Wednesday, December 23, 2009

suturing the gap

Today's recommendation is Tom Ford's first film A Single Man. I normally hate period pieces. I hate them because they are always about the time in which they were made (cf. Philip Rosen) and the details that are attenuated, or the characters, always scream LOOK! HERE WE ARE! JUST IN THE PAST! STANDING AROUND AND TALKING ABOUT MAJOR HISTORICAL EVENTS! LIKE WE DID! IN THE PAST! WHICH IS WHERE WE ARE BY THE WAY. BUT WITH PRESENT-DAY HAIRCUTS, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

(Apologies to Philip Rosen, whose book Change Mummified: Cinema, Historicity, Theory explains this far better than I ever could.

A major theme of A Single Man, as articulated by the characters, is letting go of the past, which works on a macro level because the film itself is an act of clinging to the past in its obsessive, beautiful rendering of a moment past. The shifting of the color palettes in the film, while unsubtle, drive home the point that at some moments the present becomes, well, presence (Cf. Lefebvre), and kept time and understood time align. The film follows a middle-aged English professor on the day he has decided to commit suicide, following the death of his lover some months prior.

Yet, as other reviewers have pointed out, this film is among the most thorough cinematic recreations of a time past. Does nostalgia color my perception here? Yes. I was not alive to see 1962, but I feel this has to be a more live and real depiction of life as it was lived than the glossy Mad Men, which constantly roots itself in its time by having the characters experience historical events and talk about them (caveat: I've only seen one episode; I didn't like it). Day to day life is often ignored in media depictions of the past. Everything is then-new and all characters in historic or period fiction seem to have a prescient understanding of what events define their era. One of the strengths of A Single Man is the ways in which the specificity of the time period is secondary; important world events are mere media background noise. The focus is on the person, in that moment, that just happened to be THAT moment, and the web of interactions he navigates on that day.

But other than theoretical blathering about this film, I'm recommending it for a slew of reasons. I haven't seen many films in the theater this year, but this is by far the best that I've seen.

* Everyone has already talked about Colin Firth's performance, so I'll put this on the list. All the performances in this film are superb.

* I personally found the depiction of 1960s academia engaging and hilarious. The office, the classroom, the students - it brought to life the halcyon days of Real Academic Freedom written about so often.

* Besides the incredible attention to detail, the film is beautiful - visually striking without the marketed, overbearing, slick appearance of mainstream Hollywood fare.

*As my friend Brandon Fibbs has pointed out, the score is beautiful.

* The story, obviously, is engaging on many levels. It's human and simple. It's really just about love and loss. But it also depicts the struggles of the GLBT minority in the 1960s in a way that relates to the ongoing fight for GLBT rights.

* The narrative structure - filled with analepses - fleshes out and makes complicated and humane the characters' struggle; in another format, George could have become fairly unlikable. That the narrative itself doesn't remained moored in the diegetic present further reinforces the message that we experience time fluidly. What to make of that message? Do we or do we not live in the past? Does mediating any feeling or idea effectively freeze it in a moment and create some kind of temporal disjunct between the Now and the Then?

Obviously, I have been writing way too many stuffy final papers lately. So I'll just say that you should go out and see this movie RIGHT NOW.

In today's awful, hyper-kinetic, dreadful world, the act of watching cinema itself seems an act of the past; cinema is so firmly and popularly rooted in the ~20th century and often I think the present (or presence) has eclipsed it. Therefore, I recommend that you defy this downward/forward progression and see A Single Man.

To find out if this film is playing near you, click here!


  1. Your academic predilections are showing in the most lovely way!

    Now I'll need to go to the theaters once this bout of HAMTRHAX is over.


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