v asked me, in the comments for another post
, for my reactions to the current David Lean retrospective
at Film Forum. I don't consider myself a Lean authority, but here are notes from my journal, cleaned up a bit, on my last three Lean screenings. Unfortunately, I haven't the time right now to give the Film Forum series my full attention.
I've never been a Lean fan, always thought he belonged in "Less Than Meets the Eye" where Sarris put him. But it's not uncommon for directors to start their careers with promise (or more), and then lose the thread when their filmmaking circumstances are upgraded. I finally got interested in Lean when I saw Oliver Twist
on television in 2005; and David Thomson's recent Guardian article on Lean
make me curious to catch some 40s Lean films that I'd always let go by.
My journal notes:Oliver Twist
I didn't like it for the first hour or so, but it grew on me. There is a pure expressionism to it that I find limiting, but Lean does all sorts of wacky style things, and some of them work for me: deep-focus effects where movement occurs in all layers of the image; generally a lot of density, lots of people and activity; some beautiful shots of London streets, with action moving from the front to the back of the frame; small touches of naturalism, like the excellent scenes with the dog. Overall, I feel weirdly drawn to the film. Lean seems to have less feeling for the material than Polanski, but one edge he has over Polanski is that he engages with the drama, so that the film gets better instead of worse as the hysteria mounts.Madeleine
A compelling film, not original in terms of characterization, and not coherent, but full of interesting visual drama, often a result of overcrowded frames, sometimes a result of unexpected motion (like the sudden, glittering rain behind the first Todd/Desny kiss). There is a striking working-class dance-hall scene, used as an almost symbolic illustration of the lovers' state of mind, that is impressive in its density. (Unlike Thomson, I think that Lean has a taste for sex and abandon.) The most interesting aspect of the story, the brutality of the father's and the male lover's dominance, goes pretty much unexamined. At any rate, the plot mechanism in the second half makes nonsense of the first half: it requires an objective limitation of viewpoint that Lean had not tried for earlier, or even seemed to consider. I sense that he's weak on dramaturgy, though he likes drama.The Passionate Friends
Less ridiculous in concept than Madeleine
, but similar in that it doesn't seem to focus on any particular aspect of the love story. (It doesn't have much to do with duty, contrary to Thomson's implication.) The film also seemed less daring than Madeleine
- on the whole, I liked it less. Its stylistic high point was a spectacular but rather meaningless ascent by cable car into the Alps. An important theme in the script - that Todd's character is a bit cold, and interested in money and security - is never manifested in characterization.
Labels: festivals, reviews