Archive for the ‘Terrence Stamp’ Category

Big Eyes

27 Dec

Big Eyes – written and directed by Tim Burton. BioDrama. 105 minutes Color 2014

The Story: A painter marries a man who claims all her paintings are by himself.


A lousy director is made worse when he writes his own movie. For he is hardly in a position to proclaim in a voice loud and clear that such and such is missing and such and such ought to be. I don’t come to this movie claiming that Tim Burton is a lousy director, but only that his aesthetic is low. Low, suggesting that it might be perfect for a treatment of the provenance of the Keane paintings.

Vulgarity, particularly Hollywood vulgarity, can have great energy and zest. Or vulgarity can be empty. Or, even worse, it can borrow an energy from a source not proper to its subject. The expression of energy not belonging to the subject is called sentimentality. Thus the Keane big eyes into which has been injected, like heroin, the lure of an unearned pathos. It is a pathos striking on first sight. On second sight it is repulsive.

However, in me, Big Eyes, the film, produces not revulsion but inertia. On the one hand the film is a BioDrama, probably the most fragile of all film genres, particularly when so much of the subject is known that imagination of execution can take no hold. In art facts kill all.

On the other, we are also witnessing people who are not fighting over the provenance of a Rubens, but schlock. This is not Monument Men. One cannot mourn here for the unkindly orphanage of masterpieces. The child whose custody the parents battle is already dead. The person who painted the Bi Eyes is a pick-pocket of our pathos. The pathos doesn’t belong to her any more than the color of her peroxide hair does.

Finally, the part of Margaret is underwritten and mis-played by Amy Adams. She chooses to play Margaret Keane as mealy-mouthed and nothing else. It won’t do. There was a passion in Margaret Keane which is intense, constant, and ruthless, and we never see it. Oh, we see it well enough as regards her daughter, whom she rescues twice from husbands worse than death. But Margaret Keane was also a passionate painter and she was also a passionate promoter of her painting. These are kept hidden by the writer-director. We never see her own big eyes as she makes the paintings. And we never see her gather her forces to hawk them. Instead, the part exists only in relation to her husband who was so bent on the fantasy of being an artist that he claimed he himself had painted her pictures. Adams plays it as a milksop to him. We never see her calculation and inner collusion in this. Her greed, her cunning. She was a peroxide blonde, right down to her marrow.

The real story of the Keane paintings is a story of two great selfishnesses, two great passions in conflict – that is the story that is not on screen. We see Walter Keane’s passion but never Margaret’s. It’s not in the writing, it’s not in the direction, it’s not in the playing of Adams. We almost think it might be there because of the playing of Christoph Waltz, who seizes the part of Walter in his jaws and shakes it fit to kill. He displays the fanatical charm and belligerent drive of the pitchman. He gives us a smile that would fell an ox. He consumes the screen. His attack on the role is Lisztian. He is at concert pitch. The film is his.

Although – does it really seem  necessary to launch Godzilla to trounce Casper Milquetoast, a brontosaurus a bug? Two pick-pockets, each trying to o’er-balance the other? Each meager?

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Posted in Amy Adams, BioDrama, Christoph Waltz, Terrence Stamp


The Collector

28 Jun

The Collector – directed by William Wyler . Suspense. A nouveau rich young man traps the girl of his dreams in the cellar of his country house. 1hours 29 minutes Color 1965.


I want to praise it highly, for it is the film of a director – The Best Years Of Our Lives, The Little Foxes, The Letter, Roman Holliday – whose work I respect and enjoy, but the film is not as good as it would have been had the script been better than it is. Aside from two minor characters, the wonderful Mona Washbourne being one of them, it is a two-character piece. But the problem lies not with their casting or playing, but with the limited range they are forced to perform in by the script, or rather, the single story element in it they are allowed to respond to. For their choices for capture and escape are merely sexual, merely romantic. This means that the playing field between the two never has a chance to open up into any other dramatic possibility; they never find a common ground other than sex; they never come together as ordinary human beings, discussing Butterflies, say, or one’s preference for scrambled eggs as opposed to eggs over easy or whether they like to sleep on their right or their left side or what they dream of when they do. What we are given instead as the entire thing that divides them is the difference in their social classes, and this is presented as an absolute which neither can breach. And with this polemic the author, John Fowles, strangles the story, which becomes a repetition of identical roadblocks, whereas when people find themselves trapped in the Army or on a life raft or in a 12 Step meeting, no matter what social class they come from, they do find common ground, and in doing so an arena of accessibility, friendship, and accord, in which the need in the girl to escape can tempt her with the opposite, as can the need for the young man to keep her. So the film becomes a set up, a scold rather than a true story, and thus fails. Cast as the two are Samantha Eggar who is super as the red-haired young beauty who is kidnapped. Her casting is obvious: she is lovely, young, and a good actor. The casting of the young man is strange however, but for that very reason it works. No one is creepier than a creepy Englishman, and the person they have cast in this role was the sexiest young man in England at that time, a young man so beautiful and inviting, a sort of James Dean of The British Isles, that he could have any lady he desired. He would be the abducted, rather than the abducted. Terrence Stamp plays the part completely against his natural endowment, without ever making it grotesque to do so. All he does is hold his head to one side, do something odd with his hands, pitch his voice into a Roddy MacDowell alto, and button one too many buttons of his suit. Somewhere he finds his inner prude in order to always find reasons to both keep and repel her. If only she had really fallen for him, ah, what a strange and devastating story that would have made. Would he then be the one trapped? We’ll never know. The music is by Maurice Jarre, and is the best. It was shot in Hollywood by Robert Surtees, a great photographer shooting sets that don’t quite work as real, and by Robert Krasker in England which does quite work as real, because it is.

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