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Richard Attenborough tells Alan Morrison about Shadow/(unis. Sir Anthony Hopkins and CS. Lewis.

As far as the film world is concerned. the breathtaking medieval spires of England's oldest universities have done little tnore than shelter the occasional homosexual and/or Russian spy. In the modern-day period of inspector Morse. corpses might be thought to litter the Oxford lawns more than heavy tomes of literary criticism but. in the l95lls. the university was still very much a sheltered environment where the nation‘s young men (and. often grudgingly. young women) went to be taught by a selection of academics isolated from the reality of the world beyond the college gates. One such don was CS. Lewis. famed the world over for his Narnia children‘s books. although his later life. as recounted in Richard Attenborough‘s new film Slim/oislands. took a decidedly atypical turn when he met and married American divorcee Joy Gresham. only to lose her to cancer a few years later. it is also sad to recount that a film steeped in a heritage so essentially English hasn‘t a penny of British money in it; but at least the American

. companies involved were

unprecedentedly swift in setting up the

financial side of the deal. As

Attenborough tells it. he came back

frotn the Jurassic Park shoot. read William Nicholson‘s script (adapted from his play) that very night. bumped

into fellow knight Anthony Hopkins at a music recording session for Chaplin the next day. had the actor ready to kill for the part the same evening. and had the money in place by 10am. Los Angeles time. the following Tuesday. No doubt pan of the appeal for the backers was the involvement of Hopkins. currently at the peak of post- l.ecter bankability. It also gave

Attenborough - who had directed him

four times previously (Young ll’mston.

.1 Bridge You I’m: Mugie and Chaplin)

-- the opportunity to watch his old

friend tackle perhaps the most

emotionally complex role of his career. ‘At the time ofMagie. Tony could no

more have played this role than lly.‘

reckons Attenborough. ‘He was terrified: with Ann-Margret. he couldn‘t play the love scenes. And yet he has emerged with this wonderful confidence now and can bear standing emotionally naked in front of us. Tony is as good an actor now. if not better; what has changed is Tony. Tony lived

in the shadow of Burton in Port Talbot;

Tony lived in the shadow of Olivier at the National Theatre when he was his understudy'. Tony never made centre—

? stage in those early times. and I think it‘s because ofthat that the terrible

alcohol period emerged.

‘With phenomenal courage and strength of will.'he pulled himself out and. gradually. found his place again. And then the profession gave him an

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()scar. the country gave him a knighthood. and suddenly Tony is no longer the introspective man —~ but - despite all his bravura. he really is a very shy man. a self-conscious man. With the confidence that he got frotn those two circumstances. and the success of Howard '3‘ liml and R(’Ill(llll.\‘ § ()f'l‘lie Day. Tony has grown as an actor . . . [in .S'lmdow/unds] he was more relaxed. more at ease with the character than in any movie I‘ve worked with him. I think it‘s the best piece of work that Tony has ever done in his life.‘ Hopkins‘s Lewis is already well into middle age when he meets Joy - Gresham and her son. Douglas. Jealoust admired by his colleagues for the popularity of his academic lectures. : public talks on Christianity and commercial writings. Lewis remains an insular man. The Narnia books were perhaps the sole means of allowing his 5 imagination to burst free from the ' confines ofuniversity life. for it isn‘t

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Shadowlands: ‘intimate canvas’

until he meets the feisty Gresham -— a llesh-and-bone doorway to another life. like the wardrobe in his children‘s fantasies —- that he exposes his long- repressed emotions to the light of day. Suddenly love is experienced first- hand. no longer a dry. literary concept. bound to the pages of the dust-covered volumes he reads out to his students.

in the role. Hopkins is every bit as magnificent as Attenborough's words suggest. Debra Winger. too. deserves praise for capturing Joy Gresham's spark of life that flickers even into her painful death. However. the highest plaudits go to Attenborough who. while retaining the wide ‘scope screen of his previous work. proves that he can find more depth of feeling with two actors on an intimate canvas than with all the epic. cast-of—thousands emotional assault of (i/iumli or Cry Freedom. .S'limlow/muls opens in .S'eorlund on Friday [8 Mare/i. A speeiu/ (‘liuritv .s'ereening takes place a! the Edinburgh ()(leon on Wed 16.

Short and simple

Most filmmakers abandon the short film format once they’re clear of college and their career churning out features has been firmly established. Hot so Hal Hartley. Three shorts, each around the 30-minute mark, appeared between his graduation from the State University of New York and the critical raves that greeted his first feature, The Unbelievable Truth, six years later. A second feature, Trust, followed, to ' even greater acclaim. And then, one after another in 1991, came another trio of shorter pieces - Theory Of Achievement, Ambition and Surviving Desire. Even when the release of Simple Men consolidated the 32-year- old as one of the most individual voices in independent American cinema, Hartley went on to write and direct the half-hour-long Flirt, which is as eagerly awaited in some quarters as his hot-from-the-editing-suite newest feature, Amateur.

Hartley is a filmmaker who relishes the short as an artistic landscape ripe for experimentation. Hot only does that 1991 triple bill fill in a time gap between features on his CV, it also reveals a progression away from the dialogue-driven style of the earlier

Surviving Desire films to the moments of physicality that creep into his most recent work. ‘You can get away with a lot more in shorts,’ Hartley admits. “When you’re telling a story, you can be a bit more formally audacious. In Theory Of Achievement, I remember wanting to direct people in such a way that I could think of everything as choreography, from putting down a glass of water to saying your lines looking over your left shoulder - it really was that specific. Then with Ambition, I took a step further and actually had my friend who’s a fight

choreographer help with the punching scenes. Dstensibly he was there to

make sure that the punches and slaps

looked real, but as he was working

with the actors and going through the motions slowly, I found myself

' responding to how beautiful it was. I

t was responding to it formally. That

. definitely led to the dance sequence

; in Surviving Desire; and then that went

over into the dance sequence in

5 Simple Men.’

4 Although Theory Of Achievement,

e Ambition and Surviving Desire were conceived as individual works, they have been presented to UK audiences in a package, first as a limited cinema release, and now on video. Each is enjoyable in itself - the confused,

young artistic world of Theory 01

i Achievement, the Godardian slapstick

cuts of Ambition, the teacher/pupil

amour fou of Surviving Desire - but, taken together, they provide a larger

window onto Hartley’s stylised world

3 of misplaced individuals. The director

. himself is more than happy at the

thought of separate films being seen

in one sitting. ‘ldeally, I would like to

be a filmmaker who is continually,

; from one piece to the next, in pursuit

3 of the aesthetic, the philosophical,

the artistic interest,’ he says. ‘What

the films are, by themselves, isn’t

ultimately as important to me as them

3 all put together.’

In the past, many critics have

1 overemphasised Hartley’s ear for

quirky, literate dialogue at the

3 expense of his other filmmaking

j talents. Certainly, it’s a key part of his

5 work, but not in any way that could be

i called ‘theatrical’: his is a heightened

sponsored by BACARDI BLACK

3 language where people often pepper

their sentences with slogans - ‘To know we can die is to be dead already’, ‘All pain is desire’, ‘The world is a dangerous and uncertain place’ -— as they reveal their inability to communicate fully on an interactive level. These are characters lost in that space between self-expression and social intercourse. But Each of his works also contains epigrammatic gems that cut through any aura of pretentiousness. Take Theory Of Achievement: ‘How will we live?’ ‘We’ll get jobs.’ ‘Yes, we’ll get jobs and be happy.’ ‘Ho, we’ll get jobs and pay the rent; we’ll get credit cards and be happy.’

‘The reason why the dialogue doesn’t become too heavy is because it tries to work in concert with the other elements of the film,’ Hartley reckons. ‘The photography, the movement, the lighting, the dialogue - to me, they’re all equal elements. People recognise t that, if it’s something from me, then it’s an artificially constructed thing. ' ' My concern for the purely formal is pretty upfront, and I don’t consider that in any way something that should diminish the sincerity of the piece or ' its capacity to elicit an emotional response from the audience.’ (Alan Morrison) Three Shorts By Hal Hartley and Simple Men are both released by Tartan Video (£15.99). The shorts will also be screened at the Edinburgh Filmhouse from Sun 3 April.

The List 1 1—24 March 199415