Joseph Losey Edit Profile
Educated at Dartmouth College and Harvard University.
The hardening of Losey’s arteries seems to date from 1964. He had just made The Servant, a highly wrought study of self-destruction and sexual sociology, subjects the fluctuating Eve hits and misses. Like all his best work, The Servant uses interior setting as an extension of character and finds a unique suggestibility in the spaces and shapes within a house. Its complex camera movements are meticulous and emphatic, but it is given vitality by the pain and surprise in the acting, and by the grim logic that breaks down people into fleshly hulks and contradictory impulses. Losey’s heavy misanthropy shows through in the cheerless ending: one remembers the remark of Freya in The Damned of the Macdonald Carey character (an American in England): “I like him because he doesn't like the world. It’s a good beginning. ”
More than that, The Servant marked Losey’s coming of age among the artistic elite. Compelled to leave America at the time of Senator McCarthy, he had had to digest the mores of a new environment and struggle to obtain work. Times had changed, however; the man who had made The Prowler and M as gripping, low-budget thrillers was now working in a world ready to acclaim his seriousness. Thus, some critics praised the subtlety and ignored the hysteria in The Servant. That was a disservice to Losey, whose strength had always been a fusion of the two. From The Criminal onward, the attention that Losey had long enjoyed in France was growing in Britain. The Servant could not have completed the trick better: it indulged the facile guilt of the English intel-ligentsia; it was a collaboration with the playwright Harold Pinter; and it offered unexpected depth to an English favorite, Dirk Bogarde.
In retrospect, its success may have lured into the open Losey’s yearning for significance. The Boy with Green Hair was a blatant allegory, unlike anything else in the American cinema; while in M. Losey was hoping to comment on American society as directly as Lang had on Germany. His M is a marvelous, frightening film, years ahead of its time and typical of his American virtues: narrative economy; sustained camera setups based on dynamic composition; the ability to make characters reveal themselves quickly and naturally; and the power to get good performances from actors. The policeman in The Prowler and the murderer in M are flawed men. driven to their own destruction by an unw holesome society that they inadequately comprehend. In that sense. The Criminal is an American picture; it sees the opposed hierarchies of law and crime squeezing together on the innate solitariness of the Stanley Baker character, and gives the criminal a politically tinged importance. In all these films, Losey used the thriller genre for larger purposes so that the melodrama expanded to support the metaphor.
But by the early 1960s, Losey was conforming to the English ideal of the director irked by commercial limits. Increasingly free, his work seemed to show how far it had thrived under restriction. But a man who could make The Servant must deserve better things—including the attention of Sight and Sound, who had barely noticed the confused achievement of Blind Date and the outright triumph of The Criminal. King and Country was a decent little film, except that it had no reason for being made; how could so open-and-shut a case really engage Losey? Its subject was so one-sided that anyone other than a Fritz Lang was bound to make it monotonous and brutal. It was the first plain film Losey had made. Modesty Blaise was amusing, but again unnecessary, a break in Losey’s seriousness, without indicating any sense of humor. That led to the pastoral slow ness and pretension of Accident, another Pinter script with echoes of E. M. Forster and the uncanny feeling that Losey was trying to make a film F. R. Leavis might teach. Accident was highly praised, whereas it should have been taken to pieces for its ingrowing artiness, its self-conscious beauty, and its opting for restraint rather than urgency. It was difficult not to conclude that Losey had fallen into thinking of himself as an intellectual; whereas his best films showed a passionate melodramatist, torn between ideas and feelings.
Secret Ceremony was interesting, a true penetration of obsession, sadly spoiled by cuts. Boom was high folly, Figures in a Landscape arid exercise, and The Go-Between exactly the sort of prettified, literary pomp that passes for intelligent cinema in Britain. It is not equal to a paragraph of Hartleys novel, nor a reel of so painful a film as The Damned. The deterioration was one of the saddest spectacles in modern cinema.
But in 1976, Losey regained distinction with Mr. Klein, the Borgesian study of a conniving art dealer in occupied Paris haunted by the possibility of a Jewish double. It is a very controlled film, with more stress on decadent high society than the approaching Gestapo. But the trap it poses is gripping and intelligent, and there is even a trace of sardonic humor watching the magnificent alienation of Alain Delon. Me Klein was among the best of Losey’s films, and one wondered if its urgency came in part from the discovery of a new environment—Paris.
In his last few films, Losey seemed neither American nor British—he was an international art-house man. Yet, in hindsight, it seems clear that he was a director who needed to respond to the exactness of place and social situation. It is a career that demonstrates the difficulty in being both itinerant and concentrated.
David Caute’s careful biography showed Losey’s creativity growing out of a cheerless vanity that kept few friends. He seemed determined to give others no chance of liking him.
The significance of Losey’s story is to show up the deadly stupidity of too much criticism and the uneasy public role of the director as an artist. Nothing is more suspicions than the hollow stylistic smoothness of The Go-Between—broken only In the ridiculous flashes forward.
Losey is a director of violence: originally it was externalized—in The Prowler, M, The Criminal, and The Damned. In Eve and The Servant it went inward. Now it was gone, and Losey was perched on calendar photographs and the pinnacle dialogue of Harold Pinter. Whereas, in 1960, he felt compelled to dig into England and find the many layers of Weymouth in The Damned and the mournful snow- scapes of The Criminal, the Trotsky film looked like Festival fodder, and A Doll's House was a gesture toward feminism. That last was especially odd since Losev had seldom handled women well. The exception—Jeanne Moreau’s Eve—was achieved only by turning the prostitute into an acid bath for rotting social structures and the man’s masochism.
Married Patricia Mohan.