Monday, 4 February 2013

2012 in Review: Forgotten Characters

Three things.

First, I know you’re all probably had it with 2012 cinema since we’re into the second month of 2013 but I’m always one for a slow-burn with churning out my own personal year end awards which shall be forthcoming in about two weeks, or less. So, you have not gotten rid of 2012 as yet. Be warned.

Second, remember my semi-regular series Forgotten Characters? What happened to that, right? A weird mix of lack of time and lack of energy. My usual year in review shenanigans tend to include a ballot of five of the year’s finest “forgotten characters/performances” but I’ve been enamoured with so many individual sideline performances in 2012 I decided to precede the actual award with some individual write-ups on the runner-ups in the forgotten category.

Third, what IS a forgotten character? It’s one of the problems I found myself running into when I used to compile my Forgotten Characters articles. Forgotten Characters was ambiguous in a way, there have main performances in films which have still managed to go forgotten – how to map them for a year analysis? For the year in review I think of Forgotten Characters as those characters who are consistently on the peripheries of their films, they could be in one scene or in a few over the two hours but remain constantly as incidental parts in their films. Admittedly, sometimes I just say what the hell and turn in a small but not tiny performance that I don’t have space to mention in the main categories. I make it up as I go along...

Enough preamble, on with the first runner up…

I was thinking other day about how musical theatre writers tend to a give a significant “theme” song to a minor character to parallel the main issues of the plot which the main characters are unable to see – prime examples that come to mind “The Miller’s Son” in A Little Night Music and “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” in Gypsy. It does not quite function the same way in non-musical pieces but there’s something akin going on in this forgotten turn.

Ann Mitchell in The Deep Blue Sea
as Mrs. Elton

For all the potential The Deep Blue Sea has to become an exercise in myopic languor (what with Hester’s stifling, albeit stylish, apartment room) Terence Davies and his cast are so good at making the slightest of characters in the film feel like more than cardboard cut-outs – Freddie’s congenial friend, Simon’s cold mother. The best of them, though, is Mitchell’s practical landlady. We first meet her at the film’s beginning after Hester’s suicide attempt. From the withering glance she gives that boy who asks “Isn’t attempted suicide a crime?” I was hooked. It’s the onus on all sideline players to flesh out their bit characters in the smallest of ways and immediately Miller is giving much.

Her next appearance with the “What people do in their own homes is up to them, I neither condone nor condemn” is the perfect window into the major thrust of Davies’ interest in Hester. I’ve seen many movie folks concerned with the way 2012 films have, in some ways, forced potentially unsavoury characters to the fore. It’s an issue I shrug at and Mrs. Elton explains it so well. Davies isn’t asking us to love Hester, or even forgive. As an audience member we’re being asked to neither condemn nor condone her – she doesn’t need our approval – but her existence is worthy of our consideration.

It’s Mitchell’s final scene that’s the real cinch, though. It’s the first time we head into Mrs. Elton’s apartment as a conversation in the hallway is thwarted by a cry from within. She’s got her own issues to deal with which makes her key utterance to Hester a few moments later so profound.
          “A lot of rubbish is talked about love. You know what real love is? It’s wiping someone’s ass or changing the sheets when they’ve wet themselves – and letting them keep their dignity so you can both go on.”

I recall someone mentioning how that line was a key to understanding the kind of love at work in something like Amour, for example. And, when you can draw those parallels between a sideline player and other films it only goes to show how much a film is working, and all because of a potentially forgotten which worthy of your remembrance.

More Forgotten runner-ups to come as I prepare for my 2012 in review.

Did you remember Mrs. Elton?

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