Waterloo, Schlesinger says it’s a beehive, and begins with the keeper on the roof.
Great arrivals and departures, regular customers, weddings and funerals, tourists, the lot.
Passengers and trains go missing, umbrellas and shoes, small children, nothing lost.
Sunrise to sunrise. The telephone apparatus of Midnight Cowboy, the long lateral tracking shot of Eye for an Eye.
Cinematography Ken Higgins (who next made Ken Russell’s French Dressing), also Robert Paynter, jazz score Ron Grainer, script by the director.
Monthly Film Bulletin, “this apparently personal but in fact very official approach... for all the greyness of the visual style and the Free Cinema trappings, Terminus remains ultimately conformist: pleasant enough, ‘real’ enough, but lacking in mental energy and a personal drive.” Ewan Davidson (BFI), “Terminus has deservedly won countless awards [one of the Henry Moore BAFTAs]. The equally famous and much loved Night Mail [dirs. Basil Wright & Harry Watt] seems patronising by comparison, annoying in its jokiness and light-weight artiness.”
A Kind of Loving
The beautiful couple (Alan Bates and June Christie) meet at the plant, and woo, and marry, and live unhappily in her mother’s house, expenses rise on the mother’s coddling of her girl. He goes on a pub crawl with an old chum, and gets very drunk, “there’s no business...” says a sign at one showbiz pub, he discusses the Common Market (“no shilly-shallying!”) and throws up on his mother-in-law’s new carpet.
His father has some sage advice, the couple take poor digs on their own, things look up.
Thus England, symbolically presented in Schlesinger’s pure style (right the way to The Next Best Thing). Mancunian landscapes, Lancashire folk, the dream of an escape, a simple accommodation.
England off its tiddly, dull as supermarkets, and the great trade in funerals and folderol. Our lad, the useless dreamer whose prime utility is to have none of it, with the machine gun of Lindsay Anderson’s If….
Two cows in his life, one very mumsy and one not. Imaginative perceptions make up his life, naturally.
And there’s the blinkin’ media, but where is the career, the trade, the guild for the likes of him?
A freelance on the winds, then! Not likely, mate, from Jimmy Porter’s Manchester cousin.
A top-to-bottom overhaul of English society in a sort of fairy tale on the girl who got all her wishes and still remained a frog.
The film makes all its points so excoriatingly that even Bosley Crowther took notice in the New York Times, and yet is tacit on every one of them, hence the especial confusion of later reviewers.
The performances each draw as fine a point as anything else in it, setting off the fireworks of Julie Christie’s variegated display.
Schlesinger on a Cook’s Tour of the high road.
Far from the Madding Crowd
A rare point of usage in reverse perspectives all going at once, the characters see and are seen, the lens an adjunct, sidereal views (Losey, These Are the Damned), God’s eye, variously.
Losey again for The Gypsy and the Gentleman, following his train of thought. Shepherd and farmer and lass and soldier, “like England herself.”
The score was nominated, the cinematography, the costumes.
Polanski’s Tess, from Schlesinger’s bees (cp. Terminus). Bravely analyzed by Reisz as The French Lieutenant’s Woman, from Schlesinger’s seashore. The English weather, from Powell & Pressburger. Here is Schlesinger ahead of Russell (Women in Love) and Losey (The Go-Between).
Variety faulted the screenplay, “has perhaps hewn too closely”. Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times) vilified “what might have been an excellent film.” Time Out, “bites the dust.”
The Catholic News Service Media Review Office has “excellent... superbly realistic, atmospheric production”, Empire “smooth where it should be spiky and satirical.”
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times compounded the errors of Ebert and Variety by laying the blame as far as possible at Hardy’s feet (Don Sharp’s Those Fantastic Flying Fools he panned as well that day). Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader), “a serious disservice.” Time sagely reckoned Lean (Great Expectations) in.
The phony cowboy from Rat Ass, Texas who seeks his fortune among the rich ladies of New York, meets Ratso Rizzo and descends to 42nd Street, undergoes a Factory overhaul and starts to swing but Ratso is dying, so off to Florida.
Sunday Bloody Sunday
The young artist finds himself betwixt and between, his situation is most comically represented with a dry deadpan, to the fore is his America, his new-found-land, behind is Italy.
The several places that figure in the story are the parts of an analysis not heeded by critics at the time, who saw love lost or never had (Ebert) in a modern romance. Subsequently, and by natural extension, reviewers saw nothing and less in it (Time Out Film Guide).
The Day of the Locust
The great mistake has always been to regard Schlesinger’s film as a satire of Hollywood and then say it is a failed one, the savagery of reviewers is a ferocious testament to their contempt for the art.
It’s a satire of the Thirties as an oblivious interregnum between two wars that are really one, an unfinished Waterloo followed by a grander reprise.
The characters are a green Yalie and a dumb blonde movie extra, her ex-vaudevillian father, a dwarf, a whore, a cowboy extra, an art director, an aspiring child actor, a Mexican cockfighter, a madam, and a timid sleepy patron of the arts who turns out to be Hitler, all caricatures.
Variety was nevertheless goaded into rare praise in its critical afterthought, “The principals are surrounded by a truly superb supporting cast: and the physical and technical support is beyond belief.” The much that is there constitutes the film.
The Yalie and the blonde are introduced with reference to Polanski’s Repulsion (the crack in the wall) and Kubrick’s Lolita (painting toenails in the yard), a characteristic subtlety.
An allegory of Nazism, taking as its main theme the aggrandizement of the witch hunts in Europe, in correlation with the security theme of Blake Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffany’s (“nothing bad could ever happen to you there”), to give a picture of Mein Kampf paranoia.
A running notion of Carol Reed’s The Third Man informs the conclusion, and there is material adduced from Hitchcock (the marathoner in the newsreels is number seventeen), with odd echoes of Polonsky’s Force of Evil and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Kazan’s On the Waterfront.
Between the carrying-on and the carry-on, the carrying-out of the dead.
Honky Tonk Freeway
“Ticlaw Ticks!” (ad slogan for Florida town)
Heaven is other people, superhighway exit needed.
Paint the town pink, give it all away, blow the fucker up, bulldoze a bypath.
So Bubbles the water-skiing elephant draws ‘em in.
The key is to bribe high.
Homage to Duane Hanson (as the author of Ricky the Carnivorous Pony, or very nearly).
An Englishman Abroad
Guy Burgess walks out on Coral Browne’s Gertrude in Moscow like Lubitsch’s Polack aviator, he wants a suit of English clothes, whence the pyjama salesman in Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, and so forth.
The main line is already adduced from Preminger’s The Human Factor by the time this hits the small screen, winning top BAFTA prizes for that instrument.
The Falcon and the Snowman
They are made to represent aspects of the Cold War almost as a dialectic of history. The covert operations in Australia coincide with an Irvine narc, the Snowman’s blackmail with the Russian embassy’s. This is the most illustrative concept, leading to a final image of the two locked together, a long way from Bertolucci’s 1900.
The vague surface complained of in Spirituality and Health is actually broken by small details such as the pigeons outside the stained glass windows of the seminary church as the Falcon with his hunting pet makes his exit in the rapid opening sequence. The view provided by Schlesinger is at such a remove as to provide critics with alternative readings which they have followed variously.
Citations include the Fellini vision of the clean rooms at RTX, Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor in the proposal for a New York Times exposé, Nichols’ The Graduate in the job offers at the surprise party, and Coppola’s The Conversation in the Falcon’s search for a bug inside the gift of a stuffed owl, not to mention the disciplined (pace Ebert) inclusion of Buñuel’s Exterminating Angel on a marquee (and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie on a poster).
An incomparable satire that exposes the demonic practices of a deadly cult, the identity of which is carefully winnowed out from mere strangeness of religion, with which it has nothing to do, nor is it the sect of fathers who have lost their sons to drugs, more’s the pity, nor even in the last degree is it the black magic practice of killing eldest sons as a propitiation against drought and pestilence or to secure power, as it is said. The cult is related to the unique religion in Huston’s Wise Blood, “the Church of Christ without Christ”, a cult of the Father.
The purpose of the mumbo-jumbo so deftly deployed by Schlesinger is to extirpate all misunderstandings from the script, but he failed to take into account the susceptibility of our critics to mumbo-jumbo, it’s all they understand.
Schlesinger sacrificed a monumental technique to make this film, which only shows his masterful hand in skillful passages like the photograph of a young couple just glimpsed to identify two characters with their younger selves seen in flashback after the prologue, in which a spilled carton of 2% lowfat milk and a defective coffeemaker spell the end for a housewife. The humorous touches from Rosemary’s Baby are another example.
What matters is the ultimately revealed image, and the stages of its discovery. The various jokes and amusements along the way, the intrusions of sense, were never meant to get in the way, gentlemen of the Press.
The defunct housewife is replaced with a Spanish housekeeper and an attractive landlady across the street. When the husband is beseeched by the evil entrepreneur to join the cult, it sounds like Hickey singing the praises of uxoricide in The Iceman Cometh (dir. John Frankenheimer), which accounts for the curious resemblance of The Believers to Redford’s Ordinary People, in a way.
You don’t lose a son, you gain a servant in this cult, not to say a familiar spirit, with a hugely profitable return on a small disvestment. Any resemblance to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (dir. Mike Nichols) is entirely fictitious.
Russell’s A House in Bayswater with an American piano teacher of Russian extraction among the indwellers, a slender reality upon which she imparts a hold is the Sousatzka System.
Forbes’ The L-Shaped Room also for the disaster in which some little life is communicated.
And it is a disaster, all round, “awakening the lyre” nevertheless does exactly that, one enters the pop singer’s dream, leaves the teacher behind, etc.
“Quarter after quarter the liquidation of the world goes on.” (René Char)
“It was just an investment.” A pair of Yuppies refurbish a Victorian house in San Francisco, the mortgage is defrayed by renting two units. He runs a sweat shop manufacturing kites, she is an equestrienne. A bunco artist moves in, pays no rent, drives out the other tenants (a Japanese couple), gets himself assaulted, latches on to the owners’ credit and bank account and identity, but is undone at the Century City Marriott.
G.B.S. etherized upon a table finally understood the drama critics, his colleagues in the Press. We may also discern a thing or two by watching the television edit of Pacific Heights, which exactly corresponds to the critical view (Albee established that Walter Kerr apparently felt his own duty was to subscribers of the New York Times, to write reviews that would reflect in some way the substance of their minds).
A Question of Attribution
Sir Anthony Blunt, traitor returned to the fold, giving British Intelligence fuckall for immunity and eventually shopped to the Press.
Question of a painting in the Palace, Titian or not.
The last of the Cambridge Five still to be uncovered.
As a companion piece to An Englishman Abroad, still a question of having your cake and eating it, in the words of a British spymaster.
Cold Comfort Farm
Schlesinger at the BBC once more, till the cows come home.
Eye for an Eye
The script has its points, but Schlesinger shoots mostly in and around it, getting a multifaceted picture of Los Angeles in its most minute details and its various relationships to the rest of the world, without ever pausing at the surface horrors of the place.
Schlesinger devotes more care and attention to a shot lasting a second or two than some directors do whole films. One sequence lasting less than a minute has Mrs. McCann backlit in the newspaper-office tracking shot from His Girl Friday (dir. Howard Hawks, cp. Terminus), followed by Doob in a stately jail-release long shot, and onto the crowded street (where he buys and enjoys an ice cream cone, like Max Cady).
Particularly remarkable is the Sunday Bloody Sunday-Psycho-Lolita catastrophe, where certain decisive elements are chosen and mounted for the construction of a beautiful and entertaining passage.
The Tale of Sweeney Todd
A London jeweler is shaved, shafted, shorn and cooked, he has fifty thousand American dollars’ worth of diamonds on his person, a Yankee is sent after him.
Todd’s tale extends metaphorically to the Olduvai Gorge and the panoply of man’s inhumanity to man, but the idea of a critique (which so prickled John Leonard that he brought The Communist Manifesto into his review) is lost in the sideline conducted by Mrs. Lovett upon a certain army colonel for his pleasure.
Matthew Arnold has the last word (or Simon Gray, “that’s what they come here for, the ritual”), Todd in the last extremity seeks to perform a Mesoamerican rite upon the captive American in his cellar.
A film of much importance after Eye for an Eye and just before The Next Best Thing. Mr. Carlyle the American stays at the Saracen’s Head, which Todd says was a dish commended by Richard the Lionhearted to his crusaders.
The Next Best Thing
Never has one seen such opprobrium heaped on a masterpiece, and one’s seen loads.
Someone might have considered this film to have something to do with the great film by Tony Richardson, a taste of honey, of which it is in fact a remake. The black sailor is a white hip-hop producer, the girl doesn’t go home to her mother and her mother’s fancy man (or nearly), but to New York or nearly with an investment banker, and only after her roommate sues for joint custody of the child.
Schlesinger found this to be a completely irresistible joke, it may be believed, and that’s only the half of it. A change of countercultures in the wind, plus ça change...
He gives in the first few seconds a rapid show of mastery. The camera opens out-of-focus, resolves on a Hindu god, it’s a yoga class. Cut to a palm tree in the air suspended from a crane, bulldozers and trucks, landscape gardening.
His posture toward the material is unequivocal but not ungenerous. The roommate (he is a gardener) attends a chum’s funeral, the chum’s mum looks on sullenly as the chum’s chums sing his favorite song, “American Pie”, Schlesinger ends the scene with a solemn long shot, and dissolves to a red parrot in a cage (it belongs to the girl, Abbie, who’s played by Madonna, who sings this song over the end credits).
Robert (Rupert Everett) works for “two queens” who are “maniacal” about their possessions. He and Abbie get drunk, dance to Astaire (smashing various objects) and have an affair lasting thirty minutes. The owners return the following day and are horrified by the mess, which Robert has hurriedly tried to clean up. He’s watering the flowers outside while they shriek indoors, and he furtively slips one of her shoes into a handy flower pot, unseen.
His chums are amazed by the change of affairs. “Next thing you know he’ll be combing his hair like Donald Trump, reading Victoria’s Secret catalogues, and voting Republican!”
The next best thing to finding a great guy for him, she replies to his guess, is that she’s pregnant with his baby.
Six years go by, the banker walks into Abbie’s yoga studio wanting to “feel the burn,” he takes a class, asks her out to dinner at a snobbish restaurant where namedropping gets you a table. He thinks of takeovers as mergers, or better still as healing sick companies. He proposes to her, his company wants him in New York (the story takes place in Los Angeles), the roommate files a lawsuit, which eventually brings in the father, which in turn delays a ruling.
The banker leaves his job to stay in L.A., Abbie and Robert reconcile enough to share custody, the father (whom Robert had believed himself to be) drifts away, and the thing ends on a sparkling day in Los Angeles, as seen from a hill.
Part of the problem has been pointed out, namely that Paramount marketed The Next Best Thing as a screwy romantic comedy. It takes Schlesinger half the length of the picture to arrive at his intentions, and another quarter to reveal the basis of the joke. In the event, that is economical, when you consider the vast machinery of the satire brought into play, and the decorum of the scenario.
For the rest, Lynn Redgrave lends her presence as Robert’s mum, and John Carroll Lynch (as Abbie’s lawyer) demonstrates a certain dignified resemblance to Dana Elcar.