Posts Tagged ‘David Farrar’


Gone to Earth represents the confluence of three of the most important elements in my mental universe: Powell & Pressburger, Jennifer Jones, and (proto-)animal rights (linked–as in the novella I’m launching tonight!–to a critiique of patriarchy). So don’t expect anything resembling objectivity from me on this one (or at any time, really–I hate prescriptive criticism, and I don’t practice it!)

But I suppose we can start by praising something that even the film’s detractors (and they are legion) agree upon–the cinematography by Christopher Challis. I think the above image speaks for itself, no?

If not–how ’bout this one?


I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film that does a better job of conveying the frankly mystical connection that human beings have to the landscape of their chosen home (Melville called it the “all-feeling”), WITHOUT sentimentalizing it. Those woods are lovely, dark and deep–and so are the characters who inhabit the area, and the narrative.

The film may travel under the guise of a mid-Victorian melodrama, but its guts are deeply existentialist. For me, the key to reading Gone to Earth is the double-character of Hazel (JJ)/Foxy. There’s no question that Hazel’s extraordinary flight across the hunting grounds is intended to recall the scene of Eliza and her baby on the ice floes (in Uncle Tom’s Cabin)–but it’s the differences that matter.

Hazel castigates Squire (squire!) Reddin (Farrar) for “having blood on him,” but she and her surrogate child aren’t blameless either–on several occasions, we see Foxy invading the chicken coop, and Hazel herself bites into a drumstick, early in the narrative. These two are implicated in an economy of horrific violence, just like everyone else in our world. Not for a moment is the protagonist presented as “defenseless,” in classic melodramatic terms. Jennifer Jones is pretty much incapable of playing a weak human being anyway–and her oeuvre, as a whole, constitutes one of the most sweeping feminist critiques of the 20th century. In almost every one of her films, her natural authority and vivacity (Foxy’s “woof”) are warped by patriarchal discourse. Her protean spirit is NEVER broken, but is always in danger of being channeled in an unproductive direction. Often, the best the world has to offer her is an escape hatch–as here, when all of her hopes go down the drain, at the film’s startling conclusion. It’s as if the filmmakers are saying that, because Hazel refused to dive into the foxhole of a prescribed gender role, she and her fox have no place to go but into a black hole in the narrative (and in the culture). That’s an extraordinarily damning statement–and one that’s pretty hard to disagree with.

And yet–it’s a beautiful world, and there are many good things in it–worth desiring. “Keep yourself to yourself”–that’s what Hazel’s mother recommended–and it sounds like good advice, but it’s not a sound philosophy. Powell and Pressburger are NOT ascetics. They treated that life option with a great deal of dignity in Black Narcissus (in the figure of the holy man–who successfully ignores the landscape–but at what cost?), but in Gone to Earth the closest analogue is Reddin’s evil-minded servant (a cousin of Wuthering Heights‘ Joseph):


Renunciation is explicitly renounced by the narrative–and I think Edward (Cyril Cusack), is absolutely correct when he takes the blame for setting the narrative’s tragic chain of events into motion by offering Hazel a marriage without sex. Yes, she calls him “her soul”–and what she really means is that she trusts him to take care of her real soul–Foxy… but, again, at what cost? Foxy’s cute little fox house (like the minister’s own cottage–complete with colonized mother), is clearly a prison of sorts. And it’s to Edward’s credit that he comes to understand his role as jailer–after a violent fit causes this knowledge to bubble up into his conscious mind…

But how about David Farrar’s stock “evil squire” Reddin?


Well you know, I’d say if you had invested in that stock, you’d have lost all of your money by the end of the film. Reddin is, in fact, the site of the film’s most ingenious (and even subtly hopeful) subterfuge. The character’s inconsistent behaviour reminds us that patriarchy imposes roles upon MEN too. He’s a violent sleezeball, there’s no question about that–but once he and Hazel consummate their strange passion (and here I want to disagree–despite the undeniable surface similarities, introduced in order to pull us into the skewed gender paradigm of Harlequin style romance–with critics who claim that this relationship depends upon Gone With the Wind-style “women want to be raped” foundations… Jennifer Jones is not Vivian Leigh–and she is NEVER cowed/overpowered by Farrar in this film… she does respond to his clearly focused desire–I fervently believe that every human being wants to be desired–but when she finally embraces him, it’s on her own terms), he exhibits none of the qualities of his melodramatic genus–when the pair are alone

Unfortunately, for all concerned, he reverts to type when society, in the form of Edward, invades the sanctum:


In one split second–and this atmospheric jump cut is the key to the film’s critique of the genre it ostensibly participates in–the Squire appears to remember that he is supposed to be the villain of the piece, and, as Shelley (in The Masque of Anarchy) would put it, adopts the mask of Castlereagh:


“…One by one, and two by two

He tossed them human [and Foxy] hearts to chew”

The film presents social existence as a terrible fox hunt through a lush countryside–in which our roles are preordained by economic and gender imperatives. This is perhaps most shockingly dramatized by Hazel’s refusal to give up the role of prey to the hounds, when the Squire (outfitted in the gestapo outfit of the huntsman) makes a sincere last ditch attempt to pull Foxy out of her arms, to safety… And yet, the very fact that we observe moments of ontological tenderness between these overdetermined stock characters seems to suggest that this tragedy (and the one we are currently living together) might have (and, for us, might still?) ended differently…

Yesterday night, I gave this an A/A+… but I think I’ve talked myself into the full A+!


good afternoon friends!


Read Full Post »


I’ve really been Powell and Pressburging my luck lately–revisiting some old favourites and filling in the gaps. Absolutely no disappointments so far. Quite the reverse, actually. I’m more fascinated by these guys than ever before!

Case in point–The Small Back Room (1949).

How’d I ever miss this one?

(I know how–it just wasn’t available in North America until Criterion released a beautiful DVD last year)

I just watched the film yesterday, and I already can’t imagine life without it–which is not to say that I’ve figured out where it fits in the P & P canon.

Just some impressionistic rambling then…

Byron and Farrar–astonishingly good (and about as far from their Black Narcissus characterizations as you can get):


Apparently, the film repulsed British cinemagoers in 1949, prompting director Powell to suspect that he had done TOO GOOD a job of exposing (in extreme close up) the guts of a less-than-perfect-but-intense relationship between a man and a woman… Speaking as a once(and probably future) co-dependent individual, I have to admit that the couple’s scenes were hard to watch, but also magnificently compelling and true. And the fact that the narrative’s “happy ending” presents the triumph of the antithesis of what the self-help books would call “healthy love” can’t have helped!


Oh yes–love is neurosis and shared delusions.

And when one person pulls out of the tale-spin (say, by removing her picture from the frame), the other one is often doomed to self-scrutiny…


Which usually isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.

Thank goodness the bombs are still ticking! (they help to drown out the clocks…)

One of the most amazing things about the movie (which I certainly consider a film noir, even if many wouldn’t) is the way it brings the essentially pre-adult aspects of Hawksian “professionalism” into sharp focus (yes, we’re venturing into Leslie Fiedler territory here).

The contrast between the beautifully noir compositions of the scenes from Sammy and Susan’s private life (in their flat, at the local pub, at the Hickory Club, inside Sammy’s brain), and the brilliantly even lighting of the (physically) dangerous scenes on location is hard to miss. Only the thrill of doing his job keeps Sammy off the sulk (and the ever-present threat of the bottle). People (especially Susan) are forever speculating about this guy’s psychological age (with the numbers ranging from six to ten)–but is it really “grown up” to run off and play in the sunshine (even if the game involves the possibility of dying)? I’m not saying that it isn’t important to do a thing well–especially when what you do can help to save lives–but I don’t think it’s MORE important (as in Hawks) than figuring out where you stand with the people who are closest to you (as Byron/Susan asks: “Why am I the only person you can get tough [I think she means petulant] with?” … that’s not a question that would come up in a Hawks film–Susan’s job in the HH universe would be to learn to appreciate the superior importance of his calling)

From the little I’ve read about the film, people seem to be quite annoyed with the expressionistic presentation of Sammy’s struggle with the bottle and the clocks.


It seems “heavy-handed”? Of course it does–it’s the phantasmagoria of a self-pitying brat. I find it extraordinarily appropriate. The next time I watch Only Angels Have Wings, I’ll keep this waking nightmare sequence in mind. It might help me to understand the behaviour of the characters in that movie–although not, of course, in the way the director would like us to.

And then again–some of Sammy’s “childishness” really bears interesting fruit. Most notably his comment, when refusing to get up and participate in the main social activity promoted by the Hickory Club, that: “Men and women are all the same when they dance.” On the one hand, it’s a Ramones-style “I don’t want to grow up” moment–but it’s also a remarkably pithy summary of the fear that neuro-biology is painting us into a corner (of life’s dance-floor)… Perhaps there’s no difference between the sides of the coin that I’m attempting to mint here–but my own (almost certainly neurotic) sense of Sammy’s meaning here is that he’s grasping for a romantic relationship that is absolutely shorn of all cultural prescriptions.

Of course–in that end–they fail miserably.

However, at least they get to live with this awesome cat.


Oh–before I hit “publish”–I feel compelled to mention one of the greatest soliloquy set-pieces in P & P’s oeuvre… In the tradition of Anton Walbrook’s narrative of his journey from Nazi Germany to his beloved (and now deceased) wife’s homeland, Renee Asherson tore my heart out with her short-hand notes from an experiment gone awry.


I love that woman (although I must admit, when she first appeared on the screen, I thought she was Glynis Johns–whom I also love…)

Good afternoon friends!


Read Full Post »