The Phoenix Network:
About  |  Advertise
Adult  |  Moonsigns  |  Band Guide  |  Blogs  |  In Pictures
Features  |  Reviews
Find a Movie
Movie List
Loading ...
Find Theaters and Movie Times
Search Movies

Glee and venom

Lacerating Harold Pinter at the Harvard Film Archive
By MICHAEL ATKINSON  |  May 8, 2007

THE PUMPKIN EATER: Pure savage dialogue for Peter Finch and Anne Bancroft.

Of the great modernist playwrights, Harold Pinter has had the most intimate relationship with film, having wrangled with movies and TV, as an adapter or an adaptee, in more than 60 projects over almost 50 years. That includes no fewer than five versions of his abstracted 1957 psychodrama The Birthday Party. (Scandinavians, generally speaking, cannot stop filming Pinter.) It’s easy to see why: he’s the wordsmith who taught culture that dramatic arenas are by definition built out of presumption, questionable faith, and the bottomless mystery of language. The nailbiting bridge between Beckett and Mamet in his plays, Pinter has at the same time been happy to subsume his stylizations to the service of other visions. It’s unlikely that any other screenwriter has adapted as many eminent authors: Kafka, Fitzgerald, Bowen, Hartley, Fowles, Atwood, McEwan, etc., though sometimes the results have resembled the work of any dozen other hyper-literate British writers.

As laid bare in the Harvard Film Archive retrospective that starts this Sunday, Pinter’s career in movies is spotty. Of course, the blame for the failure of such films as Elia Kazan’s THE LAST TYCOON (1976; May 27 at 7 pm and May 28 at 5 pm) rarely falls on the scriptwriter, particularly one who’s established as a theatrical pioneer, and who’s famous as well for writing what’s been published as The Proust Screenplay, an unproduced adaptation that’s occasionally hailed as the greatest screenplay ever written. (One supposes you’d have to finish reading Proust, as I haven’t, to assess that claim.) Winning a Nobel late in the day clinches the deal.

But the contribution Pinter’s voice made to the ’60s British New Wave is indelible. His partnership with Joseph Losey virtually defined British cinema between 1963 and 1970, and that definition became one of the New Wave era’s most caustic portraits of national consciousness anywhere. There’s an element of disenchantment in the johnny-come-lately American and German New Waves, but for the most part it was the Brits whose films rummaged through their own society’s closet of prejudices and injustices and hung it all out to dry like plucked chickens. The biggest bone of contention was class. THE SERVANT (1963; May 25 at 7 pm and May 26 at 9 pm) remains both its director’s and its screenwriter’s pre-eminent work, a methodical, shadowy sociological knife fight between a wealthy, complacent bachelor (James Fox) and his hired manservant (Dirk Bogarde), who acts like a polite agent of low-birth political chaos, maliciously challenging every tenet of power and privilege the upper classes hold dear. Subtle but as forceful as a plank to the face, The Servant might be the toughest-minded and, outside of Powell & Pressburger, the most resonant British film of the post-war era.

1  |  2  |  3  |   next >
Related: American original, Where is the love - side, They always beat Gypsies, More more >
  Topics: Features , Entertainment, Music, Pop and Rock Music,  More more >
  • Share:
  • Share this entry with Facebook
  • Share this entry with Digg
  • Share this entry with Delicious
  • RSS feed
  • Email this article to a friend
  • Print this article
Glee and venom
Enjoyed one of the most astute, "spot on" articles I have read recently. I especially appreciate your inclusion of time and place in the review. It seems for the most part, many reviewer/writers have lost a sense of history. Thanks; I'll keep an eye out for more of your comments!:)
By Afsone on 09/17/2007 at 4:43:09

Share this entry with Delicious
    However we may still praise, and therefore bury, the American New Wave, we do still run the genuine risk of slipping down the wormhole slicked by present-moment techno obsessions and amnesiac entertainment-media narcissism.
  •   REVIEW: CHE  |  January 13, 2009
    An ambitious, whole-hog, four-hour-plus bio-pic of Che Guevara, c'mon.
  •   DREAM CATCHER  |  November 25, 2008
    Karen Shakhnazarov at the MFA
  •   ENDS OF THE EARTH  |  November 07, 2008
    Now in its 20th incarnation, the Boston Jewish Film Festival is almost the oldest three-ring circus of its kind (San Francisco’s annual program got there first by nine years), and in that span we’ve seen the elusive idea of “Jewish film” become an institution.
  •   KINO PRAVDA  |  August 26, 2008
    Because Mosfilm, the subject of the Museum of Fine Arts’ “Envisioning Russia” retrospective, was the Soviet state production studio, any cross-section of its history lays out the entirety of Soviet film history.

 See all articles by: MICHAEL ATKINSON

RSS Feed of for the most popular articles
 Most Viewed   Most Emailed 

  |  Sign In  |  Register
Phoenix Media/Communications Group:
Copyright © 2009 The Phoenix Media/Communications Group