWLESS, or more subtly, in the action, as it does in the superior THE BIG NIGHT or THE PROWLER. The latter is about “false values,” as Losey put it, which meant the story could simply illustrate where those values might get you, without the need for commentary, and it would be a perfectly clear morality tale from a left-wing perspective.

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But we have to factor in Harold Pinter as scenarist, and the source novel I guess, though I’m afraid I don’t know anything about it. Pinter’s involvement guarantees that things won’t be so simple, or direct.

What I was expecting, nevertheless, was a structure where Dirk Bogarde’s manservant, Barrett, is exploited by his “master,” Tony (James Fox), and then rebels. Instead, Barrett is mysterious, conspiratorial, from the start, and Tony is weak and arrogant, occasionally mean, and crumbles with little apparent assistance from Barrett. His girlfriend Susan (Wendy Craig) seems to be on to Barrett from the start, so that her genuine nastiness towards him (some great Pinteresque questions, “Do you use a deodorant?”) are almost justified.

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And then, hilariously, just when you might expect persecution, master and servant turn into schoolkids in one scene, a bickering old married couple in the next. There’s not really a sense of escalation, just frequent and perplexing transformation. And then, after the fabulously louche party scene, it stops. I can imagine being quite frustrated with that conclusion if I’d seen it in the cinema.

What the movie resists most obviously is taking sides, even though Bogarde is frequently seen as sinister and Fox never is. Wendy Craig’s casting makes me think of THE NANNY, which starts with the little boy as antagonist and then switches sympathies to make Bette Davis the monster, and then manages to find sympathy even for her. I like that film a lot. But THE SERVANT manages to do something much more complex, where our sympathies rarely land squarely anywhere, the natural class enemy gets more sympathy and is more comprehensible than the worm-that-turns underdog, and maybe PERSONA is a better comparison? Also, the suggestion that, when class barriers crumble, we’re all going to lose our identities and enter a delirious, hazy flux of psychological disintegration, feels more like a right-wing anxiety than one of the left, in a way.

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All of which is a confession, really, that I don’t “get” THE SERVANT the way I get other Losey or Pinter films, but I like the feeling of disorientation it produces. More on it as the day goes on.