Butley (1974)

Of recent, I have noticed a personal, growing aversion towards the minimal.  left a box set of the American Film Theatre collecting dust in my media cabinet. Each work in the set is easily noted by the limited sets, a centralized attention on the actors, and a profound lack of cinematic flourish. Butley is no exception, and perhaps, if for not a brief visit to a pub, the most stagebound work in the series. What Butley lacks in visual conspicuousness it makes up for in shrewdness and pedigree.

It doesn’t hurt that Butley was written by Simon Gray and directed by Harold Pinter and stars Alan Bates. The dialog is biting, if not too quick and scathing for belief. They are also the type of lines that one only wishes they could conjure up instantaneously. that perfect reply, that in reality comes a day after the argument ended.

In lesser hands the sharp retorts flung between characters would feel like inflated insults meant to bolster the coolness of either the characters or the creator. Here, each blistering bard smacks of deep pain and bitterness. The aggressive remarks are mere masks. They are the snarling, impulsive barks of beaten dogs.

As difficult as it was to watch Butley unravel before the camera lens, I found great solace in watching a work so confident. I have enduring far too many modern dramas, shot on digital video, in the confines of a filmmaker’s house or apartment, with friends in place of actors, where improvisation is as prevalent as the pregnant pauses between lines. These are simply a new set of cliches. The growing glut of homemade set-pieces often limited to the naval-gazing of twenty-somethings lost in a most banal form of existential angst, one pocked with capitalist yearnings and marred by uninteresting and unpolished technique.  Mumblecore angst could be of interest, but it need not come at the expense of craftsmanship. If you argue that the pursuit craftsmanship might prevent the content from being so powerful. I suggest Butley as proof you are wrong.


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