ORWELL THAT ENDS WELL

O'Brien, Tom

Screen ANOTHER '84 ORWELL THAT ENDS WELL REMEMBER 1984? No, I mean, remember 7984? Remember last January and February, when the year and book seemed so fused (or confused), and a media blitz...

...28, 1984 New York Times story on Russia...
...Though in ill-health during filming, Burton somehow manages to physicalize O'Brien's force by hulking his shoulders menacingly...
...Remember last January and February, when the year and book seemed so fused (or confused), and a media blitz reminded us ad nauseam of the "relevance" of Orwell's classic...
...Orwell prophesied the danger of computers, we are told, but new studies indicate computers expand the private dissemination of information...
...with computers you can write, reprint, and circulate documents efficiently and quickly (cf...
...Cyril Cusack as Carrington, the seemingly kindly parole Pawnbroker who turns out to be a Big Brotherly agent...
...like The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, it has become the all-purpose argumentative fallback of anyone forcing historical parallels...
...Each physical device in the film even the primitive computers and pneumatic tubes suggest regression via mechanization...
...Today's historical situation though no grounds for optimism has little to do with what Orwell imagined...
...We've been cosmic sucker-punched, and the fates will get us now that we're napping...
...But I hope it renews no new spate of connections between Orwell's imagined world and our own...
...But if he meant advertising, why didn't he say advertising...
...and Suzanne Hamilton, who, though less well known, almost steals the show as Julia, Winston's brief encounter, wavering between automatism one moment and capricious naughty joy the next...
...But then, of course, one man's "newspeak" might be another's misguided truth, unless I am mistaken in my view that people, even politicians, are duped by their own newspeak, and simplistic moral accusations fall on deaf ears, especially among ideologues...
...Indeed, as an adaptation of a literary classic, it far outdistances recent similar releases, such as The Bostonians, Swann in Love, and even A Passage to India...
...Recall how we were once, some time ago, told America was like Nazi Germany, or even more recently, like the USSR in its imperial follies...
...The scene in the film is finely played...
...Rushed into production in mid 1984, and finished just at the break of this new year, is the ultimate homage, a new film version of the book that, unfortunately, will keep it in the public mind for at least several more months...
...Not that the film is bad...
...Radford has inserted dream sequences into the tale, and in them hero Winston Smith hallucinates both extreme torture and powerful paradisal release...
...As such, the movie is worthwhile...
...I liked the film for what it was...
...1984 is powerful because it is an immense gothic fantasy applied with wit and originality to the postwar European world, particularly to its memory of Hitler and remaining legacy of Stalin...
...BUT DO ORWELL'S prophecies apply to 1985...
...Bad prophecies can lull us to sleep and deaden our alertness to the real dangers...
...if anything, the image of Big Brother scowling at such bags of goodies forecasts the health Utopians of the present and their constant warnings of vitamin deficiencies and cancer all of which may be true...
...Orwell's 1984 encourages similar quarter-truths applied haphazardly from any political position...
...At one point, Julia rejoices when she enters the small, secret flat where Winston and she share their illicit love, reveling that she has brought "real coffee, white bread, and jam" to their hideaway despite Big Brother's declarations that such foods are "unhealthy...
...Suzanne Hamilton practically coos into the bread and sucks the jam out of the bottle...
...The shock value of the film is also due to three other sources: some liberties with Orwell's narrative, crisp editing, and crafty ensemble acting...
...To be fair, then, the film 1984 is excellent: it gives a new look, and an even worse,feel, to an old (and for me, irritatingly overpraised) story...
...If there is any other direct reference to the real 1984 in the new film, it is unintentionally ironic...
...Carrying the bulk of the tale are John Hurt, with his perennial haunted, wounded look, a perfect Smith...
...This hardly parallels modern government's promotion of consumerism and physical pleasure...
...The most distinguished performance, however, belongs to Richard Burton, in his last film role, playing O'Brien, master of "newspeak," who birdlimes Smith with a copy of subversive material he wrote just for the purpose...
...Was it, I wondered, just the one book that journalists remembered from college, or a convenient (and conveniently intellectual) peg to hang some New Year's pieces on...
...the Dec...
...Astonishingly, the speed of the film's production hasn't affected its quality: once bitten by the bug, English director Michael Radford committed massive resources and assembled a brilliant cast in an act of homage admirable for its controlled intensity...
...The whole problem today, instead of futurists eliminating the past, results from the fact that the past won't die: national differences and identities seem as strong as ever, particularly in totalitarian societies...
...You can find out more about Russia in one incident at (he end of Book V of War and Peace, indeed, in the first line of Anna Karenina, than in all of 1984...
...Consider, for example, his "Eurasia," "Eastasia," and "Oceania" with no national differences to split such megaregions apart...
...His calm, almost neuter tone Commonweal: 116 while operating the rack betrays not a flicker of sadistic pleasure otherwise, contrary to Orwell's schema, O'Brien might seem to feel something...
...Such a performance brings us in touch with the mystery Burton took to the grave: what happened, and why...
...The truth is, as I told friends as they celebrated 1984's passing on New Year's Eve, Orwell had it wrong: 1984 wasn't the bad year, it's 1985...
...The truth is that parallels between Orwell's 1984 and the real one are just too diffuse and inexact...
...Its old docks, devastated train stations, and steel wires sticking out askew from fragmented walls provide the perfect look for a world dominated by permanent war...
...Every surface in 1984 is cheap and crude: a torture rack, for example, is made of two brute steel plates and a stretching joint in between, a weird hybrid from medieval dungeons and the worst reports of Amnesty International...
...What if the author had suffered writer's block for some months in 1948, and finished his book one year late...
...the hunger is convincingly real and earnest...
...A bizarre contraption also graphically answers the question of whether new horror can be found in the infamous Room 101 though here perhaps some viewers may feel the horror just goes on too long...
...and if you want America which Orwell either leaves out or regards, with genuine English aplomb, as an adjunct of Oceania try deTocqueville...
...Why, if the book is so prophetic, do the prophecies have to be so frequently adjusted...
...Only the relevance is wacko...
...The story is told quickly in a rapidly paced series of vignettes, the style Radford employed so vividly in his 1983 gem about Scotland, Another Time, Another Place, and enthusiasts of that film will recognize the voice of Phyllis Logan, its fine star, as the public address announcer of Ingsoc...
...Orwell also prophesied thought control, a second cousin, we are told, to modern advertising...
...His 1984 is austere, harrowing filmmaking, updating the 1954 version (starring Edmond O'Brien as Winston Smith) with all the new, improved machinery to create terror that thirty years have brought to cinema...
...For thirty-six years, there has been a continuous fear of war, to be sure, but not continuous world war, as Orwell prophesied: if there had been, we wouldn't be here to celebrate the book's anniversary...
...What of Orwell's other prophecies...
...The production design counts the most for the effect of this 1984, it was filmed in the East End of London like other urban waterfront areas, seedily downtrodden and in reality suddenly newly fashionable...
...The more I look at the world of 1984, the more I know it is not "just like" Orwell's vision (the standard phrasing of those searching for oneness and endowed with the sublime gift of metaphor...
...Unfortunately we haven't had the last of Orwellmania yet...
...he lowers the vibrato to silky imperturbability...
...On the other hand, would the health Utopians condemn sex...
...Burton's performance as in Becket proves again how magnificently, when he didn't merely rave, the man could act...
...my discomfort derives from hoopla about the book, and the intellectuality-on-the-cheap that it so easily encourages...
...The one main valid parallel involves "newspeak," Orwell's forecast of the misuse of language for politically manipulative ends, a topic that he addressed more directly in "Politics and the English Language...
...TOM O'BRIEN 22 February 1985: 117...
...That way, with his inversion of digits for ominous titling, Orwell would have spared us the anniversary for another ten years...

Vol. 112 • February 1985 • No. 4


 
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