REVIEWS

FILMS

Who’d ever guess the end of the world could make you shrug or yawn?

LARRY ZOLF July 1 1969
REVIEWS

FILMS

Who’d ever guess the end of the world could make you shrug or yawn?

LARRY ZOLF July 1 1969

FILMS

Who’d ever guess the end of the world could make you shrug or yawn?

LARRY ZOLF

IF YOU’VE BEEN too busy this winter worrying about mortgages, mistresses and inflation to give a little thought to the student revolt, the end of the world or perhaps, the auteur theory of film criticism, why not do so this summer? For those of you who are tired of being a New Left behind or the helpless victim of a Generation Gap attack, here’s some suggested summer viewing and reading. It should help you cope with the miniminds and cineasses you’re bound to encounter at next winter’s “swinging” parties.

Ever since On the Beach we’ve been plagued by a procession of end-of-theworld films. There’s been Peter Watkins’ The War Game, Peter Brooks’ Lord of the Flies, Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend and now Ingmar Bergman’s Shame.

“Shame,” the publicity material tells us, “is the most expensive and lavish production yet put together and directed by the Swedish master.” It is also, blessed relief, the most symbolfree and comprehensible of Bergman’s 30 “screen triumphs.” The story is simple enough. A totally meaningless war engulfs the Rosenbergs, a childless violinist couple who are the film’s central protagonists. The moral of the story is equally simple: absolute war corrupts absolutely. Husband Jan is transformed by Armageddon into a dull, mindless butcher. Wife Eva becomes an adulteress and lobotomized accomplice to her husband’s downfall.

The Bergman stock company of Max Von Sydow, Liv Ullmann and Gunnar Björnstrand perform ably, and the Bergman devices are effective; but somehow the effect is quite numbing.

Bergman’s insistence on a very realistic, almost documentary treatment of the apocalypse makes it far closer to Watkins’ The War Game than to Godard’s Weekend. The result is that Shame, like The War Game, begins at times to resemble those silly civil-defense films of the 1950s.

I prefer my apocalypse laced with the black humor of Weekend. If we’re all to go, why not go à la Godard? His conceits and allegories are entertaining while Bergman’s too often resemble a film rendition of a Jehovah Witness Watch Tower.

Lindsay Anderson is another film director who invites thematic comparison with Godard. Anderson’s If and Godard’s La Chinoise both tackle the iceberg tip of Armageddon: the generation gap and student revolt.

Anderson’s credentials are impressive. In the late ’40s and early ’50s he was an outstanding film critic for the Sequence and Sight and Sound generation. He was part of the Free Cinema neorealist school that revolutionized British films. In 1954 he won an Oscar for the best documentary.

In If his documentary talents are put to good use. Working with complete unknowns as actors and two very young writers, Anderson has come up with a very funny, warm and accurate picture of the quasi-fascist environment of English private schools. Here, for the first time, the whole rogue’s gallery of fatuous headmasters, sadistic whips, Colonel Blimp old boys and faggot curates seem more real than caricature.

The trouble starts when Anderson mixes the fantasies of his student-rebel heroes with the facts of life. The switch from realism to surrealism is a jolting one. The 1984 fantasy ending of the student uprising seems more fanciful than frightening.

Perhaps this is because we know the revolts of Armageddon will hardly begin in England’s private schools. The rebels in If know that their revolt has to be today’s fantasy because they will be tomorrow’s well - heeled and all-powerful Establishment.

Again one thinks of Godard’s La Chinoise. Somehow his bored, affluent French students, spending their summer embracing the philosophy of “the Mao the merrier” seem much more ominous. Their endless rhythmic chanting of Marxist dogma, the playful giddiness of their political assassinations and their guilt-free return to fall classes seem all too accurate a portent of the future realities we may face from the Know-Nothing Nihilism of the Protest Generation.

If you’ve been wondering about the auteur theory of film criticism and how our Canadian boys fit into it, try reading The American Cinema: Directors, 1929-68 by Andrew Sarris,

who is film critic for the Village Voice.

A good director, according to Sarris, is an auteur; a bad director is a mere technician. An auteur is a director who stamps a film with his personal viewpoint. It’s his outlook on life, his personality, his technical mastery, his control of actors, camera placement, editing rhythm and script flow that give a film its identity, individuality and ultimate worth.

Is there a Sarris cry of “auteur, auteur” for our expatriate boys in Lotus Land? Alas, no balm in Hollywood for Canadian pride.

Of Toronto’s own Sidney Furie, Sarris says “From the black leather jackets of The Leather Boys to Marlon Brando’s blanket in Appaloosa, Furie seems to elevate fabric fetishism into a personal style.” Norman Jewison is accused of “over-directing” and Harvey Hart, Arthur Hiller and Silvio Narrizzano are all dismissed as being “stronger on technique than on personality.”

Seen and obscene

The Sergeant: “Rod Steiger Stuns as the Sergeant,” say the billboard posters advertising the film rendition of the Dennis Murphy novel about homosexual love on a U.S. Army base. Well, Rod Steiger’s performance is more stunned than stunning. He pouts, growls, drools, snorts, whines, shrieks. With that kind of come-on, it’s no wonder pretty-boy John Phillip Law picks pretty girl Ludmilla Mikael over pretty awful Steiger.

Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness?: If there ever was an auteur film this one certainly is. Anthony Newley wrote, directed and produced it. He is the star and his wife and kids are in it. The songs are his and he sings them. It’s his script that gives gross indecency and bestiality their first decent crack at a cinematic treatment. So it’s Newley and Newley alone that one must credit for a new auteur breakthrough — the world’s first commercially screened stag home movie.