25 February, 2012

Moviola Diary: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I recently got a part time gig as a projectionist for Moviola, a company which runs rural cinemas in village halls throughout Hampshire, Dorset, Devon, Wiltshire and Somerset. There's a nice community atmosphere at the screening as groups of friends, and old dears who'd rather not brave the throngs of sullen teenagers in town multiplexes, watch relaxed with a cuppa tea, an ice cream or a glass of wine. Most of the shows are second run, either just before or after the DVD release, but the audiences would still rather make an event of going out to see a flick rather than stay in and rent.

The last of my training sessions, then the subsequent screenings as a paid "pro" are with the 2011 adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, meticulously directed by Tomas Alfredson and boasting a best of British ensemble cast headed by Gary Oldman alongside both stalwarts including John Hurt, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, Ciaran Hinds, Kathy Burke, and Roger Lloyd-Pack, and up and comers like Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch and Stephen Graham. Where Alfredson's previous effort Let The Right One In was about teenagers learning to trust (despite, you know, that usual teenage foible of vampirism), this is about middle aged men in distrust. You could title it "Weed The Right One Out".

As a film buff I've been used to seeing my favorites over again, although as middle age and life has crowded in, these are rarely in the theatrical run, and are mostly lazily achieved when something happens to be on telly. When I was at Annenberg as a student in Amos Vogel's superb film analysis courses, we'd watch films on an analytical projector which allowed film to be shown at slower speeds without melting the print, we'd watch two ten minute reels, then take notes at 1/4 or 1/2 speed, then re watch at normal, making our way through a film over the course of weeks, with full length showings either side; this purely academic discipline never really caught on with me.

I thought I'd make a diary of these multiple viewings, to see what if anything is gained on these repeats within such a short space of time. The observations below are both chock full of spoilers, and most likely incomprehensible if you haven't seen it. So if you haven't, piss off now and don't come back 'til you do. Even if you don't come back, if you see it, my work is done.



Harbour Lights Cinema in Southampton 15 October 2011

My first viewing, with my wife Finuala. We enjoy it immensely. I remember enough of the Alec Guiness version to be able to follow the plot.


Ringwood 08 February 2012

My second viewing four months later, mostly just reabsorbing, but I do take note of the throwaway yet significant shot at the the end of the opening credits, Smiley sat in his home staring at the small square green painting on his wall.

I begin to savour some of the more actorly moments. Simon McBurney's borderline Yes Minister civil servant, Oliver Lacon, casually punctilious scraping butter across his toast as he discusses funding the safe house for Witchcraft with Percy Alleline and Roy Bland, the inevitable bite provides the crunch that punctuates and cuts the scene. The seemingly hard to rattle hardman Ricki Tarr, Tom Hardy jumps at the sound of the meat cleaver in the Turkish kitchen. The way Colin Firth needles Smiley on his return home with his story of Ann and the painting whilst farcically slipping his shoes on, and Smiley's polite discomfort concealing the enraged cuckold.

Then, of course, there are the gems within Gary Oldman's performance. The two moments when Smiley realises that his friend Control distrusted him as well. When Oliver Lacon asks if Control had shared his mole theory, and Smiley must aver that he hadn't, and when in Control's apartment looking over the faces on the chess pieces, the flashback to the discussion of Witchcraft in the War Room, Control's pronouncement, ringing in his ears "nothing's genuine anymore," Smiley turns the last black piece around to see his own face amongst the suspected. At "that" Christmas Party, the gasp Smiley emits when he sees Ann cavorting passionately with her unseen lover. During Bill Haden's final debrief Smiley loudly upbraids him as Karla's office boy, "what are you then, Bill?" then bitterly but quietly echoes Haden's assertion that the smokescreen of the affair with Ann only worked "up to a point."

These stand out not because Oldman is underplaying the rest of the time, but precisely because he is playing the cerebral quiet of Smiley throughout, and these moments are when Smiley almost slips his fa├žade. It's easy to focus on the know your enemy Karla monologue, he shines most obviously here, his timbre perilously close to that which Sir Alec found for the same role, but it's a mistake to think that Oldman's mastery isn't constant in Smiley's shoes. It is hugely annoying and unjust that Gary missed out on both the BAFTA and Oscar to that sincere but mugging frenchman. I hope everyone will reteam for Smiley's People, if only to give Gary another go.

I come up with two tangential thoughts. After the unfortunate owl related incident at the end of the first schoolroom scene with Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) the voice over in my head said ".... Hogwarts was very different that year...". During the coda montage under an upbeat swinging version of La Mer (ostensibly played out in the past at "that" Christmas party) as Smiley triumphantly strides back into The Circus, when he passes a grinning Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) I just want them to high-five each other. Maybe they will in the American language remake.


Brockenhurst 10 February 2012

Shamefully it has taken until this viewing to realize that the insect stuck in the car is one of Mendel's bees from the previous scene. It's a beautiful subtle character moment, Guillam swats pointlessly angrily at it, then Smiley simply rolls down his window and lets it fly out.

And though I'd fully noticed it before, I take stock of the fact that there are two moments when Smiley is a bit of a shit. First more obviously is when he sends Peter Guillam into The Circus to retrieve the logs without telling him about Ricki Tarr. Worse, the second is when Tarr asks him to get Irina out as the price for his risk in smoking out the mole, Smiley says he'll "do his utmost" knowing full well from Jim Prideaux's statement that she is already dead.

I have time to reflect again on the extreme economy of the script, when asked to introduce the film I point out that it took the BBC six hours in 1979 to cover the same ground when this clocks in at just over two. Whole relationships are left to be telegraphed by glances between the incredible cast, as the main plot churns through the hunt for the mole. There are many blink and you'll miss it moments. Control dies in the opening credits with a brief shot of him torso akimbo in a hospital bed. The fall from grace of Percy Alleline is only seen through Toby Jones haggard and defeated face as he trudges past George at The Nursery. Although a key relationship Jim Prideaux and Bill Haden aren't seen together apart from a photograph, them nodding to each other at THAT party and an assassin's distance apart when Prideaux executes Haden.

There are only three moments that seem unnecessary, two are the shots during the La Mer montage of Ricki Tarr standing in the rain and Connie Sachs smoking looking out her window, sandwiched between Jim Prideaux shedding a tear to match the bullet hole blood on Bill Haden's cheek and the god shot of Haden dead in the leaves. We don't learn the fates of many of the other characters, so, apart from filler in the montage, I'm not sure why they specifically are included. The third slightly extraneous sequence is when Peter Guillam "tidies" his personal life by breaking up with his boyfriend.


Frogham 17 February 2012

It has bothered me slightly on previous viewings, but the clunkiness of the shot of THE cigarette lighter, within the flashback from Smiley finally debriefing Jim Prideaux, just after Prideaux describes his final interrogator and THE lighter he kept "flashing about", zoom in onto THE lighter sitting on the table in the Hungarian cafe when Jim Prideaux was snatched up, ostensibly with Karla sat there. This little bit seems a little hamfisted. Why would Karla be at the meet? If he was there, how could such "Hungarian amateurs" as the "waiter" be allowed to botch the operation so badly and shoot Prideaux. Is he there in the BBC version, or the book? The other thing that has always bothered me about the whole Karla story told by Smiley is how could he possibly know that the guy he lost THE lighter to, the guy they sent back to the USSR to die, ended up becoming Karla? Smiley doesn't remember what he looked like, nor does he know what he looks like now, apart from what Prideaux can now tell him. He might have been able to deduce the guy was Karla after the conversation with Prideaux, but he knows this well before when he trots out the oft preview clipped direct to camera Karla speech to Guillam.

(I'll have to read the book now).

Bringing THE lighter up and giving us a visual reveal of what is likely an outsized prop, does make sense to the degree that it connects the whole trail of betrayal back to the relationship between George and Ann. Ann is tantalizingly conspicuous by her absence, we barely see her but for glimpses at THAT party and seated in the kitchen, her face obscured by the doorframe, returned home to George during the closing montage. THE lighter and THAT painting get more screen time than she does, we see more of the paisley party dress than we do of her face.


Stockbridge 22 February 2012

At the Christmas party, we see Ann Smiley her back is to us, she is sat across from George, she is recognizable from her purple paisley dress, she has some artificial thing like a cloth flower in her hair, one hand waves a cigarette aloft as she sings along with Sammy Davis, Jr. - The Second Best Secret Agent In The Whole Wide World.

I suspect that the carriage clock in The Circus "war room" may have disappeared during Percy Alleline's reign and has reappeared with Smiley's return, and the return of order.

When I introduce the film, with the proviso that the projection should not be blamed for the dull and muted colours as the film takes places in the "drab 1970's", a woman in the audience becomes agitated and slightly argumentative. She recalls the '70's as a vibrant, colourful time. Thinking quickly I back pedal "the 1970's as depicted by the film makers..." to get myself off the hook.


Bishopstone 24 February 2012

A slightly earlier shot of Ann Smiley at the Christmas party, a few preceding the one noted above. George is giving her a polite kiss and we nearly see her in profile, but all we get is a hint of the crescent of her cheek.

I realise that I have forgotten to confirm my theory about the carriage clock. Ahh well, I may have to see the film again.

And that's not a bad thing.

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