Sandwiched in between his two best films (Billy Liar and The Day of the Locust) is John Schlesinger’s Sunday Bloody Sunday, which reminds me quite a bit visually of Petulia from three years prior.
Sunday, like Petulia, has some strengths in very slowly revealing information. It’s not until a little way into the film that we finally know how everyone is connected and why certain objects – like the one in the images below – are important.
Here’s Peter Finch, expertly playing Dr. Daniel Hirsh, looking down on the artistic creation of his lover Bob Elkin (Murray Head). The cinematography reminds me of Nicolas Roeg’s with its shallow depth and highlighted – actually, glowing – inanimate objects. We start in an interior wide shot behind Hirsh and then cut to his POV of his odd object:
Schlesinger cuts back to a CU of Hirsh and then tighter onto the green and blue tubes below:
At first that cut in to the artwork feels like another POV, but Schlesinger slyly and slightly disorients us, dollying along the tubes, tilting up, and pulling focus to reveal Hirsh looking at them in the background:
We weren’t looking through his eyes at all. It’s a small bit of obscurity, and nothing that ultimately confuses, but it yields a nice frame, and one that is rendered more meaningful after the full extent of the relationship between Hirsh and Elkin is revealed. The frame design doubly imprisons Hirsh and starts a lonely visual motif that we’ll see throughout:
Something else that I quite like about Sunday. When we first meet Hirsh and co-lead Alex Greville (Glenda Jackson) you don’t immediately like either of them. Both are rather rude to the same telephone operator. It’s not until later that the audience really does a 180 and finds both quite sympathetic.
The telephone operator mentioned above should maybe be the fourth billed. Schlesinger spends a lot of time at the beginning on her, but also on closeups of the external and internal workings of telephone communication:
I really like these montages, especially shots like the second one above, which is so vague machinery that seems to match the rotary dial we’d all (mostly) be familiar with. The theme of connection is apparent throughout the film – Greville and Hirsh so desire to be connected with Elkin, and though they’re frequently close in proximity to one-another, they don’t actually connect until the end. The telephone montages are interesting ways to shoot telephones instead of the traditional dial-ring-answer-talk sequence. They also serve to stress the odd breadth of gear and dials that separate two people when they chat: they’re close in voice but disconnected by a wide void of strange equipment.
I liked this scene from the middle of the film. It starts in a distorted wide-shot as Hirsh waits in line at a drug store:
He looks around. His eye catches a woman holding a teddy bear. The camera starts on the stuffed animal, and tilts up to the woman, partially blocking her face with some of the translucent stands in the pharmacy:
Back to Hirsh and his eyes shift. He now looks at a young man. The same obstructions occur:
Hirsh looks again, and now a slightly wider 2-shot is his POV as the same young man looks directly into camera:
Back to Hirsh and the pharmacist – creepily made up – appears behind him. The focus shifts:
I love the mood of this scene. Hirsh has just left a former lover (possibly also an addict or alcoholic) in his car, and is still pursing Elkin, both of whom look like the young man here. Hirsh is surrounded by youth, and his age, in relation to the much younger Elkin, has been at issue throughout. The slight foreground elements, nearly threatening to block his view of the others in the drug store, are framed like those ornamental tubes that Elkin made (from the beginning of this post); they slightly confuse the frame, making Hirsh seem more distant from these people than he actually, physically is. When the pharmacist comes in it’s intentionally a horror film moment. He’s overly made up. He appears as a blurry presence and then snaps into frame, peering over the lead’s shoulder. Everything about the scene – a normal visit to a pharmacy – is just slightly off.
Other Films, Quickly:
Calvary (McDonagh, 2014)
I’ll likely write more about this one at the end of the year. A second straight great collaboration between John McDonagh and Brendan Gleeson. Darkly funny like The Guard, oddly reflective.
The Intouchables (Nakache, Toledano, 2011)
Schmaltz with Omar Sy as a bright spot. Rely on montages enough?
The Guest (Wingard, 2014)
If you like 80s suspense and action, then this thriller throwback might be up your alley. Despite an ending that really wastes a great location and a solid build at the expense of predictable action and gore, its neon deadpan and constant tributes to elementary and high school of decades ago is pretty fun. A bare-chested David (Dan Stevens) coming out of the shower feels like an Old Spice send-up.
Never Let Go (Guillerman, 1960)
Worth watching for Peter Sellers’ villain alone, this is kind of like Falling Down meets The Bicycle Thieves in the form of Prime Cut. It’s a fun little gritty film.
Judex (Franju, 1963)
What’s more fun than finding a Franju film you didn’t know about? This one’s silly fun, reminiscent of Clouzot’s Le Corbeau, but there are some nice little twists and turns in this updated Louis Feuillade film.
The Double (Ayoade, 2013)
I really want to like this film more than I do. Jesse Eisenberg is truly awesome. And Richard Ayoade’s mise-en-scene is equally impressive. But it doesn’t quite add up, particularly an ending that feels like it loops solely for the sake of looping and little else.
The Odessa File (Neame, 1974)
’70s Jon Voigt – all else I really know is Deliverance and Coming Home. He’s good here in this neo-Nazi thriller that has some stilted action sequences, but a decently satisfying payoff.
Frank (Abrahamson, 2014)
Great film for a lot of reasons (Scott McNairy!), but also for a fantastic ending and a nice takedown of the modern music scene.
The Yellow Sea (Na, 2010)
Entertaining Korean thriller that falls into others of its genre from that country recently. I feel like modern Korean films are slightly changing structure – this thriller follows the “rules,” but occasionally just digresses in ways that I’m not used to seeing a straightforward actioner do.
The Day of the Wolves (Grofe Jr., 1971)
Low-budget heist film that has some production value despite monetary restraints, seems to be somewhat influential, and is also at times hilariously staged, cheesy, and illogical. Worth watching if for no other reason, for a pretty funny opening crosscut.