Monday, July 18, 2011
After I got home and settled in, I watched today's movie - Victim, directed by Basil Dearden in 1961. It's not the most exciting movie, but it was really good. It's an important film, as Ebert points out, being the first movie to even use the word "homosexual", and one of the first of be so sympathetic to gay people. It doesn't feel groundbreaking anymore, because times are so different, but it's interesting to see this movie and think about it's context. It's also a good story with interesting characters, although I found it a little slow for my mood (which was overly-energetic because I finished my project).
Well, since it's late and I still have half of True Blood to watch (keepin' it classy), and no one complained yet, here's a summary that I love from IMDB: "A plea for reform of England's anti-sodomy statutes, this film pits Melville Farr, a married lawyer, against a blackmailer who has photos of Farr and a young gay man (who is being blackmailed and later commits suicide)in Farr's car. After the suicide, Farr tracks down other gay men being extorted for money by the same blackmailer. The well-educated police Detective Inspector Harris considers the sodomy law nothing more than an aid to blackmailers, and helps Farr in calling his blackmailer's bluff. The movie, far ahead of its time, ends with Farr and his wife coming to terms with his homosexuality after the public exposure he faces in the blackmailer's trial."
The film is not shocking anymore, but imagine when it came out. Ebert points out that homosexuality was still a crime during the release of this film, writing, "Recent critics find "Victim" timid in its treatment of homosexuality, but viewed in the context of Great Britain in 1961, it's a film of courage. How much courage can be gauged by the fact that it was originally banned from American screens simply because it used the word "homosexual." To be gay was a crime in the United States and the U.K., and the movie used the devices of film noir and thriller to make its argument, labeling laws against homosexuality "the blackmailer's charter." Indeed, 90 percent of all British blackmail cases had homosexuals as victims," (Great Movies II, 497).
It's hard to believe that a film could even be banned for just using a word. I mean, I actually have trouble digesting that fact. Is it just me? We've come so far from that, so quickly, that it seems impossible to understand. I also was surprised to learn that so many British blackmailing cases had homosexuals as the victims, as Ebert says above. Where I just looked at the movie as a thriller before, I felt like it had a new meaning after reading Ebert's essay. Many of the actors were gay, and to make a movie about a crime that seriously affected gay man in Britain seems very important, and almost more courageous than it first sounded (which is saying a lot!). They weren't just addressing the issue of homosexuality being illegal, but of blackmailing as well.
Although I understood the film in it's context, it was sometimes sort of strange to watch it. It's hard for me to understand that people ever hated each other so much, or judged people so harshly. I know that this still goes on, which saddens me further. Yes, we've come a long way from the 1960's, but things are still tough. I respect the film for confronting the issues it does, but it was a little hard, personally, for me to try to think about that time period. It doesn't make me hate the film or anything, it just made me sad, the same way watching the hatred in Milk made me sad - but I still loved the film.
Really, overall, I'm impressed by how much courage it took to make this film. Even now, sometimes it's hard for actors to play controversial roles and people judge the actual actors for the roles that they pick. I can't imagine what some of these actors might have gone through. Like I said, several of them were gay, and Ebert mentions that this movie was sort of a way for them to come out, he thinks. I thought that was interesting, and I would think it might have been empowering for them, since Ebert mentions that this was a great career move for the lead actor. Sort of rambly, but interesting to think about.
I love that this movie was able to use elements of noir and crime movies to get across a serious message. I don't think that a straight film about gay rights would have been received well in 1961, but the way the director went about this was genius. By hiding the message in a noir/thriller, he's able to disconnect himself and his film from the real message. If people read it as a film about gay rights, that's their problem, because he was just out making a crime film. It's very smart, you know?
I feel like I haven't written much about the movie, but so much of what makes it great is how it was made and it's history. It's worth checking out - it's streaming on Hulu right now and not too long of a watch. I really liked the film, because it had a great message and was so brave for it's time, but also had a neat crime thriller story as well. The acting was great, and it was really well-made. Let me know if you check it out!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Victim
Buy it on Amazon