Archive for LP Hartley

“Nothing is ever a lady’s fault.”

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 16, 2008 by dcairns

Our Losey Cluesies were from THE GO-BETWEEN.

Me Julie

(For some reason, Optimum Releasing’s DVD is in the old “postage-stamp ratio”. Not what *I* call Optimum.)

After wallowing a bit in some of Losey’s lesser works, it felt good to plunge into one of his most celebrated. THE GO-BETWEEN, his 1971 Palme D’Or winner, scripted by Harold Pinter, starring young Dominic Guard as a boy charged with delivering elicit messages from Julie Christie to her lover Alan Bates, under the nose of her mother, Margaret Leighton, and fiancé, Edward Fox.

I’m told that L.P. Hartley’s novel is even finer than Losey’s film, and has nothing to do with flash-forwards. Losey and Pinter’s contemporary scenes, with Michael Redgrave (returning to the Losey camp after TIME WITHOUT PITY) playing the protagonist as an older man, have always been a bit controversial. I liked the way they mixed things up, fracturing the narrative and injecting an otherness into the film whenever there’s a risk of Merchant-Ivoryitis setting in, but maybe they don’t pay off strongly enough. Some object to the spectacle of Julie Christie slathered in old age makeup like David Bowie in THE HUNGER, with an older woman’s voice (sounds like Leighton again) dubbed in. I thought that was GREAT. I can’t explain why, exactly, but I suppose the bizarreness of it worked for me. Losey hated naturalism, which seems the default mode for British period cinema (if we define naturalism as style-less, life-less and flat, which seems to be what’s generally aimed for) and an odd sight like Julie C with latex all over her boat is as good a way as any of rupturing that “aesthetic”.

Old Boiler

(Alexander Korda initially optioned the novel, but later the author discovered that Korda “never intended to make a film of the book … I was so annoyed when I discovered this that I put a curse on him, and he died, almost the next morning.” I love that “almost”. There is much talk of magical cursing in the movie, also.)

Curse of the Demon

But the film is pretty cinematically exciting even without that. The development of the story is slow but assured, and has the authentic feel of endless childhood summers. Stuff is happening but our hero isn’t aware of its significance, and sometimes neither are we, so there’s a sense of drifting aimlessly like a Pooh-stick along the story’s banks, occasionally grazing a knee on a sharp surface. All his helped hugely by Gerry Fisher’s sun-drenched photography and a marvellous score by Michel Legrand. Pinter says the book made him cry numerous times, and the music made me feel like I was going to, constantly. But being a Scotsman, I kept it in.

There’s a very enjoyable weirdness to the talk in this film, which goes well beyond Pinter’s usual elliptical doubletalk. The younger actors are quite strange, and the manners and customs of these Norfolk gentry are alien to modern viewers (I’ve never seen a film set in the relatively recent past that’s so clipped and foreign in its characters’ manners). Michael Gough is great value, sly and enigmatic (how come he never got typecast in all those horror movies he did, unlike Cushing and Lee and, to some extent, Pleasence?) and Leighton is frighteningly good. You don’t initially understand why an actress is playing the role at all, she has so little to do, but the part builds, from the odd highly significant glance, to a central role in the climax of the story. How different it might have been if Deborah Kerr had agreed to do it. I think Leighton is probably more worrying that Debs would have been.

After the Fox

Thrillingly, we also get the extraterrestrial Edward Fox, who gives my favourite performance in this film (though his best work is in THE CAT AND THE CANARY, where he invents an entirely new species of acting). We’re never certain how much he knows or suspects about what’s going on, or quite how he feels about it. There are plenty of hints of some kind of knowledge, but also the possibility that they’re imagined by the boy.

Rather than being a stiff piece of heritage cinema, THE GO-BETWEEN is an authentic “art film”, wrenched out of the British cinema with the greatest of difficulty. American finance had deserted the UK at the end of the ’60s, and Losey was fighting all sorts of entrenched attitudes. There were objections to the non-chronological structure from his editor and producers, objections to the score (too loud, insufficiently “period”) and insistence on casting stars regardless of whether they were appropriate, all of which Losey was able to work around to get the results he wanted. If his behaviour was often abrasive, I find that understandable. I’m just glad he was able to do what he did.

THE GO-BETWEEN got made, after many delays, in part thanks to the support of Bryan Forbes, who was in charge of production at ABC, the biggest film distributor in Britain. Forbes’ tenure is often written off as a disaster, but he commissioned THE RAILWAY CHILDREN and this, so I’m inclined to hand him some credit. He was certainly more of a risk-taker than John Davis, and is a fine film-maker himself. Losey complained that British cinema was full of people who didn’t care about films, but Forbes certainly wasn’t one of them.

Red, grave

Only fair to acknowledge that 90% of my Losey facts and figures come from David Caute’s fine biography Joseph Losey: A Revenge on Life.

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