13 FEBRUARY 1959, Page 19


The Painter's Eye


The Horse's Mouth, (CI a union t.), —Gigi. (Columbia.) THE deb who announced at the premiere of The Horse's Meath (director : Ronald Neame; 'U' certificate) that she wasn't really interested in horses was being inveigled, like the rest of the lay public, into seeing something that probably interested her a lot less: an artist. And not just an artist in action, a comic bohemian on the rocks, but the way an artist functions, the way he ticks. A funny film on a profoundly mysterious subject, this, and if it isn't all that funny or all that enlightening at least it aims impossibly, en- couragingly high. Here is the second British film in two weeks to go leaping out of the safe little groo,v along which the British cinema has lately been creeping : leaping with a rather self- conscious thrashing and cavorting, a rather too eager attempt at brilliance and virtuosity and histrionic high jinks; but—which is the main thing—at least leaping. Hard and seriously it tries, within the framework of comedy, to give us some insight into the painter's mysterious vision— eyesight as well as outlook --and to make us understand (a) how an artist feels and (b) how a painter (specifically) sees.

And to show us both, The Horse's Month has not only an actor who looks and sounds pretty much what you might expect Gulley Jimson, the Painter-hero, to look and sound like, but a real livew

.painter to paint the part as well. Mostly dark reds and browns, in excellent Technicolor, the paintings in the film are done not by some studio ,technician but by John Bratby to match—no, not by Bratby to match, but by Bratby who extra- ordinarily matches—Gulley Jimson's personality as filtered through the transparent exterior of Alec Guinness; matching it so well that it is only too easy to believe he—Gulley Jimson—painted them (a feat, it' you remember other films about artists, and being asked to believe that Cornet Wilde had the works of Chopin in him, or George Sanders the works of Gauguin, or Bill Travers the works of Browning). Alec Guinness wrote the script as well as playing Gulley Jimson, so the conception of .the artist is as much his as anyone's since Joyce Cary (who after all thought him up in the first place); and the discrepancy between Jimson the Corvo-like artist-inangiM in constant warm, if not quite hot, water with the police and the academic nobs and Jimson the painter of Bratby's paintings remains. Sometimes the discrepancy is too obvious : if Jimson's paintings were really being shown at the Tate and attracting queues that curled twice round the block, it seems inconceivable that Jimson the scruff would still be running around giving lessons at sixpence an hour, for however good a cause: just as it seems inconceivable that if .1 imson, the hero of the exhibition, turned up in the queue and talked loudly to his ex-wife about the painting of her in the bath the rest of the queue wouldn't have pricked up its ears and taken it all in—whereas, in the film, it merely tells the garrulous pair to get a move on up the steps of the Tate. Then, too, there are discrepancies between the various sorts of comedy—high, low, middling, serio-comic, tragi-comic and super-custard-pie. The custard- pie parts take place in the flat of some millionaire patrons of the arts whose beautiful blank wall Jimson decides to cover with a Raising ot Lazarus; a sculptor joins him, bringing a block of stone tit to fell a house with, and drops it through the floor into the flat below. Laughter depends on anticipated outrage : they are like children daubing the new curtains with tooth- paste and waiting breathlessly for the adult reaction. And sure enough, the owners return from Jamaica and fall straight through the hole;. and sure enough again, Jimson's painting becomes a national monument, however much the owners may hate it, and Jimson sails off down the Thames in his barge, declaiming Chesterton (oh dear). . .

Not surprisingly, Mr. Guinness got the 'best actor' prize for his performance as Gulley Jimson at the Venice festival last year; and a 'perform- ance' it is indeed. Everything is in it—the rapscallion, the genius, the hobo, the master of admiring disciples, the unsavoury character muttering in telephone booths, the bicycle thief, the ex-husband, almost but not quite the lover, almost but never quite the dirty old man; every- thing but the moving human being. And perhaps that is just at it should be, perhaps the very cold- ness of Guinness as a personality suggests better than most qualities could the artist's remoteness. In this expensive, extroverted, high-spirited film his tough and rather chilling performance seems to be saying : 'Well, that's how an artist may look and behave, and even a bit how he may work, but what he's really up to, what he sees and feels about what he sees. you'll never know.' A vigorous, inconclusive film—for what could it possibly conclude? I feel pretty thankful for its inconclusions. Kay Walsh and Renee Houston are excellent as Gulley's two women; the minor parts are rather amateurishly played, though, except for the boy Nosy (Mike Morgan), a good-looking youth who manages to act himself into looking frightful and has just the right air of maddening, tender, knowing reverence.

At the new Columbia Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue, where theatrical rather than cinematic conventions are to be observed—long runs, set times for showing—Gigi (director : Vincente Minelli; 'A' certificate). Colette's tale about the training of a schoolgirl cocotte blown up into a full-scale musical, starts things oil with a bang. Lurid and gorgeous sets and clothes by Cecil Beaton. lyrics and • script by Alan lay Lerner. music by Frederick Loewe, Maurice Chevalier at the top of his form, Hermione Gingold strangely but rather touchingly piano, and Leslie Caron as her delightful self, looking so genuinely adolescent that one realises how far from it other cut-down actresses have been when they tried to look coltish.