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Alan Thomas wrote:

: But it's waaay after 1/5/2005 . . .

By the American reckoning, yes. Is it possible the writer was a Brit and meant May 1?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Funny you should mention BECKET. Just Wednesday night I dug out the script, wondering if it might be time to think again about a small-cast staging of the play. The large cast, so typical of its era, doesn't seem to me like it would have to be necessary to tell what is basically the story of a friendship.

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i don't know if this is a bootleg or what, but the Becket DVD shows up quite often on eBay. For example...

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Last year my brother appeared in a local production of <i>Becket</i>. I thought it was an excellent play and I'm curious about the film version.

"A director must live with the fact that his work will be called to judgment by someone who has never seen a film of Murnau's." - François Truffaut

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The fact that a popular movie is sometimes not available on DVD, much less for reprints for the theatre, or VHS because of being too beat-up, is, unfortunately more common than is realized. (I'm no expert on film or anything, but it seems that that's how it would be.).

The same thing is true, I think, of the movie "Bonnie and Clyde", which was another great, intense film.

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  • 1 year later...

Brief note on my Peter-O'Toole-as-King-Henry-II double-bill (Becket followed by The Lion in Winter).

Alan Thomas wrote:

: Now I've got to chase down a VHS copy, which will probably not be widescreen.

I don't know how many versions of it are available out there, but FWIW, the DVD I got from the local public library (identical to this copy) was widescreen -- though there was one point where the image suddenly jumped down the screen a bit, before snapping back into place. That was weird.

Link to our thread on Four Knights, which concerns the men who murdered Becket.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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"you"? I hope you mean "they"
Yes, obviously this is "you" in the (colloquial?) sense of "one" (like "The one thing you don't want to do as President of the United States is...."; doesn't imply that the listener is or has any chance of becoming the POTUS).

-- but in any case: Not exactly. (There are numerous other examples of "saints" referring to earthly, not heavenly, individuals.)

I equate the term with "believer" -- heavenly, earthly, wherever -- anyone sanctified.

Of course the biblical usage(s) and the cultic usage of the later Church are not the same thing (and in some languages, including Latin and (I think) French, the semantic issue doesn't exist, since the word for "saint" and "holy [one]" are the same).

My only point was, whatever faults historical inquiry may attribute to Becket, he is still rightly venerated as a saint.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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  • 3 months later...
Jeffrey Wells says the film may get a theatrical re-issue next year, followed by a DVD release (finally)!

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 2 months later...
Jeffrey Wells, Armond White and Ed Gonzalez on Becket's gay subtext -- which I must admit I had either forgotten hearing about or had never considered in the first place. (Although I just checked the index of Vito Russo's The Celluloid Closet, and sure enough, he mentions it at one point, noting that American critics in the mid-1960s complained about this aspect of the movie.)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Alan Thomas wrote:

: . . . I think it's mostly wishful thinking . . . and reading back into the work something that's understood

: differently today.

Even on the part of those Americans who criticized the film for this element in the 1960s? What were they "reading back into the work" when it was brand new? Here's what Russo says:

Heroes like Melville Farr were out of the question on the American screen. Deletions were made continually, under pressure or fear of public disapproval, whenever literary or historical material was brought to the screen. Strong suggestions in Peter Glenville's
Becket
(1964) of a sexual relationship between Thomas a Becket (Richard Burton) and King Henry II (Peter O'Toole), in a scene in which the two men sleep together, were condemned by American critics for damaging the heroic image of the two buddies' noble relationship.
Newsweek
attacked the source material, asserting that the playwright Jean Anouilh, "by descending to the realm of the psychiatric and implying a sexual attraction between the two, muddies the issues."

FWIW, I don't think the issue here is how we understand history -- at least not directly. I think the more immediate question here is how the play (and then the movie) was intended (and then received). One of the links I posted above uses the word "Freudian" to describe the film, and between that and this 40-year-old reference to "the realm of the psychiatric", my hunch is that there is a body of criticism on this film and/or play that takes the gay-subtext idea seriously, going all the way back to the film's initial release (and perhaps to the premiere of the play itself).

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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To repeat: We are not discussing history here. We are discussing this film, and the play on which this film is based.

But the reference to Freud does converge with what one of those critics wrote, and it underscores the possibility that the makers of this play/film may have intended to "project" something onto the Henry-Thomas relationship, too. (Hey, isn't that the kid from E.T.?)

Remember, this film came out at a time when at least some big-name filmmakers were deeply invested in Freudian psychology; think of Hitchcock, who made Vertigo, Psycho and Marnie around this time, and whose own films are hardly lacking in homoerotic subtexts.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Alan Thomas wrote:

: First of all, I don't think the suggestion is strong at all. It's an inference, certainly

: not an explicit presentation or, I would argue, an implication.

Well, whether inferred or implied, I would still like to know more about this aspect of the film (and the analysis of this film) over the years. If it were not for that Newsweek quote from the mid-1960s, I might have assumed that Wells, White and Gonzalez were all projecting 21st-century attitudes onto this film. But it seems that sexuality was part of the critical discussion from the get-go.

(Ron, if you're reading this, I would be very interested in your take on this, since [1] I think you suggested earlier in this thread that you were considering putting on this play, and [2] I remember we had an interesting discussion about the "gay subtext" that some interpreters of Shakespeare have seen in The Merchant of Venice -- a play that was certainly written BEFORE the term "Freudian" was ever coined.)

: I'm not arguing that there's no such thing as a gay subtext; I just think it's very

: weak in Becket as compared with, for example, Ben Hur.

[ blink ] Oh, I don't know about THAT. The only source we have for the idea that the 1959 version of Ben-Hur had a "gay subtext" is Gore Vidal, who was eventually replaced by at least two other screenwriters, and even HE claims that the only evidence for it in the film ITSELF is in Stephen Boyd's performance as Messala (supposedly, it is not in the dialogue or anything like that, but in the way Boyd SAYS the dialogue). I'm not denying that it's there in Ben-Hur, but if it IS, then it is pretty subtle, and I don't think anybody picked up on it until Gore Vidal started talking about it (though correct me if I'm wrong). Whereas Becket's subtext was picked up by at least one high-profile critic right away.

: By contrast, what Quintus loses in Ben Hur . . .

Quintus? Judah's adoptive father, as played by Jack Hawkins?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Saw this at the Nuart in Santa Monica last night. My general feeling is that it's superb, but part of me (the fun-spoiling, film studenty part) rebels against the idea that it's great filmmaking. Another, more insistent part argues that finicky critiques of its aesthetic value are immaterial because other facets of the picture (especially the acting and writing, two things one can always count on from an English production of this sort) overwhelm them. Most importantly, the film works on an emotional level, communicating certain eternal ideas that are of lasting value.

I feel similarly in regard to A Man for All Seasons, which is profoundly moving despite its somewhat pedestrian handling. The common complaints about that film (that it's too stagy; that Scofield's performance is too theatrical; that the films central debate is too "settled" to be thought-provoking, etc.) are meaningless to those who have already fallen under its spell. The emotions whipped up by Robert Bolt in his screenplay and by Scofield in his triumphant characterization are simply too strong to be bothered by such a petty concern as mise en sc

Edited by Nathaniel

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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So, Greg, Steven, do you guys occasionally experience that niggling tension between really liking a film and realizing its limitations as cinema? I ask this because when I watched Becket the other night, I watched it as a human being first and a critic second. And since it appealed as much to the heart as to the head, because it pleased the soul as much as the eye, the usual criticisms I was prepared to make seemed inadequate.

Call Becket and A Man for All Seasons great and few will disagree with you. But then there's that small but vital sector of film criticism that insists a Fred Zinnemann or a Peter Glenville will never be the equal of a Howard Hawks or a Nicholas Ray, and, yes, certain films do feel a lot like plays and are therefore "uncinematic" or undesirable.

Frankly, I often feel like taking off my film critic cap and declaring that if loving Becket is wrong, then I don

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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So, Greg, Steven, do you guys occasionally experience that niggling tension between really liking a film and realizing its limitations as cinema?

Yes, I do. But it doesn't bother me a bit. I have no problem saying, for instance, that Perfume is probably the best film (as art) that I've seen in a decade, but that I didn't particularly like it. At the same time, I have no problem saying that I actually enjoyed Facing the Giants even though it didn't even have pretentions to being "art."

(These are entirely legit issues to bring up in a review, btw, which I regularly do. The critic is also obliged, I believe, to assess whether a film is likely to succeed with its intended audience even if the critic deems it failure both as art and entertainment. Films like Turistas, Norbit or Shrek come to mind.)

The text I use when teaching film (and, not coincidentally, the same text in an earlier edition that I read as a student some twenty-five years ago) is James Monaco's How to Read a Film. In that book, Monaco distinguishes between "movies," "film," and "cinema" -- that is, between motion pictures as entertainment, commercial products, and art. From that standpoint, any given motion picture had best succeed on at least one of those levels, if it's ever to see the light of day and/or get much attention. If it succeeds on any two of those levels, you've likely got a "hit" (or cult film) on your hands. When it suceeds on all three, then you've got something like Unforgiven, The Untouchables, or The Queen -- a rare beast indeed, if one that won't particularly make cineastes happy.

My personal taste is for films that excel at either being entertainment or art, or some combination of the two. And I know how to seek out films that don't succeed commercially, so that aspect just doesn't concern me much.

Greg Wright

Managing Editor, Past the Popcorn

Consulting Editor, Hollywood Jesus

Leader of the Uruk-Howdy, Orcs of the West

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My personal taste is for films that excel at either being entertainment or art, or some combination of the two.

So, given this criteria, how does Becket measure up? I would guess it lands somewhere between art and entertainment.

BTW, thanks for sharing your method with us, Greg. It makes sense for a professional film critic to work out a personal modus operandi.

Edited by Nathaniel

"A great film is one that to some degree frees the viewer from this passive stupor and engages him or her in a creative process of viewing. The dynamic must be two-way. The great film not only comes at the viewer, it draws the viewer toward it." -Paul Schrader

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So, given this criteria, how does Becket measure up? I would guess it lands somewhere between art and entertainment.

Well, my review doesn't get published for a couple weeks yet, but since there's no embargo on this one, I don't mind saying that Becket is my cup of tea indeed. I was raised on films like this, and the rhythms particularly appeal to me. So while, according to the standards of today, it doesn't rate very high on the "art" scale, I'd still say it demonstrates a mastery of the art far better than, say, Little Miss Sunshine, which couldn't even master the basic techniques of continuity or narrative tension (yet still manages to be a front-runner for Best Picture at the Oscars!).

Still, I doubt the rerelease will score very high on the general entertainment meter. I'm afraid I can't recommend it to many audiences, except as a curiosity. So boxoffice is not likely to be very good for this one.

Yes, the acting is theatrical; but there was a time when all of cinema's best actors came from the stage, and that's a natural consequence. And theatricality often works well on film, too. In particular, you might recall the scene in Becket when we first encounter Henry with his council; the King actually projects! Imagine the same scene with, say, Banderas as Henry. He'd be all intensity and whispers, and in reality the guys at the back of the room would be going, "Huh? What's that? Speak up; we can't hear you." So some of today's movie-making conventions are totally bogus, and we ought to legitimately miss some of the "theatrical" conventions of years gone by.

BTW, thanks for sharing your method with us, Greg. It makes sense for a professional film critic to work out a personal modus operandi.

You're entirely welcome. And thank you for thanking me!

Edited by Greg Wright

Greg Wright

Managing Editor, Past the Popcorn

Consulting Editor, Hollywood Jesus

Leader of the Uruk-Howdy, Orcs of the West

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Cinema seems to take itself way too seriously at times, trying to make the canvas vanish and to make us thing we're seeing something unstaged. That's part of its genius, of course, but also one of its great dangers.

Yes, and audiences (even critics) are all too willing to buy into it. One of my favorite quotes is from Bergman: "When we experience a film, we consciously prime ourselves for illusion. Putting aside will and intellect, we make way for it in our imagination." Over on the "How Then Shall We Post" thread, remarked that the entire film industry (and the artform itself) is "shady," and that's what I meant. It's all based on the idea of convincing illusion.

And, of course, Becket (like A Man For All Seasons) was first a play.

Yes -- and one of the benefits of that is fantastically quotable dialogue. Even movies that I love these days often have no quotable dialogue whatsoever. Film has become so much about image, and so little about words.

Greg Wright

Managing Editor, Past the Popcorn

Consulting Editor, Hollywood Jesus

Leader of the Uruk-Howdy, Orcs of the West

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  • 1 month later...

Ladies and gentlemen, the DVD -- with an audio commentary by Peter O'Toole!

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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