The nuts-and-bolts aspect of filmmaking has always fascinated me, if somewhat intimidated; it takes a lot of skill to write a compelling story and flowing dialogue, come up with a perfect visual palette, and put those pieces together just so in order to tell a good story. As the superstar hype and fabu-celeb idolatry has become entrenched in the last decade or so (hello internet, I love you, but…), my interest in films and the art of making them has somewhat waned, and these days I’m more likely to watch documentaries or classic films than contemporary fare. That’s not to say I think the stuff out now is crap – I’d love to see True Grit, The Fighter, and especially The King’s Speech -but the hype puts me off. Maybe it’s the move to middle age, working in the entertainment industry, or a cynicism that’s gradually entrenched itself into my perspective. Maybe it’s too much BBC and not enough Cookie Monster.
The Hollywood we’ll see tomorrow night on the red carpet -in all its floor draper, shoulder-baring, spray-tanned, primped-up glory -isn’t the reality, and everyone knows that, and no one cares. And really, it doesn’t matter anyway. What matters is celebrating the image we’re being sold. On a personal level, that parade of glitz and glam wasn’t why I fell in love with movies. The dance of light, shadow, colour, and texture with words, sounds, tones, and finally, silence is, and will always be, magical.
I saw Tom Ford‘s film (based on a work by Christopher Isherwood) just this afternoon, and I am not sure I can properly articulate its beauty in any meaningful way. The film revolves around George Falconer, a professor in 1962 Los Angeles, who has recently lost his partner. Ford features several long, meditative shots of Firth, whether he’s looking for something for breakfast, sitting in his car, sorting through his bank box, or remembering his times spent with Jim (Matthew Goode). George’s life is both bereft of life and hefty with love, as his interactions with his lifelong friend Charlotte (Julianne Moore) and new friend Kenny (Nicholas Hoult) demonstrate. With keen use of colour, a gorgeous sense of framing, and a flair for considered shading, Ford nicely balances the silence and the symphony, both literal and figurative. It’s an immense achievement that silently yet masterfully articulates the life of one man in quietly desperate circumstances.
Along with being a play on ideas of the single and solitary, the film is a meditation on aging. I was especially moved by the lingering close-ups of Firth’s expressive, natural face. No smooth-faced, muscled-up, botoxed Hollywood star, one could see the rough bumps and expression lines a late forty-something man has, and has righteously earned. In no way do those wrinkles detract from Firth’s physical attributes; in fact, they add to his attractiveness. In other words, never mind theDarcys -here’s the real thing. A Single Man gives us an honest portrait of an outsider -talented, articulate, even playful -who feels rejected by a world that deems him undesirable and considers his contributions worthless. This is deeply related to the speech George delivers on fear to a classroom full of pie-eyed students. The relationship between fear and love is profound in any arena, and Ford nicely, effectively explores this connection, using, again, the palette of Firth’s incredible face. Such an achievement is rendered with the deftest of strokes, and the most subtle arrangement of light, colour, shape and shadow balancing with the close, hard facial shots. It’s not hard to identify Ford’s design background here, but his translation of it into a cinematic expression is nothing short of astonishing for its emotional resonance.
Walking amidst a street fair after the film, I was still haunted by the director’s beautiful vision, the actor’s aged face, the silence, the noise, the light and the shadows. Questions around youth, age, beauty, and love, and one’s perceived “worthiness” of each whispered about like midnight waves lapping at cold toes. Some things are, perhaps, best left unanswered, but the shining faces on the street -of young and old alike -enjoying the sunny day, and the simple joy of living, was a fitting counterpart, and a beautiful reminder of the very things Isherwood wrote of. Viva love. Viva life.