by Dan Kois
You should know that this exchange on the topic of ‘A Single Man’ contains vague but vigorous discussions of the endings of both the film and the book on which it is based. This semi-spoilery stuff, if it can be called that, is noted below in bold, before it occurs. There are also vague discussions of some plot points. (If they can be called that.)
Choire: Dear Dan, I have asked you here to discuss with me the issue of the new Tom Ford movie, “A Single Man.” Actually, I’m lying! You totally asked me here!
Dan: Nay, I DEMANDED it! This movie made me so angry that I needed to shout at someone! Now it is a week later, and I have calmed down a little.
Choire: That’s a very strong reaction from a heterosexual man. Wherever do we begin to deal with your outrage?
Dan: Maybe we can start with my response to the innumerable scenes in which Colin Firth, as the bereaved professor, is about to kill himself but stops short with the gun in his mouth.
Dan: Stopped by, at various turns:
1. His concern that he might mess up his sheets.
2. His concern that his shower will get all dirty.
3. The phone ringing.
4. Desire for some scotch.
Choire: Oh, so you also object to the weird, broad comedy elements randomly introduced? Such as the slapstick “struggle in the sleeping bag with the gun” scene, that was like something out of Laurel and Hardy but BAD?
Dan: Haha, no, I was deeply grateful for that. But I think it does not speak well of ‘A Single Man’ that on each of those occasions, as he pulled the gun from his mouth, I felt disappointed.
Dan: “Just shoot yourself!” I kept thinking.
Dan: “At least then something will happen!”
Dan: “If you are not going to fuck any of those hot guys, then let’s get on with it!”
Dan: I think that maybe I did not feel any great deal of sympathy for Colin Firth’s character, despite his obviously sad circumstances.
Dan: Perhaps because he and his circumstances and the whole movie were SO COMPLETELY AESTHETICIZED as to completely, you know, anesthetize me.
Choire: I don’t think he’s particularly sympathetic, not that I care about that. I like that he’s just a cold fish we don’t care about. It’s not like “Milk” up in here with the hero worship.
Dan: But I think that Tom Ford really does care about him! I think Tom Ford thinks he’s a deeply sympathetic character, because of the way he wants his corpse to wear his tie in a Windsor knot.
Choire: You know, after I first saw “Ran,” in the 80s, when it was new, because I am very old, on the way out, the person I was with reviewed the movie by saying, “Well, great textiles.” And that is what I said after I left this film. FABULOUS textiles! Such great clothing! The architecture isn’t so shabby either. But there’s not much of anybody in those clothes or buildings, particularly as you point out here, they are obsessed with their clothes and their buildings and their appearances.
Dan: Also the furniture is fantastic. Julianne Moore’s hi-fi? AMAZING.
Choire: Well, can we have the mandatory Julianne sidebar now?
Choire: I really do think she was terrific. I mean, DUH. That’s like saying “fresh-baked bread smells great!”
Dan: She was great, agreed.
Choire: Okay, phew.
Dan: But has Indiewood really sunk so low that Julianne Moore is ALREADY being cast as a past-her-prime fag hag? Surely the movies have more to offer one of the three best living actresses than that.
Choire: Well, do they? Did you SEE movies this year? Anyway. Back to Tom Ford. One thing that surprises people about Tom Ford is his abhorrence of sex. As you have obviously noted, that is SO CLEAR in this film. This is a shame, because Tom Ford is really hot. (Although, it is necessary to note that I have something much hotter at home, else I am in trouble after work.)
Dan: Super hot! Even Botoxed up. ESPECIALLY Botoxed up. And wow, can he cast hot dudes in his movies.
Choire: Oh sure!
Choire: Oh, Teddy Sears. My word! Kicks Matherton of ‘Mad Men’!
Dan: And Nicholas Hoult! He looks like young Tom Cruise if young Tom Cruise thought about sex instead of only about his future success.
Choire: I’m sorry, I’m busy looking at pictures now. GOOD GRAVY. THERE’S ONE OF TEDDY SEARS IN A FIREMAN OUTFIT.
Dan: Even I would like to see that.
Choire: It’ll turn you. I’m sorry, I’m back now. And I have something to say about the young men also?
Dan: Please do.
Choire: Here is who plays tennis shirtless on a college campus in 1962: NO ONE. You would have been ESCORTED FROM THE CAMPUS.
Dan: NOT TWO GUYS, that is for sure. This was a bizarre miscue in a movie that got almost every other aesthetic detail not just right but beyond right. Teddy’s sweater? It’s this lovely white — I don’t even know what? Angora? The freshly-shorn down of a white peach?
Choire: Oh it certainly was. I wanted to bury my face in it and cry. But we haven’t gotten to the heart of the matter yet. All of these issues are the heart of the heartlessness? But there’s something MORE to it, isn’t there?
Dan: Well I am interested in Tom Ford and his abhorrence of sex. Is this a true thing about him, like that people know? I only really know him from that NYT piece about how all his friends hate him, and then from the Advocate piece where he reveals his first blowjob, to Ian Falconer, author of Olivia, whose last name shows up on-surprise! George Falconer’s nameplate. (Another suggestion that Tom Ford actually thinks George is about the most sympathetic guy imaginable — he named him after his first boyfriend!)
Choire: That sort of makes me sad. Actually Tom Ford makes me sad overall, and I mean with the emotion, because the clothes are so drenched in nostalgia. It’s the huge, uncle-molester-weight ties; the twenty-pound sweaters; the absurd smoking jackets; the horrifically-expensive and actually queerly sentimental jeans. I mean that I like many of these things? But I recognize them as things of sadness. So it’s perfect that he made a period movie? It’s just that he was already making the period movie. And you can star in it, any time you want to go to Madison Avenue. Where he makes the maid wear a maid’s outfit. Because that’s what they did in the 60s.
Dan: Right. Is there a ‘A Single Man’ spinoff line in the works?
Choire: I would wear the shit out of that.
Dan: I guess the heartlessness of it comes, to me, from the total lack of concern Tom Ford actually has for his characters. At every possible moment, an aesthetic flourish takes the place of a moment of real emotion. The best example I can think of is that already-celebrated scene where Colin Firth gets the news that his lover of 16 years has died.
Choire: Ah yes. That was…. not upsetting.
Dan: He gets a phone call, and it’s an uninterrupted shot, and we should be concentrating on Firth’s powerful reaction, but instead we are distracted because it is DON DRAPER ON THE PHONE.
Choire: AND HOW.
Dan: “Hey buddy! It’s me, Don Draper! Jim died! So says me, Don Draper!”
Choire: Well he DOES have a perfect voice! Except it’s Don Draper’s voice, yes.
Dan: The movie fetishizes grief instead of exploring it.
Choire: And yes, and also… then doesn’t he play with his cigarette lighter or something?
Dan: I assume so. And in the same way, it fetishizes 1960s gay life rather than caring about it.
Choire: I would like to submit the caveat that SOME of us do live like that (by which I mean, both Mary Choi and myself). That we tend to react to moments of extreme tension or drama or crisis with moments of aesthetics.
Dan: So, when the drab everyday of your life gives way to a moment of passion, everything suddenly becomes color-saturated?
Choire: Kind of, yes! This actually is the joy of being a faggot.*
Choire: *And Mary Choi.
Choire: However! I wouldn’t make a movie where that happened.
Dan: I certainly wouldn’t position it as a masterpiece of craft, when instead it plays like a PARODY of what I think a fashion designer’s movie would look like. But so do you think this movie will become beloved by gay audiences? And if so, will it be loved for real, or as camp? Because that ending read to me as the direst camp. (I guess we shouldn’t spoil the ending.)
Choire: I am not going to take us down this road but… I do wonder how much the movie has to do with the aesthetics and the distancing in the likes of The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (important N.B.: Marc Jacobs’ favorite movie), and a movie beloved for its sentimental anti-sentimentality (oh, Mark Greif!), as well as its camp value, and in answer to your question, 1. NO, and 2. NOT REALLY. The ending was awful. I mean, REALLY.
Dan: I said to my date, “We sat through three hours for THAT?” Then I looked at my watch.
Choire: Yes! The longest short movie ever! I do want to say that I admire this movie in some ways.
Dan: Tell me.
Choire: I like that he made it. And I like that it’s complicated. And I like that it is not possible that it will ever make much more than a dime, though it’ll pay for itself, because it was cheap. AND I like that he cast Colin Firth. And I like his location scout! I mean, I admire his moxie!
Dan: One man’s “moxie” is another man’s “blowing a couple mil of someone else’s money.”
Choire: Oh but that’s the genius: it was his money!
Dan: He paid for it himself? The whole thing? Impressive!
Choire: Well, it was all of $7 million. Which is like, two peacoats and a couple of leather bags up at Ye Olde Tom Ford Shoppe.
Dan: So, that makes me slightly less offended by the whole thing. If you view the movie as an objet d’art rather than as art, it makes a lot more sense.
Choire: Really, if there’s anything I’d like people to understand about this movie is just how unbelievably expensive Tom Ford products are.
Dan: “I had originally read the book in my 20s when you and Ian [Falconer] and I were visiting David Hockney and he introduced us to Christopher Isherwood.” It would be my favorite book too is that is how I first became acquainted with it!
Choire: But you know, that’s just how the gays live. However. If I were making a movie of my favorite book, I think I should trod more carefully upon the ending. Shall we return to the source text?
[WHAT FOLLOWS MAY BE CONSIDERED A SPOILER, AS IT DISCUSSES THE ENDING, EVEN THOUGH THE BOOK WAS PUBLISHED IN 1964 AND YOU ARE OBVIOUSLY A PHILISTINE FOR NOT HAVING READ IT.]
Choire: “And if some part of the nonentity we called George has indeed been absent at this moment of terminal shock, away out there on the deep waters, then it will return to find itself homeless. For it can associate no longer with what lies here, unsnoring, on the bed. This is now cousin to the garbage in the container on the back porch. Both will have to be carried away and disposed of, before too long.”
Choire: That is preceded by “LET US SUPPOSE.”
Dan: Wow, that’s some unsentimental prose right there. I’ll defend Ford in this sense: It is pretty fucking hard to employ the conditional tense in filmed images.
Dan: Also, let it be said that Tom Ford would never, ever, employ a garbage metaphor. Colin Firth looks dashing reading on the john!
Choire: Would you like to read, compare and contrast some of the ending from the script, since we’ve gone there?
We settle, in an intimate way, close to GeorgeÃŠÂ¼s face. We quite literally feel him slip away from us.
The sounds of life grow increasingly faint. George lets out a deep but relaxed sigh as his jaw slackens and his eyes begin to glaze and lose focus. George is completely motionless but he now has the faintest smile on his face.
The room is warm and dark and pleasant.
Shot from above, GeorgeÃŠÂ¼s face fills our screen as we slowly pull back.
Dan: “We quite literally feel him slip away from us.” That’s my favorite part!
Choire: That’s not good writing.
Dan: I did quite literally feel that, thanks to the 4-D Feel-O-Vision recently installed in my local movie theater. Now I am just being a jerk.
[DISCUSSION OF THE MOVIE’S ENDING ENDS HERE.]
Choire: Welcome! Hmm. CLOSING STATEMENTS? In conclusion? I would like to say that I’m glad I saw this movie but I will never watch it again.
Dan: In closing, I would like to quote the movie again — this time, handsome Spaniard Carlos, who fails to make time with George in a liquor-store parking lot.
Choire: Oh, goodness, what a face on him.
Dan: He’s talking about the lurid purple sunset, and how it’s caused by California smog. “Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty,” he says. And sometimes awful movies have their own critiques embedded right in their dialogue.
Choire: From the script again:
CARLOS (in Spanish)
Sometimes awful things have their own kind of beauty.
George looks at Carlos, struck by his comment.
GEORGE Could I have another cigarette?
Dan: He was literally struck by his comment!
Choire: Well and his cheekbones.
Dan: THE END.