29 November 2014 | sandiloquent-173-548370
Can you see the elephant?
I hated it... I sighed and tutted and moved around in my seat... and then about a third of the way through it won me over. In that respect (and in many others respect) it's actually a lot like a Turner.
The initial scenes of the movie, which are very irritating to sit through, set the rest up well, lots of loud stomping on wooden floorboards, dry interiors in Turneresque palettes Timothy Spall making more grunting noises than any actor should be able to and still be taken seriously... stomp stomp stomp bang bang bang, hoarse shouting instead of dialogue, character introductions so perfunctory and stark they're almost parodic of the cinematic vernacular. The movie just screams with the kind of self-absorbed worthiness and obsession with human frailty that gives 'art films' a bad name... The wife shows up and harangues Turner at a volume that would transcend satire... there's an extended sequence during which a contemporaneous artist's career is commented on, vociferously and cruelly, by a group of critics/artists/patrons as he stomps off over the fields, this scene plays nothing like a conversation, but rather as if the script writer had typed out a series of quotes from a biography...Turner molests his housekeeper in the gruntiest, unsexiest way possible but it's SO clumsy and awkward the scene burns itself out and it just looks totally lifeless...actors expending effort poorly...
But the movie carries on like this with such gusto and wholeheartedness that it eventually became quite difficult (for me, at any rate) to remain cynical and detached. I did find myself immersed in the life of the man.
Timothy Spall's performance is completely over the top, and actually rather unpleasant to experience. Grunt, bash, bang, smash, grunt, growl, stomp, bash, grunt... it's almost a cartoon. You certainly can't come away from this movie liking the man you've just watched. He's an extremely annoying man. But as the movie progresses new flavours enter the character and it becomes clear that this movie isn't really a story at all, it really is primarily a portrait (rather as Turner's landscapes often seem more like portraits... so moody and full of consequence and meaning). Should I be disappointed at that? Perhaps I should, but I wasn't. Judging the movie on how it achieves it's intentions I should probably give it a 10... (Only I think it went on too long).
The scene that made me realise that the film-maker was fully aware of how I felt about this man I was watching came near the end when Turner's popularity is waning and he attends the Academy exhibition to be confronted with the Pre-Raphaelites. He starts sniggering. Nowhere in the movie is any attempt to explain his art or his theory of his art or the theory of any of the art contemporaneous with his and yet the scene makes perfect sense.
Very nicely done.
It is like his art. I don't like Turner, but I can't really *dismiss* Turner as I might someone more widely "respected" like Mondrian or Lichtenstien... or...(eyeroll)...Rothko.
There's a scene with an elephant. Mike Leigh spends some time on getting this scene right. I think it might mean something... Such a long time it's been since a movie made me actually *ponder* on whether or not I liked it... That's got to be worth something.