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This is my favourite movie of all time. And I always think of it as
John Huston's requiem.
I must have seen it at least 20 times and never tire of it. The mood, the script, the singing, the dinner, it is like being invited into someone's home and observing the events and not able to participate even though you want to... It is a rare treasure, this movie and I cannot write enough praise for it.
It is cast incredibly well, with quite a few Abbey Theatre faces and also the wonderful tenor voice of Frank Patterson. Lady Gregory's poem recited in the movie is one of the most moving ever written. Anjelica's scene walking down the stairs as she listens to the song is one of the best performances every seen on film. I cry every time I see it..for all the right reasons.
We have all had love lost at an early age and weep for our young hopeful selves.
Donal McCann acted in far too few movies for my liking, he just loved stage work and stuck to it, and it is our loss that we do not have more of his performances on film as he does so much with this delicate role by expression and the portrayal of a deep love for his wife that will never be reciprocated and he conveys such inner sadness at knowing this.
If you want your movies action and plot packed avoid this, there really is no beginning, middle or end just a lens onto the characters at a dinner party in Dublin 80 years ago and all the little nuances and shadings of the personalities portrayed so beautifully.
Bravo to all who were involved in this production. 10 out of 10.
John Huston was seriously ill when he made his final achievement,and it's thoroughly his testament:uncompromising,difficult ,a thousand miles away from crazes and fashions,it will stand as the best "last film" you can ever dream of.A very austere screenplay,no action,no real hero,but a group of people coping with the vanity of life,the fleeting years and death.The party doesn't delude people for long.Admittedly,warmth and affection emanate from the songs and the meal,complete with turkey and pudding.But the passage of time has partly ruined Julia's voice,first crack in the mirror.Then the camera leaves the room where the guests are gathered and searches the old lady's bedroom.For sure,hers seems to have been a happy life,but it's a life inexorably coming to an end-A shot shows towards the end of the movie Julia on her future deathbed-.Maybe an unfulfilled life,because she remained a spinster,with no children to carry on .Only some poor things,yellowish photographs,bibelots and trinklets.... But are a human being's hopes and dreams all fulfilled?Look at Gretta.She 's a married woman ,about thirty-five,she's still beautiful and healthy but she knows something is broken.What Julia is today,she will be tomorrow,that's why,in her stream of consciousness,she goes back to her past,only to find out how harrowing her memories are: a young man committed suicide for her,a symbol of her youth now waning.The final monologue,if we listen closely to it,involves us all in this eternal tragedy,the doomed to failure human condition,John Huston's masterly lesson.
This is truly a remarkable movie. "The Dead" shows us a turn-of-the-century
Irish dinner party attended by a host of lost souls. It is a snapshot of
people who either loved and lost, or never got to love at all. Everyone here
longs for love -- not just ordinary fondness, but a condition where one
almost sees God in the other person. (Those who have not experienced this
will deem it maudlin.) For example, in the story, Anjelica Huston's
character refers to one "Michael Fury" whose love for her had burned so
intensely that he allowed himself to freeze to death in a river because he
could not be hers. Such actions strike the idle passerby as pathetic (savage
Americans would label Michael Fury a "loser"). But years later, when this
kind of passion is deemed the only thing that matters, people privately
develop a more respectful take on such things.
At dinner, tenor Frank Patterson sings for the guests, his lovely voice stealing through the walls like the scent of a garden into a tomb. Beauty like this makes us want to find someone, open our jugular vein, and urgently bleed into them. We feel that somewhere burns an unseen, silent, and impossibly distant Light. If only we could share that Light with someone, or at least share a quest for it. But how? Alas, we can only stand at the bedroom window alone, watching the snowfall like Anjelica Huston's husband (Donal McCann) does at the movie's end. Many characters in the movie spend their whole lives at that bedroom window. Others are like Michael Fury, dying in a freezing river as he stares at the house where his Beloved conducts her affairs, unresponsive to him. At one point, after a guest recites a moving poem, one of the female guests laments, "Imagine being loved like that." She means a devotion so intense as to rearrange our psyches. But her chance for love is gone, crushed beneath layers of dashed hopes now piled high like the snows of Ireland in the movie. No rose sprouts in these drifts; only long-buried yearnings that waft like a vapor around headstones.
This movie hints at secrets that are akin to something one experiences as a child who, lying awake and alone one night, spies a star outside the window and for an instant glimpses the Unspeakable. The child makes no mention of this to anyone - who would understand? ("That's nice, dear.") But the longing to share that glimpse with someone, or to share someone else's glimpse, burns until death. At the end of "The Dead," Anjelica Huston's husband realizes that he has shared no such glimpse with his wife, no such love. His wife has sobbed herself to sleep on the bed and remains silent as he looks out the bedroom window in the wee hours. Great stories have great dialogue, but the greatest have characters whose silence points to the realm of boundless could-be's. We hear the husband's lamenting thoughts as exterior night scenes melt into one another. Fields, starlit graveyards, wizened trees -- all hushed as "snow is gently falling all over Ireland, and falling gently."
No routine tale of collision between desire and proscription this; no melodramatic costume-struggle between attraction and social propriety. "The Dead" speaks to each person's Star of Bethlehem, glimpsed once and then repressed until something like this dinner party shakes it loose. On the morrow the guests will tell themselves that they simply had too much wine at the party, and will thereby seal Heaven into their mental cellar once more. Their pain will continue as always.
Sensitive and understated, I give this one top marks across the board. Bravo to John Huston. A fitting last effort by a great director.
So many literary adaptations are disappointments. There are many
reasons for that, but usually it is the need to cut down a complex
novel to the size of a screenplay. The Dead is unusual - it had to be
'padded', as the short story itself is a tiny, relatively short gem. It
may in fact be the finest short story in the English language. In
beautifully spare language it tells of the realization of Gabriel
Conroy that his life, and the lives of so many around him are
controlled by memories of the dead. Even his own wife of many years
loved a man now dead more than him.
To bring such a short story to the cinema was always going to be tricky. John Huston did a magnificent job. He never gave in to temptation to play it up or use fancy technique to expand on the story. It is simple and true, with outstanding acting. The only slight miss-step is the use of music to accompany the devastating final soliloquy.
Its rare indeed for a movie version of a literary masterpiece to be itself a masterpiece, but I think its fair to use this term for this movie. Its not a bravura piece of film making, but it is simple and pure - I always think of Ozu's movies when i think of The Dead, its at that level of purity and simplicity and deep wisdom.
I have watched thousands of movies in my life and I believe this movie is the most "perfect" movie that has ever been made. By perfect I mean the storytelling, the plot, the acting, the staging, the camera work, etc. (This is a lay opinion; I have no background in film production.) A lot of movies have perfect scenes, such as the bartender filing a report with the police officer in the movie Fargo. (Indeed, that scene could play well as a short.) In The Dead every scene is done to perfection, making the entire movie perfect. Perhaps, John Huston sold his soul to the Devil to make such a movie. Hopefully, Daniel Webster has gotten him out of the contract!
This is a wonderful evocation of a previous age. True, it is slow moving but that is definitely part of its charm. Stately and elegant - a fitting tribute to an iconic director! Not many films can boast such a unique form. Top marks to the director for having the bravery to create such a work of art that may have seemed commercially non-viable. I doubt very much a piece like this would be given the green light in today's action-driven, dumbed-down movie environment. Does a good job of adapting the James story and also brings a little something extra to it as well as all truly good art should - it is not enough merely to emulate. Wonderful film and not to be missed!
The entire movie, an artful adaptation of one of Joyce's "Dubliners" stories, takes place on the night of January 6 (Epiphany), 1906. Most of the film takes place at an annual party given by three spinsters (two sisters and their niece), where a group of upper-class Dubliners gather for an evening of music, recitations and dinner. While there is very little plot per se, the interaction and conversation among the group reveals much about Dublin in the early 20th century when the stirrings for independence were just beginning. The cast, all talented Irish stage actors with the exception of Anjelica Huston, are universally wonderful, and one actually feels he is a guest at the gathering himself. The poignant final scene, between Ms. Huston and the amazing Donal McCann, reveals much about the marriage of the characters. There is poignancy mixed with humor and insight, and for those who like quiet, thoughtful movies, "The Dead" is highly recommended. My wife is from Dublin, we make a ritual of watching this wonderful movie every January 6th. After many viewings it never fails to move me, and each time I glean something that I've missed before.
Superlatives really are a dangerous thing. No sooner do we rashly assert
something as being unsurpassable, the object of our veneration immediately
becomes just that. James Joyce's concluding story in his book 'Dubliners,'
entitled, 'The Dead,' was always going to be the exception to that rule.
It's been described by a number of critics over the years as the greatest
short story in the English language. After seeking the story out many
ago when I was a teenager, I can do nothing but agree whole heartedly with
The story captured a time, a place, and a romanticism that I've dreamt about all my life. The setting is a house at the turn of the century, filled with guests from all over Ireland, who gather for an evening of dancing, poetry and piano recitals.
Joyce's consummate story telling, is not found in the almost mechanical way most authors put their stories together, but it's revealed in the sheer power and strength of feeling projected by the characters involved; Gabriel's concern about his after dinner speech and the ongoing changes in Ireland, Gretta's secret passion for someone she'd once loved and lost, and now even the mere acknowledgment of such a love threatens to destabilize her relationship with Gabriel, Freddie's inability to rise beyond his drug dependency, the arrogant tenor Mr D'Arcy at the table loudly trying to upgrade his status through his supposed musical superiority, Lilly the housemaid all nervousness and efficiency, the list goes on: each playing their part with absolutely convincing character motivation.
How could John Huston's film ever really of taken on such a literary masterpiece and still proved faithful? Well, to his credit, he comes pretty close.
Of course when we're reading a story, an author often leaves a degree of ambiguity, specific areas in which we're allowed to interpret our own mental pictures from the words cited. Joyce was no different. Here lies the problem: transfering a work of fiction to celluloid is like trying to join up the dots. Not everyone is going to recognize the picture and be happy with the adaptation.
Personally, I loved the film. However, there were a couple of scenes that I knew were going to prove a problem, and they did prove problematic. Firstly, when Gretta defers her descent down the stairs after dinner, because she's filled with thought's of Michael Furey and the love that she'd lost. The memories come flooding back. She can hear his voice superimposed over D'arcy's and it unsettles her. It's such a deep enduring moment. In the film, Huston just looks away dreamily. There's very little to express the full range of thoughts rushing through her head. It's not Angelica Huston's fault. It simply highlights how difficult it is to accommodate the limitless expression of literature to the silver screen, which is why like an earlier commentator on this film asserted, I too strongly recommend that Joyce's story is read first. It really does add a great deal.
The second scene that troubled me was the ending. It doesn't even begin to pack the tremendous power of Joyce's written word. How could it? This is a stream of subconscious thought extracted from the greatest short story in the English language reduced to a simple voice-over.
Ah, well! Still a good film. Overall Rating: 8 out of ten.
It's a short movie for such immense feelings. The last 20 or so minutes are among the most intense in the recent years of the industry. Huston (John) is dying and only love can make the difference. The actor's work in the long evening scene is absolutely marvellous.
An exquisite film. They just don't make them like this any more! We eavesdrop on an upper middle class family in Dublin in the early part of the 20th century. They are hosting an after Christmas dinner for their friends and relatives. Their table talk is just idle chatter but it is so well written that one is engrossed. Away from the dinner table some fine piano playing helps to create an intimate atmosphere as if one were there as one of the guests. Perhaps a bit too perfect for an amateur player, the odd mistake here and there would have added to the magic of this film. No real story but real entertainment and an object lesson for up and coming film makers.
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