Saturday, May 25, 2019

YOU ARE MY LUCKY STAR: ALIEN 40th ANNIVERSARY 1979

The sci-fi horror thriller Alien turned 40 this year. And in that timeprogressing from sleeper hit to franchise to authentic classicRidley Scott’s 2nd feature film has enjoyed a growth cycle arguably as swift and expansive as that of the titular xenomorph itself. As a rule, science fiction tends to rank somewhere beneath westerns, sports films, espionage thrillers, and war movies in my roster of least-favorite movie genres, but Alien is a different animal entirely. An ingenious and genuinely scary update of those '50s sci-fi Creature Feature programmers I recall from my youth; Alien is a solid suspense thriller that just happens to take place in outer space. I fell in love with it when I saw it on opening day in 1979, and after all these years, after seeing it countless times, Alien still rates a special place in my heart. Just as long as it's not in my chest.

On the occasion of Alien's 40th Anniversary, 
my electronic film diary memories of Alien's opening day, May 25, 1979. 

A Cruel Summer
Alien and a then-unknown Sigourney Weaver make the June 18, 1979 cover of Newsweek

Because movies aren't created in a vacuum, because successes can't be predicted, and because I'm forever fascinated by the almost alchemical selection process by which the public responds to one particular motion picture over another; allow me to take a moment to put the release of Alien in a bit of context by taking a look at what was hitting the theaters in the summer of 1979.

The year began with new releases from favorites Robert Altman (Quintet, A Perfect Couple), Woody Allen (Manhattan), & Milos Forman (Hair). And the fall promised an original musical from Bob Fosse (All That Jazz), a romantic comedy from Alan J. Pakula (Starting Over), and the film debut of Bette Midler (The Rose). But when I looked ahead to what the summer months promised in the way of film releases, the Summer of ’79 didn't appear to be shaping up to be much of a banner season at the movies.
For those who like their big-name stars served up with as few surprises as possible, there was Clint Eastwood in Escape from Alcatraz and Barbra Streisand reteaming with her What’s Up Doc? co-star Ryan O’Neal in The Main Event (getting a significant publicity boost from La Streisand’s late-to-the-party stab at disco with the film’s theme song). That summer also saw my beloved Audrey Hepburn and Ali MacGraw testing the limits of the adage ‘Everybody loves a comeback story’ by appearing in the high-profile miscalculations Bloodline and Players, respectively.
Photo: Gary McVey
On the topic of adages (or proverbs), no summer would be complete without echoing homage paid to: ‘If they liked it once, they’ll love it twice.’ On that score, the Airport and James Bond franchises persisted with The Concorde… Airport ’79 and Roger Moore’s 4th go-round as 007 in the 11th Bond film Moonraker. Meanwhile, major industry money was riding on the sequels Rocky II and More American Graffiti (the former delivered, the latter, not so much) while somewhere in the distance Irwin Allen was squeezing the life out of the once vital disaster film genre with his unasked for Beyond the Poseidon Adventure.

For those inclined to play it safe, there were limited-engagement 70mm rereleases of both Grease and The Exorcist. For the gamblers, the summer presented a roster of television personalities making a play for big-screen gold: Charlie’s Angels’ Farrah Fawcett appearing in SunburnThree Company’s John Ritter in Americathon, and SNL’s Bill Murray in Meatballs. And if those prospects weren’t scary enough, The Amityville HorrorProphecy, and Dracula hoped to add a few chills to the summer heat.

After enduring nearly four years of hype and controversy, the film I was most stoked to see was Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. No one believed it was going to make its exclusive August 15th opening date.  

Which brings us to Alien. I wish I could say that the film that turned out to be my number one, absolute favorite movie of the summer was a film whose release I'd eagerly anticipated. That it was a film I'd read about, heard advance word about, and knew would be a hit. I wish I could. But the truth is, Alien was a movie woefully off my advance radar. Maybe it was due to other, more high-profile films hogging the publicity landscape at the time, but I have ZERO recollection of even being aware of the existence of Alien before teaser ads began to appear in the trade papers at the start of the year, and when intriguingly cryptic ads began airing on TV.
What really brought Alien to my attention was when posters for the film began to appear around town. They really grabbed me. I mean, after the PG-rated, retro earnestness of Star Wars and all that benevolent optimism in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, here was an R-rated sci-fi monster movie that held the promise of a creature that wasn't so nice.
Sigourney Weaver as Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley
Tom Skerritt as Captain Arthur Dallas
John Hurt as Executive Officer Gilbert Kane
Veronica Cartwright as Navigator Joan Lambert
Yaphet Kotto as Chief Engineer Denis Parker
Harry Dean Stanton as Engineering Technician Samuel Brett
Ian Holm as Science Officer Ash the Android

An Alien Encounter
I saw Alien on the Friday evening of May 25, 1979. The date was the kickoff of a long Memorial Day weekend which also happened to be the 2nd Anniversary of the blockbuster release of Star Wars. The studio 20th Century-Fox (no doubt hoping that lightning would strike twice) marked the occasion by premiering Alien, its new sci-fi release, in 70mm and Dolby Stereo at the Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. Not an official, invitation-only movie premiere, but an exclusive engagement that had Alien was screened for 48 continuous hours over that holiday weekend, its debut feted with searchlights, towering signs, giveaways, lobby displays of props and models, and a massive scale replica of the film’s “Space Jockey” in the theater’s courtyard (Space Jockey is a name that came to stick sometime later. Then, still in the flush of Star Wars mania, many referred to it as the “Star Pilot”).  
The line I stood in was an incredibly long one that stretched west from the theater’s massive curved marquee (George Hamilton’s Dracula spoof Love at First Bite—a holdover from April—was playing in the smaller Egyptian Theaters II and III) past the London Britches blue jeans store next door (in 1927 it was the Pig 'n' Whistle restaurant), beyond Jambi’s sandwich shop, down to the Pioneer Chicken take-out on the corner, winding around McCadden Place across from the Scientology building, all the way down to Selma Avenue.
Certainly, public interest was high for any all science fiction films released while awaiting the December premiere of Star Trek: The Movie, but a contributing factor to Alien's huge turnout had to be that it had the weekend virtually all to itself. Friday the 25th also saw Mann's Chinese Theater regretting booking Peter Sellers' The Prisoner of Zenda (a film I'd wager even his fans have forgotten), and further up the boulevard headed east, minimal competition was offered by the release of David Cronenberg's The Brood.
By 1986, the sequel to Alien would open in dozens of theaters throughout the Los Angeles area, but in 1979, I only recall Alien premiering at 2 locations: the Egyptian in Hollywood and the Avco Center Cinemas in Westwood (above). As you can see, the triplex also hosted Harrison Ford's WW II bomber bomb Hanover Street and The China Syndrome.

The buzz standing in line was tremendous because, like Star Wars, Alien was an “event” movie with nary a star in its cast and a film that no one knew anything about. It was a high-concept scary movie whose marketing seized the imagination by playing up the ambiguity. With a campaign and poster designed by the same team responsible for the groundbreaking marketing campaign for Rosemary’s Baby, everything from Alien’s trailer to TV ads were all about what you didn’t know and what you couldn’t see. Similarities to the iconic 1968 Rosemary’s Baby poster could be seen in Alien’s eerie green/black color scheme, its arrestingly simple typeface, the bold graphic of a scabrous egg emitting a green vapor from a glowing crack in its surface, and that irresistible, unforgettable (now classic) tagline: In space no one can hear you scream.
Philip Gips, Barbara Gips, Stephen Frankfurt, Paula Silver, Gina Stone, Belott-Wolfson photography

A significant part of my excitement that night was anticipation born of simply not knowing what I was in for. I didn't know anything about Ridley Scott or designer H.R. Giger, and I’d never heard of a Sigourney Weaver, much less knew how to pronounce it. Everyone else in the cast was familiar in a vague kind of way from TV episodics or small roles in films. Tom Skerritt I remembered from playing Shirley MacLaine’s husband in The Turning Point (1977), Yaphet Kotto as the bad guy in Live and Let Die (1973), John Hurt from when PBS aired The Naked Civil Servant back in 1976, and Harry Dean Stanton from appearing in practically every TV show on the air in the ‘60s. Curiously enough, Alien’s biggest star and primary draw for me was Veronica Cartwright, the versatile and underappreciated actress I’d fallen in love with after seeing her in Inserts (1975), Bernice Bobs Her Hair (1976), and nearly walking away with the remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978). 
Before Alien, sci-fi movies were a boys club genre where women were either ornamental or sat worrying on the sidelines. My initial disinterest in Alien was sparked by this teaser ad that appeared in the trade papers. It made the film look like another one of those snoozy sci-fi melodramas like Marooned or Capricorn One.

While I’ve since matured (calcified?) into the kind of person who runs in the opposite direction at the mere sight of a line forming, back in May of 1979 when I was a 21-year-old with a far more gregarious nature, the idea of waiting in a line for two hours to see a film merely added to the overall excitement of the moviegoing experience. The evening the general atmosphere on the line was genial and full of anticipation, and with no cell phones to bury our heads in while waiting, many of us joined in conversation with the folks standing near us in line, each of us comparing notes about how much or how little we knew. And what with the aforementioned Jambi’s sandwich shop and Pioneer Chicken take-out doing land-office business with patrons sitting along the boulevard eating and drinking, waiting to see Alien also felt like an automobile-free tailgate party.

A funny thing about standing in line for a new film, especially on a street as heavily traveled by tourists as Hollywood Blvd, you can find yourself seized by this foolish, decidedly silly notion that you have suddenly become part of the city's attractions to gawking out-of-towners. Just standing there amongst the Walk of Fame stars on the sidewalk and the beaming Klieg lights at the curb, you are no longer yourself, you are now "a huge line outside the Hollywood premiere of Alien" in somebody's vacation anecdote.
Photo: William Malone
Prop of the Alien Egg Chamber

Ever the eager-beaver when it came to movie opening nights, I was able to snag a primo bit of movie line real estate. A location very near the entrance to the theater’s courtyard which afforded a prolonged look at Alien’s posters and lobby cards, along with a sizable, unsettling 3-D promotional display/movie prop that at the time looked to me like rows of oozing, two-feet-tall Cadbury Crème Easter Eggs that had seen better days.

As the line progressed further into the theater’s then-roofed courtyard, things began to take on the feel of an amusement park. Following a barricaded path to the theater entrance, patrons were led through the dark, padded hallway of a spaceship when then opened out into a rather dazzling geometric room of tiny yellow lights and computer screens. This, of course, was the mainframe computer room of The Nostromo, but at the time I only had Disneyland’s Space Mountain ride as a point of reference, and that’s what it all reminded me of.
Photo: Lisa Morton
Photo: Alien Explorations
By this time I’d already begun to feel somewhat giddy with anticipation, but when the enclosed computer room opened out into the larger rear courtyard (near the Wishing Well of the Stars) I came face-to-face with a mind-bendingly bizarre structure that looked like the skeleton of an elephant fused into a chair and looking through a futuristic Planetarium projector…well, I was a goner. Neither I nor anyone else in line had any idea of what we were looking at (a ¾ scale prop of the Alien Space Jockey) but it struck me as being surreally grotesque, phallic, and utterly disturbing…in other words, absolutely gorgeous.
Photo: William Malone
At last, we were at the entrance to the theater. Regrettably, my awareness of the throngs of people waiting to get in, combined with my obsession with grabbing the ideal seat smack dab in the middle of the auditorium, prevented me from even noticing that there were more props and models from Alien on display in the lobby. I simply dashed to my seat, ignoring the snack bar and the very likely prospect of a souvenir program for sale (you can get a look at all the lobby props I personally missed at this blogger's account of the Alien premiere Here).

Upon entering the auditorium, early arrivals were given a free promotional pinback button. An item that triggered an ungrateful, inner “WTF?” response from me.
The reason is that the free souvenir button didn’t feature the film’s tagline, a picture one of those alien eggs, or even the film’s title. Any of which I’d have been happy to have. No, it was a black button approximately 2 ½ inches in diameter that simply had the words “You Are My Lucky Star” printed on a starry background. Hindsight plainly reveals this to be a very clever giveaway that patrons wouldn't appreciate until after they'd seen the film (Ripley sings the song to herself in the climactic scene as a means of calming her nerves) but at the time all I could think was what the hell did a tune from Broadway Melody of 1936 have to do with Alien
I kept my button for decades, only recently selling it on eBay
in one of my misguided attempts to unclutter my life

These days, especially here in L.A., it’s not uncommon for movie theaters to display the props and costumes of films on exhibit in their lobbies. But back in 1979 such pomp and circumstance were largely the stuff of star-studded premieres and rarely available to the public. That novelty factor is perhaps why the Egyptian put faith in the honor system and left the safety of its display items in the hands of just a few strategically-placed “Please Do Not Touch the Display” signs. When I returned to the theater the following weekend to see Alien a second time, the props had all been removed due to someone having set the Space Jockey sculpture on fire. Imagine, an extraterrestrial fossil surviving all that time on a planetoid, only to be demolished in a matter of days when confronted with the boundless stupidity of what passes for "intelligent life" on this rock called earth. 
Strange Shapes
So, what was it like seeing Alien for the very first time with absolutely no foreknowledge of what I was getting myself into? Abso-fucking-lutely A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

What did I ultimately think of the film and what were my overall impressions?
That's for my next post. 

Happy Birthday, Alien!

Copyright © Ken Anderson

Saturday, May 4, 2019

THE SERVANT 1963

At an early age, I came to be aware that a significant part of the allure of motion pictures for me was their “magic mirror” ability to illuminate and interpret the hidden sides of human behavior and psychology. Particularly those darker aspects of our natures we’re conditioned to suppress or deny. To a shy, somewhat sheltered gay black teen intent on forging an independent self-image away and apart from familial and social preconceptions, movies afforded a safe, vicarious means by which I could explore complex matters of ego and identity. To be able to watch people grapple with the shifting, fluid nature of image and personality (with the added bonus of not actually having to interact with said people) felt marvelously intimate, wonderfully personal, and too good to be true.
Truth Through Distortion
Inspired by my own desire to better accept and reconcile the ofttimes conflicting sides of my own nature, it was thus at a not-so-early age when I, at last, came to understand that, like it or not, duality and contradictions are a fundamental part of simply being human. The result is that I found myself gravitating to (and developing an acute fondness for) movies whose themes relate to the topics of identity, personality, and duality. Decidedly dark movies, to be sure, but all of a similar breed.
They can take the form of allegorical ruminations on the dichotomy between the physical and the spiritual (Steppenwolf, Dorian Gray); hallucinatory musings on personality-theft (3 Women, Secret Ceremony); splintered-persona melodramas (Images, Black Swan); tales of psychological co-dependency (Dead Ringers, Single White Female); or psychosocial conflicts (The Maids, The Ceremony). No matter how they’re structured, they all fascinate the hell out of me.

A film that actually manages to incorporate all of the above and which I consider to be a genuine, five-star classic in the annals of Identity-Crisis Cinema is Joseph Losey’s mind-bending, multilayered meditation on manservants, mutuality, and malevolence: The Servant.
Dirk Bogarde as Hugo Barrett
Sarah Miles as Vera
James Fox as Tony
Wendy Craig as Susan Stewart

In The Servant, adapted by Harold Pinter from the 1949 novel by Robin Maugham, Dirk Bogarde is Hugo Barrett, the devoted and dutiful gentleman’s gentleman recently hired by aristocratic layabout Tony (James Fox). Assigned to look after the daily creature comforts of his high-born, high-maintenance master—"I’ll need, well…everything! General looking-after, you know”—Barret is live-in cook, housekeeper, dresser, barman, decorator, and nursemaid. Which is a good thing, since Tony does little but drift about imperiously giving orders in a bubble of lazy entitlement that appears to have come built-in with his inherited Georgian townhouse in London’s affluent Chelsea district, maintained on an independent income he lives on while awaiting the materialization of an indistinct development job in Brazil.

Barrett brings eager-to-please efficiency and order to Tony’s world of self-absorbed disarray, both men seeming to thrive under a mutually advantageous arrangement that sees each contentedly assuming their clearly-defined, socially-assigned roles respective of their individual status and station. Considerably less pleased with this alliance is Susan (Wendy Craig), Tony’s upper-crust, frostily snobbish fiancée. She and Barrett take an immediate dislike to one another, she mocking his genteel pretensions (white serving gloves) and lowbrow contributions to the décor (“Tomorrow I’ll organize a proper spice shelf for the kitchen”), Barrett resenting her intrusion into what he has clearly come to regard as his territory.
As per the presumptive tradition of the class system, Tony and Barrett’s master/servant relationship bears the surface characteristics of polite decorum, but Losey’s sly camera—always lingering on faces a second or two after you’re sure a scene has concluded—captures the reductive (if not downright contemptuous) looks Barrett shoots Tony’s way whenever his eyes are averted or back is turned.

To be sure, there’s nothing unusual in an employee harboring resentment toward an employer, as Barrett endures his share of daily micro-humiliations, what with being subtly condescended to and ordered about with nary a please or thank you. But there’s a faint trace of maliciousness behind Barrett’s gaze. Something hinting at a duplicitous nature which has viewers of the film asking of him, “What do you want from this house?” long before Susan combatively confronts him with the same question.
Confirmation that Barrett is indeed plotting some type of intrigue comes in the form of Vera (Sarah Miles), his teenage "sister" he has persuaded Tony to take on as housekeeper. A witty tip-off that Vera is not Barrett's sister but is, in fact, his lover, appears during their cab ride from the train station. Vera places her hand a little too high on Barrett's thigh, resulting in a most perceptible rise in Barrett's suggestively fondled umbrella handle. 

As deliberate deception gives way to coerced seduction, The Servant plays it cozy as to a motive for the couple’s charade. But what’s brought into far clearer focus is the way the unfolding of these events has the effect of intensifying the repressed antagonisms and attractions already shadowing the ambiguous, contradictory interrelationships of the characters. Ultimately, as the anarchy of power-plays, humiliation, betrayal, class conflict, and sexual tension come to overthrow the structured formality of the film’s early scenes; the lives of Tony and Barrett become inextricably intertwined, their personalities undergoing a transformation (or unmasking) that finds their roles reversed and their initial power dynamic upended.
James Fox and Dirk Bogarde
Inequity of Power

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM
When art is controlled by the mainstream, marginalized artists are compelled to resort to coded forms of expression. Just as queer coding permeates the plays of Tennessee Williams and are an inextricable part of the works of D.H. Lawrence, the dualism dramatized in The Servant reflect the insider/outsider existence of its homosexual (when it was illegal to be so) creator, Robin Maugham.
Tony and Barrett sexually commune with one another through Vera
Prolific novelist Robin Maugham (the openly gay nephew of the deeply-closeted author Somerset Maugham), was a war hero, political diplomat, and lawyer who scandalized his aristocratic family with the homoerotic themes of his work. Keen to (some biographers would say tortured by) the social duplicity that would see him afforded unfettered access to privileges due to his class, yet simultaneously denied basic freedoms due to his sexuality; the themes of Maugham’s work often dealt with characters struggling with opposing natures and splintered identities.
One of the most commented-upon things about The Servant—rumored to be a heterosexualized telling of an autobiographically inspired, near-blackmail experience Maugham had with one of his own servants—is the assertively ambiguous nature of Barrett and Tony’s relationship. 
I've not read the source novel (although Maugham has been quoted as not being very fond of Pinter's adaptation), but Losey’s film does a magnificent job of dramatizing the unique two-sided existence Maugham must have lived with as a member of England’s aristocracy encouraged by family to keep an essential part of his life hidden.

In this way, The Servant shares that twinning quality found in the works of Albee, Inge, and the aforementioned Williams. On the surface, it’s about one thing (in this instance, a class conflict drama about an ordered life thrown into chaos), yet at the same time, it appears to be transmitting an entirely different message on a wavelength intended for those in the know. The Servant's second, subliminal theme plays as a metaphor for the world of pretense, image, desire, and detection that defined homosexual existence at the time. A fear familiar to every person who feels they must conceal their true natures--the fear that the potential intimacy and bonding with another individual holds with it the possibility of exposure, exploitation, and their having power over you.


THE STUFF OF FANTASY
Three-time Oscar-nominated Cinematographer Douglas Slocombe (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Julia, and Travels with My Aunt) won UK’s BAFTA award for creating what is truly a striking visual style for The Servant. Brazenly contemporary, the look is part British neorealism, borderline expressionistic, and hovering somewhere around gothic surrealism. Slocomb’s painterly compositions and expressive B&W cinematography create an atmosphere of menace and conflict with every frame.
Tony's townhouse is an active character in the film. Frequently individuals are framed in ways which emphasize their emotional imprisonment. In this shot, a distraught Tony appears hemmed in by both the bars of the staircase and the frame of Vera's bed. That he is surrounded by her muscleman pinups hint that perhaps it's not Vera he's really pining for.
As Tony and Barrett grow more interdependent, the house itself
seems to get smaller...the walls and ceiling closing in on them. 
Convex mirrors (something of a staple in Pinter films). Do they reflect, distort, or reveal?
Throughout The Servant, Barrett...either figuratively or literally...
always comes between Susan and Tony


PERFORMANCES
I’m not particularly familiar with the films of Dirk Bogarde’s matinee idol period (although I did catch one of his “Doctor series” films, about which the only thing I remember is thinking how much he resembled a young Desi Arnaz), so I was never able to fully appreciate the impact of his transformation from heartthrob to serious actor via films like The Servant and Victim (1961). Knowing Bogarde only as the intensely compelling dramatic actor giving memorable performances in such superb films as Despair (1978), The Damned (1969), Our Mother’s House (1967), Darling (1965), and Death in Venice (1971), it’s really saying something that I consider his performance in The Servant to be his best. 
Sarah Miles' Vera exudes a brand of sexy that can best be summed up as of guileless guile 

Playing a difficult-to-read character who calculatingly exploits his all-things-to-all people charm, Bogarde registers so persuasively in The Servant because at all times it feels like the actor is navigating familiar territory. Indeed, in the 2008 book “Ever, Dirk: The Bogarde Letters” a note from Bogarde expresses his wish that he was in real-life more like the character he played in I Could Go On Singing (1963), but that he’s “Actually nearer Barret in ‘The Servant,’ which is why it was so easy to do him…people don’t realize.”

Never an actor renowned for his accessibility, Bogarde is the master of the side-eye, knows his way around a double-entendre, and is uncommonly skilled in exposing the art of concealment. The same could be said of Bogarde both onscreen and off (the King of Denial, Bogarde remained closeted his entire life in spite of the fact many were aware that the husband of actress Glynnis John's left her for Bogarde and went on to live with him as his "manager" for 40 years).
One of the delights of The Servant is marveling in Bogarde’s depiction of Barrett’s effortless slides in and out of his Manchester accent and contrasting his “on the job” fussiness with his louche behavior when “off the clock.”
Tony: (Interview question) Do you drink beer?
Barrett: (Primly) No, sir.
Like Anthony Perkins, that other '50s closeted screen star/onetime teen pin-up whose guarded image was changed (arguably, not for always for the better) on the strength of a single role, Dirk Bogarde turned equivocality into an acting style. The Servant was the second of five films Bogarde would make with Joseph Losey.
"I can still think of things that will please you, can't I?"
As embodied by the performance of James Fox (granted an "introducing" credit in the film) the morally-ambivalent Tony also carries about him a provocative air of sexual ambiguity. A characteristic of the slight, blond, actor which would be mined to similar effect in David Cammell and Nicolas Roeg's brilliant identity-switch head trip Performance (1970). Fox is absolutely splendid as the self-indulgent idler who falls under the corruptive sway of his Machiavellian servant, displaying considerable range as he morphs from patrician parvenu to pitiable prisoner. Both Fox and Bogarde deservedly won BAFTA awards for their performances (Most Promising Newcomer and Best Actor, respectively).
Although I think I’m not meant to, I like the character of Susan a great deal. At least the side of her that reminds me of Leroy in The Bad Seed. She's the one character not taken in by Barrett's obsequious fakery (precisely why he sees her as a threat) and doesn’t mince words about it. In a film populated with weak males, Susan may be an insufferable snob with questionable aesthetics, but her questioning candor is the closest thing to principle in Pinter's world. Wendy Craig's performance has such intelligence and depth, she makes Susan unexpectedly affecting.


THE STUFF OF DREAMS
I loved The Servant the first time I ever saw it, an opinion only reinforced by repeat viewings. To me, it stands as the masterpiece achievement of Losey and Pinter’s three collaborations: Accident (1967) and The Go-Between (1971) complete the set. 

The Servant explores the dysfunction, hypocrisy, and false values behind master-servant, upper-class/working class roles and power inequities. Late in the film, this exchange occurs:

“Don’t forget your place, Barrett. You’re nothing but a servant in this house.”

“Servant? I’m nobody’s servant! Who furnished the whole place for you? Who painted it for you? Who does the cooking? Who washes your pants? Who cleans the bath out after you? I do! I run the whole bloody place and what do I get out of it? Nothing!”

And there you have the crucial nugget of truth that festers within the core of social class hostility; Barrett’s ruinous subversion is possible because Tony and his kind don’t really know how to “do” anything (a fact made embarrassingly explicit a while back when the world looked on as a certain reviled 72-year-old public figure demonstrated a lack of familiarity with how umbrellas work).
"A  weekend in the county. So inactive, that one has to lie down." - Stephen Sondheim
Tony and Susan pay a visit to Lord and Lady Mounset ( Richard Vernon and Catherine Lacey)

The morally-soft, easily-corrupted classes like to see themselves as the builders, but their desultory existences prepare them for nothing. Least of all survival. (Headlines—the wealthy, even in a system rigged in their favor, find it necessary to resort to fraud and swindles to win elections or get their children into universities.) Forced, out of necessity to learn to look after themselves, it is the working classes, the servants, who are the builders, the survivors, and the only ones possessing actual skills.

The saying goes, "If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu." The Servant suggests that come the day the dismissed and disregarded claim their place at the table, the bill of fare is likely to be all those who have erroneously assumed that to be served by another human being is their birthright.



BONUS MATERIAL:
Harold Pinter, Nobel Prize-winning author, playwright, and screenwriter of The Servant makes a brief appearance in a terrific scene that takes place in a posh restaurant where various couples engage in enigmatic games of one-upmanship and subtle power plays. (That's him in the center with actress Ann Firbank of One of Those Things.)  Pinter also wrote the lyrics to composer John Dankworth's (Darling) song "All Gone," sung by Cleo Laine on the film's soundtrack.

Copyright © Ken Anderson