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Films: Last Year at Marienbad (1961)
Key work of art: Merda d'artista (1961) - Piero Manzoni
Non-fiction: Tears of Eros (1961)
Catch-22 (1961) - Joseph L. Heller [Amazon.com]
There was a time when reading Joseph Heller's classic satire on the murderous insanity of war was nothing less than a rite of passage. Echoes of Yossarian, the wise-ass bombardier who was too smart to die but not smart enough to find a way out of his predicament, could be heard throughout the counterculture. As a result, it's impossible not to consider Catch-22 to be something of a period piece. But 40 years on, the novel's undiminished strength is its looking-glass logic. Again and again, Heller's characters demonstrate that what is commonly held to be good, is bad; what is sensible, is nonsense.
- Victim (1961) - Basil Dearden
Dirk Bogarde risked his career to make this 1961 film about a lawyer who risks his career to stand up to blackmailers. Part crime thriller and part plea for tolerance, Victim uses the terror of a blackmailing ring to point out the injustice of Britain's antisodomy laws. Bogarde plays Melville Farr, a married lawyer who learns of a blackmail scheme when one of its victims, an old friend, commits suicide rather than tell the police. As Farr conducts an investigation, he must confront his own past. Victim was ahead of its time--it was the first English-language movie to use the word "homosexual"--and as such it seems quaint and stilted at times. Straw-man clichés about homosexuality must be knocked down, and, like in all first-wave issue movies, occasionally characters need to have rather stilted debates. Still, the crime plot stands on its own, the performances are excellent, and the film is brave enough to make some very good points. This is an interesting and worthy bit of cinematic history. --Ali Davis, amazon.com
- The Innocents (1961) - Jack Clayton
The definitive screen adaptation of Henry James's The Turn of the Screw, the 1961 production of The Innocents remains one of the most effective ghost stories ever filmed. Originally promoted as the first truly "adult" chiller of the big screen (a marginally valid claim considering the release of Psycho a year earlier), the film arrived at a time when the thematic depth of James's story could finally be addressed without the compromise of reductive discretion. And while the Freudian anxiety that fuels the story may seem tame by today's standards, the psychological horrors that comprise the story's "dark secret" are given full expression in a film that brilliantly clouds the boundary between tragic reality and frightful imagination. In one of her finest performances, Deborah Kerr stars as Miss Giddons, a devout and somewhat repressed spinster who happily accepts the position of governess for two orphaned children whose uncle (Michael Redgrave) readily admits to having no interest in being tied down by two "brats." So Miss Giddons is dispatched to Bly House, the lavish, shadowy estate where young Flora (Pamela Franklin) and her brother Miles (Martin Stephens, so memorable in 1960's Village of the Damned) live with a good-natured housekeeper (Megs Jenkins). At first, life at Bly House seems splendidly idyllic, but as Miss Giddons learns the horrible truth about the estate's now-deceased groundskeeper and previous governess, she begins to suspect that her young charges are ensnared in a devious plot from beyond the grave.
Ghostly images are revealed in only the most fleeting glimpses, and the outstanding Cinemascope photography by Freddie Francis (who used special filters to subtly darken the edges of the screen) turns Bly House into a welcoming mansion by day, a maze of mystery and terror by night. Sound effects and music are used to bone-chilling effect, and director Jack Clayton, blessed with a script by William Archibald and Truman Capote, maintains a deliberate pace to emphasize the ambiguity of James's timeless novella. The result is a masterful film--comparable to the 1963 classic The Haunting--that uses subtlety and suggestion to reach the pinnacle of fear. --Jeff Shannon for Amazon.com
A Severed Head (1961) Iris Murdoch
A Severed Head (1961) - Iris Murdoch [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
A Severed Head (1961) is a satirical, in places almost farcical novel by Iris Murdoch about marriage, adultery and incest amongst a group of civilized and educated people who, the author implies, really should know better. Set in and around London, it depicts a power struggle between grown-up middle-class people who are lucky to be free of real problems. More than 40 years after its first publication, A Severed Head seems like a harbinger of the Sexual Revolution which was to hit Britain in the 1960s and 70s.
Despite these serious overtones, A Severed Head is regarded by many readers as the most entertaining of Murdoch's novels. As British novelist William Sutcliffe put it, "Of all the lots-of-people-screwing-lots-of-other-people novels this is probably the best, and certainly the weirdest. With less philosophising and more shagging than Murdoch's other books, it is a joy to see this wonderful writer let her hair (and her knickers) down."--http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Severed_Head [May 2005]
see also: Acéphale
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