22 JANUARY 1972, Page 21


Faithfulness is not enough

Tony Palmer

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Curzon) demonstrates above all else the dangers of translating what has been successful in one medium into another and quite different medium, naively hoping that the results will be as good. Solzhenitsyn's semi-autobiographical novel based upon his own experiences in a Siberian forced labour camp between 1945 and 1953 is taken as a masterpiece of austere simplicity. But what breeds terror in the book, namely the unspoken anguish of those involved, is curiously passive in the film where, unwittingly perhaps, every last twitch of significance and/or emotional response is made abundantly clear. Ironically, the film is more faithful to the book than any similar transposition I can recall. Apart from a few minor adjustments, the dialogue has been extracted in toto from the novel, as have the events which the film depicts. Both the camerawork and the direction are the epitome of discretion, and the acting of Tom Courtenay and particularly Alfred Burke could scarcely have been more dignified. Indeed, the whole positively reeks of selfconscious respectability, almost boasting the nobility of its cause upon its sleeve. But will it, I wonder, give its profits to Amnesty International or any other similar organisation devoted to helping political prisoners like those we see in the film? That the film is worthy without being worthwhile is, of course, a disappointment, and while I believe this not to have been inevitable, I suspect that the problems inherent in the task which producer/ director Caspar Wrede set himself were insurmountable. Television, for example, has acquainted us with suffering and deprivation to a degree that may not — by its very familiarity — any longer move us, but certainly continues to bring us closer to its external horrors. As yet, we have no newsreel footage from Siberia; but we know enough of similar situations to be aware of the geography of such places. It may be, of course, that the wasteland of Siberia is beyond our imagination, in which case our first sight of such a place would indeed be shocking. But on either count the film fails. It simply does not convince us of the reality of the place.

Fact, in this case at least, is obviously more pitiful than any conceivable fiction. Yet fiction might have provided that very element of unreality necessary to suspend our disbeliefs. As Auden observed: art is not life, and cannot be a midwife to society. The film assumes that art is life; by sticking dogmatically to the superficial externals of the book, it assumes that justice will be done to the original. It is not.

The French Connection ('X' Carlton) is equally factual. Based almost gunshot for gunshot upon real events concerning the New York narcotics squad and their seizure in 1966 of a multi-million dollar shipment of high-grade heroin, the film is at first viewing little more than a slick gangster movie. Shot mostly in and around the ramshackle warehouses along the East River, The French Connection has all the smell of gritty reality that Denisovich perversely lacks. Of course, its task is easier. Actual locations, authentic accents, artificially constructed drama, a natural thriller — all these are elements beyond the scope of Ivan Denisovich. After all, nothing is quite so absurd as a chubbycheeked Midlands lad trying to persuade us that in fact he's a near-starved Russian.

But given these obvious advantages, The French Connection achieves a greater sense of watching something that really happened than Wrede's well-intentioned piece. Although its authenticity is not to be doubted, it has freely injected that authenticity with whatever director Wil liam Friedlan thought necessary to make it work as a film. Neither the book upon which the film is based nor even the facts upon which the book is based are allowed to stand in his way. An immoral procedure? Only if you take the view that the truth is simple arid apparent which in life is rarely so and in art never. The presence in the cast of one of the ex-cops (Eddie Egan) who took part in the original events portrayed merely affirms the plausibility of what we see. Yet it is irrelevant. Likewise, the presence of an exinternee of a Russian labour camp would not have affected the persuasiveness of Denisovich one jot. Nor is it just that The French Connection is nearer to our experience than that described by Solzhenitsyn. Coherence is everything, and Just as I don't believe that Russian prisoners however articulate pass the day mouthing cliches about God, the system, Eisenstein and war, I do believe that New York cops bang on about sex, porn and the weather. No doubt both types of • conversation are claimed to be real. In both, the authors were there. But with Denisovich as with The French Connection words are not sufficient. Nor is the illusion that one is recreating reality. Inevitably, because such is the nature of the film, one is creating something new. And whether one does that by distorting reality or even misrepresenting it, if one's intention to ' tell it like it was ' is achieved, then such apparently dishonest methods on present evidence are acceptabe — almost necessary. Spectator, JanuarY 22' lu visit the exhibition which is worth 11',1ei Feeling better now, I turn to things. There is much to see in the go')111 if not all that much to get excite But the Leicester Galleries, Cork ,70 generate heat with a fine mixed s'Pn feel obliged to single out Eliot for top honours with his superb, solor,tm lives in tempera and oil. If TurrliPs, and Sweets Wrapped in Leaves mise you much, I must ask you to„.T your prejudice against pictures of t'itla feathers and sweets. The genre l'16Ch called still life, but here is Sol*" most alive painting you will ever se:t.e.,,_el only slightly less ecstatic about "nE double bill at Roland, Brovisef Delbanco where Norman Adams Atlantic coast of Scarp as his and displays considerable virtuos731 thirty-five watercolour studies, Cal with light and patterns. Alfred fine oils, downstairs, are also sefe111.4) s the colours are almost gaudy, blit rt)e(g controls the impulse to eaint,,,tihe'; padremttiryab pleic. tures and the compo., Wthe Losing altitude, a visit to the tri stein, New Bond Street, is a s°vir,° dreary business. The French artis' Marquet, is represented by W°I./ from 1900 to the year before 11150); 1946. The palette is unexciting ttea broad strokes fairly monotonous, ,,isviosv: a few pleasant exceptions. The ton, Cork Street, also pays honlwIll: French artist, with an attempt at si Masson retrospective. The pictures 7 P between 1924 and 1971) show 1\49,5bir be reminiscent of other artists, ht1;"rig first-class follower, and his PlaY',;(1: line shows a free spirit with a go"0. of movement and humour. At yet Waddington Gallery on the sanlect; Justin Knowles uses resin and steel, making panels that are obvi° , tended to cover large areas of sPac,rei:i; against a wall or free-standing. go, and rectangles don't necessarily °P but I should be interested in d15csil resting tphleasce e. large works find 3 h For a laugh, go to the Ansde Monmouth Street, where a Greek 13of Hatzmichali, paints by the yard, haps the mile. It is what they Ca.,5 tive, and very difficult to tell one r from another without a program IY trotted out. Curiously enough nobody ems particularly worked up about assian, German or even Italian Prounciation. The English have always °ken French in a manner that was more inprehensible to themselves than the ench. No one is any the worse for that, oil ast of all English opera audiences, and cast allic F — assembled from such non o corners of the globe as Detroit, New I ialand, Australia, Dumbarton and Stock t1°_,T°tY ---sing the French language with a u that would have done credit to 'lancer's Prioress or even Sir Winston. That said I ., in must record that a entlemfront of me fell asleep and ek); ',rime Minister was in the Royal Box. ellte these Cassandra' signs there is 1 o't3 t° eninY, especially for those who do 1 I share the view of a splendid army z,c41,0thel °f my acquaintance that the work f 'res-Midi d'un faune for two-and-ast, °e111 hours. Dramatically, and indeed to my Musically, the whole proceedings _,.e More arresting when Golaud is'as knocking his wife about and killing sv brother in the fourth act. This might ee soinething to do with M Boulez, for 0_ textures of orchestral sound seem orrke fitted to the dramatic Part of the pr, are than the mystical land to which , t IltlY I should have been transported -Lest three acts.

, veboda/Caslik, with scenery by Josef di ; 471:vunalloyed pleasure is the staging by r gethe h., and lighting by Robert Ornbo.By ;10.1irre-r°st brilliant use of back projection, (filtspeets and shadows the entire stage A Shifts with each mood and objects waft into solidity to disappear again in a kaleidoscope of colour. As for the singers, Donald McIntyre's dark baritone is eminently suited to the role of Golaud and Elisabeth Siiderstrom is an appropriately wan heroine. David Ward was not in particularly good voice at the performance I attended, but there is a warmth in his tone that is well suited to ineffectual wellmeaning aged kings. George Shirley finds the baritone music lying awkwardly in his fine tenor voice but with his puffy cheeks and large eyes has the appearance of a leprechaun which is most suitable to the work. Yvonne Minton is admirable in the small role of Genevieve. Lovers of Debussy will find much to admire in the performance.

Britten's Billy Budd is also among the current revivals of the Royal Opera. With its setting on a British warship at the end of the nineteenth century and the plight of Captain Vere and his wardroom in destroying a good man for the sake of the navy, all realised by Benjamin Britten with his marvellous feeling for the sea, one could easily forget that the author, Herman Melville, was an American. Outstanding in the cast is Forbes Robinson's Claggart which is the very embodiment of evil. Peter Glossop as Billy should embody goodness, which he does excellently in the more vigorous parts of the opera but, as in Falstaff, he lacks the final artistry of conveying Billy's inner thoughts. Richard Lewis is a sensitive Captain Vere with strong support on the upper deck from Richard Van Allen's Flint and John Shaw's First Lieutenant.