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Joseph Losey

Joseph Losey


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Joseph Losey was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin on 14th January, 1909. After being educated at Dartmouth College (Medicine) and Harvard University (English Literature) he travelled to Germany to study with Bertolt Brecht. When he returned to the United States he directed plays in New York. This included the world premiere of Brecht's Galileo.

After the war Losey to Hollywood where he directed The Boy With the Green Hair (1948), The Lawless (1950), The Big Night (1951) and The Prowler (1951).

Losey was named as a member of the Communist Party during investigations by the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Like former comrades, such as Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz,, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson, Alvah Bessie, Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett, Michael Wilson, Paul Jarrico, Anne Revere, Jeff Corey, Arthur Miller, John Garfield, Howard Da Silva, and Abraham Polonsky, Losey refused to answer any questions.

Blacklisted in Hollywood, Losey moved to England where he made a series of impressive films including Criminal (1960),The Servant (1963), King and Country (1964), The Go-Between (1971), The Assassination of Trotsky (1972), A Doll's House (1973) and Galileo (1974).Joseph Losey died in London on 22nd June, 1984.


Contents

Stephen, a married Oxford tutor in his forties, has two students: the rich and likeable William, of whom he is fond, and a beautiful, enigmatic Austrian named Anna, whom he secretly covets. William also fancies Anna and hopes to know her better. Stephen, while his wife is away having their third child, looks up an old flame in London and they sleep together. Returning home, he finds his pushy colleague Charley has broken in and is using the house for sex with Anna. Her tryst discovered, she tells Stephen privately she is getting engaged to William. Excited at his good fortune, William says he will call round to Stephen's house after a party that night. As William is too drunk to drive, Anna takes the wheel, but she crashes the car outside Stephen's gate. Upon finding the accident and William dead, Stephen pulls the deeply shaken Anna from the wreckage and hides her upstairs while he calls the police. When they have gone, he forces himself on her while she is still in shock, then takes her back to her room at the university. He comes by in the morning to find a bemused Charley, who cannot prevent Anna from packing to go back to Austria.

    as Stephen as Charley as Anna as William as Rosalind, Stephen's wife as University Provost as Francesca, daughter of the Provost as Laura
  • Brian Phelan as Police Sergeant as Plain clothed policeman as Man in Bell's office
  • Maxwell Findlater as Ted (Findlater was reportedly a pseudonym of actor Maxwell Caulfield, who was not a child actor per se) [4] as Clarissa as Bell as Hedges
  • Steven Easton as Baby, Stephen and Rosalind's baby

The screenplay showcased playwright Harold Pinter's trademark style, depicting the menace and angst bubbling just beneath the surface of commonplace remarks and seemingly innocent or banal situations. The crowning metaphor of the film comes when we see a dazed but unhurt Anna crushing her dying fiancé beneath her high-heeled shoe as she steps on his face while trying desperately to climb out of the overturned car.

The film confused many viewers who were not sure what it meant. "It's obvious what Accident meant", said Stanley Baker, who acted a lead role in the film. "It meant what was shown on the screen." Baker did concede of Joseph Losey's filmmaking that, "One of Joe's problems is that he tends to wrap things up too much for himself. I think that 75% of the audience didn't realise that Accident was a flashback." [5]

In his review upon the film's release, New York Times critic Bosley Crowther was unimpressed, calling the film "a sad little story of a wistful don" that was "neither strong drama nor stinging satire". [6]

Financially the film performed poorly. In 1973 Losey said it was "officially in bankruptcy." [7]

On Rotten Tomatoes, Accident holds a rating of 76% from 25 reviews. [8]


Blacklisted but unbowed

E xile has been an element in many cinematic careers, especially for those who fled from Nazi oppression to play a key role in Hollywood, but also for the smaller group driven out of Hollywood by McCarthyism. The most important of the latter is Joseph Losey, the centenary of whose birth falls this year. Born in Wisconsin, he'd been a major figure in New York political theatre before arriving in Hollywood just after the second world war. His debut movie, the political allegory The Boy with Green Hair, was made in 1947, the same year he staged the first English-speaking version of his friend Bertolt Brecht's Galileo starring Charles Laughton. Brecht was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee while the play was in production, and left for Europe.

Four years later, Losey was in Italy when he, too, was summoned by HUAC. Instead of going back, he settled in England and was blacklisted by Hollywood. Initially working under a pseudonym, he made the best of unpromising projects while under surveillance by the Special Branch.

He developed a cult following with a succession of relatively cheap genre films that had an emotional intensity, visual acuteness and moral power rare in British movies. Ranging from the Regency melodrama The Gypsy and the Gentleman (1958) to the superb Marxist gangster film The Criminal (1960), they engaged with class and politics, touching on such issues as capital punishment, prison conditions and the bomb.

He was a spiky, passionate, articulate, driven man, and became a heroic figure for his political defiance and his artistic intransigence. He once compared the director's role to the kitchen appliance, a Waring Mixer: a man who blended the various elements contributed by his collaborators.

But although he often worked with distinguished writers (most famously the trilogy of literary adaptations - The Servant, Accident, The Go-Between - scripted by Harold Pinter), excellent actors (five films with Dirk Bogarde, four with Stanley Baker, the two actors representing different sides of Losey's own character) and the best British cinematographers, he was an authentic "auteur". His films had an acutely pessimistic personal vision, a distinctive visual signature, and pursued recurrent themes such as that of the fugitive and the intruder.

The year 1963 saw a shift in his fortunes. In the spring, The Damned opened in suburban cinemas as the second part of a Hammer double bill and without a press screening. My review in the Observer was the first to appear in a national newspaper and the film was brought into the West End. Losey wrote to thank me for drawing attention to it and not over-praising it. I thought the letter was a hoax. I later learnt that he saw it as preparing the way for the appearance six months later of The Servant, which elevated him to the forefront of living directors.

From then on, having established himself in Britain, he fell under the influence of Antonioni and Resnais and considered himself a European filmmaker. With the exception of the thrillers Modesty Blaise and Figures in a Landscape, all his subsequent movies were art-house productions, though their stars included the likes of Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Fonda and Michael Caine.

Losey died without realising several dozen cherished projects, most especially a Proust movie scripted by Pinter and an adaptation by David Mercer of Patrick White's Voss. He was one of the best things that ever happened to the British cinema and his oeuvre is among the most fascinating in movie history. I hope the National Film Theatre's two-part retrospective will help bring him to the attention of a new generation of moviegoers.

Philip French is the curator of the Joseph Losey retrospective that runs throughout June and July at BFI Southbank


The Trout (film)

Traumatized since her childhood, Frederique - nicknamed the Trout - retaliates against men by seducing them to exploit them without ever giving herself. She marries Galuchat, a homosexual, and lives for a while in Japan with Saint-Genis, a businessman whom she met at the same time as a rich couple, the Ramberts.

    - Frédérique - Rambert - Lou - Saint-Genis - Galuchat - Daigo Hamada - Verjon - The Count - Mariline - Carter, Company President - Party Guest - Gloria - Clerk - Père de Frédérique - Kumitaro - Akiko (as Yuko Kada) - Air France Stewardess - Lord
  1. ^ ab Maslin, Janet (1 October 1982). "Isabelle Huppert in Losey's 'Trout ' ". The New York Times . Retrieved 10 October 2017 .
  2. ^
  3. "Festivals: New York 1982" . Retrieved 23 March 2014 .
  • Palmer, James Riley, Michael (1993). The Films of Joseph Losey. Cambridge Film Classics Cambridge University Press. ISBN978-0-5213878-0-4 .

This article related to a French film of the 1980s is a stub. You can help Wikipedia by expanding it.


Films as Director:

Pete Roleum and His Cousins (short) (+ p, sc)

A Child Went Forth (short) (+ co-p, sc) Youth Gets a Break (short) (+ sc)

A Gun in His Hand (short)

The Boy with Green Hair

The Prowler M The Big Night (+ co-sc)

Stranger on the Prowl (Encounter) (d as "Andrea Forzano")

The Sleeping Tiger (d as "Victor Hanbury")

The Intimate Stranger (Finger of Guilt) (d as "Joseph Walton")

The Gypsy and the Gentleman

Blind Date (Chance Meeting)

The Criminal (The Concrete Jungle)

The Damned (These Are the Damned) The Servant (+ co-p)

King and Country (+ co-p)

Boom! Secret Ceremony

Figures in a Landscape The Go-Between

The Assassination of Trotsky (+ co-p)

Galileo (+ co-sc) The Romantic Englishwoman


Joseph Losey

More English than the Brits' proclaims one of the chapter headings in Michel Ciment's seminal series of interviews with Joseph Losey. Losey's life embraces a major crisis in political commitment and public tolerance (the blacklist) his career, his oeuvre, spans the most fundamental cultural confrontation of the century, between Marxism and Modernism, between progressive "realism" and the avant-garde subversion of optimism. Losey began his directorial career in the leftist political theatre of the 1930s. For Losey, as for many leftists of the period, Communism meant allegiance to the Soviet ideological model, and by extension, to Stalin's policies. The 1950s proved to be a difficult decade for Joseph Losey, a period marked by prolonged exile, the ever-lengthening reach of the blacklist and the constant fear of betrayal. The Sleeping Tiger, The Intimate Stranger and A Man on the Beach were made during his period of exile in the 1950s. There was an experimental, writer-oriented focus in Joseph Losey's later work, opening the way for collaborations on a more equal footing. Losey collaborated three films with Harold Pinter: The Servant, Accident and The Go-Between. His involvement in Secret Ceremony, Boom! and Figures in a Landscape was a case of blatant economic necessity. Most of his work directly explores and addresses the ideological interpellation of women by analysing the cultural assumptions that both construct and perpetuate it. Losey officially became a tax exile after relocating himself from Chelsea to Paris because of tax problems.


Unkind Cuts: Joseph Losey’s Eve

Joseph Losey’s films came at me in a burst. It was in 1963 when the Melbourne University Film Society (MUFS) screened four of his films in a matter of a few weeks and the newly launched Movie had given some space to The Damned and an interview with the director. All of a sudden, Losey seemed to be single-handedly transforming the British cinema from dopey comedies and the kitchen sink realism and political commitment of Woodfall Films.

A blacklisted American, Losey was making low budget thrillers and crime stories in the UK. Two key films – The Criminal (1960) and The Damned (1963) – leapt way beyond their formulaic origins in Edgar Wallace and Scotland Yard movies, the staple of Merton Park Studios, producers of The Criminal, and sensationalist violence, one of the staples of Hammer, producers of The Damned. The appearance of these films set off a search by instant Losey enthusiasts for others made prior to Time Without Pity (1957) and Blind Date (1959), both of which MUFS also screened. Some of us caught The Sleeping Tiger (1954) and The Intimate Stranger (1956) on ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Television, then as now a repository of British film history. I have still never managed to track down Stranger on the Prowl (1952), filmed in Italy for an Italian company and starring Paul Muni. All three of these films were signed with pseudonyms to protect the producers from possible trouble with American distribution.

By the time The Damned appeared, Losey was becoming fashionable again. His early American films had always provided him with a solid reputation among French cineastes and once his name again began appearing on the credits he was quickly championed. The renowned publicity team of Pierre Rissient and Bertrand Tavernier did the promotion for The Damned when it opened in Paris in the early 󈨀s. Around the same time, the Hakim brothers had just had Jean-Luc Godard knock back the job of directing Jeanne Moreau and Stanley Baker in an adaptation of James Hadley Chase’s novel Eve. It was Baker who suggested Losey as a replacement, having been directed by him in the Criminal and Blind Date. They would survive the experience on Eve (1962) and would go on to collaborate Losey’s best film, Accident (1967).

David Caute’s informative critical biography of Losey – Joseph Losey A Revenge on Life – describes Eve as the most traumatic disaster of Losey’s career (1). But the head of steam Losey’s career had built up made us all impatient to see the film. However, almost 40 years ago, independent film distribution was altogether more chaotic and quixotic. Films that came from Europe were often subjected to the vagaries of individual distributor taste, tastes too often linked to assessments of what might and might not be passed by the film censors. In Australia we were somewhat behind the rest of the world in independent distribution and censorship standards.

However, before Eve had even been contemplated by any of the world’s film distributors, it had run into trouble. After a difficult scripting period, during which Losey dispensed with the services of his “old comrade” Hugo Butler (2) and brought in Evan Jones, with whom he had worked on The Damned, the producers had been delivered a version of the film running 155 minutes. The Hakims promptly withdrew it from the Venice Film Festival and demanded it be cut down. Losey himself then took 20 minutes out of the positive print shown at an unsuccessful private preview in Paris. When the film opened in Paris, the Hakim’s had removed more and the film was listed as being 116 minutes.

Losey then began his campaign to have at least some of the cuts restored. Some requests were adhered to but when the film opened in the UK and the US, further cuts of between 10 to 15 minutes had been made. According to David Caute (3), Losey described this 100-minute version as “a common tawdry, little melodrama – unclear, pretentious, without rhythm and taste”. Seemingly this might still have been all that currently remains but for the fact that somehow or other a Scandinavian distributor acquired rights to the film and circulated a version some 16 minutes longer. A copy of this version survives in the British Film Archive and it has been included on a remarkable DVD issued by Kino Video in the US that contains both available versions of the film. If ever there was a single demonstration of the immense contribution that the DVD can make to film scholarship and the recovery of film history then this DVD would be it.

It’s hard to know which version should be watched first. The short version is taken from a beautifully crisp black and white print that does full justice to Gianni de Venanzo’s photography. The clarity of the exterior and location images are exquisite. When you have got through the “tawdry little melodrama” you’re left in bafflement at much of it. Some characters, most notably that of the film producer Sergio, played by Giorgio Albertazzi, seem to be misplaced. Eve (played by Jeanne Moreau with acute, unsmiling solemnity) takes Tyvian (played by Stanley Baker) home and enters her luxury apartment building through some sort of ramshackle farmyard on the outskirts of Rome. It’s difficult to work out why Sergio (actor?) thinks Tyvian is a fraud. Eve is reading a different book to the title she mentions. Still, Eve has its moments. When Tyvian has thrown away everything to go away with Eve for an expensive weekend in the Danieli Hotel in Venice, the following lines are delivered with absolute conviction by Baker and Moreau.

Tyvian: Do you know how much this weekend’s going to cost me? …Two friends, thirty thousand dollars …and a wife.

Eve: That’s something my husband would never do.

In this sequence Eve picks up a white mask last glimpsed in the nightclub in Rome. Tyvian is next seen wearing the mask. Huh!

Losey’s predilection was to indulge in textures and designs, to seek out and flaunt flamboyant costumes and settings. This had already been given some reign in The Criminal and The Gypsy and the Gentleman (1957). He liked to work over the look of his films and encouraged his regular designer Richard Macdonald to insert into his elaborate settings, themselves designed to provide some running commentary on the characters who inhabited them, objects, curios and art works that gave even more emphasis and extravagance to the characters. In Eve, mirrors, glasses, ashtrays, furniture, paintings, feathered costumes, even whiter than white bathrooms, were all relentlessly delivered by Macdonald in an attempt to create a view of high life, self-indulgence and casual wealth.

Caute also provides some very interesting background about Losey’s own promiscuous personal life which seems to have been at one of its most complex and intrigue-filled moments when Eve was made. Losey’s views on marriage and relationships were embedded into the film. Infidelity and physical urge were dominant in his thinking. Even years later, the director could never quite stand back from the film. Caute quotes Losey from an interview with Michel Ciment, conducted some 15 years after the film was made, and the words suggest that the filmmaker had never been shaken from his belief as to Eve‘s profundity of views about the state of things between men and women.

Losey must have thought that with Moreau in the lead he would be taken very seriously as a commentator on the male’s endless desire. Moreau was at that time the supreme European actress. (4) Stepping up to the league of European directors who got to make a movie with Jeanne Moreau must have seemed a vindication of his long struggle for recognition. (5)

So does the longer version yield up any secrets? First the viewer has to cope with the fact that the material from which it is taken is of much reduced visual quality. The first thing you note is that the credits are superimposed over the opening images and are not the simple white on black of the shorter version. It’s not hard then to notice that the crisp black and white is here reduced to a murky and dark greyness. Around the edges of the frame there seems to be some deterioration. The Finnish subtitles are very difficult to see and you would hate to be relying on them. Whatever deterioration has occurred has not been helped by the original print and subtitling.

There are some other minor changes. A couple of shots in the water-skiing sequence are different. The party sequence which leads to the arrival of Sergio and Francesca is longer. We learn a little more about the character played by Losey regular James Villiers, who plays the scriptwriter.

The sequence which follows seems to me the essence of what Losey was about. Eve and a male companion who has bought her services for the evening have taken shelter in an empty house. She imperiously makes herself at home. There is a long wordless sequence when she moves about the upstairs area, picking up objects, slowly undressing, putting on a record of Billie Holiday’s “Willow Weep for Me”, running a bath. She shows as near as possible to no reaction when Tyvian returns home to discover people have broken in. He takes off the record and Eve re-emerges from the bath to put it on again. Tyvian is smitten and turns violent towards the male companion. Eve refuses Tyvian and Tyvian blocks the way of the companion. It’s almost interminable on a second viewing.

Losey explained this in an interview with Tom Milne:

I wanted to make her a woman who said virtually nothing but whom one sensed through the way she dressed, where she lived, what she had round her house, how she behaved privately, what she read, where she went when she was alone, etc. And there were a good many other sequences planned for the picture which are not there, including her visit to a confessional in the Catholic church – without words, nothing was ever said. (6)

The first additional sequence of any length or consequence which is included in the longer version occurs after Tyvian has taken Eve for a night’s drinking and gambling. Early in the morning they prowl through a park full of marble busts before they go to Eve’s flat, reached rather oddly (in both versions) by walking through some semi-rural landscape. The next sequence included is the visit Tyvian pays to Sergio’s office. The scene’s inclusion explains why Sergio thinks Tyvian is a fraud. Sergio announces he is having Tyvian investigated, which is some assistance to our understanding as to why, in the shorter version, he should suddenly appear seeking to break up Tyvian and Francesca’s rural bliss brandishing a dossier.

There are other odd moments excluded including a shot of Tyvian imitating a fish in a gold fish bowl that is cut from the end of a sequence.

Losey’s ambitions for Eve were never realised. Despite this, in retrospect the film hardly set back his career even if it did deflate his ego for some time. Within a year of the embarrassment of having a film withdrawn from Venice, Losey was back there again triumphantly premiering The Servant (1963) and starting the run of films that included those that have made his lasting reputation and surely warrant some revival and review. (7)

In Australia Eve remained unseen for some years. Rumours spread that when finally acquired for Australia by Blake Films, it had promptly been banned. Given that the film censors of the day used to take a dim view of immoral behaviour (vide Godard’s Breathless, which suffered this fate for a number of years before the French Government actually sent a copy in which the censor then passed uncut) this may have been the case. Details of the censor’s activities were not subject to publication or review. Or else, perhaps, the distributor, who had delayed the release for so long, may have been desperately seeking to plant a story as a way out of releasing the film at all. It was, after all, a film that had failed spectacularly in every territory in which it opened. We’ll never know. The distribution company is long gone as is its principal buyer. Whatever the story, the short version of the film was released with additional censor cuts for Australia most notably the brief moments when Jeanne Moreau’s breasts were exposed. The DVD represents the first chance to see the film in three decades or so and the only current opportunity to see some of what the argument was about.


FilmFreaks: Nicholas Ray & Joseph Losey

The FilmFreaks program at the La Crosse Public Library is proud to present a film series highlighting two directors with La Crosse roots. The films will be screened (FREE!) at 5pm and 7:30pm on Wednesdays in August, and will feature noted public figures co-leading the discussion after each screening, including Sarah Johnson (Mental Health Therapist and Teen Center Liaison, Gundersen Health System), Jess Witkins (Feminism on Tap social group), and Jackson Jantzen (Executive Director, The Center: 7 Rivers LGBTQ Connection).

Joseph Walton Losey III was born in 1909 in La Crosse, WI. Losey’s grandfather was a prominent conservative civic leader for which Losey Blvd. and the Losey Arch in Oak Grove Cemetery are named. He was raised in wealth and culture at 1612 Ferry St. His aunt, Mary Losey, married into the wealthy Easton family and Losey was highly influenced by her sophistication and culture. Though he was active in drama at Central High School, he recalled later in life being alienated as a teenager in La Crosse. After graduating in 1929, he attended Dartmouth College and Harvard University on the East Coast and never looked back, basically disowning his family and La Crosse.

Joseph Losey, senior portrait, 1925 Central High School Booster

After several years as a major figure in New York political theater, Losey's first feature film was 1947's The Boy with Green Hair. Due to the heavy-handed anti-war nature of this film, his extensive ties to other “radicals” investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee, and his own membership in the Communist Party, work in the American film industry quickly dried up for Losey. He evaded HUAC, who had been tipped off to his political sensibilities, for two weeks in 1951, eventually settling in London for good in 1953.

Starting at the bottom in the British film industry, he worked his way back to director. Two of his best-received films will be screened during the FilmFreaks series: The Servant and The Go-Between. Each of these films examines the politics of class and sexuality in England at the end of the end of the 19 th century (The Go-Between) and in the 1960s (The Servant). In The Go-Between, a young middle class boy, the summer guest of an upper-class family, becomes the messenger for an affair between the daughter of the hosts and a working class farmer. In The Servant , a manservant facilitates the moral and psychological degradation of his privileged and rich employer.

Nicholas Ray was born Raymond Nicholas Kienzle, Jr. in Galesville in 1911, the youngest of four. The family moved to La Crosse in 1920 and lived at 226 West Ave. N, now an apartment building on the SE corner of West and Vine. Losing his father when he was 16, Ray was a delinquent teenager. For a time, he was sent to live with his older sister in Chicago, but cleaned up his act enough to be accepted back into Central High School halfway through his senior year, graduating in 1929.

Ray Kienzle (Nicholas Ray), 1929 senior portrait, Central High School Booster

Ray’s most productive and successful period as a film director was the 1950s, in which he made the two films for which he is best remembered: Johnny Guitar and Rebel Without a Cause. Though highly eccentric in its time, Johnny Guitar was much loved by French critics and auteurs such as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, for which he was a major influence. Rebel Without a Cause, starring James Dean in what proved to be the most famous role of his very short career, was released soon after Dean’s early death in an automobile crash and is widely considered to be the film that introduced the world to the concept of the American teenager. It would have, and continues to have, an outsized impact on youth pop culture.

Though the two young men grew up in the same time and place and attended the same high school, the age and class differences between meant that Ray (working class) and Losey (wealthy) likely only had a nodding acquaintance in La Crosse. To learn more about these two men and to enjoy four of their films, please join us on Wednesdays in August at 5pm or 7:30pm in the auditorium of the La Crosse Public Library.


The Servant: a 60s masterwork that hides its homosexuality in the shadows

Homosexuality is everywhere and nowhere in The Servant. Harold Pinter's superbly controlled, elliptical, menacing dialogue is able to hint, to imply, to seduce, to repulse, in precisely the manner that gay men were forced to adopt in 1963, when homosexuality was still a criminal offence, and when representing homosexuality on screen was forbidden. To locate the gay gene in The Servant, you have to go back to its source, the 1948 novella written by Robin Maugham, the nephew of W Somerset Maugham. The Servant has its spark in an extraordinary event in Maugham's own life, to be treasured by connoisseurs of British sex and class.

Maugham had rented a house, which came with its own servant, a man who unnerved him by gliding about almost invisibly. One evening, Maugham went on a date with Mary Soames, the daughter of Winston Churchill. He took her back to his flat and she asked for a drink: a cold lager from the fridge, as opposed to warm ale. (Interestingly, this drink recurs in the movie, but not the novel.) The fridge was just next to the manservant's room in the basement, the door of which was open Maugham glanced in and saw a naked teenage boy on the bed. The servant appeared from nowhere and said in his odd drawl: "I see you are admiring my young nephew, sahr. Would you like me to send him up to you to say goodnight, sahr?" Maugham pretended he hadn't heard and simply went away without replying.

The trap was plainly set for blackmail – financial or moral, or both. In the book, of course, Maugham heterosexualises the trap. Barrett brings in a young woman he describes as his "niece" in the film it is his sister, and the misplaced suspicion of incest between Barrett and Vera becomes the "unnatural" act. It is a woman who seduces Tony. But it is Barrett who is pulling the strings. It is Barrett who effects the seduction at one remove, in the hope that he can use this as leverage over the master. In the film, it is as much about power as pleasure, but this manipulation is replete with sexuality.

Maugham's book is far more candid about the homosexual act. He has a character, Richard Merton, who does not appear in the film: a concerned friend of Tony who is the narrator (Maugham even implies that it is their relationship that is the bond of true love). Merton asks Tony outright if he and Barrett have sex, and Tony laughingly denies it, though without being offended or shocked. His passions are to become centred on Vera, who is absurdly and rather naively depicted as a nymphomaniac. But students of linguistic history might be interested in the use of the word "gay" in the book. After Barrett's redecoration, Tony's "chairs had been covered in a gay yellow chintz". Tony is asked by his friend if he is at heart a roving bachelor or a "gay wolf". "Moderately gay" is how Tony replies. The word did not yet mean "homosexual" but is in the process of transition. Harold Pinter avoids it entirely. His movie is about more than sex.

What did audiences make of this extraordinary, disturbing and compelling story? They may well have been alive to its literary echoes. Everyone adored PG Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster. They understood how Jeeves had the upper hand. But Jeeves was entirely benign and discreet. He knew his place. JM Barrie's play The Admirable Crichton showed a butler taking power because he is the only one with practical knowhow when his aristocratic employers are shipwrecked with him on a desert island: but the status quo is ultimately restored.

Insidious and insinuating, Barrett is more like a subtler Uriah Heep, and in their claustrophobia and hysteria, Tony and Barrett have something of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, or perhaps Lord Henry Wootton and Dorian Gray, or even Edward II and Gaveston in Christopher Marlowe's play.

As far as movies go, Joseph Losey's previous film with Dirk Bogarde had a similar cuckoo-in-the-nest theme. The Sleeping Tiger (1954) starred Bogarde as Frank, a criminal who is invited by a trendy psychotherapist to come and live in the family house, believing that a stable environment will help him. Frank makes himself at home and begins an affair with the therapist's troubled wife. In later years, when live-in servants are less common, parallels with The Servant are less common also, but there is Curtis Hanson's The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (1992) featuring Rebecca De Mornay as the nanny who tries to take over the household. And a mention should go to Tinge Krishnan's social-realist drama Junkhearts (2011), which features Eddie Marsan as the ex-soldier who befriends a young homeless teen and gives her a platonic bed for the night in his council flat, only to discover she wants to bring in her boyfriend, who has been planning from the outset to take over his property.

Even in context, however, The Servant looks unique: its formal, theatrical elegance, combined with the ugliness of its emotions and fears, looks sharper and fiercer than ever. With its dark shadows, and faces distorted in convex mirrors, it looks like a scary movie, which is what it is. In Britain in 2013, even with Old Etonians in charge, the master/servant dialogue of 50 years ago seems impossibly arrogant. It was not unusual for instructions to be brusque, and the word "please" to be avoided, and a sentence rounded off with a curt "… would you?" And so the servant classes might well take refuge in an enigmatic mask, or take revenge with little gestures of pique or cheek, and generally store up resentment. In Britain the rhetoric of class, like that of sex, was largely in code. This is what the outsider Losey orchestrates, what Pinter writes and what Bogarde embodies.

This is an edited extract from Peter Bradshaw's essay on The Servant included in the film's DVD booklet. The Servant is out now in cinemas, and will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on 8 April.


Watch the video: Don Giovanni di Joseph Losey cut dallopera di Mozart 1979 (June 2022).


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