The Haunted and the Hounded
Joseph Losey's body of work is vast. When looking at the director's biography it is full of artistic compromises, financial complications and unmade projects. A small list of the films Losey could have made gives us some idea of the alternative oeuvre. At the end of Michel Ciment's excellent book-length interview with the director, Conversations with Losey, we find a list of films that never came to fruition under Losey: In Search of Lost Time from Proust, but also Wake in Fright, The Ravishing of Lol Stein, They Shoot Horses Don't They, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Langrishe Go Down and The Appointment. Most of the films were eventually made by others and often completely transformed. One or two remain mythically unmade, especially In Search of Lost Time, with Harold Pinter's script published separately in 1977. Yet would the oeuvre itself have looked so very different? Around the same time that Ted Kotcheff made Wake in Fright, Losey was directing his outdoor film Figures in a Landscape. He might not have made The Mayor of Casterbridge but he did a period costume drama with The Go-Between. Though he never got round to filming Marguerite Duras, even though she also wrote Chaise Longue for Losey around 1965, her sensibility permeates aspects of the work, especially Eva and perhaps even The Servant. The list of films Losey didn't make helps us understand an aspect of the sensibility evident in the films he did make.
A second way of understanding Losey indirectly is to note the two filmmakers he loosely coincided with. Most famously there was Visconti, the other director determined to adapt Proust's work and who clashed with Losey partly as a consequence. As David Caute explains, Visconti was originally going to film the book for the producer Nicole Stephane but the Italian director decided to go off and do Ludwig II of Bavaria at the same time he was lined up to direct the Proust adaptation. Stephane approached Losey and Pinter, and the latter produced a script which adapted the novel in its entirety, but, Stephane said, it was unproduceable: "I told Joe [Losey] it could not be done. His version was four times more expensive than Visconti's." (Joseph Losey: A Revenge on Life) Yet there was also, between the two directors, their use of the actor Dirk Bogarde. Bogarde appeared for Losey in The Sleeping Tiger, The Servant, Modesty Blaise and Accident, before becoming more closely associated with Visconti, appearing in both The Damned and Death in Venice in close succession. Helmut Berger who was in The Damned and Ludwig... then took a role in The Romantic Englishwoman for Losey. Alain Delon appeared earlier in Rocco and his Brothers and The Leopard for Visconti, and later in The Assassination of Trotsky and Mr Klein for Losey. Yet for all their shared interests (or because of them) they didn't like each other. "I met Visconti and his entourage a couple of times" Losey says, and we were not very compatible, even then." This was 1951. "We took an instant dislike to each other." Caute notes that while "their directorial styles overlapped, they often used the same actors, and competition for literary properties was constant. Losey complained that Visconti arrogantly expected the rights of the modern literary masterpieces on his lap." (Joseph Losey: A Revenge on Life)
The relationship with Alain Resnais was much more convivial. Delphine Seyrig moved from working with Resnais on Last year at Marienbad and Muriel, to a small role for Losey in Accident. Yves Montand starred in La guerre est finie for Resnais; The Road to the South for Losey. Bogarde played a central role in Resnais' Providence, while Jorge Semprun (who worked on La guerre est finie and Stavinsky for Resnais) wrote The Road to the South. David Mercer (worked several times with Losey) wrote Providence for the French director. The filmmakers seemed to like each other enough for Losey to describe Resnais as "kind" when Resnais looked at The Road to the South script and thought it would work fine.
Describing what never made it onto the screen and pointing out some anecdotal similarities between Losey and Visconti, and Losey and Resnais, might seem trivial but we hope it can also reveal the specific sensibility of a director who made almost a film a year from the late forties through to the mid-eighties. It is a large body of work that can incorporate a remake of Fritz Lang (M), a work with similarities to Antonioni and Fellini (Eva), a costume drama (The Go-Between) a chase film (Figures in a Landscape) and a film about the Occupation (Monsieur Klein). What is it that so often draws the work together? Two words that come to mind are haunted and hounded, and often conjoined in a way that indicates Losey's work wants to balance finely the subjective state with an objective reality. If we disagree with the claims made by James Palmer and Michel Riley, in The Films of Joseph Losey, it resides partly on this point. They see in Losey's work, in films like Accident and The Go-Between a subjective narration; that we ought to see the films very much from the perspective of their central characters. Both Stephen (Dirk Bogarde) in Accident and Leo (in The Go-Between) are figures of subjectivity, people whose view of events the film mimics in the choices the director makes. Palmer and Riley see that in Losey's work ...the field of the mind's eye is always a function of character-narration, whatever its duration. Moreover, character-narration expresses its narrator's interpretations, whether rational, voluntary or involuntary. They see in a number of Losey's films this complex notion of subjectivity at work.
However, if we are right to say that haunted and hounded are two useful words when analysing Losey's films, they also represent two very different modes. If haunted suggests the mind of a person caught up in their own neurosis, hounded indicates a more objective set of circumstances. Trevian (Stanley Baker) who claims his late brother's work as his own and lives off the proceedings is haunted but he is also hounded. The man who loves his fiancee investigates Trevian's background in Wales and proves he isn't responsible for the novel that has proved such a success. But he is also haunted as he independently tells the woman he is besotted by, the titular Eva (Jeanne Moreau), that he is full of self-disgust as he admits it isn't his work. In Accident, Stephen seems haunted by his urges and impulses but there is also Charley (Stanley Baker) hounding him as he says one afternoon in front of the lover to be and Stephen's wife that Stephen wants to sleep with his students. In both these instances, the haunting is stronger than the hounding, but equally it can be the reverse. M, Figures in a Landscape and Mr Klein are all hounding films: M is famously about a character chased by the mob; Figures in a Landscape an entire film based on two men on the run; and Mr Klein showing the titular character hounded out of the country as he can't prove he's Aryan.
What is most interesting, however, is that the films usually combine both qualities simultaneously even if one is more pronounced than the other. Authority figures are frequent in Losey's work and people are often getting caught out and found out, questioned and intimidated. Whether it is Stephen near the beginning of Accident questioned by the police about the car crash that kills one of the film central characters (the film is mainly in flashback), or the title character quizzed by the police officers in Mr Klein, people in Losey's films are expected to justify themselves and explain themselves. But this isn't only an external demand on the part of the authorities, it can also be an external insistence by other 'non-authority' characters within the film, and internally by the characters themselves. In The Servant, Tony (James Fox) and his girlfriend return home and hear the title character obviously in an amorous encounter with what Tony has assumed is the servant's sister. They aren't actually related at all and it has just been a ruse so that she can stay. But the scene is much more complicated than that. Tony has been having an affair with her unbeknownst to his girlfriend, and when he chastises Barrett for sleeping with his own sister, he expresses his indignation with some personal anguish of his own. His girlfriend looks on, dismayed, disturbed but still unaware. When Fox yells at Barrett saying "she is your sister you bastard" he raises his voice with more than moral outrage. He might be exposing one person (or rather two) who he thinks are morally depraved but the only one who has clearly acted out of order in the scene is Tony who has cheated on his girlfriend.
The scene captures very well Losey's interest in entanglements, where he suggests the multiplication of emotional complication. His films rarely settle for a menage a trois when they can create manifold sexual complexity. In the Oxford-set Accident, there are three men (Stephen, Charley and William) interested in the young, beautiful and rich international student Anna, but there is also Charley's ex-wife who he has walked out on, as well as Stephen's affair with another character in the past that he briefly rekindles in the present. In Eva, Tyvian's fiancee adores him but he adores Eva, all the while another man adores Tyvian's fiancee and discovers information on Tyvian that he hopes will convince the fiancee Tyvian is a terrible man. In The Go-Between, Ted and Marian have an affair but she is all but engaged to the lord of the manor, Trimingham, and the young Lou becomes infatuated with Marian as he passes letters back and forth between Marian and Ted. In The Trout, the entanglements are more complicated still. Frederique is a married woman whose fragile husband looks on while she seduces various men to varying degrees. We also have flashbacks to encounters in the past when she was a girl. The film is less interested in the actualization of these affairs than their virtualization as a means by which to explore Frederique's power. Though sex sometimes appears in Losey's films (a late sex scene in The Go-Between for example) usually Losey focuses not only on the implicit over the explicit but also on the implications of the various situations the characters get into, and the exposure and guilt involved. Though there are figures in Losey who appear shameless and are usually women (Eva, Frederique, perhaps Anna) they are often catalysts for the shamefulness of those around them. The men embark on behaviour that makes them hounded by others and haunted in themselves. By the end of The Trout, the wealthy and assured Ramembert, who becomes obsessed with Frederique, murders his wife and loses his confidence. It says something of Losey's unsettling sense of priority that the former might seem of no more importance than the latter.
Just as sex is rarely shown in Losey's films, neither does he offer much violence. Speaking on the DVD extras of The Criminal, Michel Ciment (who interviewed Losey at length for Conversations with Losey), says that the director's approach to violence is classical rather than modern, drawing distinctions between Losey's and Raoul Walsh's approach and Penn's and Peckinpah's. The former pair were "moralists opposed to the exploitation of violence that would develop in movies like Bonnie and Clyde, Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch or Sergio Leone's movies...these filmmakers are fascinated by violence. For Losey violence is an awful and terrible thing." But rather than distinguishing between moral positions on the brutal, better still to see that Losey's is a repercussive aesthetic, interested in what comes out of the sex and violence that he acknowledges but doesn't labour over. Thus the action set piece is of far less significance than the psychological network it serves. It is partly why Gilles Deleuze sees Losey as a naturalist of a certain type. The director might have said himself that he didn't care for naturalism and stated in 1960 that "for almost twenty-five years, Brecht has inspired my life and my work" (Cinema: A Critical Dictionary) but Deleuze sees naturalism not simply as another word for realism but instead as a Zolaesque universe of originary thoughts and sudden impulses. Deleuze says, "if naturalism went through a kind of entropy in Stroheim, and through a cycle of repetition in Bunuel, it now takes on another configuration. This is what might be called - in the third place - the reversal against self." (Cinema 1: The Movement-Image) Deleuze adds, "the originary violence of impulses is always 'in act', but it is too great for action." Ciment's remark about Losey's relationship to violence thus needn't be seen as classical and moral, though it might also be, but above all else aggression too great to show because it cannot be contained in the event. The violence in Bonnie and Clyde and The Wild Bunch is equal to the action the characters live and die by the outlaw behaviour they practice. In Losey's work, the violence remains often inside the body but manifests itself as cruelty, manipulation contempt, disgust and weakness in oneself that must prey on the weakness of others.
Both the titular character in Eva and the central character in The Trout are capable of the first four but they contain an impulsive strength, an ability to flout convention and feel no shame in the process. They are not so much weak characters who take advantage of others weaker still but see in others a masochistic streak that must thus be taken advantage of, or an arrogance that must be dispelled. In Eva, Jeanne Moreau is a woman who loves Tyvian a lot less than she despises the weaknesses within him and she cannot help but play with his emotions as if determined to show him his own worst self-image. But that is what Eva can do to any man: rather than making them fall in love with her, she goes further and makes them hate themselves. A while after Tyvian has admitted to Eva he took his dead brother's novel as his own, and long after we have seen him betray his fiancee appallingly, he spies on Eva. It is near the end of the film and he is lost, whatever sense of self he has left is evident in the eyes of a woman who holds him in contempt. In The Trout, Frederique treats most of the men with whom she comes into contact with disdain or disgust, reserving pity mainly for her homosexual husband who nevertheless is suicidal with jealousy. She remains indifferent throughout, as though interested less in other people's feelings, or even her own, than in retaining an attitude that generates shock, dismay and surprise in others - someone who manipulates less to get what she wants than to show other people how little she cares and how much they happen to do so. One scene in the film shows her in Japan with a prospective lover who invites her over. He has a girlfriend back in France and another here. He is sitting in a nightclub with his Japanese girlfriend when Frederique comes in: she dances a little and then sits down. Her drink arrives and the waiter accidentally spills it all over her Emmanuel Ungaro dress. The Japanese lover can't stop laughing - until she does. Her laugh trails off when Frederique slips out of the dress and reveals no less elegant baby doll underwear. The prospective lover looks lustfully and admiringly at Frederique; the Japanese lover now no more than an ornament by his side. Frederique has no more feeling for the prospective lover, but the Japanese girl now has a lot less respect for herself. She is a peripheral character whose brief role is to show quickly amour propre can collapse.
However, more often than not in Losey's work, he focuses on the people who are self-loathing or self-destructive, from Tony in the Servant to Stephen in Accident, Leo in The Go-Between and Robert in Mr Klein, from Bannion in The Criminal to Tyvian in Eva. These are quite distinct figures but all of them share that Deleuzean aspect: "a prey to the violence of the impulse himself, the character trembles on to himself, and in this sense he becomes the prey, the victim of his own impulse." (Cinema 1: The Movement-Image) In The Criminal, for example, if Bannion focused only on his physical prowess he might not have got banged up for a robbery, but he insists on buying, in advance of the crime, a ring for his new girlfriend. His ex, Maggie sees the new girlfriend Suzanne in the shop and after they chat briefly Maggie finds out how much Suzanne's ring will cost and later uses this information to grass on Bannion. He doesn't seem to realise the contempt he shows towards the ex wouldn't be harboured, and can't resist spending money he doesn't yet have on the new woman. Unlike Eva and Frederique, his impulses work against him rather than for him. He ends up once again in prison but insists on getting out when he hears that the gangsters have more or less kidnapped Suzanne. He arranges a deal with another prisoner, who has power in the jail, Saffron, and gets a transfer only because it looks like he has helped the 'screws'. He leaves dishonourably from the view of the prisoners for whom he has been a hero but it is the only way he thinks he can escape, save his girlfriend and protect the 40,000 he has buried. By the end of the film he will be dead, the money still buried in the hard, frozen ground, and his reputation will be that of a weakling, a coward who would do anything to get out of jail. Here is a self-destructive character who were he alive would be full of self-loathing. It is not that he always acts badly, but that he insistently acts impulsively without having the instincts to justify it.
Equally, when we see him rejecting Maggie it seems unreasonable partly because we see no motivation for the deed. Losey, Caute explains, shot a scene where Maggie meets him outside the prison early in the film and he finds out that she has cheated on him but it didn't make the final cut, making the rejection on narrative terms a little inexplicable. "Losey later apologized for this episode, blaming its arbitrary quality on cuts" (Joseph Losey: A Revenge on Life) but it gives to the film a feature that would become central to many of Losey's best works and that is an arbitrariness of character consistent with the impulse-image Deleuze sees. It seems in the final version that Bannion rejects her because he feels like it, that he doesn't act from the most thought-through of motives but with the force of impulsiveness. It is the same when he arranges to get out while speaking to Saffron saying he has a feeling about his nemesis Carter, something he can't put his finger on. Saffron tells him that Carter has Suzanne and thinks she can help Carter find the money. Bannion immediately says he must get out, by any means possible. He doesn't think through the consequence and we might believe that Saffron and Carter are the ones with the moves - thinking well ahead. Carter says later to Bannion: "your sort doesn't fit into an organisation", explaining that indeed he and Saffron were in cahoots. Bannion has been thoroughly played, a man who can't think ahead and doesn't have the instinct to live in the moment.
Yet how does this work in the three films he made with Harold Pinter? Pinter's characters sometimes seem to be thinking so far ahead that we can almost describe their behaviour with chess analogies instead of psychological analysis. Yet when we think of The Servant, Accident and The Go-Between what intrigues us is the Pinteresque meeting the Loseyesque: Pinter's interest in the insidious insinuation, and Losey's in the impulsive and reckless action. In The Servant, we might say that Barrett suggests Pinter and Tony, Losey. It is the working-class Barrett who worms his way into the household and plays ingratiating until he turns menacing. Tony is the arrogant and ostensibly confident man of money who treats waiters with disgust but can't but show weakness in the process. When he tells a waiter the wine is corked he illustrates less his expertise than his need to impress the woman he is with by belittling a man socially his inferior. He wouldn't be able to see Barrett could easily get the better of him; how could he since Barrett is socially beneath him? But the scene in the restaurant shows Tony not only as a snob but also as a weak snob. Someone who politely informs the waiter the wine is corked shows expertise; Tony is rude and ignorant. There is no suggestion he knows what he is talking about but he believes he knows who he is talking to: an inferior who must obey. Barrett will play the subordinate role all the better to embed himself in Tony's Kensington terraced house, preying on a man who thinks he knows where he stands in the social hierarchy but seems to have no idea what he should do with his life. When Tony speaks about business plans in Brazil, he does so with all the vacuity he offers when pretending to know about wine. Pinter's interest in people getting what they want and Losey showing us characters who don't know who they are comes together very well in The Servant, but also in different ways in Accident and The Go-Between.
In Accident, Stephen, the old-style, posh-enough Oxbridge don is secure from one perspective: as Caute muses, "has Stephen inherited wealth? His salary or 'stipend' would not be sufficient to sustain this lifestyle and [his wife] Rosalind clearly has no job?" (Joseph Losey: A Revenge on Life) Charley is the man of the moment, someone who would appear more clearly working-class but also has a second-income from TV and thus more secure from another angle. When Stephen goes to London for an interview, hoping to get some work in television, he is clearly outside his comfort zone as Losey films the TV centre briskly and brutally. Mixing hand-held camerawork of bodies moving swiftly through the frame with an impressive lateral track that leaves Stephen behind as he walks down the corridor and where the camera picks him up again when he enters an office farther along, Losey conveys Stephen's discomfort in the form. The open-plan office space allows Losey to show the camera entering one door and seeing Stephen enter another 20 yards away seconds later, the deep focus photography by Gerry Fisher suggesting an alienating locale. The interview is a disaster: Losey describes Stephen as "defeated and humiliated at the BBC" (Conversations with Losey) with any confidence he possesses in the halls of Oxford lost in the London ones. But there is the suggestion that Stephen is easily humiliated in numerous situations: he falls into the river when punting with Anna and the aristocratic, youthful and athletic William and he is clearly hopeless at games. As Losey says of Bogarde: "Dirk is a completely non-physical man. He can't ride a horse, he can't swim, he can barely walk. The only thing he can do is garden. He certainly can't play tennis." (Conversations with Losey) But Bogarde could be dismissive of actors who were socially different from him: "he was always very nationalistic and castigatory about Welshmen and Irishmen - this in relation to Robert Shaw, Stanley Baker and Sean Connery." (Conversations with Losey) Pinter's absence of back story is nevertheless filled in by Losey's casting as we see two men clearly from different backgrounds and subsequently with different areas of insecurity. The class divide that was pronounced in The Servant becomes murkier here, but it is there nevertheless. Stephen might feel entitled to take advantage of Anna but he is slow on the uptake and the wolfish Charley is already in there. All he can do is accommodate the other man's needs and generously allows Charley his house for further sex sessions when his wife and kids are away (and while he's been in London) after finding him already there. Is this an admittance of defeat, or a very subtle attempt at control? In a film where class is sublimated and where power is subterranean, with both Stephen and Charley insecure but for different reasons, it is hard to say. What seems clear, however, is that Losey shows us men for whom identity is a shifting thing - a weak thing - that is in constant low-key conflict with others who may be weaker still.
Here we can return to the hounded and the haunted. Though occasionally Losey focuses on the hounding over the haunting evident in M and Figures in a Landscape, the emphasis usually rests on denying an easy distinction between the two. We have seen in Eva that Tyvian is both haunted by his brother's death and hounded by the person who wants him to acknowledge he claimed his brother's book as his own. In The Go-Between, Leo is hounded in the present as he must get the approval of Marian by continuing to deliver her letters to Ted but haunted by the past in the flashforwards and in the conclusion that shows him, an aging, solitary man, in conversation with the now very old Marian. In Accident, Stephen may be hounded by Charley who turns up at the lunch unannounced and always seems to be imposing himself on his colleague, but after the accident, after Stephen takes advantage of the shocked and half-asleep Anna, will he become more fearful of what he's done than anything Charley can do to him? Even in some of Losey's less impressive films like Time Without Pity and Boom we see the relationship between feeling imposed upon and self-terrorising evident. In Time without Pity, it is split between two characters: Robert Stanford, the self-made businessman, and the writer, David Graham (Michael Redgrave), a self-made alcoholic, whose son is about to be hanged for a crime Stanford committed. David is more the haunted figure determined to find his son innocent all the while feeling nothing but guilt for being so long unavailable; Stanford is the hunted man who thinks that nevertheless money and bluster will allow another to die for the crime he committed. The film resolves itself predictably enough as David saves his son's life at the cost of his own and Stanford is revealed to be the murderer he is. We see the split again in The Romantic Englishwoman. Helmut Berger is the flamboyant opportunist who is hunted by gangsters on the European mainland and, in England, takes up with writer Michael Caine's wife, played by Glenda Jackson. Caine is the haunted husband jealous that his wife will leave him and so distraught that he can't work.
Yet if Losey is a great director of people persecuted and disturbed, we can see too how nuanced and sophisticated these elements became in his best work, in the Pinter films and also Eva and Monsieur Klein. It is as if in these films the subjective and the objective states never quite give way to each other. In Time Without Pity, the generic elements get in the way; in Boom it is more that the absence of structure creates the same problem from the other end. Here Mrs Gosforth (Elizabeth Taylor) hides away on an island visited by a man, Chris Flanders (Richard Burton) who we increasingly discover is there as a representative of death, just as we notice the cough Gosforth can't get rid of is a harbinger of it. In this mainly abstract account, Gosforth won't shut up about her past; can't quite see that Chris is more than a man who has found himself stranded in her company. The film is an astonishing work of mise-en-scene, indicating a director far removed from the one ten years earlier whose visual design was closely allied to generic expectation. Despite several scenes in the earlier film that suggest Losey's interest in theme as visual design, in Boom it is the film. Time Without Pity opens on a primitivist painting before pulling back and panning to a woman falling down the stairs, while later there is a well-known scene where David interviews a woman with clocks everywhere, but most of the film remains within a visual style consistent with a well-made thriller. Boom, however, has hardly a story to tell at all and concentrates on a mise-en-scene closer to the Godard of Le Mepris than the work on show in the suspense film. Frequently using the widescreen frame for multi-plane exploration, there are numerous scenes in the film that play up the foreground, medium ground and background as the image is kept within focus. In one scene, Chris is in the background on the phone; Mrs Gosforth is in the foreground getting worked up and, though Losey does cut to Chris on the phone, the emphasis is on making sure the viewer can move freely between the planes as the eye sees fit. In another moment, we see Mrs Gosforth in the foreground, Chris in the medium plane and Gosforth's assistant in the rear. It is a melodramatic moment where the assistant finally starts yelling back at a boss who has treated her badly but Losey films it so that none of the characters is facing each other but all looking towards the camera. Out of such an approach, Losey could have moved towards the theme that so often preoccupied him, but it is as if while Pinter is the perfect scriptwriter to capture the power games Losey is fascinated by and the degree to which someone feels bullied or ashamed, here working with Tennessee Williams he counters the Williams melodrama with a distanced form. The film is neither one thing nor another, but we might wonder what it might have been if Losey had worked with someone more commensurate with his usual fixations. Taylor is a great Williams actress, who can face someone down and keep a spat going for longer than most, who can unravel a bit of another character's past so that it seems like brutal revelation rather than exposition, but here Losey doesn't quite know what to do with her, evident in some rather troublesome remarks he made about her lumpy figure versus her beautiful eyes and skin. Clothing her mainly in white and black, Losey sees her as a figure in space rather than a visage and illustrates how badly miscast she was by saying she has a "common accent." (Conversations with Losey) That accent works wonderfully in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Suddenly, Last Summer, but is stranded here. Yet the idea of a lonely, caustic woman who is dying, visited by a charismatic grim reaper, could have been a rich subject for Losey: an almost allegorical exploration of the usual Losey themes.
Indeed, in an important essay on Losey, Edgar Cozarinsky reckons the director is always an allegorically-inclined filmmaker as he sees him through the Brechtian lens that Losey has often talked about and whose work he adapted with Galileo. Cozarinsky quotes Edwin Honig who reckons: "an allegory starts from the writer's need to create a specific world of fictional reality. His reality comes into existence and comes to mean something at the same time....The double purpose of making a reality and making it mean something is peculiar to allegory and its directive language." (Cinema: A Critical Dictionary) We can better understand this allegorical sense if we see it as a means by which to show the thematic as more pronounced than the dramatic, as though the story is chiefly there to produce an abstract principle. If that 'allegory' is too weak it falls into the generic (as in Time without Pity), if too strong it becomes empty, as in Boom and also Figures in a Landscape. When the tension exists between the allegorical force and the dramatic development, we have Losey's best work: Eva, The Servant, Accident, The Go-Between and Monsieur Klein. Some very intriguing films come out of its relative failure (like The Trout, the more conventional King and Country, and The Romantic Englishwoman), but they seem almost to function as works that we understand best through the rise of Losey's preoccupations: someone watching The Trout without any knowledge of the director's oeuvre might be inclined to see a failed Chabrol film - a filmmaker much further away from the director than Visconti and Resnais, even if he casts in this film Chabrol's regular Isabelle Huppert.
Yet what interests Losey isn't first and foremost the allegorical, nor even the Brechtian that Losey frequently insisted, but the thematic that doesn't so much underpin the work but intrudes upon it. Losey's films were frequently attacked for their heavy-handedness and at the same time for their lack of clarity. Speaking of Losey's work on Monsieur Klein, Pauline Kael said "Losey has only two modes of expression the oblique and the obvious and you never can be sure which is which." (When the Lights Go Down). There are numerous anecdotes about Losey's perfectionism but also plenty of stories about the director's indifference to basic narrative logic. Caute notes Losey caring little about how, in The Criminal, Bannion gets rid of the getaway driver, yet Losey talks to Ciment despairingly about the tracks that are evident in the closing scene of Accident. The irony now is that tracks are very easily, digitally removable, but holes in a story harder to cover up. However, what the anecdotes illustrate is that Losey has more interest in the mise en scene than narration, perhaps because the former is an expressive mode while the latter happens to be a logical one. Yet Losey complicates this question by saying to Ciment that certain films he has made have been personal and others less so. Time without Pity was personal and Boom wasn't he reckoned, even if for us one was logical and the other expressive, one holding to the plot it had to tell; the other the mise en scene it had the freedom to explore. But if Kael has a point when she reckoned Losey's films were both obvious and oblique it is also where their greatness lies. The tension between these two places (which we are couching within the logical and the expressive) goes beyond the personal and achieves what Cozarinsky might call the allegorical - yet that we can call the thematic. Thus scenes and situations that from a certain point of view might seem clumsy or overstated can appear in the broader context of Losey's work internally pertinent.
A good example is Monsieur Klein, which both Kael and Caute attack, as if wishing for a more compact and effective thriller than the one Losey chose to make. They are undeniably looking for greater logic from a script that dissolves instead into the indeterminacy of Klein's own psychic state. It would be too much to say the film is subjective because the very thing Klein lacks is that strong sense of self. But it would also be wrong to insist the film is objective: Robert fails to comprehend the objective nature of events in Occupied France. He doesn't seem to see the magnitude of the situation, laughs at jokes about Jews without necessarily seeing himself as an ani-Semite, and exploits the hapless position the Jewish people are in without seeing himself as especially exploitative. It is between the subjective and objective that Losey works, and hence the obviousness and obscurity Kael sees needn't be viewed as an example of failure but of a different kind of success. Rather than a film with a clear plot (Klein tries to find out who he has been mistaken with and resolves the problem) and a clear message (once having done so Klein could have joined the Resistance that the other Robert Klein appeared to be working for), Losey never makes clear who the double happens to be, and Klein goes to his death preoccupied with a figure he never meets. From the perspective of the hounding and the haunting, the film is a near-perfect work, balancing Klein's feeling that he is being chased out of his home and his country with the sense that this is perhaps exactly what he deserves. When at the end of the film he is on a train marked for the camps, the film's soundtrack returns to a conversation much earlier in the film where he buys on the cheap a painting from a desperate Jewish man. Standing behind him on the train is that very Jewish figure, perhaps really there; perhaps a figment of Klein's imagination, just as the conversation is a figment of his memory. Losey keeps things ambiguous all the better to push through the thematic preoccupation with characters who are harassed in the world but who are also internally aware they have plenty to feel guilty about. It makes sense that one of Losey's very first films was a remake of Fritz Lang's M. Who is more likely to be both internally and externally pressurised than a compulsive paedophile who is detested by the community?
Throughout Monsieur Klein, Losey emphasizes the mise en scene far more than he plays up the suspense in the story. He shows us constant privilege within persecution. The country is occupied by Nazis who are punitive towards Jews, but Klein sees himself as one of the people who needn't be affected by the horrors that await others - until he becomes fascinated by his Jewish doppelganger. While Klein lives in a beautiful apartment surrounded by artworks, the other Klein's place is a rundown flat in a less desirable part of Paris. He has already moved out when Klein visits the apartment but there is the suggestion there was never much in it in the first place. The cafes Klein visits are exclusively for Gentiles, eating like there is no tomorrow, while those whose future is precarious aren't welcome. Though Losey insists that his work generally possesses characters who are all sympathetic (he was speaking about The Go-Between in particular) one reason why many see his work as troublesome rests on the absence of conventionally identificatory characters. We don't sympathise with Tony, Stephen, or Monsieur Klein and even in The Go-Between Leo is seen too briefly as an adult to elicit the compassion to which we might feel he is entitled. It is this absence that can give to objects a force because the subjects, too, feel like objects in the space.
Thus Losey is a mise en scene director in the proper sense of the term: everything in the frame is an object of our contemplation and while it would be absurd to claim that objects and subjects are equivalent (no object can be hounded or haunted) nevertheless the gap between object and subject appears much smaller in Losey's films than that of many other directors. When Losey shows us the family sitting for dinner a third of the way through The Go-Between he does so in long-shot from a high angle behind a couple of pillars. At another moment he shows us the family eating afternoon tea outside. The camera moves towards the characters who all sit there as if sitting for a painting rather than eating a light snack. The camera moves past Marian and towards Leo after the boy is asked why he doesn't have any summer clothes to wear. He says he supposed his mother forgot to pack them and from the rear of the shot Marian's mother says "why don't you write and ask her to send them?" Marian replies, "Oh that would take too long, Mama. Let me take him into Norwich tomorrow and get him a new outfit." Does Leo have very much that passes for summer wear at home and has Marian's mother accidentally exposed him and Marian saved him from humiliation? We may later find out that Marian wants to go to Norwich to meet Ted, but for Leo this is the kindest of gestures and one Marian doesn't retreat from: she does buy him some lovely clothing. Yet the priority seems to be for Losey to film the rules of the game, not the human interaction and thus the images are framed not to emphasize the characters' feelings but the dynamics of power; a power based on how people are situated in their lives and which allows Losey to show how they are situated in the frame. We don't know whether the mother is interested in embarrassing Leo and how much Marian may notice this shame and quickly insists she will buy him new clothing. For Losey, the way characters exist within the social network is what matters. These are people who must hide their feelings and desires unless they coincide with the expectations placed upon them. Leo must know his place as a young boy whom the family takes in, evident as Marian later makes clear. When Leo no longer wants to pass on the letters, where he feels he is doing something wrong, Marian insists that it is a business arrangement between Ted Burgess and herself, and asks if he understands or if he is too stupid. "You come into this house. Our guest. A poor nothing out of nowhere...we feed you, we clothe you...then you have the damn cheek to say you won't do a simple thing that some ragamuffin in the street would do for nothing." Yet Marian has obligations too, well aware that she must eventually marry the Lord of the manor Trimingham and not Burgess. Many a filmmaker will show social obligation at work but Losey brilliantly suggests it more than most: in the framing of the characters whose agency seems weak next to the form that contains them. It makes sense that Losey frequently opens and closes scenes with objects prominent in the shot. It may be the statue sitting on the window sill as Marian's father Mr Maudley enters the frame irate near the end of the film, or it might be the stone pillars foremost in the frame as Leo runs towards them holding a letter in his hand. If Losey makes much of objects in his cinema it rests on wondering how much of a place they have in his characters' lives and the degree to which it undermines rather than exemplifies their existence.
There is no doubt that Marian and her family believe that the house they live in and the many objects they possess augment who they are, but Losey is very good at suggesting that what we may believe adds to our existence dilutes it. Marian's family relies on Trimingham to retain their standard of living; they themselves are not the lords of all they survey, but a family whose daughter must be sold off to the person who can keep them in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. Losey may from various points of view be a Communist of decidedly bad faith, having lived the life of luxury that he consistently condemned, determined to avoid taxes in the fifties, and escaping the UK to France when they rose sharply under a left-wing government, as Caute explores, but if we might be inclined to dismiss Losey anecdotally we can defend him more strenuously still aesthetically. Few directors have been better than Losey at indicating just how the very things in life that contribute to one's ego are at the same time undermining the self. When in Monsieur Klein the house is cleared it is as though Klein has lost much of his stature. In contrast, the small, ugly, rundown apartment the other Monsieur Klein occupied indicates a man who was himself, someone who didn't need the space he lived in to define who he happened to be. In The Servant, Tony has just brought the house Barrett will be employed in and we initially see that it is all but empty. Over the months it will fill up with numerous objects reflecting the sort of personality we must assume Tony wants to convey. However, during the film as the material items accumulate so Tony falls apart. He is far less than the sum of his parts if the parts are the things he owns. It is as if Barrett can see through this hollowness to the absence that is Tony's personality and takes full advantage of it.
If we have recognized the influence of both Visconti and Resnais on his work even if they are both quite different directors, then it is nevertheless for quite distinct reasons. Visconti's elaborate mise-en-scene occasionally proves vital to Resnais too and none more so than in Last Year at Marienbad. But Hiroshima mon amour, Muriel, Je t'aime, Je t'aime are not principally mise en scene works while The Leopard, The Damned and Ludwig can't easily be viewed outside the richness of their set design. Yet Resnais with his fractured montage manages to show just how fragile identity happens to be, how reliant it is on what one remembers and what one cannot. That was never quite Visconti's theme and nobody has better analysed in so few words the Italian director's preoccupation with passing worlds more than Deleuze in The Time-Image as he describes the disintegration of the aristocratic world. Losey combines elements of both Resnais and Visconti by indicating less class collapse than individual decomposition, the class issue isn't the broad, sweeping epic nature of Visconti's often lengthy films but more compact accounts of weak individuals who want to shore up their psychic fragility with a mise en scene that speaks for them and holds them together. Clearly, The Go-Between might seem quite Visconti-like in its grandeur, in its turn of the century story about wealth and comfort, but Leo is an outsider to this world, becoming haunted in his recollection of it, and we see much of the wealth appears to continue untouched. After all, when Leo goes to visit Marian (now Mrs Trimingham) the house is still in Trimingham's possession as Losey suggests the English wealthy hold on to their money and their traditions no matter what happens in the surrounding society. There is no nostalgia for the aristocracy in The Go-Between, nor in the scene where Tony and his girlfriend visit friends in their stately home in The Servant, and when Stephen accompanies William to his posh pile in The Accident. Why should there be? The aristocracy is still very much in place. Losey's achievement as a lush Marxist is to suggest that money and identity are so closely affiliated that both the absence of it (Leo in The Go-Between, initially Frederique in The Trout and Tyvian in Eva), or the presence of it, Tony in The Servant, Stephen's relative comfort in Accident, Klein's luxury in Monsieur Klein, indicate that in Losey's work money makes the world go round but also makes people dizzy with insecurity, knowing their sense of self is closely affiliated with their financial situation. Many a filmmaker denies such a truth, the sort of denial we find in films that accept the importance of money and then insist there are values higher than those the film has been acknowledging for most of its running time (namely concerning money and materialism) before this higher value (love, dignity, beauty, justice) manifests itself. How many romantic comedies have played up the wealth initially only to proclaim that love is all that counts; how many action films emphasize the expensive hardware before suggesting it is canny know-how that really matters? Losey might have been an appalling hypocrite in his own life, may have according to Caute been a snob and a tax dodger but his best work plays fair to its thematic integrity. The films make clear that higher values aren't easy to attain when lower values dominate, when the things that money can buy own the very people who have the cash. Viewers may believe like Kael that Losey films are both obscure and obvious but this could be because Losey acknowledges what many films deny: that if you show selfish, self-absorbed characters caught in lives full of hollow beliefs and venal behaviour we shouldn't expect them to change just to satisfy character throughlines and moral catharsis. Rather than paying attention to the story and how the characters move through the narrative, better to focus on the mise en scene and see how attached the figures in his films so often are to the luxury of their environment.
Initially, we looked at projects that never came to fruition under Losey's direction but could see how they made sense as potential Losey films. When for example Deleuze says "often women in Losey seem in advance of the milieu, in revolt against it and outside the originary world of the men", he gives as examples the women from The Damned, Eva and The Trout, and adds that they leave naturalism to reach what he calls lyrical abstraction, seeing that "these advanced women are rather similar to Thomas Hardy's with analogous functions." We could have seen that perhaps play out if Losey had managed to film the English writer. "This is a project I keep abandoning and taking up again" Losey said of The Mayor of Casterbridge. "I began negotiations in the early 1950s, when Rank owned the copyright" but he never got to make it. Speaking of a couple of Conrad adaptations, Nostromo and Under Western Eyes, Losey said of the latter "but who on earth would ever produce it?" (Conversations with Losey) Losey's exasperation must have been frequent, a director not quite for hire but rarely with the creative control of an auteur who can properly choose his material. If we were to describe his oeuvre with that too commonly utilized adjective uneven, then its utilization is nevertheless we believe accurate. Yet if New York critics like Kael, John Simon and Vincent Canby could often be dismissive, with Simon for example commenting on inaccuracies he saw in the Oxford of Accident, the French were usually fulsome in their praise and didn't much care to distinguish between great films and mediocre Losey works. As Richard Roud says, commenting on Cozarinsky's article, "his reputation with critics has always been highest in France, where he is considered (in my mind, rightly) as one of the most important directors of all time. But his position in England and America has been more problematical, to say the least." (Cinema: A Critical Dictionary) Our own stance is to see Losey as an occasional master rather than a constant genius, someone whose work shows very well the contingencies of cinema as an art form, someone reliant on the work of others including editors Reginald Mills and Reginald Beck, his producer Norman Priggen, cameraman Gerry Fisher, his production designer Richard MacDonald and the often significant writers who had careers of their own outside cinema; not only Pinter but also David Mercer, Jorge Semprun, Tom Stoppard and Evan Jones. We don't offer these other names as a way of undermining Losey's vision but to suggest how often in cinema that notion of a vision is helped along by numerous others, and also constantly curtailed by finances that can't easily be raised, evident in all the films Losey didn't make. It is as if cinema is a medium itself for the haunted and the hounded, where a filmmaker like Losey can find direct and indirect means by which to express his perspective upon the world (hence the haunting) while at the same time hounded by the money men who expect a commercial product out of an aesthetic intention. To finish we can quote Losey twice over. In the first comment, he says "there are certain films that I can say are very personal and I was trying to work out my own problems in them..." but he also reckons that "...a kind of fighting attitude toward film is essential to making good films. I still maintain that position today, although I'm considerably more realistic about what can be accomplished with the sort of contracts and the kind of producer that we had at the time." (Conversations with Losey) He is speaking about Eva that he sees as one of his most personal films and working with the producer Robert Hakim who thought nothing of hacking the film's length down. David Caute's biography can't stop talking about the numerous people Losey fell out with and plays up the insecurity of the director on the one hand and the precariousness of his life on the other. However, while Losey did indeed seem someone of dubious values and with a troublesome personality, he managed to be both a director for hire who at the same could never quite be bought.
© Tony McKibbin