Archive for The Servant

Joseph Losey really likes mirrors

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2022 by dcairns

Reflections of all kinds, in fact. Here are some from TIME WITHOUT PITY:

They become so pervasive that ordinary shots of people in doorways start to seem like full-length mirrors, in which the characters are startled to see not their own faces, but those of perturbed strangers.

But BLIND DATE aka CHANCE MEETING is maybe even mirrorier.

The late Hardy Kruger is fascinated by his own face, as well he might be. There’s an oval mirror that looks forward to THE SERVANT’s famous convex job.

Oddly, we’d just watched Elio Petri’s L’ASSASSINO, which is practically the same movie. It even has the same female star, Micheline Presle, as its murder victim (or is she?). The preening hero in that one is Marcello Mastroianni, and he’s likewise harried by a persistent detective determined to establish his guilt in a murder case. BLIND DATE and TIME WITHOUT PITY have a lot in common too, both hinging on innocent men wrongly accused, murdered mistresses, with a background of weird art and loud records, but they’re not as strikingly alike as BD and L’A. Petri MUST have seen the Losey.

Losey and Petri do relate in a lot of ways — both made pop art comicbook thrillers in the sixties (MODESTY BLAISE and THE TENTH VICTIM) — but more significantly, both are addicted to sinuous camera movements in artfully designed spaces. And mirrors!

L’ASSASSINO is also fascinating because it has soft-spoken raincoated proto-Columbo Salvo Randone instead of Stanley Baker’s belligerent bull. The slow, gentle persecution of the smug creep plays exactly like a Columbo except there’s a different narrative structure — flashbacks, and a crime kept ambiguous until the end — as in BLIND DATE. I guess this cat-and-mouse jazz all dates back to Crime and Punishment. Clouzot gave us TWO proto-Columbos in QUAIS DES ORFEVRES and LES DIABOLIQUES. The same year Columbo made its first TV appearance, William Peter Blatty wrote a gently bumbling inspector with a mind like a steel trap in The Exorcist, and had to change him a bit for the film so he wouldn’t seem like a Peter Falk knock-off. But this proto-Columbo has a particularly good name.

His name is Palumbo.

‘There are stories of coincidence and chance, of intersections and strange things told, and which is which and who only knows? And we generally say, “Well, if that was in a movie, I wouldn’t believe it.”‘ ~ Ricky Jay, MAGNOLIA.

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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