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The Ruling Class


Overstreet
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I'm stunned that I can't find any discussion of this film here. I thought we'd given good attention to just about every film in which Jesus, or men playing Jesus, or people who think they *are* Jesus, figured prominently.

I'm halfway through it (watching it during dinner hours with Anne this week), and I have laughed myself silly. I hope the second half keeps this up.

It stars Peter O'Toole as Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney, 14th Earl of Gurney... a man who thinks he's Jesus Christ.

The Christ-related humor is almost as relentless as it is in The Life of Brian, and yet so far I haven't heard anything that's actually belittling God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. The humor that comes from Jack thinking he's Jesus is really quite hilarious.

For example:

Lady Claire Gurney: How do you know you're God?

Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney, 14th Earl of Gurney: Simple. When I pray to Him, I find I am talking to myself.

Then there's Jack's prayer blessing his own lunch:

Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney, 14th Earl of Gurney: For what I am about to receive, may I make myself truly thankful.

And then there's Dr. Herder, the psychiatrist who tries to treat Jack:

Dr. Herder: He can't forget being rejected by his mother and father at the age of 11. They sent him away, alone, into a primitive community of licensed bullies and pederasts.

Sir Charles: You mean he went to public school.

Dr. Herder: Exactly.

These lines machine-gun so fast that if I laugh, I'll probably miss something.

But what's really brilliant is the film's merciless lampooning of the British aristocracy and the Church of England. The film is based on a play, which must have been a hoot and a holler when it played in Britain. This is as sharp-edged as satire gets. Wait until you see the minister who performs Jack's wedding. I think he surpasses the clergyman from The Princess Bride in his buffoonish behavior. No, the church doesn't look too good in this film, but then, I have a feeling that the Church of England probably deserved some satirical treatment at the time.

Did I mention that it's a musical?

I can't think of an American filmmaker working today who would be gutsy enough to try something so audacious. And I knew O'Toole was great, but I've rarely seen him so unhinged.

Here's the Criterion page on the film.

Of course, the second half may change my opinion entirely... but the first half is so rich that I had to ask if anybody here has seen it.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Seen it, yes, at least a decade ago. I don't believe I have ever written about it, though.

"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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Of course, the second half may change my opinion entirely... but the first half is so rich that I had to ask if anybody here has seen it.

It's probably been twenty years since I've seen this, but IIRC doesn't the second half play out quite differently than the first? Am curious as to what you thought about it.

Edited by Baal_T'shuvah

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

"Everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can't let the world judge you too much." - Maude 
Harold and Maude
 

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  • 10 months later...

Wonderful. As pseudo-Messiah films go, I didn't find this quite as satisfying as Life of Brian, but wonderful nonetheless. The second half loses some of the first half's whimsy and becomes even darker. The ending is brutally abrupt (and brutal) despite the over 2 1/2 hour runtime. How remarkable that a star like O'Toole would do a film like this. It's hard to see the Clooneys or Pitts of the world showing such risky audacity.

Grace Shelley: You deserve a big kiss.

Jack: Not here in the garden. Last time I was kissed in a garden, it turned out rather awkward.

Grace: Oh, but Judas was a man.

Jack: Yes. Strange business.

Jack to the doctor: "behavior which would be considered insanity in a tradesman is looked upon as mild eccentricity in a lord."

Sir Charles: [exasperated, after Jack has left] Oh, my God!

Jack: [ducking back into the room after hearing Charles] Yes?

Lady Claire: Then for Christ's sake, go.

Jack: Oh, don't go for my sake.

Dinsdale Gurney: Now, listen, that camellia woman is called Grace Shelley. Close friend of my father's. He put her onto it, made her dress like that. It's absolutely ridiculous. He wants to marry you off. Well, Mother's in it too. And I expect old Tuck knows all about it. Everybody except me.

Jack: [squatting] Stop! You're making me a stunted dwarf, a deformed midget, a crippled newt!

Dinsdale: What are you doing down there?

Jack: It's your negative insinuendos.

Dinsdale: Insinuendo?

Jack: Insinuendo is insinuation towards innuendo... brought on by increased negativism... out of a negative reaction to your father's positivism.

Edited by du Garbandier
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I have a full copy of this now, but never quite found the 2.5 hours on my own (with a blogging window ahead as wel) to sit down and watch it.

The chance to discuss it with someone else though appeals. It's been bumped up my list.

Matt

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How remarkable that a star like O'Toole would do a film like this. It's hard to see the Clooneys or Pitts of the world showing such risky audacity.

I was thinking this the whole time I watched it. "Why isn't anything like this being made today?" Where has the appetite for great satire gone? Or better, where have the guts gone? In the Loop is the only recent big-screen feature I can think of that dares to reach so high ... or so low.

I agree, too, that the film almost runs out of gas in the second half. But O'Toole's energy is compelling throughout, and some of the supporting performances - especially Arthur Lowe as the hilarious butler - are worth the trip as well.

Edited by Overstreet

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Overstreet wrote:

: In the Loop is the only recent big-screen feature I can think of that dares to reach so high ... or so low.

... and it was a spin-off from a TV series. Yet more evidence that some of the most ambitious and/or interesting storytelling these days originates on the small screen.

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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OK, what the heck, I need a good laugh. I'm gonna give it a shot.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Okay, so you captured my attention. Then you pulled me in and piqued my interest even more but it wasn't until I read this...

Did I mention that it's a musical?

...that I LOL'd and thought, I really should see this.

...the kind of film criticism we do. We are talking about life, and more than that the possibility of abundant life." -M.Leary

"Dad, how does she move in mysterious ways?"" -- Jude (my 5-year-old, after listening to Mysterious Ways)

[once upon a time known here as asher]

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  • 3 years later...

moviemusic_rulingclass.jpg

I'm stunned that I can't find any discussion of this film here. I thought we'd given good attention to just about every film in which Jesus, or men playing Jesus, or people who think they *are* Jesus, figured prominently.

I'm halfway through it (watching it during dinner hours with Anne this week), and I have laughed myself silly. I hope the second half keeps this up.

It stars Peter O'Toole as Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney, 14th Earl of Gurney... a man who thinks he's Jesus Christ.

The Christ-related humor is almost as relentless as it is in The Life of Brian, and yet so far I haven't heard anything that's actually belittling God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. The humor that comes from Jack thinking he's Jesus is really quite hilarious.

For example:

 

QUOTE
Lady Claire Gurney: How do you know you're God?

Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney, 14th Earl of Gurney: Simple. When I pray to Him, I find I am talking to myself.

Then there's Jack's prayer blessing his own lunch:

QUOTE
Jack Arnold Alexander Tancred Gurney, 14th Earl of Gurney: For what I am about to receive, may I make myself truly thankful.

And then there's Dr. Herder, the psychiatrist who tries to treat Jack:

QUOTE
Dr. Herder: He can't forget being rejected by his mother and father at the age of 11. They sent him away, alone, into a primitive community of licensed bullies and pederasts.

Sir Charles: You mean he went to public school.

Dr. Herder: Exactly.

These lines machine-gun so fast that if I laugh, I'll probably miss something.

But what's really brilliant is the film's merciless lampooning of the British aristocracy and the Church of England. The film is based on a play, which must have been a hoot and a holler when it played in Britain. This is as sharp-edged as satire gets. Wait until you see the minister who performs Jack's wedding. I think he surpasses the clergyman from The Princess Bride in his buffoonish behavior. No, the church doesn't look too good in this film, but then, I have a feeling that the Church of England probably deserved some satirical treatment at the time.

Did I mention that it's a musical?

I can't think of an American filmmaker working today who would be gutsy enough to try something so audacious. And I knew O'Toole was great, but I've rarely seen him so unhinged.

Here's the Criterion page on the film.

Of course, the second half may change my opinion entirely... but the first half is so rich that I had to ask if anybody here has seen it.

 

 

 

I was looking for reactions to The Ruling Class, because it's nominated for the Divine Comedy List and viewable right now on Hulu. In my memory, the film cleaves into two distinct parts - even genres. The 1st is light and disarming (and yields the marvelous quotes above) and the 2nd scores the seam between comedy and horror.

I *think* I also remember the tipping point as the scene in which Peter O'Toole's character is

cured of his illusion that he is God - and experiencing that scene as an exorcism upended, driving out the illusion of being (possessed by) Christ and ushering in the spirit of Jack the Ripper

.

 

Christianity is the elephant in the room of British culture, the cross on the wall that takes people by surprise and at least once, induces a gasp of shock. The film's God jokes are also plays on the resuscitation of meaning : for the most part, we don't really  hear the God in thank God or for God's sake or see the cross in the crucifix. So the fissure between professing Christianity in doses and finding its life-sized intrusion a breach of decorum and even sanity, is first funny and then darkly so.  I am not sure if others found the second part of this movie so disturbing (almost like a different film grafted onto the 1st). Or if that inheres less in the bare outline of the plot than a trapped, tormented look in Peter O'Toole's eyes when, at key moments, the camera locks gaze.

 

I know the film is clearly an indictment of inbred privilege and the arbitration of taste and conduct but I thought it went beyond class and church. The ruling class wasn't simply discrete strata or institutions within English society, encapsulated in the House of Lords. It was finally the whole spiral of civilization.

There are so many stories that hold up second childhood and the reification of fantasy as the vessel of faith; this is the only one I can think of where the alternative is murder.

Edited by Josie
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  • 1 month later...
  • 3 weeks later...

Now playing for free this week on Hulu.

"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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  • 1 year later...

Finally got around to finishing this (having started five years ago and never quite found the time to finish. I've written a few rather lacklustre notes on it at my blog but what a great script, so many great lines. And whilst the House of Lords (UK politics' second chamber) has been reformed a little since this, it's still shocking that there are still hereditary peers in there.

Matt

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