Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Savage Messiah

I underestimated these movies when they first came out. In fact I hardly recognised them as movies at all. They weren't like Hollywood films with their three act structure and all that crap, but neither were they like the slow, thoughtful, deliberate European arthouse movies I admired. They have such energy. Savage Messiah may be the most energetic of them all. It goes like a train. It starts with Dorothy Tutin barging into the library and straight into an argument and just goes and goes until it stops. Abruptly. 

"A man who talks like that should be shot"

"He was"

Where The Music Lovers is almost a silent movie, Savage Messiah is the talkiest talkie ever. Antony and Tutin are made of words. Whatever they're doing- fighting, romancing, making art, just walking along- they never stop pouring out the high-toned, extemporaneous gab. The script is by the poet Christopher Logue (who played Richelieu in The Devils) from the book by Jim Ede. It's gorgeous- full of wisdom and dada.

The Edwardian age is conventionally represented in the movies (think Merchant Ivory, think Downton) as a lazy, doomy summer (with servant problems). Parasol Time.  Russell shows us its feverish creativity (Vorticism, Molotov cocktails, New Women).  Helen Mirren (in one of her earliest roles) embodies the zeistgeist- morphing at a head-spinning rate from suffragette to performance artist to libertine to jingo. 

Dorothy Tutin didn't do much film work. That's such a shame. Think Audrey Hepburn's Eliza: age her a bit, make her more than a little crazy, then get her to rooooar. At one point Sophie Breszka sings a sublime little nonsense song about two fleas living in a rhubarb tree. The credits tell us Tutin wrote it herself.

Scott Antony seems to have slipped out of acting. He's still around, doing other things. He came from nowhere, delivered one turbo-charged performance, then went away again. Russell had the knack of conjuring up these meteors. Think also of Imogen Millais-Scott in Salome's Last Dance.

In his pomp- from the mid-sixties to the mid-seventies- Russell fired out masterpieces, double-quick-fast, like a man who knew he had to get in as much as he could before the funding ran out. I find it hard to chose a favourite. They're all so very different, all so very much part of the same creative surge. This is his most personal- a double portrait of artist and muse- and a sustained, joyous blast against every silly, trivial thing that gets in the way of Art or Love.
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