“Would you believe in a love at first sight?”
“Yes, I’m certain that it happens all the time.”
“What do you see when you turn out the light?”
“I can’t tell you but I know it’s mine.”
— Billy Shears, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Sometimes I can pinpoint the very moment I first fall in love with a movie. It may happen in the first shot (Bong Joon-ho’s “Mother”; Michael Haneke’s “Caché”), or may be clinched in at the very end (the protracted final shot of Michael Haneke’s “Caché,” again; the terminal instant of Rahmin Bahrani’s “Man Push Cart”), but in many cases there is an identifiable point at which I know that I am in love, even while the movie is unspooling, and by that time it’s not likely there’s any going back, unless the movie simply falls apart.
Here are a few of those times from 2011 when I realized I was falling hard…
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
There’s not so much snow as in director Tomas Alfredson’s previous feature, “Let the Right One In,” but it gets plenty chilly here, in Cold War London, Budapest and Istanbul. But it sneaks up on you: by the end, as the strands of loyalty and betrayal unravel, I found it uncommonly moving. (Yes, I cried — more than once.) Not unrelatedly, “Tinker Tailor” (no commas in this title) is one of the most hauntingly and imaginatively composed movies (both in terms of framings and shot sequences) that I’ve seen since… maybe the last Coen brothers picture. Early on, it catches you a little off-guard when, in the midst of a hushed, paranoid conversation in a musty apartment, there’s a cut to a monochromatic, neo-Gothic Eastern European skyline (punctuating John Hurt’s use of the word “Budapest” — a word that will become code for loss, failure, disgrace)
Suddenly, a formation of MiG fighters roars out of the distance and passes overhead as the camera glides backwards, with uncanny smoothness, in a perfect, vertiginous motion. This cooly executed dolly shot brings schoolchildren into the foreground, excitedly gawking and pointing and yelling, while framing the original view with pillars and archways — but the Hungarian Parliament building at the center of the cityscape, on the far side of the gray Danube, somehow remains exactly the same size and in precisely the same position in the frame. The vista and the camera movement are most likely separate composited images, but however it was done, it’s dazzling and it made me sit up and pay attention. (The screenplay, which varies significantly in structure from the finished film, begins with this shot.)
I was certainly intrigued by this point, but I didn’t fall head-over-heels until a bit later. It’s approximately 18 minutes into the film before George Smiley (Gary Oldman) says his first lines: “I’m retired, Oliver. You fired me.” Shortly thereafter, he and his junior associate Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch) visit a retired Special Branch man, Mendel (Roger Lloyd-Pack), who is a beekeeping hobbyist. The visit itself is just one brief shot, with Mendel mumbling over his bees in back of his house, while George and Peter approach him from behind. The next shot is this rear view of a Citroën DS (we do a lot of “following” the backs of people’s heads in this movie — they’re no more difficult to read than faces), which is interesting enough, given the aerodynamic contours of the vehicle. Yet, there are all kinds of other things going on here, too.
The colors, for one, are extraordinary: grey, white, beige and amber/yellow. The camera seems to be locked onto the car, but not quite. (A process shot of some kind, I guess.) A stowaway bee is buzzing around the interior. Peter, in the front passenger seat, tries to swat it away. George, in his patient, unassuming way, observes it, opens his window a bit at the opportune moment, the bee flies out, and he rolls up the window again. A shing-shot (16-second?) character scene, with no faces and containing one line of expository dialog (Mendel: “There’s a place I know, sir. Little hotel near Liverpool Street.”) What more do you want to know about George’s personality and methods? Some have described “Tinker Tailor” as elliptical, but it’s more than that: It’s breathtakingly economical.
I wanted to save Lyttelton’s Favorite Film List of 2011 while reading it, but forgot it. His review on Tinker Tailor is possibly the most passionate review on the film I have ever read. No wonder it’s his #1 film in 2011. Particularly love that he mentioned Alberto Iglesias’s underrated but actually pitch perfect score. A lot of reviews on the scores indicated that it’s repetitive and too flat, especially at the ending, in other words, anti-climax…(sign), it meant that they didn’t get it. Yes, structure-wise, it doesn’t seem well-rounded, but it’s hypnotic if you get the film and the story; it’ll just draw you in that forlorn world; I am mesmerized.
Finally a decent interview/ article, instead of the meaningless trashes manipulated by tabloids.
The hysteria is likely only to accelerate over the next 12 months, since Cumberbatch has plum roles in three of 2012’s most anticipated projects. January sees the release of the first of them, Spielberg’s film version of the West End hit War Horse – the tale of a Devon teenager who follows his treasured steed into the trenches of First World War France – in which Cumberbatch plays “a professional military nut” called Major Stewart. Working with Spielberg, he says, was a delight. “He was incredibly avuncular and approachable.”
Sitting at the business end of a cavalry charge, with Spielberg hovering excitedly in the background, Cumberbatch says he suddenly understood why people believed the war might be won on horseback. “It sounds foolhardy, but when you’re in a charge of 80 horses, you feel invincible.”
War Horse debuts on January 13, by which time Cumberbatch will be preparing for an even bigger role. He’s off to New Zealand to voice and “physicalise” the dragon in The Hobbit, in which Sherlock’s Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo Baggins, and Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf.
McKellen said Cumberbatch’s Smaug screen-test was amazing, I tell him. Cumberbatch splutters. “Has… has he seen it?” Actually, McKellen’s words were “electrifying - vocally and facially”. He looks ecstatic. “Wow! I’m very flattered.” He seems entirely sincere when he says this. He comes across, in general, as earnest - with a searching intelligence.
So how did Cumberbatch do the audition? “I went a little reptile on it,” he says, enigmatically. With filming approaching, he is now “starting to look at animations, and Komodo dragons at London Zoo. They have some amazing ones. Snakes, too. So I’ve been going there to see how the skeleton moves differently, what the head movements are like.” He says it’s all in the posture, and he crouches forward, swivelling his eyes snakily, to demonstrate.
Cumberbatch’s initial reference point for Smaug, interestingly, was his father, the actor Timothy Carlton. “The Hobbit was the first book I remember reading at bedtime, and he characterised the whole thing,” he explains. “It was the first imaginary landscape I had in my head, so it’s very close to me.”
You wonder if, as so often with British actors who hit the big time, the movie roles will bring an end to the fine TV work – even, whisper it, to Sherlock. “God, no-no-no,” he says. “The other thing I’m doing is Parade’s End, which is a massive, five-part drama for HBO and the BBC, with Rebecca Hall and Stephen Graham.” The project, a Tom Stoppard adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s Edwardian tetralogy, will be screened later this year. “I’m not loyal to one genre. I want to mix it up,” he says.
He is coy about Sherlock’s future, though; partly because the final episode of the new series is based on The Final Problem, in which Conan Doyle notoriously snuffed out Holmes via a Moriarty showdown at the Reichenbach Falls – a cliffhanger in every sense. “I should maybe say that I’m ready to say goodbye to him, but I would miss him,” says Cumberbatch, choosing his words with Holmesian precision. “It’s much better to leave people wanting more.”