Look Back in Anger (Tony Richardson, 1959)Adam & Matty's takes (starts at 36:16)
In their discussion, Adam & Matty wonder what current actor could give a performance on the level of Richard Burton's today... 9 years later, I don't really need to worry about that, since the similarities between this and Fences were hard to ignore, having seen it pretty recently. Both set in the 50s, featuring a working class man who is frustrated at the lack of opportunities for him, and expresses that anger in a very eloquent and charismatic matter... while also making everyone around him miserable. Now, this is the « Angry Young Men » marathon, but I assumed Burton's character to be in his mid-thirties... apparently not in the play, but – even without taking Burton's age in consideration – the character makes so much more sense to me as a 35 year-old anyway, since his anger has a definite jadedness to it.
Adam & Matty make the film sound like a painful experience, and I guess I can see why, but I don't agree. Burton might be unbelievably cruel, but he's nonetheless fascinating to watch, and the film – unlike Fences – has a mood I enjoy a lot : the crisp B&W cinematography of course, but mostly the music. Now I'm not saying the film is fun, but there is a melancholy to it : again the idea that this character is supposed to be in his 20s makes less and less sense the more I think about it, as the film as a whole oozes with frustration and sorrow, more than youthful, energetic anger. Burton speaks fast and loud, but he looks tired of it all, and that comes through in the music he plays.
So we have an amazing central performance, great cinematography, plenty of thematic richness in dealing with how it felt like to be British while the country had to transition from world Empire to small industrial country (which... let's just say this film has not lost its resonance), it's a masterpiece right ? Well... no, because the film just doesn't really have anywhere to go from there, and the supporting characters only exist as props for Burton to yell at. I can see intellectually why his wife would put up with him, but it doesn't really come through in her performance, and the direction the film takes with the Elena character... it just doesn't work at all for me, on either side of the equation. It feels like Richardson identified a feeling worth depicting on stage/screen, and did that quite well, but didn't necessarily had anything else in mind than that. It's a fine endeavour still, and carried by Burton's performance, but leaves a little to be desired in the end.7/10