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    Language and Images: Bolt and Roeg

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    When the film of A Man for All Seasons (1966) is discussed, it’s usually with regard to the intuitive dexterity and shimmering craft bestowed on the material by director Fred Zinnemann, but it’s equally valued for the words and thoughts provided by its author, the revered Robert Bolt (1924-1995), born today 92 years ago. And one of today’s pop culture icons, Catholic-raised writer/director Kevin Smith, never at a loss for words on the subject of comic book superheroes and the dynamics of dude-ism, is one of the film’s most ardent fans. As Smith told The New York Times interviewer Rick Lyman 15 summers ago in 2001, “The dialogue in this movie – it pops, you know. Back and forth and back and forth. And let's face it, this is a movie that's pretty much all dialogue….I'm terrible at action, but pretty decent at dialogue. And I always thought that this movie had a lot to do with why I write the way I write. Because this is such a definitive film for me. Lord knows, I love popcorn movies as much as the next guy. The Star Wars films were a huge part of my life. But this is one of the first movies that introduced me to the notion of dialogue and character and nothing else really needing to happen.” He continued: “It was the language. It was the story. It was being 13 years old and admiring somebody who was able to go down for God. Maybe I even felt I could identify with Thomas More a bit. I can appreciate the way More’s mind worked, how he was able to juggle the two worlds of the spiritual and the everyday. I mean, it's easy to say we don’t want to sin, but it's very hard not to sin. Here's a dude who found a way to do it, to walk the line….I must have seen A Man for All Seasons 50 times, literally,…probably more than any other movie. When Raiders of the Lost Ark came out, I saw it 25 times in the theaters. I just kept going and going. But this movie I've seen at least twice as many times. This movie is like porn for somebody who loves language.” Bolt and another seminal director, David Lean, had a grandiose, literary-styled arc planned for their two-film Dino De Laurentiis-produced opus based on Richard Hough’s revisionist saga Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian, about history’s most famous nautical mutiny. Bolt projected at the time: “Bligh believed that without order, duty, self-abnegation, factual precision and foresight, life is impossible. Christian believed that without spontaneity, freedom, self-expression and emotional gratification, life is not worth living.This conflict within the souls of men would raise our film to the level of tragedy.” Their post-Ryan’s Daughter screen reunion would not come to fruition as originally envisioned, but the steady hand of Bolt (felled at the time by the first of many debilitating illnesses), whose original screenplay was augmented and retooled into a single movie with uncredited interpolations by broadcaster Melvyn Bragg, is still felt in director Roger Donaldson’s The Bounty (1984), starring Mel Gibson as Christian and Anthony Hopkins as Bligh. Like the More chronicle, the seafaring story deals with men driven by conscience and individual moral senses of duty and humanity, faced with temptations that place them in a no man’s land between safe obeisance and free self-determinism – at great cost and with sad consequences. That territory of the loner at odds with a punishing world is also explored by another idiosyncratic cinematic voice, the great cinematographer-turned-director Nicolas Roeg, who turns 88 today, in his ill-starred but visually striking take on another tale from history, Eureka (1983). Inspired by Marshall Houts’ Who Killed Sir Harry Oakes?, Roeg and his screenwriter Paul Mayersberg paint a gripping portrait of a man of untold wealth, Klondike prospector Jack McCann (Gene Hackman), discoverer of the richest Alaskan gold strike ever, and the devastating effects that follow. Intricately plotted and stylishly executed, it carries the full weight of A Man for All Seasons’ legal and courtroom machinations and The Bounty’s disruptive currents of the effects of a natural outside world on the souls of one man and those in his orbit. Electrifying words by Bolt and ravishing images by Roeg still pack an incredible punch for the hearts and minds of adventurous movie fans who experience The Bounty, Eureka and A Man for All Seasons [the last-named title available here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/28927/A-MAN-FOR-ALL-SEASONS-1966/] on gorgeously arrayed Twilight Time hi-def Blu-rays.