Thursday, September 15, 2011

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR (Rudolph Cartier, 1954, UK)

An everyman is hollowed out, emptied of emotion, his humanity replaced by a cold singular devotion to a higher authority. Nigel Kneale's BBC teledrama is the best adaptation of Orwell’s prescient parable, reducing the narrative into cinematic form without diluting the brutal message, creating this future world without a past in small spaces and slick slogans, an elusive illusion of expressionist lighting and dominating close-ups.

Winston Smith redacts history but soon becomes possessed with a lust for truth, to peer lucidly into the past and discover a time when two plus two equaled four, and war and peace were absolute moral oppositions. Smith needs to understand on more than an intellectual level, he needs to expose the raw nerve of curiosity and feel the electric shock of enlightenment, to actually feel in a world of un-feeling, where hate is the coin of the realm. Julia is a functionary who wears a mask to conceal her sexual identity, her ministry of pornography an opium to the masses. Hope is three words scrawled in haste, an expression untouched by newspeak and doublethink.

Peter Cushing, in one of his earliest roles, is excellent as Smith, reflecting the repressed hopes and desires of every man, an avatar for a human race that is nearly lost. He deftly portrays Smith through his many incarnations, transforming from inchoate thought to physical act as both believable and sympathetic. Yvonne Mitchell is also able to imbue Julia with a sexual urgency, a strong feminine willpower (she instigates the affair) that is all the more severe when condemned by the State. And Andre Morell (another Hammer regular in the making!) is pitch perfect as O'Brien, the double agent whose betrayal is systematic and invasive, a man of wealth and taste (and power) who echoes the call for revolution but ultimately is an empty reservoir filled with the blood of innocents...and innocence.

The dramaturgy plays well in full frame utilizing television techniques, shot mostly in close up with few establishing shots or transitions, reducing this world to a claustrophobic and anxious prison. The monologues are taken in part directly from the source novel and delivered with the quick rapport of gunshots. A few errors find their way into this live broadcast such as boom shadows and a few shaky sets where the walls belie their plywood origins. This live BBC television drama made in 1954 exists as a prophetic tale of the penultimate propaganda: it’s double plus good.

Final Grade: (A)