Monday, March 2, 2009

King David, starring Richard Gere; Not another ancient movie review? Mais oui, mon ami...

Or, Meanwhile, back at The Bible...

Okay, 'nother movie review from days o' yore. I was having fun, obviously, if not at the actual movies. I mean, is this thing even on videotape? Much less an expanded director's-cut DVD? Despite the above-the-title of dual big dogs like Beresford and Geresford? (Not to mention that big ol' public-domain dog, the drooling St. Bernard of cinematic sincerity, The Bible.) Which means, I realize suddenly, that it's Filmic History! All it takes is a decade or two of free-fall through the cracks of commerce to make A Forgotten Hunk Of History, after all. (Although maybe its mere mention here, given my fanatical following over 'cross town at Cahiers du Cinema, may shift, Samson-like, the pillars of film scholar-ology. Let's wait and see.

King David
Directed by Bruce Beresford, starring Richard Gere

Why does everyone in King David, including (to the very utmost best of his ability) Richard Gere, speak with a clipped upper-class British accent. (And why did everyone in the mini-drama-docu-series A.D. speak the same way in those exact same English actorly accents?)
Ah, hell, let’s admit it — we all really know why it is, even if we generally like to ignore it. Americans have never gotten over the colonization process and we’re still in awe of all that’s upper-crustingly imported from England. All those plum-shaped rolling-toned stage-trained Old Vic voices turn an American’s under-developed class-consciousness to quivering jim-jams of jelly.

It’s true now, as it was again true a couple of years ago when pop music was once more dominated by pale young English accents; it was true when Hollywood first began importing washed-up British stage hacks; it was true when Mark Twain wrote again and again about shoddy conmen who assumed accents and then bilked their hapless fellow Americans by convincing them to bow down to their betters; it was true as soon as the first argument about whose family had arrived on the Mayflower took place.

But our laughable crush on the threadbare better-class of Brits — and the long-entrenched practice of using imported acting stock when the public must necessarily be impressed with the large artistic intentions of a film (the very term itself is British as well — we Americans say “movie” until we get self-conscious) — has to do with more than a slavish nastional inferiority complex. It has to do as well with our longstanding Anglo-Saxon disdain for the foreigners we’ve stolen our heritage from.

We’re Judeo-Christian as all get-out, but we’ve never thought much of Jews. We trace the lineage of Western Civilization though the Romans and the Greeks but when we create our dramas about those days, everyone looks like Richard Chamberlain and Peter O’Toole.
(Which reminds me, some way or another, of the headline on this current week’s TV Guide, timed to coincide with a docudrama about Sweden’s Raoul Wallenburg: "How Christians Saved Jews from Nazis." Nice. And concise!)

Plainly, we wouldn’t buy into the cast-of-thousands pomp and circumstance if our noble Romans had trouble speaka da Inglese, if the stars of our Biblical bio-pix spoke Lower East Side Yiddish. (Neither one would be any less or more correct than the clipped-tone, cricket-playing actorly English, even if it might lend a little culture-bending credence.) Our omnipresent docu-drama Nazis — and how many mini-series docu-dramas have delivered those thrilling, chilling, swastikaed savages to our screens in the last few years? Ten? Fifteen? Twenty? — get to sprecht their Englische in Colonel Klink-isch accents but the poor old Romans are obligated to speak their contractionless British as if they’d just gotten back from a brisk sculling holiday invasion of Cambridge.

Meanwhile, back at The Bible, we have Richard Gere in American Gigolo Goes To The Holy Land, and giving The Proper British Accent the best shot he’s got. You can laugh at the idea of Richard Gere as author of the Psalms, or you can wonder instead if it’s typecasting. David is, after all, undisputed sex king of the Old Testament and the New alike, the horny shepherd boy who made good — good and plenty. The Amadeus of his day, quite literally the Prince of his place and time, and in the background, you can hear the producers of this one — let’s call ‘em Saul and Sol — rubbing their palms together in sheer glee. “We’ll be able to show the babe who plays Bathsheeba in the absolute buff and still rate a PG-13 — it’s in The Bible! This guy porks more cuties than the kids in Porky’s and Porky’s II and Porky’s III all put together, for God’s sake! And it’s in The Bible! And they all have big fat British accents! We’re gonna get a PG-13 for certain! There ain’t a publicity-seeking fundamentalist preacher in the country who’d dare picket this one — they’re gonna be running church-camp buses to see it on group discounts! Call marketing right now!”

And who’s to say it’s not true? Who’s to say that David didn’t dance like a grotesque ape (or worse, like Richard Gere), that Bathsheeba’s full-frontal, tight-focus, soft-lighting sponge bath wasn’t designed — perhaps even Divinely — expressly for the purpose of swaying both poet-kings and producer-kings? The demands of docu-drama are simple and easily satisfied, given a bit of rearrangement, given a dash or splash of revisionism.

George C. Scott’s about to be seen docu-dramatizing the life and persona of Mussolini. Will Mussolini’s non-docu-drama flesh-and-blood pianist son announce his triumphant cross-marketing “Victory” tour, while the entrepreneurial biggies of rock squabble over the T-shirt merchandising rights? What sort of accent will Scott use? Will it be actorish English? Will it be woppish burlesque? Perhaps, maybe, but most likely it’ll be a Pattonish bark, more patently patented George C. Scott than Il Duce, just as Gere’s David is more breathless American gigolo than warrior-poet-king.

There is one line in King David, a single sentence delivered by the Godly announcer in the roundest of actorly anglo-tones that nonetheless rings -ultra- authentically true. It comes from the Book of Samuel: “And David smote the Philistines and put them into the sea.” You can’t blame David — the real one, not Richard Gere — that they resurfaced in Malibu a few thousand years later.

The Arizona Republic


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