DVD Released: January 21, 2003
Studio: Home Vision Entertainment
(same company as Criterion)
Enhanced for Widescreen Televisions,
Dolby 2.0 surround, Black and White.
Bonus Materials:video featurette:
"An Interview with Dirk Bogarde"
where he discusses the five films he finds significant
in his career, including this film
(which was about to be released theatrically).
The film's trailer is also included.
The Plot --in front and behind the camera-- (minus spoilers):
Dirk Bogarde stars in Victim, a film set in 1961 London.
Bogarde's character, a barrister named Melville Farr,
becomes entangled in a blackmailing scheme involving
a young man who commits suicide in jail
(after being arrested for embezzlement).
At the time of his arrest, "Boy," is found to contain
a scrapbook filled with clippings regarding court cases
that Farr took part in.
Rather than deal with the homosexual implications of
his stealing, "Boy," kills himself. Farr, whose motivations
are not altogether clear at the start (deliberately)
begins investigating the blackmailers on his own,
rather than wait to be their next victim.
The first time I became aware of Victim was in the exceptional film,
The Celluloid Closet. That film pointed out how Victim was a breakthrough
for gay cinema, since it dared to have the protagonist "hero" of the film discuss his
homosexuality openly. In fact, many reports suggest that Dirk Bogarde
(who, from all reports, appears to have been heterosexual) risked the bankability
of his film career by portraying a homosexual.
So, I was eager to see this film, which just came out on DVD last Tuesday.
Well, let me say that, while I admire the film, I did not particularly like it.
Certainly it was bold and shocking at the time, but the problem I have with the film
is that in trying to bring this story to the screen, the filmmakers seemed to have made
the same mistake that many a didactic film makes:
They want the audience to care so much about the
plight of homosexuals in general,
that they failed to make the lead homosexual character
one that gay audiences can embrace wholeheartedly.
In some ways, it reminds me of Philadelphia in that audiences were to intended
to empathize with the Denzel Washington character, who starts out initially AIDS & homo phobic
and learns to tolerate gays, if not quite fully accept them or their behavior.
In Victim the lead has homosexual feelings, but he is also clearly devoted to his
loveless (if also "solid") marriage,
and is repelled by his homosexual feelings.
In fact, in one scene, he says he did not feel love
for another man because he did everything he could
to "stomp out" those feelings.
And he argues (very unconvincely),
"If it was love, I wouldn't have stomped it out."
(Remind me to use that line on the next bloke I dump,
and we'll see how believable it sounds.)
This is the man we are to empathize with!
("We" meaning the heterosexuals viewing this film, obviously.)
In fact, I would say the characters in a Jane Austen book get more "action."
Farr, as far as we can tell, never acted on his homosexual feelings with the boy who
kills himself in the film's opening.
There are other aspects of this film that caused me to feel repulsed:
The hairdresser says that the boy who killed himself is "better off,"
the stilted dialoge of pro and anti-gay sentiments
peppered throughout the film, and the chilliness of
ALL of the gay characters. (The only man with any
love in his heart is Boy's heterosexual buddy,
who helps Farr flush out the blackmailers.)
Now I understand that this film was trying
to make a statement about intolerance
and specifically the sodomy laws
still in place in England in 1961.
The film all but screams at one,
"See what you do? Good, pure, men like Farr
become victims because of our laws!!!"
Again, like Philadelphia which is a good,
but not great, film makes its lead so unbelievably angelic
that no one dare hate him for merely being a homosexual.
The only problem is, realism takes a fatal blow,
and gay audience members find themselves not relating
to the character as a character, but as a lifeless icon
of homosexual (and AIDS) martyrdom.
Victim suffers from the same thing.
The only homosexual character I liked at is gone
in the first fifteen minutes of the film.
The rest of the film plays like a well crafted
social commentary on the plight of homosexuals in 1961.
SO HOW DOES THE DVD/FILM LOOK?
The DVD does sport a nice transfer, where film grain is noticeable, but never a bad thing.
The image is crisp and clean, with a few moments here and there where a tear in the film
causes one of those "lightning bolt" like squiggles to cross the screen.
(I counted this happening three times.)
The film is shot in the vein of film noir, but
I found the style of the cinematography a bit harsh in the lighting design
is probably intended, since it is a harsh world the film is presenting.
SO, HOW MANY STARS DO I GIVE THIS FILM?
I think for those that don't mind message over realism,
this film would get 8 out of 10 stars.
For someone like me, who prefers realistic characters
(and admittedly tends to hate "message films"),
I can only give it 4 out of 10 stars.
(I wanted to embrace this film, but it gave me no
one to feel any affection for.)
(I guess if anything good can be said, it is
"look how far we have come," that a film like
Far From Heaven
can be made,
make a social comment, and still have us care
about the caracters in a real way.)
As much as I respect Bogarde, this character left me cold.
Netflix has it available for rent, and I would suggest,
if only for a historical comparison of the self-loathing,
represented in The Boys In The Band
some of you give it a rent, and tell me I'm off my rocker.