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The Servant

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Saying that The Servant is about reality is like saying that a great poem like "Ozymandias" is about reality. "Ozymandias" is about reality, but it has a peculiar relationship to reality. Thus you could say the Joseph Losey masterpiece, with screenplay by Harold Pinter, currently revived at Film Forum (today is the last day of the run), is about colonialism, about sado-masochistic sexuality, or about servitude (Dirk Bogarde's portrayal of the title character, Hugo Barrett, is a tour de force). The iconography of colonialism is everywhere from the Georgian mansion with its military portrait, the sexuality with its mixture of submission and resignation and the master servant relation which gets reflected in the convex mirror brilliantly based on van Eyck's, "The Arnolfini Marriage." And then there is this one piece of narrative which brings everything together. Tony (James Fox), the fey upper crust master is building cities in the Brazilian jungle, while in effect the movie charts a jungle being released in the middle of one of the most posh areas of London. But the genius of the film is that none of the themes which one might extrapolate adequately account for its power which is that of music. Speaking of music Cleo Laine singing "Now While I love You Alone," is one of the leitmotifs, which include the dripping of water, the falling of snow and rain and a bookshelf which is also a door. In music you speak of cadences and keys. In The Servant indenture and unraveling are the river on which human debris flows. The integrity of personality is shattered and the lines divided the self and others is blurred. There's a wonderful scene in restaurant where conversations between a pair of prelates, an arguing mother and daughter and Tony and Susan all meld into one, a harmonious cacophony, with each reflecting the other, like the mirrors which are ubiquitous in the movie. In another scene Hugo Barrett's girl, Vera (Sarah Miles), tells Tony, "I love Hugo," but the words come out sounding like "I love you, though." "Oh I forgot to tell you. I found a man servant," Tony tells his girlfriend Susan (Wendy Craig) at the beginning. "A what?" she laughs in disbelief. At first you wonder what's so hard for a woman of Susan's class to understand. Then you find out.

{This was originally posted to The Screaming Pope, Francis Levy's blog of rants and reactions to contemporary politics, art and culture}