Sunday, February 3, 2008

Tom Jones

"Tom Jones" (Tony Richardson, 1964) I have been hearing for years and reading in books of the freshness and originality of "Tom Jones," and after seeing it, one wonders what all the fuss was about. Yes, it's fun and frivolous. Yes, it won the Academy award for Best Picture. Finney is marvelous, but one also looks at the techniques used and must admit that it has not aged at all well. One must be careful, though, as a film should be considered as it was of its time. The current discussion (one could hardly call it a controversy) where "The Searchers" is a classic--for the simple reason that its sensibilities are of another time and picture-making makes one wary of arguments like this. I've also had to defend "2001" for being full of cliches--yes 'tis, considering every "space" or sci-fi movie since then has ripped it off--merely because it was of a time and sensibility. To someone growing up on MTV cutting "2001" must look stunningly tame (Be that as it may, I'll bet an MTV movie-goer, would still be affected by "long-take" syndrome, where the longer a film-scene goes on, the more nervous-making it becomes.

They'd never have that problem with "Tom Jones." But after sitting on it a week, dissipating the expectations and prejudices and going in for another viewing, one has found the context: the past is not a pageant. Historical dramas before it, were as stiff as the multi-layered costumes and as formal as a ball-waltz. "Tom Jones" got rid of the tracking camera and the stately walks, and made the 2-dimensional costume-fillers 3-dimensional people, and did so with a markedly ribald sense of humor, and the understanding that what drove them, drives us. Since then, Richard Lester and Ridley Scott (and Merchant/Ivory and everybody else making historical dramas of classic novels) has taken Richardson's path and taken the "hit-the-marks" formalism out, and lensed with a satirical eye to show us the past and how we repeat it. "Tom Jones" bursting on the scene must have felt as relieving as removing a whale-bone corset!

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