Saturday, April 28, 2012

Long Day's Journey into Night

Pitkän päivän matka yöhön / Lång dags färd mot natt. US 1962. PC: Landau Productions. EX: Jack J. Dreyfus, Jr., Joseph E. Levine. P: Ely A. Landau. D: Sidney Lumet – [no screenplay, no screenwriter] – based on the play by Eugene O'Neill, posthumously produced in 1956, written in 1942. Finnish translation in book form by Juha Siltanen / Love Kirjat, 1989. DP: Boris Kaufman - b&w - 1,85:1. PD: Richard Sylbert, set dec. Gene Callahan. Cost: Sophie Devine. Make-up: Herman Buchman. Hair: Mary Roche. M (solo piano, total 10 min): André Previn. S: Jim Shields. ED: Ralph Rosenblum. Loc: Long Island (New York). C: Katharine Hepburn (Mary Tyrone), Ralph Richardson (James Tyrone), Jason Robards (Jamie Tyrone), Dean Stockwell (Edmund Tyrone), Jeanne Barr (Kathleen). Helsinki premiere: 4.10.1968 Astor, released by Lii-Filmi, short version 138 min, Finnish tv transmissions 20.6.1992 YLE TV2, 30.12.2001 YLE TV1 – VET 76620 – K16 – original full length version 174 min

Region 1 US dvd, distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment (Graphic design © 2004 Republic Entertainment. A Paramount/Viacom company). Full screen version 1,33:1 ("formatted from its original version to fit your screen", but it looks like the open matte version), original full length version 174 min. Dvd viewed at home, Helsinki, 28 April 2012

The play was first performed on 2.2.1956 in Stockholm (Dramaten, with Lars Hanson / James, Inga Tidblad / Mary, Jarl Kulle / Edmund). (A funny coincidence: these three actors have each played in a film adaptation of The Song of the Scarlet Flower, one in the 1910s, one in the 1930s, and one in the 1950s).

I missed in our Sidney Lumet retrospective this favourite film of the director. My American relatives happened to read my blog entry about the Eugene O'Neill play which I read instead and sent me this dvd as a gift. The movie is a special case in drama adaptation. Lumet made it directly from the Eugene O'Neill play without a screenplay. The cinematic contribution is the cinematography which is based on the theme expressed in the title: the journey into night. At the start there are more long shots and establishing shots and towards the end there are more close-ups and extreme close-ups. There are only four main characters and one supporting character, the housemaid. Based on the play, this is a character-driven movie but also a powerful visual experience thanks to Boris Kaufman's work. The camera is constantly moving and revealing something without being obtrusive. The faces keep changing with the passage of the light from morning till night, but also by the impact of the alcohol (consumed liberally by father and sons) and morphine (taken at regular intervals by Mary). The tale of revelations is reportedly semi-autobiographical, based on O'Neill's family experiences in 1912 in Connecticut. The play is grim yet full of humour. Lumet's adaptation is very good in maintaining the dramatic tension but less successful with O'Neill's black sense of humour. Of the performances I liked Dean Stockwell best, magnetic as the youngest son suffering from consumption (= tuberculosis). He possesses the same kind of charisma as James Dean. Ralph Richardson is perfect as the pater familias, the successful but frustrated travelling hit actor, the prisoner of a single success role. Jason Robards was a veteran of this play, very good but perhaps slightly tired to do this role again, and at 40 too old-looking for the 33 year old Jamie. There is nothing wrong with Katharine Hepburn, one of my favourite actresses with a strong spirit and a brilliant sense of humour. Excuse me, but in this movie she seems lost in a way that must be unintentional. Sidney Lumet is a great directors of actors - male actors. His female characters fail to reach the same level of greatness that his male characters often have. In the beginning, the movie seems mannered and telegraphing points annoyingly. The performances feel heavy and lacking in subtlety. Towards the end either the actors seem more at home with their roles or I got used to the performance styles. But the movie does reach a devastating, cathartic, tragic, explosive intensity at the end of the long journey. The dvd has been mastered in the Academy aspect ratio, which seems to mean that there is more to see above and below the field of vision than was meant to be seen in the widescreen cinema format. It does not look bad, but for a while during the conclusion the image reverts to the original widescreen, which feels immediately right and brings a heightened intensity to this brilliantly photographed film.

1 comment:

katia said...

“Long Day’s Journey into the Night” by Sidney Lumet (based on Eugene O’Neill’s play) is a film about family life – about a common destiny, how we cope with problems of personal relationships, how we treat one another inside our families, how human soul becomes part of the family soul, and how our social life competes and coexists with our family obligations and dedications.
When we today watch the life of Tyrone family in the beginning of 20th century, we are amazed at how much American family relations have changed after only one hundred years. Our main difference from the Tyrones is not how much we have developed in our ability to be wiser and kinder to people we love and live with. The picture is, rather, the opposite – how much emotional sensitivity, mental maneuverability in adapting to each other, empathy and sympathy we have lost for these years of our country’s “democratic development”, and the major losses, it seems, happened during the last thirty years.
Watching “Long Day’s…” is an educational and a psycho-dramatic experience mobilizing our introspection and our ability to observe our emotional reactions (in comparison with that of Tyrone family members) more objectively. James, Mary and their two grown-up sons (Jamie and Edmund) are born in the very midst of traditional Christianity and, together with American culture are going through the process of secularization of worldview. A father who was a famous Shakespearean actor still maintains a religious psychology (that Lumet analyses in detail), although a refracted one by his exposition to the grace of serious art. Mary, his wife, personifies martyrdom aspect of religious psychology - she suffers for being a “bad mother and wife” but her self-judgment is severe because of spiritual perfectionism of her worldview. James and Mary’s sons try to rebel against religious authoritarianism – they personify correspondingly two aspects of post-religious spirituality, Jamie – its intellectual aspect, and Edmund – its artistic-mystical aspect.
While experiencing the film we feel that we have to learn a lot from the of the beginning of previous century, that our everyday communications with each other are cognitively flat and thin and emotionally narrow and petty in comparison with theirs. Instead of honest arguments, as they had, we have “premature ejaculations” of clashes, frustrations and sulking. Instead of positive confrontations we choose people (to be with) by the principle of similarity, and we are isolated from the otherness of other people and of the world around. Because Lumet concentrates on the psychological confrontations between characters and on the truths coming out of it the film is very interesting to watch – our life today with all its distractions from our humanity to entertaining (consumerist) images of Hollywood blockbusters, TV soups of soaps and pop-singing is much more boring than they had way back then.
The acting of Jason Robards and Dean Stockwell is not just dramatic but poetic, not just truthful but gracious, and Mary Tyrone of Katharine Hepburn is her best work on screen, while Ralph Richardson was able not only to open the heart of James Tyrone for the viewers but sharply depicted his psychological defenses.
By Victor Enyutin