The Go-Between (Losey, 1971)

I don’t really watch period pieces of this era much, but if it’s Losey – not to mention Julie Christie, Alan Bates, and Edward Fox – I’ll watch it.

The Go-Between starts slow. Losey keeps a sense of potential menace thanks in part to a score that blares in unexpectedly and some cuts that totally elide the ends of dialogue (which happens more later). That slowness builds though, and the final 25-30 minutes of the film are really rewarding.

For Losey’s part, this film fits in nicely with his other ’60s and ’70s work. It’s about illicit sex and the societal pressure to conform to “acceptable” love. The same can be said about a lot of his other movies.

Edward Fox is a really underrated actor. Here he plays Hugh Trimingham, a scarred (literally) soldier who vies for the affections of Marian (Christie). He doesn’t actually know that he’s vying with Ted Burgess (Bates), a rough, “lady-killer” (Trimingham’s own words) who works on a farm near to the Maudsly estate on which the majority of the film takes place.

Fox has a way with that aforementioned menace. He doesn’t always look the part, but his sharp eyes and gaunt cheeks really play well in films like this one and The Day of the Jackal. Here he’s closer to cuckold than threat, but he still carries a fair amount of potential violence in his character; it’s not just his scarred cheek that does that. It’s his penetrating stare and confident manner.

The title refers to Leo (Dominic Guard) a young visitor who plays “postman” between Marian and Ted. Very much a coming-of-age movie, Leo learns about love along the way.

Losey keeps the film as something more than a simple countryside romance in other ways than his brusque editing. There are a lot of huge overhead wide shots-

They’re big and dizzying, and often revolve around Leo, perhaps stressing his utter confusion (or naivete) at the situation at hand. The first shot above feels like a more inflected frame from Vertigo. The latter is more like a classic thriller shot than one of a romance.

I mentioned best films with cricket matches in another post about Losey.Oddly enough, one of those films featured Alan Bates and the other was directed by Losey. So it’s appropriate that another great film with a cricket match at its center has both.

Narratively, the cricket match is important. It squares Trimingham off against Ted. It’s a “gangs all here” sequence, and it vaults Leo into the spotlight. But I like it for some of the unease that Losey gets. Like this shot:

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 9.59.19 AM

That’s several of the farm-hands/servants watching. The frame itself is very crowded. It’s pretty bland compared to the prettiness of the upper crust. And the sound! It’s just the sound of bugs (you can see the guy far frame left swatting them away). It’s a pretty uncomfortable, itchy sound.

Despite some of these pretty modern techniques, Losey is still a classic blocker. One of the best scenes of that kind is between Leo, Trimginham, and Mr. Maudsly (Michael Gough) in a smoking room on the estate.

The scene starts with Leo entering the room where Trimingham sits alone:

Losey’s first frame above is wide and vague. It’s almost a POV of Leo. But who’s watching? As Leo enters we get some small movement to start as Trimingham comically offers him a cigar, and then the two settle into a comfortable medium-wide 2-shot.

Losey has nice moments of small blocking upcoming. Trimingham leans in and there’s a small dolly forward-

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 9.53.40 AM

That little punch just starts to hit the dramatic stride of the scene. Losey goes into shot-reverse-

-which is all well and good until Trimingham leans forward again-

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 9.54.18 AM

-and Losey catches him in a really tight CU. It’s too close as he looms over Leo. Alongside that first dolly in, this one also changes the dynamic of the scene.

Look back at that first single on Leo. There’s a gramophone awkwardly behind him. He’s cornered in with something else trapping him in. Trimingham has a window behind him.

Trimingham stands and moves away, letting some of the tension out, and things move along, again comfortably:

Maudsly enters. Trimingham and Leo stand, framing Maudsly in the background. And then Maudsly moves to his desk as we land in an easy 3-shot:

Maudsly brings Leo closer to the desk to get a look at some dirty paintings-

Losey takes this opportunity to again change the dynamics. First, he moves Leo for the first time – in earnest – since the start of the scene. This is a chance to change the camera’s motivation to Leo, moving the scene from tense/not-tense “standoff” to something introspective. In frame 2 above the camera walks back handheld with Leo, eventually changing the 3-shot and capturing Leo in the foreground, contemplative. The scene is now something new. He’s learned something.

Recognizing that, Losey blocks Maudsly around the desk. The camera cranes up to him, leaving Leo behind. Trimingham stands and we have a new 2-shot. It’s above Leo. Again, the tone has shifted. Leo had his moment alone, and now the men take it back. Losey complements that idea with a high-angle single on Leo:

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 9.58.13 AM

It’s a great, simple shot. It’s appropriate because Leo is below (it’s the POV of the men standing above). But it’s also appropriate because again, Leo is cornered and looking small. This is sort of the entire film. Is Leo a child or growing as a man? Does he have real information or not know what the notes he carries mean? Is this a film about a child growing up or about the matters of adults?

Losey ends the film with Leo in the background, framed by Maudsly and Trimingham in the foreground. It’s a nice button at the end of the scene. Leo is both in position of power (seated, hands clasped, open to camera), and not at all (towered over, small in frame):

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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One Response to The Go-Between (Losey, 1971)

  1. Pingback: The Assassination of Trotsky (Losey, 1972) and Fireworks Wednesday (Farhadi, 2006) | dcpfilm

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