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Anthony Asquith (1902-1968)

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  • Anthony Asquith (1902-1968)

    No topic on Anthony Asquith and yet he was a prominent and prolific figure in British cinema.
    As a french cinephile and scholar in film study, I have long shared the prejudice of my country toward British cinema, famously sumed up by Truffaut, as an incompatibility between Cinema and Britain and its way of life, and later by Godard in his Histoire(s) du cinéma, in one striking sentence: The english, as usual when it comes to cinema, did nothing (this is particularly hard to swallow, given that Godard was speaking of wartime and postwar cinema, arguably one of the richest period for british filmmaking). Fortunately as much as I like Truffaut as a director, I am not a big fan of Godard, and I have come to loathe most of the critical writings of the French New Wave (not everything of course, I like Rohmer as a theorician, and somes of the pages written on Hitchcock are capital).
    Yet Asquith can be seen in many ways as an illustration of what they were objecting in British cinema, its dependance on theatre and litterature, the apparent rigidity of its direction, its ideological conformism, its aparent lack of tension. His collaborations with Terence Ratigan on films such as The Winslow Boy, or his adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest can be dscribed as academic. Despite the wonderful and the intelligence of the script it's true that The Winslow Boy is a bit dull, it's good but not very exciting. The Importance of Being Earnest is great and certainly not dull, but that has more to do with Oscar Wilde than with Asquith direction.
    But theres is certainly more than this to Asquith, his silent pictures: Shooting Stars, Underground and A Cottage on Dartmoor, are extremely daring film, revealing an incomparable visual sense, a sophistication in the lightning and the use of the camera, an acting that is very modern. They are undoubltedly great neglected films, and should gain more attention from film scholar and the general public than they have got until now. The mise en abime in Shooting Stars is very intelligently used , and the narration of A Cottage on Dartmoor is at time experimental (in A Cottage on Dartmoor certain scenes almost look like a joycean stream of consciousness). These films are in my opinion even better than what Hitchcock was doing at the same time.
    But even in his talking picture, where he is much less daring and visual, his direction is still extremely precise, film such as Pygmalion from Bernard Shaw's play are genuinely good. One of my favourite is also The Browning Version, from a Terence Rattigan play, at first the film seems very academic relying mostly on the outstanding performance of Michael Redgrave, but the other actors (especially Jean Kent) are also excellent, and although Asquith style is very discreet, the cinematography, his use of lightning and deep focus, the compositions of the shot are all significant, and conveys very subtle meanings It is a beautiful film, and its classicism is a delight to study.
    Also his cold war Romeo and Juliet, The Young Lovers, is a passionate and lyrical love story, certainly not academic very moving, devoid of any kind of manicheism and with some beautiful shot.

    So I hope I am not the only one interesting in Asquith output, and I would be glad to read your impressions, and to get advice on some other films.
    Last edited by Nick Dando; 24th November 2018, 01:36 PM.

  • #2
    I sent you a PM a few days ago.


    • #3
      Asquith's screen versions of plays are excellent.

      They were financial and aesthetic successes on stage and he sensibly ensures there are no distractions from the script.