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Review: Dirk Bogarde in "Victim" on DVD

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Mark Walker, Jan 24, 2003.

  1. Mark Walker

    Mark Walker Producer

    Jan 6, 1999
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    Another of Mark's highly subjective reviews
    DVD Released: January 21, 2003
    Studio: Home Vision Entertainment
    (same company as Criterion)
    Specifications: Widescreen,
    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.


    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
    but that
    is probably intended, since it is a harsh world the film is presenting.


    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.

    Warm regards,

  2. Thane

    Thane Stunt Coordinator

    Jun 3, 1999
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    Thanks for the review, Mark. I received my copy a couple of days ago and haven't had a chance to view the film or the supplements yet. I did, however, read the liner notes on the insert so was suprised by your comment that Dirk Bogarde was heterosexual. David Thomson, writer of the liner notes and author of The New Biographical Dictionary of Film writes:
    "...Bogarde was also a confirmed homosexual, happily 'married' to his business manager, Tony Forward, though compelled every now and then to be seen in public with attractive young women to divert suspicion." Also: "But to the very end, Sir Dirk lacked the inner freedom to admit to his own emotional life. In other words, the repressive forces of English fear and respectability oppressed him still, no matter that the law had been reformed. That is the surest testimony to the mood of Victim, and to the quiet courage of Bogarde's performance."
    Who knows...just thought I'd put this out there!
  3. Mark Walker

    Mark Walker Producer

    Jan 6, 1999
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    Thanks for including that! (I only rented Victim,
    so I did not have the liner notes to refer to.)
    I was thinking, as I watched the featuette, two things:
    1.) Bogarde was much better looking in life than
    he is in the film.
    2.) Bogarde, for a professed heterosexual, seemed like
    quite the "dandy."

    Finally, I'll be eager to read your comments on the film.



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