Sunday, December 21, 2014
Mr Turner: "The sun is God"
This is not an easy film. This is not a film to everyone's taste. Mr Turner was an oaf. Mr Turner was emotionally stunted; an egotist, who thought exclusively of his own wants, and needs. Many people walked out of this film. At 150 minutes, it is longer than most other films. I saw it at Dendy Opera Quays, and they, in their wisdom, kicked off with 30 minutes of adverts, and trailers. I went in at 10:30am and came out at 1:30pm. It is a very dense, challenging film, but it is never, not for an instant, boring.
Tmothy Spall portrays Turner as repulsive, and ugly; with few social graces, except the knowledge of when to sit there and shut up. He grunts, and spits, and fucks his way around his London studio; around Nrs Booth's Margate boarding-house, and through the corridors and exhibition spaces of the Royal Academy. In comparison with a most earthy Turner, John Constable comes off as a nervous mannered middle-brow; John Ruskin is shown to be a prig, with an inflated sense of his own genius.
And Mike Leigh does not explain why Turner is as he is. Leigh is not, never was, a preacher. He treats the viewers with respect, and leaves it to us to figure out. The story is linear, no flashbacks, no "Pulp Fiction" denseness. Everysooften, Spall utters a line about an event in his past. And with that we have to run. He mentions the death of his sister, and the madness, and death, of his mother. His London house-keeper fits in somewhere, as does the woman who asserts Turner sired her two children. The house-keeper degrades wonderfully from what appears to be VD. But this does not seem to affect Turner, who died of heart failure in his 70s. When one of the unacknowledged daughters drowns, Turner's first (and only) instinct is to grab his sketch-book. No idea why this scene is included; we already knew this about the man. And why does it end the way it does? Mrs Booth cleans the panes of her window, smiling in rembrance. The wizened house-keeper slouches around the London studio with its bounty of masterpieces.
The saving grace of this film, is the way that Leigh tries to include his audience in the vision of Turner. He helps us to see what Turner saw, in the way that Turner saw it. And then we accompany Turner as he transforms this vision into a canvas. On his death-bed, Turner is reputed to have declaimed: "The sun is God". But really, it is light which is God. Nitpicking, I know, but light bounces, is refracted, is diffused. Turner's genius, was this perception of light, and his remarkable ability to get it down on canvas. He was more than just a painter of boats bobbing on the Thames.