Providence

I first caught the film Providence late at night on TV back in the late eighties. It's a difficult film to watch. The main character fades in and out of consciousness and coherence, imagining or dreaming a second plotline. Complementing the main character, I fell asleep a couple of times while watching, and could never be sure I'd seen the whole thing. This pattern repeated itself in the early nineties, when I tried watching the movie again in the basement of the CMU library. Finally, last night, I managed to watch this film all the way through. Now I know what I have been missing all these years.

Sir John Gielgud was already 74 when he made this film, and he plays a cranky, dying, old man; but he lived for 25 years following this film. You'll recognize Ellen Burstyn and David Warner of course. I'm gaining a greater appreciation for Dirk Bogarde (I watched him a few weeks ago in the nearly unwatchable Despair.) His contrasting facial expressions between the first three acts and the last two acts of this film really make the movie for me. You may also recognize Denis "Wedge" lawson in a minor role.

This film is from the seventies, when it was still possible to have a Knight of the Realm speak the word "Fuck" in a serious screenplay. It's a difficult film. Keeping everything straight can be quite challenging, especially when the main character cannot. It's a literary film, attempting things on screen that are normally only tried in books. Finally, it's a surreal film. Pay plenty of attention while watching; the scenery changes sometimes when the camera moves.

Overall, this film is amazing. It succeeds in ways I can hardly believe. It fails only by expecting too much attention from the watcher who has been encourgaed to think of sleep. It is often crude, violent, and unpleasantly graphic, both on a verbal and visual level. The characters are confrontational in ways we have been taught is rude. Not much actually happens, if you're looking for plot. As a portrait of these people (especially Gielgud's Clive) and of their reactions to extreme situations (especially Bogarde's Claude) it is brilliant, and it shines like a diamond hard edges and all.

You may have a tough time finding this movie to watch. The VHS is out of print and there is as yet no DVD. I wound up borrowing it from a friend.

2010.09.20 at 11:00am EDT