The Third International after Lenin

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Politics & Sidney Lumet II


John Wight

In tribute to film director Sidney Lumet, who died on April 9 at the age of 86, here are clips from what to my mind were his three greatest movies - Twelve Angry Men (1957) with Henry Fonda; The Hill (1965) with Sean Connery; and Dog Day Afternoon (1975) with Al Pacino.

Lumet was a master at merging social realism with psychodrama, as the three examples posted illustrate. He was also a great humanitarian, a liberal filmmaker who depicted his characters with tremendous sympathy and who managed to coax classic and career defining performances from some of cinema’s finest actors. Sean Connery’s performance in The Hill, for example, was in my opinion the best of his career, though Harry Andrews does come close to outshining him.

Movies which stand the test of time are rare. Rarer still is the director who directs not just one timeless work but three in a career, as Lumet did.

He was without a shadow of a doubt one of the finest film directors of the 20th century, ahead of his time both in terms of the themes he tackled and the craftsmanship he brought to the execution of those themes. Twelve Angry Men, if pitched as an idea today, would be rejected as being too uncinematic and dialogue heavy. The ability to carry a movie set in one location, which Lumet did by dividing up that one location into multiple locations, and sustain the tension throughout, was a work of cinematic genius.

He was a great believer in extensive periods of rehearsal with his actors before shooting began, anapproach which many directors scorn as the death knell of spontaneity. But as Lumet himself said: “All great work is preparing yourself for the accident to happen.”

In his case the ‘accident’ happened time after time.

1 comment:

  1. MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS: vigilantism; rich privilege; Ratchet the ugly American Robber Baron. Poirot: finale group therapy where culprits finally confess and reveal the fictions of their false reality. Love,friendship,duty made them prisoners until they committed a shocking crime to "pay off" their indivdual moral obligations collectively.
    Again from Fromm: "Humanistic psychoanalysis, a revision of Freudian psychoanalysis, which is rather concerned with the totality of human experience than only with strivings and drives, can clearly show that in all past and current societies man has been only partially awake, and that the larger part of what he consciously thinks is fiction, given to him by society, not only as a component of unavoidable oppression but also positively as ideology."
    Christie loved the theater, and MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is like all her novels intensely theatrical: characters enter and exit, are given the opportunity to explain and mis-explain themselves and their motivations repeatedly, until truth emerges from a careful fitting together of the mountain of contradictions that Poirot has fit together and confirmed with a few telegrams.
    Poirot in MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS is the director who educates and explores, his insights like heat-lightning: symbolic but finally unimportant weather.
    MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS unites the upstairs/downstairs characters in one goal: death to the primitive accumulationist for his crime.
    But the objective world will not let them slip away in the morning in [Paris?] and think they have acted without consequence to themselves. So a snowstorm strands the train in huge drifts, allowing the crime to be discovered, and allowing Poirot his chance to intervene.
    Poirot plays the role, as crime fiction detective must [especially in the classical English "Guilty Vicarage" mystery], of Bonapartist ruler: given carte blanche by the capitalist-monopolist class {Martin Balsam] to resolve the social crises [the murder mystery] by any means at his disposal.

    Poirot as psychologist, again from Fromm's "Freud and Marx" : "The psychoanalyst is not an artist or dramatist, he is no Shakespeare, but he has to have the eyes of a dramatist to be able to conceive the reality of man. In what a great artist universally depicts, the analyst has to see what is “really real” in man."

    anti-Nixon movie? Ratchet as Nixon?
    Ratchet perpetrates original socio-political sin.

    The crisis of Liberalism: people of high and low station driven to "crime" because crisis cannot be resolved in any other way. Only solution when the crises has reached an unsurpassed peak [the murder] is for the high arbiters of monopoly finance [Martin Balsam] to install a Bonapartist [the detective] to resolve the crisis.