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Archive for the ‘Richard Griffiths’ Category

Gandhi

16 Dec

Gandhi – directed by Richard Attenborough. Biodoc. 188 minutes. Color 1982.

★★★★★

The Story: An East-Indian lawyer briskly walks the stony path of leading his nation to social justice and freedom from colonial rule.

~

He was assassinated on 30 January 1948. He was 78. I was 14. He had ben a household word my house all my life and by all households in this country. His doings were known and found strange and wonderful and admirable.

He was one of a world of great humans of his time with whom I had the fortune to be a contemporary: FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Einstein, Schweitzer, Churchill. Sibelius, Rachmaninoff, Toscanini, and many others. What they did, they stood for – in all our eyes. There are only a few such now. World heroes. Ai Weiwei, the artist/rebel is one. I grew up with many.

When Gandhi was killed, it was the first of a string of assassinations which continued with JFK and King, Lennon, and today’s public slayings, all designed to erase a social presence with which fanatics disagreed. Bullets end compromise.

Attenborough’s film begins and ends with that occasion. In between, it is a chronicle of Gandhi’s political strategies, working always around English colonial power. It does not account for his beginnings in South Africa where he came under the spell of Tolstoi’s teaching, nor does it examine the progress of his ethical or personal growth. But what it does do is to place Gandhi in his arena of the strenuous political action of non-violence.

In this arena, he appeared, often virtually unclothed. Thus this thin naked man met his opponents, and with simple shrewdness convinced the world and those opponents the right thing to do, and they did it.

Ben Kingsley plays Gandhi. He is a cold actor, and his performance is a model of how the thermodynamics of an actor can serve a role, for Gandhi never turned aside as he strode through crowds who gathered to love him, as though their love of him was irrelevant. Which it was, compared to the task at hand. His fame never detoured him. He knew their love of him, was really their love of what he stood for. Kingsley never veers.

Gandhi’s story is told simply, carefully, directly. Only a film could tell it, and it must be told because we must not forget it. The film is impressive in its honesty, directness, and innate character. It seems to inhere with the spirit of Gandhi himself.

It won eight Oscars, Best Picture, Director, Editing, Costumes, Script, Sets, Photography, Leading Actor. But the real quality of the film’s excellence lies in, for instance, the four hundred thousand extras that volunteered to enact Gandhi’s funeral, the extras that crowd every scene by the hundreds, the help of the very people of India for whom Gandhi lived and died. It was they who made Gandhi.

 

A Private Function

19 Dec

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~ ~ ~

A Private Function – Malcolm Mobray. Comedy Of Character. England on very short rations after The War and everyone wants a pig to call their own. 94 minutes Color 1984.
★★★★★
Not farce, not situation comedy, not joke comedy – but that rare thing: comedy of character. That is to say that comedy which produces in one the barely noticeable glow.

Alan Bennett, a master of this sort of thing (The History Boys, et al.), gathers his cohorts, such as Michael Palin and Richard Griffiths, and the incomparable comedienne Maggie Smith, along with Denholm Elliott as the selfish officious mayor, and Pete Postlethwaite as the cold-eyed butcher, to chase around a small English village the person of a pignapped porker everyone wants for their very own oven.

I lived in England near to the period of 1947, and I ate my ration of one egg a week, too, so I understand what Bennett is after in creating the socially pretentious wife of the new chiropodist in town that Maggie Smith plays. We are like her or we are nothing. We deserve the flourishes of life. We deserve the dainty extras. We deserve excess in excess. Not just beans on toast, but life glazed to a turn with an apple in its mouth, and this is what Maggie Smith is given to give us. We feed on finery or we starve.

Bennett has written a Chekhovian comedy, not one of those wonderful long tragedies he called comedies, but one of his short wonderful plays, such as The Proposal. All we have is human response to the universal need for a pig. What could be funnier!

Oh, yes, funnier in a different way. But not funnier in this particularly human way. Comedy Of Character. Don’t starve yourself. Rationing is over. See it.

 

Hugo

11 Dec

Hugo — Directed by Martin Scorsese. Drama. An orphaned boy winds the clocks of a huge Paris railway station as he seeks his true parentage. 127 minutes Color 2011.

* * * *

Asa Butterworth plays the 12 year-old and hits a homer. His performance is simple and ingratiating, for he lets his impression of his situation carry him, and Martin Scorsese lets Asa’s fine blue eyes carry him the rest. He is mated with another 12-year-old well played by Chloë Grace Moretz. The two of them take us along on their adventures in early 1930s Paris, adventures which are imperiled by the train station guard, a victim de la guerre, played with a crazy Martin Short accent which is supposed to be comic but is not, by Sacha Baron Cohen. The problem with the material lies not with them but with the special effects which clog and over-lengthen their tale. These effects which are 3-D and which at first impress and amaze, fade in power as they supplant the story and the human interest of it. For instance, two of the greatest actors alive, Richard Griffiths and Frances de La Tour (remember them in The History Boys), are sidelined, while the sequences in the towering stacks of a bookshop owned by Christopher Lee displace the narrative with a plot device that could have been handled more briskly another way. Virtuosoism will attack narration every time. For the entire film is manufactured by computer. All we see, save the actors themselves, is fabricated with the doomed magic of an application. It even opens the picture carrying a character moving through a maze, duplicating a famous opening sequence in another Scorsese film of years ago. But these elaborate and highly detailed fabrications steal breath. What first impressed now fails to. The forgotten passages of the huge old station bring us into the power of the secret mischief of the Hunchback Of Notre Dame and The Phantom Of The Opera, but with them the special effects of the station itself eventually cannot compete. The film almost loses heart – but not quite, for the heart is that of Martin Scorsese, and the story is that of the Ben Kingsley character, an old great silent film fantancist/magician/inventor, Georges Méliès, now superannuated and inutile and running a toy store in the train station. We hope our Master Scorsese does not fear to become like this director, outdated, his work lost and forgotten. The old director is restored to praise, and, when I saw it, the audience applauded Hugo, as I did myself. A good whole-family picture.

 

 

The History Boys

03 Nov

The History Boys — Directed by Nicholas Hytner. Comedy. A bunch of private school boys cram to get into Oxford with the help of a doughty gay professor who wants to get into their pants. 109 minutes Color 2006.

* * * * *

I had never seen the actors before, but I found them wonderful, particularly Frances de la Tour and Richard Griffiths, who are fascinating to watch perform a highly literate script in an absolutely realistic tradition freshly. I went to a school like this in England and sat for the exams these boys sit for , so you might say I know the milieu. But that’s not the question. The question is not “verisimilitude” or “meaning” or “morality”. Because those are not on offer here. What is on offer is: can one watch a play and entertain the passions in it without having to draw a conclusion or level a judgment on them? Like them, I passed the test. I enjoyed this piece immensely. If you like “The Corn is Green” with Bette Davis, or “The Browning Version,” this may speak to you — though this story has its wits about it more than either of those, and is, in the best sense of the word, more ruthless. The question is not whether something here is right or wrong or good or bad, it seems to me, but is it provocative? Has the author dealt with material proper to him? Is his tale told well? To all of this I say, Yes! I saw it in a movie house and was thoroughly satisfied. I don’t go to a movie house to be preached to, as a rule, either as a liberal, which I am, or as anything else. And I was not preached to here, but rather met with a work of high imagination with which I could dance. To me it is a joy. It does what movies do best. It was my favorite movie of 2006.

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Withnail And I

02 Nov

Withnail ANd I — Directed by Bruce Robinson. Picaresque Farce. A couple of down-and-out actors jaunt off for a weekend in the country pursued by their homosexual uncle. 107 minutes Color 1986.

* * * * *

Picaresque Farce? Well, why not? I like films that are written. And then they have to be acted well. That’s what I prefer. Those are my indulgences and I do not look much further. If I am caught up by “the direction,” “the camera angles,” “the lighting,” then there is perhaps something wrong. Here we have a super-duper smear of a film, brilliant as gasoline in a rain puddle, very funny in its wording, and inhabited by four characters behaving with the most astonishing self-service and self-indulgence in the world — and I loved them. Perfect impenitence, you see: that’s what I strive for. I sought the film out for the great British actor Richard Griffiths who manned the lads in The History Boys. One of the great comic monsters in film is the dealer played by Ralph Brown. For this alone, I toss my hat in the air.

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Gorky Park

24 Jul

Gorky Park – Directed by Michael Apted. Police Procedural. A Russian cop discovers an international smuggling plot and his true love in it. 2 hours 8 minutes Color 1983.

* * * * *

William Hurt certainly is a curious bloke. He gives off the same brain-dead emanation as John Malkovich. This quality serves him perfectly in the plot of this superbly suspenseful and remarkably well-directed piece. Filmed in Moscow itself, Helsinki, and Stockholm, we are never on the pinpoint of a sound-stage but always believe we are in the full impersonal latitudes where the film shows us to be. This is not film noir in color. Film noir is mostly every-spare-has-been-expensed, made on the cheap, that black lighting arranged to shade out the paltry sets. Here instead we have the big and unsettling panoramas of foreign unvisited countries and the ominous fall of snow. All exquisitely filmed by Ralf T. Bode. The set decoration by Michael Seirton and the costumes by Richard Bruno are splendid. And all this fortifies the distractions needed to veer us off course as the characters veer off course in proving what we know from his first appearance before us that Lee Marvin is the evil doer. How could it be otherwise? His self-possession is unequalled in all Christendom. I liked the way the story spreads out. It’s not based on concentration of scent, as in Sherlock Holmes, but on the appearance of random elements in a landscape ultimately making sense as belonging there. Michael Dennehy and Richard Griffiths lend their substance to the doings, and one roots for them. Ian Bannen brings his kindly presence to the task, and Ian Mcdiarmid nibbles the scenery nicely as the strange professor. I felt well-treated by the movie. As I opened its continually unexpected wrappings, I was always held by the next unfoldment, and the next, and the one after that.

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The Merry Wives Of Windsor

01 Mar

The Merry Wives Of Windsor – Directed by David Hugh Jones – Low Oomedy. A fat old reprobate tries to seduce two wealthy wives. 120 minutes Color 1982

* * * * *

Here we have one of the greatest recordings of a Shakespeare play ever set down. And yet it is of one of WS’s thorniest scripts. Like Henry V it is tortured with a melange of voices in Latin, French, Welsh, and German, making the script monstrously hard to parse! But it wasn’t written to be read, but to be acted, and WS understood the rubric of acting like no one else, so that in the bodies of the actors it comes alive here, understandable here, priceless here. The sixteen shifts of mood in one character’s speech on the page are gibberish, but in the craft of the great Elizabeth Spriggs as Mistress Quickly, we have a masterpiece of human truth and humor, a performance of genius. Each minor character here is enacted, embodied, played to full measure. They are characters with no history, for their history lives in the exact present entirely. The piece is a proving ground for its players, led by Judy Davis’ Mistress Ford and Ben Kingsley as her frenetically jealous hubby Frank Ford. Prunella Scales’ performance as Mistress Page gets lost and monotonized behind its regionalism, but its energy is right on the money. Richard Griffiths we have recently seen in The History Boys plays Falstaff. Now this was made 25 years ago, so our actors are in their twenties (i.e. Alan Bennett) , and perhaps Griffiths is too young for the part in the sense that he wants merriment. TMMOW is a play, unlike Henry IV 1 & 2. In those plays Falstaff is driven by a lust for zest; here he is driven by a lust for money through lust, and it’s not that he is just too old and too fat, which he is, he is also just too ridiculous to score. This complicates the part, and Griffiths makes him a little more downbeat than one wants him to be. A little less of an unmoored balloon. A little less of a roguish liar. Still, when he thinks he has finally achieved the bosom of Mistress Ford, and utters the jubilant line, “Let the sky rain potatoes!” we are in a world of comedy unparalleled. The odd attic setting and the inn and the house of Ford and Caius and all the costumes and wigs and make-up are fabulous. If you love Shakespeare or want to learn to love Shakespeare, dive in.

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