As I sit here, with my obese cat by my side and a dry martini in hand at 4pm, I reflect on the bygone year(s) – deplete of Homoflix posts, but full of regional theater, drag debuts and global crises. Where have we been? What have we been watching? What’s the T? It’s time we caught up.
What happens when film imitates fashion, post-production imitates Instagram, and Julianne Moore imitates a 60s divorcee shut-in with amazing winged eye liner? Why A Single Man happens, of course. The 2009 film debut from fashion designer cum director Tom Ford stars Colin Firth in an emotionally restrained portrayal of an aging gay professor who’s recently lost his longtime companion. Based on the novel by Christopher Isherwood, the filmic adaptation (penned by Ford and David Scearce) is morose, terse and depressing: all things a good Fall/Winter 2015 Lookbook should be.
I honestly had trouble watching this film and forgetting about Ford’s elegant hand in all of it. Famed for re-inventing Gucci’s style as creative director, bringing “glamour” back to fashion in the late 90s, and starting his own line of luxury menswear in 2006, Ford is one of the most successful openly gay power people in the fashion industry. In this film, every amazingly tailored vintage suit, flawless makeup look and perfectly teased beehive beget the impeccable aesthetic refinement of Mr. Ford as a visual designer, but although fashion can be considered a highly dramatic genre, it seems like the dramatic arcs of the film, it’s characters’ intentions, and its crafting of dialogue are a bit rudimentary.
Yes, Colin Firth’s performance is serving stiff upper lip realness with an old tragic homo-of-the-early-20th-century heart, but the story is just a little too mopey and stringy to overshadow the extensively thought-out visual image of the film. This tendency towards abstract high fashion formalism versus Aristotelian plot development is exemplified by a few key shots in the film:
1. A few extra seconds of Julianne Moore cutting a crease in a makeup mirror with an eye pencil after ending a phone conversation with her best friend George (Firth).
2. An overly porny and completely arbitrary objectifying of a little girl as the camera pans up from a reflective floor under her poof skirt to an angelically made-up face. Ugh. Even fags are responsible for the early sexualization of women. Can we get over this shit please?
3. The arguable climactic shot of the film in which George sees a magical owl take off from a nearby tree branch (complete with obvious mystical chime sound), only to reply with a knowing smirk. It’s a Rodarte video meets Twin Peaks, but just for a second.
And there in lies the ultimate flaw of A Single Man. Ford didn’t seem to have the freedom or interest in making a filmic poem that truly exploits the assets and asthetic brilliance of the haute couture avante garde. Instead we get a semi-Hollywood straight-washed film that’s boldest artistic choice is to have Julianne Moore unabashedly play Brit and watusi in a meticulously designed mod living room. But maybe the fault is in Isherwood’s story. Perhaps being a post-double-aught homo looking back on a supposedly “timeless” love story, set in the mid-century, reeking of self-repression and regret just bums me out.
Or maybe I’m just over sepia. Or codes.
Serving as a light motif in the film, characters faces appear in sepia tone (or “Amaro” for those Instagram-natives out there), then transition into saturated bright hues when our protagonist looks upon them in a… what? Fuller? Lustier? More human way? The gimmick seems to clearly be a choice, but ultimately seems to represent something more important and thought out that it actually is. It’s almost as if Ford attended a Sundance Director’s Lab, learned about various formal filmic elements, picked ONE and ran with it.
But enough bashing. All of the performances in the film are pretty believable–from Firth’s restrained turmoil to Moore’s aggressive heterosexuality (where’s Todd Hayne’s when we need him?)–and the cinematography is remarkable. I can’t help but be reminded of Colin Firth’s other slightly unsatisfying gay turn in Another Country, opposite Cary Elwes. Both films show us shades of repression and self-created boundaries in eras that we don’t inhabit. But in A Single Man, I wish the door was left a bit more ajar for us to step into the cathartic space of such a formally complete endeavor.