Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

3 by Losey, 2 Doll's Houses & 1 Severed Head

DON GIOVANNI - the 1979 film of Mozart's opera by Joseph Losey - subject of many posts here, as per label: THE SERVANT, BLIND DATE, my cult favourite MODESTY BLAISE, ACCIDENT, etc. One of the most individual American directors who had settled in England in the 1950s ...
Screen adapatation of Mozart's greatest opera. Don Giovanni, the infamous womanizer, makes one conquest after another until the ghost of Donna Anna's father, the Commendatore, (whom Giovanni killed) makes his appearance. He offers Giovanni one last chance to repent for his multitudinious improprieties. He will not change his ways So, he is sucked down into hell by evil spirits. High drama, hysterical comedy, magnificent music!
First thing to say is it looks - and sounds - marvellous ! The baroque visual style of Losey would seem the ideal choice for filming Mozart's opera. I must say I did not know this opera before, being more of a MAGIC FLUTE and COSI FAN TUTTE person, or Bizet's CARMEN or Puccini's TURANDOT. It looks sensational filmed at those locations around the Palladian Veneto of Venice (though apparantly it is set in Seville!), in those period costumes. The cast is pretty sensational too - Ruggero Raimondi as the seductive and sinister libertine Don, and Kiri Te Kanawa as Donna Elvira (above), plus delightful Theresa Berganza. The sublime music is performed by the Paris Opera, conducted by Lorin Maazel.
My favourite opera film before this was Ingmar Bergman's delightful 1975 THE MAGIC FLUTE, but Losey runs him a close second. Is the Mozart opera an attack on the aristocracy and its immoral behaviour? We are on the eve of the French Revolution and Mozart was a freemason ...whatever, it is all as gloriously visual as AMADEUS. Masterful opera singers, stupendous sets and costumes, the magnificent setting of a 16th century estate, Mozart's music and Losey's direction of it  all makes this opera film a triumph, and one to relish again.

STEAMING, 1985. Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles and Diana Dors star in Losey's film of Nell Dunn's feminist comedy play. 
As the manager of the council's women-only steam baths, Vi (Diana) finds herself acting as den mother to the walking wounded who come to the baths - including 2 middle-class ladies - abandoned wife Nancy (Redgrave) and ex-hippie now lawyer  Sarah (Miles). There is also older Brenda Bruce and her mentally challenged daughter. The baths is a place where they can escape the world - and their men - as they talk about their humdrum lives, vicious boyfriends, money worries and dead end jobs. Then the Council want to close it down and build a new leisure centre, as these type of communal baths are now obsolete, and it does frankly look like it has seen better days. The girls get together and fight back and succeed in keeping it open .... a fantasy ending I am sure. The feisty Josie  (Patti Love) is the one with the abusive boyfriend and she is often bruised .... Love played the part on the stage and still seems to be playing to the back of the gallery, as she seems far too loud compared to the others. During one long monologue one begins to wish for her to shut up. 
Losey and Sarah Miles
Brenda Bruce & Diana
Vanessa and Bruce stay covered up, Sarah strips off frequently as do the other women in the background. Dors is marvellous here, in her last role, like Losey she had cancer too ... it is a quiet, odd film for Losey to bow out with, scripted by his wife Patricia, after that tremendous opera DON GIOVANNI and those Bogarde, Baker, Burton classics from his great era the '60s and '70s. Nell Dunn also wrote those '60s classics UP THE JUNCTION and POOR COW.Sarah Miles of course was back with Losey 21 years after THE SERVANT, which it was good to see back on a cinema screen earlier this year - (Miles, Losey, Bogarde, Fox labels).
One Losey I have not seen is his 1974 THE ROMANTIC ENGLISHWOMAN where Glenda and Helmut also strip off .... (below). 
A DOLL'S HOUSE, 1973 had two versions of Ibsen's A DOLL'S HOUSE, which suddenly became a feminist tract then, as Nora slams that door and walks out on her husband ... 
Nora Helmer has years earlier committed a forgery in order to save the life of her authoritarian husband Torvald. Now she is being blackmailed lives in fear of her husband's finding out and of the shame such a revelation would bring to his career. But when the truth comes out, Nora is shocked to learn where she really stands in her husband's esteem. 

Fonda & Seyrig
The Losey version, by David Mercer, re-structures the play, making more of the subsidiary characters Kristina and Krogstad (Delphine Seyrig and Edward Fox), with Jane Fonda as Nora and David Warner as Torvald, and Trevor Howard as Dr Rank, that ailing doctor. Anna Wing is the faithful servant/nurse (before she became that matriarch Lou Beale in tv series EASTENDERS).  It looks great, filmed in Norway, but Fonda's overall manner is too contemporary for a 19th Century wife - whereas she was incredible as Bree Daniels in KLUTE two years earlier. Film critic Alexander Walker mused that it was like Torvald had an American babysitter in the house. Losey's version though was not widely seen at the time, and is an interesting contrast with the other version ... it starts with an invented scene between Nora and Kristina, out having coffee by the lakeside and Nora discussing her forthcoming marriage to Torvald and they part affectionately, but the film retains the moment where in the next scene, Nora does not recognise Kirstina when she turns up at her house 10 years later at the start of the play!   (I saw Losey in 1970 with the Burtons, as per Losey label).

A DOLL'S HOUSE, the Claire Bloom version, as directed by Patrick Garland and produced by Bloom's husband of the time, Hilyard Elkins, is the more traditional reading of the play, as scripted by Christopher Hampton, and is overall the better and more engrossing film. This too has a great cast: Bloom is terrific as Nora, a part she was playing on stage then, with Anthony Hopkins as the uncomprehending husband, Ralph Richardson is a terrific Dr Rank, aware of his impending mortality; Anna Massey is Kristina, and Edith Evans has a few glorious moments as the nurse and servant. Nora here realizing that her marriage to Torvald (Hopkins) is a sham, that he only wants his wife to be his little "squirrel" and not meddle in their family affairs, she has to be cunning and seductive to deceive him; he will not let her have any money of her own as she will only let it run through her fingers. 
She gets more and more desperate to keep that forgery she is being blackmailed about, secret from him, and then witnesses his fury and fear when it is found out as the facade of their happy marriage crumbles. She sees he is no longer the man she loved and is prepared to leave him and that home ... Denholm Elliott is the rather seedy, sleazy yet pitiable blackmailer, while Hopkins captures all of the pompous, arrogant and authoritarian husband's manner, oblivious of his insensitivity to his wife's feelings and needs.  It was of course quite shocking back then for a wife to walk out on her husband and children, but seems to have struck a chord with feminists back in the '70s. This is the more engrossing production.

A SEVERED HEAD. 1970 British comedy based on Iris Murdoch's novel and hit play.

Antonia, the pampered wife of Martin an upper class wine merchant, tells her husband that she is in love with their best friend, the psychiatrist Palmer Anderson, and she wants a divorce. Palmer and Antonia want to deal with the situation in a civilized way, by remaining friends with Martin. Meanwhile Martin tries to keep his mistress, Georgie Hands, a secret, but Palmer's sister, Honor Klein, who taught Georgie at Oxford, tells Palmer and Antonia about her. Furthermore, Honor introduces Georgie to Martin's womanizing brother, Alexander. This is just the beginning of the various liaisons .... 
This is frankly a rather tiresome, dated comedy, but the 1970 look of it all looks rather seductive now. The cast is the thing here, with Lee Remick and Attenborough very droll - they were also in the film of that other hit play, Orton's LOOT, that year - I must get back and re-see that, Remick is a scream as the devious Irish nurse, with that accent!  Claire Bloom is also fascinating here. Directed by Dick Clement (OTLEY, THE LIKELY LADS). (Lee Remick was living in London then, I met her that year 1970 at her BFI appearance - as per NFT, Remick labels).

Soon: Brush Up Your Shakespeare: All those HAMLETs and THE MERCHANT OF VENICE ... plus more Ibsen with Ingrid Bergman's HEDDA GABLER, a BBC production from 1965. 

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