Sunday, June 19, 2011

MODESTY BLAISE (Joseph Losey, 1966, UK)

I wasn’t going to write a review. Then I thought: why not write a review about why I didn’t want to write a review? So here are some ramblings and misgivings concerning director Joseph Losey's treacle and debacle.

First, the not so bad points. Monica Vitti as the titular heroine is a delicious pop tart with faraway eyes, a living sculpture possessed by Aphrodite, a goddess whose sultry English accent evokes passionate intercourse...even though you can barley understand her. Terence Stamp as her sidekick Willie Garvin adds an elemental masculinity and rugged physicality thick with cockney slang. But it’s Dirk Bogarde as the villainous Gabriel whose white socks and blonde wig fail to disguise his evil snickering genius imbued with homoerotic pathos. Gabriel’s accountant is always prepared to delineate the bottom line, a bookish cohort who weighs the financial means to his master’s diabolical ends. Losey’s camera tracks and moves with precision, often capturing interesting compositions: in one scene he shoots through Gabriel’s champagne glass (half empty or half full?) to focus upon soldiers in a distant tower, or through an aperture in a modern sculpture to frame a frightened Modesty. Losey’s use of cross cutting and jump cuts is professionally competent. The catchy spring heeled score saturates the entire film and is often used diagetically, from radios to a circus organ during a knife fight.

The rest is pretty but awful. The characters are not well defined and uninteresting, as Modesty is absolutely not believable as a spy or action hero! I haven’t read the comic strip or novels, so my concern is not to compare and let the film fall on its own merits. There are only a few action scenes and they are incompetent and futile: a bumbling knife fight, a car chase with little suspense, and a final riot of madcap gunplay. The somnambulistic pacing is as suspenseful as an accounting ledger, a zero sum equation ending in red. The fatal error that plagues Losey’s film is that it is an impotent parody of a genre that veers precariously close to insincerity...even when played straight.

I didn’t want to waste time writing about a film that I literally care nothing about. But I caught myself thinking about a film that I didn’t want to think about, strange as that seems. So I pasted these words together: please don’t get the impression that my syntax is a recommendation. Conversely, my bottom line is this: A satire should reveal the limitations of the source material with humorous insight but MODESTY BLAISE is immodest and blasé.

Final Grade: (D)

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