Sunday, 24 April 2016

Alternate Best Actor 1971: Paul Scofield in King Lear

Paul Scofield did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying the titular character in King Lear.

King Lear is Shakespeare's tragedy about the fallout after an elderly monarch foolishly divides his Kingdom among his daughters. King Lear, despite being often hailed as one of Shakespeare's greatest works, is not noted in terms of its cinematic adaptations, well other than the  Japanese version, that I hear is quite good. This is perhaps the most noted adaptation in the English language, that bears the original title, and it is a rather forgotten film. This version of King Lear was not especially well received when it was released, and it is apparently much too obscure today for a reappraisal. It is understandable why though director Peter Brook has a personal vision for the material. That vision though is that of an overwhelming gloom as the film is more of filmed in black and grey than black and white. It's a dark world this Lear lives in to begin with and the progression of the story simply allows the people to more closely fit in with the mood of their surroundings.

This adaptation of  King Lear stands as Paul Scofield's only major Shakespearean role on film, he had minor roles in Branagh's Henry V and Zeffirelli's Hamlet, despite being one of the most highly regarded Shakespearean actors of all time. Well as his one major cinematic performance utilizing the bard's work it is certainly an interesting one. Now it should be no surprise to anyone whose ever seen any performance by Paul Scofield that he thrives with Shakespeare's words. Scofield frankly does this with any writers' work with his precise and so eloquent manner of speaking that helps to create that rather unique cinematic presence of his. Scofield excels in this regard as he's particularly effective in the way he manages to find the beauty in the words while still always making them grounded in a definite reality. Scofield's approach is flawless in this regard since his delivery seems effortless to the point that it is entirely natural while in no way lacking a certain style all the same. Again though this should be no surprise for one familiar with Scofield's work, however what might be more surprising is in his approach to the old King Lear.

Laurence Olivier and Ian McKellen, both great Shakespearean actors in their own right, would later play King Lear. In both of their performances they approach the role of Lear as really a kindly old man at heart, which seems to be the most common approach to the part. Scofield though completely rejects such an approach evidenced from his first scene where Lear decides on the division of his Kingdom based upon his how his daughters express their love for him. From the start of it Scofield takes even an unorthodox approach to his physical depiction of the man's age. Instead of having the grace of a nice old white haired man, Scofield instead plays it as though Lear is a man fighting against his years in a way. Scofield expresses the wear in his face yet he never shows Lear to embrace it, as there is this certain tension about it as though Lear is attempting to keep his features that of younger man. However the age cannot not be hidden, from his grey hair, to his sunken features, and his quivering lip, which is a particularly brilliant touch by Scofield, and there is a certain unease to be found by Scofield portraying Lear as a man not fully comfortable with himself.

Scofield's daring approach continues though as he makes Lear a rather harsh man from the beginning. In the opening scene as he concerns himself with his daughters' gifts, his question to each of them of how much they love him does not seem that of just a old man looking for some comfort, but rather that of ruler demanding a concise answer to resolve the current matter of his Kingdom. Scofield places an emphasis on the idea of this King with his performance. In Scofield's portrayal there is that gravitas of a proper monarch, and the forcefulness of a man who has truly made an impact on his country. Scofield projects the power of the man's personality in the scene as there seems to be a great leader and perhaps warrior in his Lear. The only problem is that this is still made something of the past by Scofield, as he shows the scorn of age in his work, as the strength of such a many has slowly left him, though he certainly tries to hold onto it. Now with this approach Scofield actually is a particularly cold Lear, especially in the opening scene of the film where he rejects his daughter Cordelia because she refuses to play his little game to claim her inheritance. Scofield makes this work incredibly well as he importantly is able to suggest that this coldness is not that of an unloving person, but rather of a strict ruler.

King Lear's choice to reject Cordelia, while rewarding his elder daughters Goneril and Regan, quickly results in a chaos of a power struggle since his others daughters were not nearly as loyal as they proclaimed. Scofield utilizes his initial setup for Lear's in a fascinating fashion as now he goes a step further than a man slowly discovering the turmoil caused by his decision, but also explores the life of the King as he tries to be a man no longer as true King. Scofield displays well this definite awkwardness in Lear as he struggles to no longer be King in a way, and plays this almost gentle curiosity as he tries to go about his day at first as a man seemingly no longer burdened by his status. There is as well though an early sense of disbelief that Scofield conveys in Lear as shows the King to be genuinely surprised by the results of his actions. This only becomes worse though when he attempts to deal with his daughters and is treated as though he was nothing. Scofield is marvelous in the moment by making this betrayal particularly painful, as the sense of his once great standing as King seems to begin to fade from the man, and he becomes just the old man that his daughters view him as.

Scofield's work is amazing as he delivers the rage in the storm truly with the force of a man of such, former, power. Scofield turns this to not only a man who seems to raging as against his daughters treatment of him but also as a man turning his anger on fate itself as he must bear witness to the loss of all that he had. Scofield is fantastic the way he portrays this madness of the moment in Lear since he does not portray it as a detached psychosis, but rather a man specifically losing his mind due to having lost control of his realm. It is not a simple anger that Scofield reveals but also a terrible sadness within it as Lear falls apart along with his Kingdom. Scofield earns the moment wholly as all the seeds of weakness, his age, his daughters, his loss of power, weigh on him in the single moment reducing him to almost nothing. Lear though seems to have a chance at redemption as he finds that his daughter Cordelia has returned, and recognizes that she was the only one who loved him all along. Scofield is heartbreaking in the moment of realization in Lear, as he finally finds some warmth in the old man as he sees what he has done. What I love about Scofield's take though is he finds an even greater impact in this, as he makes the realization of more than just one mistake. Scofield instead finds a man understanding that being lost in his position caused him to be blind to his family. Scofield utilizing all that came before in making the strongest impact, as he loses that awkwardness as he becomes his age, and finally allows his own love for his daughter to fully reveal itself. Scofield's is truly affecting as he portrays the final scenes of the tragedy as a man recognizing his failures, and oh so briefly appreciating what he ignored. Scofield is perfection in Lear's final agonizing moments as he somberly accepts everything he ever cared for crumble around him in surprisingly quiet yet undeniably effective way. It is a shame Scofield's cinematic Shakespearean efforts were so limited, as this is a masterful portrayal by Scofield. He not only finds a unique approach to the character but from that finds an even greater depth to the tragedy of this King.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Alternate Best Actor 1971: Al Pacino in The Panic in Needle Park

Al Pacino did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Bobby in The Panic in Needle Park.

The Panic in Needle Park though effective in parts is a disjointed film that follows the relationship between two drug addicts, Helen (Kitty Winn) and Bobby.

This stands as Al Pacino's "The Men" in that it is his only leading turn which predates his major breakout with The Godfather. The earliest scenes of his performance in the film call upon something Pacino rarely ever called upon in the seventies or even later in his career that being a natural charm. As also shown in the Scarecrow a couple years later, also directed by Jerry Schatzberg, Pacino is more than capable in this regard and it is always interesting to see the actor, best known for the brooding Michael Corleone, to be able to relax a little bit. Pacino is indeed very charming here as he shows Bobby, in his best moments, to have this certain lust for existence itself as he goes about his random days in any way he wishes. Pacino brings the right exuberance to these moments, and most importantly realizes the appeal of Bobby as his relationship with Kitty initially begins. In the early scenes the drugs are more of in the background and Pacino has some very strong chemistry with Winn. They have the right ease with each other, and this is pivotal to the way they develop in the film. They are terrific in the way they create the initial basis of the co-dependence as they find the initial basis in a genuine affection, which Pacino makes particularly convincing by how engaging of a personality he is.

The central relationship though begins to find its rough patches right away though given that they are both drug addicts, and Bobby only encourages the use of harder drugs to Helen. Pacino quickly reveals that the charming side, though earnest in its own right, is not all there is to Bobby. Pacino is very good in developing Bobby's whole attachment to drugs which he does in an effectively casual fashion. That is when he uses heroine and encourages Helen to use it as well Pacino does not portray Bobby really giving anything a second thought. Pacino creates the sense of a true addict, who has been an addict for some time, in the way he does not suggest really even a moments hesitation at any point. Pacino instead portrays this as naturally as he does Bobby's charm. Pacino allows to be simply part of the life, and getting high is almost the same as breathing for him. There is a great moment early on for Pacino when Bobby asks Helen to score for him. Pacino is excellent in this scene as he bridges the charmer with the addict, and not even in a sinister way. Instead Pacino manages the connection in Bobby words as he makes it sound like a good step in their relationship, and what's remarkable is that Pacino makes sense of it, at least in terms of Bobby's view. Pacino finds an honesty in the request as he makes it of the genuine lover, rather than of a seedy user.

Now as the film progresses, and focuses far more closely on Helen than Bobby, though Pacino is still lead, it becomes far less concise and rather aimless. The point behind this is understandable, which I will get to in a moment, but it falters in that it fails to makes itself compelling enough within this aimlessness. Pacino's performance also becomes aimless though again understandably so. This is as Bobby begins to become all over the place, this is in part due to the greater focus on Helen, as we never witness a transition period, not even a brief one. In one scene Bobby will be raging against Helen for being a prostitute, the next he'll be loving her, the next he'll be high and lost, others he'll be overdosing and almost dying, the next still he'll be back to his charming self that wins Helen over once again. This not exactly as much of a problem as it might sound, and it certainly is not a problem with Pacino's performance. The reason being the film's goal as well as Pacino's is to capture the mess that the pair of co-dependent junkies becomes. The film's mess again is unfortunately not quite compelling enough, but Pacino should not be faulted. Pacino manages to capture any side of Bobby we might see at a given point and is convincing on that side. Whether that is bringing back the charm, or bringing a far uglier side in the intense anger that comes about in the worst moments of the relationship. The same goes in drifting from a seemingly functioning drug addict, to Pacino becoming a physical wreck whenever Bobby is suffering from too much or too little heroine. Pacino's work makes a cohesive whole out of the mess that Bobby is. I do have to admit though that the film's own weaknesses hinder Pacino a bit. However Pacino's performance on its own still stands as strong early indication of his talent as an actor.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Alternate Best Actor 1971: Oliver Reed in The Devils

Oliver Reed did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Father Urbain Grandier in The Devils.

The Devils is at the very least an interesting film about an anti-establishment priest being accused of witchcraft by a deranged nun.

Oliver Reed begins the film serving a very specific purpose, utilizing his apparent status as a heartthrob as he is ogled by the women in the convent due to his physical appearance. Although this will play an important part in terms of the development of the story, that thankfully is not Reed's only purpose within the film. The last two times I covered Oliver Reed it was in supporting roles as characters both shaped by violence. His leading turn here is in contrast to that as a most unusual priest. Now when we first see him he is just going about his duties as you'd expect any decent priest would, that being Reed brings the right solemn qualities as Grandier simply leads his flock so to speak. That is in a moment where he directly attached to being a servant of God though, and we quickly find Grandier is rather extraordinary priest to say this least. This comes to be seen the moment he mounts a different pulpit that being a political one to speak against the injustices attempted by the power hungry Cardinal Richelieu who wishes to persecute the protestants of France. Reed is outstanding in bringing the needed grand passion in Grandier's words as he denounces the Cardinal, and Reed realizes the righteous force which lies within him. Of course his less than ordinary ways as priest continue past the public sphere.

That refers to Grandier having various sexual liaisons with women which are not very well hidden, but again he does not try to either. Now this is an important aspect to the character which Reed develops very well. It is initially shown with Grandier certainly enjoying himself, which Reed does not shy away from suggesting a certain indulgence on the side of Grandier given an obvious lack of respect for one of the women he chooses to break his vows with. However Reed is quite good by providing the right honesty to Grandier's words as he states his lack of belief in the celibacy requirement. Now Reed does say this well, but it could still be seen earlier on as Grandier covering for himself. It goes beyond that when Grandier receives a confession from another woman Madeleine (Gemma Jones) who admits having sexual thoughts, and accidentally admits that they are about Grandier himself. Reed is excellent in this scene though as he calms her concerns by revealing Grandier's own approval of a lack of sexual repression. What's so wonderful about this is the way Reed brings such a tenderness in his words that never seem that of a lusty priest, but rather a benevolent man who believes this to be the intention of God.

Grandier soon take the woman Madeleine to be his wife by marrying her to himself. Reed in the ceremony scene again brings a powerful conviction to the words as Grandier fulfills his duty as a priest and as a husband at the same time. Reed in the moment reveals such a palatable devotion and belief in the ceremony. Reed is excellent in the scene as he seems to eliminate even the very idea that Grandier may at all be a hypocrite in the moment. Instead of seeming a man of going against what he believes, Reed is able to find the genuine fervor in Grandier's words, showing him to be a man of true faith whose actions are always directly connected with this faith. Reed's work is striking as he finds the perfect balance between a man of the world, and a religious priest. Reed is able to show it as one and the same, and in turn is able to develop Grandier as a rather special sort. It is not just a strong willed firebrand for justice, though he is indeed that, but also a true reformer. Reed's work is marvelous as he does not hide the elements of the man that one might normally consider saintly, yet allows you to understand everything that Grandier does that makes him seem to earn a certain degree of sainthood.

Now Oliver Reed essentially plays the one sane man in a mad country it seems, and in turn the one sane actor in a mad film. Now based on the evidence of this film and his later science fiction film Altered States it is obvious that director Ken Russell likely wholly encouraged an actor to go to for the extremes to match his equally flamboyant directorial style. Here the performances range from slightly off to full blown schizophrenia, but I don't mean that necessarily in a bad way. In this instance it works given the material which involves mass hysteria, but I would also say in part due to Oliver Reed. Reed is not in a different film, but he is importantly on a very different wavelength in terms of his approach for Grandier. Reed, much like Grandier himself, avoids the insanity imagined by Russell, just as Grandier avoids the insanity imagined by the nuns. Reed makes his performance very much stand out, in a very good way, by keeping Grandier very much a different person than the world around, by being so different from the film, as he goes about giving a realistic portrayal of this man. Reed acts as a necessary balancing factor in the film as he is steadfast in keeping Grandier as well as his performance wholly detached from the madness around them. 

Of course despite Grandier himself not being part of the mass hysteria, he unfortunately becomes the target of it due to the obsession of one nun in particular as well as because the power that be want him out of the way anyways. Grandier ends up being put in front of kangaroo court where he is accused of his crimes of witchcraft. Reed is excellent again playing so close to the chest which acts in such notable contrast to everyone else who is decidedly not doing so. Reed is very careful in this regard because it is never as though Grandier a meek man to begin, he does not mind speaking his mind, particularly not in the face of such madness. Once again Reed brings such conviction in the words as he tears into those persecuting him, while still connecting such affecting manner by always keeping close the humanity behind Grandier's passion. There is one particularly moving moment in his outrage, as Reed reveals such honest concern in Grandier when he learns that they are trying to use his wife against him as well. Now even Grandier's passion cannot change their minds, and the trial goes as one would expected with Grandier being tortured and sentenced to hang. Reed is devastating to watch in these scenes as he keeps the horror, which could seem absurd, so brutally grounded by making Grandier's physical degradation so painfully straight forward. Reed is most heartbreaking in his portrayal of Grandier losing his resolve to the point that Reed plays his final moments in a resigned disbelief that he has come to such an end. This is a great performance by Oliver Reed by not only anchoring a film, which could have completely fallen of the rails without him, but also by creating an understanding of this man through his effective depiction of this complex man.