A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Naked (Mike Leigh, 1993)

Midway through the film, Johnny (David Thewlis) happens upon a parked limousine whose driver is dozing at the wheel. Waking up, the driver mistakes Johnny for his client and invites him into the limo, only to realize his mistake suddenly and order Johnny out. He's one of the few lucky ones in Naked: Lots of other people invite Johnny in, only to realize their mistake after he's wrought chaos in their lives. For Johnny is less a realistic character than an symbolic force: the spirit of anarchy loose in a world that's trying to impose something like order. Johnny is something of a Shakespearean fool, licensed to deflate pomposity, to expose absurdities like the meaningless job of Brian (Peter Wight), the security guard for an empty building: "You're guarding space? That's stupid, innit? Because someone could break in there and steal all the fuckin' space and you wouldn't know it's gone, would you?" Writer-director Mike Leigh typically begins his filmmaking in disorder -- sessions in which the actors improvise what their characters are like, what they might do or say in a given situation, and how their interrelationships might work out -- and ends in order -- a scripted film in which the actors are not allowed to deviate from what's on the page. He is fortunate in Naked to have had a brilliant company, headed by Thewlis, to find out what's in their characters. In Naked, Johnny is reading James Gleick's Chaos, which posits an underlying pattern to what appears random and chaotic. Johnny is the butterfly flapping its wings that causes a storm to sweep through the lives of flatmates Louise (Lesley Sharp), Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge), and Sandra (Claire Skinner) -- not that they don't already lead lives of quiet (and sometimes noisy) desperation. It can be argued, however, that Johnny, for all his sponging amorality and his sexual aggression, represents something of a life force in the film, especially when contrasted with the rich and predatory Jeremy (Greg Crutwell), a character Leigh introduces I think intentionally to serve as a foil for Johnny, who at least has a measure of self-awareness even if sometimes it has to be beaten into him. Never let it be said that Leigh uses nudity gratuitously: It's gym-toned Jeremy who stays snugly encased in his designer briefs but scrawny Johnny who strides boldly toward the camera, genitals aflop.  Viciously funny, tonically brutal, Naked is one of those wake-up-call films we need to subject ourselves to now and then.

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