Wednesday, 17 June 2009

accident (d. losey, w. pinter)

I mooted the idea of seeing Accident to a few people, but got no takers. There was a sizeable audience at NFT3 last night, but all the same, it would appear that the film doesn't resonate with my contemporaries, although one gets the feeling that Joanna Hogg may well have been influenced by it along with her Antonioni. Another modern director who sprang to mind, as they say, during the carefully composed opening shot, is Hanecke, another artist who favours extended takes and the action taking place off-screen.

Pinter Losey, Losey Pinter. As I left it crossed my mind that Pinter never directed his own scripts, but perhaps its because in Losey he found someone who could do it better than him. Losey's US perspective presumably helped him to enjoy the nuances of Pinter's vision. A great film script needs silence just as much as words, and Losey knew this, framing Pinter's extravagantly brilliant dialogue with long, slow lazy takes where nothing is said and very little seems to be happening.

[A small personal aside: when The Boat People was written, the lawn scene in Accident was in the back of the writer's mind, even though it had been so long since I'd seen it, at York I suspect.] The film uses the space of the lawn to emphasise the participants togetherness and separation. It's an acutely English vista - continentals would be sitting round a table, as in the end happened in Boat People - but one that Losey's swooping camera understands, also understanding the technicalities of how to use sound to make the scene work. I've got a feeling that most of the film uses ADR, and is none the worse for it, indeed, in the London sequence, it's used with a Godardian flourish.

This Is England, the piece might have been called, because for all its lack of council estates, skinheads or modernity; and in spite of rather than because of the cutesy shots of Oxford, Accident conjures up the nature of how the English communicate (or rather don't), how they love (or rather don't), and how they speak (and sometimes don't). It doesn't matter where you come from, these methods of living are going to rub off on you if you're 'English'. Codes and cruelty. A man reads the letter of his wife to his friend about that man's infidelity whilst the friend cooks an omelette and the man's new girlfriend observes. The man than starts to eat the omelette, in spite of an avowed lack of hunger, something that's too much for the Austrian, no matter how cool she is. The steely brilliance of this and other scenes compensate for their apparent theatricality, whilst also reminding the cinemagoer that cinema is drama first and spectacle second. However, the film is in some ways a kind of perfect storm of Englishness: sprinklers in the rain; cricket; punting; japes, booze. And sex, although more in the longing than the act. A spectacle of Englishness.

Pinter himself appears in a comic cameo, although its hard not to feel as though he's enjoying himself a little too much as the actor, freed of responsibilities. And then there's his wife, Vivien Merchant, the woman he cheated on and later divorced, as she went quietly nuts, playing the most intransigently sane character of the lot. Playing a betrayed wife in a film written by her husband who might have been betraying her at the time, or if he wasn't she surely knew would one day. (And perhaps also suspected he would write a play about it called nothing less than Betrayal). Seeming to savour being given hard no-nonsense lines to say about affairs and the men and women who play those silly games. All of which feels so English its almost French.

For my money, and of course in the end this all comes down to personal taste, the ability to create a work of drama where, ostensibly, next to nothing happens, but in which so much is happening that you can't look away for a second for fear that a word or a gesture missed will mean the viewer loses the key to the whole damned plot, is not a bad trick to be able to pull off. Because what is all this malarkey but the games we play, and the pleasure we get from playing them? The film that can reveal this, played out like 90 minutes of chess or bar billiards, or cheese rolling...or cricket... and keep you hooked and leave you much the wiser... must be some kind of fluke. Nothing less than an accident.

2 comments:

maldoror said...

nb... Not really pertinent, but in the dim distant days of Covent Garden General Store, one of my co-workers (who later became a regular for a while on Emmerdale) went out with Losey's grandson, who I remember only as being skinny and intense and living in a palatial house at the far end of the Fulham Road, where I was also living at the time, so we'd all three catch the 14 bus from South Ken after midnight, but I was never invited in.

. said...

Y un ano y medio despues de ver esta pelicula estas dirigiendo Traicion en un rincon del mundo, pero cercano a Pinter.