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domenica 19 giugno 2011

Deconstruction of a marriage in Jack Clayton’s The Pumpkin Eater.

Jo (Anne Bancroft) lives in a barn with her second husband Giles, a violinist, and her many children she had with him and from her previous marriage. One day he brings home a friend, wannabe screenwriter . in Jake (Peter Finch). The two having a drink look at a windmill over a hill, just an excuse to hide their immediate and mutual attraction that culminates soon in a new marriage for Jo. Jake is successful and while their life style highly improves from almost starvation to richness, their marriage begins to fall apart. The man is unfaithful, he’s constantly cheating on Jo that one day leaving home, overwhelmed by the memories, has a nervous breakdown while wandering through the corridors of Harrods.
Things get better when Jo decides to go under psychiatric treatment. She starts to realize the many problems of her weird behaviour, her constant need to be a mother.
When her relationship with Jake is revamping, Jo is pregnant again, but this time to please her husband, that doesn’t want any newborn child, she has an abortion. Jo is ready for her new life, finally freed from the chains of motherhood she will enjoy her social status with her husband more. But happiness is short, when Mr. Conway (James Mason) a family friend, reveals her Jake is having an affair with his wife Beth and they are mad for each other.
Jo’s world falls completely apart when she discovers Beth is pregnant and she’s carrying Jake’s baby. The two have a violent fight and Jo leaves him to go back to Giles with whom she sleeps one night as an act of revenge against her husband. Jake, upset  by the revelation of her betrayal, doesn’t speak with her anymore. Jo refuges in the windmill over the hill, that they bought as a sign of their long lasting love. She’s there alone, until one morning all the kids show up with Jake. The usual noise, revives the silent house again and Jake offers a beer to Jo that smiling says yes.
Shot in 1964, The pumpkin eater was based on a novel by Penelope Mortimer and adapted for the screen by legendary playwriter Harold Pinter and photographed by Oswald Morris. The tech and cast crew were first choice and it’s all merit of director Jack Clayton, that assembled such talents all together to deliver one of his finest even if too long forgotten films. Clayton shocked Britain and British film industry in 1959 with his first opus Room at the top, the film that would have been the starting point of a new conception of cinema in UK and the primary source of inspiration for the Free cinema movement, and the whole Kitchen Sink style filmmaking of the following decade.
Clayton shot few films during his career, and surprising followed Room at the top with his wonderful adaptation of Henry James’ Turn of the screw, The innocents, a creepy psychological ghost story that is as unsurpassed as effective nowadays, as it was at the times of its release. The innocents was a complete departure from the style he create with RATT, it was a masterfully shot gothic film with an eerie atmosphere and an strong erotic tension.
Clayton went back to social and psychological drama with TPE, but with his style improved from the previous experience.
The film is a precursor well ahead of its times. Some themes faced here like abortion and sexual life in and outside the marriage were dangerous ground in 1964 and most of them would have been exploited in movies only after the 68 and the beginning of the sexual revolution.
Jo is a peculiar character; even if she’s a desirable woman with a strong drive to experience the pleasures of the senses, she is unable to enjoy a sex life without conceiving a baby: an hidden, unconscious, imposition probably due to a strong religious education that makes her to consider sex without conception, a sin. Jake is a self absorbed, superficial man, able to dig in the human soul and nature only when he puts them on paper. In his life he’s selfish, a child that never grew up, in constant need to be appreciated, as it’s suggested in a scene that his parents never accepted his will to become a writer and thought of it to be a mistake. Jake search for love and attention is the one of a child whose mother never really showed affection. Both Jo and Jake love each other in their own completely different ways, it’s a matter to find out a meeting point, a balance in their union. Reconciliation at the end is as sad as temporary, things will not be the same again.
But a marriage is made also of appearances, both of them need each other, Jake because at the end of the day can always go back to his family and feels comfortable; Jo instead needs a steady place around which she can built her daily life and routine.
This is a great film, a fine psychological study of two personalities that try hard to stay together, even if the empathy of the viewer shifts more towards Jo, because with her itchy nature, still she is more responsible and thoughtful.
Performances are amazing; Anne Bancroft was awarded with a Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival, a constant recurring point of Clayton’s career to be considered an excellent actors’ director, but unfortunately he shot only few films more. The critically savaged The Great Gatsby in 1974, was  very disappointing for him and in 1977 he suffered a stroke that left him speechless. He had to learn to speak again, and he succeeded going back behind the camera in 1983 with Something wicked this way comes the screen adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel. The troubled production and his still precarious health conditions led to a semi disaster. While Disney was trying to renovate its production slate shifting to a more mature audience, still the Studio didn’t want a too scary product, while Clayton was opting for his celebrated suspenseful style that worked so well in The Innocents. The result was an hybrid that was ignored by grew ups, thinking it was a kids’ film, and too scary for children that were flooding out of the theatres crying. The movie was a flop, and had tepid critical response. But in years has grown up the cult status it deserves, because even with all its flaws, it’s a great film that could have been a masterpiece. Clayton won back viewers and critics with The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne in 1987 and with the TV film Memento Mori in 1992, both based on celebrated novels. He passed away in 1995. Most of Clayton’s film are available on DVD and Blu Ray so I strongly recommend to buy them and discover his crafted filmmaking; an actor’s director could be stagey from a technical point view, but it’s not his case. His movies are beautifully shot, with long camera movements and sought after angles, cranes and tracking shots are used constantly and well edited together due to his previous  experience as a renown editor.
The Pumpkin Eater in available in US as part of Columbia Classics By Request (DVD-R), and UK in a properly pressed edition in the collection Classic British, the one reviewed here.
Film has been re-mastered from original elements and looks nice, even with some dirts here and there. Audio is strong and good, OAR was 1.66:1 and has been rendered 1.78:1, 16X9 enhanced. Unfortunately no extras of any kind in the mentioned editions, not even the trailer. Audio English only, in the UK edition with Eng. Subs.

“I think the whole voyage of making a film is like a big package. I’m fascinated by all of it”
(Jack Clayton)

Film mass is ended you may go in peace
The Vikar

Sequence from the film

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