A Single Man (US, 2009)

Dreamy memories

Not having high expectations of a film can often lead to an exaggerated appreciation when the film is found to be good, or even very good. I’d been put off A Single Man by the vibe that the fashion was beautiful to look at and so I suspected that first time director, and fashion designer, Tom Ford would not be offering a cinematic film. Of course, there was the buzz about Colin Firth’s performance but I’d never been a fan. Then I was ‘blown away’ by the film.

It does look sensationally good but rarely slips into prettifying the image for its own sake. Even the scene above, which I found too stylised, could be said to be a manifestation of the protagonist’s memories as it’s a flashback. It was clear very early on that Ford does have a feel for cinema that went beyond the beautifully composed shots; Eduard Grau is the cinematographer. The editing, too, is terrific, particularly when George (Firth) goes to see Charley (Moore) on learning of his lover’s death; take a bow editor Joan Sobel. And the music score, particularly the writing for viola, is beautiful and entirely in tune with the melodrama.

A single man and a single woman

Then there’s the performances. Julianne Moore develops her ‘brittle housewife’ persona, here she’s pickled in booze and is never less than brilliant. Nicholas Hoult (familiar from the first season of Skins – Channel 4) manages a very tricky role extremely well. Colin Firth: I was bowled over by his brilliance. He manages the grandstanding scenes and the quiet repression of the character equally brilliantly. For the first part of the film he looks like a corpse (fantastic lighting and/or make up).

The era – it’s one day in 1962 – is captured with elan; and it’s not too heavy handed with The Bay of Pigs references which was a defining aspect of the time. As the film’s focusing on one man’s crisis it’s right that he should dominate – Firth is in every scene. I don’t normally warm to ‘gay-themed’ films (I don’t believe I’m homophobic, it’s simply that I’m not relating to the characters as I normally might) however this was different as George’s sexuality – while crucial to the plot given the homophobic times in which it is set – doesn’t define his character. He is a human being wracked by grief and engulfed by the ennui of a mid-life crisis; something everyone can suffer. I even found the shots of naked men swimming beautiful; their bodies fragmented in the way women’s usually are.

The film’s stuck with me the day after I’ve seen it so I suspect it will be one of my films of the year and I’m looking forward to teaching it.

The Rex, Elland

As an aside, this was the first time I’d visited the old fashioned cinema The Rex, in Elland. It’s not clear from the picture, but there is an organ in front of the screen.  The screen is placed high up and it is a very comfortable place to watch films. It was a slightly peculiar audience; one woman complained when a poor bloke was wracked by coughs or when someone had the audacity to laugh.  Screenings at The Rex are always stopped half way through for ice creams; for those who are old this brings back the past. It is, of course, sacrilegious as it risks breaking the spell of the film. However, it also offered an opportunity to discuss the film which is a positive All for £4 too; beats the anodyne impersonality of multiplexes easily.

I rough guess suggested that men were outnumbered by 10 to one, presumably Colin Firth still has a large fan club from his D’Arcy days in the 1990s; I don’t think they were disappointed.

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3 Responses

  1. “Not having high expectations of a film can often lead to an exaggerated appreciation when the film is found to be good, or even very good.” I can relate to this… I used to only watch new releases, but I have been checking out some older movies that I have never heard of. Some many of them have been so bad that when one is good, I tell everyone about it.

  2. […] best new film, along with A Single Man, I’ve seen so far this year so experience it in the immersive environment of the cinema while […]

  3. […] if Firth gets his Oscar I wonder whether it’s more in acknowledgment of his brilliance in A Single Man, when sentiment sent the Academy to Jeff […]

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