What if someone who had never seen a film before decided to direct a movie?
Well, if it was explained to them how a camera works, how scenes should more or less look together, how to edit, and how certain cinematic devices can be used, then what would that movie it look like? What could we truly expect? The answer is probably crappy, but there would certainly be a fresh approach. They would not be aping the latest hit film, or referencing their favorite directors. They would think about something in their life ore experience they would want to capture it as if it had been capture for the first time. And that has innate value.
Now let us then suppose that that person is an artist, even someone who is truly familiar with the notion of image, texture, textile, and movement. What would that film be like?
It would be something like A SINGLE MAN, the new film by fashion icon Tom Ford. Oh of course Tom Ford has seen movies, but there is a clear and palpable innocence to his approach. He’s not trying to do any discernable impersonation of a film, which is often the cardinal sin of first time directors. It is simply as if the man who’s been designing fashion lines and photo shoots for the last eternity is finally free to explore a new plane of existence. It’s all a new palette to him. He constantly plays with color, time, framing, slow-motion, and contrast editing. He has incredible appreciation for his new ability to “sculp in time” (tarkovsky’s phrase) and construct a fully-realized story. In that regard, it’s really like he’s never seen a film before and delights in the popular cinematic devices as if they’re the first time they’ve ever been done. The result is often tangential and possibly amateurish (picture a roomful of film school students rolling their eyes “doesn’t he know that he DOESN’T have to do a whole slow mo shot of the little girl’s dress??!!”), but it’s it all feels so impossibly genuine.
It’s also a startlingly good film.
Do not assume this is a movie of vignettes or passing fancy of a director obessessed with doing camera tricks. It is a completely coherent and concentrated story; a single day in the life of a middle aged man who lost the love of his life. Sure the fact that the relationship is a homosexual one is somehow the conversation piece of the film, but that’s completely off-base to me. Even if it sometimes touches on the plight of being an unspeakable, “invisible minority” in the 60’s, that could hardly be less of the central focus. It is a-political. This is a film wholly about the universal nature of profound loss.
I know the novel was deeply personal, but speculation on the personal nature to ford is both obvious and inconsequential. What’s important is that it completely feels personal. That one can immerse themselves into Ford’s beautiful perspective and Colin firth’s broken spirit. Because it’s so wonderfully written, Colin Firth is gives the best performance I’ve ever seen from him. He cracks with wounded resolve (the phrase makes sense when his plans become apparent) and there is a crystalline focus of his world. While it’s stylistically tangentially the reveals in story and character If movies are about drawing you into a character, than this film succeeds unquestionably.
But if you’re someone who believes that films should follow certain rules, or that any good film has the sense to cut A, B, and C (and I often am on both counts) than you might find A SINGLE MAN to be a annoying bore. You’d be angry with it’s cinematic dalliances (the same way lots of folks are annoyed by the brilliant film THE NEW WORLD). But I think the movie transcends the limitations of it’s own innocence.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s what makes it great.