Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Passage To India

 Well that's it then...the David Lean run is over with the last screening of his final film A Passage to India yesterday. I now feel a dose of melancholy to know that without such fine films to see on the big screen I'm back to Hollywood and its perchance of mass destruction courtesy of CGI. The last five weeks have been fantastic and you cannot believe how much of a privilege it has been. As to this film I clearly remember it's release and my parents going off to the old State theatre to see it. I re-call it being a big deal in its day, and I have seen it on the small screen albeit many moons ago now.

 A Passage to India was Lean's last film and his first film in fourteen years after Ryan's Daughter. It is assumed after the negative reception of Ryan's Daughter that the long hiatus between films was due to this. He in fact tried unsuccessfully to get a version of Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian off the ground. He envisioned making two films but through various troubles with the script it didn't eventualise.

 This film is obviously based on E.M. Forster's famous novel of the same name. I haven't read it unfortunately even though I came close several months ago. I now wish I had of considering I have seen the film adaptation. Lean made changes from the book as most film makers do, the most obvious being giving the film a romantic feel. Like Doctor Zhivago I have always considered Passage more a woman's film because of its romanticism. But I don't think that now as it isn't overly romantic and definitely as much a males film as female. As a film adaptation it wasn't for purists of the novel but as a film it more than satisfied cinema goers and critics alike.

 Readers of the book will see that Lean toned down Forster's anti-British sentiment. Forster was scathing of the British presence in India and believed they should get out. Lean tended to veer towards the British somewhat. As an adaptation it was felt Lean adapted 80% of the book into the film and fiddled with the rest. It may be dated material but I think his pro-British outlook wasn't bad as it was more his attempt to provide a lens to look through at the British sentiment of the times instead of just being straight out pro-British in sentiment. I think Lean done the tight-rope balancing act well in all his films. I never felt he veered one way or the other and just tried to portray a balanced view point.

 The film has all of Lean's usual style and interestingly there is a scene with use of the CGI of the times. Remember that in 1984 George Lucas had been using the technique in the Star Wars movies and Lean used it in the opening scene of this film. For me this shows the sign of the times as Lean's previous films were hand built prop based and yet here is moving with the times. It was amusing because it now looks incredibly clumsy! I'm pleased this was its only use in the film. As in my Ryan's Daughter review I think Passage is somewhat out-dated as a genre. By the time Ryan's Daughter was made the 'Epic' was on it's way out to make room for the 'Blockbuster'. Passage in 1984 was a dinosaur!! I don't think Lean was out of date I just think studios had moved on and audiences with them, and the 'Epic' in 1984 was something from the past. In saying that though it was definitely an 80's film and it felt like it colour wise. It is the genre that had dated not the craftsmanship.

 For me I enjoyed this. It is incorrect to call this the weaker of Lean's film as it isn't weak at all. It is hard to define because it has all his style and craftsmanship, but it just isn't The Bridge on the River Kwai or Lawrence of Arabia. I'd say it is Lean's lesser film. But even as a lesser film it is still damn good!! I think on a bad day Lean could produce a film that still showed how cinema should be. But comparing this against Lawrence, and Kwai, is somewhat unfair because Passage is smaller in scale, and yet Lean still goes for the perfect shot with his noted eye for detail and landscape that has never been beaten.

 I was surprised at the condition of this film. It is only twenty eight years old but it was in very poor condition in parts. At one stage it was so badly worn the picture all but disappeared along with the score. But funnily enough that, with the intermission, only added to the 'classic' feel. Like I said, it is now with a tinge of melancholy that I'll be going to the flicks from here on as you just cannot beat classics in anyway. The whole experience for a cinema lover is there and nothing can top it!

 Passage may have been somewhat out-dated style wise by 1984 but it still managed eleven Oscar nominations! Surely that alone shows how good it is as a film? Peggy Ashcroft won an Oscar for best supporting actress and she is still the oldest recipient of the award at 77. She puts in a good performance among the many. It is so typical of Lean that all his casts were so superb. Alec Guinness is again his brilliant self, and is very good as Professor Godbole. He can play any role and makes himself believable in it. I didn't feel as an Indian he was mis-cast or belittling of Indians. But one must ask why Lean used him as surely there were Indian actors good enough to have starred in the role at the time.

 Guinness per usual clashed with Lean on the set. I'm reading an Alec Guinness biography at the moment and I'm hoping to gain insight into why he and Lean clashed so often. In all his films Lean clashed with someone. In Ryan's Daughter it was Christopher Jones. In Passage both Guinness and Judy Davis clashed. He was such a perfectionist though that I'd go as far as to say the final product proved Lean right in every case!! Guinness was aggrieved at how much Lean edited him out of Passage as well. Apparently he fell out with Lean for many years over this and didn't patch things up until shortly before Lean's death. To me this isn't, and was never going to be Guinness's film, Ashcroft, Davis, and Victor Banerjee are the main protagonists here and not Guinness. The role that really impressed me though was that of Richard Wilson of One Foot in the Grave fame. He plays an absolute racist prig...and to perfection. He is such an arsehole and I absolutely hated his character!! His British sentiment, and disdain for the Indians really comes through, and it was painful to watch the British in their 'Club' and the absolute racist snobbery that prevailed.

 Like all of Lean's film it is interesting to see who he wanted to get and who he ended up with. He wanted Peter O'Toole to play Richard Fielding and ended up with Edward Fox. Celia Johnson was approached to be Mrs Moore but declined and died thirty months later. Richard Wilson got the role because original casted Nigel Hawthorne fell ill. But in all the cast is very strong and I can only sit back and admire David Lean for his ability to get such a big named cast to gel and get such superb performances from each individual. When you think of the famous clashes he had with some actors it is surprising the end products where of such high quality. He must have had an incredible amount of endurance and patience with actors!!!!!!

 There really isn't a lot more I can add! Against The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, and Doctor Zhivago, A Passage to India is somewhat over shadowed, and yet it shouldn't be. It isn't the great film those three are but it is still of a superior quality than most films can hope to achieve. For me it is Lean's quiet sleeper and when you watch it you realise how good it actually is. It has two flaws though. The score doesn't match the scenes and some of Lean's editing gives the film a feel of jerkiness. But they are quite minor quibbles really. Not a master-piece from a man who just seemed to have a gift for producing them, but still a real piece of quality cinema.

 Highly recommended. Somewhat forgotten about in light of other David Lean films but he was a real cinematic master that even his lesser films stand out!

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