Tag Archives: John Hurt

A Man for All Seasons (1966, Fred Zinnemann)

What’s so incredible about A Man for All Seasons is how big director Zinnemann makes it while keeping it small while keeping it big. The settings are big—palaces, estates, and so on—but Zinnemann keeps the set pieces small. He and cinematographer Ted Moore will do big establishing shots, but only after they’ve gotten into the details of the places. They incorporate the technique into the opening titles, then keep going with it throughout the film. The film’s all about the small actions and pettiness of important men, those establishing montages bring them down to Earth. Or at least establish a grounded Earth in which to play.

Georges Delerue’s regal but also demure score perfectly accompanies.

The film’s about Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield in a singular performance); he refuses to publicly support King Henry VIII’s first divorce. Robert Shaw plays the King; he’s great too. Only in it for a couple scenes, but great. And a grandiose enough performance to cast a shadow on the film after he’s established. You’ve got to believe Shaw can be so petty about Scofield not supporting him, without ever establishing Shaw’s regard for Scofield. At least, not until after Scofield’s pissed him off. Man for All Seasons has a wonderful sense of how to elucidate history—writer Robert Bolt (adapting his play) does “pepper” the exposition with historical detail, but only ever for the characters’ edification, not the audience’s. And when doing historical exposition, Bolt’s default is for the common man—or at least the more common man, let’s say still identifiable if not sympathetic upper middle class—not the nationstate politics. Yes, Scofield toggles between kingmakers and kings like Orson Welles and Shaw, but he also deals with ambitious bureaucrats like Leo McKern (and unambitious de facto ones like Nigel Davenport). His would-be protege, John Hurt, is just a man trying to make something of himself out of university and Scofield tries hard to protect him for the realities of corruption. For Scofield’s More, the corruption tends to have a religious bent but the film never particularly gets into the religiosity. Bolt, Zinnemann, and Scofield examine More’s actions and how his beliefs chart those actions, not the content of the beliefs. They’re kind of lucky to have More as the subject, as him not voicing any opinion whatsoever is what gets him into trouble. A man keeps his thoughts his own when in Tudor England, something Scofield tries to impart on friend and foe alike, which leads to some wonderful moments.

Scofield’s family also plays a big part. There’s wife Wendy Hiller, who doesn’t get much to do but is good, daughter Susannah York, who’s awesome and gets lots to do—sometimes just reacting; the film sets her up as Scofield’s intellectual heir, if she weren’t a girl anyway, and so her perception of the events and behaviors she experiences are another storytelling slate for Zinnemann and Bolt. Man for All Seasons is very quiet, very simple, very complicated. The film deliberates, even when it doesn’t have enough information (usually because Scofield’s keeping his mouth shut about it).

Scofield’s the protagonist; his actions and reactions drive the plot. A constant undercurrent is the story of ambitious, not entirely dim-witted, but morally corruptible Hurt, who ends up finding a mentor in McKern. Only McKern’s a jackass, power hungry bureaucrat jealous of Scofield’s intellectual powers (no matter what McKern accomplishes, Shaw’s never going to love him for his mind whereas Scofield manages to disrespect the King and maintain the intellectual regard). And Hurt’s aware he’s going to the Dark Side, providing yet another storytelling slate. Man for All Seasons never feels stagy, never feels like its a series of vignettes whether the most character development happens off screen, yet it is that series of vignettes. Zinnemann, Moore, Delerue, and editor Ralph Kemplen just make sure it never feels like one. Zinnemann maintains the importance of the film’s visual style even when the dramatics are center stage (Moore’s beautiful “natural” lighting helps), which allows for nimble style changes. It’s magnificently executed. Zinnemann’s direction is assured but never showy, confident but ambitious; the chances the film takes are almost exclusively on the actors—at least into the second act—and Zinnemann facilitates the performances, but the actors are the ones who have to nail the moment, which seems like it should lead to at least the acknowledgement of the stage adaptation but it never does. Because the film’s limited world is so big.

All of the acting is great. Some of the cast get to have more fun—Welles gets to have a lot of fun, McKern’s a delightful weasel—but the ones who have major constraints (Hurt’s weasel-in-training, Corin Redgrave’s obnoxiously Lutheran Lutheran who’s courting York) are still excellent. York, Davenport, and Hiller all deliver in some hard scenes; York and Davenport get the bigger ones, but Hiller’s got to do a lot in short amounts of time. The film often uses Hiller to establish character stuff for Scofield. She’s part of his ground situation, revealing more as the film progresses, without ever doing exposition dumps. Far from it. Hiller’s concise.

As for Scofield… the story’s about people wanting to hear what Scofield’s going to say next and the film’s about staring at Scofield and waiting to see what it’ll be. He’s in the spotlight the entire film. Great direction, great script, great supporting cast, but Man for All Seasons is Scofield’s performance. And it’s an exceptional one.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Fred Zinnemann; screenplay by Robert Bolt, based on his play; director of photography, Ted Moore; edited by Ralph Kemplen; music by Georges Delerue; production designer, John Box; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Paul Scofield (Thomas More), Susannah York (Margaret), Wendy Hiller (Alice), Leo McKern (Cromwell), John Hurt (Rich), Nigel Davenport (Duke of Norfolk), Corin Redgrave (Roper), Orson Welles (Cardinal Wolsey), and Robert Shaw (Henry VIII).


Alien (1979, Ridley Scott), the director's cut

Ridley Scott’s director’s cut of Alien feels like vaguely engaged exercise more than any kind of devout restoration. Its less than artistic origins–Scott cut it together a combination, apparently, of fan service and studio marketing needs–actually help it quite a bit in the first act. Scott’s new cut rushes things, though it doesn’t really rush them anywhere. At the beginning, it’s kind of neat to see how he’s able to move things faster (so long as you’re generally familiar with the film and its plot), only once he runs out of story, Scott and the film stumble repeatedly.

This Alien maintains establishing shots and transition shots; Scott and new editor David Crowther hurry the actual scenes, cutting into performances. John Hurt is deemphasized, Ian Holm is more emphasized. Even though there might be more Sigourney Weaver, it takes her even longer to assume the lead role because with an increased presence for Holm, the dynamic changes. And Scott and Crowther don’t really adjust for it later, because they’re not cutting for performances, they’re cutting getting in new footage. In trying not to be sensational, Scott just makes it even worse. He doesn’t account for what his new pace is doing to how the film plays on its own, not as a special feature.

The collision of Holm and Weaver doesn’t pace well, for instance, but once its resolved, Alien: The Director’s Cut finds its footing once again. Sure, it loses it again and never quite recovers, but it loses it in the place where Alien just loses its footing, the third act. There are some “director’s cut” specific problems in the third act, which hurt the pacing and the overall experience because it’s clear when inserted footage is taped in–Crowther’s editing doesn’t match Terry Rawling’s at all, which is another big problem. It’s disjointed. In the first act, it’s kind of charming; after over an hour, it’s just tiresome.

Maybe the greatest disservice of Alien: The Director’s Cut is to the Jerry Goldsmith score. It feels more rushed than anything else. Goldsmith creates this sterile calm, a disappointing tranquility, and Scott and Crowther don’t have any time for it.

Scott should’ve just let the additional footage bloat Alien. The trims he makes elsewhere aggravate quickly before ultimately failing. At least bloated, the film would have some personality. Instead, it feels like Scott trying to turn Alien into more of a crowd-pleaser. But for a limited, familiar audience. He’s not trying to make a better film.

Luckily, the pieces are still strong. Holm, Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skerritt, all great. Veronica Cartwright gets more to do and has less of a character as a result. Weaver experiences something similar; Scott hacks at her and Skerritt’s scenes just enough to weaken them both. Weaver’s performance deserves a lot more respect, frankly. It takes her too much for granted.

And somehow Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton lose their mojo in the new cut. Most of the content remains, but none of the personality. Again, Crowther’s using a dull hatchet on Rawling’s delicate scalpel cuts.

Alien, the director’s cut, isn’t so much a missed opportunity as a pointless endeavor. But it could have turned out a lot worse. Scott’s lack of ambition might be the saving grace.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ridley Scott; screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, based on a story by O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett; director of photography, Derek Vanlint; edited by Terry Rawlings, Peter Weatherley, and David Crowther; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Michael Seymour; produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler, and Walter Hill; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), Harry Dean Stanton (Brett), John Hurt (Kane), Ian Holm (Ash), and Yaphet Kotto (Parker).


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The Elephant Man (1980, David Lynch)

I am not being hyperbolic when I describe David Lynch’s narrative handling of The Elephant Man to be peerless. If I described it a splendid, there would be other films and narrative handling to compare with it. But this film is so singular–John Hurt as an exceptionally disfigured man in Victoria England, with Lynch concentrating on the medical and industrial revolution, the society, the ambitions of Hurt’s doctor (Anthony Hopkins) and then Hurt’s character himself. And Lynch does it all in grand Hollywood fashion. The Elephant Man’s greatest secret is its openness and accessibility.

Why wouldn’t the film be accessible? Because of Hurt’s disfigurements. Lynch doesn’t give the audience an easy path into the film and the visuals. In fact, he makes it worse with he and cinematographer Freddie Francis’s black and white photography, full of nightmarish images to get the audience thinking on their own. Instead, Lynch gives the audience a deadline. If the audience can’t get over Hurt in the makeup by point X, Lynch isn’t slowing the film for them. At what point is that deadline? Long before Hurt becomes the protagonist (with Hopkins giving it away) but sometime after Hopkins and Hurt meet. Lynch is careful with the emotions in Elephant Man. By the halfway point, the tragedy becomes intolerable; yet the film pushes on, through the intolerable, through the tragedy. Because the film’s openness and accessibility? It’s because of its humanism. Lynch, Francis, composer John Morris–they terrify the audience with the film’s visuals. Along with Anne V. Coates’s sublime edits, The Elephant Man is in a constant dreamlike state, yet undeniably real, which makes every moment even more affecting.

Francis’s black and white photography, the Victorian-era setting, Lynch’s magnificent Panavision composition–The Elephant Man looks epic. The black and white directly engages with the audience. Lynch already has them imagining the color in this historical reality, what else can he get them to imagine. But why are they supposed to imagine? Lynch asks the audience to imagine, to wonder, but he controls the question. He asks the question, steps back, presents the result. Peerless.

The film has wonderful performances. Hurt, on his journey to be the film’s protagonist instead of subject, does some truly phenomenal work. The script–from Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren and Lynch–executes the transfer of protagonist over a somewhat lengthy sequence between the second and third act–just at the right time for Hurt. He’s ready (as his character’s narrative involves being subdued for Hopkins and the rest of the world, but eventually finds confidence to assert himself). And Lynch gets all these moments done right. It’s an impossibly heavy story, told in an aggressive fashion. It’s why the story can work as a big (or at least it looks big) studio picture.

Hopkins is excellent too. His role doesn’t have many subtleties, but its handful are all more than Hurt gets. But Lynch isn’t interested in Hopkins as a protagonist. He’s fine as a narrator, perhaps, but–even before Hopkins loses the lead spot–Lynch clearly doesn’t want him getting in the way of the film.

Freddie Jones is great as the villain. John Gielgud is great as Hopkins’s boss. Wendy Hiller is great. Anne Bancroft. Michael Elphick. Hannah Gordon has a very small part as Hopkins’s wife, but she’s great. All great.

There’s no way to improve The Elephant Man. It’s perfect.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by David Lynch; screenplay by Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren and Lynch, based on books by Frederick Treves and Ashley Montagu; director of photography, Freddie Francis; edited by Anne V. Coates; music by John Morris; production designer, Stuart Craig; produced by Jonathan Sanger; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring John Hurt (John Merrick), Anthony Hopkins (Frederick Treves), John Gielgud (Carr Gomm), Wendy Hiller (Mothershead), Freddie Jones (Bytes), Michael Elphick (Night Porter), Hannah Gordon (Mrs. Treves), Dexter Fletcher (Bytes’ Boy) and Anne Bancroft (Mrs. Kendal).


This post is part of the Love Hurt Blogathon hosted by Janet of Sister Celluloid.

Immortals (2011, Tarsem Singh)

The best thing about Immortals is probably Stephen Dorff. He gives the most consistent performance and has something akin to a reasonable character arc. No one else in the film has that courtesy.

The film, which has the Greek gods reluctantly influencing the life of mortals, makes a big deal out of freewill and the ability for people to develop. Luke Evans–as the worst Zeus outside of a car commercial–wants mortal Henry Cavill to rise to lead his people. Of course, these people are a little unclear. The script’s not just awful in terms of dialogue and character–evil villain Mickey Rourke has more moments of tenderness than anyone else in the picture, which is intention and utterly misguided–it’s also moronic in terms of plotting. There are useless characters (Joseph Morgan in a terrible performance as a traitor) and useless plot twists.

Of course, director Singh doesn’t do much good either. He concentrates on the physical beauty of the film (whether a oil slicked, shirtless Cavill or Freida Pinto–whose eye shadow never comes off–as his love interest) because it’s Greek gods, right? Things should be beautiful. Only not a lot of them are physical. It’s all CG and it’s okay CG but it’s clear these actors aren’t moving in these spaces.

Maybe if Singh could direct action or if he could direct for spectacle (he goes in way too close). Or if Trevor Morris’s score brought some grandeur.

Immortals is a terrible big, little movie.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tarsem Singh; written by Charley Parlapanides and Vlas Parlapanides; director of photography, Brendan Galvin; edited by Wyatt Jones, Stuart Levy and David Rosenbloom; music by Trevor Morris; production designer, Tom Foden; produced by Gianni Nunnari, Mark Canton and Ryan Kavanaugh; released by Relativity Media.

Starring Henry Cavill (Theseus), Mickey Rourke (King Hyperion), Stephen Dorff (Stavros), Freida Pinto (Phaedra), Luke Evans (Zeus), John Hurt (Old Man), Joseph Morgan (Lysander), Anne Day-Jones (Aethra), Greg Bryk (The Monk) and Isabel Lucas (Athena).


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