«I was the guest of the Savage Club in London, and Sir Austin Chamberlain made a speech. I was sitting next to Nelson Doubleday, the publisher. Sir Austin was polite and polished and imperturbable. At the end of the speech Nelson Doubleday said to me, “Charlie, however thin you cut it, it’s still baloney,” and I suddenly wanted to get on a boat and get back to New York so bad I could taste it»
That’s Laughton in 1962, reminiscing about his early infatuation with New York, which lasted about a lifetime(1), and this month, Film Forum in New York is returning this love multiplied with an intense three-week season(2) in which lucky New Yorkers will have the rare chance of treating themselves with some of Charles’ finest performances in the big screen: I must say that this is possibly the most substantial Laughton film season since the one BFI devoted to him in 1987, so go and see it if you can!
I learned of this through one of my favourite film bloggers, the Self-Styled Siren, who has written a great post about Charles which you shouldn’t miss: It is a well-sourced, exquisitely written and very informative post full of heart and appreciation from a long-time fan, of which I would like to single out this paragraph:
«Those who talk only of the single film Laughton directed, and shrug off the rest, are making a grave mistake. Laughton the director could never have made the shimmering, perfect thing that is Night of the Hunter, if it hadn’t been for Laughton the actor.»
Second best film ever?
A few years ago, a pannel of critics were asked by cahiers du Cinema to make a list of their 100 favourite films, or rather, to propose 100 films for an ideal cinematheque: I was mighty pleased to see The Night of the Hunter ranked as 2nd best film… It made me think that Cahiers was a magazine aligned with the auteur theory, and recall that in the contemporary review by François Truffaut of NOTH, which even though it was rather positive about Charles opera prima, there was a somewhat snide comment regarding Laughton’s career as an actor.
For auterists, Laughton was just that flamboyant thespian: Hitchcock and Sternberg lambasted him, didn’t they? So of course there was no need whatsoever for years to check the other side’s version. Until NOTH became, first a cult movie and then made a big comeback to be rediscovered by a new generation of critics and filmgoers, and then, Laughton became an auteur and, Oh the irony, he was praised from the same quarters where once he had been berated. As the Siren states above, if you love the film he directed, you should rediscover the actor as well.
Back to NOTH: much as I love the film, it being in the second place of a list is not without risk: the world is full of people that will see it just because, you know, that silver medal, and then might like it but not as much as other great movie and classify it with a “meh”. I have to confess that the first time I saw the film, I was so full of trepidation about finally being able to see it, that my actual enjoyment on the film came a few weeks after, when I saw it again, this time focusing just in seeing the film and not kneeling in front of a sacred object.
My advice is to take the list as a sample of good films, but then dismiss any expectation and just see them as the director wanted you to see it, the way he told Lillian Gish he would like you to see it:
Charles Laughton said that when he went to the movies as a young man, "We sat like this. [Assumes an awe-struck pose.] Now they sit and eat popcorn. I want to make them sit up in their seats again!" And he did, when he directed The Night of the Hunter”(3)
Beyond the blog
I know that this blog has been dormant for quite some time, mostly because of me being a bit downhearted about the state of the economy, not because of lack of Laughton-related items to talk about, of which I have a rather long list of items to deal with.
Anyway, recently I have started to pick things up and among them I started to write book reviews elsewhere: among them there is a review of Kirk Douglas' I am Spartacus, his memoirs from the epic making, which for me had some interesting points regarding this old post. An English version of that review is on my to-do list for this blog.
Another bit of news is that this blog has started tweeting around as @RootnxLaughton for any news related to Charles in some way or another.
There’s also a bit of Tumblr thing I started some time ago which needs some straightening up: I will let you know when it is working properly.
See you again (I hope), soon!
1) Charles' one of the forewords to the anthology “The Fabulous country” (McGraw Hill Pub.)
2)Full details in this link: http://filmforum.org/series/charles-laughton-series
3) This quote comes from this interview with miss Gish.