Thursday, November 28, 2019

This year's movie turkey for Turkey Day--the new Blu-ray of Merchant-Ivory's QUARTET

Hey, everyone's entitled to make a mistake, right? Even a producing/directing duo the likes of the award-winning combo, James Ivory and Ismail Merchant. Still, it takes something extra to prepare yourself for the increasingly tiresome, obvious and finally near-pointless depravations of the duo's 1981 endeavor, QUARTET.

That this movie stars Maggie Smith, Alan Bates, Isabelle Adjani, and Anthony Higgins, with a bunch more good people -- Suzanne Flon, Pierre Clémenti and Armelia McQueen -- in supporting roles, makes the whole affair even odder and sadder.

At the time of Quartet's initial theatrical release, certain critics commented on the oddity of finding filmmakers like Merchant/Ivory engaged with a set of characters who were mostly -- even though a few of these were wealthy -- among the low-end and very louche set. True enough, but a major change of venue can often prove as salutary for artists as for their audience. Not here. The creative team seems to sit just outside all the seaminess, observant and uncomfortable. All too soon, and continuing throughout, so are we.

The may well be due to the source material itself: Postures, the 1928 novel by famous British author Jean Rhys (shown above), published in the USA under the title of Quartet. Ms Rhys was a fine but dark writer, whose work may best be appreciated on the page. If its translations to screen so far are any indication, the results are only middling (Wide Sargasso Sea) to poor (the film at hand).

In this tale, a pretty young woman (Ms Adjani, above) falls in love with a rotter (Mr. Higgins, below) who is soon imprisoned. She is then taken in by a wealthy couple (Ms Smith, shown at bottom, and Mr. Bates, at left, two photos below) who use her, abuse her and toss her away. We see all this happening, all too slowly -- since we're quite aware of what's going on, and so, for that matter is our young heroine -- until the film's 101 minutes seem like an eternity.

Performances are as good as possible under the circumstances of a screenplay (by the usually on-the-mark Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, with some uncredited help from Mr. Ivory) that at best seems thoroughly mediocre and at worst borders on the obvious-tending-toward-ridiculous. You sit there waiting for something truly specific to emanate from the mouths of these characters, but all you hear is standard, paint-by-numbers stuff.

The background is sometimes interesting and fun, never more so than in a night club where Ms McQueen gets to perform a naughty number, but the foreground is consistently glum and glummer. As I say, everyone's entitled to a misfire, and Quartet is surely that film.

From Cohen Media Group's Merchant Ivory Collection, the movie made its Blu-ray and DVD debut earlier this fall and is available now -- for purchase and/or rental. A number of Bonus Features -- various interviews with Mr. Ivory -- are included on the disc, and the Blu-ray transfer itself is a decent one, if nothing special.

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