Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Stop me if I've mentioned this before, but has it ever seemed like the phrase, "This filmmaker understood women better than anyone else" tends to be uttered by male critics & buffs, and always about male directors? What's missing from this equation?

Anyway, Joseph Losey's Steaming (though based on a screen adaptation by his wife Patricia from a play by a woman, Nell Dunn) is the sort of film--though it admittedly has a pretty unenviable reputation--that might inspire this kind of "understanding women" observation. And despite that bad reputation (Senses of Cinema Great Directors writer Dan Callahan, who seems to have expected and demanded psychological plausibility & verisimiltude above all else, calls it "a catastrophic adaptation of a bad play") ... I was actually floored by the film in a lot of ways.

Steaming, being a play adaptation (and a talky one in a single setting at that), is "stagey," of course, which sometimes gets unfairly proffered as shorthand for "uncinematic." But this is not fair to Losey, for starters, an intelligent man who spent difficult decades working in various film industries, genres, and languages, never able to comfortably master & coast in one, but able to cobble together a few overriding themes (claustrophobia, emotional anxieties, a certain amount of morally-serious progressive political dedication) despite the highly diverse natures of his projects. Steaming is a mildly (and I think quite intentionally) schematic work which plays to a lot of the broader issues that Losey has spent these longs years investigating in so many contexts. It hits certain buttons quite deliberately: men/women, bourgeois/working class, work/leisure, stuffiness/release. But as a film, at the very least, it's also a pretty lively affair, I think, thanks in large part to Losey's intelligently omnipresent camera (the camera placement and movements are actually not so "stagey," and appear from all manner of spots within the setting of the Turkish baths, carving out a continuous space that feels slowly, slowly more like a home to us, a comfort, as we watch).

Colors are more or less drab but intentionally so: fleshtones (of course), a lot of whites and neutrals, some blues, and brown wood. The film is a veritable treatise on the ways cloth moves on bodies--'wet drapery,' that stronghold of Western art; the movements of towels and cloths and swimsuits and hosiery. The acting is all right in terms of Oscar-nominee kinds of performances, "convincing" and all that--given how much of the film is focused on the women's bodies, however, it's vital to comprehend that simple physiognomy is at least as important to each performance as convincing, "realistic" enunciation and body language are. Vanessa Redgrave and Sarah Miles play two old friends who haven't seen each other in a while; Redgrave tells Miles early on that she looks incredibly sexy ('How do you get sexier as you get older?'), which plays out visually throughout the rest of the film in the way that Miles--playing a career woman--is more confident with her body, which I don't mean as a sexual tool mind you but as a body, while tall, imperious Redgrave is somewhat shy and perhaps even a little ashamed of hers (a sentiment expressed once in dialogue but really driven home by means of small visual & performative cues).

* * *

On last note on the question of politics & representation. The video box to the film, Steaming, says the story is about "six women." But there is a seventh who doesn't have much in the way of lines until the final act or so (she's present & visible before this however). In the film she is played by a black woman, though I have no idea if this is indicated in Dunn's play; this insinuates at least a small mention of race into a play that quite openly deals with class issues among its women protagonists. But what I find interesting is that this woman--in the film, at least, this black woman--seems to be the non-character amidst a half-dozen "characters," all of whom have more evenly distributed lines and back stories. Why has it turned out like this? Was the character (possibly the only one of the seven in "the meeting" near the film's end) originally written as race-neutral, and did Joseph and/or Patricia Losey decide that precisely because she was a cipher, they'd cast her with a black woman to visually point to (if not delve into by way of dialogue) this question of race? Or maybe they paid little heed to this at all, and the best person who auditioned for the part was black and they just went with it. Or did Nell Dunn write her like this, black and literally left almost mute until the long group scenes near the end? (If so, why was she relegated to the sidelines?)


Clenbuterol said...

I have heard this phrase "This filmmaker understood women better than anyone else" about an author of the book "Loneliness in the network", and the person who said this was obviously wrong, it is impossible!!

Viagra Online said...

That phrase is totally contradictory because we never understand women because they change they way of thinking quickly they're so difficult.