Thursday, 9 April 2009

On The Offence!

I'm not convinced that watching excerpts of feature length films on a tiny computer screen is any better than a crime - and by crime I refer not to illegal copying of flicks, but rather the heinous disrespect for cinema, aspect ratios, and the sheer size at which a movie should ideally be viewed that is inherent in your average monitor-viewing experience.

Having said all that, I can't deny I do regularly visit sites like Asian Horror Movies to watch stuff I would otherwise never see (in the same way I watched bootleg ninth generation videotapes ordered from zines like Gore Gazette in the 80s). It's safe to say then that I am somewhat divided on the subject.

Today I found a sequence on Youtube from one of my favourite films, the seldom seen The Offence (sometimes The Offense). This five-minute sequence is pretty key to the film, and the possibility that it might intrigue someone enough to check out the whole thing... well, I just can't resist.

Released in 1972, The Offence (working title: Something Like The Truth) was based on the 1968 stage play This Story of Yours by John Hopkins (who also adapted it for the screen), and stars Sean Connery - in what I would regard as the best performance of his career.

Directed by U.S. great Sidney Lumet, and shot mostly in Berkshire, England, the film may be regarded as police drama/character study with somewhat experimental touches, particularly its innovative use of sound (the sole film score of composer Harrison Birtwistle), lighting (superb work by cinematographer Gerry Fisher), and editing (by John Victor-Smith).

The story of The Offence is a very bleak one, admittedly short on action and looking a lot like the theatre adaptation that it is, about Detective Sergeant Johnson (played by Connery), haunted by the horror of all he has seen in his decades of police service, driven to the brink of madness by pervasive thoughts of sickening violence and sadism. At the risk of providing spoilers, it's interesting how differently people read what happens next.

The film tackles a brief period in Johnson's life, an investigation into a series of child molestation cases targeting young girls in the community. A suspicious character is arrested, Johnson uses excessive force in his interrogation of same, and this brings to the fore issues the detective has long suppressed. For, as the poster's tagline puts it, "After 20 years, what Detective-Sergeant Johnson has seen and done is destroying him."

The Offence features three central conversations: that between Johnson and his superior, Detective Superintendent Lieutenant Cartwright (played by Trevor Howard); between Johnson and his wife*, Maureen Johnson (played by Vivien Merchant); and 'finally' between Johnson and the suspect, one Kenneth Baxter (played by Ian Bannen) during the interrogation. In each case, the acting is first-rate, and the cumulative effect of these encounters is fairly devastating.

The first time I saw it was the ol' late at night, half-asleep, flipping through the channels situation. I had no idea what I was watching but quickly got sucked in and, by the end of the film, I was really shaken up, unusually affected. The Offence is nothing if not uncompromising and, in my wide-open late night mind, that intensity left scars. I just could not believe this film had been made. I became obsessed with finding a copy of it and ultimately had to wait another couple of months until it ran on TV again.

But back to the Youtube clip -

This dialogue-free sequence gives the audience some insight into Johnson's obsessive thoughts, the images flashing through his mind while he goes about his day. Such a visual montage was of course unavailable in the original theatre production, and it is a tribute to Lumet's gifts that he is able to suggest so much ugliness and pain with so little actually shown onscreen. Here, less really is more.

From The Unknown Movies:

Several times in the movie we get a taste of what Johnson has gone through. Driving home...we are shown what is going on in Johnson's mind - an almost endless string of crime scenes and accidents he has seen in his career as a policeman, each more ghastly than the next. Lumet emphasizes the horror by showing these scenes in near silence, so our attention is held on the carnage that's displayed. In a way, we are seeing these sights just like Johnson - without any distractions, or hopeful signs. You then start to understand the deep psychological damage he has suffered, and any critical viewpoint you had of him starts to soften.

Bonus discussion of the film in other languages! Deux en francais and dos en Español!

*quoted in an earlier post on this same blog.


Anonymous said...

The film has been released in its entirety, in the USA & UK, on dvd. It is definitely worth your while.

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