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Rick McGinnis helpfully explains ‘Tom Jones’ (1963) to me

After I posted this, Rick McGinnis sent the following email:

I love the film, but not because I think the eating scene is sexy or anything. Quite the opposite, in fact – it’s always come across as grotesque, much like virtually all of the behaviour of the characters in the film, and that was always the point, for me.

I love the 18th century – I think it’s a fascinating glimpse of humanity and society, as we saw the world finally free of most of the assumptions and constraints of the middle ages and about to turn into something recognizably modern. As such, people were a bit overcome, and drunk with all of that budding promise and potential new freedom, which in true human fashion they used as an opportunity to explore their own beastliness. (The French Revolution being the high water mark of that.) Tom Jones is one of the few films set during that period that gets the hysteria bubbling beneath the “Age of Reason.”

It’s also proof of my movie review rule #1: There is no such thing as a period film. Tom Jones was made in 1963, which besides being the cue for a quote from Phillip Larkin (I won’t insult you by invoking it,) a watershed moment for the British. Rationing was finally and definitively over, and the hint of something new and potentially wild in the offing, so the Brits reacted (as usual) by confusing their hunger with their horniness. They hadn’t collectively eaten a good meal in decades, and the sudden availability of food and colour and travel and even renewed social mobility did what it always does to them: It awakened a crazed sort of tumescence, and thus we have the eating scene in Tom Jones, and the Who (I know – personal favorites of yours) with their recurring fantasy of bathing in baked beans, etc.

Also, there’s something remarkable about Albert Finney during this period – he looks so young, but this huge, rumbling voice comes out of him. It’s like a special effect. Also, the scene where Dame Edith Evans – a special effect in her own right – turns to some drunken country squire lying in a heap of pigs and wenches and filth and intones, “Arise, sir, from your pastoral torpor!” It cracks me up every time.


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