David Bowie has always been underrated as a dramatic actor, and Alan Clarke was usually a fine director. But this TV version of Brecht's early play is stiff and uninvolving--partly because it's far from Brecht's best and ill-suited to film, but primarily because Clarke's direction is so misguided. Apart from some split screen effects for the transitional song interludes, he shoots almost everything in long-shot, keeping the performers literally at a theatrical distance, the camera stock still. (The film also seems dankly underlit, although to be fair that might be the fault of the transfer I watched.) Bowie throws himself into this irredeemable-scoundrel part with verve and is more than willing to let the makeup etc. crew make him as ugly/unhealthy looking as possible. The other cast members are perfectly adequate. But this "Baal" feels like an academic performance record for the archives rather than a fully realized adaptation of a stage work. Maybe Clarke just didn't relate to the material.
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